22 Summits Stories

The border crosser from Monte Rosa


In the mid-90s, mountain guide Hugo Biner from Zermatt was with his Brazilian guests on the eastern summit of the Liskamm at 4,527 m above sea level when he discovered strange tracks in the snow. The rope team followed them over the exposed snow ridge to the Lysjoch. They continued to follow the mysterious trail, partly in fog, to their accommodation, the Margherita Hut. The solution to the mystery was found under a table: a husky recovering from its exertions on the mountain. Hugo Biner learned from the hut warden that the dog belonged to the landlord of a mountain restaurant in Alagna and that the animal would occasionally spend the night in the hut.

The next day the rope team set off. The husky followed them. After climbing the Zumsteinspitze, they went steeply over a snow ridge towards the Grenzsattel. At the first rock climbs, the animal could go no further and turned back. Biner and his guests climbed the Grenz summit to the Dufourspitze. On the way back from the Gorner glacier to Rotenboden, the four-legged companion met them again: The husky was now on the way to the Monte Rosa Hut with other alpinists. So he had got nowhere on the Zumsteinspitze and had descended with other alpinists over the crevasse-rich Grenzgletscher to pick up new customers on Rotenboden.

"Not every dog would dare to do something like that," explains Philipp Imboden from the Wallis Dog School. The expert has been training family and rescue dogs since 2006. He has experienced many dogs in the high mountains, from Dachshunds to St. Bernards. "The life experience of the animal plays a big role," Imboden continues. "Weather, temperatures and altitude are also a challenge for dogs. Their sense of direction is good, but if the brain revs up too high, the animal can quickly get lost. It depends on the reason it ran away: Is it a drive or a state of fear?" Physically, the animals are well equipped, he says: "The four-wheel drive is an advantage: with their paws, they manage well in deep snow. They can smell crevasses and know that the snow is less dense there. They would rather not enter terrain that is about to collapse." Nutrition is a problem: "There's nothing to eat up there and if a dog eats snow to quench its thirst, it usually gets stomach problems."

If you spot a lost dog on a high-altitude tour, Philipp Imboden recommends first looking for the owner and taking a photo. "Catching it and taking it with you is rather difficult because it's usually the shy dogs that wander around, and there's the risk of being bitten. The best thing is to call the authorities and report it."