His aim wasn’t for the top-just the base, but Malibu resident Ted Vaill had to complete an arduous 100-mile trek through Nepal’s Himalayas to reach the base camp of Mt. Everest. On his trek, Vaill ascended and descended elevations of 18,000 feet and higher, and braved the Khumbu Icefall, which a close friend of his had died in many years earlier.
A fellow hut man that Vaill worked with in the Appalachian Mountain trails told Vaill of the opportunity to be a part of this trek, which took place mid-May to early April. Vaill, who had then been working on a video about the Shangri-La region, readily agreed to come and videotape the venture as well.
Vaill has 50 years experience in mountain climbing, including working as a park ranger in the Grand Teton National Park. To prepare for the Everest trip, he hiked the backbone trails of Malibu and the Sierras with heavy packs.
The group Vaill accompanied, led by Rick Wilcox, flew from Katmandu to Lukla (the Khumbu region of Nepal), where a 900-foot airstrip is carved out of the mountain. The 20-person group traveled with 20 Sherpas and cook boys, 20 porters and 10 yaks on trails that could only be traveled by foot. The yaks carried gear on mule bags, but the hikers still had to carry heavy daypacks for food, blankets and other immediate essential items.
The first day of the trek, Vaill and his team encountered a hailstorm, which rained down three to four inches of hail. Temperatures reached as low as 0 degrees Fahrenheit at base camp, and went below freezing in the mornings before the hikers awoke. “So needless to say, we had very well-lined sleeping bags and tents,” Vaill said in a recent interview.
Vaill’s team initially went up Goky Peak, which stands at 18,000 feet elevation. Traversing the largest glacier in that region, they set up camp just below 17,000 feet. The team then went across the glacier-esque 17,777-foot Cho La Pass, to finally reach the Mt. Everest base camp, which lies between 18,000-19,000 feet in elevation.
“The secret is not to go too high too fast, because of the serious illness hikers attain when they climb up in elevation too quickly,” Vail explained.
Other dangers included the Khumbu Glacier Icefall, which remains a serious threat since it’s constantly moving and large sections of ice erratically come crashing down. Vaill’s friend died at the Khumbu Icefall in 1963. There remains a memorial etched into the rock at this site.
Despite the treacherous mountainsides that the team often could not pass without climbing equipment, Vaill said his Everest trip was very well planned, and had some added comforts. “It was done in the style of George Leigh Mallory on his trek to Mt. Everest in the 1920s,” Vaill said. The Sherpas, trained in the British tradition of tea at 4 p.m. and at wakeup time, served the team tea and biscuits, and followed similar practices found in the very first expedition to Everest, “so you were very comfortable even though you were out in the elements,” Vaill said.
This was not the first major expedition Vaill has undertaken. He led an expedition in Tibet in 1983, and was also a hut man in the Appalachian Mountains in New Hampshire during his college years in the late 1950s. The hut men would prepare the huts for campers to stay in and also provide dinner. Vaill said, in his 38 years of practicing entertainment law, trips like these helped lessen the rate of burnout, and gave him a better balance to his life.
Vaill is working on completing a 45-minute video covering the span of the Nepal trip, accompanied by narration. He hopes to run it on the local Channel 15.
Vaill just came back from Tibet, where he was finishing up filming a project he and a partner were originally working on. As for his next trip, Vaill said, “I can’t say where it will be, but I’m sure there will be one somewhere exciting in the year to come.”