The story started 11 years back. I was extremely fortunate to climb to the top of Mount Everest on 2nd June 2005. I was 25, feeling at times invincible. Standing on top of Mount Everest did change my life.
Top of the world. Back in 2005.
Once you become a father, you realise that some priorities change. The first thing I notice is how fast time goes, as my daughter goes from a crying helpless baby to a toddler who advises me not to work too hard. Life also feels a little more vulnerable. In the years since Everest, I broke my knee while skiing, had a couple of slipped disc episodes, and my leg cramped up this week while doing an easy 5K run.
My mind is still strong, but the body wears and tears. Nothing lasts forever. I had some of my best moments in life in the outdoors, and I wanted to make sure I can share this with my children. Toddlers get sophisticated really fast. By two, my daughter could process experiences and learn from there. I brought her to Taiwan and we had such a wonderful time.
A porter greets Little Chow on the trek towards Namche Bazaar, at an altitude of 2900m.
Encouraged by that experience, I decided to do the big adventure. Take her to Everest Base Camp and see the mountain that changed daddy’s life. I will carry her along the way if she gets tired. It will be the most wonderful experience. What could possibly go wrong?
Well. Quite a few things. When her grandparents heard about what we were going to do, they freaked out. My friends thought I was bat shit crazy.
I explained to them that I wasn’t bringing her to climb a huge mountain (yet). It was basically a trek between inhabited villages in the Khumbu valley and it gets quite high after a while. So it was kinda okay.
Little Chow at Namche Bazaar, one of the staging villages for many many Everest Expeditions.
In the end, all went well. We trekked a total of 10 days and we turned back at a village called Pangboche at an altitude of 4,000m (13,100ft). We were 2 days away from Everest Base Camp and I didn’t want to risk Little Chow’s good form at that point. We also got lost on the trail for 6 hours, purely my fault at mis-navigating the trails in the Khumbu Valley. We slept in unheated rooms that were at freezing point and slept well. We even had a mini scare of encountering a potentially hostile yak in the middle of a path.
We walked up a hill in Pangboche till it says 4000m on the watch.
Moreover, there were precious life lessons to be learnt being with a 3-year-old amongst the Himalayas.
Seeing life through a child’s eyes is just different.
Little Chow was really fascinated with everything she experienced, from seeing clouds drift into us at high altitude to interacting with all the animals she saw on the trail — she said “Hi” to each of the donkey, zopkyo, yak, buffalo, dog, cat, crow and insect that she laid her eyes on. Locals were fascinated with a foreign toddler up in the mountains and they brought their children along to interact with her. It was lots of deep human connections and something that I never experienced prior to my expeditions to the Himalayas.
Little Chow runs away from a chicken.
Little Chow cosies up to a fellow local toddler.
Little Chow gets to feed and interact with some baby yaks in Pangboche, a village 4000m above sea level. This is possibly one of her highlights of the trip.
Little Chow didn’t know what her limits were if I didn’t define them for her.
In Asia where I live, there are still expectations on how a girl should grow up. For me as a father, I wanted to show her my world, and in a way that was honest and for her to define it on her own. There were days when we walked for 12 hours and she didn’t complain a single bit because she knew it was part of the journey. She was way stronger than I imagined and it certainly made me proud.
Rooms were modest, unheated but still super cosy after a day’s walk.
It really made Little Chow stronger through some forms of adversity.
My wife, who has been supportive right from the start, came with us on the trip and it was the first time she was exposed to such high altitude. Though she trained hard, there was a day she went down with food flu and struggled through the trek that day. Little Chow was immediately understanding and concerned, making sure mummy felt better. As a family unit, we became stronger through this experience.
Wifey trekking despite a bout of food poisoning. Women are indeed stronger than us men many times over.
Little Chow was introduced to the concept of Yak dung. Dirty, maybe disgusting, but essential for mountain folk as fuel in winter.
I was able to explain how fortunate we are and not to take our way of life for granted.
How often can we do that? I explained to her that many of the Sherpas were happy and satisfied with their way of life in the mountains, but it will be hard for them to make the sudden decision to move to the city, let alone going to a foreign country to start life anew. We as a family have the choice of going for a holiday in the mountains, but the same luxury may not present to them. She learnt how the locals collect yak dung and burn it as fuel when wood and foliage are scarce in winter. It is a dirty job but they have no other option.
Trekking in the Khumbu Valley, flanked by porters with loads up to 60kg. Porters earn between $10 and $15 per day carrying crazy loads.
In the city, we are often caught keeping up with the Joneses.
The material possessions define us, the educational elective programmes that we are urged to put our children through prove our love for them. Companies are happy that worth and success is defined by brands, the money and the acknowledgement from our peers that all is worthwhile. The biggest gift I can give to my child is my time. Before she grows up, before she attends school full time, before she finds a life partner. As a parent, time that I can give to her is more important than anything else in the world.
We really stocked up on medication in case anything happens.
Plan Plan Plan.
I know that the outdoors plus altitude can be dangerous, and I didn’t walk into this adventure blind. Before the trip, I consulted doctors and I knew what our emergency evacuation plans were. As a toddler, she was not allowed to take specific altitude medication that adults can, so I had to closely monitor her for any issues. One of the early symptoms of acute mountain sickness (AMS) is the loss of appetite, and I am pleased to report she ate each meal with lots of gusto.
Little Chow loves her anti Atkins diet and eats every meal with much enthusiasm.
Little Chow drinks milk twice a day, just to make sure she gets sufficient nutrition. That’s Friso milk by the way.
What was the biggest lesson I could give her during this adventure? That we can give back. We can indeed make our world a better place. This is within our control. I summited Mount Everest 11 years ago, and I am eternally grateful for everything that has happened since. Together with some mountaineers, my team mates, and friends, we decided to support 4 children of our climbing Sherpas through private education in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital city, for more than 10 years.
3 of the Sherpa children that we supported. 11 years apart. 2005 and 2016. All photos taken by me.
When we saw them in Kathmandu recently, I was extremely moved to see how mature and articulate they have become, as a result of our involvement and support. The eldest, Mingma, 21, will graduate in Electrical Engineering in a year’s time, while his sister Doma, 18, will complete her degree in Hospitality in two years.
The other two — Lhakpa, 20 and Kama, 15 — have amazed us with their exceptional results, topping their exams each year. Both want to be doctors. If they achieve their dreams, they will be the first female Sherpa doctors in the entire Solukhumbu region. Kama’s ambition is to open the first clinic in Pangboche, her village at 4,000m. Lhakpa wants to be a neurologist.
Lhakpa is 20 years old.
Kama is 15 years old.
Herein lies our biggest challenge: Educational fees for medical courses are estimated at USD$65,000/person for one student’s 6 year course (USD$130,000 total). This is a sum beyond the scope of our little fund. The two girls will, of course, explore scholarships. But having helped improved their opportunities, we will continue to help in any way we can.
Little Chow with the Sherpa children. Kama (third from left) was the same age as Little Chow when I last saw her.
If you are willing to help, please click on the link we set up with Generosity with Indiegogo and we sincerely thank you for the support. All the proceeds will go towards funding their education.
I have told Little Chow this was the plan, and she wants her big sisters to fulfil their dreams. Just like she did when she told me on the flight from the mountains to Kathmandu.
On a propeller plane between Lukla and Kathmandu. Yes, the luggage is stacked like this.
‘I want to grow up into a butterfly.’
‘So I can fly to the clouds, pick up the cloud and put it on my head.’
‘You can be a aeroplane too. That’s faster.’
‘Noooo. Planes don’t have hands.’