Has a Dog Really Climbed Everest? First Dog Records

In 2013 news headlines barked “Meet Rupee, the First Dog to ever Climb Mt. Everest!”, “Rescue dog climbs Mount Everest!”, and “First Pooch to the summit!” The stories introduced the “Slumdog Mountaineer”, and invited us to suspend our disbelief. But it was all…untrue.

Contrary to popular claims, a dog has never climbed to the summit of Mount Everest. However, dogs have frequently been seen at Base Camp. One dog got to Camp 2 at 6,400m (21,000 ft) in 2008, and a dog has even reached the top of the North Col at 7,020 metres (23,030 ft).

The original “Dog Climbed Everest” story was irresistible: a starving puppy is rescued from the streets of Ladakh, India by a young woman, Joanne Lefson. He is named Rupee and taken home with her to South Africa. He is then taken on a trek to Everest Base Camp in Nepal.

But that’s as far as Rupee got. Over-excited journalists, perhaps not knowing or caring that there is a world of difference between reaching Base Camp and reaching the summit, did the rest. Read on for a walkies through the story of canine mountaineering on Everest…

The First Dog to Climb Everest: Or Not

So how did the papers report this completely untrue story?

  • “Meet Rupee, the First Dog to Ever Climb Mt. Everest ” howled Parade.
  • “Slumdog mountaineer: Former stray that was rescued from a rubbish dump becomes first canine to climb Mount Everest after trekking to base camp”, yelped the DailyMail.
  • “Brave dog, rescued from dump, said to be first, to climb Mt. Everest”, panted the New York Daily News

There’s an old saying in journalism: When a dog bites a man, that’s not news. But when a man bites a dog, that is news. In this case, “Dog climbs Everest” was irresistible to the journalists, even though they neither knew nor cared if it was true or not.

Joanne Lefson had form: previously she had hit the headlines after travelling the world with Oscar – her “globetrotting dog”. Poor Oscar had passed away under a truck, so Rupee became her next doggie influencer. (source DailyMail). Or Doge, if you like.

There is a serious point to be made here; quite a few trekkers who have panted up to Base Camp have let their admirers believe that they have “done Everest”, implying that they made it to the summit. I met one such person, large in the headlines, descending from Base Camp in 1986 who was noising it abroad that she had summitted. So why shouldn’t a dog?

Has a Dog Been to the Top of Everest?

No dog has climbed to the summit of Mount Everest – not that we know of. Plenty of dogs have been on Mount Everest though. Dogs are frequently seen on treks up to the mountain and sometimes beyond base camp. Here are several accounts of dogs have been seen high on Everest:

In 2011 a stray dog we met in Tibet followed us for days and many miles, almost up to base camp. Why? We had given him some sausages. We named him Loxton, after our expedition food he was so fond of.

When I was on the south side of Everest in 1993 I saw local village dogs hanging round the Icefall, scavenging unmentionable objects out of the melting ice. Then in 2006, on the north side we were all amused to see one of the yak herder’s dogs following climbers up to the North Col, at around 23000ft.

Then there was a dog that got to Camp 2, crossing ladders as it went. Watch this youtube:

Dog crosses a ladder across a crevasse just before reaching Camp 2 on Mount Everest

But the highest canine mountaineering altitude record may be held by a Tibetan stray mastiff bitch named Baru, after the 23,389-foot high Baruntse mountain in Nepal.

She befriended the mountain guide Don Wargowsky and his team on Day 10 of their expedition. On summit day they left her in camp, only to be astounded when she joined them near the top:

“Once the sun came up, she apparently left the tent, followed our footprints on this technical terrain and met us somewhere around 22,500 feet,” Wargowsky said.

“We were all stunned. The Sherpas were cheering for her, pumping our firsts in the air, we were super happy to see her.”

(Source insideedition)

Can a Dog Climb Everest and Survive?

A dog could feasibly climb to the summit of Everest and survive, if given some help up the Hillary Step. The dog would have to be equipped with insulated boots. Dogs, of course already have crampons.

The dog would need a down suit, and would wear a slightly longer oxygen mask than is usually seen up there. Breed? Something portable would be my suggestion. So maybe not a Saint Bernard.

A dog playing in snow
This dog hasn’t climbed Everest either

Who Was the First Ever Dog on Mount Everest?

The first dog on Everest was Police-ie, another Tibetan mastiff bitch, who disappeared high on the mountain in 1933 in mysterious circumstances. Was she perhaps carrying a camera? Was she pushed?

No expedition through Tibet is complete without its watchdog and the 1933 British Mount Expedition was no exception. The sirdar had brought a Tibetan mastiff, about the size of a sheepdog, with a thick dark brown coat with buff points. She promptly attacked one of the British climbers:

One-eyed and suspicious, Police-ie began by soundly biting Wood-Johnson, who approached the store-dump on his lawful occasions but without the formality of an introduction.

(source: Everest1933)

Police-ie followed the climbers up to Advanced Base Camp, but hated tents and slept out in the snow:

She would spend the coldest nights huddled behind a barricade of provision cases, to be found caked with ice and snow in the morning and very stiff. Meat she generally refused, preferring the tsampa to which she was accustomed.

Her finest effort was a courageous attempt to climb to Camp IV. She reached the foot of the ice-slope below the great crevasse, at 22,000 feet, going up the long line of steps like a practised mountaineer.

(source: Everest1933)

Sadly Police-ie, who was restless and independent disappeared on the mountain. It was thought that she broke through a snow bridge and fell into a crevasse. She was much missed by the climbers, who said they missed “her shy, almost reluctant friendliness”.

That tribute from a hardened old mountaineer speaks volumes about the relationship between us and our oldest friend.

Can I Take My Dog to Climb Everest?

It’s unlikely that you could get a climbing permit for your dog to climb Everest, from either the Nepal or Tibetan side. Instead, why not aim for K9, a 6242-foot peak in Washington State?

About Graham Hoyland

Graham was the 15th Briton to Climb Mount Everest. He has spent over two years across nine expeditions to the mountain and is the author of Last Hours on Everest, the story of Mallory and Irvine's fatal ascent.