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David Morton introduces his son to the Himalayas
Posted on January 18, 2013

Friends of FA

For the challenge and for his day job, Eddie Bauer First Ascent guide David Morton has spent 20 climbing seasons in the Nepal Himalaya, tackling hard routes on Makalu and Everest’s West Ridge, as well as guiding eight expeditions on the world’s tallest mountain. In his two decades of travels through the rugged topography, he has forged many friendships and many connections among the Sherpa who inhabit a region that holds 8 of the world’s 10 tallest peaks as well as 240 summits over 20,000 feet. But living a double life between Seattle and the Himalaya meant that many of his mountain friends had not yet met Morton’s 2-year-old son Thorne. So Morton and his wife Kristine packed the favorite toys, braved toddler jet lag in Kathmandu, and introduced Thorne to the grandeur of the Himalaya and the people of these mountains. What they discovered was more than just the realization that their son felt completely at home in a foreign but welcoming range. –LYA Editor

Chaos of Katmandu

Words and Images by David Morton

After cresting the last ridgeline of mountains that stand sentry over the Kathmandu Valley, we blew through the haze and touched down on Kathmandu’s bumpy runway. It was the umpteenth time in the past decade I’d experienced this routine. Except today was different. Asleep in the seat next to me with his right foot jammed into my hip was my jet-lagged, and precious, 2-year-old son Thorne. We departed Seattle some 30-plus hours earlier. It was a hell of a long journey.

Was it worth it? In the next three weeks we’d attempt to answer that question.

Ever since my wife Kristine and I began talking about having children, we envisioned rugged adventures as a family to the places that are dear to our hearts. Number one on that list is Nepal. It is a home away from home for me because of my guiding work. I’ve spent 20 seasons in the Nepal Himalaya, including eight expeditions to Mt. Everest. Over the past twelve years, those relationships originally established as working professional ones have morphed into very dear friendships. They’re similar to many of my friendships, no more important, no less. But to share my son with these friends takes a commitment.

The two days spent exploring the magically chaotic streets of Kathmandu were especially so since Thorne and I ended up doing much of it between the hours of 1:00 and 4:00 a.m. due to his jet lag. We found ourselves alone with the monkeys and stray dogs that are the main visitors to the ancient Buddhist and Hindu temples at night. We caught the last flickers of butter lamps that we discovered burn out around 2 a.m. I saw the city through new eyes again.

After the typically unnerving flight to the Khumbu Valley, home to the Everest region, we began our two weeks of trekking and exploration. My good friends Dawa Lhamu and Kumar had eagerly agreed to join us on our adventure and help shoulder the load, literally. We traded off carrying the little guy. Our schedule was slightly tweaked to a more leisurely itinerary for a couple reasons. A doctor friend told us before leaving that “he’s so young and his head is so soft that if his brain starts to swell from the altitude, it won’t be a problem because his skull will expand.” We asked ourselves if that was his honest attempt to be reassuring. Either way, we decided we’d spend a bit more time acclimatizing and not go much higher than 15,000 feet. The bonus was that this allowed us more time to spend with our friends. That, after all, was one of the main reasons we had come.

After a couple of days of trial and error, trying to time naps with stops and stops with naps, we eventually got into a routine. After a long leisurely breakfast, we would tell Thorne it was time to get into the carrier. He would protest, saying he wanted to walk. With great enthusiasm Thorne would navigate the rocks, chickens, and yak turds that cover the trail. After a strong effort of about 200 yards, he’d be finished and we’d throw him in the carrier. The next couple hours would be filled with singing, counting yaks, and gawking at the spectacular mountains. Even Thorne would join in the “ahhs” each time we rounded a corner and saw another 6000m peak with jagged ridgelines and sheer faces. Eventually we’d arrive at our next village destination and there the true magic began for our son.

Kristine and I are relatively casual in our approach to protecting our son. We figure the falls and bumps and bruises are all part of learning to walk (and live) in this world. Even so, the adjustment to not checking on him every 5 minutes is something that doesn’t come easily for modern-day parents. Each afternoon the village kids would come find Thorne as the gossip passed through town that “Dave Dai’s (my nickname) son is here.” For the rest of the afternoon he would run through the fields, streams, and yak pastures trying to keep up with the older Sherpa children. After the first day of trying to figure out where he was at all times, we realized there was no need. The only thing that could happen is another bump or scrape. No cars. No potentially threatening strangers. No swimming pools. Just friends, fields, trails amid the mountains. It was freedom, or something damn close. For him. And for us.

 

Eventually towards dinnertime, the pack of kids would circle back around and drop Thorne at the teahouse with us before returning to their own homes for dinner. His excitement was palpable as he described in his broken toddler words the goings-on of the afternoon. By the time Kristine and I had finished dinner and a beer, he would be passed out on the traditional benches that surround the wood-burning fire in Sherpa teahouses.

The realization of how adaptable young people are is amazingly demonstrated on this type of adventure. After only 10 days our son’s vocabulary was filled with all of the local words for common Buddhist objects: sungde, Rinpoche, gompas, khatas, thankas. He could even identify the difference between the yaks and dzopkyos, something most trekkers have difficulty with. It was a beautiful yet somewhat disconcerting experience to realize that you could leave your child in a place like this and come back in 15 years to find that the 2 ½ years that he had spent in our community at home had left no trace on him. Human beings have incredible adaptability and flexibility when not burdened by the trappings that accompany growing older.

First Step

In all, we spent 3 weeks in Nepal and made it to 8 villages with one cold night sleeping up around 15,000 feet. It’s easy to forget the restless, jet-lagged nights that accompanied both the start of our trip and the end (we weren’t able to bring him back to day care for a week after the trip because he was still sleeping all day). And it’s easy to forget the day I convinced myself that there really was a chance he was hypothermic (the hour of screaming uncontrollably was a warning sign). But some discomfort accompanies anything worth doing.

Both Kristine and I have been around long enough to understand that sometimes our notions of what we want to be wonderful and what is wonderful don’t always square up. And we understand that it’s easy to romanticize adventures without acknowledging the difficulties, often significant, that are a part of those. The bottom line is that it takes diving headfirst into these experiences, muddling through the difficulties, and coming out the other end to really register their worth.

And on that note, yes, it was definitely worth it.

Author: - Friday, January 18th, 2013
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  1. Shannon

    It looks like Thorne fits right in! Great pictures and story. Looks like you all had a great adventure! It is awesome to see these places you have experienced many times through the fresh eyes of your son! Thank you for sharing.

  2. Gabrielle Pires

    Brilliant and inspiring! Thanks for sharing your experience. I can’t wait to do this with our son, Liam, someday =)

  3. Maria E.

    All in all, beautiful! And that little boy is just heavenly.

  4. Maria E.

    All in all, just beautiful. And Thorne is scrumptious!

  5. Harriett

    Wonderful, colorfully described journey, almost seeing through the magical eyes of a 2 year old. Love the contrast with the modern, western parents’ protectiveness.

  6. John

    A world traveler at 2- what a lucky boy to have his father be his guide! Nice to get started so early.

    Grandpa

  7. Maja Gray

    What a wonderful adventure you all had and I so love all the pics of Thorne…his namesake would be very very proud!!

    Hugs

    maja

  8. Diane

    What a great gift to give your son. I would guess that you got a great gift too.

  9. Erin S.

    Thanks for sharing!! Clearly a memorable adventure for you all and one I’m sure will be repeated again.

  10. Liz

    What a beautiful way to make our world more intimate.

  11. Newell & MyrleAnn

    Can our two babies come on the next trip?

  12. Russ

    The pictures are priceless …. the depth of their meaning even more so.
    What great photography and a vivid story. Thank you for posting such a significant piece and thank you Eddie Bauer!

  13. Dan Ralston

    All children should experience this peace. A wonderful story.

  14. Paul Mammen

    Really cool!

  15. Patty Kenny

    Beautiful and gives me comfort to know one more person is growing up in this world with the ability to appreciate, value, and protect worlds other than his own.

  16. Valerie N.

    What spectacular images, wonderfully written. Thanks for sharing your beautiful family and adventures with us!

  17. Kelly

    Fabulous – can’t wait to read more!!! Love the images, love the story.

  18. Sharlene

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful trip. As a parent of three grown children sharing your favorite places with your children is so special….you see places in a different light….those memories are with me forever. Enjoy Thorne and the many more trips to come!

  19. Sharon and Ryan

    Dave! We are the folks who lived across from you so long ago on Lk WA Blvd. Fantastic to see the incredible life you’ve built. It is, of course, ALL definitely worth it, hands down. Best to you and Kristine! Sharon Eiler

  20. Monique

    Thank you for sharing such a great story about your family adventure. What great memories your family is creating. May you have many more to come.

  21. Karen

    Many thanks for sharing such a wonderful family adventure ! Hope to hear many more. Thank you Eddie Bauer, Great Idea !!

  22. kirk

    What a great trip, truly inspiring

  23. Anne

    LOVED to be able to share that experience with you guys…Thank you.

  24. Cheryl

    I really enjoyed the story and the pictures. Made me go back to my trip in the Nepal and India Himalaya. I particularly remember the children in the villages and their curiosity regarding us. Bottom line, as you made clear, children are amazing!

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