California Family Treks High
January 25th, 2018 by Kate Hiller

The Hiller family—Kate, Josh and their children, Judge, Kale and Sarah—was thankful to reach Everest Base Camp together.

Author Kate Hiller shares her story of traveling and connecting with her husband and three children in the fall of 2017.

“I’m surprised you would take your young daughter to Everest Base Camp,” the Australian man said as he raised his eyebrows at me over the top of his book. “High altitudes are not good for the developing brain.”

My husband glanced at my stunned expression before answering, “We wanted to see the Himalayas.”

I was thankful for his direct answer.

It was the seventh morning of our trek and we could see our breath as we talked over breakfast. We were at a teahouse in the town of Dingboche, Nepal, elevation 14,469 feet.

I had suffered with an altitude headache all night and was waiting for a second cup of tea to resurrect my trekking enthusiasm. We had broken a rule by eating local pastries the night before and now our daughter, Sarah, had food poisoning. I had reached my “low” of the trek, but I knew everything would look better once we got back on the trail. The higher we climbed, the slower we walked. I had a lot of time to think about our reason for going on this trek and about parenting in general.

Challenge and adventure may define the Hiller family. My husband, Josh, and I were both raised on cattle ranches—mine in Alturas, California, and his in Flournoy, California. Our family was established in the “rough” when we met while fighting forest fires for Firestorm W.F.S. Inc.

Josh still manages emergency services for Firestorm, and his work schedule dictated our decision to homeschool. Our boys, Judge and Kale, are now 17 and 14, and Sarah is 12. Judge will be graduating in the spring. Squeezing in one more family adventure was a factor in our decision to go to Nepal. We literally planned the trip in three days. No time for worrying over details!

We were not overly concerned about the altitude gains of the trek. In 2013, Josh, Judge and I summited Mount Shasta in 10 hours without acclimatizing. Josh and Kale had climbed much of Picacho del Diablo in Baja.

Another frequent question was how we trained for the trek. Three days didn’t give time for that, but Northern California keeps us in shape year-round. Thanks to deer season, we had recently been on strenuous hikes in the rugged country surrounding Tehama County and Modoc County. Packing deer out of these areas is enough training for nearly any physical feat.

To people’s surprise, we did not fixate on possible dangers—such as flying into Lukla, home of the world’s most dangerous airport. We focused instead on the educational potential of the trip.

Our kids ended up conversing with people from six continents while closely experiencing the Nepali culture. They had to explain many times that we live in the “true north” of California, not by the ocean, but near breathtaking mountain ranges of our own.

We hired a Sherpa guide, Temba, for our trek, and the kids all formed strong attachments to him. Temba summited Everest last May. The Sherpas are awe-inspiring people, and we feel blessed to have met several of them.

Without roads in the region, almost everything is packed in on the backs of people or animals. As we ascended mile after mile of stone steps and trails, we were amazed at what determined people can accomplish. We saw men singlehandedly carrying refrigerators, file cabinets and metal roofing up narrow, steep trails.

That brings to mind our family’s priorities: faith, a hard work ethic and contentment. No satellite TV or video games. Studies have proven that getting outside improves mental and physical health. Imagination most often begins in quiet, and we all enjoyed hiking in silence for much of the nearly hundred miles of trekking.

As we neared Lobuche, we shared the trail with Kirstie Ennis, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who was wounded in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. She has accomplished many amazing feats with her prosthetic leg and hopes to come back to snowboard on Everest. She carries the dog tags of fallen troops on her adventures. Meeting her was a highlight of the trip.

The next day, we reached Everest Base Camp. The elation of reaching our goal will always be a special memory, as will many other sights and sounds of the journey: the suspension bridges swaying over turquoise water far below, the clang of bells as yaks plod on and on with their loads, and Temba’s smile as he said, “jam jam,” meaning “Let’s go.”

Neither will we forget the Pangboche Monastery where we glimpsed the famed Yeti hand and skull.

Sarah will most likely treasure the day we made the steep climb to the memorial chortens for those who have died while climbing Everest. She had food poisoning and was slowly making it, but Judge and Temba decided to take turns carrying her to the top.

“I wish my parents would’ve taken me on this trek when I was younger,” said Gabe, a Dartmouth student we met in Pheriche on our way down.

I was thankful for Gabe’s encouragement. Around 100 miles of hiking, 10-plus days without showers, interesting bathrooms, unheated bedrooms and climbing at high elevations was not always easy.

Comparatively, our efforts as parents can seem dismal and difficult at times. We can only persevere in doing what we believe is right and pray our kids will aim high with bravery. We hope they will develop a mature worldview and value hard work and contentment.

The Himalayas have no doubt left their impression on our entire family.

Kate Hiller’s first novel, “To Be Called Mary: A Tale of the Lookout Lynching,” is a historical fiction based on the 1901 lynching in Lookout, California. Follow Kate on Instagram at kioty_camp.