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UMW professors travel to teach Nepalese Sherpas at world-famous climbing center

anker-tightcrop2Montana Western professor Steve Mock meets with world-renowned climber and Khumbu Climbing Center co-founder Conrad Anker before heading to Nepal.


Montana Western off to Nepal for a month to teach at Khumbu Climbing Center

Environmental sciences professor Rob Thomas and chemistry professor Steve Mock begin their month-long trip Jan. 7. They will spend their time at the Khumbu Climbing Center (KCC) in Phortse, Nepal. The town is about 15 miles from the base of Mount Everest.

Mock is the co-director of the KCC, a non-profit organization working with Nepalese climbers and high-altitude workers to increase responsible climbing practices within Nepal’s economically vital tourism and guiding industry. Classes are offered in the winter when the tourism season is at a low and last either eight or ten days.

The KCC was founded to honor the memory of legendary climber Alex Lowe. Lowe died in 1999 while attempting to be among the first Americans to complete a ski descent of an 26,247-foot peak called Shishapangma, the 14th highest peak in the world. The KCC is funded through the the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation that's based out of Bozeman, Mont., where Lowe once was a resident.

Mock’s experience with Alex Lowe dates back to the 1980s when the two were friends in Bozeman while Mock attended grad school.

Sherpas who attend the KCC learn from some of the world’s most famous climbers including Conrad Anker, Jon Krakauer, Renan Ozturk and Pete Athans. 

While in Phortse, Mock and Thomas will join other instructors to teach Sherpas about the many aspects of guiding in the high-altitude environment of Mount Everest. Mock teaches climbing basics as well as more advanced climbing skills. 

“The students we have will climb on Everest, the real cash cow for the Khumbu region of Nepal, and I'd like to think that they will do so more safely as a result of their time with KCC,” said Mock. “When one of these climbers and guides die, they usually leave behind a family who was totally dependent upon them for financial support. If, in all my years working at KCC, I can think that I saved the life of one person and helped lift their family out of poverty through their hard, safe work, all the time, money and effort are worth it.”Patagonia Twins2UMW professors Rob Thomas (left) and Steve Mock have traveled to Nepal numerous times to instruct at the Khumbu Climbing Center.

Thomas helps students understand the mountain environments in which they work. In his instruction, Thomas teaches his students about the natural history of the Himalayas and how to teach clients about the natural environment. In addition to courses on climbing skills, first aid and environmental interpretation, he says the KCC also teaches English.

“It's my hope that by better understanding their surroundings, my students might avoid a natural hazard, inspire a client to be interested in the formation of the mountains they are climbing or to have a career in trekking once they can no longer climb,” said Thomas. “For some, they will never climb an 8,000-meter peak, but they might become a trekking guide. In part, their success in that industry depends upon their language skills and their ability to help their clients learn about the local culture and natural environment.”

Mock made his first trip to Nepal in 2008 and has made several trips back since then to continue to be an instructor and serve as the program's co-director. He said his time with the KCC has given him a unique perspective that he brings back with him to Montana and his students at Montana Western.

“For me, what I bring back is a very different perspective on life, learning, wealth, life and death, and countless other things,” said Mock. “I do think that the very different and unique experiences that I have in Nepal help provide me with a fresh perspective and some new ideas about communication and teaching. I think the benefit for students at Montana Western is that they see a typical professor doing something out of the ordinary.”

Mock hopes his students at Montana Western will see his travels to Nepal and his work with the KCC as inspiration to expand their horizons.

“I like to share the stories of adventure, boredom, food, cold and all kinds of things, and I like to think that it helps broaden my student’s perspectives,” said Mock. “I hope that they can be inspired to seek their own adventures, to get out of Dillon, out of Montana and into a wider world by seeing someone they know getting out.”