The Khumbu Climbing School

Everest Region, Nepal


Founded in 2003, The Khumbu Climbing School (KCS) is an annual vocational training and instructional program for Nepali climbers. The school is designed to increase the competency of Nepali people who climb and / or work in the high mountains. The school takes places in January, the low season for altitude workers. Classes are held in the village of Phortse, a one day walk from the Namche Bazaar, “capital” of the Khumbu. Training is conducted on frozen waterfalls on the northern flank of Khumbila Peak. The KCS is a program of the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation (ALCF), a 501c (3) non-profit organization registered in the State of Montana, United States of America.


Team Leader: Conrad Anker

Climbing / Instructor Team:

Heidi Wirtz

Cedar Wright

Jimmy Chin

Dawa Sherpa

Jon Krakauer

Adam Knoff

Ross Lynn

Kevin Tatsugawa

Ace Kvale

Lila Bishop Photographer: Jimmy Chin

Videographer: Karl Swingle

Expedition Summary


The second KCS built on experience of the first school held in February 2004. The program aims to educate high altitude porters and workers with basic skills for safe mountain travel. These areas include equipment inspection, knots, belaying, rope management, protection (snow, ice and rock), wilderness first aid, risk avoidance and camp hygiene. In 2005 the KCS added English, the lingua franca of climbing, to the curriculum. 55 students participated in 2005, an increase of 23 students from 2004. All students were insured for the duration of the course.




Sherpas, for whom climbing is a vocation, generally visit the mountains for reasons quite different than the western climber. Imagine two scenarios, one from my perspective, and the other from Tashi, a Sherpa friend of mine. I was introduced to climbing by my parents and mentor or two in the high Sierra. Our goal as a family and as climbers was to have fun. My spirit ran free in the mountains and to this day I still seek the joy that being in these special places bring. Alaska and Yosemite were the training grounds to figure out how to climb with a degree of safety. Eventually the Himalayas, the world’s most magnificent mountain range, went from being a dream to a possibility to an actuality. Since my first trip Kashmir I have visited the Himalaya annually. There is still plenty to learn and experience in the mountains, hence I’ll be visiting them in years to come. My attraction to the mountains is based in recreation and rejuvenation. The challenge of climbing is fun.


The peaks, craggy, windy and daunting, define the landscape of the Himalaya. In contrast to the frozen summits and jagged ice falls, the people that live in the shadows of these giant peaks are warm, welcoming and smiling. These people are brought into the game of mountaineering from a different point of view. They visit the mountains to work, most often for expeditions from Western and Asian countries. Tashi Tsering is a second generation climbing Sherpa. His father was part of the Swiss and English expeditions of ’52 and ’53. Working for western expeditions was what his father did and like many, he has followed in his footsteps. With a dozen ascents of Mt Everest, Tashi is a sought after guide. Obviously expedition work is essential to the well being of the family and the greater Sherpa community.


Unfortunately, the work on high mountains is very dangerous. Consequently, the Sherpas have the highest mortality rate of any group. Our goal is to introduce climbing in the context of enjoyment, teach vital skills and hopefully reduce the number of accidents.




The instruction took place from the 5th to the 11th of February. The 55 students were assigned to five groups depending upon ability. Each group was led by a western guide, with a Sherpa assistant. Class was held on six consecutive days, with an exam on the final day.


The first day the students were introduced to the program, equipment issued and knots / belaying reviewed in the trees. Each day began with English instruction from 7 to 8 am. The students and instructors would then hike one hour to the ice climbs where practical skills were taught on several ice climbs. The groups rotated through a half day wilderness first aid class. The guides tailored the instruction to match the ability of their classes. The advanced groups consisted of experienced high altitude climbers and worked on lead climbing, advanced anchor placements and rescue techniques. The novice group attracted first time climbers, local people interested in climbing as a sport and others that hope to break into high altitude work.




All students were tested on skills appropriate to the class level they participated in. Eight second year students graduated with honors and are capable of instruction novice classes on their own. Students were awarded a certificate and an embroidered patch upon completion.