Episode 182: The End of the 2010 Everest Kangshung Face Expedition

Full Circle, Again. We’ve made it back to Kathamndu and have had our Team Dinner. Everyone’s clean, in high spirits and healthy. As always, it’s time for a little reflection. As I was sitting in Kathmandu just a year ago, basking in the glow of the successful 2009 Workshop I remember thinking “What do we do next?”

My thoughts turned to being a kid and pouring over the Everest article in my family’s set of encyclopedias. Yeah, that’s right, encyclopedias! Even back then Everest caught my imagination and has held it all these years. Certainly an article in a dusty, outdated book wasn’t enough and when I was presented with the opportunity to visit in person in 2003 I was about as excited as I can be. In preparing for the 2003 trip I watched various documentaries trying to get as familiar with the real Everest as possible. Most of what I knew of Everest were simply images in my minds eye from reading books. I hadn’t seen too many pictures by that point. The varied views of Everest I knew so well had mostly been fabricated by my imagination as I read them being described in text.

As I watched these films showing the now classic views from Namche Bazaar or the Rongbuk Monastery I realized I wanted more. I wanted to know not just what Everest looked like but her surrounding peaks and valleys. I wanted to know what the view behind the camera looked like. I wanted to know what it looked like to the left and right of the camera that was taking a classic picture of Everest’s North Face, etc. Over the past few years I’ve been so lucky to have spent so much time staring at Everest and the Everest Region from different sides of the mountain and from different stages of my life and with so many different friends.

In Kathmandu in 2009 I again realized I wanted more.

In all of those documentaries and in all of those books and in all of those photographs there was always one thing conspicuously missing; one thing no one ever seemed to mention: Everest didn’t just have 2 sides, she has 3. There is an entire side of the mountain that is a big question mark! There is an entire face of the world’s highest mountain that is almost exclusively seen only by climbers as they look down upon it from the summit.

How is this possible? There are THOUSANDS of people on Everest each Spring and entire economies are devoted to the trekking and climbing industries on both the North and South Sides. How can we know so little about the East Side?

It turns out that there is good reason we know so little about the Kangshung Face. It’s almost unclimable. That pretty much explains everything. Expeditions to Everest cost tens of thousands of dollars. Most people who climb Everest have only one chance in terms of money and available time. If you have only one chance to summit Everest, would you choose the most difficult side to climb? No. You’d choose a side that gives you the most favorable odds at achieving your goal. This is why no one knows much about the East Side. There’s no climbing infrastructure set up there and therefore no trekking infrastructure either.

This was exactly why I knew I had to see it for myself.

I talked with Chris and Monika and they were immediately in. I talked with Babu with Mountain Tribes at length and he said that it would be very difficult but if I trusted him he could make it happen. Of course I trusted him. I trust Babu and Mountain Tribes with my life! I talked with my dear friend and guide Lobsang in Tibet and while he told me he had never been to the Kangshung Face, he had a close friend who was a “Kangshung Face Expert” that could guide us there with Mountain Tribes providing us with trekking support. It all came together perfectly.

The only other question was who would go? We opened up registration and while we didn’t sell out in under a minute like in 2008 we did fill up quickly. It was going to be a different group but good old Thilo was going to join us again. When the team was finalized and we all met back here in Kathmandu it was so exciting because I had enough experience to know I was meeting people who would become lifelong friends.

I knew we were in for an adventure but had no idea what the details were going to be. Damion’s illness was terrifying but it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility. People occasionally get Acute Mountain Sickness. Some get it bad. It happens. We dealt with it swiftly and properly. Damion recovered and rejoined us and had a fantastic time.

What I couldn’t have imagined–what seemed impossible with all of my previous Everest experience–was the solitude of the Kangshung Region. Our group was almost completely alone! There were days that passed without seeing anyone besides the members of our team. That solitude and having Everest all to ourselves created one of the most unique trips to the mountain that I’ll ever have.

Couple that with an outstanding team of people and friends and it made for another life-changing experience. The past 2 years have seemed like a dream. I’ve been fortunate beyond belief. I might not be a climber, but I know Everest intimately. I also know that “Everest” is far more than just a mountain. It’s the local cultures you interact with while visiting. It’s the close friends you make along the way.

So here we are back where we started in Kathmandu, but everything’s changed. I’ve now seen Everest from all 3 sides and know all of the participants like we’ve known each other forever. Chris and Monika are even more like family to me now and to this small family we’ve added Lobsang, Chimi, Pemba and so many of the other Mountain Tibes staff.

Back home I have a smart, beautiful and supportive wife. I have a son and a baby on the way. Life is good.

Thanks for everything, Everest.

Jon Miller

Total Running Time: 56:42