Reaching peak of education; Journey: The founder of Earth Treks will take three Maryland climbers -- and a class of kids on the Internet -- with him to scale a mountain halfway around the world.


"The plane banked toward Katmandu, cutting low across the jagged ridge lines and into the valley bottom. Descending through the final clouds, the city suddenly revealed itself. To the east, temples stood above the city. Flooded rice paddies stretched to the west. Directly below us the red brick buildings were piled against one another."

-- Chris Warner, Aug. 26

It's one more example of the incredible shrinking universe, and technology is the reason. Next week, some Maryland schoolchildren will climb a mountain -- at least in cyberspace -- halfway around the world.

The mountain, in the Himalayas of Nepal, is called Ama Dablam. The schoolchildren are going along for the climb via e-mail. On the other end of the e-mail -- and in Nepal -- are Maryland climbers led by Chris Warner.

The three climbers Warner will lead to the top of 22,584-foot Ama Dablam are Geoff Hastings, a radiologist from Baltimore; Jimmy Rockelman, a golf pro from Ellicott City; and Seth Murphy of Glen Burnie, an employee of Earth Treks, the climbing center in Columbia. The trio flew out of BWI late Wednesday.

They expect to land in Katmandu, the capital of Nepal, on Sunday and hope to reach the summit of Ama Dablam about Nov. 14.

"I've done lots of multi-day backpacking with a pretty heavy load," Murphy, 23, says of his training for the expedition. "Lots of running, six miles a day -- 10 miles on the weekend -- and lots of biking as well." Murphy has been on other climbs, including Mount Rainier. He became interested in climbing after working for a sporting goods store and selling climbing equipment. Now, he says, climbing is his passion.

"I do a lot of rock climbing and extensive ice climbing. It's definitely an adrenalin rush," Murphy says. "A lot is about endurance."

It's also about pushing limits.

"It's both physical and mental," he says. Murphy feels prepared to join Warner, a longtime rock climber and mountaineer, in Nepal.

Warner, 35, the founder and president of Earth Treks, has long been chronicling his travels on the Internet, including when he first touched down for this latest adventure:

"We landed during a break in the rain. The monsoon is growing tired, but is expected to stay hovered over Katmandu for at least another week. This is keeping tourists away, leaving the streets in their most raw and puddled state. The narrow alleyways and twisted streets are not as frenzied as when international trekkers are here. It is kind of nice to share the city with only a handful of expeditions "

-- Chris Warner, Aug. 26 "The idea is to e-mail daily," says Warner in a telephone conversation from Katmandu. "But we are depending on solar power to charge the computer. Right now the weather is horrible! It's been raining all day."

Typically the weather is clear during the day and cold at night this time of year, he says.

Warner is excited about having schoolchildren follow the climb of Ama Dablam online as they study about world geography and cultures. They will do so through Shared Summits, sponsored by Earth Treks and several makers of mountain gear.

"Students will feel as if they were actually participating in the climbs," Warner says.

Howard County's Elkridge Elementary School, one of the online schools, is committed to Shared Summits.

"What we've done so far is a lot of background," says Elkridge teacher Kathleen Tubridy Reinke.

"We have read children's books about the area. We went to see 'Everest' at the Imax Theater," Reinke says. Third-graders are learning how different communities and people in the world meet their specific needs, she says.

Reaching the top of Ama Dablam is only the latest of Warner's goals. This winter, he will travel to Ecuador to climb Cotopaxi, Chimborazo and Antisana. In May, he will make his first summit attempt of Mount Everest.

School emblems, including those from Elkridge, Burleigh Manor School, also in Howard County, and Park School in Baltimore County, will be planted when Warner summits Mount Everest.

"Elkridge students, and for that matter the students of all Shared Summits schools, will be represented at the top of the world," he says.

Warner has traveled the world climbing mountains.

"I definitely have to say, I don't do it for a thrill," he says. "It's not like bungee jumping. I've been here for two months and have been climbing for 12 days. The rest of the time has been trekking into base camp, exploring cultures. And that is the primary reason I do this, the opportunity to explore other cultures."

Yet there is no denying the obvious risks.

"There is inherent danger in the mountains," Warner says. "And in a way that adds to the mystique."

However, with experience and skill, the danger is minimized as much as possible, he says.

Sometimes the wisest decision is to turn back. While attempting to climb the south face of 26,399-foot Shisha Pangma, also in Nepal, the threat of an avalanche caused a change in plans.

"Last night the winds descended on base camp, tearing at tents and throwing gear about the meadow. The avalanche danger is far greater than it was a few days ago. To climb on the face of Shisha Pangma would be insane."

-- Chris Warner, Oct. 8. It turns out that two Americans, Alex Lowe and Dave Bridges, were killed by an avalanche on that same mountain a few days earlier.

"We journey to these distant places to live life more fully and when we are confronted with the bitter face of death, we are forced to re-confront our own mortality."

-- Chris Warner, Oct. 6. But for now, it's one mountain at a time. And Warner will have family with him, at least part of the way.

Joyce Warner, his wife, is leading a trekking group along with another guide. They will go to the Ama Dablam base camp, climb Kala Patar, 18,450 feet, and then go to the Mount Everest base camp.

She, too, is e-mailing the students.

"It's a way of giving back to the community," she says.

Tracking the climb

Follow the Shared Summits climb of Ama Dablam at Earth Treks' Web site, The Sun will run periodic excerpts from Chris Warner's journal.

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