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Adventuresome students view the new millennium from 18,000 feet

It was a holiday season to remember for nine intrepid Whitman students who spent nearly 30 days in Nepal and the Himalayan mountains, trekking their way as high as Mt. Pala Katar, which at 18,192 feet offers classic views of Mt. Everest.

The Whitman students flew into Kathmandu on December 20 and began their upward trek a few days later. After spending Christmas day in Namche Bazaar, they and their traveling companions several Sherpa guides and yaks continued their ascent, visiting monasteries and a school on their way to the Everest base camp, which they reached a few days into the new year. Perched beneath the Khumbu Icefall at about 17,500 feet, the base camp serves as the jumping-off point for climbers attempting to scale Everest.

The students were excited about the challenge of reaching the base camp. Reaching that goal, however, depended upon the severity of the weather and how well everyone acclimated to the higher altitudes. The group was committed to safety first, said senior Geoff Kuntz.

The weather cooperated and students suffered few symptoms of altitude sickness. "The only days that were physically taxing were the ones above 16,000 feet," remembers senior Liz Briggs. Despite the relative lack of oxygen and constant cold, the students made a point of picking up the refuse left along the trail by other Westerners. They devoted several hours to concentrated clean-up projects near Namche Bazaar, next to a school and the village water supply.

The students returned to campus with memories of the friendly and hospitable Nepalese people. Jennifer Chong, a sophomore, and Mary Jo Southwick, a first-year student, were welcomed into one village home for what turned into a two-hour tea party.

The students also developed an immediate and lasting appreciation for the Sherpa who did the cooking throughout the trek. "It was some of the best food I've ever had, a mix of Western and Asian food," Chong said. The menu included banana pancakes, dal baht (rice and lentils) and vegetable curry, along with pizza and cinnamon rolls. "Our cook prepared some amazing things over a propane stove."

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