Monday, March 14, 2011

Nepal: Rad People

Conrad, Cedar and Veggie Burger:

I was alone, but I met people while travelling. It's similar to hitchhiking, and it's a great way to combine your personal independence and the benefits of some company. I prefer to be alone, but even I got tired of going to bed at 5 pm when there was no-one to talk to, and I'd finished all my books. Reading material is highly prized in the Himalayas.

Matt cutting the farewell cake
On my way down from the Gokyo Lakes I spotted a large group of ice climbers. There were about ten Americans in the group and the rest were Nepalese. They offered me a cup of milk tea, we got talking, and they invited me to stay with them at their basecamp in Phortse. That evening it turned out that I had stumbled upon the Khumbu Climbing School--a technical climbing school dedicated to teaching Nepali guides mountaineering safety principles. Many of the students had already climbed Everest more than once, but some of them couldn't even tie a simple figure 8 knot, and confused the name "ice ax" with "crampons", so a group of North Face-sponsored climbers teach a course every year to minimize the number of Sherpa injuries and deaths on the mountains.

Meeting the climbers
Local Sherpa---a student of the climbing school

Conrad Anker is one of the most well-known high-altitude alpine climbers in the world. He found George Mallory's body on Everest, has conquered peaks in Antarctica, South America and practically everywhere else in the world, you've probably seen him in numerous National Geographic spreads, he's written several mountaineering books, plus he's a very humble, generous, hilarious guy. He is one of the original founders of the climbing school, and he let me tag along with the group for a couple of weeks-even offering to pay for my food and lodging expenses. If you have no idea who this guy is--google him. Unlike other mountaineers I’ve met---he doesn’t have a huge ego. Great guy.

One of the books Conrad's written
Conrad in the traditional cowboy hat (a tradition started in the 50's)

The north face athletes were working with a National Geographic film crew that were making a documentary about the climbing school in conjunction with an episode on Tibetan rituals involving ancestral bones.

NG filmmaker (has a home on Bainbridge Is.)

I also met a professor from Montana with a doctorate in Chemistry and a vegetarian doctor in psychology nicknamed “Veggie Burger” that resembled a stoic, blonde, flowing-haired-Viking. You get the weirdest people in these parts.
Veggie Burger
The two doctors

Coming back every night to hot dinner, a well-lit stove and a great group of bantering climbers drinking Everest Beer (which we are planning on exporting to frat houses in the US) was an unbelievable feeling after being alone every night for more than a month.
A Nepali blessing ceremony (a Puja) with the local Dalai Lama
Steve, one of the filmmakers drinking chang----an alcoholic rice drink

After a few days, Emily and Matt had to leave for Colorado, but Cedar and Conrad stayed behind to trek past Everest Base Camp and to collect data from remote time-lapse cameras for the Extreme Ice Survey (the cameras were aimed at the Khumbu Glacier and took photos every 30 minutes for the past 9 months---showing how dynamic the glacier is and how quickly it's receding--see what the project is about and some photos at They invited me to join them and to my big surprise, I didn't suffer any symptoms of altitude sickness, even though I'd ascended over 1400 meters in a one-day push to 5600 meters. 

Cedar and Conrad relaxing at the guesthouse (photo belongs to Cedar)

Cedar is a musician, photographer, filmmaker, climber, etc... he's been featured in several climbing adventure films (see Reel Rock Adventure Films and National Geographic First Ascent Series,) has several first ascents in Yosemite and Patagonia, and he's also very good at chess. Basically he's as legit as they get. We spent many mornings bleary-eyed and drinking "Sherpa lattes" together--the milk tea and coffee drink he invented, and many nights huddled about the stove in our down jackets playing chess on his iphone or massaging out the knots in our sore shoulders.

Cedar's self-proclaimed technology "junk show"

Apart from teaching the Nepalese guides, Cedar and his fellow climbers established several new rock climbing routes about 5 hours walk from Everest Base Camp. Check out his blog: and a video he put together of the climbing school--gives a good visual of what my life was like in the Everest Region:
The rock climbing route they established
Both Conrad and Cedar provided me with new reading material including "Everest: The West Ridge" and "Religious Symbols of Nepal", which I gladly finished in two days. 

Sunrise view from our guesthouse up at 5200 meters.

A lot of people dream of becoming a sponsored athlete, working for the North Face, National Geographic and travelling the world, but it's a hard job. Conrad, who is one of the best in his field-on par with Reinhold Messner and Jon Krakauer-is constantly away from his family doing promotion campaigns, filming advertisements in which he shows off some company's logo, or talking on the phone with companies or his superiors that want him to do one thing while someone else wants something completely different.

It's a hectic, unpredictable life. As Conrad and Cedar explained: climbers live project to project without any stability in between--grabbing any advertisement or promotion opportunity they can, because it's the only way they can earn a living. They have to keep proving themselves worthy, and they don't get paid to climb mountains, they get paid to advertise brands and promote gear. The life of a climber takes many sacrifices, but it's tempting...
Conrad and a hungry dog

Cedar and Conrad decided I should ditch Middlebury and transfer to an engineering school in Colorado. They're sure I'll be happier there than in Vermont. Who knows. Maybe they're right. It's true that Middlebury is too small for me. I don't know how I'm going to go back there in September...

1 comment:

  1. фото с надписью:
    Sunrise view from our guesthouse up at 5200 meters
    дало мне представление, почему Рерих именно так изображал горы. (я была в Альпах, Тань-Шане, Кавказе, Памире, но нигде нет настолько больших и резких пространств)