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Montana Western professors teach at the top of the world

March 7, 2017

Wendy Ridenour, University of Montana Western biology professor, recently returned from the Himalayas where she taught the alpine ecology curriculum as a volunteer for the Khumbu Climbing Center (KCC) in Phortse, Nepal.

Khumbu Climbing Center (KCC) began in 2003 and has since become one of the most successful educational program for indigenous people. KCC’s mission is to increase the safety margin of Nepali and Sherpa climbers and high altitude workers by encouraging responsible climbing practices in a supportive and community-based program.

Each winter for two weeks, western and Nepali instructors teach technical climbing skills along with the English language, mountain safety, rescue, wilderness first aid and alpine ecology, center co-director and Montana Western chemistry professor Steve Mock said.

“Phortse is a small rural village at an altitude of nearly 13,000 feet. There is no running water or central heat…we slept in expedition sleeping bags and warmed our fingers and toes around a yak dung stove in the mornings and evenings while it was fired up,” Ridenour said.

Ridenour taught professional trekking and climbing guides in the Himalaya including 80 Nepali students and more than 20 Nepali KCC instructors providing experiential learning in the field.

She explained that alpine ecology is the study of the environment that exists at high elevations above the timberline. “Nepali guides will be able to earn better tips from their clients and experience greater career longevity as a result of being able to discuss the local flora and fauna, and their unique adaptations to the high mountain environment while they are trekking with their clients.”

“As an alpine ecologist, teaching alpine ecology in the world’s highest mountain range to indigenous people who are professional mountain guides was the greatest professional experience of my life,” Ridenour said. “I was also able to create course materials that Nepali instructors will then use in future years to continue teaching alpine ecology as part of KCC.”

KCC is an effort of the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation, which provides direction and financial assistance to sustainable, community-based humanitarian programs designed to help the people who live in remote regions of the world.