Updated on June 9, 2012
Standing with Giants in Paradise.
They would never call themselves “giants”. Though these people stood very tall over the last 50 years. They have more vertical feet on the planet than most and some impressive firsts.
We met in Seattle, Ashford, Etonville and at a park service lodge in a place called Paradise on the side of Mount Rainier. The lodge was the site of a memorial for Gombu on Sunday June 3rd. Organizers also had a fundraiser for his favorite charity: The Sherpa Buddhist Association.
All of these people are connected through climbing and Mount Rainier. They trained on the 14,410 ft peak. They guided people to the summit for many years. Most worked for RMI–Rainier Mountaineering Inc. The company was owned by Lou Whittaker and is now run by his son.
Jim Whittaker was the first American to summit Everest with Gombu at his side. The Whittakers are now in their 80’s. Jim Wickwire, the first American to summit K2 just turned 72. Phil Ershler, a long time mountaineer, had many summits before he and his wife Susan became the first couple to climb the 7 summits–the tallest peaks on all the continents. Phil is a little north of 60.
They are bound in this thin-aired fraternity by victories, close calls and great losses.
Most of them gathered along with several members of Gombu’s family and friends to remember him. In tributes and videos he was described as a simple, complicated, driven servant of a man who taught them the meaning of humble. They said he made them smile and feel safe.
These climbers remain inspiring, vital men and women who now measure their achievements in memories and friends they made along the way including the smallest giant of the mountains–Nawang Gombu.
Mele and I did a little hiking in the snow on the flank of Rainier. (We were actually in a brief storm.) Over the next few weeks I will be logging these interviews and sharing some of the amazing stories of these extraordinary folks.