Paws On The Peak: A Superpower Dog Story

Paws On The Peak: A Superpower Dog Story


Paws on the Peak: A Superpower Dog Story

Superpower Dogs
9 December 2016

On the trail with the world’s only professional blind hiker, Trevor Thomas, and guide-dog Tennille.

Mountain peaks loom large in our collective psyche as daunting challenges of the human spirit. Those who climb to such summits breathe rare air, and rightfully earn their reputation as some of the hardiest among us. Enduring violent weather, extreme terrain, and physical isolation make these climbs harrowing feats for any who attempt them — yet there are some ascents that stand out among the most remarkable.
This past season while deep in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, Trevor Thomas and his Superpower Dog Tennille topped out above the clouds on Mt. Elbert, Colorado’s tallest peak at 14,400 ft., notching the first-ever solo ascent of the mountain by a blind person and guide dog. However this summit wasn’t the only milestone of the venture, just a fitting end to what was a tremendous 2015 for these rugged companions.
Trevor Thomas, known on the trail as “Zero/Zero,” a moniker coined for his vision (or lack thereof), is the world’s only blind professional long distance hiker. He and his expedition partner Tennille, a sturdy and affable 5 year-old black lab, have been a team since 2012, when he received her from Guide Dogs for the Blind, a service dog training organization. As a specially trained guide dog, Tennille has enabled Trevor to safely travel solo and unsupported across thousands of miles of backcountry trails. On their way to summiting Mt. Elbert this past summer, Trevor and Tennille completed the first solo, self-navigated thru hike of the Colorado Trail by a blind person and guide dog, a 500-mile trek through some of the most technical and remote terrain in the Rocky Mountain range.

Tennille and Trevor Have Hiked Thousands of Miles Together

Photograph by Trevor Thomas

It goes without saying that these two thrive on the challenge, which explains why each successive trip they undertake heightens in ambition and difficulty. The Colorado Trail expedition of 2015 was just the latest in a growing list of first ascents and record-setting solo treks, part of a passionate quest that was first ignited in 2008 when Trevor gained notoriety by becoming the first blind person to complete a solo, unassisted thru hike of the 2,175 mile Appalachian Trail. As word has spread about this plucky duo, their achievements have inspired many to aim skyward and break their own barriers of what’s possible.
Yes these two are exceptional, but there is no magic formula for such great accomplishments. What really is inspiring about Trevor and Tennille is their process, a passionate and driven mindset to achieve greatness one step at a time. This type of mastery over mind and body doesn’t happen by chance, nor is it something inherently gifted to a lucky few. In fact, in Trevor’s case, it all started in 2005, when he suddenly and unexpectedly went blind.
A recent law school grad, Trevor was springboarding into a career with the JAG Corps when a rarely diagnosed eye condition turned his world upside down. Life seemed to close off overnight, as even simple tasks became a struggle. Just when things seemed to be at their bleakest, a fate encounter with fellow blind adventurer, Erik Weihenmayer, led to a cathartic breakthrough.
The initial loss of his eyesight had left Trevor stuck in fixed mindset, believing that his vision had enabled him to do certain things, and without it they were no longer attainable. However, the subtle but ground-shaking shift in outlook that was triggered by Erik’s example led Trevor to reframe his entire approach. Starting by relearning how to navigate his environment, short walks around his neighborhood eventually led to hiking trails as he gradually pushed his comfort zone a little further each day.
With a new sense of confidence to confront the unknown, he made the crucial shift into a growth mindset; realizing his opportunity to explore the world was no longer a matter of ability but a matter of intentional practice.

Tennille is a dual-mode dog, meaning she has mastered both specialized guiding skills and backcountry navigation skills.

Each trek offers the chance to learn, to set a new goal, then surpass it. More miles on trail have brought more encounters with potential hazards, honing Trevor’s senses and expanding his physical, mental and emotional limits. Life on the sharp end means seeking out an ever-changing set of challenges that demand an equally evolving set of skills, which is why Trevor’s astounding journey to becoming a world-class, record-setting blind hiker tells only half the story. At the completion of every expedition, Trevor insists on sharing his accolades with his four-legged partner, Tennille.

Aside from being a naturally selfless companion, Tennille is a dual-mode dog, meaning she has mastered both specialized guiding skills and backcountry navigation skills. Such a combination is so rare that Guide Dogs for the Blind was the only organization willing to help pair Trevor with such an extraordinary animal, a process that would take over three years of intensive training. Over the course of this time together, Tennille has become as fit and gritty as her human companion with daily training hikes up to 15 miles. But even more vital to her role on the trail is her incredibly keen environmental awareness. Similar to Trevor’s process, each time out on the trail presents her with new obstacles, so while Trevor manages the big picture, Tennille’s prowess is in the details.


Though her highly developed senses are innate, the bond of their relationship has helped her develop a superpower of intuition. Over the course of hiking nearly 6,000 miles together, Tennille has learned to anticipate Trevor’s needs and make situational judgment calls on how to best keep them safe, a trait that has earned her the fitting nickname, “Genius.” A low-hanging tree limb, a treacherous cliff, a wildlife encounter, or a break in the path…in every situation she sends subtle signals so Trevor can gain a full picture of their surroundings.
Every bend in the trail is a new experience together that teaches them to be more adaptive and resilient.
Ultimately with each trek completed, Trevor and Tennille’s reward is the positive impact they have on young people, inspiring them to find their passion and overcome challenges.
The publicity generated from of their expeditions goes directly to supporting Trevor’s foundation, Team FarSight Foundation, which is devoted to empowering blind and visually impaired young adults through outdoor adventure programs. While we will undoubtedly continue to be inspired by such amazing achievements, perhaps there is also a lesson to be learned from their approach.

Team FarSight Foundation is devoted to empowering blind and visually impaired young adults through outdoor adventure programs.

Photograph by Trevor Thomas

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