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Everest Traverse and "King of cardboard" - Luis Benitez story
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Mar 22, 2005 10: 39 EST
Previously published Mar 9, 2005 11: 54 EST

4-time Everest summiteer Luis Benitez and Australian Piers Buck will attempt to scale Everest from the South side and come down the North side this spring. In addition, the two climbers will pioneer the new Contact GEO positioning system on the mountain.

Guiding for Adventure Consultants, one of the world's leading Everest climbing outfits, Luis Benitez has compiled a story for ExWeb about the upcoming Traverse. But even more, about all of our equal right to the dream of Mount Everest:

The circle of life

Ahh, the circle of life that happens every spring. Flowers, sunshine, and Everest. Not what most people think of when they think of the season of change, but as a guide, this is when our minds and our hearts turn to the Himal.

Over the years, I have watched an evolution in climbers of all mediums: mountaineering, rock climbing, and the style of adventure in general. All you need to do these days is to look in what I like to refer to as “mountain porn” magazines for a brief glimpse into the world of the bold and the beautiful.

Same passion, different element

One reports on feats so superhuman, that the athletes who frequently grace the pages are referred to as “the brotherhood," and seem to be filled with enough drive and motivation to carry them while freezing, hungry, and tired on these 24 to 72 hour marathons of pain, intense focus, and sheer willpower. Other rags show little mutant 14 year olds who can hold onto seemingly impossible sheer cliffs with nothing but a crimp and a smile. Same drive, same passion, different element.

The one saddening factor in all of this is the lambasting that the international guiding profession gets from all sides. Why is it that everyone from Sir Ed himself, to “the brotherhood,” seems to think that 8000m guiding is “bad”?

The dream of Everest

I offer an opinion, albeit a humble one. In 2001 I was able to fulfill a dream that I am sure, somewhere deep down, all climbers have, to go to Everest. Not only was I able to summit, I did so arm in arm with the 1st blind man ever to climb Everest. The response from this was a bit surprising. Everything from, “of course he could make it, there is a yellow brick road up there” to “sure, he got dragged up there by his guides.” How disappointing.

The "King of cardboard"

Over the past 4 years I have been lucky enough to go back to the summit each year. Each time with a different person, but all with the same aspirations. So to all lambasters and nay sayers I offer this opinion. 2 words: Joe Leroy. Joe is the “king of cardboard”; I didn't learn what that meant till much later.

Let me explain further. Upon meeting Joe in Kathmandu, all the guides, as they usually do, get together for the “informal evaluation” after meeting the clients. The opinion was generally the same for all, a little work here, a little work there. But Joe, Jesus; Joe was going to be an issue. As the trek to basecamp progressed, it was clear that Joe was in trouble, as in - he was having trouble just putting one foot in front of the other, 10lbs overweight, outta shape, and in no condition to go much further, let alone even to basecamp.

“Luis,” he said, “I have worked hard for everything I have”

This is where the “king of cardboard” routine comes in. Upon sitting down with Joe one night at dinner to have a heart to heart about his condition, I learned a few things. For one, Joe left school at an early age to help out with the family bills. What did he do? He packed boxes for a shipping company. Day and night, sometimes working 24 hours to get the job done, and done well. That shipping company in turn for his hard work helped him to work his way up the food chain to become, in his words, “the KING of cardboard!”

“Luis”, he said, “I have worked hard for everything I have and I will continue to work hard for this if you let me.”

Worth less?

As we approached basecamp, Joe listened to directions, became an excellent card player, and continued to put one foot in front of the other and slowly improved.

To make a long story short, Joe not only ran his business from a sat-phone while at basecamp (how many of the brotherhood can claim that one?), but come summit day, was pushing Sherpas out of the way! Was he on oxygen? Yes. Did Sherpas help carry his gear? Of course. So, does that discount his summit? Make it worth less than a 72 hour push up some new route? Not a chance.

The everyday warrior

Joe is the everyday warrior, the guy that someone in cubicle world can look up to and aspire to be. Sure, the super alpinists take it to the next level, but will Joe ever do that? No way. Can he inspire a generation that will not only climb big peaks, but work to protect them with their influence and passion? You betcha.

So this year? I am going back to guide for a 5th year in a row, hopefully for a 5th summit. This year, not only are we shooting for the top, but over the top, literally, down into Tibet, for a hopefully 1st ever commercially led traverse. 1 client (Piers), 1 Sherpa (Lhakpa), and myself.

Now it’s time...

I hope that somewhere out there, another Joe will be inspired to think bigger, dream bigger, and not only go climbing, but strive, in such a trying time, to make the world a little better place to live in.

Follow along right here on our traverse page, as I am sure that the drama that will follow will be more than enough to inspire and challenge us all. We will try to call in and report daily, from the politics of Kathmandu, to the moving and shaking of basecamp, down to the drama of summit day. Now it’s time, as American naturalist John Muir once put it, to “throw a loaf of bread and a pound of tea in an old sack and jump over the back fence.” Till then….

Summitting Everest for his fourth time last spring, the Adventure Consultants climbing Guide Luis Benitez has been a busy guy. Since Everest last May, he's been to Elbrus (5642m) in the old USSR, Ama Dablam, Antarctica (Mt Vinson with Annabelle Bond), and Aconcagua. On each of his expeditions, Luis has been dispatching pics and reports over Contact 3.0.

Piers is a 30-year-old climber based out of Melbourne. He began climbing 5 years ago, and has spent most of his vacation time climbing in New Zealand and the European Alps. In the Himalayas, Piers attempted the Kangshung to Rongbuk traverse via Lho La but had to turn back due to deep snow. He climbed Cho Oyu via the Northwest Face.

The difficulty of an Everest traverse is obvious: Climbers don't have the advantage of following a familiar route on their descent - they will have to negotiate new terrain when they are at their most tired. They also need special climbing permits, double visas, and logistics prepared for both sides of the mountain.

Adventure Consultants, founded by the legendary climber and pioneering Everest guide Rob Hall, and now directed by Guy Cotter, is one of the world's leading Everest climbing outfits.

Images top to bottom: Luis signing his name on the Everest sumiteer's wall at Fire&Ice, Luis on top of Everest with team's Sherpas and Luis headshot in BC, courtesy of Luis Benitez.

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