expeditions begin in the same place, where the only road east of Katmandu ends
in a muddy rice paddy. But not all Himalayan expeditions begin in the same way.
Ours began when Gary Payne and I, both sophomores at Reed College, took off for
a few days of skiing at Thanksgiving in 1962. We talked about trying to climb
Mt. McKinley in Alaska the next summer, and then the conversation wandered from
one more fantastic idea to another. Finally Gary suggested: "Let's go to
Nepal and climb in the Himalayas." I agreed.
During the next
year we talked, wrote letters, made phone calls and begged manufacturers for
supplies and financial help. Slowly our wild, improbable dream began to take
shape. Gary and I were both 19 at the time. Around Christmastime I called an
old high school friend, David Wyatt, then at the University of Chicago, and
outlined our plan. It was sketchy, at best, but Dave thought it was great.
Finally, in September of 1963, the three of us flew to Bombay and then to
Katmandu, the capital of Nepal. The expedition had begun.
Our jeep stopped
near the rice paddy, and our porters came out of a few small buildings where
they had waited for us. The sun began to melt the fog that had settled in the
valley during the night. Above we could see clear, blue sky, and ahead we could
see a rutted trail, the trail to Mt. Everest.
There aren't any
books that tell you how to get along with porters. We had 10 and one Sherpa
guide, and if you don't know how to handle something you have 10 of, you have a
problem. On that first morning near Katmandu we came close to complete
breakdown. The porters wanted to take along an extra member, making 11, and we
told them we really couldn't afford it, which was true. They said they wouldn't
go at all. So there we were, halfway around the world, on the verge of
beginning our big adventure, and we had a labor strike on our hands. We argued
through our Sherpa, and we pleaded and yelled—in English and Nepali. No
Then we tried the
we-are-all-members-of-the-team routine. Gary put on his Pendleton jacket and
Alpine hat, pulled up his collar and walked back and forth in front of the line
of porters, like Vince Lombardi in front of the Packer bench. The porters were
amused. When Gary's line, "All right, boys, I want you to go out there and
walk your tails off," was translated by Lackpa, our Sherpa, the porters
broke into open laughter.
I was less and
less amused, for the day was wearing on. We had allowed ourselves 17 days to
get to Thyangboche, the famous monastery at the foot of Everest from where we
hoped to attempt an assault on some peak, and we wanted to be on the trail. I
finally settled on the magic ingredient in all strike negotiations: more money.
We agreed to pay the 11th man a little baksheesh for his troubles and to give
one porter an extra rupee a day for performing camp duties. Porter wages, when
they work for an expedition, are about 84� a day. Lackpa, the Sherpa, got
$1.12, plus food and equipment. By Nepalese standards they were all well
reluctantly shouldered their loads, and we took our first steps up the trail to
Everest. Ahead—on the march in—lay 175 miles of the beautiful hills of Nepal,
hard work, fun and lots of baksheesh to keep the porters moving.
Those first few
days on the march to Thyangboche were idyllic. No one could ask more from life.
Each morning we rose with the sun and, after a cup of tea, we hiked for four
hours. In the late morning we made camp and cooked a huge meal. Most of the
time we were able to buy fresh eggs and sometimes milk. We used native grains
for cereal when our commercial cereal ran out. In the lowlands we bought
grapefruit, tangerines and bananas. Sometimes after our meal we napped or took
pictures. David collected insects, for we had arranged to make collections for
both the Smithsonian and the Chicago Natural History Museum.
afternoon we would be on the trail again, putting in four more hours of solid
hiking. Sometimes on a hot afternoon we would stop to buy native beer—a thick
gruel called chang—for our porters. We could never stomach the stuff
ourselves—and God knows we tried—but the porters loved it. Its food value was
probably much higher than its alcoholic content.
We hiked in
tennis shoes and shorts, and in the hot afternoons we removed our shirts. We
carried packs as heavy as our porters did and, with the easy
10-to-12-mile-a-day pace, we gradually built up our strength. We would need