Although the climb to the top of Mount Rainier, in Washington State, is tough and strenuous, a successful summit by a human is hardly newsworthy. Last year more than 5,000 climbers achieved this goal, according to the National Park Service (NPS), with about half of those who try reaching the top of the 14,411-foot mountain.
But when the first-ever service dog, following in the footsteps of his owner, Elizabeth (Ellie) Briggs, summits Mt. Rainier, stop the presses.
Briggs, who lives in Colorado, and Loki both have extensive climbing-specific training and lots of climbing experience. Loki has summited over eighty 14,000-foot peaks.
To get prepare for glacier climbing at Mt. Rainier, Briggs practiced crevasse rescue with now 8-year-old Loki, a husky that works as a medical assist dog. On the trek he wore a dog harness designed for rock climbing and Rex Specs for eye protection—often sporting his Rex Specs during the winter and spring months in the Colorado mountains, as well, Briggs says.
Before scaling the mountain, Briggs checked in with the NPS to tell them about their plans to climb with Loki and two others, McKenzie Johnson who led the group and Mel Olson. The park rangers were fantastic about Loki being along and were excited to hear the news about the climb, she said.
On Day 1, the group hiked up the Muir Snowfield then rested in the climber’s hut until their 1 a.m. alpine start.
On Day 2, the morning of June 25, 2019, Loki, and the trio reached the top of Rainier. Just before 6:30 a.m. they dropped their packs and experienced a chilly walk in below-zero temperatures over to the Columbia Crest, Rainier’s true summit point.
Disappointed that the top of the mountain was completely blanketed in clouds but exhilarated that they’d achieved their goal along with Loki, the group celebrated before starting their descent.
“As far as we currently know from the Mt. Rainier park ranger staff, there is no recorded summit of Rainier by a service dog prior to Loki,” said Briggs. “Regardless, a proud feat by our climbing team and one incredible floofer!”
“When Loki and I are out climbing together, it’s great seeing how well people respond to him, but on the downside, there is also a lot of prejudice and miseducation surrounding real service dogs,” Briggs explained. “Service dogs are trained to perform a specific task for their owners and are allowed in National Parks.”
Mountain climbing is not advised for pet dogs or even inexperienced service dogs. Briggs notes that Loki’s training, safety precautions and prior climbing experience are unique and have required many years of practicing together.
“I have seen, and personally triaged, many injured dogs in the mountains and it’s heartbreaking,” she says. “Please don’t bring your precious fur babies on technical 14'ers.”
Reminder: Only specially-trained service dogs are allowed in our National Parks.