The first time it was suggested to Eric Latimer that he go hiking in the Himalayas, with the final destination being the Mount Everest base camp, he laughed at the idea.
Latimer, 44, is a pilot with SkyWest Airlines and the suggestion came from a colleague, Rick Payne. Latimer, who lives in Lebanon with his wife, Emily, and their two daughters, felt the idea was completely unrealistic.
“I had done nothing more than childhood hiking with my dad and frankly I wasn’t in fantastic shape,” Latimer said. “I had a nice laugh and told him to have fun.”
But the idea didn’t come from nowhere. In addition to working for SkyWest, Payne is also the founder of a specialized travel company, Vindur Hao. The company provides all of the support – visas, equipment, guides, even training plans – for people going on outdoor adventures.
“He kept mentioning this. He said the people that do this trip aren’t superhuman. You don’t have to have superhuman athletic ability. It’s not tied to what you think you have to look like or feel like,” Latimer said.
Knowing that Payne truly believed he could make the trip, Latimer began to actually consider going. The first step was to get fully healthy. He suffered from plantar fasciitis and unless that was resolved hiking at elevation would be impossible.
Latimer began going to Santiam Physical Therapy and the staff there helped him find the underlying cause of the problem. With his foot problem resolved, he started going on longer and more intense hikes through the summer and fall of 2018. He chose hikes which included a lot of altitude gain.
When winter came and his trails snowed over, he took up snowshoeing. Latimer learned that you can snowshoe the cross country ski routes at HooDoo and that became a regular part of his fitness routine.
In addition to this work, he started training at the Evolution gym in Portland. This facility has an altitude chamber. This was crucial to making a successful trip to the Himalayas. Their hike would begin at 10,000 and go up to 17,500 feet.
“You start to understand how your body reacts to the altitude, so you don’t panic,” Latimer said.
It was at this point that he had to decide whether to pay the deposit for the trip. The training gave him the confidence to believe he could keep up with the team and he was starting to look forward to the opportunity to experience a different culture in Nepal.
Six people made the trip, with four of them being SkyWest employees. That provided some built-in camaraderie, although the entire team would go through an intense bonding experience on the hike.
They flew in to Kathmandu, Nepal on March 30 and spent a couple of days sightseeing. They then flew into the Lukla airport, which sits at 9,300 feet and is the starting location for the trek up to the Mount Everest base camp.
Even though he is a pilot, Latimer found the landing at Lukla to be quite stressful. It is a high-altitude airport with a notoriously short landing strip.
It was here that the reality of what he would be attempting really began to sink in.
“I have never climbed in my adult life. I have never climbed or even hiked at 10,000 feet,” Latimer said.
The Nepalese guides were crucial. The members of the team carried only their own water and snacks, with their packs weighing about 17 pounds.
“The rest of your stuff, for two weeks, is carried by a porter,” Latimer said.
It took the team eight days to work its way up to the Mount Everest base camp, gaining about 8,000 feet in elevation. The hike is laid out so that most days you would climb somewhat higher than the elevation at which you would make camp. For example, one day the team reached the 14,000-foot mark, then came back down to sleep at 12,000 feet.
The idea is to help your body adapt to the increasing elevation and avoid altitude sickness. While no one got ill, it was clear that the elevation and lack of oxygen had an impact.
“We tried to play cards. You realize that you’re not thinking very fast. That can lead to a panicky feeling, which makes you hyperventilate and makes the problem worse,” he said.
Thanks to their advance planning and the assistance from the porters, the trip was a total success.
“It’s extremely beautiful and we had great weather,” Latimer said. “Layered over all of that is the incredible niceness of the people.”
The team was careful to be good citizens. They carried out all of their own trash and made a point of tipping the porters who work so hard to make the trip possible.
He got a first-hand look at the Mount Everest base camp. There has been a great deal of controversy this spring about overcrowding on the route to the summit. There have been 11 deaths on the route this year, making this one of the deadliest years on record.
Latimer said the team spent a great deal of time talking about the problem with their Nepalese porters.
“Right now, it’s very dangerous. Too many people all at the same time all in the same weather window,” Latimer said.
The problem is that there is no one willing to say no. The Nepalese government badly needs the income from the foreign climbers. The porters are dependent upon the climbers to provide for their families. And the expedition companies are always looking for more business. Even if one company cuts back, another will step up to fill the space.
“I don’t have a suggestion. I don’t have a solution,” Latimer said.
He is not personally interested in summit Everest, but he is very glad to have seen the beauty of the Himalayas up close.
“This was a once in a lifetime thing. It’s so far out of the norm for me,” he said.
He wants to spend more time outdoors, but he plans to do that in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and family.
“Whatever I do next will be with her,” he said.