Wednesday, March 19, 2003/lk
Lesser travelers might think twice about departing on an overseas trip this week, what with an American-led war poised to begin and a mysterious virus traversing the globe.
But there’s not much that is “lesser” about Scott Woolums and John Rust, and this is no ordinary overseas trip. Woolums, who owns Adventures International, a Hood River-based adventure travel company specializing in treks and mountain climbs around the world, and Rust, an inveterate mountain climber and guide, leave Thursday to lead a small group of climbers to the Mt. Everest region of Nepal. Woolums and three of his clients will attempt to summit Mt. Everest sometime in May while Rust will lead three other climbers to Camp IV on Mt. Everest.
This is Woolums’ third time guiding a climb on the world’s highest mountain. Last year, he made it to the summit for the first time, along with one of his three clients.
For Rust, who has guided several other trips for Adventures International, this will be his first trip to Everest.
The two worked feverishly on Monday to pack tents, sleeping bags, climbing gear and food.
“Most of our stuff is already in Nepal,” Woolums said. “We have about 400 pounds of gear over there.” Along with Woolums and Rust, Adventures International office manager Yvette Blanchette will lead a trek into Base Camp. In addition to three clients, Blanchette’s two kids, Josh, 18, and Erin, 14, will accompany her.
On top of orchestrating all the Everest region trips, Woolums has had to deal with the logistics of getting three separate reams of gear packed according to which trip each is supposed to end up on.
“Some of this stuff will get packed and we won’t see it again until we get to Base Camp” in early April, Woolums said. Other gear, for the trekkers, will be needed as early as next week. “We have to make sure it’s the right stuff.”
Much of what could be called the “right stuff” for this year’s expedition has to do with technology. Woolums has an amazing array of communications devices to take with him — ranging from satellite phones and satellite modem connections to laptop computers, pocket PCs and digital cameras. Solar panels, gel cell batteries and generators will provide power.
“We’re going to have a fully wireless network at Base Camp,” Woolums said. “Our high-speed Internet connection should be the fastest connection on the mountain.” There are even about 30 DVD movies being packed in.
“Now showing at Camp Woolums...,” Rust joked as he packed equipment into duffel bags. The movies, along with a stack of thick paperback novels will serve as boredom-busters during the long days of acclimatization. The climbers will spend weeks getting their bodies used to the oxygen-deprived air by interspersing days at Base Camp with forays to higher camps and back. Base Camp is at 17,500 feet. A series of camps — II through IV — serve as staging areas between Base Camp and the summit of Mt. Everest, at 29,035 feet.
For Woolums and his group, an attempt at the mountain’s summit will depend in large part on a hoped-for weather window that could happen any time during a three-week period in May. Last year, Woolums and more than 50 other climbers made it to the summit on May 16. The so-called weather window, when conditions are optimal for reaching the summit, usually lasts only a day or two — and sometimes never happens at all.
Woolums and his teams will get a lot of help during all stages of their trips from the native Sherpas, who do everything from shuttling equipment to ever higher positions on the mountain to cooking in the elaborate “kitchens” set up at Base Camp.
“Sherpas are one of only two peoples in the world who have adapted to high elevations,” Woolums said. “They’re super human.” While Woolums and his fellow climbers might spend a day climbing from Base Camp to a higher camp and back, Woolums said, the Sherpas will climb up and back several times between multiple camps ferrying loads of equipment.
“They’re truly the guys who make it happen,” said Woolums, who has become close friends with many Sherpas during his expeditions in Nepal. “You can’t give them enough credit.”
Woolums and his teams will be among what could be the largest contingent of climbers ever on Mt. Everest. This year marks 50 years since the mountain was first summited by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa on May 29, 1953, and the anniversary is attracting more than the usual number of climbers. Woolums expects there could be more than 400 climbers at Base Camp this year — about 100 more than last year.
Woolums takes it all in stride.
“It’s a big mountain,” he said. “People spread out.”
Woolums will provide daily updates on the Everest expedition via his array of high-tech gadgets at www.exploreyourplanet.com.