How Baru the Dog Climbed a 23,000-Foot Himalayan Mountain
The "sweet and loving stray" followed mountain guide Don Wargowsky and his expedition up Baruntse and became a lifelong friend.
It's a feat few humans could achieve: making it to the top of a 23,389-foot Himalayan mountain.
The sweet, friendly stray — now named Baru after Baruntse, the mountain she climbed — started following Wargowsky and his team on day 10 of their monthlong expedition in November.
Baru, a 45-pound Tibetan mastiff-Himalayan sheepdog mutt, slept in Wargowsky's tent and became the team's unofficial mascot as they made their way up the Nepalese mountain. When it was time to try for the summit, though, Wargowsky hoped Baru would stay put.
"The day of the attempt, we got up really early in the morning to try and climb when it's colder and when it's safer," Wargowsky told InsideEdition.com. "I left her in the tent about 2 o'clock in the morning and left with my client and the other sherpa to climb the mountain."
The group trekked for seven hours, using 5,000 feet of rope and making their way along steep, treacherous areas where the terrain dropped off thousands of feet on either side.
But after sleeping in, it seemed Baru had other plans.
"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."
It took Baru just two hours to cover the terrain Wargowsky and his team had covered in seven. And, she made it to the top with just her paws and her fur; incredible, considering the minus 20 degree wind chill and 40 mph winds.
"The people who are up there, we're wearing $2,000 down suits and really expensive boots, the best technology known to man, with our axes and crampons and spikes on our feet, and she had nothing. So of course, I was a little worried but she did a fantastic job," he said.
Snow blindness, altitude sickness and frostbite can also affect dogs. But Baru ran at altitudes where many fit climbers are forced to slow to a crawl.
"What she was able to do on Baruntse was something most humans couldn't do, and I don't know any other dog in the world that could have survived and did what she did. She's amazingly athletic and was very sweet and wonderful to have around the whole time," Wargowsky recalled.
When it came time to climb down, he worried about how Baru would handle the sheer drops where the humans planned to rappel. There were 12 or so such areas. But Baru stayed with the team the whole time, mostly making it down on her own. For one part of the descent, Wargowsky and the lead sherpa fashioned a makeshift harness for Baru and helped lower her down a steep, 60-foot section.
Baru stayed with the team as they traveled the 3,500 miles from their base camp back to the airport. Word of her amazing feat spread through the villages, too.
"Along the way, she turned into a little celebrity. Dogs in Nepal aren't really welcome into the tea houses and the restaurants. Everywhere that we went, she would follow us in and people would try to shoo her out. The sherpas would say, 'No, no, no, this dog climbed Baruntse, she's with us,'" he said.
But Wargowsky worried about what would become of the former street dog when they left. He considered taking her back to his home in Seattle, but "ultimately we decided that my little condo here in Seattle wouldn't be a very fair place to bring such an adventurous dog."
"I felt a really strong connection with Baru," he explained. "I was very sad thinking about having to leave her at the airport. In my mind, she was a hero, she had done something no dog has ever done, and just to leave her on the street near the airport felt like an awful thing to have to do."
That's when Wargowsky's friend and base camp manager, Kaji Sherpa, stepped in and adopted her, paying to bring her all the way to his home in Kathmandu. Baru has a lovely life there and Kaji keeps in touch with Wargowsky, who raises money for her and other street dogs by supporting local organization StreetDogCare.org.
Wargowsky said he will meet up with Baru and Kaji when he goes back to Nepal this fall, and he plans to climb Mount Everest in 2020. That's one adventure Baru will have to sit out.
"As much as I would love to have her there, I don't think she should be coming to Tibet to the top of Everest with us," he said.
Wargowsky said he still doesn't know why Baru climbed all the way to the top, but he likes to she might have had some help.
"She's a very adventurous spirit and I'm not a super religious person, but it definitely crossed my mind that maybe some of my climbing friends that have passed on, maybe were giving the dog a little nudge up the mountain to spend some time with me," he said.
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