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Category Archives: March 2008

March 27, 2008 | Katmandu

Katmandu on a winter’s night is a unique place. People are tucked away in their houses, the aroma of charcoal braziers mixes with the humidity drifting up from the terai. Even with 4 million people in a small valley, there is a hint of the exotic. Perhaps I have read too much Rudyard Kipling and I imagine my self-alive 150 years earlier. With no jet aviation let alone the internal combustion engine mounted to four wheels.

Perhaps this is it . . . my love for nature and the outdoors. I’m perpetually trying to get back to a place and time that is a compilation of my imagination’s best moments. Well,if that is what it is I certainly don’t mind.

I’m in Katmandu for the fifth annual Khumbu Climbing School, a vocational training program for the high altitude climbers of Nepal. The climbers that are with me are here to share their expertise on climbing with the local Nepali people. Our goal is to make climbing (guiding) on the tall peaks safer for the Sherpa – the ones who do the majority of the work and suffer the most of the consequences.

The Khumbu is a special place. The Sherpa people that live in the region are super friendly and have a balance in living with nature. Their villages are within the Sagarmatha National Park – which means they live close to wild places. Land that is arable has been tended for centuries, coaxing potatoes and barley from the sandy soil. It seems the only wildness we find are the high mountains, rising tall above the villages and monasteries. Is it possible that there is actual wildness in these mountains or is it merely a postcard backdrop to a human landscape?

Certainly it isn’t the wilderness one comes to think of in Alaska or Siberia, where human impact is far away and passing when it arrives. But it isn’t the urban landscape that covers much of our delicate planet. Hidden in the steep canyons are tall pine trees, home to squirrels and birds. In the under story one can see the occasional musk deer or if one is lucky and patient a snow leopard. As a climber, the cliffs and peaks call me with their unexplored and mysterious faces and ridges. Here, far above where grasses grow is the stark, desolate wilderness of the high alpine. Trapped in perpetual cold, clad by snow I find my greatest joy being in these high mountains.

Knowing there is wildness, just beyond, in places my imagination can visit and my eyes report upon, is what sustains my drive to be in the woods. The finest moments of my life – from being with my grandfather on the upper Tuolumne River fly rod in hand as a wide eyed six year old to standing on the summit of our shared planet as an incredulous 44 year old – are inextricably tied to the wild. Without it I wouldn’t be who I am.

And if we extrapolate this to the bigger picture, what would our world be without wilderness?

– Conrad

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March 5, 2008 | Katmandu

When we last left each other I was in the narrow canyon of Ouray, Colorado.  Ice climbers mad folk one and all that find happiness scaling daggers of frozen water temporarily suspended in space. Our tribe. We are bound by gravity, driven by the lure of adventure and inspired by the potential a new dawn brings.

Does this spirit of outdoor tribe transcend cultures and continents? As I drive down State Highway 550 to the Montrose regional airport I think about my friends and our passion for wild places. It makes our life complete. Like a secret handshake we greet each other, share the adventure and hold each other’s gaze a second longer knowing we are going back into the fray. “Be careful… be safe… hello to your family and see you soon.”

From Montrose I bump over the Rockies, a trip that just 100 years ago would have been a massive undertaking in the winter. And today? By the time I finish a tiny bag of pretzels we are landing. The flight connects to LAX, the western terminal for the Pacific Rim. Shuffling between waxed floors, pressured counter help and bored security staff I look for a bit of raw dirt. A vestige of wilderness. None to be found.

Once in the jet I’m airborne for 15 hours for a direct flight to Hong Kong. My connecting flight to Katmandu departs this evening and I have 8 hours to find something wild. A modern train whisks me from the airport past high rises that invoke images of the Emerald City from the Land of Oz. At first I think they are office towers – and then I see laundry drying 20 stories up. Do these people get outdoors? Is wilderness part of their life? Once in Kowloon I walk towards a small park. A group of men and women, who have put their youth, their backs into society and have been rewarded with time move in unison. They stretch their bodies and move their arms as if doing battle with slow moving thick air. I’m happy for these calm practitioners of Tai Chi. Their tribe is about them and they have a small bit of open space to relax in.

I find no wild in the concrete canyons of Hong Kong. Yet I find adventure. Walking down an alley, with no direction and no plot I am steered by what catches my attention. It is as if I am in a forest. Each bit of sensory input going through my mind. It has a primal feel to it. A small bun shop piques my sense of smell. My ears open to the sound of a conversation between two friends. Not knowing Cantonese I sense happiness between the two. When I see someone smile I too smile. The damp hot air escaping from a building vent makes me wonder how many people live in the building and what they all do.

From the side street I find the main road, ask a man the direction to the subway/train which will lead me back to the airport. Once through security I step back into the realm of hyber speed transport. My flight boards for Katmandu and i think of the wilderness I’m going to. I am happy.

– Conrad