Planning the All Abilities Trek to Everest Basecamp -
Two perspectives by Cindy Whittaker and Jeff Brandt
Planning perspective by Cindy Whittaker, Trek Coordinator
When my husband Tom Whittaker came back to Kathmandu in 1995 after failing to summit on the North side of Everest, he was disappointed. My reaction was that he needed to come back one more time and this time he needed to be the leader and also be supported by people who loved him. We then went to Steve DeRoche and presented him with the idea of going to Everest Base Camp on a support trek that would have disabled people from all over the world. He decided to give it a try and his wife Cindy was on board not long after that.
I contacted ten different organizations in different countries and got positive responses from all. I stayed in contact with them up until we left but it was to expensive for most people in other countries and they didn't get funding. It was still my job to find a team of trekkers who could "cut the mustard" so to speak and they would be the HOG's.
I sent them folders of literature for fund raising and to take to The Outdoor Retailer Show. Steve and Cindy DeRoche, and Jeff Brandt attended this show in Salt Lake City to try and get funding and gear. Gear came in abundance, but not funding. The expedition gave the trek about $8,000 of their funding so we could go and not be burdened with having to come up with more monies.
I contacted Asian Trekking in Kathmandu who I knew from previous trips and asked them to set up this trek for us. I also made hotel reservations and hired porters to take people up and down stairs and carry shopping bags and gear for the disabled in wheel chairs while we were in Kathmandu. I setup excursions to Bhaktapur, an old city and one of the three kingdoms of Nepal, and also Rickshaws to carry us to The Monkey Temple in Kathmandu during our short four days there before leaving for our trek. Hotels in Kathmandu are not accessible. Asian Trekking was excited about the disabled people coming to Nepal and didn't hesitate to get us everything we needed.
Lizzie, our six year old daughter, and I flew to Kathmandu 2 weeks ahead of the trekkers and negotiated prices and gear needs with Asian Trekking. We went over maps and setup an itinerary that I thought would work to be able to keep everyone healthy and give all of us an equal chance of arriving in Everest Base Camp. We had, in the end, 27 employees coming and going through out the duration of our 32 day trek.
I setup a helicopter to pick us up and transport us to the mountain airfield at LUKLA were we met our crew and started the trek. I then chartered a helicopter and small plane to fly us from Syangboche after the trek was over back to Kathmandu.
Along the way I negotiated for the horses and riding Yaks which needed to be used after 15,000 ft. I met with the expedition Sirdar and worked out a price for the animals that was lower than the original quote. We also hired porters to carry Kyle because his horse was too wild to ride.
Throughout the trek it was my job to keep the Porters happy and talk with Tindy our Sirdar in charge of the Sherpa and Porters about any changes or problems. It was my job to make sure everything ran smoothly and we had all the technical and medical support that we might need. I brought along a Gamov bag which is a Hyperbaric Chamber that you put someone in if they have altitude sickness. It lowers the altitude for them and gives them time to be evacuated or just brought to a lower altitude if needed. It is the size of a medium fanny pack.
Planning perspective by Jeff Brandt, C.W. HOG Program Director
The idea for the Trek began when Tom Whittaker came back to the States after his second unsuccessful attempt at the summit of Mt. Everest. Tom was instrumental in founding the C.W. HOG program and now teaches Adventure Education at Prescott College in Arizona. Tom showed up at Steve and Cindy DeRoche's house unannounced. Steve pulled into his driveway and notices Tom's van and when he entered his home Steve saw Tom drinking tea. Tom made the suggestion that he was going to try the mountain again and since his last two attempts were as a HOG perhaps the HOG's should accompany him on this one.
Thus the idea for the All Abilities Trek was born. Tom Whittaker came to Pocatello and a group of people with disabilities got together to listen to Tom and his idea. After the meeting, when Tom had gone home, several of the people said "thanks, but no thanks." The idea was just too daunting for them. But a few decided not to rule it out, yet. Cindy Whittaker, with the help of Asian Trekking, put together a trip time line that appeared to be realistic for this group to make. At least on paper it looked good. Since no person with a disability had attempted this before it was all guess work. We called every airline and travel agency we could find to get the best deal. Since we were going to need equipment suitable for these conditions, that became the next task. Cindy Whittaker and I began writing proposals and sending them to every equipment manufacturer out there. The response was not that good. Although most thought the idea was grand, nobody seemed too ready to step up to the plate. We made a decision to attend the Outdoor Retailers Expo in Salt Lake City to try to solicit some support. At this time we were still looking for some hard cash as well. Steve and Cindy DeRoche and I beat the booths of the Expo. The no's came fast and furious and discouragement set in. "If these experts in the field think we are nuts, what are we thinking? Perhaps maybe this is a mistake." Finally we got a couple of yes's and our enthusiasm returned. The ball began to roll and soon we had commitments from Sun Cloud, Coyote Eyewear, Leki Trekking poles, Eureka tents, Cascade Designs, Komperdell poles, Manastash, and many others. This was beginning to really take shape now.
After three days at the Expo we now needed to send letters to all the companies that agreed and to those who needed a bit more encouraging. The letter writing campaign was on. Cindy Whittaker and I spent several weeks dong nothing but writing and making phones calls. Of course nobody could just say yes the first time. We needed to keep working them and encouraging them to be a part of something incredible.
When it was clear that we were not going to get monetary support from anyone we all sat down and discussed that if this trip was going to happen we were each going to have to pay for it out of our pockets. The trip cost was estimated at $5,000. Off to the bank we all went, taking out second mortgages, hocking trucks, borrowing from family and friends. Whatever it took, we were bound and determined to make it happen.
All of us had jobs or were students or both and we needed to get six weeks off. Fortunately, all our employers and instructors understood how important this was to us and we were allowed the time off. Tom McCurdy and Kyle Packer both had infants at home and leaving them was a difficult decision.
All in all the planning took about one year with the last five months full time by Cindy DeRoche, Cindy Whittaker, and myself.