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Capital University News, California State University, Sacramento

March 8, 2005

Teaching on the top of the world

Photo of: Kevin Tatsugawa with Mt. Everest in the background
Kevin Tatsugawa with Mt. Everest in the background

The people of Nepal, especially the Sherpas, are legendary as climbing guides and porters, but most of them come to mountaineering as a vocation and receive no formal training–often endangering themselves and the climbers they lead. California State University, Sacramento recreation professor Kevin Tatsugawa is just back from Nepal, where he’s helping to turn Nepali guides and porters into trained, certified professionals.

In early February, Tatsugawa joined a team of other western mountaineers–among them, Jon Krakauer, author of the bestselling Into Thin Air–for the second annual Khumbu Climbing School in the Nepali village of Phortse, elevation 12,500 feet. Working mostly outdoors on and around frozen waterfalls, Tatsugawa spent five days teaching 55 Nepali students how to evaluate and treat injured climbers, perform rescues, and master climbing techniques.

“I’m working with the school and groups such as the Himalayan Rescue Association to establish a professional rescue team of Nepali climbers in the Himalayas,” says Tatsugawa, a mountaineer with a doctorate in recreation from the University of Utah. In addition to making Himalayan climbs safer for guides and mountaineers alike, says Tatsugawa, “This would generate positive publicity for Nepal, as well as income and training opportunities for Nepalis.”

Historically, the mountaineers who complete a history-making first ascent of a prominent peak or climbing route are among the most highly skilled, explains Tatsugawa, who has done research on mountaineers who have reached the Mt. Everest summit. Climbers on subsequent ascents typically are less skilled; ultimately, says Tatsugawa, many ascents are made with the support of guides. Mountaineers often pay thousands of dollars to make a world-class climb and many assume that a guided ascent is safer.

But in fact, if you’re injured while climbing Mt. Everest, there’s no one to save you, explains Tatsugawa. Despite its name, the Himalayan Rescue Association, an organization of Nepali guides and western doctors, mainly helps climbers suffering from acute mountain sickness, a sometimes-fatal elevation-related condition. The professional training that Tatsugawa and others give to the Nepalis will put Himalayan rescue services on a par with those in the world’s other mountaineering meccas, such as the Alps, Alaska’s Denali and California’s Sierra Nevadas.

While in Nepal in 2003 for the 50th anniversary of the first ascent to the Mt. Everest summit, Tatsugawa proposed rescue and first aid training for Nepali guides. That led to the invitation to teach at this year’s Khumbu Climbing School. The vocational school was established by a Montana-based foundation that memorializes renowned American mountaineer Alex Lowe, who died in an avalanche in Tibet in 1999.

The Nepali students loved the training, says Tatsugawa, who taught in English with some help from translators (most of the students spoke at least some English). “They appreciated the fact that we came all that way to teach them.”

Most students had attended the school last year, and most are already signed up for next year, when enrollment is expected to top 100. This year’s coursework will be made public as a Nepali-language instructional video aired on Nepal television. An American documentary film about the school, as well as articles in Climbing, Outside and Men’s Journal magazines, are also in the works.

Tatsugawa plans to return to Nepal to teach at next year’s school. In the meantime, he’s back in Sacramento writing grants for the climbing school. He hopes to involve some of his Sacramento State students in grantwriting and developing the school’s curriculum.

Media assistance and photos from Tatsugawa’s trip are available by calling the Sacramento State public affairs office at (916) 278-6156.

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California State University, Sacramento • Public Affairs
6000 J Street • Sacramento, CA 95819-6026 • (916) 278-6156 • infodesk@csus.edu
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California State University, Sacramento • Public Affairs
6000 J Street • Sacramento, CA 95819-6026 • (916) 278-6156 • infodesk@csus.edu