Coming Full Circle

February 23, 2022

by Phil Henderson, Full Circle Expedition Director & Board Member Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation 

In 2006 I began volunteering with the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation (ALCF), teaching technical climbing skills and mountain safety to Sherpas and other indigenous Nepalis. I had no idea that experience would come full circle.

Fifteen years later, I have traveled back to Nepal on ten occasions, all connected to an ALCF program called the Khumbu Climbing Center (KCC). Through my experiences with the country, the people, and the mountains, I have gained valuable knowledge and made lasting personal connections with many Nepalis whom I now call family. These experiences would not have been possible without the dedication and support of the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation.

Since 2003, ALCF has been committed to conducting training programs for Nepalis who work as guides, porters, and staff on expeditions to Mt. Everest and other Himalayan peaks. Most of these workers are Sherpa, but some are from Tamang, Rai, Gurung, and other Nepali ethnic groups. The training in technical skills, safety, and leadership provided by the KCC has not only enabled Nepali high-altitude workers to earn relatively lucrative wages and made their jobs much safer, but the KCC has played a pivotal role in the growth and sustainability of a thriving mountaineering culture that has been embraced by young Nepali men and women.  

The global climbing community has understood for more than a century that Sherpa expedition workers are crucial to the success of attempts on Mt. Everest and other Himalayan peaks.  Until the ALCF started its charitable mission in the Everest region, however, these vital workers were sent up onto the deadly slopes of the world’s highest mountains with almost no training whatsoever, resulting in the loss of numerous Nepali lives. Now, approximately 70 students take part in the remarkably effective program that KCC provides each winter, which is subsidized by ALCF to allow Nepalis unable to afford tuition to get the training that is absolutely necessary for their growth and safety as professional trekking and mountain guides.

During my years teaching Nepali guides at KCC, I have been able to expand resources that have enhanced the program in significant ways, such as providing scholarships to several Nepali KCC students each year to work in North America at NOLS, formerly known as the National Outdoor Leadership School.  My involvement with KCC also gave me the opportunity to be a part of a 2012 Everest expedition sponsored by National Geographic and The North Face.

The KCC program has been a huge success. But its next step is to become a self-sufficient entity independent of ALCF, funded by providing training programs to recreational climbers from beyond the borders of Nepal.  This transition will take time to build to sustainable levels. Until that happens, KCC will need financial support from ALCF to continue running the winter training program for Nepali expedition workers.

In 2019, after many years of hard work by a lot of people, a handsome stone and glass building that now serves as home for the KCC community was completed in the village of Phortse, 13,000 feet above sea level along one of the trekking routes to Everest, a major milestone in KCC’s transition to independence from ALCF.  Unfortunately, the Covid pandemic shut down Nepal’s climbing, trekking, and tourism industries, setting back KCC’s move to self-sufficiency by at least three years.  Because of this stumbling block, we are asking for your help to raise funds to sustain the KCC program until climbers and trekkers return to Nepal in pre-pandemic numbers.

Your donations will support the hard-working KCC staff through these difficult times. Although the staff have been doing an incredible job with the limited resources available, we expect the cost of continuing to keep the building open and the training programs running will be approximately $100,000 per year for the next five years.

Please consider donating today.