IntroductionDedicated to all the tailed-mountaineers who accompany us with pleasure, gladdening our time amongst the mountains
Alpine pioneers: the "Tschingel Company", a legendary team
Dogs’ vocation for mountaineering is out of discussion. In the past the St Bernard,
the kingsize dog from the St Bernard Hospice, which saved travelers crossing the Alps between Italy and Switzerland, when scattered in the ancient snowy nights, was long regarded as the only mountain dog. Who could forget the invincible Barry, founder of all the St Bernards, victim of his generosity, who after saving forty wayfarers was killed by the forty-first one? Actually the more recent history tells us about other brave dogs summiting peaks, climbing, crossing glaciers alone, finding people buried under an avalanche! Anyhow, nowadays Tschingel (Berner Oberland, CH 1865 - Dorking, UK 1879)
still remains the most famous tailed-mountaineer of all the times! Indeed the star of Tschingel will shine forever in the history of alpinism, in reason of her value and her challenging mountain climbs. Tschingel become famous as the dog that climbed the Alps, following her master up peak after peak. During her lifetime she made sixty-six major ascents, including eleven first ascents, as well as about a hundred minor ones.
She never climbed to gratify her master, being herself a true passioned mountaineer, beaming with joy when she was getting to a summit, crying when the difficulties had been stopped her!
But who was Tschingel?
A middle-height she-dog, maybe a crossbreed between a beagle and a spaniel, maybe having something of the dachshund, anyhow extraordinarily nimble and clever, born in a high alp of the Berner Oberland and grown-up in the shadow of the Eigerwand. “Hazel-brown big eyes, expressive and sweet, long ears, grave voice, brown coat and white breast, as well as her paws, short but strong”.
This was the nice description written in 1891 by Jean Veneon on a rare pamphlet, published on the “Alpine Journal”. When Tschingel climbed the Mont Blanc with her own paws, she was observed from Chamonix with the telescope and her arrival on the summit was celebrated with a cannon shot. When she returned to the town, she was greeted at the hotel as a true diva of mountaineering.
Tschingel had her baptism of fire on September 1865:
at the age of six months she did her first ascent, a true record for that era, crossing her first glacier and climbing a steep snow-slope getting the summit of Tschingel Col - from which she took her name - with her first master, the swiss alpine-guide Christian Almer. After this exploit, Tschingel produced thirty-four puppies at Almer’s home in Grindelwald and acted as a watchdog; it was not until the summer of 1868 that she embarked on her outstanding career.
Since the year 1868 as far as 1876, Tschingel spent an adventurous life between glorious campaigns summiting difficult peaks on the Alps and a deserved winter rest at home, in England. Curious indeed, a Swiss dog getting to England to spent the winter… How could it happen?
It’s time to introduce the renowned human protagonists, who were the companions of Tschingel during this wonderful story of mountaineering and friendship.
The "Tschingel Company"
Almer's jump on Barre des Ecrins Christian Almer
Christian Almer (Grindelwald 1826, March 29th – Grindelwald 1898, May 17th )
was a Swiss Alpine guide, born at feet of Eiger North Face in the Berner Oberland. He’s considered one of the most remarkable alpinists of the so-called “Mountaineering Golden-Age”
, between 1854 (the year of Wetterhorn first ascent) and 1865 (the year of Matterhorn first ascent), during which many major peaks in the Alps saw their first ascent.
He was the first summiter of more than 40 peaks, as Ailefroide, Le Râteau, Aiguille de Chambeyron, Eiger, Mönch, Punta Whymper, Aiguille Verte, Les Droites, Argentera; moreover he realized several new technical ice-climbs on Monviso, Pelvoux, Barre des Écrins.
Also his son Ulrich Almer (1849, May 8th – 1940, September 4th)
was a well-known alpine-guide
William Augustus Brevoort Coolidge (New York 1850, August 28th – Grindelwald 1926, May 8th)
was born in New York. He came to Europe at the age of fifteen together with his aunt Miss Meta Brevoort and never returned to America. He become a great alpine pioneer, realizing several first ascents and over 1700 ascents in the Alps; moreover he was an accomplished mountaineering-historian, who wrote innumerable books regarding mountain matters. At the age of twenty he was made a member of Alpine Club, the world’s first Mountaineering Club, founded in London in 1857, and became a priest of the Anglican Church in 1882.
A portrait of William Augustus Brevoort Coolidge as a young man
Coolidge was one of the most important protagonists of the so-called “Mountaineering Silver Age”
, during which he made the first ascent of the few significant peaks in the Alps that had not been climbed during the previous age, as Pizzo Badile, Ailefroide, Argentera, Aiguille de Chambeyron, Les Droites West summit, Meije; he realized the first ascent of some difficult alpine gullies on Barre des Ecrins, Monviso and Pelvoux and the first winter ascent of Jungfrau and Wetterhorn. On many of his climbs he was accompanied by Christian and Ulrich Almer, Meta Brevoort and Tschingel.
Marguerite "Meta" Brevoort (1825–1876)
, an American climber, was the aunt of W.A.B. Coolidge. When she was young she attended a convent school in Paris. When she was about 40, she became a mountain climber (the first female one to wear trousers). Meta was a very adventurous mountaineer, who introduced the nephew to the alpine climbing. Together with her nephew, Almer father and son and Tschinghel she did several first ascents in the Alps and also some winter ascent; "Meta" was one of the first mountaineer to climb the highest summits of the Dauphiné, an unexplored region at that time.
I'd like to rename this unique party composed by aunt, nephew, dog and guides the "Tschingel Company"...
Miss "Meta" Brevoort
A great meet
In the summer of 1865, Miss Meta and her fifteen-year-old nephew William Augustus moved from the USA to Europe and during their stay in Switzerland, they got in touch with the alpine-guide Christian Almer. They adopted Almer as their personal guide and started the winter mountaineering not very popular indeed, becoming the first people to make winter ascents of the Wetterhorn, the Jungfrau and other peaks.
In July 1868, when Tschinghel was three years old, the company had to give up climbing the Eiger due to prohibitive ground conditions. In front of the resentment of Coolidge for the failure, Almer offered him Tschinghel as a gift.
“I do not clearly recollect hearing of Tschingel till July 11, 1868"
records Coolidge, "That month Almer had for the first time become guide to my aunt, Miss Brevoort, and myself. On July 8 we all three made our first high climb together (the Wetterhorn) and on July 11 started from Little Scheidegg for the ascent of the Eiger. But the rocks (as often) were glazed, and we had to retreat. This disappointed me bitterly, for I was not quite eighteen years of age. Almer sympathised much with me, and so, as we were walking down that afternoon to Grindelwald, tried to comfort me by promising to give me his dog Tschingel, as one of her sons, Bello by name, was now able to act as watchdog”.
The "Tschingel Company"
The gift was received with great joy and soon the dog got used to her new masters. Already during that summer she did some notable ascents with her companions, like Blümlisalphorn 3670 m., Nesthorn 3820 m. and Aletschorn 4182 m. Tschingel’s first great climb, the Blümlisalphorn, was nearly her last. “She was very tired,”
records Coolidge, “and her paws were cut by the ice. On the final slope she slipped, being still an inexperienced climber, and began to slide down the snow slopes, but was luckily rescued by one of our porters, who caught hold of her collar in the nick of time”
Later Tschingel developed a strong set of alpine skills. On one steep and crevassed glacier, she went ahead as usual, smelling at doubtful spots to see if the snow bridges were strong enough to bear her “for she had a marvellous instinct for avoiding crevasses …”
Since then every year Tschinghel returned to the Alps from England for new mountain adventures and climbs. In 1869 Tschinghel climbed the Grand Combin, the Breithorn and Monte Rosa.
In 1870 this unique company of aunt, nephew and dog , escorted by Christian Almer and his son Ulrich reached the unexplored Dauphiné, exploring and climbing several peaks in first ascent.
In 1871 Tschingel climbed the Eiger West Ridge, a very difficult ascent for a dog: "For the final ascent and for part of the descent she was roped. Although bleeding profusely in each of her paws she led the way over rocks and ice avoiding every crevasse. In short she was a born guide."
Then followed the Jungfrau, Monch, Wetterhorn, Finsteraarhorn, Diablerets, where Tschingel led her companions on the way back with her flair, Brunnegghorn and Mont Blanc. These are just a few of the long list of peaks which Tschinghel climbed over the next decade, when master and hound went on to notch up a total of 66 major alpine peaks and passes together, including several 4000s in the Berner Oberland.
Monte Rosa summits seen from Corno Nero
Mont Blanc main summit from the French side
In 1876 Meta suddenly died, before Christmas. Coolidge was stunted by his aunt’s death, but he always went to the Alps, employing no other guide than Almer, and when possible were with him.
But Tschingel was growing old; she gradually turned white – not just the muzzle but the whole coat – and died in her sleep in front of the kitchen fire at home in Dorking on June 16, 1879.
Laura Guardini and Roberto Serafin "Samaritani con la coda: stori vere di cani di montagna" (Tailed samaritans: true stories of mountain dogs)
W.A.B. Coolidge "De Alpibus"
W.A.B. Coolidge "Zermatt e il Monte Rosa"
W.A.B. Coolidge "The Alps in nature and history"