Jul 6, 2017

Climbing the Blazing Beacon - In the Footsteps of Legends on Mount Rainier: The 'Climb to Contribute' Expedition

Of all the fire-mountains which, like beacons, once blazed along the Pacific Coast, Mount Rainier is the noblest,” wrote American author John Muir.  And thus, this blazing beacon becomes a fitting objective as I prepare for my next expedition – and my first in the continental United States. 

Whilst I am Canadian, (and a proud one at that having just celebrated the country’s 150th birthday!) I must confess that I’ve never actually climbed anything higher than a few flights of stairs in Canada – or the US for that matter! 

Instead, I discovered my love for walking up big hills in the shadow of soaring Himalayan peaks, under the watchful eye of Sherpa guides and a community of Sherpa friends and family. Through these experiences, the renowned Sherpa hospitality and culture has instilled in me a broader, more holistic view of expeditions – moving away from a ‘simple’ physical definition of an expedition to one with strong cultural and spiritual influences. An expedition isn’t just about moving up and down snowy mountain slopes. For me, the term ‘expedition’ conjures vivid memories of humbly receiving blessings from Lama Geshi in the Sherpa village of Pangboche, participating in traditional puja ceremonies in remote Himalayan base camps, drinking bottomless cups of sweet tea, playing endless card games, being mesmerised by melodic murmers of prayer, enjoying the sweet scent of juniper drifting over our camps, and sharing heartfelt laughter and smiles trekking through the villages in the Everest region and onto the slopes of some of the highest mountains in the world. This is what I think of when I hear the term ‘expedition’… and these are the memories that are among the happiest of my life.

It seems rather fitting then that my first expedition in North America is being led by an esteemed group of Sherpas.  More importantly, it’s also fitting that the expedition offers an incredible opportunity to ‘give back’ to a community and a culture that has had such a tremendous influence on me. In late July I’ll participate in an expedition called, ‘Climb to Contribute’. Climb to Contribute is a 3-day and 2 night climb of Mount Rainier and serving as a charity fund-raiser organised by the Northwest Sherpa Association (NWSA) to raise money to build a NWSA Cultural Community Centre.

The NWSA is a non-profit organisation, founded in 2003 with members from the Pacific Northwest including Vancouver, Canada as well as Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana in the US. The mission of NWSA is to preserve and promote Sherpa language, religion, tradition, culture and unite all the Sherpas residing the region.

In the Footsteps of Legends 

Our guides for this landmark expedition are among the worlds most experienced Sherpa mountaineers. Their influence both on the Sherpa community and on the international climbing community more broadly cannot be underestimated. We’ll be led by three legendary Sherpas, Lakpa Rita Sherpa, Lakhpa Gelu Sherpa and Jangbu Sherpa.

I first head about the expedition from my friend, Lakpa Rita Sherpa who I first met in Nepal nearly 8 years ago and have had the wonderful opportunity to work with both in Nepal and in the UK. Raised in Khumbu (Everest region) in the village of Thame, Lakpa Rita Sherpa has been professionally guiding and climbing around the world for nearly two decades. His mountaineering achievements are significant, with in incredible 17 summits of Mt. Everest plus 22 guided summits of Cho-Oyu and numerous other peaks in Nepal. Lakpa Rita was the first Sherpa and first Nepali to climb the Seven Summits (the highest peak on every continent), leading teams on mountains including Aconcagua, Denali and 13 summits of Mount Vinson in Antarctica. He has summited Mount Rainier over 200 times and in 2013 was named one of Outside Magazine’s “Adventurers of The Year”.  He has been a friend and a constant presence for me during my many visits to Nepal with his warmth, grace and good humour.

Another of our Sherpa guides for the expedition will be the legendary Lhakpa Gelu Sherpa who is known to run up hills - literally! Lhakpa Gelu is best known for holding a world speed record on Mount Everest, climbing from base camp to the summit in just 10 hours, 56 minutes, 46 seconds, on May 26, 2003. But his achievements in mountaineering don’t end there. He’s reached the summit of Everest 14 times and has scaled many other high peaks in the Himalaya and abroad. Lhakpa Gelu Sherpa began guiding on Mt. Rainier in 2008 and has led hundreds of clients to its summit. 

Last – but certainly not least – we’ll be guided by Jangbu Sherpa. Jangbu has climbing in his blood. He has lived most of his life in Nepal surrounded by the majestic Himalayan peaks and has been guiding for 12 years, leading countless expeditions with clients from around the world. Jangbu was fortunate enough to stand on the summit of Mt. Everest in 2011. He has also led successful expeditions on the iconic Himalayan peak, Ama Dablam in 2009 & 2011. Jangbu came to the US in 2012 as a Wilderness First Responder and in 2013 he finished his certification as an International Mountain Guide. He is also an experienced canyoneer and was part of an expedition that opened the highest canyoneering route in the world in Naar Phu, Nepal. 

The 'blazing beacon'

As for the blazing beacon that John Muir refers to in his infamous quote, it will provide a fitting stage for our adventure. Mt. Rainier rises an icy 4,392m / 14,410 ft above Washington State. Its combination of high altitude, variety of routes, and unpredictable Northwest weather has provided a perfect backdrop to generations of adventurers from around the world. I certainly didn’t hesitate when the opportunity came up to climb Rainier in such esteemed company and for such a wonderful cause.

The mountains have been my training ground for many life lessons – the literal and proverbial highs and lows. From leadership to decision making to risk management to communication and planning - the mountains have often proven to be both humbling and ruthless. There is one thing that has remained constant throughout these hard-earned life lessons  – and that is the warmth, compassion, strength and humility of some of my greatest teachers - the Sherpa people. And it is now both a privilege and an honour to be able to provide my support in the building of NWSA community centre. I couldn't be more excited to be part of this landmark expedition...!

Please do contact the North West Sherpa Association on the NWSA Website,  Facebook page or via email to nwsherpa@gmail.com if you'd like to be kept up to date about future events or to contribute to the building of the community centre.

Many thanks for your support..!


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