The Dog That Climbed 7,100m in the Himalaya, and Other Four-Legged Mascots

Oswald Rodrigo Pereira has returned to Manaslu Base Camp with an unusual load — or rather, a passenger — on his back: Pintxo (pronounced “Peencho”) the Dog. Pereira is one of many climbers who have adopted or been adopted by a special furry someone in the mountains.

As Pereira’s video shows, the dog followed him and Alex Txikon’s team as they trekked from Samagaon back to Manaslu. They had spent nearly two weeks in the village because of bad weather. Bearing in mind that “pintxos” in Spanish are several tasty items pinned together with a toothpick, ever-present in Basque Country tavernas, the name was surely Txikon’s idea.

Making friends: Pintxo greets Alex Txikon in Samagaon. Photo: Alex Txikon

 

Refused to turn back

“Pintxo desperately wanted to join us on our way to Base Camp,” Oswald Pereira wrote. “[We] tried to send him back a couple of times, but he continued.

“Then, at 4,300m, he got scared. He could neither go up through the deep snow nor back to Samagaon. I [tried] to help him, but he couldn’t do anything. He just stared at me with a sad face. So I decided to put him on my back and carry him over the steepest part. I have to admit he is quite heavy.”

Pintxo enjoys the ride on Oswald Pereira’s backpack to Manaslu Base Camp yesterday.

The expedition team never intended to bring Pintxo to Base Camp, says Pereira. Pintxo kept following them until he got stuck. “[At that point] there was no other option than to help him,” said Pereira. “I wouldn’t call it a rescue. I was just doing what every person would do in my place, which is to help.”
Since then, Pitxo has made himself at home in Base Camp at the foot of Manaslu. Pereira and the team have considered bringing Pintxo back to Europe with them, but “these dogs don’t adapt well,” he says. “What we can do for now, is be good to him as long as he is with us.”

Pintxo looks out. Photo: Alex Txikon

Natural climbers

Pintxo is not so unusual in the Himalaya. A few months ago, another dog followed Hungarian climbers David Klein and Szilard Suhajda up to Camp 2 (at 6,450m) on a very snow-loaded Dhaulagiri. Lakpa Dendi later spotted the same adventurous dog as he fixed ropes near Camp 3.

A local climber arrives at Dhaulagiri’s Camp 2 last fall. Photo: Klein/Suhajda

 

There are plenty of stray dogs in the Himalayan valleys. They eke out a living from scraps of food, which locals throw them, and from scrounging around the dumps. But mountain people waste as little as possible, so it’s usually slim pickings for the canines.

In general, Nepal is a dog-friendly country. Both Buddhists and Hindus respect animals. Dogs, in particular, are worshipped in the Hindu tradition. Nepal has even its own dog’s day, the Kukur Tihar, usually at the beginning of November, depending on the lunar calendar. It’s a time when all dogs, including strays, are bathed, blessed, and treated with milk and meat. However, a large part of Nepal’s population can hardly afford to care for pets.

These village dogs are usually part Tibetan mastiff (look at Pintxo’s face) and part Himalayan sheepdog. They’re used to high altitudes. Thick fur protects them from the cold.

They are quite independent, but if they become friends with climbers, especially if food and petting are involved, they may decide to glom onto the visitors, as Pereira and Txikon discovered. They are unsure how far Pintxo will pursue them up Manaslu.

Mera’s story

Mera, a dark little blob in mid-frame, follows along the upper slopes of Baruntse. Photo: Jon Wargowsky

 

If they asked American Himalayan guide Jon Wargowsky, as we did, his answer would likely be — very far.

A dog lover and owner of an adopted pooch at home in Seattle, Wargowsky learned this lesson in 2018, when a dog followed him to the summit of Baruntse (7,162m). It is the highest known altitude ever reached by a dog.

Wargowsky and Mera, as he first called her, fell in love at first sight. He usually pats all the dogs he comes across, but this one chose to follow him all the way to Base Camp. It was impossible to dissuade her.

“At first I was concerned that the dog might disturb the climbers, but with a minimum of training, she learned to sit and wait by the mess tent door, and never asked for more food than what we provided,” Wargowsky recalled.

Wargowsky’s rules around his own tent were more relaxed. He let Mera in so she wouldn’t suffer on cold nights. “Still, I never saw her shivering through the whole expedition,” he said.

Mera sleeps under a roof for once. Photo: Jon Wargowsky

 

Summited Baruntse

Mera kept pace with the climbers during the first acclimatization round. Concerned for the dog, Wargowsky tied her up in camp before their summit push. She managed to free herself within minutes and was soon sniffing the back of his knees. Mera continued to do so all the way to the summit.

“She made it all the way up on her own,” Wargowsky said. “I only helped her on one steep passage on the way down, where I had to rappel. Back in Base Camp, she was just fine. She only had some cracks on her paw pads, which we treated with medicine, and that was it. I have spoken about it with some vets, and it is surprising how she never suffered from snow blindness or frostbite.”

Mera’s Baruntse summit pic with Wargowski’s team. Photo: Don Wargowsky

 

Mera was a natural climber. Wargowsky says that he had heard that the dog had previously climbed most of Mera Peak (6,476m) before Baruntse. Hence her original name.

A hard life

Like Baru, several other dogs have become devoted to climbers. “Dogs have a hard life in the Khumbu,” Wargowsky said. “Although most locals tolerate them, they rarely take care of them.

Sadly, rabies is still common in Nepal, so worried parents teach their kids to stay away from strays. Wargowsky has never seen local shepherds herding cattle with dogs, so locals don’t really have a use for them.

“This is why most dogs I’ve met in the Nepal Himalaya are shy and elusive, although never aggressive,” Wargowsky said. “They also know that no matter how high or cold it is, they are going to live much better if they stick to climbers.”

Alex Txikon with a dog he named Khumbu, which became part of the team during his last attempt on winter Everest, in 2019-20. Photo: Diego Martinez

 

It is not uncommon to see an Everest climber sharing pictures of a dog who has become a loyal friend. Often, the same dog chooses a different climbing mate each spring. It gets a new name, food, treats, affection, and company while the Everest season lasts.

Other dogs, not so keen on climbing, just greet visitors as they stride through the villages. This happened to pop star and Everest summiter Mike Posner last spring.

Mera became one of the lucky ones

The problem comes at the end of the expedition. You can’t just take your new friend back home to the U.S. or Europe.

Luckily for Mera, the expedition’s Base Camp manager, Kaji, decided that she had brought good luck and deserved a home. Kaji adopted her and gave her a new life in Kathmandu. In honor of this even greater accomplishment on Baruntse, Kaji renamed her Baru.

Wargowsky visits his old four-legged friend every time he comes to Nepal and helps Kaji financially to ensure that the dog is well taken care of. “I also collaborate with Street Dog Care, a charity focused on taking care of and vaccinating [Kathmandu’s] dogs,” he said.

Khumbu dogs escort the Nepali Winter Cho Oyu team between Namche Bazaar and Machermo last weekend. Photo: Lakpa Dendi

Senior journalist, published author and communication consultant. Specialized on high-altitude mountaineering, with an interest for everything around the mountains: from economics to geopolitics. After five years exploring distant professional ranges, I returned to ExWeb BC in 2018. Feeling right at home since then!


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Richard Haszko
Richard Haszko
3 months ago

I befriended a dog in the Indian Himalaya. It returned the favour by giving me fleas. I itched for days.

Thrill seeker
Thrill seeker
3 months ago

Man’s best friend.

Jake
Jake
3 months ago

Great article! I was thinking about Mountaineering dogs the other day and boom, this article comes up! I sent the article to my mom to read, and she replied saying the video made her cry tears of joy! Good stuff!

Samson Simon Sharaf
3 months ago

Commendable