7, 2000, Gazette)
For the record, if
you ever find yourself having trouble by the time you hit base
camp at Mt. Everest, helicopters wont fly in to get you
the airs too thin for them to operate at that altitude.
But, for a fee, you can be carted down by yak.
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 worlds tallest mountain
Mr. Wrinch, a native of Saltspring Island, British Columbia,
and Mr. Smith, who hails from Manuels, made what is to many the
apex of a lifelong dream just the start of their international
adventures. For an investment of about $5,000 and four months
time, each took a route unheard of to many, and unappealing to
most. Mr. Wrinch left in December of 1997 for Thailand, Nepal,
India, Kashmir and Sri Lanka; Mr. Smith departed just over a
year later, in January of 1999, for Nepal, India, and Egypt.
why climb Everest? Were their usual adventures of long-distance
hiking,white-water kayaking, and rock climbing not enough?
you live a very busy, noisy life, then extreme activities can
be relaxing, Mr. Wrinch explained. Its like,
you know youre there when your mouth has gone dry because
thats what says youre over your head, and now you
have to think.
Mr. Wrinch 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.
was having a hard time with the world it all just didnt
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 Im 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.
Mr. Smith, motivation came partly from being tired of his
roommates stories and pictures, but also eager for
a change from the routine of school and work. One year after
Mr. Wrinch returned, he decided to check things out for himself.
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 Canadas own Whistler Mountain. A two-week long
walk over footpaths from the town of Jiri, Everests 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.
the MUN students didnt take their risks in stride.
not a hospitable place, Mr. Smith 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 didnt belong
at all, and it was a privilege.
despite his research interest in ice resonance theory, Mr. Wrinchs
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, and whose ever-present groans function to
remind trekkers of its lethal power to open up at any moment
and swallow them whole.
was definitely not thinking about my thesis. I was thinking step
... step ... that looks safe ... step."
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, Mr. Wrinch and Mr. Smith were
nevertheless thrilled to reach their destination.
elation comes over you, Mr. Smith said. Everybodys
silent nobodys hooting and hollering because youre
at about nine percent oxygen and half of the people with you
just pant and hand the camera to someone to get a picture,
Mr. Wrinch said. Its really more about the journey,
and the people you meet along the way.
Smith agreed, telling of how every kid in town came out to see
him as he got off the bus in Jiri, and of the little girl who
washed her red sock all day long apparently just so she
could observe how the lanky white guy did his laundry. Challenged
to alter his perspectives of time, distance, safety, and personal
space, Mr. Smith, a former atheist, was particularly inspired
by the Buddhist principles of spiritual regeneration, and saw
his friendships with other international travellers blossom into
opportunities to scuba dive in the Red Sea, hang out on a houseboat
in Kashmir, and tour the pyramids in the Valley of the Kings.
He even met up with a friend with whom he had made a tentative
date over two months earlier!
Wrinch, meanwhile, remembers the man whose gangrenous toes had
to be cut off without painkiller.
his credo go hard or go home to his adventure travel,
Mr. Wrinch descended from Everest to try his luck in Calcutta,
working for a month with Mother Teresa (about six months before
her death) in the infamous City of Joy.
have no pictures of India because India is a feeling, its
an experience, he said. You just cant get it
in the Home of the Sick, which he describes as more like
the Home of the Really, Really, Extremely Sick lets
just say I dont know what could be happening at the Home
of the Dying, Mr. Wrinch pitched in as a floor cleaner,
laundry washer, and bandaging assistant.
the dangerous work came next. Leaving Calcutta, Mr. Wrinch travelled
to Bangkok and ended up on a German-owned sailboat going to Sri
Lanka, and I didnt even know where Sri Lanka was
at that point. Finding the boat to be the target of several
would-be pirates bearing down on them in the middle of the Indian
Ocean, Mr. Wrinch remembers the captain calling out, Oh
my God, theyll kill us all! Quick, grenades are under the
seat, shotgun is over there, Ill get the pistol!
Although the potential killers circled the vessel for what seemed
like an eternity, Mr. Wrinchs captain played coy until
they decided not to board.
was pretty scary, Mr. Wrinch admits. That was dry
plotting a joint trip to Chile for sometime next year, and keeping
busy as graduate engineering students and VPs in a new
high-tech startup called IntrigniaSolutions (www.intrignia.com),
Mr. Wrinch and Mr. Smith consider the question of whether there
is a correlation between studying engineering and pursuing extreme
lot of people who do engineering and high-tech are used to things
changing quickly, Mr. Smith admits. Technology, work-terms
and school-terms every four months, different people, different
Wrinch adds, You have to keep pushing, to know that youre
going ahead, to know that youre not going back.