Going to bed with hot water bottles in their sleeping bags to keep warm may not have been their idea of a fun spring break, but Josh and Erin Blanchette took it in stride as just one of those things that happens in the Himalayas.
Josh, 18, and Erin, 14, traveled to Nepal with their mom, Yvette, and grandfather, Dennis Bokovoy, this spring for a three-week trek in the Khumbu region of Nepal, ultimately ending up at Mt. Everest Base Camp at the beginning of this spring’s climbing season.
Yvette works as office manager for Adventures International, a Hood River-based adventure travel company owned by veteran mountain climber Scott Woolums that specializes in treks and mountain climbs around the world. For the past several years she’s gone on at least one Adventures International trip a year, leaving her kids for up to three weeks while she traveled to far-away destinations ranging from Argentina to Turkey — and even a previous trip to Nepal.
“It helps me when I’m dealing with trip logistics, and when I’m talking to clients about the various trips,” she said. Last fall, when she and Woolums began planning for this spring’s trips to Nepal, she decided this year would be different.
“I thought, I can’t go on another trip without taking the kids along,” she recalled. She knew they were old enough both to handle the physical demands of high-altitude trekking and to appreciate what many would consider the trip-of-a-lifetime. Josh is a senior at Hood River Valley High School and Erin is in 8th grade at Hood River Middle School.
Yvette’s father had always wanted to accompany her on a trip, so it seemed natural to make it a family affair.
Yvette doubled as mom and trek leader, guiding her family and three Adventures International clients on the 21-day trek. Her trekking group was one of four Adventures International groups in the Khumbu region at the same time — including two climbing groups led by Woolums and guide John Rust that are currently on Mt. Everest readying for summit attempts on the world’s highest mountain and nearby Lhotse, the fourth-highest peak in the world. (See related article on page A1.)
Yvette and her group set out at the end of March from Lukla, a town situated at 9,300 feet that serves as the gateway to Mt. Everest and the Khumbu trekking region. Over the next two weeks, they made their way ever higher through the Khumbu on their way toward Everest Base Camp.
“We took the meandering, scenic route,” Yvette said, “with some trips down side valleys.”
Walking from about 8 a.m. until 2 or 3 in the afternoon, the group spread out each day with everyone going at his or her own pace. By mid-afternoon, they would meet up at the designated stopping place — usually a lodge or tea house where they would stay for the night.
After two weeks on the trail, Yvette’s group climbed 18,000-foot trekking peak Kala Pattar, located a couple of days hike from Everest Base Camp.
“By that time, because we’d taken our time, everybody was acclimatized well,” Yvette said. She was especially proud of her kids, who “cruised along the trail.” As for her dad, climbing the peak was “the highlight of the trip for him,” Yvette said.
By Day 16 of their trek, the group made it to Everest Base Camp, where the Adventures International climbing expeditions were also just arriving. It was “Puja” day, the day picked by a lama for the expedition blessing ceremony.
“It’s a really important ceremony,” Yvette said. “The climbing Sherpas won’t go on the mountain until they’ve had this blessing.” The ceremony lasts several hours, with lamas from a nearby monastery reciting prayers. A giant Puja pole is erected, with five strings of prayer flags strung out for more than 200 feet in all directions from it. Each climber from the expedition offers a piece of personal equipment that is blessed during the ceremony.
Yvette and her trekking group stayed two nights at Base Camp, helping the climbing expeditions set up their camp for the next two months and trying to stay warm.
“Hanging out at Base Camp is the hardest part,” Yvette said. Josh agreed.
“It’s so boring,” he said. He and Erin played cards, read and “spaced out” to pass the time. They crawled into their sleeping bags along with hot water bottles early each night to ward off the cold, but slept restlessly because of the altitude — over 17,000 feet.
After a three-day trek back to Lukla, the group flew to Kathmandu for a couple of days before returning home on April 16.
The best part of the trip, for Yvette, was sharing the whole experience with her family.
“Our trekking group was definitely something of an anomaly, with one of the youngest (Erin) and oldest (her dad) trekkers on the trail,” she said. “That, in combination with my prior connection to our Sherpas granted us a bit more attention than usual.” The Sherpas are the native people who help trekking and climbing groups in the Khumbu region with everything from trip logistics to reaching the summit of the world’s highest mountain.
“Those will be our lasting memories,” she said, “having the opportunity to introduce my children to the Sherpa culture and share in their family life.” As for Josh, he liked being exposed to a different culture.
“I just liked being over there in a totally different place, with different scenery,” he said. “They live a whole different lifestyle.” Erin agreed.
“I liked the people,” she said. After a moment she added, “We don’t need our TV anymore.”
Josh and Erin’s mom hopes that’s a lasting memory of the trip, too.