Category Archives: Jack’s Jaunts

One of Those Trips of a Lifetime

By Jack Olson

It seems like it was ages ago. It seems like it could have been last year. About half my life has passed since I made the incredible trek to Mt. Everest.

In 1976 I went to a friend’s house to view a slide show of a trek to Mt. Everest, highest peak in the world at 29,028 feet. Her trek was organized by the REI cooperative. The photos were magnificent, like nothing I’d ever seen or experienced. Their only problem was that they encountered heavy snow on the final day and had to turn back due to danger of avalanches. So close and yet so far. They never saw Mt. Everest.

Coincidentally, I had just joined REI and received my first catalog. I opened it and saw the announcement: Go to Mt. Everest. YES! They were offering treks in spring and fall 1977. It was Christmas Eve but I immediately called the Nepal embassy in Washington, D.C. The embassy was closed but I got the ambassador’s home. A young boy answered. I blurted out, “Are the Himalayas better in spring or fall?” He told me he didn’t know, he’d only lived in Washington, D.C. “I’ll ask. Call me back in an hour.”

I don’t think I breathed that whole hour. When I called back he said, “Oh, the spring is so beautiful, with all the bushes in bloom and the flowers. Fall is also very nice and maybe a little better weather.” I thanked him profusely. Spring was sooner than fall, so I would go in spring. I really, really wanted to go to Mt. Everest.

It was March and we flew all day to get to Delhi, India. We had to spend the night there since the Kathmandu airport could not accept night landings. There was a little excitement in the Delhi airport. Officials there had no interest in the vicious ice ax I was carrying but spent several minutes buzzing, in Hindi, I guess, over my Swiss army knife. I got to keep it.

The trek began a few days later and we piled into the back of a truck which took us to a village near the Tibetan border. Expectation and excitement overflowed as we took the first steps on what would be 180 miles of up and down over six mountain ranges before we finally swung north toward Mt. Everest.

The lowlands in Nepal are mainly Hindu but as we started our final slow trek we entered the Buddhist Sherpa country. The leaders of our trek were all Sherpas. Some welcomed us into their homes for a cup of tea but all of our camps were in the outdoors. Up, up, up we trod, always being greeted by friendly Sherpas: “Namaste,” they called.

Our group of nine, plus Sherpas, porters and yaks, passed through the main Sherpa village of Namche Bazaar where I honed my non-existent bargaining skills. We camped outside the Tengboche Monastery, where monks performed some of their religious rituals. Our trail continued above timberline and we camped for two nights at 14,500 feet to acclimatize. It was strange to be standing higher than at any time I’d been on Colorado’s 14,000 foot peaks, and be on a valley floor with ramparts of Himalayan walls towering above us. When we started climbing the next day we found that about an inch of snow had fallen overnight. At the end of the day we topped the terminal moraine of the Khumbu Glacier.

We were camped at 15,500 feet and my tentmate, Sam, and I were both sick. Real sanitation was just not possible in Nepal at that time. The plan was for our group to move ahead to our base camp at Gorak Shep, at about 17,300 feet. The next day we would ascend Kala Patar, something over 18,500 feet, to get the classic view of Everest. You couldn’t see it from our base camp due to the massive walls of rock and ice. Sam and I didn’t think we could hold out two days. We needed to get up in one day and then get down to a small clinic at about 14,000 feet, run by some Americans. We got permission from our trek leader to try it.

The climb up the Khumbu Glacier was gradual, but steady. Technical climbing equipment was not necessary. We got to the base of Kala Patar in no worse shape. We began to plod, to slog upward. It was much slower than any pace I’d ever had to set on the Colorado 14ers. We got about halfway up, turned, and we could see the top of Everest. Was that good enough? Strangely enough, it wasn’t. Is this a guy thing? I left my pack there and went ahead with just my ice ax and camera.

From here on the climb became an imperceptible trudge. Five breaths and a step, five more breaths and another step. But you could always take another step. We neared the top, stepped on the top. I turned and was swept by the full view of Mt. Everest, from bottom to top. For a fraction of a second, an infinitesimal fraction, I was the happiest person in the world.

Back in Kathmandu Sam and I were having breakfast in the hotel. He looked over at two middle-aged couples and exclaimed, “That’s Dolf Reist.” “Who?” I said, clueless. “Dolf Reist. He’s the second man to climb Mt. Everest.” Only Sam would know that. He said we should go over and introduce ourselves. Sam was pushy like that. We talked awhile and then I impulsively asked if he would autograph a postcard of Mt. Everest. He did and then he wrote the date, April 9, 1977. I gasped, “It’s my birthday!” So Sam, three others and the second man to climb Mt. Everest sang “Happy Birthday” to me.

It seems like it was yesterday.

A Yukon Dream Come True

Article & photos by Jack Olson

“There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.”
~ Robert Service

I had a beloved, eccentric speech teacher in high school who first enthralled me with thrilling tales of the Yukon. Continue reading

RMOWP Early Conferences, Part V

Article & photos by Jack Olson

hiking near Manitou Springs

Spring hike near Manitou Springs

Our 17th annual conference in 1990 congregated at Manitou Springs, Colorado, in the shadow of Pikes Peak. But we got out of that shadow in a big, big way, chugging in the cog train to the summit of the peak. At 14,110 feet, this was one of the few times our hardy crew has breathed such thin air. Continue reading

RMOWP Early Conferences, Part IV

Article & photos by Jack Olson

train ride to Silverton

Lunch Break in Silverton (Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad)

Back down to the Four Corners area for our 13th annual conference held in the historic town of Durango, Colorado in 1986. We had two 4-star events at this conference. We piled onto the Durango & Silverton narrow gauge railroad for the round trip to Silverton and back. Continue reading

Bryce Canyon National Park 2000 Revisited

Article & photos by Jack Olson

Bryce Canyon Navajo Loop Tr.

At the bottom of the canyon on Navajo Loop Trail

In June 2000 RMOWP congregated at Bryce Canyon for an annual conference which we planned some years before. We wanted to choose a location which would be spectacular, and memorable, for this auspicious year. For those of us oldtimers who attended that one it turned out to be one of the most exciting conferences in our history. Let’s return to that conference to show you a bit of what you can expect at the 2016 conference. Continue reading

Passing the Torch

article & photos by Jack Olson


wind effects near Dutch windmill

Melinda (L) & Amy (R) experiencing wind effects in Holland

What is even better than returning to a place you love? Returning with your wonderful, extraordinary, fun nieces. We did it, we really did it. In 1988 I traveled to Europe with Amy (age 21) and Melinda (age 18). Amy had one more year in college to finish; Melinda had just graduated from high school and was moving on to college. It was a perfect time to undertake our “trip of a lifetime”. I think we all know there are many trips of a lifetime, but this was their first one. Continue reading