Rite of Passage: One Father's Gift of a Lifetime to His 7-Year-Olds

Yahoo TravelJuly 9, 2014


The author with his son Dylan: creating a family tradition and building a legacy with a special father-son time. (Photo: Mike Allsop)

Adventure is part of my life. I’ve traveled all over the world and encountered things few people have ever seen. I survived an “unsurvivable” plane crash in the Pacific early in my flying career. These days I am a father of three and a captain for Air New Zealand. But I am still, forever, an adventurer — and I like pushing myself to my limits.

The most extraordinary adventure of all, however, was climbing Everest. That was more than seven years ago, but I still remember it like it was yesterday: the final ridge before the summit, the highest point on planet Earth, and the most difficult part of my journey, looming before me. I had seen this ridge many times, immortalized in photographs, and I always wondered what it would be like to actually set foot on it. I came to Hillary Step, a steep section of rock and ice, and knew I would be at the summit soon.

In hindsight, the thought was premature.

Everest this way. A signpost on the hiking route. (Photo: Thinkstock)

I became weary, exhausted from the climb. I collapsed. I was confused and scared, but my loyal Sherpa, Lakpa, knew why: I had depleted my life-giving supply of bottled oxygen. Gratefully, my dear friend quickly changed my bottle and ultimately saved my life. If it weren’t for him, I might still be on that mountain today.

I stood on the summit of Mount Everest at 8:45 a.m. on May 24, 2007, for 15 minutes. From that moment on, my life was changed forever.

You never forget standing atop the highest point on Earth, Mount Everest. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Priority Shift

When I returned home, I took time to reflect upon my experience. Reaching the summit of Everest was unbelievable, but what became even more important to me was the relationships I had developed with my fellow climbers and the Sherpas — deep, enduring, lifelong friendships.

I also came to realize something even greater. I have a fantastic wife, Wendy, and three beautiful children (Ethan, Maya, and Dylan). And as much as I love climbing mountains, I realized that my family is far more important than my need to continue having extreme adventures. I needed to find a way to do what I love with my family by my side.

Related: #Father’sDay: How Traveling the World with My Son Brought Us Closer

Dylan walking on a swing bridge over the river. He was a little scared at first, but I was even more scared watching him. (Photo: Mike Allsop)

That’s why I decided that when each of my three children turned 7 — an age that I felt was old enough to enjoy the experience — we would travel to Nepal together. I thought this would be the perfect time in their young lives to provide them with experiences that would change how they perceived the world. I also felt the need to spend some special, one-on-one time with each of my children and create a treasured family tradition.

Dylan learning how to feed the monkeys safely (without getting bitten) at the Monkey Temple, Kathmandu (Photo: Mike Allsop)

Ethan (July 2010)

With my eldest son, Ethan, turning 7 soon, the planning began. The first item on the list was obtaining a doctor’s approval for our adventure as well as all necessary vaccinations to keep us safe while traveling to the Himalayas.

We planned to fly to Nepal from New Zealand via Hong Kong and Delhi — an adventure in itself. Once we arrived in Nepal, we would begin our trek up the Khumbu Valley toward Everest. We would fly from Kathmandu to Lukla, a little Himalayan town tucked at 9,000 feet, and the hiking would begin. There would be no cars and no roads — just backpackers, Sherpa guides, yaks, and the long journey ahead.

Though Nepal is a safe country, it is important to use common sense when traveling with a child. If you are not familiar with the area, you should not go without a guide. You can easily get porters and Sherpa trekking guides from a reputable company like Himalayan Guides in Nepal.

Related: #RealTravel: Climbing the Himalayas at 16? A Father and His Teenage Son Eye Mount Everest

We fuel ourselves with a USANA Nutrimeal when trekking in the Himalayas. (Photo: Mike Allsop)

But I learned very quickly that the trickiest part of taking children to the Everest region, surprisingly, isn’t the trek: It’s keeping their young bodies energized and hydrated, which is crucial to maintaining health, since dehydration leads to altitude sickness.

It’s also important to note that two-thirds of all travelers to Nepal acquire some sort of gastroenteritis. And my son, unfortunately, became part of that statistic. An army moves on its stomach, they say, and nothing stops you in your tracks like a stomach bug. Ethan’s condition hindered the remainder of our trip, but my son reveled in the attention he received from my Sherpa friends. They cared for him and made our trip a smashing success. I saw a change in him, and I knew we were closer than ever before.

Related: Dogsledding in Alaska — With a 1-Year-Old (No, Really!)

Dylan with my good friend Tashi Sherpa at her lodge in the Khumbu Valley; it has fantastic views of Mount Everest. (Photo: Mike Allsop)

Maya (May 2012)

When it came time to take my daughter, Maya, to Nepal almost two years later, she did a fantastic job trekking. We were able to make it to Namche Bazaar, a village in northeastern Nepal, in just two days — difficult even for an adult. You may be wondering how or why we got there so quickly. Because I was by her side every minute, Maya became more and more comfortable, and once she felt safe, her confidence blossomed and she was able to make the trek quickly. In fact, she even began speaking with Nepali people as well as laughing and playing with Sherpa children.

The flight to Lukla was loud but fun. We trekked again for quite a while but were entertained by the droves of donkeys and jopkeys (half cow/half yak). And before we could go home, Maya had to get some shopping in at the N.D. Tibetan Co-Operative Store as well as a daddy-daughter rickshaw ride.

Related: This Family Is Taking an Epic Road Trip From North to South America

A view out over Namche Bazaar and the Nepalese mountains (Photo: Thinkstock)

Soaking up the culture in the Himalayas with Dylan at the yak loading area at Namche Bazaar, a village in Nepal (Photo: Mike Allsop)

Dylan (May 2014)

Just this year, I returned home from my last trip with my youngest son, Dylan. We had a fantastic three-week father-son adventure with no problems whatsoever. I kept the 60-mile journey interesting by playing games and telling stories. In fact, I was able to give Dylan a great lesson in the history of Everest and the Sherpas, who guide adventurers such as us.

We visited Sir Edmund Hillary’s school in Khumjung, which was founded by one of the first confirmed climbers ever to reach Mount Everest in 1961. Then we trekked even higher and farther than I had with my other two children. We stayed with a Sherpa friend as well as some monks from Tengboche Monastery — a Tibetan Buddhist monastery of the Sherpa community perched at 14,000 feet — in the valley toward Everest. Dylan enjoyed this rare experience of learning about their nontheistic religion and gaining an understanding of their beliefs and customs.

Related: A Can’t-Miss Backpacking Tour of Nepal

Tengboche Monastery stupa with prayer flags. An amazing experience with or without a child. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Adventure Tips for Trekking With Children

After traveling and trekking over thousands of miles on my own, as well as with 7-year-old children, I’ve learned some very important things:

1. Do your research, get a professional Sherpa guide, acquire your doctor’s approval, and obtain all necessary vaccinations.

2. Don’t kid yourself: Traveling with a child is hard work for both you and your child. Be sure to take your time and give your child plenty of rest days.

3. Never leave your child’s side during the entire trip. Your children must be made to feel safe and secure.

4. Be equipped with food, water, and supplements. I rely on USANA’s Nutrimeal™ shakes for energy — I carry the powder and just add water, so they’re great on the trail — and USANA® Probiotic for a healthy gut.

5. Take more pictures than you can count, and be sure to have a fast camera. I used my cell phone, the Samsung Galaxy S5, which includes a 16-megapixel camera. It was superquick, and I didn’t miss a thing.

Lunchtime at 14,000 feet, gazing at Everest and telling Dylan stories of my incredible climb. (Photo: Mike Allsop)

Spending magical time with your children is priceless. We sometimes forget that children measure love based on the amount of time we spend with them. Nothing makes them feel more special than private time alone with Mom or Dad on a unique adventure. One day I hope they will pass this legacy on to their own.

Mike Allsop is an avid marathon runner, mountaineer, pilot, and author of the recent book High Altitude.

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