AMONGST THE CHAOS - Everest Trek and Island Peak Climb to Raise Money for Education Elevated

Our mission for Education Elevated was to raise money to build a new library for an unmapped village school in Chyangba Village (a remote village near Mt. Everest 8 – 10 miles northeast of Phaplu, Nepal) by trekking to Everest Base Camp, and finally summiting Island Peak (20,305ft).  

View a photo gallery of this trip by Gerri Kier

Initially, the idea presented to me to climb for charity seemed appealing.  After all, I had been rock climbing and mountaineering for the past seven years — just to escape life itself.  This trip, however, would mean the complete opposite.  To climb for charity in Nepal, would mean I would be exposed to real life — a life without luxuries, not to mention a once in a life-time opportunity and life-changing experience.  In addition, my personal mission with climbing, other than escaping my general everyday routine, has been to incorporate climbing with helping children in some way, shape, or form.  When Gerri Kier, the founder of Education Elevated, asked if I’d be interested in changing children’s lives, “one foot at a time,” I could not resist the offer.  I stayed in phone and email contact with my new friend, Gerri, planning the trip for over a year.

Our mission for Education Elevated was to raise money to build a new library for an unmapped village school in Chyangba Village (a remote village near Mt. Everest 8 – 10 miles northeast of Phaplu, Nepal) by trekking to Everest Base Camp, and finally summiting Island Peak (20,305ft).  

The Airport: As I was sitting, alone, in the Spokane International Airport, watching time tick away, before my flight to Kathmandu, the Saturday before Mother’s Day (May 10, 2008), anxiety overcame me.  The emotion I felt, caused my heart to throb up into my throat.  The idea of climbing to 20,000+ feet was insane!  Maybe my family was right, I thought.  My doctor wasn’t even sure my body would survive something like that with my recent health issues.  The reality became clear — I may have just said good-bye, one last time, to my own children (and family and friends).  I recognized, “this was it – I could die!”  Yes, I truly was frightened!   In fact, I recalled the Mother’s Day cards and birthday cards I sent, hoping I didn’t forget any family or friend, and also wondered if I’d said enough on the updated Will and letters I prepared and left with my mom, for my children. Strangely enough, however, the more I thought about the situation, the more emotionless and numb I got.  I finally heard my flight called and embraced my dream . . . I was on my way to Nepal, to live my dream, and to help change one life at a time.

The Flight:  Two words, grueling (and) long.  Flying into time, I arrived in Nepal on Monday, May 12th – losing one full day.  Sadly, it was Mother’s Day I lost, and somewhat feeling guilty, I tried calling my children, once I arrived in Kathmandu.  I had no success, as my cell phone had no international service, and the calling card I purchased did not work in Nepal.  My only hope was to find a computer and email service. I was met at the airport by Pem Dorjee Sherpa, our guide, along with two of the Education Elevated team members (Dan and Marius).  Tired, but relieved, and eager to see Nepal, Pem led us back to the Tibetan Guest House, where the seven members of Education Elevated Expedition Team I would all meet for the first time, and where we would stay for two days — acclimating to the culture.  And yes – I was finally able to email my children and mom.

Kathmanudu: Day one of the expedition (from airport, to hotel, to tour) included a tour by Moni Mulepatie-Sherpa, Pem’s wife, of downtown Kathmandu.  Kathmandu, by complete unbiased observation is a very unclean, old, run-down, stench-engrossed city, filled with swarming merchants, orphaned, begging children, goats, cows, wild, mangy street dogs, rickshaws, honking motorcycles and cars, and gods and goddess Hindu temples littering the cobblestone streets.  The monkeys found their way around, surviving on garbage from the sacrificial food(s) — rice dust, corn, bananas, etc., left for the statue gods, and by raiding rooftop restaurants.  The bright red pugha, used in blessing the Hindu foreheads and splashing temple walls, gives off an illusion that blood is splattered, and dripping down the old brick walls and sidewalks.  There are Hindus and Buddhists alike, sharing space and worship, mostly Hindu dominated, with pig, monkey, and cow temples, along with their living goddess, the Kumari.  There were worship bells and horns, sounding every minute, or when a believer gives worship, along with unusually strong incense near the temples. In the city there was no real running water, except for the wealthier tea house/guest houses.  Even the nicest homes appear as if they were the remains of a war zone.  The toilets (holes in the floor, with no available toilet paper), along with the smells from smog, rotting food, and desecration, was so intense, even the Nepalese covered their faces with bandanas and scarves.  The smog was so thick; the mountain ranges could not even be seen.  We, seven strangers, all meeting via coordination of Education Elevated, for the same reason, to climb to Everest Base Camp and Island Peak, were ready to leave the Tibetan Guest House for Lukla, and begin our trek as soon as possible.

Day 6 of Trek, May 20, 2008 – 7:00 am

Day of rest in Dingboche.  The day was colder, yet clear enough to see the enormous, majestic mountains surrounding us.  From the tea house deck, we could see Lhotse, Island Peak, Makalu, Ama Dablam, and others.  The snow showed recent signs of avalanche and rock fall.  The Khumbu mountain region began to make me very anxious about climbing Island Peak.  Also, the Sherpas and villagers were all “horking” to get the fluids out from deep in their lungs, due to the elevation and time spent in the Khumbu (a.k.a. the Khumbu cough).  Incidentally, I wondered if I should even be there with my serious, chronic asthma.  Each day was becoming a concern for me and my health.  Once again, I needed to finish with faith. 

The remainder of the day, after breakfast, we washed our hair, played cards (Pem’s favorite — the game of war) and Farkel (a dice game we shared with the Sherpas), and learned some Sherpa language.  Apparently there are only two languages in Nepal, Nepali and Sherpa (however, each village has its unique version of Sherpa).  Chyangba Sherpa 1 – 10 is; ick, due, tin, char, ponz, chaa, shat, att, no,and das.  Namaste (hello and goodbye), Toche (thank you), ng ching dou (I have to pee), Long dou (enough), La, la (ok, ok), and pipkee (let’s go).  Unfortunately, the Sherpa language can only be learned from a visit to Nepal. 

Day 7 of the Trek, May 21, 2008 – 5:30 am

The weather was changing.  It was now cold, foggy, and overcast. Dan and Elliott were much better, but both looked as if their cheeks were sinking in, and their frames were shrinking.  Today the plan was to trek from Dingboche, after packing up our duffle bags, and purifying water (or boiling it) for our nalgenes, to Loboche (16,200 feet), then to Kalapathar to see the best view of  Mt. Everest (and acclimate). Within 1.5 hours, we arrived at Loboche (uphill, and high in elevation). It was a solemn day.  We had been playing leap-frog with a team of French doctors and their Sherpas all day long.  We reached a village just before Loboche and saw a man pass us on the trekking trail riding a horse.  Apparently, he was a Sherpa doctor, but he was unable to save the Sherpa, one traveling with the French doctor team.  The Sherpa died of altitude sickness – a blood clot to his brain.  Also, we had trekked by the memorials of those whom had lost their lives on Mt. Everest, with Scott Fisher’s front and center.  The day was very eerie.  We trekked well, but we were sad.  That day we not only gained another 1700 feet, but we gained respect and an unexplained strength from the highest peak in the world . . . Mt. Everest.   

Some time during the day, Marius had taken ill.  He was the team member from Germany.  He felt weak and dehydrated, along with having diarrhea.  He was instructed to eat soup and drink more water, and then he went straight to his room and slept all through the remainder of the day and night.  We ditched the plan to trek to Kalapathar (18,200 feet), as the weather turned worse, and it was now snowing.   Instead, we chose to visit Gorak Shep (16,920 feet), hike to the Khumar Ice Glacier, and back to Loboche — not quite enough elevation gain to acclimate, but Pem had friends in Gorak, and he felt we all were doing “pretty ok” – except for Marius.  He kept a watch on Marius the remainder of the night.  The air was much thicker and colder for all of us.  We knew if we were going to finish our task to base camp, we would have to pace ourselves differently; we would now take the trek nice and slow.

Day 10 of Trek, May 24, 2008 – 5:00 am 

Up early, washed, ate and left for Island Peak Base Camp (IBC).  Things were hectic, and we all were moving slowly, due to the elevation (still at 17,530 feet).  Diamox was now our friend.  The girls only 1⁄2 a tablet, the guy’s one whole tablet.  The Diamox has to be taken the prior evening – before elevation gain to work properly for altitude sickness, but unfortunately it works similar to a diuretic.  We all were up urinating the whole night, so . . . not much sleep.  Pem and 1⁄2 of the Sherpas left earlier than our expedition team, to run off to IBC to set up tents and prepare food for our arrival. The trek was long but not strenuous.  In fact, Base Camp was only at 16,305 feet – only.  We were met at the “entrance” of camp with hot tea – actually hot grape Tang.  Interesting!  After a quick briefing in the Mess Tent, Pem instructed us to take a nap until about 1:00 P.M., when we would practice fixed line climbing with a jumar, and equipment check. 

Sleeping would have been no problem, but the  two Tibetan Snow Grouse pecking outside of our tents, tempted us, as we were all protein deprived, Gerri, Dan, Brandi, and I came up with a plan to kill and roast them ourselves.  Brandi and Gerri were both raised on farms, and Dan hunts for a favorite pastime.  I was simply just hungry for fresh meat.  Pem finally caught onto our plan and reminded us that the Snow grouse are sacred.  We then fell into our tents and slept for 3 hours.   Up for practice, a hardy meal (cheese spring rolls, sardines, egg fried rice, mushroom/garlic soup, and mangos), then back to bed until midnight, when we would start our climb up Island Peak.  Gerri and I had both caught head and chest colds, so she was more than happy to be staying at IBC while I attempted a 4,000 foot elevation climb to 20,305 feet.

Day 11 of Trek (ISLAND PEAK), May 25, 2008 – 12:00 am

Too anxious to sleep, and up too often —due to the Diamox, I was wide awake at 11:00 P.M.  I lay restless for 45 more minutes, and then decided to get dressed.  At exactly 12:00 midnight, Pem called for wakeup.  Thank God I had batteries, and an extra headlamp, as the Sherpas guiding us has low light on two out of four lamps.  Once other equipment was checked, we had Sherpa porridge, toast, and hot tea, and we prayed as a team (both Christian and Buddha), we were off.  Pem’s goal was to summit by 8:00 a.m. 

The trek was immediately 60% + slope – up hill, all rock, skree, and boulders (for 4 hours).  The Sherpas lead us up and over an extremely exposed ledge, then to a safe area (near high base camp—of which we skipped for some reason) to put on harnesses, crampons, and rope up for glacier travel. Pem decided on rope teams at that point.  The four guys on one team with PK Sherpa and Gombu Sherpa, and Brandi and I on the other, with Pem and Dendi Sherpa as our guides.

The descent is when all hell broke loose.  Brandi and I went first, as my hearing was getting worse, and I felt distant from my body.  Pem kept reassuring me that it was a “normal” feeling over 20,000 feet in elevation.  Still, Brandi and Dan, our EMT’s knew I needed to get down, as my brain was swelling.  I slipped on the snow ridge, did a summersault, and Dendi and the fixed line caught me from falling down the ridge.  I laughed, but then things became difficult.  My brain was instructing, but my hands and feet were not cooperating.  I forced myself to get down to the ice fall, remembering there was no way out but my own two feet – or a helicopter.  At the ledge of the ice wall, and after Brandi and Dan repelled first, Lee and Marius yelled at me to let Elliott go before me, as he was really sick.  I somehow pulled the words together to let them know how sick I was, and to say that I had already let Dan go ahead of me, due to his level of deterioration. When I was on repel, I remember Brandi yelling up to me from below to tell me to relay to Pem that Dan was really sick, and that he needed to get off the mountain right away.  I managed to follow the task, and I wondered at the same time, if my arm and hand would hold my weight on the repel rope.  I was scared, and exhausted.  I rested two or three times on repel, with Lee, Marius and Elliott getting frustrated from above.  Finally, I joined Dan and Brandi at the base of the ice wall.  Dan was bad! I found my water, but still did not drink any.  I told myself I would after the glacier.  Everyone repelled, roped up on the same team, and the headed across the glacier.  Gombu nearly fell into a crevasse, and Brandi saved the day.  Dan, Marius, Elliott, Lee and I were all sick by the time we reached the rock.  Brandi, once again, was our hero.  I could hear Gombu Sherpa say, “Julie, please take off your crampons,” but I could not get my feet or body to move.  Brandi had been nursing Dan, looked over at me and knew I was dehydrated or something.  She brought me the last of her water and a 1⁄2 of snickers bar.  It helped for about 5 minutes, but then my body would not cooperate again.  Not to mention, I was crying sporadically.  Brandi was worried and asked the Sherpas for help.  Gombu saw I had deteriorated with altitude sickness, discussed it with Pem, and then he was instructed to hand-guide me down the rock fall.  Not once did Gombu Sherpa let go of my hand.  I was finally safe at 16,400 feet, thanking God, Gombu and my friends.  I could talk again.  I felt strange but improved.  With altitude sickness, and in which 5 out of 6 of us encountered, Pem needed us to pack up camp and descend to Dingboche. 

We were met at Island Base Camp by the Sherpas and Gerri . . . what a thrill.  We hugged and cried.  THE CHILDREN OF CHYANGBA WILL NOW HAVE A NEW LIBRARY!  Lives will be changed forever.  The Sherpas were grateful.  It was an exhilarating experience.  We had no time to really embrace and celebrate the moment, however, so we packed up camp and trekked back to Dingboche (another 6 – 8 hours).  It was grueling, after climbing to the summit of Island Peak.  In fact, Elliott was still so weak; he was carried by Pem and other Sherpas, for nearly a mile of the trek down.  Dingboche seemed impossible to reach.  I really thought that, for the first time ever, I could collapse from exhaustion, and fall asleep right there on the trekking trail.   Finally, at 6:00 P.M. we reached Dingboche.  I ate no dinner, but went straight to bed.  I lied in my bed shivering with the chills, and weak from dehydration, causing a fever.  My body was shutting down.  I needed rest. Lots and lots of rest.

Day 12 of Trek, May 26, 2008 – 6:00 am 

Pem wanted to get us up and on the trekking trail, back to Namche Bazar.  He knew we were all at risk for blood clotting for the next three days, with our altitude sicknesses, and with our weak, protein deprived bodies.  The sooner he could get us to a lower elevation the better. Plus, the events to come (May 28th) in Thyangboche (the 50+ monks visit to the monastery), and the ½ marathon from Everest Base Camp to Thyangboche, would leave the trekking trail crowded with triple the Sherpas, along with more caravans of zubkas and/or donkeys.  We trekked from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Brandi, our expedition hero, sprained both of her poor little ankles, on the descent to Namche.  My cold had not improved, nor did Gerri’s.  We now sounded like the local Khumbu coughers. We were miserable and exhausted. Dan was weak from losing even more weight and muscle. Our trek back to Namche included 15 major uphill battles, and we were sure to count each one. Once in Namche, we settled into the tea house, we took hot showers; we played a game of Farkel, and went to bed (9:00 p.m.).

Day 13 of Trek, May 27, 2007 – 6:00 m 

Up early, once again, to trek from Namche Bazar, back to Lukla.  The 15 Sherpas were all hyped up, as this was that tail end of their trekking season.  We were their last expedition for the summer, and they finally could go home to their families, and relax from their heavy loads.  All of us (now 20+ lbs. lighter), were feeling much better, except for Gerri.  Gerri’s cold was getting the best of her.  I had taken all my antibiotics and antivirus pills, to fight whatever cold I had off.  It seemed to work.  Lee, Marius and Elliott had jointly decided not to continue onto Chyangba, the village where we were to help re-build the school and build/fund to build a new library.  In fact, it was Elliott’s birthday, so he started celebrating immediately upon arrival at Lukla.  After Pem rearranged flight schedules (for the third time), he joined the celebration.  He even had a cake made for Elliott’s 22nd birthday.  Our last visit to celebrate with Elliott was a quaint little bar, where the locals played schooner, and where celebrities had visited.  Sting/The Police had autographed a T-Shirt, which hung proudly on the pub wall, from their recent visit (April 2008) to Nepal.  Crazy!!!

The following day, we all parted via Yeti Airlines – three for Kathmandu, four expedition team members and of the Sherpas to Phaplu, to continue on to Chyangba, and the others ( of the Sherpas) by foot (a three day trek) to Chyangba.  Our flight to Phaplu was delayed, but Lee, Marius, and Elliott made it safely out of Lukla to Kathmandu, where they would stay with Pem’s wife at her family’s hotel, The Himalayan Guest House.  Once we were in flight to Phaplu, the flight lasted a mere 6 minutes.  The landing strip was gravel and dirt, making for a very hard, rough landing.  There were mounds of Nepali people waiting to board the 25 seat flight out.  Pem said the sick, three on stretchers, would be allowed to go first, then “first come, first serve” so to speak.  The flight was free to locals, however, there were only three airlines that flew into Phaplu, and each only once a week.  It saddened me to see people turned away, once the flight was full.


What do Pem Dorjee Sherpa, the first ever to be wed on Mt. Everest [2005, to Moni Mulepati-Sherpa, owner of the Himalayas Guest House in Kathmandu], and guide/director [Sherpa Adventure International], and lead Sherpa of Education Elevated Expedition I, Goran Kropp, Swedish climber who bicycled from Stockholm to Kathmandu and back, and ascended Mount Everest along the way, but tragically died on Sept. 30, 2002 in a mountaineering accident in Washington State at age 35, and Wong Chu Sherpa, Managing Director of Peak Promotions and Summit Team Sherpa of the Everest Imax Film have in common? 


Where is Chyangba Village? It is unmapped, but 8 – 10 miles northeast of Kathmandu – the capital of Nepal.

Chyangba is a small village (approximately 8500 feet above sea level, in the Himalayan mountains) near Mt. Evererst, and home to Pem Dorjee Sherpa and Wong Chu Sherpa.  Pem and Wong Chu are close friends, and they both share a passion for rebuilding the school in Chyangba. This was the same dream of Goran Kropp one year prior to his tragic death, and the same dream of team, Education Elevated Expedition I (Gerri, Julie, Dan, Brandi, Lee, Marius, and Elliot).  Not to mention the fourteen expedition sherpas whom joined the Education Elevated Team I (Nongpre, Pude, Nude, Karma, Nima, Pemba, Dendi and his brother PK, Lakba, Pemba, Pasang, Chokba, Gombu, and Pemba), all from Chyangba and surrounding villages.  

There are over 300 children in and near Chyangba, needing an education, from the first grade age through the middle school age, with less than 75 children getting an education, due to a collapsing school, and availability of teachers. There are only five classrooms in the small elementary school, with room for up to 20 children per classroom, along with old, broken down, hand-carved/crafted wooden bench-style desks and seating.  The two-story secondary school, named after Goran Kropp, with a poster of his Everest summit success still hanging, eerily in the administration office, is cracked, leaning, and nearly ready to collapse – due to lack of funds to maintain the building.  After the tragic death of Goran in 2002, funds discontinued to Chyangba and their school.  And the third building, an uncompleted, two-story, stone building , also in the school yard,  has never been fully occupied, as the organization that promised to build a medical building and library combination, used the money from its contributors, for the initial construction, then left with the remaining funds for personal gain.  Needless to say, this village people of Chyangba have been promised too many times, since Wong Chu Sherpa built the original school, a bigger and more upscale school and life, with complete disappointment every time.  And, not until the Education Elevated Team I (Gerri, Dan, Brandi, and Julie) showed up to work with the people from the village, using bare hands, hoes, and yak skins, along with producing a visible small roll of cash, did the villagers, and surrounding villagers believe there was hope for a new library and school. 

A combined effort of hard work, passion, time, love, (and cash) was all Chyangba needed to have a better school, a better way of life, a better future for the children, and a better future for Nepal.  Even with the continuation of many young Maoists terrorizing small villages throughout Nepal, the Maoist party overtaking the Nepalese government, and forcing even the king to step down (June, 2008) — ending its monarchy, the takeover of Tibet from China, causing ongoing protests, bombings, and arrests, and with the poverty at an all-time high in Nepal, trekkers, tourists, mountaineers, and non-profit organizations have remembered Nepal.  Chyangba Village will, with the recent efforts of those who helped raise money by climbing to Everest Base Camp and summit of Island Peak [20,305 ft] (, have a new library for the children, new books, a remodeled administration office, a media room with a television and DVD’s, a newly leveled schoolyard for competitive volleyball, a fence, new desks and chairs, and open new doors for teacher availability.  The love of two amazing sherpas, a deceased, but remembered climber and mountaineer, and those who donated and climbed for Education


Facts about Nepal and life as a Nepali:  Pem Dorjee Sherpa gave us some heart to heart facts: (1) “It is good to have a child, as there is no insurance in Nepal, and it is how the Nepalese will be taken care of as they age and grow ill.” (2) There is little to no crime in Namche, the biggest village on the trekking trail.” (3) In Kathmandu, crime happens, but it takes too long for the police to arrive, not to mention no one is immediately arrested.  And if a civilian has someone arrested, he and his family are responsible to feed that individual whom was arrested.” (4) “The casinos in Kathmandu are for the people of India.  They go in with 5,000 rupees – for example, and usually come out tripling their money.  They then cash their large check in India.  The Nepalese are not allowed in the casinos.” (5) “There is upper class; middle class and lower class – however, the upper and lower class (or castes) have it better and easier than the middle class.” (6) “Nepali people have a tendency to discriminate against blacks and Israeli’s.” (7) Most Nepali meals are porridge and DalBaht; (8) a favorite alcohol is Roxie – similar to our Everclear.

Fact:  Trek to Everest Base Camp and the return trip is just over 100 miles from Lukla.

Fact:  Elevation at Lukla  is 8200 feet, and at Everest Base Camp it is 18,200 feet — that’s 10,000 feet!

What to not leave home without:  Plenty of Wet Ones, Q-tips (enough for the Sherpas), laundry soap, snicker’s bars, ultra violet water purifier, batteries for head lamps, hand sanitizer, minimum of two decks of cards, Farkel dice game, first aid kits (one for you, and one for your favorite Sherpa), dental floss (for the water buffalo that may get caught in your teeth, and enough  to share with a Sherpa) , a good lightweight book, a dictionary to give to the lead Sherpa, kites, marbles, and jump ropes for the children, metal clasps to hold pvc piping together (for the village water systems), netting for the water tanks/holding tanks from the mountain springs, bug spray with deet,  tennis shoes, flip flops, dark chocolate, gum and plenty of cash to buy water and tip the Sherpas.


View a photo gallery of this trip by Gerri Kier

For more information about trekking in Nepal contact:
Pem Dorjee Sherpa, Guide/Director
Cell 977-9741 128403 (Nepal)
Cell (303) 990-2344 (USA)


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