In the 14 days it took to reach Mount Everest’s South Base Camp at 17,585 feet and then descend back to Lukla, Nepal, Dr. Hal Jenson was struck by the uneven terrain and the rocks – big and small – that dotted the route along Earth’s highest mountain.
But he also couldn’t help thinking that the climb was a reminder of the unpredictability of life and how, no matter what, we have to keep going and forging ahead.
“Enjoy every day, cherish the journey” said Dr. Jenson, WMed’s founding dean. “You wake up in the morning and you know you’re going to go trekking. You don’t know what the trail is going to look like but you just keep going.”
“The trek to Base Camp and even the trek back was full of ups and downs, it’s not like you just trek up and down (the mountain). I think that’s obviously a lot like life – a lot of of ups and downs.”
Dr. Jenson made the trip to Everest in the latter half of April with his 21-year-old daughter, LiAnne. After landing in Lukla, the duo and eight other climbers in their group began the ascent to Everest Base Camp and headed for Namche Bazaar.
Dr. Jenson said the group encountered a hill at Namche that “never ended” and proved to be, for him, the most difficult portion of the climb.
“That was probably the hardest part,” he said.
The trip included 12 days of hiking with two days set aside for rest and to allow Dr. Jenson, his daughter and the other climbers the chance to acclimatize to the higher altitude.
Dr. Jenson and his daughter were joined on the climb by a group that he said included a retiree from Wheaton, Illinois, married couples from Arkansas and Texas, and a French-Canadian father and son. In the two weeks he and his daughter spent with the group, Dr. Jenson said he enjoyed the opportunity to meet and learn about the other climbers, their lives and their previous adventures.
Each member of the group, except for Dr. Jenson’s daughter, had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Dr. Jenson made the 19,341-foot climb to Kilimanjaro’s summit in October.
On Everest, the climbers began each morning with a wake-up call at 5:30 a.m. and packed up in time for breakfast at 6:30 a.m. By 7:30 a.m., he said, the group was on the move. Temperatures often hovered around 40 to 50 degrees during the day.
At night, Dr. Jenson said, the group ate dinner together in tea houses that were warmed by stoves that burned yak dung. Temperatures at night were often below freezing, he said, when he and the other climbers retreated to their sleeping bags in tea house rooms that were not heated.
“I really liked every day,” he said. “Every day was an adventure, every day was a discovery and seeing something new.”
While the trip was uplifting and enlightening for Dr. Jenson, it was not without its difficulties for the group of climbers. Dr. Jenson said many people who attempt to climb to Everest Base Camp have to turn back and aren’t able to complete the trip.
While Dr. Jenson and his daughter were able to complete the ascent and descent of the mountain – an 80-mile round trip -- he said a woman in their group and her husband had to turn back at 14,000 feet because the woman began experiencing respiratory problems. Another man had to be evacuated by helicopter the day after reaching Base Camp after he also experienced respiratory difficulties.
“It’s more sustained hiking than Kilimanjaro because (the trip) is longer,” Dr. Jenson said. “Everything is harder, moving is harder. The amount of oxygen in the air is half of what it is normally.”
Still, Dr. Jenson said he wouldn’t trade the moments he and his daughter experienced together on their trip.
While they climbed nearly every day, they also spent time learning about the culture of Nepal. That included visiting several monasteries and the opportunity to listen to local monks chant during a ceremony.
At one of the tea houses along their route, Dr. Jenson said his group got the chance to meet Lakpa Gyelu, a Nepalese Sherpa climber who set the record for the fastest climb from Everest Base Camp to the mountain’s summit.
“The part I really cherish out of this is getting to experience other cultures and other experiences that I’m not going to in Kalamazoo,” Dr. Jenson said. “It was just a unique experience that is so different than life here in Michigan and life here in the United States.
“There are a lot of things in life like this and I guess that’s kind of the spirit of adventure and the spirit of discovery, to experience things that are not typical and not within our comfort zone that broaden our experiences and allow us to gain a different perspective on life.”
After they returned to the U.S., Dr. Jenson said he and his daughter talked about their trip to Nepal and their time together. The two have another trip planned, this time to the Grand Canyon, this summer.
“It was a great experience,” Dr. Jenson said. “My daughter is a really great kid … I had a really great time, she had a really great time and it was a great experience for us to share.
“I wouldn’t trade it for the world and I guess that’s where the message in life is not about what you do, but how you do it and having fun while you do it.”