John Carlson: Extraordinary Expeditions

Believe it or not, this isn’t a Mount Everest base camp. Photo by: Nancy CarlsonBelieve it or not, this isn’t a Mount Everest base camp. Photo by: Nancy Carlson

By: John Carlson—

Yeah, I am the kind of man who thrives on the danger inherent in adventurous expeditions, like on our twice-yearly trips to the Gulf of Mexico.

True, the gulf is rife with blood-thirsty sharks.

But I just laugh them off, pay them no mind. This is for two reasons: First, as already noted, I am the kind of man who thrives on the danger inherent in adventurous expeditions. Second, to reach me, those sharks will have to crawl from the water onto shore, navigate a hundred yards of hot, steamy concrete to get past our resort’s shuffleboard courts, then flop up two flights of stairs to the locked room in which  I’m drinking margaritas while checking out Facebook.

So don’t worry, I’ll be all right.

Still, I got real excited the other day when the mailman delivered Nancy and me a copy of National Geographic Active Expeditions. This catalog of pay-to-go adventures is divided into six categories at varying fitness levels. My favorite level, though, was the “maximum” one, described as “the ultimate challenge for serious hikers …”.

OK, OK. That category didn’t really fit me. My idea of a serious hike is walking the 223 steps from our front door to BerryWinkle’s Frozen Yogurt. But the catalog makes these adventurous expeditions sound so enticing!

Like, for only $6,695, you can spend two weeks riding a horse across “the sweeping steppe” of Mongolia to a place called Tolgin Butts. And speaking of butts, I’m guessing that yours will be well broken in – emphasis on the word “broken” – by the time your horse hauls yours there.

Or, you can go dog sledding across Sweden, home of my Viking ancestors, for a paltry $8,295. After you learn the basics of “mushing,” you’ll set off on a sled pulled by your very own team of no-nonsense Alaskan huskies. And where will you be heading? The legendary Icehotel! Yes, the world’s largest hotel made completely of snow and ice or, as the catalog calls this unique building material, “snice.” You’ll even drink a nightcap at the Icebar before heading off to bed, where it’s safe to assume the ice cubes won’t be the only things clinking, guys, if you get my drift.

Still, my favorite trip detailed in the catalog has to be this one: nineteen days in Nepal, hiking to a Mount Everest base camp. For a mere $6,095, you’ll go to Katmandu, that legendary city best known for inspiring Bob Seger’s hit song, “Katmandu.” Then you’ll meet your enthusiastic Sherpa guides, who will seem more like friends after humping up and down mountains with you for more than two weeks, carrying your iPads, protein shakes and other crap to base camp.

You’ll even sit around hacking up phlegm one day at Namche Bazar, catching your breath. Meanwhile, your brand new Sherpa buddies will look on, chain-smoking cigarettes while wondering, “What’s the big frickin’ deal with these wussies?”

Then it’s on to base camp. Now, I think when most of us consider potential vacation spots, one thing we’re looking for is fun. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict at base camp you won’t find miniature golf, bowling alleys or even a Texas Roadhouse. In fact, I’m pretty sure the most welcome thing climbers who’ve descended from the top of Mount Everest find back in base camp is that they’re not dead.

Not yet, anyway.

Not so up on the mountain, though. As I understand it, there are all sorts of frozen Mount Everest climbers way up there, where there’s no place to bury them and no convenient way to bring them back down. There are so many, in fact, that even the brightly colored, down-filled sleeping bags they are stuffed inside can’t lend the place a note of cheery effervescence.

This is why the National Geographic catalog doesn’t sell excursions to Mount Everest’s summit for, say, $300,000. It’s one of the mantras of the travel business: Nothing screws up a perfectly good vacation like croaking on one.

For that reason, Nancy and I have kept colorful Tibetan prayer flags flying in our back yard for the past several years. Sure, we’d love to climb to Mount Everest’s base camp. But no, as happy Lutherans, we don’t believe the red, green, blue, white and yellow flags have any mystical power to protect us. I mean, you’ll find Tibetan prayer flags flying all around Mount Everest, but I’m pretty sure lots of Sherpas still manage to breathe their last breaths on it.

Nevertheless, retirement can sometimes get boring. So when we feel the need to go on an exciting expedition to base camp, we just step onto our back porch in the cold and snow, remove our glasses to blur our vision, and imagine we are already up there.

Meanwhile, I’ll take my chances with the sharks.


A former longtime feature writer and columnist for The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana, John Carlson is a storyteller with an unflagging appreciation for the wonderful people of East Central Indiana and the tales of their lives, be they funny, poignant, inspirational or all three.  John’s columns appear on Muncie Journal every Friday.