This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first successful ascent of Mount Everest in May of 1959 by Sir Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Tenzing Norgay, his Sherpa guide and companion.
However, I wasn't focusing on any of that when the name Wendy Booker first came to my attention. When Charles Osgood featured her last May on his "Sunday Morning" show, I was interested in hearing that a woman was trying to climb the tallest mountain on every continent. The Seven Summits, as they are called, with Everest being the highest at over 29,000 feet.
A woman, I thought, and not a 'young' woman at that. Hmmph! But then, I was completely drawn in by her unfolding story when the extensive feature went on to tell about Wendy having been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis ten years before and her determination to "push back" the progression of this disease, to not let it defeat her. "I must follow this woman's progress," I said to myself, and made some notes on my blog calendar.
Since Sunday Morning's feature almost a year ago, Wendy has ascended what she smilingly referred to as a "little bump" (Mount Koscuiszko in Australia, about 7,000 feet) in a 2008 interview which you can find here ... scroll down until you come to the actual interview; trained in Oregon for the Khumbu Ice Fields and on Mt. Ixta in Mexico, where the emphasis was placed on 'being at one with the mountain'. She is back in Nepal for the third time in a year, and is now in the long and slow process of climbing and resting, climbing and resting, acclimatizing all along the way to the ever-decreasing oxygen levels and allowing her body to gain strength for the final push to the top.
[A lot has been written about Wendy and her determined quest. I first published an extensive writeup about her last month, when I became a bit concerned that she hadn't posted on her blogsite since January. I was worried that she had either temporarily succumbed to some of the ravages of her disease or had become terribly discouraged by the arduous training and discipline required to succeed in her goal to conquer all of the Seven Summits. I needn't have worried.]
It will take about two months to complete the ascent. When I first read that, I thought it probably would take that long because she's a woman, is not young and has multiple sclerosis. Foolish me. There are 28 other teams registered to climb Everest this season, and they will all take that long! One of the other teams includes someone who is attempting to be the first woman ever to reach the summit without the aid of oxygen tanks. (Whaaat! Is she insane?)
Wendy wrote that all of the camps en route to the top, not to mention the trails themselves, will be full of other climbing teams. She attributed that to the fact that the northern route from Tibet has been closed to outsiders. I'm sure that's at least partially correct, altho I think the 50th anniversary of that first ascent has a lot to do with it, as well. (What I find kind of interesting is that Sir Edmund's route originated in northeast India and went through Tibet. Prior to 1949, it was Nepal that had been closed to outsiders! ... ... I know so little about that part of the world. This has been a real education for me.)
What I'd like to focus on today are the Sherpas, those unique people who originally migrated from Tibet to Nepal centuries ago and are now such an integral part of any mountain expedition in the Himalayas.
I don't know how much you have read or already knew about Sherpas. Wendy has written about them several times in her blog posts, and a couple of her 'beloved Sherpas' are almost like family to her, she says. My "Wendy's in Nepal!" post (already linked above) attracted an extensive comment recommending the book "Beyond the Summit", by Linda LeBlanc. Are you familiar with that book? I'd like to read it again. (Note to self to go to the library.)
In addition to all of those references, however, I want to recommend National Geographic's most recently-featured article*. It's well-researched and written by T.R. Reid (photographs by Robb Kendrick) and includes many insights into the main religion, language and politics of the region, as well as in depth interviews with families and conclusions based on the writer's personal observations. I found this article fascinating! It provided an added dimension to my understanding of the world of Sherpas.
*This article continues on for at least ten pages. If you have the time, I recommend that you read the whole thing.
I hope that I have been able to entice you into learning more about the Himalayas, the history of that part of the world and the Sherpas; following Wendy's and other teams' progress as they strive to reach Everest's summit and allowing a bit of today's politics, particularly as it pertains to Nepal and Tibet, to seep in to your conscious minds.