Many hikers have stories about stray dogs who have joined them on an adventure, but Don Wargowsky of Seattle has a story that literally tops them all. That’s because a dog named Mera joined his mountaineering party and summited Baruntse—a peak near Mount Everest in Nepal—which may be the highest place a dog has every climbed. Plenty of dogs hang around the base camp of Mount Everest at 17,600 feet and quite a few have accompanied climbers to another camp at an altitude of 21,300 on the route to the summit. Mera, however, stayed with Wargowsky’s group all the way to the 23,389 feet above sea level, and impressed the humans with her climbing skills.
Initially, the mountain guides leading the group were less than thrilled to have a dog tagging along, but when she persevered, they recognized that she was an unusual dog. None of the guides had ever seen a dog climb so high. They told Wargowsky that she was special and that perhaps she brought good luck to the expedition.
At one point, Mera was unable to follow the humans and survived a couple of cold nights sleeping outside on a glacier exposed to strong winds, which is a testament both to her toughness and perhaps to her genetic gifts. The 45-pound dog looks like a cross between a Tibetan Mastiff and a Himalayan Sheepdog. These breeds are adapted to the altitude and to the cold, able to survive where other breeds cannot. Nonetheless, after worrying for her safety following those two nights, two guides helped her cross the tricky section and Wargowsky spent the next three weeks sharing his tent and his food with her. She slept on a makeshift bed made out of his sleeping pad and jacket.
Nobody knows what kind of climbing experience Mera had before she tagged along on this particular adventure. Her fellow mountaineers commented that she seemed undaunted by the steep climb and dangerous precipices. On the final ascent, she raced ahead of the people, then waited for them, and that was after they left her sleeping in the tent while they began the final ascent. When she woke up hours later, she covered ground quickly to catch up with them.
Wargowsky enjoyed being at the summit with Mera, as it made the experience even more special. As he described it, “I’d never been on top of something like that with a dog. She was leaning up against me and wanting to be petted. It was pretty surreal.”
Mera’s natural abilities suit life in the mountains, and that is where she remains, having been adopted by the expedition’s base camp manager. Maybe there are more climbs in her future!