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. 

KCC 2022

February 21, 2022

KCC, back up and running post pandemic

After so much Covid uncertainty, cancelled plans and general worry, it was wonderful to kick off 2022 with our annual ice climbing programme, KCC’s 18th, especially as last year was lost to the pandemic.

The instructors arrived a week in advance of the students in order to get prepared and partake in some refresher workshops.

58 students signed up this year; 46 male and 12 female. Out of the 12 girls, 8 were under the Didi Initiative, lead by Dawa Yangzum. Of those 58, 15 were in the advanced group and 43 in the basic class. Despite years of combined experience within the group, some of course with more than others, the sense of excitement and a few nerves were palpable.

We were honoured this year, to welcome the Full Circle Everest Expedition Team to KCC, led by ALCF board member and KCC mentor, Philip Henderson, as they used the programme as an opportunity to share and practice their skills and to acquaint themselves with the Himalayas in preparation for the expedition itself in the spring. Having them work and climb alongside our instructors and students was truly inspirational and the whole KCC family will be rooting for them, for their safety and success in what will be a truly ground breaking expedition.

It was wonderful once again to welcome Dr. Daryl from the University of New Mexico, alongside Drs Emily and Hank – all of whom gave up precious vacation time to voluntarily teach the all-important skill of wilderness first aid.

The weather was both fair and foul this year, offering stunning blue skies one day, a snowstorm the next and guaranteed temperatures well below freezing. Although seemingly harsh, they were in fact the perfect conditions to gain a small insight into expedition weather, the effect it has on a schedule and how the body reacts to it.

Coughs, colds and mild fevers were rife throughout KCC during the programme, and we suspect that Omicron was the culprit given its explosion within Nepal at the same time. Because of this, we cancelled the evening courses so as not to exacerbate the situation. Thankfully nobody was seriously ill and the daytime programme was able to continue unhindered. Some rapid antigen tests were performed, but they all came back negative.

We wish to extend our heartfelt thanks to everyone involved for making this year’s course a huge success despite the ongoing challenges. Without the support of the Phortse community, our instructors both international and local, our students, the KCC board members and most of all those from ALCF, we would not be able to run this programme and bring greater safety to the mountains of Nepal.

Amrit Ale

Loading more posts ..