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  Everest 2007:  Mountain Madness Hello from Namche Bazar

wil3g.jpg (12288 bytes)


March 30, 2007

Hello from Namche Bazar, where we layed over for the day and enjoyed the sights. We awoke to a beautiful clear day surrounded by massive peaks and warm sun. Most of the group went for a hike on the ridge above town, where a panoramic view of Everest, Nuptse, and Ama Dablam opened up before us, their lucky viewers. True to form for the Himalaya, we enjoyed a perfect clear morning, and rolling clouds in the afternoon. Some of the group hiked over the hill and into the small village of Khumjung, where they visited the Hillary school, founded by Edmund himself, which provides education to the kids of several surrounding villages. We enjoyed high mountain air and Sherpa tea for several hours before dropping back into Namche, a useful acclimatization hike and a pleasantly mellow day.

In the afternoon we were delighted with the arrival of our own little Argentine-tasmanian devil, Willie Benegas. He entertained us with stories from home, and he says he's tired from hiking all the way from Lukla, but he won't sit down, so we don't believe him. Most of us are well-acclimatized and enjoying the bits of rest, along with the exercize. We have an impressive line-up of Sherpa staff, and Tshering gave us some incredible number facts today. To begin, 50 yaks and 15 porters were sent to base camp before us, last week. These loads are to stock camp and prepare it for our arrival, and six weeks of, well, basing there (hence the name base camp.) On the day we arrived in Lukla and set about arranging gear, another 35 porters were employed to go ahead of us to base camp for a delivery including: the group's climbing gear, high altitude clothing and equipment, food, and all kinds of miscellaneous items. Along with that, every day we share the trail with 10 of our own yaks and 25 porters who are carrying the equipment we use daily, including all the food our kitchen staff cooks for us each day.

Our head chef is Yubaraj, his first assistant is Laxmi. The other kitchen helpers are Raaj, Rudra, Yaas, Sangey, Kitam, Lalbahadui, and Pasang. These guys are behind the scenes, but we get an occasional shy smile when we thank them. Throughout the day we are joined in our hiking with several more Sherpas, most of them from Lukla. They skip through the group keeping us all in sight and teaching us about their lives. Tshering is heading up the trekking portion, and Lakpa is heading up the climbers. Their faithful assistants are another Lakpa, Nima, Ramesh, Jangbu, Pandu and Sagar. It's an enormous group effort to get a few trekkers along the trail, and a few climbers on the mountain.

Jaime is helping us with our Nepali vocabulary, that which he remembers from his study abroad in Kathmandu seven years ago! Impressive memory, especially at high altitude. Patricia's favorite word is "bistari," which means "slow." Why the Sherpas taught her this word, we'll never know, but suffice it to say she is a strong hiker and delightful company. She and Mark can handle any conditions here, after the two years they spent in a small village in the Ukraine as Peace Corps volunteers. With such interesting company, we haven't yet run out of stories to tell, but there's still 8 weeks to go for some of us, so we'll see how that holds up! All is well tonight and we'll check in again tomorrow. Signing off...

March 29, 2007

Hello to all of you from all of us! We write to you from colorful Namche Bazar, 11,300 feet above the sea in a beautiful side valley of the Dudh Khosi river, high in the Himalaya where we are blessed to find ourselves. The sun is just setting and the people in town are tucking away into their blue-roofed homes for the night. We are all warm and happy and hiking well.

Another beautiful day, beginning with warm tea and washing water at our tents and in our rooms. Brian won the sleeping contest last night, logging an intimidating 12 hours. Erin might be his biggest contender, as yet undetermined. Mark from Scotland won the best sport award, when he was told by Mustafa, upon their arrival in Namche, that this was some random small village, and Namche was another two hours away. Mark was geared up and ready to go when we all ratted out Mustafa, who thought it was a good surprise for Mark. Mark thought an equally good surprise would be a snake in Mustafa's sleeping bag, so Mustafa is on highest alert.

Big hugs going out from our Norwegian friends: to Bjorn's mom for her birthday, and from Anne and Birgitte to their dad! Simon is fascinating us with tales of medical wonders, and Trond is tireless in capturing our adventure on film, then running to catch up. Hearty stock we've got here on the trail, but every porter and Sherpa on the trail puts every one of us to shame, carrying loads sometimes twice their body weight- no kidding. They make this large-scale expedition possible for us, so here is a cyber-world thanks to them.

So what did we do today? We left Phakding after another fabulous meal by our local kitchen staff, and wasted no time in gaining a little elevation. Our first stop was in Monjo where we entered Sagarmatha National Park. Sagarmatha is the name of Mt. Everest, and literally translated means "head of the sea." Nepali lore says that when the Himalaya emerged from the sea, Sagarmatha was it's head, the first thing to appear, and of course remains its highest point. After a long, leisurely lunch we started crossing suspension brigdes and navigating switchbacks, passing the occasional village and sharing "Namaste" greetings with the lovely children on their families' porches, ducking behind their mama's skirts. We all agree that the people here are among the best in the world, so generous and serene.

We all got comfortable upon arrival in Namche, enjoying the warmth of the sun, listening to the booming ice avalanches across the valley, and perusing the streets where you can buy anything you need for life in the mountains. Tomorrow we will rest here, but for now, as we settle in with dinner waiting on the table, I will waste no time with farewells and say only, goodnight.March 28, 2007: Hello from Phakding, where the team rests for the night and well deserved at that. Our day started at 4:30 a.m. in the lobby of our hotel in Kathmandu where we arranged bags and boarded a bus to make our way to the airport. Four twin otter planes later, we arrived in Lukla where we set about organizing our gear. The local staff is headed up by Tshering Sherpa, who hikes along with us and keeps everything in order, making our logistics effortless.

After a hot breakfast, we set off down the trail out of Lukla. Much of our walk was downhill today, with our destination of Phakding at 8700 feet.

We already today have experienced some of the great wonders of this region, perhaps most strikingly the mani stones. These are natural rocks, some of them 50 feet tall, on to which prayers have been carved in the beautiful Devanagari script. The premise of this practice is to expose the prayers to the elements where they will be carried away by the water and wind. Fortunate are we to walk beneath these towering walls on one side of our path, with the other side dropping off into the Dudh Kosi river valley.

The word Dudh means milk in Nepali and this river is silty white from its glacial source. Carving its way through this valley, it is the artery that has allowed people to inhabit this region for centuries.

We experienced our first suspension bridge across the Dudh Kosi today, making camp just along its banks where it is singing us to sleep just now. The team is healthy, happy and well fed for the night and drifting off into dreams of Himalayan peaks.

March 27, 2007: Hello friends and families! We write to you from Kathmandu where our day has been well spent. Most of us have adjusted to the time change, more or less, and are keeping ourselves healthy and rested up. We did a Kathmandu city tour today including three distinctly different, and beautiful temples. The first of these was Pasupati, a series of many temples beside the Bagmati river. Here the Nepali people cremate the deceased, along with performing many associated rituals. The second temple is the striking Bouddhanath, a huge white dome structure surrounded by a wide walking path, lined on the outside with shops and restaurants. Thousands of people a day walk clockwise around this temple, spinning the prayer wheels lining its outer walls. The third temple was Swayambhu, commonly kn
own as the monkey temple. Appropriately named, here you can expect to encounter hundreds of monkeys along the thirteen staircases rising to the top of the structure. Thick in foliage and vast in magnitude, it is one of the highest points in the city and offers good views of the Kathmandu valley.

We regrouped for dinner at the famous Rum Doodle restaurant, where mountaineering expeditions have gathered over the decades to sign and design their own giant footprint and hang it on the wall. With a rather humbling line-up of climbers represented on the walls, we are feeling lucky for the opportunity to embark on our own adventures in the Khumbu region.

There are three objectives for the Mountain Madness team this spring. First we have those who will trek to Everest base camp, spend a few days, and return to Lukla. These base camp trekkers include: Mark and Patricia Earnest from Los Angeles, California; David Harrison and Lisa Wolfe from a little country we call "Canada;" Laxman Kamath from Florida; Anne and Birgitte Horve just in from Norway; Simon Carter from the UK; Mark Stephenson from Scotland; and trek leader Teddy Anderson from Salt Lake City, Utah.

Our second objective is to climb beyond base camp through the Khumbu icefall to camp two. These Khumbu climbers include: Trond Stenerson and John Inderdal, also just in from Norway; Grant Musgrove from Alabama (or somewhere in the south, it's all the same to us); the fair and beautiful Erin Lally straight outta Aspen, Colorado; and their leader Jaime Laidlaw from McCall, Idaho.

The third objective is to climb to the top of Mt.Everest. These climbers include Brian Smith from Colorado; Eric Dalzell from Washington state; Eirik Tryti and Bjorn Evensen from Norway; and Mustafa Mustafa all the way from Jordan! Their leaders are the talented and charismatic Casey Henley, of the world; and Willie Benegas of Salt Lake City, Utah. Willie will be meeting us in Namche Bazaar in a few days.

With such a handsome and dynamic group of people, we are sure to have plenty of fun ahead of us as we fly into Lukla tomorrow to begin our stay in the mountains. Lots of good thoughts to all of you!


Mountain Madness will return to Everest in Spring 2007 with a commercial expedition led by Willie Benegas, The final commercial team will be announced soon... But they have several clients. They will again attempt from the South (Nepal) side of the mountain. Christine Boskoff, owner of Mountain Madness sadly passed away in 2006.

The Climber: Willie Benegas

Born and raised in the wild heart of Patagonia, Willie Benegas, along with his twin brother Damien, have pursued a long apprenticeship in the mountains.  As one of the "young bucks" of the world-class North Face team, Willie has pushed his craft on the big-walls of Yosemite, the airy summits of South America, and the loftiest peaks of the Himalaya.

The boundless duo, now hailing from Berkeley California, completed their first major new ascent with a route up Patagonia's West Face of Pilquitron (VI, 5.9, A3) which is still unrepeated.  

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© David Keaton

 At 20, they climbed Fitz Roy's impressive Supercouloir as well as routes on Guillaumet and Poincenot.  In the following years, Willie has ticked off the South Face of Aconcagua, a new route on the North Face of Pakistan's Nameless Tower (VII), record speed ascents in Yosemite valley, and attempted major new routes on the legendary North Faces of Thalay Sagar and Jannu.

But simply overcoming technical routes or highest summits is not enough for this 30 year old climber.   He gathers equal satisfaction by introducing others to the wide-world of mountain experience.  To help fulfill this goal, Willie and Damien established Patagonian Brothers Expeditions specializing in South American guided climbs and treks.  They also lead expeditions for Out There Trekking (UK, OTT) in Africa, South America,  and on Himalayan giants such as Cho Oyu.

Willie has many plans for the future, but he often gets the same question; why do you climb?  When asked about the draw of high places, he says "a mountain  adventure will carry over into many facets of your life, teaching about yourself, your co-existence with nature, and respect for other people's cultures." 

Willie's Brief Resume below


2001 OLN "Outlaws of the Aconcagua Trail"
1991 "Swimming with whales" discovery channel


Nameless Tower "Book of Shadows" VII 5.10+ A4 WI4, 1995
Mt Kenya all massif towers in 16 hrs, 2002
Mt Cuerno 17.600ft South Face First Ascent 5.7 WI 3 4640ft in 4.36hrs R/ trip solo, 2000
Fitzroy Super Canaleta VI 5.10b A1 WI 3,1987
Atensoraju 19.328ft. new route North ridge/face "The Pandora Box of Artensoraju:" 5.9 WI 3, 1998
Oshapalca new route South face "My Message" 5.7 WI 4/5 2.400ft., 2000
Aconcagua World record ascent/descent 54miles 13500ft elevation gain, 2000
First Ascent Argentina Andes "Welcome to a Dream" V 5.11 A4+.,1999
Patagonia Exploration, first ascent "Swept by the Wind" 5.13a, 1,000ft.
Patagonia 62.5miles endurance run first place 9.35hrs., 1986
The Nose VI 5.11 A1 16 ascents, ten one day ascents.
South Seas (VI 5.10 A5)
Sea of Dreams (VI 5.10 A5)
Regular Route (VI 5.10 A1) twenty times. Fastest time was 3:30
20/20 Classics Climb's in twenty days of the 50 Classic's Climbs of North America Book. Ascended 60,080ft, traveled 137 miles on foot, 2hrs in canoe, and climbed 241 pitches. 1993

ABOUT WILLIE: Born and raised in the wild heart of Patagonia, Willie Benegas has pursued a long apprenticeship in the mountains. Willie has pushed his craft on the big walls of Yosemite, the airy summits of South America, and the loftiest peaks of the Himalayas. Willie completed his first major ascent in the winter of 1987 with a route up Patagonia's West Face of Pitriquitron (VI, 5.9 A3 W2/3), which has still not been repeated. At age 20, he climbed Aconcagua's impressive South Face, as well as Fitzroy. In the following years, Willie "ticked off" the first ascent of the North Face of Pakistan's Nameless Tower "Book of Shadows" (VII, 5.10+ A4 W14), made record speed ascents in Yosemite Valley, and attempted major new routes on the legendary North Faces of Thalay Sagar and Jannu. In 2001, he set the world record speed ascent/descent of the highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere, Aconcagua (22,831 ft.), summited Everest for a second time, and ran the legendary Leadville Ultra 100-mile Race. In the spring of 2002, Willie reached the Top of the World yet a third time. However, simply overcoming technical routes and conquering summits around the world is not enough for this 34-year-old climber. He gathers equal satisfaction by introducing others to the world of mountain experiences and exploration.

Willie has many plans for the future, but he often gets the same question, why do you climb? To this he simply says, "A mountain adventure will carry over into the many facets of life, teaching yourself about yourself, your co-existence with nature, and the respect for people's cultures."

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