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Childhood wonder leads to Nepalese Trek

TJ and Pat Mechelke are photographed with one of their destinations in the background. Submitted photo

As a child, Terry (TJ) Mechelke fell in love with the notion of seeing Mt. Everest after reading an account Sir Edmund Hillary's 1953 summit of the mountain. It was this desire that led Mechelke along with his wife Pat and daughter Sara on a trek in the Himalayan Mountains in November.

The couple started preparing in 2009 when they hiked the Inca Trail on a REI travel adventure. Over the course of last summer they kept in condition by bicycling at least 15 or 16 miles every day. On Nov. 3 they departed for Nepal.

The preparation paid off for the Hudson couple who were never sore on their "Spirit of Everest Trek." The tour, organized by REI, was 14 days, on 11 of those the couple trekked from five to seven hours a day.

TJ and Pat moved to Hudson in 1977 and both are Wisconsin natives. They have five children, including Sara, whom they adopted from Korea. Sara, 25, currently lives in New York. She joined her parents for both the Inca Trail and Everest adventure.

"Our kids think we are nuts," said Pat, "But I would go back there. It was one of the neatest trips I have ever taken."

"I always wanted to get to Nepal ever since I was a little kid," said TJ. "There are two seasons there, spring and fall. Spring is for climbing and fall is for trekking. It is the clearest time of year."

After leaving on Nov. 3, the couple arrived in Kathmandu along with their fellow travelers. After two days of acclimation and sightseeing, their group of seven started out on the trek. For the next eleven days they would be staying in small tents, which became covered with snow three of the nights.

On day three they flew into Lukla, which is listed as the number one extreme airport in the world. Traveling with them were 13 support people, all of them Sherpas.

"People are confused. Sherpa is a tribe not a profession," said TJ. "From the head guide to the cook and his four helpers they are Sherpas."

To add to TJ's fascination, their guide's grandfather was on Hillary's successful summit expedition in 1953.

"Our guide was educated at the University of Indiana," said TJ.

The first day of trekking took the couple to Namche Bazaar, at 11,300 feet to the the largest Sherpa village. The next day they hiked up and back to the Mount Everest View Hotel at 12,400 feet.

Carrying packs that weighed 20 pounds TJ and Pat found they had no problem keeping up. The trip included crossing six suspension bridges and climbing up and down to villages in valleys. As the trip progressed so did the elevation.

As they continued in what amounted to a circle trek they visited the Tengboche Monastery.

"This is where most of the climbers are blessed before they start their ascents," said TJ. All along the trail for the entire trek are prayer flags, prayer wheels and stupas.

"I have never prayed so hard," said Pat. "When you come to a stupa, a monument for meditation, you walk around counterclockwise to pray."

There are no roads. Everything must be carried into the villages by man or beast from propane bottles to tables.

"A porter can actually carry more weight than a yak," said TJ. The trip also included a visit to Khumjung village where Sir Edmund Hillary built his first school.

None of the buildings has heat and there is no wood at this altitude.

"We learned that all of the stones used in their buildings are carved by hand," said Pat. "They are perfectly square."

From a culture that still practices arranged weddings to the realization that it is largely a subsistence society, the Mechelkes both agree they would go back.

"I always wanted to do this," said TJ. "I don't know how we could top this." The couple is researching where their next adventure will take them "while they are young enough to enjoy this type of travel."

"Looking back I would go again in a second," said Pat, who initially wasn't sure this trip was for her. "The best part of the experience was meeting the people."

Yes, they did glimpse Mt. Everest which was, after all, the goal but it was the people they met that would bring them back.

Leaving Lukla, became an adventure all on its own. Weather caused flight problems and after surviving near chaos they were able to board a helicopter so they could make their flight connections out of Kathmandu to Seoul.

This was the next stop on their family adventure, visiting the orphanage, from which they adopted Sara. The building was new but it was located on the same lot as the original orphanage.

"I think it was really good for her (Sara) to visit," said Pat. "Nobody spoke English but the director was the same person and had a photo of Sara when she was there."

The Mechelkes adopted Sara when she was 18 months old. The visit to the orphanage capped off a family adventure the three of them will never forget.