Photos courtesy of International Mountain Guides.
May 26, 2008 (Nepal) - As Justin Merle climbed toward the peak of Mount Everest Friday he carried the hopes and dreams of hundreds of school children in a small seed pouch hanging from his mountain gear.The climber from Tacoma, Washington didn’t disappoint.At 1:55 p.m. on Friday, the mountaineer reached the summit of Everest with other members of the International Mountain Guides (IMG) climbing team, setting an unofficial world record for most sunflower seeds taken to the top of Mount Everest. Although the record must still by certified by Guinness, 5,000 of the tiny seeds made the trip to the peak.Merle’s final few steps up the mountain ensured the success of the Seeds to Mount Everest project, an initiative launched by Winchester Public School educational assistant Jeff Arsenault who worked with the IMG team to send the seeds to the peak. The idea was to use the seed project to get students interested in gardening.News of the accomplishment was music to the ears of Arsenault, who worked more than two years to organize the project and find a climbing team willing to help out. The seeds will now be returned and distributed to nearly 5000 students at Winchester Public School, Kinsmen-Vincent Massey School in Cornwall as well as at schools in Las Vegas and New York City. Students will plant them this summer to see if the high altitude conditions they were carried through had any effect on the seeds and the plants that will result.“I was just so thrilled and proud to be a part of this,” Arsenault said on Monday of news the seeds had reached the peak. “The kids were thrilled as well and they were all cheering and giving me a big thumbs up when I told them about it.“It showed the kids that if you really want to do something and you persevere, you can succeed.”The plan was to send the seeds to the top of the mountain and later redistribute them to elementary students across North America to grow over the summer months. Students have been asked to plant them and then report back on any changes in the plants resulting from exposure to high altitudes.Arsenault hopes the novel seed project will spark an interest in gardening among the younger generation. He hopes student volunteers will grow the flowers and pass on resulting seeds, as well as the joy of gardening, to even more students.
A veteran gardener himself, Arsenault wants to turn kids on to gardening because it creates a “peace of mind and conscientiousness about life.”
He hopes to have the seeds back from Everest within the next few weeks so he can distribute them to his volunteers. Arsenault will be in touch with the Guinness organization in hopes of having the record set by Merle officially recognized.