Geoff Pawson tells the tale of how he and his brother Ian have raised thousands on journeys to the Everest region.
It’s all Chris Bonington’s fault.
In 1986 my brother Ian and I saw a presentation detailing his ascent of Everest where his enthusiasm for the people, the spectacular scenery in the images and the realisation that mountaineering experience wasn’t needed to reach Everest Base Camp had us hooked.
Trekking companies were just becoming established and we went to a number of promotional evenings over the next few years until in September 1993 we flew out of Heathrow heading for Kathmandu and a “Once in a Lifetime” holiday. We were part of a group of 15 and the 3rd day of the trek was scheduled as an acclimatisation day where we would walk up to Khumjung and Kunde villages before returning to camp at Namche Bazaar. In Khumjung we visited a hospital financed by the Sir Edmund Hillary Himalayan Trust and after the Kiwi doctor had told us about the work they did she agreed to check Ian over as he was feeling a little unwell. At the same time I was noting down the name and address of the Chairman of the British arm of the Trust, who happened to be another New Zealander and member of the 1953 Everest expedition, George Lowe. We now had a beneficiary for any funds we might raise from the slide show we intended to compile once we returned home. We moved on to Kunde where the Trust’s first school was built in 1961, today they support 63 in the Everest region and 29 in Tapeljung district to the east around Kangchenjunga. Over the next 2 weeks we hiked through spectacular scenery, over-nighted at Base Camp, met ever smiling Sherpa villagers and at Gorak Shep even saw a yeti! Or maybe it was Brian Blessed on a rest day from his second attempt to climb Everest.
A year on we were able to donate about £150 from our first few slide shows to the Trust and received a wonderfully personal letter of thanks from the Secretary, Mary Lowe, explaining that funds raised in the UK were used primarily for education. We compiled more shows from subsequent holidays in the UK, New Zealand and Iceland and finally met Mr & Mrs Lowe at a Nepalese festival in Manchester. In 1998 we purchased tickets to a dinner at Loughborough University to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the first ascent of Everest and were invited to stay with the Lowe’s overnight. I say ‘stay with’ but actually we camped in their garden as the guest room was occupied by Sir Edmund and Lady June Hillary.
By 1999 we could fight it no longer and we returned to Nepal, this time just the 2 of us with a guide and a porter, walking in from the road head at Jiri rather than flying to the mountain airstrip at Lukla. This allowed us to visit the school at Junbesi where our early fundraising had helped build a dormitory for boarders and the hospital at Phaplu. At Khumjung we delivered smoke alarms and chocolate digestives for the Canadian doctors and presented the head of Kunde school with a pack of floppy discs. The highlight of the trek was the ascent of Gokyo Ri (17,650 feet) from where we overlooked turquoise lakes and had views of 5 of the worlds 8 highest mountains.
With civil unrest making Nepal less appealing we switched our attention to India in 2003 with a visit to Darjeeling where we rode the Toy Train before trekking along the Singalila Ridge. We were at lower altitudes and frequently passed through Rhododendron and Birch forest, the predominant religion was Hindu not Buddhist, but the welcome was just as warm and the mountain vistas from Sandakphu of Kangchenjunga and the sunrise illuminating Everest 90 miles away just as spectacular.
In 2007 we switched to a May departure to the valley of the Gauri Gangha with the intention of seeing the spring flowers and the sacred mountain of Nanda Devi. Off the beaten track we only saw 5 other westerners in 8 days of trekking. On the 4th afternoon we caught a fleeting glimpse of the mountain as we climbed to our ridge top campsite but were sure we would have clear views next morning. What we actually got was 2 inches of snow and cloud reducing visibility to 30 yards. We retreated to the valley.
Throughout this period we had continued fundraising and had gone from donors to acquaintances to friends of the Lowe’s and so had advance notice that the Queen and Prince Philip were to be guests of honour at the 60th Anniversary Memorial Lecture at the RGS in London. We didn’t meet the royals, but we were in the same auditorium for half an hour (along with a few hundred others).
We had to wait 9½ years for our next fix and this time it was to be somewhere very different, the ancient kingdom of Ladakh in north west India. Close to Tibet and Pakistan and shielded from the monsoon by the Himalayan peaks, it is an arid region of bare mountains, contorted geology and generally small villages close to rivers. We visited Buddhist monasteries, were driven to the summit of the Kardung La, one of the world’s highest road passes at 18,380 feet and spent 10 days walking through sparsely populated valleys at 12,000 feet and crossing 3 passes between 16,000 and 17,250 feet all in perfect weather.
A recent slide show in Bolton Abbey Village Hall raised almost £400 for the Trust bringing our total close to £6000 and we are always looking for new audiences, but beware, you too may become addicted to these high lands and if you do, don’t blame us. It is all Chris Bonington’s fault.
Geoffrey Pawson – e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ian Pawson – e-mail: email@example.com
Himalayan Trust: www.himalayantrust.co.uk