Trekking and toiling to rebuild Nepal

Sara Fahrney with a Nepali mother and children during a break in trekking and rebuilding homes.
Travis Fahrney|Special to the Daily |

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For more information on trekking in Nepal, or to donate to the Sherpa Foundation, go to

NEPAL — It was a trip of a lifetime, and nine Vail Valley locals spent part of it saving lives.

The nine wanted to experience Nepal for themselves – the wonderful and the terrible.

Here’s what they discovered. Even after earthquakes and floods that killed thousands and destroyed the homes of tens of thousands more, the Nepali people in a remarkably good mood.

The nine traveled with Pemba Sherpa as part of the local Sherpa Foundation’s latest trip to rebuild homes and lives of disaster victims in Nepal.

“Those nine people from the Vail Valley who came with me experienced more of Nepal and the Sherpa culture than people who have been there six or seven times,” Pemba said in a phone call from Kathmandu. “To be able to know locals, you have to come with locals.”

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A better education

You probably heard about the April 2015 earthquakes – at least 9,000 killed. You might not have heard about the following monsoon season that brought Nepal’s worst flooding in 34 years. Two and a half years later, people are still living in tents, or worse.

“They got to see for themselves what the projects are in progress,” Pemba said.

They also got to see Nepal like almost no one else – from the depths of poverty to the height of luxury and back.

Sara and Travis Fahrney experienced the adventure with their two teenaged kids, Kaela, 16 and Deagen, 14. Along with a little trekking, the Fahrney clan spent most of their time building homes in Bankar Village.

Kaela and Deagen both missed some Battle Mountain High School classes for the trip, but this education was vastly superior. Some teachers gave them a bunch of homework, but Kaela’s AP biology teacher was so cool about it, he refused to assign anything, Sara said.

“This was our first adventure outside the country and we had no idea what to expect. Pemba took such good care of us,” Sara said.

Travis did it because he wanted to, and because he made it a project for Vail Resorts Epic Promise program. It was helpful that Travis is 6 feet tall – a giant among Nepal’s Sherpa people – and was the main lift when they were putting in the beams in the houses.

“Travis was the best jack in the Khumbu Valley,” Pemba said laughing.

Yaks get the right of way

Rosie Moreno took her daughter Lani Bruntz, her friend Jan Sackbauer and Jan’s daughter May and Jan’s niece Colleen Blanton.

Then they trekked around Nepal for 12 days, to Everest Base Camp at 17,000 feet, then on up to a place even higher.

Among the trekking etiquette they learned, on those suspension bridges that span deep valleys and connect villages, yaks usually have the right of way.

They were trekking along, enjoying all Nepal’s amazingness when they spotted a building high on a mountaintop.

“What’s that?” Moreno asked.

“That’s a lodge. You can walk up there, but most people get there on a helicopter,” Pemba replied, gesturing toward the Hotel Everest View, the highest resort in the world.

That’s when Pemba picked up his phone and called an old friend. Barely 15 minutes later a helicopter picked them up to flew them up there. A white linen tablecloth was set with lunch when they arrived.

As they walked everywhere, people opened their homes to trekkers.

“It was amazing how people were willing to share what little they have,” Moreno said.

Moreno and their crew had gone two weeks without a shower or clean clothes. When they were done, Pemba arranged for them to stay in a resort that was once the king’s palace. They even got to play a little golf.

Pemba put them together with some of Nepal’s top guides, among them Lhakpa Sherpa who has three Everest summits to his credit, and three summits of the much tougher and more technical Ama Dablam, next to Everest.

Their porters were from families whose homes had either been rebuilt by the Sherpa Foundation after the earthquakes, or soon will be.

“The benefit and joy is helping the local economy. Our Sherpas and porters got paid more than the average,” Pemba said.

It was more than a stroll through the mountains.

One porter was in his mid-60s and carried three 50-pound packs. His fourth bag was packed with packed with coats and jackets that they passed out along the trail, brought along from Ski and Snowboard Club Vail and Vail Resorts.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or

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