For the record, if you ever find yourself having trouble by the time you hit base camp at Mt. Everest, helicopters won't fly in to get you - the air's too thin for them to operate at that altitude. But, for a fee, you can be carted down by yak.
That's the kind of experiential knowledge that comes easily to Memorial engineering graduate students Mike Wrinch and Lloyd Smith, both of whom have journeyed to the world's tallest mountain - and beyond.
For many, the question is: why? Why climb Everest? Were their usual adventures of long-distance hiking, white-water kayaking, and rock climbing not enough?
"If you live a very busy, noisy life, then extreme activities can be relaxing," Mike explained. "It's like, you know you're there when your mouth has gone dry because that's what says you're over your head, and now you have to think."
As Mike tells it, he chose to get over his head with Everest partly in response to frustration with his routine, and partly as an attempt at clarity.
"I was having a hard time with the world - it all just didn't make sense anymore, and I needed a kick start. So I was walking down the street and I saw this map of the world. The next thing I know I'm on a flight to Bangkok and then on to Kathmandu, Nepal. One week later I was on the roof of an overfilled bus heading into the Himalayas. I felt like Indiana Jones. And then 17 days later, I was standing at the base camp of Mt. Everest, begging for air."
For Lloyd, motivation came partly from being "tired of his roommate's stories and pictures," but also eager for a change from the routine of school and work. One year after Mike returned, Lloyd decided to check things out for himself.
Located in northeastern Nepal, Mt. Everest stands 29,028 feet above sea level. Unscaled until 1953 when New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay made the summit, Everest has tempted over 4,000 people to its heights, with less than a quarter of that number succeeding, and has taken approximately 163 souls to date. Base camp is located more than halfway up the mountainside, at an altitude of approximately 17,000 feet - twice the height of Canada's own Whistler Mountain. A two-week long walk over footpaths from the town of Jiri, Everest's base camp serves as both the end point for talented amateurs and the starting point for those with the requisite US$50,000 fee, and, of course, a death wish.
But the MUN students didn't take their risks in stride.
"It's not a hospitable place," Lloyd said. "I started out feeling like I was conquering something, but when I came back I felt totally different - like the mountains let me go up there. I was imposing on a land where I didn't belong at all, and it was a privilege."
Likewise, despite his research interest in ice resonance theory, Mike's mind was on other matters as he crossed the legendary Kumbu Glacier, a living icepatch known for periodically churning out the bodies of missing climbers.
"I was definitely not thinking about my thesis. I was thinking 'step ... step ... that looks safe ... step."
On a budget of $10 a day, surviving on rice and lentils, and referring often to their Lonely Planet guide books to get them through the inevitable altitude sickness, Mike and Lloyd were nevertheless thrilled to reach their destination.
"This elation comes over you," Lloyd said. "Everybody's silent - nobody's hooting and hollering because you're at about nine percent oxygen and half of the people with you are sick."
"You just pant and hand the camera to someone to get a picture," Mike said. "It's really more about the journey, and the people you meet along the way."
Indeed, for Mike, a native of Saltspring Island, British Columbia, and Lloyd, who hails from Manuels, Everest was just the start of their international adventures. Mike, for instance, celebrated his descent from Everest by travelling on to Bangkok, working for Mother Theresa in Calcutta and battling pirates en route to Sri Lanka.
Plans for a joint trip to Chile are in the works for next year. The pair also keeps busy as engineering grad students and VPs in a new high-tech startup called IntrigniaSolutions (www.intrignia.com).
© Copyright 2002 Memorial University of Newfoundland
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