Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Construction update.

Mingma's home as of November 18,2015

I heard from Mingma shortly after my return from Nepal. He sent me a message through Facebook that read ;
Namaste dave sir
i got a wifi connection after a long.. i did all the expenses after all that all my personal money is not enough... the workers wages are too expensive thats out of my money if you can then i need about $6000 for the complete of my house ... please dave i know i owe you a lot but i need your help.. and i know you will help me ....

To westerners this might seem audacious keep asking for more. And I have to admit it felt pretty shitty. But then I reminded myself that the cultural chasm between Mingma and I is indeed vast, vast enough that I cannot assume what is rude in my world might not be course of business in his. I was also surprised by the amount Mingma requested. I had run the numbers past several Sherpa not connected with the project and they all thought the aid One Sherpa Home had provided (approximately $12,000 all in) was enough to rebuild the home. As well, I knew a few of Mingma's past climbing clients had also given him money. Mingma never disclosed how much of his own money was going into the project, nor the amount bid by the contractor, so it was impossible to establish his level of financial need versus want. I have come to understand that most Sherpa's believe westerners are all rich enough that dropping $6,000 here and there is of no consequence to them, yet that same amount is equivalent to 5 years wages for the average Sherpa. So they probably feel there is no harm in asking. I get that, but I was already into the project to the tune of $10,000 in addition to what OSH provided and, given the factual voids in the project's budget, could not put more into it.

I replied to Mingma with this message;
I am sorry Mingma, but I have done all I can do. You will have to find help from someone else.

That was it. No reply came. No word at all. Weeks passed as I wondered how construction was going ...IF construction was proceeding. So I sent Mingma a message last week asking for a picture of his home. He sent the above photo a few days later. No words came with it.

When we left Phortse a month ago there was just a foundation with rebar reaching 12 feet into the air. The current photo shows quite a bit of work has been done since then. Though some of it deviates from the design Trevor put together (such as using traditional stone walls without gabions) the basic structure looks pretty true to form. I look forward to seeing Mingma's home completed. For all he and I do not understand about each other, it seems clear we share this common goal.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Becoming Nepal

Through the years, I have known the pleasure of visiting many fine locations; beaches, resorts, ski slopes and lodges ...places so carefully crafted that they asked nothing of me, and I in return gave nothing back. To be certain, these were marvelous experiences in a temporal sense, and I would be sad to imagine having no more like them, but the simple fact is that nothing changes in the course of living them.  From food to linens to the very reshaping of the landscape these places sit upon, every aspect of them has been designed to match or exceed the comforts of home. 

It is not possible to visit Nepal. It does not understand your expectations and lacks the pretense to suggest otherwise. Kathmandu will show you her slums gathered just outside the airport, her miserable infrastructure and filthy streets. You will lose power a few times each day. There is little good coffee, and the crush of humanity will dissuade you from seeking it out. The air is thick with dust and smog, and the constant chatter of horns will fill your head as cars and motorcycles converse, weaving an auditory blanket of chaos. Yet the people of Kathmandu will strike you as remarkably warm, kind, and happy. You might attribute this to their trying to compensate for all that this place is not. You would be wrong. This is who they are, in spite of all they do not have, and something about that realization will invite you to bear witness on a personal level, unfettered by the possessions you left at home. 

The Khumbu will show you much fewer people and no motorized vehicles, aside from the occasional helicopter. It is nothing if not peaceful. But this comes at a cost. About 30% of the air one would normally breath is absent at this elevation, the water quality is suspect, and the vast majority of restrooms consist of drop pits below a hole in the floor. The lodges are unheated, the food is mostly freeze-dried, and personal hygiene becomes a battle not worth fighting. Yet here again you will find the most pleasant human beings walking the earth; toothless old men who join their hands in prayer and say “namaste” as you pass, Porters who find the strength to greet you as they toil beneath loads exceeding their own weight, children who extend a tiny brown hand for the sake of feeling your palm against theirs.  

There is no visiting Nepal. You can only become it. And the degree to which you do so will be defined by your ability to let go; let go of all your definitions and judgements, your petty needs and vulnerabilities. Let go of the anger you carry for slights you can’t even recall. Let go of more-ness. Let go of your self-limitations and slavish traditions. Let go of the self-protections that prevent your heart from growing. And with each thing you let go of, you will feel that space filled with warmth as you become Nepal. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Pressing on.

Mingma came to see us off the next morning as Dawa and his crew broke down our camp. He thanked me again for helping with his home and pledged to post photos as the reconstruction continued on. We hugged, then I set off with the group, trekking to Pangboche.
Jess visiting a monastery.
It felt good to be underway again as we traversed one side of the valley, gaining altitude over the course of the four hour trek to Pangboche. The weather was pleasant, the vistas magnificent, and the mood of our group was upbeat, having redefined our home building objective and declared victory.

We stayed that night in a lodge that boasted a visit by President Jimmy Carter many years ago. I bought a shower that evening and tried to imagine the former peanut farmer shivering in the same makeshift enclosure where I bathed, water falling freely through a hole in the floor while a bare light bulb dangled above. The proprietor set a fire to burning in the yak dung stove as we settled into the common room for dinner. This far up the Khumbu Valley almost everything on the menu consisted of some configuration of potatoes, rice, or pasta. Owing to government regulations of the national park these villages reside in, any fresh meat had to be butchered outside the boundaries, in Lukla, then carried in. Any such meat would spoil before making it this far up the valley, so canned tuna and spam were the only options. Still, we enjoyed our meals then played cards for an hour or so until everyone stalked off to bed.

I asked Dawa to summon representatives of the Pangboche clinic and school while we ate breakfast the following morning. By the time we finished our meal they had arranged several chairs running side by side across the patio. We were seated as dignitaries by the representatives and tea was served as I explained the purpose and mission of One Sherpa Home. On behalf of our donors and the assembled away team, I presented each institution with a cash sum of $250, the remaining resources in our coffers. You might have thought we were handing over the keys to a new hospital for all the gratitude that followed, including ceremonial khatas, hand shakes, and beaming smiles. Remote villages like Pangboche have so little to begin with, and with the tragic events of the last two years what modest income they enjoy from trekkers and climbers has been slashed. But people still get sick and children still need an education. So cash infusions like ours go a long way. I thought about the generous donors to OSH and wished they could have all been present to see the good their money was doing.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Complete Loop

By Karina Gallant.
Our arrival at the work site in Phortse was a disappointment at first. We all had our reservations on the trek up; worries about materials, and about what we’d get done in the short time we had there, and many of our fears and more were realized. There were no new materials, no gabions being built, and no workers. Mingma spoke about a mysterious “carpenter” that was supposed to arrive, and about the new windows he was having built, even though the old windows had been salvaged. Our perusal of the half built climbing school was not reassuring. It had been worked on and reworked on many times over the years, and was still nowhere close to completion. Dave’s 3 am insight was the theory that Mingma’s carpenter was really a contractor, and that he had used the money One Sherpa Home collected to pay this contractor and his workers. The frustration was palpable, but spirits were kept high and we tried to make the best of the situation until we had a better understanding.

The next day, Dave and Dawa confirmed with Mingma that this was in fact the case. Mingma is such an agreeable person, and the cultural differences made communication so difficult that he did not want to disappoint Dave, which led to the miscommunication. I also suspect that a friendship built on Everest does not translate very well into other situations—especially something like this. Fortunately, the contractor was very open to suggestion and they agreed that the house was going to be built to the original design. There were still very few workers though, and we knew that there wasn’t much we could do, so we agreed to leave Phortse early to do further trekking and complete a loop back to Namche.

When we left, there was a trench built around the house, and a few of the gabions were in place. The house needs around 100 to be complete, and it will probably not be done by winter as hoped, but after the first night we were much happier with the way things were going and with our understanding. The lack of workers and slow movement left us with a lot of free time, and we were content to drink tea, read books, and explore the village in the sunny mornings. A few of us took a hike to catch a glimpse of Cho Oyo, weaving above the village and through Phortse’s summer village, which is a little fairytale mountain town with stone houses and pastures and used in the months where the sun hits that side of the mountain.

At night, we would gather in the dining tent to eat the delicious meals prepared to us by the cook crew, which made the expectation that we’d all lose 10 pounds completely unreasonable. They fed us soup, potatoes, pizza, and various meats three times a day, which we rarely were able to finish. We very quickly ran out of civilized conversation and resorted to making fun of each other and telling bad jokes in our post dinner delirium. We were tucked in bed with our hot Nalgene bottles by 730 each night, and up early the next morning to gather at the work site or relax in our tents.

The day we left, we were surprised with snow in the morning, offsetting the predictable pattern of clear mornings and cloudy afternoons. It was a short hike to the Trekkers Holiday Inn Lodge in Pangboche, and we were bombarded with views of Ama Dablam and surrounding mountains. We went to Lama Geshe’s house and he blessed us, placing a scarf and red cord around our necks and having us chant along with him. The warm accommodations made us feel rebellious, and we would stay up til a whopping 8:30 to play cards and drink Khukri rum.

 Next was Rivendell, a lodge in Deboche. Sadly, we were not greeted by elves. We proceeded to try to score a helicopter ride, failing when we were told it would be about $2000. It was for the best, because the hike to complete our loop to Namche proved to be one of the most beautiful so far. When we said goodbye to the Namche Bazar, it really sunk in that the trip was coming to a close. Tonight, we celebrated our last night in the Khumbu with whiskey and another game of Oh Hell, our group’s official card game. Tomorrow, we fly back to Kathmandu. Although we may not have completed as much on Mingma’s house as we all hoped, these past few weeks have been a beautiful and unforgettable experience, and I think we all deserve to feel good about what we did. Along with helping provide funds and insight on his home, we donated money to a few climbing schools and clinics, tipped our Sherpas graciously, and hopefully started a pattern by teaching the contractor more earthquake resistant methods. Not to mention the amazing time we had hiking and bonding with the group and the villagers.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Parting blessings

By the fifth day of work we were running out of things to do. The next step involved placing the wire gabions in the trenches, tying them with rebar (Mingma’s home was the first ever in Phortse to use rebar), then filling the cages with carefully arranged stones. But the process of weaving the gabions from spools of wire was going slowly, only producing six in the course of three days. So we placed those cages and supervised the crew as they integrated the rebar both laterally and vertically, then knocked off early. 

We talked about the remaining days as we ate lunch back at our camp. Having trained the local crew on what to do with the gabions, it seemed senseless to linger in Phortse for four more days as the cages were slowly produced, so we decided to break camp on the 16th and pull a long deep loop into the magical villages of Pangboche, Dingboche, and Tengboche. 

Phortse's RN with Dave Mauro

The costs associated with building Mingma’s home had become much clearer since arriving in Phortse and I determined that OSH carried a modest surplus of cash. The group discussed ideas for using these funds and agreed we should make donations to Phortse’s clinic and school. We visited the modest one-room clinic the next morning and presented the attending RN with $500, a truly substantial sum for a health care facility serving people so poor they most often can not afford to pay anything for their care. The Vice Chairman of the school board was summoned by Dawa and we likewise presented $500 to him. He was greatly appreciative. 

We placed several more gabions the next day and spent a good bit of time going over the building plans with Mingma, Dawa, the Mason, and the Contractor. Though polite nodding almost certainly stood in the place of true understanding at times, there was enough dialogue between us to convey their grasp of what needed to be done. Then Mingma and his wife presented each of us with a ceremonial khata, a cream-colored silk scarf gifted in Buddhist culture as an act of thanks. Mingma’s wife gave me a full formal ensemble of sherpa clothing for Lin, a colorful layering of hand-sewn skirt, blouse, apron and headwear. It is too rare that a person gets to connect with a foreign culture the way our away team did in Phortse. We all felt grateful and proud.  

Monday, October 19, 2015

Building builders who build.

Over the next two days we directed the movement of several massive rock piles located on the footprint for Mingma’s house. A Lama arrived to bless the home that would be, creating a work stoppage as he occupied one lot line, so we shifted to one end of the property establishing a station for weaving wire gabions. Then a rebar cutting station was constructed in the adjacent property owned by Mingma’s brother. Things started cooking. We still had only six hired hands, but everyone was working hard. 

As soon as the Lama finished his chants we pulled everyone into the center, digging the foundation trenches with spades and shovels. Dirt was flying in every direction until three massive boulders were unearthed. The crew chief tried to make the case nothing could be done about them, but we were unwilling to compromise the even strength of the home’s foundation. So heavy chisels and sledge hammers were brought out and the boulders were pounded until they yielded into smaller and smaller stones. 

From time to time we pulled a new power tool out of the duffels shipped from Kathmandu and Jess held a clinic on it’s use and the safety practices. No one had seen a sawsall before, and at first the workers installed the blade backwards. But the tool immediately replaced the time-consuming use of hand saws. Likewise, the builders were not familiar with the jigsaw we brought. Once again it’s usefulness was immediately recognized. A few of the tools we brought ended up being useless as they consumed far more watts than the local 1,000 watt micro-hydro plant produced. I gave Mingma permission to resell these items back in Kathmandu for building funds. 

Any discussion of the work in progress had to occur with tea service and polite conversation, which was consistent with local norms, and we truly wanted to respect these, but after three days our sense of urgency was exceeded only by our inability to consume more tea. Then, without our saying anything, our morning tea service was replaced with cans of San Miguel beer arranged on a serving platter and paraded before the trenches by Mingma’s sister. 

Greg Morgan arrived in Phortse on the fourth day, joining our happy band of trolls in the ridge top encampment. It was good to see Greg and especially helpful since an awful cold was moving through our ranks, taking people out of action on a rotating basis. He immediately jumped into the trenches with Claus and Jess while Karina cut rebar with an electric grinder and Annette crushed rocks with the other women to generate the gravel needed. Mingma and his wife both dug and moved stones. His elderly mother stood by chanting as she worried her sacred beads. 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Giving isn't easy.

We settled into our camp in Phortse then walked down to Mingma’s home site for our first real look at what we would be spending the next 9 days doing. Indeed, Mingma’s original home, half destroyed by the earth quake, had been taken down and sorted into various piles of salvaged materials. Check. 

Nothing else Trevor and I had asked was done. Though we had harped endlessly for three months about having the gabions built and the lumber purchased neither were. There was no where near enough concrete mix and an even greater dearth of sand and gravel to mix with it. The twenty workers I had asked Mingma to select, and he had assured me were at the ready, turned out to be an earnest crew of six. A carpenter’s tent had been erected and work was well underway to build new Sherpa windows for the future home, in spite of the old salvaged windows appearing perfectly usable. We were stunned and crest-fallen. 

When I asked Mingma about the 2x4’s we had listed on the supplies detail he smiled and said “Is not possible.” I told Mingma there would be very little we could accomplish without the materials we had asked him to obtain. Strangely, this did not seem to worry him much. So we stalked back to our camp shaking our heads and wondering where the hell things had all gone wrong. 

The team drank Khukuri rum in our dining tent and tried to cypher the strange circumstance we had just travel half a world to get to. Central among our questions was the money I had sent to procure building materials. Back at the home site I had asked Mingma how much of $9,000 sent by Western Union was left. At first he said none. Then he said $1,000. I knew it had cost $2,600 to salvage his old home, but this till left about $5,000 unaccounted for. How could it be gone when there was nothing to show for it? We turned in early, tired from the trail, and resolved to figure the whole thing out the next day. 

I woke that night around 2 a.m. and, lying in my tent, hit upon the only answer that made sense; Mingma had hired a Contractor to build his home instead of relying on us. That was why the money was gone. Mingma had handed it over to the contractor. There were no supplies because either the builder planned to use only salvaged materials, or he would be ordering supplies later as needed. Mingma had talked about a “carpenter” working on his home, but his limited english must have intended to say Contractor. 

I ran my theory by the rest of the team at breakfast the next morning. Most thought it seemed plausible. I asked Dawa, our chief guide, to come with us to Mingma’s that morning as his english is quite good and, absent a vested interest, he seemed like the straightest path to the truth of the matter. He, Mingma, and I retired to Mingma’s makeshift home for a conference a short while later.
“I think I understood what you said yesterday,” I began through Dawa, “but I need to make sure so I asked Dawa to help me today.” Mingma nodded pleasantly. “You used part of the money I sent to have your old home salvaged and the rest you gave to the carpenter you have hired to build your new home.” Dawa translated. He and Mingma exchanged a few words, then both nodded to me in affirmation. It was important to phrase things this way, as though Mingma had already come forth with the most difficult piece of information, to avoid any loss of face. “And the carpenter will use that money to buy supplies and pay workers,” I continued. Again Mingma and Dawa both nodded agreement. “So we are here just for the idea of the house, to get it started and teach the drawings to the carpenter?” This too was correct. I didn’t feel any better, but at least I now understood. 

Outside, Claus and Jess were busy making measurements and laying out the foundation lines for the new home. I told them what I had learned, then joined in helping with their survey. Having something to do helped us work off our frustration and by setting the corners for the new house we could at least make sure it would be situated, as planned, away from the downhill terrace. We broke for lunch at noon and hiked back to our camp. 

While the cook’s assistant, Nuri,  spooned out fried spam and potatoes, we all sorted through the smoldering remains of our fine fine plans. There was no doubt in my mind that Mingma, after months of communicating with Trevor (OSH Architect) and myself, understood our original plan. It also seemed clear he had chosen to change that plan without consulting us. This was troubling, but the question remained “what do we do now?” Since a professional crew (from Namche) had been hired, there would be no teaching opportunity for local Sherpa. There might be tools or techniques we could teach to the hired workers, but the notion of providing a trade to local Sherpa was out the window. On the other hand, this took the onus off of us to accomplish great things during the short time we were to be in Phortse since a competent group of builders would continue on until the home was built. And that was the main thing we set out to do; make sure a new home was built for Mingma. From that perspective it wasn’t particularly important who built it. But we also wanted to make sure the new home was earth quake resistant and our confidence had been rattled. It seemed likely this contractor and Mingma would err toward what they knew once we left, building the new home back in the same fashion of the one that had fallen down. That would not do. 

Dawa and I met with Mingma and the contractor again after lunch. We went over the plan designs in great detail. I hammered hard on the parts that were critical to improved safety, like tying the home to the foundation with rebar, and they genuinely seemed committed to building the home designed by Trevor. So Jess, Claus, and I decided to work on the project as far as possible until absent materials brought things to a halt. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Namche to Phortse

We set out from Namche on a beautiful morning,

through tiny villages, past ornate prayer wheels,

below forests of rhododendron, 
to high vistas of Phortse. 

Dawa and his crew had already set up our camp on a breathtaking ridge

where we sat and looked out across the beauty of the Himalayas. 

 It was nice.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Going silent.

Dear Blog readers, 
We leave for Phortse in an hour. As there is no internet there, you will not find any updates until we pass back through Namche on our way home 10 days from now. We will no doubt have much to share with you then. Namaste. 

The plumbing kid of Namche.

by Dave Mauro
Mingma arrived in Namche with plumbing on his mind. Though I had not gotten around to asking about the toilet, shower, and sink at his home, Mingma found them in want during his brief visit to Phortse. He led me to an unremarkable purveyor of trekker’s gadgets and distillates then set about discussing toilet options in Nepalese. I drug a Coke off one shelf and cracked it open, still unsure what we were doing in this place. Then a young Sherpa boy suddenly stood and ran out of the shop, peppered with directives by the woman behind the counter even as the dust settled in his tracks. Five minutes later he appeared with a toilet in his arms. 

The next hour passed with this process repeating over and over again. I would explain to Mingma that we needed a six inch Y joint for the bathroom drain system and the kid would take off burning sneaker rubber. He always came back with exactly what we needed. I wanted to test his abilities and say “we need a holy grail” but it seemed pointless since I quite fully expected he would return with one. PVC, elbow joints, and strangely ornate fixtures piled up on the floor before us as the woman behind the counter and the boy with smoking shoes worked in perfect concert. I handed over four thousand rupee while Mingma called in an airstrike of porters then we eased down the stone pathway in search of green paint. Only green paint. Must be green paint.

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Sourcing: A case study.

Nawang and her makeshift dental clinic.

Back in Kathmandu our chief logistics coordinator, Ang Jangbu, chose one of his longtime Sherpa’s, Dawa, to guide One Sherpa Home from Lukla to Phortse. I already knew Dawa from my 2013 Everest Team. He guided team mate Rob Marshall to the summit on the same day I hit it. I spent time catching up with Dawa during the trek to Namche and shared our rebar conundrum with him. He visited Namche’s only Dentist, Nawang, the evening we arrived and mentioned our difficulties while she worked on his mouth. The dental clinic had been destroyed in the earth quake, so Nawang was drilling teeth in one corner of the community center while her facility was being rebuilt. She commiserated with Dawa, describing her own difficulties in the course of having the clinic rebuilt. The large Russian helicopter that normally brought essential materials to Namche was grounded and such and such. But she had managed to buy some rebar off a guy building a lodge on the other side of Namche. 

Dawa brought Nawang to breakfast this morning for the sake of repeating her story, which likely held more currency with us than anyone else in the Khumbu. Indeed, construction was well underway on her clinic and still rebar remained in her stock yard. It was possible she could spare some. So we cruised up to Nawang’s job site an hour later and found the most beautiful rusted rebar any of us had ever laid eyes on. Much of it had been tied into forms that were yet to be placed, but an exciting quantity laid about like windfall fruit, wistful and beckoning. Nawang called her contractor, who said he needed every piece of what they had. But Nawang was taken with our plight and thusly called the guy she bought her rebar from, Tshering, who by-the-by worked on a landscape crew in Seattle for two years, and he took pity on us. We presently found ourselves standing before a soul withering pile of bent metal that might or might not be for sale. There was talk, and measuring, off-hand chuckles, and fierce calculation. Claus advised me of our need for 1,200 linear feet of rebar at the minimum and Tshering allowed that such a quantity would not displease him. Tshering quoted me a price, which I will not repeat here as I intend to bury it deep within the myriad numbers I must submit to the Board of Directors of One Sherpa Home, and a deal was struck. I might have bartered. I also might have dressed as a Disney character. Tshering and I both knew I had no leverage whatsoever. Without that rebar our entire project was a nonstarter. I handed over a wheelbarrow of rupees and sulked off to meet Mingma. 

The Trek

By Karina Gallant

Two days ago, we arrived in Lukla at what’s known as the most dangerous airport in the world. There is really no margin for error. The landing strip is only slightly longer than a commercial airplane, and drops off a steep cliff on takeoff. Fortunately, we were all much too distracted by our first clear view of the mountains to fear the landing, and we all made it in one piece. While the Sherpas strapped about 140 pounds each of our luggage onto their backs, we relaxed in a coffee shop and enjoyed a pastry before setting off through town behind scores of other trekkers.
Dave dances on a suspension bridge

I stumbled along in awe of the beauty that I would soon become accustomed to, trying to take in the culture and the view all while not tripping over my feet. The fresh mountain air was a great relief from the smog and pollution of Kathmandu, and the calm steady hike and beautiful scenery was enough to distract from the thinning air and rapid elevation gain. The trek to Monjo—our camp that night—weaves through small villages, along cliffs and grey rivers and past prayer wheels and Sherpas carrying more than their weight with a strap on their heads. It’s a descent from about 9,000 feet in Lukla to 8500 in Monjo. We arrived at our lodge at tea time, and soon after, Anette brought out a bottle of scotch that her poor Sherpa had hauled up the mountain. This quickly became a theme at tea time and dinner, a slight escape after a day of working hard.

We began our promised steep ascent with eyes on the Bridge of Sighs, the most notable suspension bridge on the trek so far. It rose high above the river and was covered in hundreds of prayer flags flapping in the wind. Soon, our climbing was rewarded with our first glimpse of Everest, its significance more exciting than the mountain itself. The further we travelled from the villages, the more I was reminded of home. If it wasn’t for the prayer flags and enormous mountains, it wouldn’t take much to convince me I was in the North Cascades. The towns we did see were a mix of old and new—many houses utterly destroyed by the earthquake, but many lodges and restaurants standing well.
Home destroyed by earthquake

I bounded ahead chatting with our guide about his family and mine, and took pictures of every cat, dog, yak, and mountain that I saw. Finally, Namche Bazar was in view, a terraced village set in the hill. It is much like the others we’ve seen but on a much larger scale. Tents, lodges, and shabby homes are placed randomly around patches of land where zoes graze and crops grow. Mountains rise above on every side, and the edge of the town drops off into a deep valley. A monastery lies up above the village, surrounded by construction projects and rocky trails. We spoke to a woman, Nawang, who runs a dental clinic here, and many of her young patients skip around the boarding school in their matching uniforms.

Currently, Clark and Jes are hiking towards a nearby hospital. Dave, Anette, and Claus are shopping for more supplies, because Namche is our last chance before Phortse. I managed to secure a free day, and am sitting on a rock with at least five different mountains surrounding me, and a baby zoe grazing nearby. Seeing these grand mountains on such a close scale awakens a mountaineering desire I never knew I had. Hopefully it won’t be long before I’m back here standing on top of one of the snowcapped peaks. Tomorrow we will ascend to Phortse with Mingma to begin our project, assuming we can find all the materials. 

View of Namche Bazar

OSH video: Bridge of Sighs.

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Echo's of Jeff Spicoli

Someone else's rebar.
“Relax, all right? My old man's a TV repairman, he's got this ultimate set of tools. I can fix it!”
               -Jeff Spicoli, Fast Times at Ridgemont High

I felt too much like Jeff Spicoli as we shipped off our duffels of tools purchased in Kathmandu. Though we certainly know more about building a sherpa home than Jeff did about fixing a crashed TransAm, the voids of critical information leave us no better off. We know lumber has arrived at the job site, but we don’t have an inventory of the pieces. We know 30 sacks of concrete now sit where Mingma’s home once stood, but we don’t know if they are 30, 50, or 80 pound sacks. What we do know with certainty is that there is no rebar, insulation or J-bolts, and winter is coming. 

The missing rebar is a big deal because without it we can’t stabilize the rock gabions that form most of the first level. We have considered hiring a helicopter to fly a load of rebar into Phortse, but the current petrol shortage, owing to a tiff between India and Nepal, has grounded all such flights. We have one last shot at finding rebar this morning in Namche. Dawa, our guide, knows of a warehouse here where some hardware is sold. That said, everyone is rebuilding right now and supplies of most materials are nada. So we have a plan B to build the entire home in stick frame fashion, omitting the rock gabions, but allowing for the subsequent addition of stone aesthetics. A proper sherpa home must display some stone element on its exterior and we remain committed to respecting the cultural norms. 
But this would mean pouring a concrete foundation instead of a gabion foundation and, once again, rebar is needed to do this properly. So……

The insulation can be brought in from Kathmandu and installed after the fact by Mingma, so that’s not an immediate concern. But the absence of J bolts is a biggy. J bolts are used to secure a home to its foundation. The curved part of the J is sunk down into the concrete as it is poured (preferably hooking around a long lateral piece of rebar). The straight part of the J is left sticking straight up. The wooden bottom plate is then drilled to match the placement of the J bolts and is bolted down be way of their threaded shafts. We spent our last day in Kathmandu searching for a solution. Several well-meaning shop owners suggested hacks that were easily disproven by the heaped up wreckage of a nearby building that had used them. We left for the Khumbu empty handed. 

Though many homes survived the earthquakes of last April, we saw no shortage of sad tales as our Away Team trekked up the Khumbu valley. Some homes still lay in  dusty mounds of stone and broken timbers. Others had been cleared away and rebuilding was well in process. In both cases we observed the troubling practice of laying wooden bottom plates down upon dry-stacked stones with no means, sans gravity, for securing one to the other. In a sense, earth quakes change gravity for a brief moment. But anything not strapped down is unlikely to land where it started, and so collapse is almost a certainty. Our chief carpenter, Jess Shaffer, had the foresight to purchase most of the metal brackets and saddles we will need before leaving home. These will add truly substantial structural integrity to Mingma’s home. But if we don’t tie it down to its foundation we cannot expect to fare much better than Jeff Spicoli when the owner of that TransAm caught with him.

Please donate to One Sherpa Home HERE

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Kathmandu Too

View from top floor of a home being restored after earthquake damage 

By Karina Gallant

While the guys spent the day shopping for tools, Annette and I took a more touristic approach. We lined up a driver to take us to Bhaktapur, an ancient city located a few miles from Kathmandu, now a popular tourist destination. But first, we had to make a “quick” stop at China Southern to sort out Annette and Claus’s flight issues.

I had more than a few negative feelings about China Southern Airlines after most of our team’s flights were cancelled or mixed up in a variety of ways, but the pieces started to come together as we drove through the streets of Kathmandu. The damage of the earthquake was just as evident in the demeanor of the locals as it was in the crumbled bricks on the road and the dilapidated buildings. The desperation was visible in shop owners and taxi drivers, tugging at the heartstrings of weak tourists. Soldiers guided traffic, manned petrol stations, and held down the fort in refugee camps. A clash of culture and tradition, evolving modern businesses, and economic damage painted the picture of a slowly developing country. Cars pumped out exhaust, adding to the haze of smog that hides the mountains. Lone standing buildings and piles of rubble marked the devastation of the earthquake.

As if the quake didn’t do enough to the economy and lives of the Nepali’s, Kathmandu was recently hit with an economic blockade from India, obstructing fuel and other necessary resources in an effort to get Kathmandu to rewrite the constitution. Lines spanning hundreds of cars sat backed up on the road as they waited for a supply truck to bring in more petrol.

With the new information, my earlier annoyance with the airline was replaced with sympathy for the lone employee in the office trying to coordinate flights that just weren’t there, and having to ignore the constant barrage of phones ringing at empty desks. After 3 hours of waiting and communicating through broken English, they were finally able to reroute the flight (sans seats), and we were on our way.

We ambled through the cobbled streets of Bhaktapur at a slow pace, ducking in and out of shops and taking too many pictures. Intricate woodcarvings and stone statues swirled up posts and doors, surrounded windows, and sat on the steps of derelict monasteries once grander than they are now. We were grateful for our inability to say no when a persistent man who owned a paper making shop convinced us to come into his home to see his old printing machine and his restoration project. We ended by looping to the Peacock Window, a famous wood carving, but were more interested with a chicken sitting in a window on the story above.

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Sunday, October 4, 2015


Jess and Claus

Claus Christensen, OSH Engineer.
by Dave Mauro

Over the course of some 23 hours, Karina and I stumbled through Dubai and arrived to a greeting of marigold necklaces at the Kathmandu airport. Jangbu's right hand man, Mohan, giggled in his characteristic fashion while driving us through the busy darkness of the city. He told me Greg Morgan will be arriving the day after we all fly to Lukla and will then catch up with us in Phortse. This was excellent news since the last I spoke with Greg he sounded ready to drop out, unable to find alternate flights after China Southern airlines suddenly cancelled operations to and from Nepal. Jess Shaffer was due to arrive the next morning, and Dr. Parrish was stranded in Taipei while Dragon Air waited out a typhoon. This is what it means to do relief work -- patience, persistence, and a belief that everything will work out.

By a stroke of luck, Mingma found an open seat on a helicopter leaving Pheriche and arrived in Kathmandu the same day I did. We met up the next morning. His already diminutive frame looked winnowed down by the climbing he had just finished on Manaslu, but his shy smile beamed brightly. We hugged, caught up on our families, then set out with Claus to buy the tools we will need to build Mingma's home.

The various departments of your typical Home Depot are clustered into districts, strewn about Kathmandu. We targeted the tools district, a two block area where tiny crammed stalls sold random inventories with an economy of merchandising. Most items, stacked haphazardly against walls,  where covered in a thin veneer of dust. The shop keeper would plug each tool in and demonstrate its function then commence the negotiation of price. We bought two Makita cordless drill sets, a Makita grinder, an electric chainsaw of unknown pedigree, and various hammers, tape measures, screws and tin snips. The three of us then returned to the hotel, where Jess joined our ranks. Fortified by a lunch of Indian Curry and beer, we spent three more hours shopping for supplies.

It's important to understand that Sherpa people avoid conflict the way airlines avoid water landings. Nothing good can come of it. So, when we would ask Mingma if a certain building materials is now in Phortse as planned, he would start by saying "yes", which sometimes turned to "maybe", then proceeded to "I don't know" and "no." The one thing he is clearly a "no" on is the rigid foam insulation we are suppose to build into each gabion. Mingma is quite sure this cannot be found in Namche, as well. This will be our mission-critical find when the four of us go shopping today.

Mingma has not been home in several weeks, so he is going by whatever messages he has been able to exchange with his wife and brothers, couched in a culture that does not value exactitude the way us uptight westerners do. But he is confident that lumber and plywood have arrived, that the wire gabions have been built, and that the remains of his prior home have been taken down and salvaged. Unfortunately, Mingma is also confident that the workers he selected for the rebuild have already started constructing the foundation for the new home and it is unclear if they are aware it will occupy a completely different foot print than the last home.


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Channel 5 feature on One Sherpa Home.

Reporter Eric Wilkinson came to my home last week and interviewed me for a feature on One Sherpa Home. This link will take you to that story;

The station featured this blog and the GoFundMe address on their website. Several hundred blog visits followed immediately, and another $700 came into out fundraiser. Many thanks to Eric and the crew at King 5 News!

Click this link to donate to One Sherpa Home. Thank you!!!

The rest of the OSH Away Team

Jess Shaffer, OSH Chief Carpenter, and his wife Mary Ann.

Jess Shaffer worked as a journeyman carpenter for the better part of 30 years before retiring recently. Like the rest of our Away Team, Jess brings essential skills and a deep background in trekking. Jess has worked closely with myself and our Architect to solve any design riddles ahead of time, exchanging emails on a regular basis. Many years ago Jess had a chance to go see Nepal and passed. He has regretted that choice, and this trip represents one of those rare do-overs in life.

Claus and Annette Wilson Christensen
This is my Aunt and her husband Claus. Both are retired after long successful careers and now spend time growing grapes in the beautiful rolling hills of Dundee, Oregon. Being restless souls, they leave their vineyard often to trek places like Patagonia and Bhutan. Claus will bring broad building skills to OSH with a precision for detail typical of Danes. Annette will bring her trademark sense of humor and a wellspring of positive energy. She plans to also bring children's books, which are always in short supply that far up the Khumbu.

We are just $1,000 away from our funding goal! Please consider giving to One Sherpa Home at

Friday, August 14, 2015

Team Journalist.

Karina Gallant

Karina Gallant is a senior at Explorations Academy in Bellingham. She finds one of the most appealing aspects of attending this non-traditional school is the opportunity to travel internationally. Karina spent a month in Colombia earlier this year travelling and working on a service project at the Alex Rocha Youth Center in Cartagena. Upon her return, Karina was eager to do more travelling with a purpose. When she heard about the One Sherpa Home project, she jumped on the opportunity knowing that she wanted to make an impact and dedicate herself to a valuable cause.

Karina is an avid rock climber, skier, hiker and has always had a love for reading and writing. She will get a chance to combine these passions as Away Team Journalist for One Sherpa Home. Her regular posts to this blog will document, with words and photos, the day to day efforts of building a home at 13,000 feet. Donate to One Sherpa Home here!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

OSH Team Physician

Dr. Clark Parrish.
I built a beach cottage on the briny shores of Lopez Island many years ago. When I say "a lot of blood and sweat went into it" I'm not just talking figuratively. Self-inflicted injuries occurred with such frequency that I probably learned more about first aid than carpentry. So it goes that the first thing I thought of when imagining this home building project was medical assistance.

When I first asked Clark to join our Away Team he had already committed to serve a Doctors Without Borders stint in Bhutan during the spring of 2016. But I knew he had a deep connection with the people and place of Nepal, and his warm genuine way made him a perfect team member for OSH, so I took a shot. Clark accepted.

Clark has hiked throughout Nepal and also spent time at altitude. He is well versed in the typical maladies that befall trekkers and climbers, and will also be equipped to lend a hand if we should find the Sherpas of Phortse in need of medical attention in the aftermath of the earth quakes and monsoon season.

Show your support for One Sherpa Home here!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Another radio pitch and climbing stories.

My friends at the local classic rock station invited me on again. There was the story of this guy who climbed Kilimanjaro with a bath tub on his back and they wanted me to comment. Here you go...

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