NEWSLETTERS - Everest Spring 2010

Newsletter 710 April 2010

Living in the Land of the Sherpas – but who exactly are they?

The world ‘Sherpa’ often creates some sort of confusion and trekkers are often not aware of the fact that the Sherpas are actually an ethnic group of Nepal. They often refer to their porters as Sherpas, however, they are probably more likely to employ a ‘Gurung’ or ‘Tamang’ as a porter than an ethnic Sherpa. Ethnicity is pretty complex in Nepal as there are around 101 different ethnic groups in the Himalayan country.

According to the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, the last census recorded that there were 154,622 Sherpas in Nepal, most of which live in the Everest region. The word “Sherpa” comes from Tibetan and means “eastern people” as they migrated from eastern Tibet and settled in the Khumbu more than 300 years ago. Sherpas are traditionally known to be strong high altitude climbers, however, it sometimes seems that they get forgotten when we talk about expeditions to Mount Everest.

Every year, the so-called “ice fall doctors” take on one of the most dangerous jobs on the Nepal side of the mountain, which is fixing the treacherous Khumbu Icefall with ropes, ladders and what else is needed for the mountaineers to cross the huge crevasses that make their way through the glacier to reach Camp 1. Without these hard-working guys the icefall, which is the gateway to the climb, could not be crossed.

This is just a short note to remind us that without the Sherpas Mount Everest would be a very different mountain and not many people would be able to climb it. And even though most of us are aware of the strength and importance of these mountain people, when it comes down to “western” achievements, they often get very little credit. I will introduce you to some of our Sherpa crew once I am at base camp but for today I would like you to meet Dorin Baciu from Romania and Andre Courtois from France.

Dorin Baciu

Dorin Baciu from Iasi in Romania works as a lecturer at the Alexandru Ioan Cuza University. The 49-year-old geologist is married without children.

How did you first come across Everest and who inspired you to climb it?
I started climbing in the Carpathians in Romania, where I reached the country’s highest point of 2,500m. After 1990, when the Communist system had collapsed, we had the opportunity to travel abroad so I started to think about climbing in other countries. I started with Elbrus in 1993, and then Mount Kenya and Kilimanjaro in 1995. In 1996, I attempted to climb Dhaulagiri I in Nepal but we did not get to the summit due to bad weather. But the good thing was that we came back with all our fingers and toes.

After that I stopped climbing for a while but in 2005, a few years after I had finished my doctoral thesis in geology, I started thinking about high mountains again. In 2007, I climbed Aconcagua, my highest peak so far, and last year I went on a very special trip: I climbed Mera Peak together with my wife and she was amazing.

Everest became an increasing desire for me and when I proposed to my university that I could put their flag on top of the world they said ‘yes’, and that’s why I am here today.

What has been your biggest achievement so far?
In 2002, together with a team of geologists I discovered a lot of new fish fossils. We actually gave these fossils names and with this we have certainly made history. It is something that will be with me for the rest of my life. If I make it to the top of Mount Everest, people will probably forget after a few months.

What is your biggest challenge on this Everest expedition?
I am my biggest challenge. The mountain is not a challenge. I look at the mountain as a geologist. I am afraid of myself and I am worried that I cannot climb it, that I am not mentally strong enough, or that I am not healthy enough. I don’t want to disappoint my friends and that puts a bit of pressure on me.

How do you think Everest will change your life?
I think I will be more careful with people around me after this expedition. I will probably look at people differently and I will understand them better, and maybe look through them a bit better.

I don’t think my life will change drastically but I am sure I will learn many things that will hopefully stay with me for the rest of my life. And maybe I will climb the Seven Summits with the flag of university, which would certainly change my life.

How mentally prepared are you for the possibility of not getting to the top?
If I don’t make it, I think I would like to return. I will certainly continue the same life but I will be disappointed. If I stop because I am too exhausted or I do not acclimatise then I will not come back, but if it is due to the weather, I certainly will.

What will you carry to the summit?
The flag of the university.

Andre Courtois

Andre Courtois from Aix-les-Bains in France is a car dealer. The 50-year-old has done 16 expeditions all over the world and has climbed extensively in Zanskar and Lhadak. In 2005, he reached the top of Cho Oyu and in 2007 he was on Gasherbrum I in Pakistan, where he reached an altitude of 7,300m. He is also aiming for the Seven Summits and if successful, Everest will be his fifth peak. Andre is married with one daugher (22).

How did you first come across Everest and who inspired you to climb it?

Everest is not a childhood dream for me. My childhood dream is to cross Greenland. I read a book about it when I was a child and I was fascinated by the cold and the white landscape. My other project is to cross the Tierre de Baffin with a friend by bike, which will take about one month. However, I was on Gasherbrum I with the South African explorer Mike Horn and he was a great inspiration for me to climb Everest.

What has been your biggest achievement so far?

Climbing on Gasherbrum I was one of my biggest climbing achievements, as the Japanese Corridor was very difficult. Even though we did not make it to the summit I have the feeling that I have really achieved something by getting to 7,300m.

What is your biggest challenge on this Everest expedition?

The summit, as I think it will be very difficult. Another challenge is to build a team and make friends as I am not so good with people.

How do you think Everest will change your life?

I don’t think Everest will change my life, however, Cho Oyu actually did. On this expedition I met many Tibetans and their children and I am now supporting a school and I sponsor a girl. The expedition to Cho Oyu opened my eyes to the misery of many people in this world.

What will you carry to the summit?

I will carry the flag of my hometown and a flag of my company to the summit.