The Pacific Northwest has always had a strong connection with Nepal and the climbing and trekking industry that benefits both economies. Local legends like Jim Whittaker, Ed Viesturs and Pete Athens are just some of the personalities synonymous with this Himalayan relationship. In a two-part series, Seattle Backpackers looks at this regional connection through the lens of the organizations and people that are making a difference after the tragic earthquake this April.
When the 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal on April 25, 2015, University of Washington MBA graduate and member of Washington based trek outfitter Grand Asian Journeys, Jwalant Gurung, was on the ground in Nepal and sprang into action delivering much needed supplies to remote villages that might never have received aid.
Jwalant is not new to delivering development services to remote areas of Nepal. For ten years, his company has been building schools and supporting social justice projects in the remote villages of Nepal. Jwalant’s father was one of the first trekking outfitters in Nepal, so Jwalant saw firsthand how the porters and guides and their families struggled in the Himalayan hinterland. When Jwalant was in graduate school at the UW, he and other business students came up with the idea to guide climbing trips up Washington’s world-class mountains as a way to raise money and awareness for the needs of the people in Nepal. The concept seemed like a no-brainer – raise awareness for Nepal by climbing mountains in the Pacific Northwest to support those who help Pacific Northwesterners (and others) trek the wilds of Nepal.
Given this simple concept, the 3 Summits for Nepal project was born. For the past 10 years the 3 Summits project has provided guided climbing trips up Rainier and Baker for a fraction of the cost climbers would pay the big regional guide services. The charity has collected over $200,000 for development and charity projects in Nepal. Climbers are asked only to pay for their expenses on the climb and agree to fundraise for the 3 Summits charity; 100% of the money raised goes to supporting development and social justice projects in Nepal. In the past, funds have been used to build schools, pay for teachers and help orphaned children.
This year the 3 Summits project will climb Rainier in late July. Jwalant says the funds have never been needed more. The earthquake and repeated aftershocks have devastated Nepal and further isolated the remote Himalayan villages that support trekking tourism. Often it takes days to walk to these villages, and with international aid agencies focused on areas that can be reached by road, these remote places are often left unassisted. This is where Jwalant and his Nepalese guides go to work. Jwalant and his guides have the local knowledge and infrastructure from the trekking business to get the much needed supplies to these areas by foot, pack-animal, or truck – whatever it takes. Besides the dedicated corps of guides and porters, Jwalant has a group of people and organizations here in the Pacific Northwest that make it all possible. Jwalant says the outpouring of support since the earthquake has been humbling, but emphasizes that the need in these areas is tremendous.
The climb is filled for this year, but learn more about the giving effort here: https://www.crowdrise.com/3summitsnatsuume/fundraiser/jwalantgurung.
Meet the 3 Summits Crew
Jwalant says there are many people that make the 3 Summits project a success. Below are just a few who have helped bring relief and development to remote areas of Nepal.
Jwalant Gurung is a Nepal native raised in the shadow of Annapurna and is a member of Grand Asian Journeys. Jwalant is a 2006 University of Washington MBA graduate committed to the economic and social development of Nepal. Jwalant created the 3 Summits for Nepal project to provide alpine climbing experiences in the Pacific Northwest while raising funds for development projects in Nepal.
Pam Perry is the co-owner of Grand Asian Journeys and runs the day-to-day operations here in the Pacific Northwest. Pam is an Asia travel expert and leads trips to Nepal, Bhutan, India, Sri Lanka and many other exotic destinations. Pam recommends the Nepal reconstruction trips for those that want to make a direct contribution. Pam says, “Our Nepal treks and tours have been our most popular offerings since our inception in 2010, so our business has definitely been impacted by the tragic April earthquake there. We’re really working on bringing tourists back to the country and having them help us rebuild the villages of our staff— a win-win for Nepal. The collapse of the tourism industry there would be like a second, more devastating earthquake, and we’re committed to not letting that happen.”
Crooked Trails is a non-profit, community based tourism outfitter in Seattle. Chris Mackay of Crooked Trails says that tourism can be a positive force in the world when people stay in the community and meet the locals. Community based tourism gives people a chance to connect, hang out and do things together. When Chris says “do things” she means working with locals to do community projects. This July Chris will be going to Nepal to discuss sustainable reconstruction with other nonprofits working in Nepal. Besides donating directly to the 3 Summits project, Chris says the best thing you can do to help Nepal is to travel there. The economies of many of these Himalayan villages are sustained by tourism, she says if you have been saving Nepal for your bucket-list, this October, November, and December would be the perfect time to go.
To find out more about Crooked Trails reconstruction efforts or to make a tax deductible donation go to Rebuild Nepal at crookedtrails.org/trips/nepal-rebuilding/#.VXcsrEZLWT9 .
Borelli Designs is an action wear company with a social conscious. Marissa Borelli, President of Borelli Designs, has pledged to donate 30% of sales from her active scarf collection to the 3 Summits charity through the month of August. The Borelli Active Scarf is popular with mountaineers and outdoor enthusiasts. To order your scarf in support of rebuilding efforts in Nepal go to Borelli Designs at borellidesign.com.
Tonya Hendrick is a Seattle-based experienced 3 Summits guide, climber, and endurance runner. Tonya has been leading climbs for 3 Summits and women-only climbs on Rainier for several years. In 2014 Tonya went to the Kanchenjunga region in Eastern Nepal to help build a school with Jwalant and other members of the 3 Summits project. Tonya said, “I fell in love with the people and their tenacity. They were so strong, kind and gracious.” Tonya is looking forward to another successful summit of Rainier for her and the 3 Summits climbers this season and plans to return to Nepal as soon as possible.
Brad and Katy Roberts met a little over a year ago and were married in a ceremony in Nepal during a 3 Summit’s school building trip. The couple took 52 pounds of school supplies when they went and said the kids were so excited to get books that they hugged them and didn’t want to let them go. Brad is part of the UW grad-school connection and summited for the first time two years ago. This will be Katy’s first summit attempt. To date, the couple has raised over $6,000 for the relief effort, but hope to raise $50,000 for the 3 Summits project. Katy says, “If you are a local, the mountain mocks you and challenges you to climb it.” She challenges other locals to get out on the mountain as part of the 3 Summits project or donate to others that will challenge the mountain this year. You can donate to Brad and Katy’s summit attempt at crowdrise.com/bkrainier/.
Robin Hruska is a 31-year retired Bainbridge Island school teacher with a master’s in Human Development. Robin went with Pam and Grand Asian Journeys to Nepal two years ago. Robin says she fell in love with the people and culture and knew that Jwalant was looking for teachers for his new schools. Robin struggled with the idea of leaving her family for an extended period of time, but felt like she still had a lot to offer the world and wanted to make a difference. She says, “The children are desperate to learn, but they don’t have the tools to do it.”
Be sure to catch the second article in this series when Seattle Backpackers goes with 3 Summits to the top of Mount Rainier. Meet more locals that are making a difference and find out how much was raised for relief efforts in Nepal.
Don’t let the Mountain mock you – Katy Roberts