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Steve Mock Teaches at Khumbu Climbing Center in Nepal

Montana Western Environmental Sciences professor, Steve Mock, is the director of the Khumbu Climbing Center (KCC), a project of the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Bozeman, Mont.

The center’s goal is to increase the knowledge and safety of the local Nepalese climbing guides and high-altitude workers. Launched in 2003 in the village of Phortse, Nepal, the center has become a successful vocational program for indigenous people and over 1,000 local men and women have completed the course. There are over 90 ethnic groups in the country of Nepal, including the Sherpa people who live in the Himalayas, the most mountainous region of the country.

Each January, a two-week course is held in topics including technical climbing skills, English language, mountain safety, rescue, and wilderness first aid. The goal is to create a sustainable program that will eventually be completely operated by the local people. A small team of Western instructors, including Mock, travel each January to the village to facilitate the courses offered.

“The goal is to make the KCC integrated with the community,” said Mock. “We chose the village of Phortse for several reasons, including its strong Everest climbing legacy, it was large enough to accommodate 80 students and 30 staff, and it is close to ice climbs that mimic the conditions on Everest,” he said.

Ice Climb

KCC instructors demonstrate the proper technique for ice climbing frozen waterfalls.

The local people become familiar with the climbing knowledge and techniques necessary to climb Mt. Everest, including how to correctly set up harnesses, belay, climb, and place ropes.

Mock will spend his time in January 2018 in Phortse with other instructors to teach the KCC students about the many aspects of guiding in the high-altitude environment of Mt. Everest, including how to safely climb frozen waterfalls, a common occurrence when summiting Everest.

The KCC also offers training in avalanche awareness, and how to safely interact with helicopters that land in the area.

“Since the ideal time of year to summit Everest occurs for a short time in May, there can be 500 people attempting to summit at one time,” said Mock.

KCC Instructors

KCC instructors often include Montana Western faculty and students.

Courses have also been offered in the past by Montana Western faculty members including Biology assistant professor Wendy Ridenour, who taught Alpine Ecology, and Environmental Sciences professor Rob Thomas, who taught classes about the local geology and environment.

Katie Susong

Montana Western student, Katie Susong.

In addition, several Montana Western students have had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to assist at the KCC. Katie Susong, a 2017 Montana Western graduate, completed her wilderness first aid-focused internship while instructing students on appropriate field medicine techniques.

Currently under construction, the permanent physical home of the KCC is being constructed in Phortse. Once completed, the building will house climbing gear, educational materials, indoor and outdoor training walls, as well as flexible spaces that will provide classrooms and a community meeting place.

Increasing safety for the local climbing guides and their parties increases the positive economic impacts that the guiding industry has on the local community.

For more information about the Khumbu Climbing Center, please visit their website.

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