This Dog Did Not Climb Mount Everest

The story of Rupee’s improbable adventure spread fast. But some facts got lost along the way.
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There’s no question that the tale of Joanne Lefson and her dog, Rupee, is heartwarming: Lefson found Rupee when he was a starving puppy on the streets of Ladakh, India, and took him home with her to South Africa. Just months later, Rupee is a healthy and spirited companion for his globetrotting owner. The pair returned to India in October en route to a new challenge—a trek up Mount Everest. Now, news organizations around the world have christened Rupee Slumdog Mountaineer, showcasing news of his ascent with headlines like “Rescue dog climbs Mount Everest, first pooch to summit” and “Meet Rupee, the First Dog to Ever Climb Mt. Everest.”

There’s just one problem with this inspiring narrative: It’s not quite accurate. Edmund Hillary climbed Everest. Jim Whittaker climbed Everest. Rupee, bless his heart, made it to Everest base camp.

Joanne Lefson and Rupee appeared on CNN on November 17, 2013. (CNN.com)

In fact, the sensational headlines accompanying Rupee’s Everest adventure bring more attention to shoddy journalism in the Age of Upworthy than to the accomplishments of a woman and her dog. If only the reporters at ABC, TIME, and other outlets had taken a minute to consider the difference between hiking to the base of a mountain and climbing to its summit before writing introductions like this one:

In a true underdog tale, a homeless dog rescued from a dump has reached the peak of Mt. Everest with his owner, becoming, according to some, the first dog on record to do so.

Or take this nonsensical caption in a slideshow by the New York Post: “The pup, who was dying of starvation and dehydration when he was found, scaled the world’s tallest mountain with owner, Joanne Lefson, reaching the iconic Everest base camp.”

“Scaling a mountain” is simply not the same thing as visiting its base camp, which, in the case of Everest, is more than 10,000 feet shy of the summit—and decidedly less iconic than the peak. Some media outlets, including The Daily Mail in the United Kingdom and The Press Trust of India, portrayed events accurately by mentioning that Rupee is believed to be the first canine with an officially recorded presence at Everest base camp. But even these articles could have benefited from some extra research.

It’s doubtful, for example, that Rupee is truly the first canine to reach 17,598 feet on Everest. Veteran climber Robert Anderson told TODAY.com that he’s seen dogs at base camp before, and Will Cross, an American who’s summited Everest three times, told me that every year, one or two stray dogs from the Khumbu Valley in Nepal follow trekkers up to base camp and “settle in” there for part of the climbing season. 

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