This article was originally published in Rock and Ice in 2014.
Humans and dogs go together like the singing voices of Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris.
That’s probably why the canine has been man’s faithful companion for over 14,000 years. Given the inherent nature of a dog’s love for the outdoors, it’s no wonder climbers and our furry friends have formed a bond stronger than a locking biner. Crag dogs are ubiquitous, and despite JT’s misgivings, stated in “Climbing Deal Breakers,” in which he classified barking dogs as one of his deal breakers, the friendship of climbers and pups will prevail. And guess what: dogs bark, just like climbers spray. Better get used to it.
For the rest of us that both climb and love dogs, however, traveling to the crag with your little beast in tow (or humongous one if you’re Andrew Bisharat) brings a joy that transcends the written word, though I’ll do my best. There will be moments of uncertainty, like the always-fearful moment when you don’t know where your companion got off to (not eating poop again!) and there will usually be a fair share of barks, butt sniffs, and plenty of disciplinary commands. But there will also be the indescribable feeling you get from sharing a beautiful space in nature with your best friend.
But some dogs have risen from the ranks to become shining stars of the crag dog world. Here is a short list of a few exceptional crag dogs.
The Jack Russell Terrier known as Biscuit is a crag dog hall of famer. She made waves throughout the canine climbing world when her ascents were documented in the film “Front Range Freaks.
“She’s got these short little toes that are nice and powerful,” said her owner Tom Kelly in the film.
Biscuit pioneered many doggy routes up to D7 on the Fountain sandstone of Eldorado Canyon, Colorado. She also had a puppy named Felix, who followed in his mother’s paw-prints to become an exceptional doggy climber. They both starred in the sequel to “Front Range Freaks” called “Return to Sender.” Biscuit’s routes such as Give a Dog a Bone (D6) remain testpieces for any aspiring crag dogs. Sadly, Biscuit was killed by a mountain lion, but Felix lives on.
Check out Biscuit’s historic debut on “Front Range Freaks.”
Gus the All Terrain Pug
With over 15,000 followers on his own Instagram account (yes I’m talking about Gus’ account, not Cedar’s), this dog earns the audacious claim. Gus comes from a long lineage of champion Bugs … I mean Pugs, and has rightly earned the nickname All-Terrain Pug, according to Cedar Wright.
“He got lost at a crag called The Monastery in Colorado and survived for seven days in the wild,” explained Cedar. “I thought he had been eaten by a mountain lion, or taken off by an eagle, but he turned up a week later with a thousand-yard Pug stare.”
Gus covered over 15 miles of “rugged and treacherous terrain,” said Cedar, and showed up at a remote vacation cabin.
Gus can now be found traversing the base of crags across the country greeting his many followers.
“He is often cited like a celebrity at climbing areas,” said Cedar.
Follow Gus on Instagram at All Terrain Pug.
The BASE Jumping, big-wall climbing Australian Cattle Dog named Whisper burst onto the scene as the right-paw-dog of the late Dean Potter. With a miniature 22-pound frame, she literally went everywhere with him.
“She wing-suit base jumps with me, climbs El Cap with me and climbs big routes in the Alps with me,” Dean told me in a phone conversation. “She really loves it.”
Whisper starred in the film, “When Dogs Fly,” and spent time in the Alps where she completed a slew of First Doggie Jumps.
Check out Dean’s article on why he took Whisper BASE Jumping with him.
What kind of dog owner would I be if I didn’t claim my own furry companion to be the best crag dog in the whole world? But I swear he’s special. In fact, Chief is a rare Coydog—the combination of coyote and
dog that only happens every so often in hot climates. Chief was found as a starving, scrappy little puppy on the side of the road in the Navajo Reservation of New Mexico. Since his discovery, however, he has lived the life of a dedicated crag dog.
Chief’s biggest strength as a crag dog is his incredible dirtbagging skills. Stemming from his roots as a starving, scrap-scrounging puppy, Chief is astoundingly self-sufficient at the crag. Take, for instance, one time Chief went climbing with my friend Hayden Kennedy. Nobody knew it (because he couldn’t tell us, of course), but Chief was extremely hungry that day. But instead of suffering and spending his precious crag time inhibited with hunger pangs, Chief took care of business. He waited until Hayden was cruxing halfway up a route, and then helped himself to the savory BLT Hayden had left lying on his pack. What can I say? It’s a dog-eat-sandwich-world out there at the crags.
OK, maybe Chief is just my favorite crag dog (and probably wasn’t Hayden’s). But perhaps that’s the beauty of having a canine climbing companion. Your crag dog will always be your favorite climbing partner.