In the Shadow of Everest
In the Shadow of Everest
Alan Terry and his wife, Penny, took an April trip to Nepal. Alan hiked to the 17-000-foot base camp of Mt. Everest, sleeping in the shadow of the 29,028-foot Himalayan peak. Penny remained in Kathmandu to study Nepalese culture and visit nongovernmental organizations reaching out to women and children affected by sex trafficking. The Terrys provided these photos.
What makes a man scale the peak, run the marathon, fight the bull and swim the Channel?
Pinehurst resident Alan Terry loves travel and craves adventure. He has experienced 64 countries from a perspective more trekker than tourista. Stamps on his passport read Africa, Egypt, Afghanistan, Jordan and Syria.
"We go to tough places," says Alan's wife, Penny. Some journeys are -associated with a Christian relief organization. "We stay in staff housing and check on people who are doing the work. These aren't luxury vacations."
Alan has climbed 8,000-foot Machu Picchu in Peru. Judging Mount Everest beyond his capabilities, he decided the next best was hiking to the base camp - a popular compromise for medium-level climbers. To sleep in the shadow of the 29,028-foot Himalayan peak beats admiring from afar.
The opportunity, Alan says, fell into his lap.
At a ranch in Colorado, he met Dave Carter, who summited Everest in 1996. Carter's near-fatal climb was featured in the Nova special "Everest: The Death Zone."
Carter was preparing to lead a group to the base camp. Alan was interested. So was Penny, but she would remain in Kathmandu to study Nepalese culture and visit nongovernmental organizations reaching out to women and children affected by sex trafficking.
The departure date was set for April 16, the week a cloud of volcanic ash disrupted air travel worldwide. The trekkers' flight from Chicago to Delhi was rerouted over the north pole. From Kathmandu (historically a magical city of peace, which Alan describes as interesting, but "a dump") Carter's posse took a 12-seat plane to Lukla, altitude 9,000 feet, where all Everest treks begin. The plane landed on an uphill strip built by Sir Edmund Hillary, who reached the summit of the world's highest peak in 1953.
Hiking even to the 17,000-foot base camp requires conditioning, grit and assistance. Alan, a rugged, athletic man with a whiff of Clint Eastwood, stays in shape with tennis, running and -biking.
The eight climbers carried backpacks and were accompanied by four porters (whose loads reached 90 pounds) and four Sherpas. Only Tendi, the lead guide, spoke English.
During the eight-day adventure, the men - two lawyers, several businessmen, no doctor and Carter - slept in lodges with beds, but no hot water, no showers.
Not so bad, Alan says, because the body sweats very little at extreme altitudes.
The men used -satellite phones and iPods and updated their -website daily.
"The food was good - porridge, sausage, eggs and lots of noodles," Alan says.
However, six of the eight developed intestinal problems.
The routine: up at 6 a.m., on the trail by 7 a.m., lunch at a lodge, cover the prescribed distance by 2 p.m.
"We talked about everything - our families, politics," Alan says. "We didn't solve any world problems, but we enjoyed the company and encouraged each other to keep going."
They encountered some hikers who, based on their appearance, wouldn't make it.
Alan was surprised that the steep trails were rocky, uneven and littered with yak dung.
"This wasn't a national park," he says. "The downhill trails were even more intimidating - sprained ankle waiting to happen."
Despite the physical and physiological challenges, no one in his group fell behind or displayed symptoms of altitude sickness, although several had headaches.
Clinics were located on the trail, actually a main road connecting villages leading to the base camp. A helicopter was available to evacuate emergencies.
Everest environs are no longer wilderness.
The hike took eight days up, three down. Weather was mixed: warm enough for shorts at the outset and colder higher up, with high winds. Until the third day, views of the majestic snow-covered summit were blocked by other mountains or obscured by clouds. Alan first saw the summit at 10:30 a.m. on the third day, while having tea on the balcony of the Everest View Hotel.
"Pretty impressive," he thought. "This was the goal, this was what I came here to do."
"Welcome to Base Camp," the sign read, in English.
The camp was cold and rocky, a sprawling tent city inhabited mostly by unshaven men. Toilet facilities left a vivid impression.
"It was a teepee-shaped tent big enough to stand in," Alan recalls. "The toilet itself was a barrel, no seat, just an open barrel. A Porta-John would have been welcome."
They lunched at the camp, turned around and started down.
From base camp to summit requires another six to eight weeks, considerably more skill and acclimation. Alan was not interested.
"We accomplished our goal," he says. "I had no desire to summit - or be a mountain climber."
Reconciling Two Worlds
Penny was waiting anxiously in Kathmandu, where she feared a Maoist general strike might jeopardize their departure. A political uprising in 2006 killed 13,000 people, including the king, Penny learned.
"I ran into U.S. Ambassador Scott DeLisi and asked him about what was going on - I didn't have the context," she says. "He told me it would be prudent for us to get out of the country. My concern was that Alan might be detained for days, so I looked into (alternate ways of) getting him out."
However, even airline tickets costing $3,000-$6,000 were booked.
Thankfully this political demonstration did not hinder their scheduled departure.
After traveling halfway around the world in 17 days to approach the highest point on earth, Alan landed back in Raleigh - and returned to -manufacturing a medical device that smashes kidney stones - the following day without -noticeable fatigue.
"This was just a great -adventure, but I wouldn't do it a second time," he concludes.
Penny found it difficult to -reconcile the two worlds.
"I met wonderful people and saw positive things, but there are human rights issues," she says. "I saw Kathmandu through the eyes of the Nepalese couple I stayed with."
Adults were abducted and -parents feared kidnapping.
As a result of the experience, the Terrys are sponsoring an orphan from the Bardia Children's Home in Nepal.
Whither next, with marathons, angry bulls and Everest off Alan's to-do list?
"Well, Penny is going to Cambodia this fall on a mission trip. Maybe I'll meet her afterward ..."
Contact Deborah Salomon at email@example.com.
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