Report #2: BD employee Kolin Powick reports on his volunteer work at the Khumbu Climbing Center in Nepal
Black Diamond Equipment’s Director of Global Quality, Kolin Powick, has taken four weeks off of work here in Salt Lake City to volunteer his time and expertise at the Khumbu Climbing Center in Nepal. Numerous BD athletes have gone to support the center in the past (including Cedar Wright and Conrad Anker), but this is the first time a BD in-house employee has made the trip to support the non-profit center. Following up on his first email report, Kolin sent us the following email with more photos and updates on how the volunteer instructing and life in Nepal while wearing women's underwear has been going.
Still in women’s long underwear, I was up early for the first of many hikes down the hill from Phortse, across the river, then up the hill on the other side to the ice climbs. One thing about Nepal, there’s lots of up and downs. Just like when my dad walked uphill both ways to and from school when he was a kid, that’s what it was like being based out of Phortse: a big up to get to the ice in the morning, and a big up to get back to the village at the end of the day. At least it was a good way to try to stay warm. It’s cold in the Himalayas in January—who knew?
My original waning hope of my lost luggage never arriving was starting to turn around (now 11 or 12 days in) with 3 of the 4 missing bags staggering into Katmandu. Hopefully by the time Renny Jackson and his wife were ready for the trek in, my last bag (and my clothes would show). Meanwhile, it was time to head over to the ice routes for the Puja, or Blessing. The Lama from the village performed the ceremony consisting of chanting, burning juniper, tossing rice, and pasting each other in the face with some kind of flour like substance (none of which I really understood). The bottom line, however, is that it was basically blessing all of the students and instructors. As well, it was appropriate to have some of our gear included, so I took the opportunity to have my helmet, ice tools and crampons doused with good spirits… I mean, why not? I can use all the help I can get while in the mountains.
After the morning Puja, it was then time to get the basic students harnessed up, tied in, and on the ice. As it turned out, that is a lot easier said than done…
With eight groups of eight basic students (each group having a lead and assistant Nepali instructor, as well as the six Western instructors floating between groups) there was a lot going on each day for the next week. Groups learning to walk with crampons, ice climbing, medical classes, rock climbing (during a snowstorm), how to ascend fixed ropes, rappelling, etc…. and all while trying to ensure we didn’t kill anyone. Days were long, exhausting and oftentimes frustrating, but overall extremely fulfilling. Seeing someone that has climbed Everest several times not know how to tie-in, belay or rappel is kind of horrifying…. But seeing them fully “get it” and light-up after demonstrating and then have them do it themselves is amazing.
Days were varied, but a few things were constant: walking and cold. Down as low as -20˚C some evenings makes it tough to get out of the sleeping bag in the morning. The yak dung stove only goes for about an hour in the morning, and maybe two in the evening. The rest of the time it’s puffy jackets, hats, gloves, puffy pants… or walking to stay warm. Well, walking… and food. One thing for sure, the hospitality of the folks in Phortse is off the charts. Milk tea, black tea and great local breakfasts and dinners, and even catered lunches out at the climbs kept us fueled each day. I had thought I’d lose weight while in the Himalaya, but with the amount of food that was always around, that seemed doubtful.
Partway through the Basic Course, Renny and Catherine showed up, and, yup, my last bag had finally arrived. It had been the talk of the week, KP with no clothes, borrowing jackets and sleeping bags and wondering if my stuff would ever show. I celebrated by having a shower (read: bucket of hot water) and getting out of the women’s underwear. It was heaven.
As the students learned and honed their skills, in the back of everyone’s mind was exam day… This is no free ride. On day nine of the Basic Course, these students would be tested on everything they learned. The Nepali and Western Instructors were to be the examiners. Stay tuned for the results.
Trying to stay warm,