More often than not, the support teams on successful 8000M ascents remain the unsung heroes. It is almost classically executed by Westerners to omit the names of all of those who helped them achieve their goal of standing atop one of the world’s highest peaks. The following is my attempt to share with you the many men and women who helped make this ascent possible. Few have the ability, the stamina and the resources to truly attempt something like this completely on their own.
The dream began with the man, my friend, who dreamt up this idea: Kheiry Sammakieh. It was his dream to summit Mt. Cho Oyu. In the beginning, he was the driving force. He was the one who successfully sought out financing and sponsorship for this climb and who had the most passion for the project. My role was to lead the team, develop a youth campaign through FindingLife, produce all of the multi media content, arrange the logistics, plan the itinerary, put together the support team and use all of my knowledge, resources and contacts to make it all happen. I did all of this voluntarily. I wanted to support him in achieving his dream.
Jeremie Stall Paquet, my friend from Canada was selected to accompany us as basecamp manager and video production support. His role, particularly as basecamp manager, was one of the most crucial as in the event that something were to happen to either Kheiry or I on the mountain, he would be the one to contact our loved ones and make all of the arrangements we all hope we never need to make.
Bernard booked our flights from Ottawa, Michelle Garbacz, our FindingLife Educational consultant, helped me develop the educational resources, Georg from Austria advised me on how best to integrate the new content into the website and Lucas Wiseman agreed to voluntarily receive my ZIP files via FTP regularly and update the website from the comfort of his home in Ottawa. Tom from ExplorersWeb was on standby for any satellite related troubleshooting, Jane Robertson designed our logo and Matt Delaney assisted in shooting the first promo video in Ottawa. The rest, technologically, was pretty much up to me.
For 18 months, logistics were planned with Babu Sherpa from Mountain Tribes, a Nepalese logistics company that I have been working with for several years. Babu and Mountain Tribes are THE MOST important part of the equation once we arrive in Nepal. Babu was responsible for every detail and provision that we required (and carefully negotiated by email) throughout the entire length of the expedition. He booked our local hotels, flights, transportation and visas. He provided us with the 3 Sherpas we asked for (Dawa, Pema and Namgyal), our cook Pasang and our cook boy Tashi from the village of Tingri. Babu, unlike many other Nepali outfitters, provides honest, reliable and trustworthy services. When hiring Babu, I know that all of my team’s needs are looked after, in good times and in bad.
Our team of porters, Dawa, Pasang, Karma Lama and Khayla graciously carried our gear every single day through the acclimatization trek in Nepal. Khayla and Karma Lama decided to carry double loads, thus earning double the money to feed their families. Day in and day out they undertook their duty with positive attitudes and always greeted us with open hearts and amazing smiles.
Gary Hartlin, my friend from Pembroke, Ontario had one of the most important jobs on the entire expedition. He was our ‘guy’. On an 8000M expedition, the weather determines everything – whether you climb, or whether you rest, whether you fail or whether you succeed. In a world where there are no roads, electricity or internet cafes, we rely on satellite technology to connect us with the outside world. Gary regularly sent us weather forecasts which not only aided us in our strategy, but guided us when we were otherwise left in the dark.
My trusted friend Gabriel Filippi, who I climbed Everest with twice, was my confidant back in Canada. He helped me with my summit strategy when I found myself caught against all odds having to work with a summit window my body wasn’t yet prepared for. We developed a scientific approach based on my body’s response to the thin air and lack of acclimatization. Gabriel was also a sounding board when it came to our strategy to evacuate Kheiry.
Allain and Ramsey were our consulting physicians. They made themselves available and sent us their professional opinions via email and satellite phone when Kheiry contracted High Altitude Pulmonary Edema. Without them and their expert advice, Kheiry may have perished.
Namgyal and Pema, our trusted climbing Sherpas were hired to climb with Kheiry. When he was evacuated, they both descended to Kathmandu with him along with Jeremie. The did however, get paid for services un-rendered.
Finally, after evacuating Kheiry there were only 4 of us left on the expedition. I was the only Westerner supported by 3 amazing men.
Tashi, our Tibetan cook boy is a character amongst characters. His inability to speak English is overlooked by his passion and enthusiasm for all that he takes on. His job was to assist Pasang our cook. He washed the dishes, served the food, fetched glacier water and snow and was pretty much ready to do just about anything that was asked of him.
Pasang, our cook, is one of my favorite Sherpas. His English is impeccable, his smile is contagious, his curiosity for other people is evident and he makes a mean apple pancake! Pasang was always there to meet all of our expedition needs, whether a bottle of tatopani (hot water), a bowl of pop-corn, another plate of steamed rice or simply the company of a good friend.
Finally, my partner, our Sherpa leader, my friend: Dawa Tenzing Sherpa. The Sirdar (head Sherpa) of the expedition. I refer to him as “The King of the Sherpas”. I’ve lived incredible moments with this man from turning back on Everest to successfully summiting the highest peak on Earth together in 2010. We’ve been through storms, rescues, white-outs and several life or death situations. We share an eternal bond and I owe everything this year to him.
Success in my mind is not measured by whether you reach the summit, it is measured by the quality of your experience up here. If you’ve learned, if you’ve gown, if you’ve taken the time to breathe in the moment and come to realize the importance of the freedom that exists in doing what you love, then you’ve succeeded. These mountains teach us how to draw strength from places we never imagined existed. Often we suffer, become ill and fall under the spell of obsession. We are tested by the nature of the passion that led us here in the first place and hopefully our humility keeps us safe and able to keep in mind that the mountain will always be here. In the end, determination, perseverance, teamwork, co-operation, responsibility and respect lead us to the outcome that I believe is not determined by us, but by the Mountain. A force we cannot control, yet one that becomes our ultimate teacher. Each in our own individual way.
With great humility I say thank you to the Turquoise Goddess for allowing me to stand atop of her crown. And with sincere gratitude I thank all of the many people who made this adventure possible. This is your summit and your success. Without you, I would never have made it.