Thank goodness the dog was a Shetland Collie and not a St. Bernard. He jumped quite happily into my rucksack for climbing the Inaccessible Pinnacle. Kitchy was well-used to the rucksack. In winter, when his fluffy coat would ball up with snow, he’d give very broad hints that he wanted to jump in the rucksack. If it was blowing a blizzard, he’d ‘coorie doon’ for a snooze, otherwise he liked to have his head out and see what was going on.
For the In Pin his head was out. Towards the end of the day there were two climbers on a new route below us and Kitchy and I perched on the summit. Kitchy went over to investigate a hand that appeared over the edge and met the climber face to face. The man had another quick look and vanished, then his voice echoed around the corrie. ‘There is, there’s an ‘effin dog up there’! I lowered Kitchy and abseiled off and when the climbers reached the top there was nothing there. I would love to have heard their conversation.
Kitchy was a present from my brother and me to our ageing father and when he died, Kitchy became my responsibility. I was then employed full time taking youngsters into the wilds, Kitchy perforce went along as well. Initially, he hated the change, being thus thrown into the rough and tumble of young teenagers. He soon became the school’s mascot and also had a certain therapeutic benefit for some children. Kitchy lived for being away with the kids. On one occasion we were climbing Helvellyn and from the ridge I could see a school party in the corrie, so did Kitchy and he took off to meet them. Alas, as he heard the English voices, he stopped and simply drooped and turned to come back. They weren’t his kids, they hadn’t the uncouth dialect of Fife. I found it very sad.
Pupils from Braehead School would complete a round of Munros so to speak, on Lurg Mhor in July 1969 (Kitchy was there of course) and in June 1971, Kitchy completed on Sgurr Alasdair, which was also his 500th Munro (his final total was 702, and 162 Corbetts, he completed the Furths in 1969).
Back in Kitchy’s day there was no ‘Clerk of the List’ and no certificates. But Kitchy did appear on the numbered list of completers, as Kitchil San (aka. Kitchy), his name having been submitted as a joke. When the truth came out his name was deleted, I was admonished, and a very firm statement made that dogs were not recorded by the SMC. Recorded or not, Kitchy remains the first Munro completing dog.
I never knew Kitchy to be tired however long the hill day, I’m sure that his unerring route to summit cairns in mist or dark is allied to the possibility of food there and he’d warn about thunder coming, long before we noticed anything. We had a grand day on Snowdon. There were so many people milling about on the summit that Kitchy briefly lost his party in the crowd and someone on Crib Goch commented, ‘Look, if a dog can do it, so can you!’
Kitchy suffered from a strange condition that gave him a rather scabby nose which defied diagnosis by many vets or finding a remedy, but then the problem suddenly cleared up by itself in his last years. One joyous game he taught himself thereafter was stalking game; following his nose, then pouncing to send the quarry clattering off. There was no intent of harm, just a joyous game he’d created from the discovered sense.
The great sorrow of owning dogs, of course, is that they have such short lives and inevitably the much loved friend gives us the heartbreak of bereavement. I was in Morocco when I realised that Kitchy had gone, friends bringing out mail, had brought a vet’s bill for ‘putting down one cat and one dog’. Old Kitchy had been taken out for a walk and an exuberant puppy had jumped on him, giving him a heart attack. He lay for a few days in his bed, the cat climbed in beside her friend and the two began to fade away together.
A last Kitchy story. One winter, Kitchy and I were heading up the snowy hills from the Cairnwell. There was thick cloud. After some time, I caught up a lass and we chatted as we continued up the slope. Suddenly she shouted, ‘Kitchy! Kitchy! into the murk. I was a bit nonplussed. ‘Why are you calling my dog?’ She glared, ‘I’m not calling your dog. I’m calling my dog’ and, as if on cue, out of the clouds came two Shetland Collies, both called Kitchy. There was a perfectly rational explanation; Kitchy in the Far East was the word for anything small and was one of the borrowed words (like tiffin, dhobi, etc) which everyone used. What more natural then for two families with such associations to call their small dog ‘Kitchy’? But for both dogs to be Shelties, and meet, now that was some coincidence!