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Summiters is a collaborative project. It is sponsored jointly by the Mt. Everest Summiters Club (MESC), a Nepali non-goverment organization (NGO) whose thirty members are all Everest summiters from Rolwaling, and by Bridges: Projects in Rational Tourism Development, an independent organization which since 1999 has been helping the residents of Rolwaling Valley develop opportunities for climbers and trekkers. Dawa Chhiri Sherpa, General Secretary of MESC, is Director of the Summiters school; Pepper Etters (Bridges 2001), is the Field Manager.

Summiters Director Dawa Chhiri has ten years' experience in mountaineering, in every capacity from porter to sirdar (chief of staff) and expedition organizer to sales and marketing executive for Chchogaru Treks and Expedition (Ltd.). A three-time Everest summiter, his expeditions include:

  • 1993: Japanese and Russian International Expedition team to Mt. Everest (sirdar and organizer)
  • 1998: Japanese expedition team to Mt. Everest from Tibet
  • 1999: Norwegian expedition to Chho Oyo and Sishapangma

As Director of Summiters, Dawa Chhiri will select two or three other members of the Mt. Everest Summiters Club to serve as instructors. These mountaineers will be responsible for most of the technical climbing training, and they will be in charge of our summit attempts.

Pepper Etters is Field Manager and Bridges coordinator. He is responsible for the theoretical training and logistics planning. Pepper is a native of Colorado, where he has spent most of his life working and playing in the tallest peaks of the Lower Forty-Eight. In addition to working as a climbing instructor and backcountry guide, Pepper has worked as a raft guide and is an avid kayaker. (The rafting expedition on the mighty Bhote Kosi is Pepper's idea of a relaxing way for the team to get to know each other!)

Tim Hare, another Colorado climber, will to assist our team in organization, logistical support, and safety oversight.

Some of the most important members of our team are the porters and cook. Recruited from the younger generation of Rolwaling Sherpas, this enthusiastic and capable crew will benefit from their experience with us, learning a variety of tourism service skills which will help them advance quickly in their careers, whether or not they choose to join the ranks of Rolwaling's elite guides and professional climbers.


Message from Director Dawa Chhiri

Tashi delek!

Dawa on Everest
1996: Successful Norwegian expedition to Everest from Tibetan side.
I was sirdar (chief of staff), and also summited. Tibet side.

Welcome to Summiters! It is a an honor and pleasure for me to address you as director of a project that is of such great importance to my community and to me personally.

I was born and raised in Rolwaling, in the village of Beding. This is a poor valley, especially compared to Khumbu, our neighbor to the east, where trade and later tourism brought prosperity. Rolwaling has no business -- just farms and yaks. But for all Sherpas, Rolwaling is the heart of our culture.

Rolwaling Valley was made by the Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava), the greatest of all superheroes. More than a thousand year ago he knew that China would come to destroy dharma in Tibet. So he made some sacred valleys and hid them. We are told that he carved Rolwaling with one pass of his wooden plow. The name Rolwa Ling means "Furrow Place."

Dawa on Sisapangma
1999: I am with successful Norwegian expedition to Shishapangma (8012 m.) from Tibetan side.

By making Rolwaling for this purpose, he gave the settlers a heavy responsibilitiy, to be true to dharma, and especially to respect all sentient beings. Although woodcutters and homeowners cut most of the forest and hunters killed most of the wildlife in Khumbu long ago, Rolwaling has great forests and many animals -- including bear, monkey, wild cats, and yeti. Almost all Rolwaling people believe that the yeti is a real animal or god.

Rolwaling is a place of peace, also for people. We are protected by the spirit of Guru Rinpoche, who watches over us and gives us strength. Just above us are the great peaks of Jomo Tseringma, the Long-Life Sisters, great goddesses who control fortune, health, and all important things. For Hindus, the peaks are Gauri-Shankar; Shankar is another name for Bishnu, one of the three greatest gods, and Gauri is his wife. Shankar is known as a meditator, a dreamer. He shares this spirit with all who come into this powerful valley.
Dawa on Ama Dablam
Winter 2000, I am with Korean expedition to Ama Dablam.

But Rolwaling is poor, and almost all of our men must leave to find work outside the valley during the fall and spring trekking and climbing seasons. Many of our people are leaving to build businesses and houses in Kathmandu, where life is easier and there are better schools. But the still love Rolwaling and wish there was some way to make a living in their own valley.

Several groups and individuals have been helping in Rolwaling and nearby. Ecohimal has contributed some funds for trail repair, and also (with the Kathmandu Environmental Education Project, or KEEP) sponsors courses in English and tourism services that are given in the nearby Tamba Valley. The Dutch, especially, have helped with preventing a disaster from Tsho Rolpa, a high lake that could break if something is not done; and now HMG, with Dutch and Japanese assistance, has built a dam that is lowering the lake to safer levels. Since 1999, Bridges-PRTD has sent small groups to study and do volunteer work in Beding. I met them last fall when they were helping to rebuild and paint the gompa (monastery). This is very important to all of our people, because the lamas are our protectors and our family, and the gompa is the center of our celebrations and festivals. Like Sherpas everywhere, we love to drink and dance all the night... and you will too! Our children will not let you escape.

Before I met the Bridges team, I had formed my own group with some other Rolwaling climbers. We formed the NGO (non-government organization, which is like a "non-profit") Mt. Everest Summiters Club; all Rolwaling climbers who have summited Jomolungma (Everest), are invited to join (now there are 30 members) and our plan is to give some portion of each year's climbing income to sponsor projects in our valley. I am the General Secretary of this group.

Now our club and Bridges have joined to work on this project, and on some other important Bridges projects, including the hydropower plant which will bring first electricity to our valley. The name for the school was chosen because it will belong completely to our club and the local community after next year.

Dawa on Ama Dablam
1998: I am on Ama Dablam with a Japanese group .

We think that Summiters will become an important attraction for tourists and for more tourist services in our valley. By controlling it from the beginning, the people of Rolwaling can make all necessary decisions to protect their homeland: how many clients to allow, where to build accommodations, how to dispose of waste, and so on.

So you can see that Summiters is very important to me and to my people. But what about you? Why should you come here and not to some other school with many more instructors and better facilities?

First, because this is Rolwaling. It is a very special place, and our people are also special. Sherpas are famous throughout the world for their hospitality, good spirit, energy, dignity, and resourcefulness. Rolwaling is the "Cradle of Heroes," the place that, for its size, has given more great climbers than any other place in the world. This is not an accident. You will share in the strength of this beautiful place and these courageous people.

Second, because your instructors are Sherpas. Climbing for all Sherpas is a business, but it is a business that we love. The mountains are our strength and our soul. As guides and climbing staff, we do not have an opportunity to really share our feelings and thoughts with the clients -- everybody is too busy. But a climbing school is different. For the first time, Sherpas are asked to tell everything they know and everything they feel about climbing to people who really care. That is a great opportunity for you, of course, but also for us: although none of our members have been instructors before, it is what we want to do. After all, a guide is really just a teacher that is available when you need him. No one asks a guide what we have inside, what we want to share. As teachers, we have set the syllabus and we will tell you and show you everything in our culture and our experience that will make you a better climber and a happier person.

Third, because you will have a chance to participate in a great adventure. Not just your own climbing adventure -- at the same time you will help our community climb out of poverty. So much will change in Rolwaling in the next few years, and you can help to make sure that prosperity does not destroy our traditional life. This can only happen if we bring clients with the proper frame of mind, open to our culture, happy to give as well as get, determined to protect what is good for the communities and guests of the future.

Thanks for taking the time to read this long letter. I look forward to meeting you next Spring!

Warmest regard,
Dawa Chhiri
Summiters: Rolwaling Mountaineering School

Pepper on Yalung Ri
2001: Pepper Etters on Yalung Ri

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Ithaca, NY 14850
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