It’s the Journey That Matters

After decades of dreaming, Mini-Cassia residents heed the call to trek in Nepal

By Dianna Troyer

Ama Dablam, peaking at 22,349 feet in the Himalayas, is a landmark on the trek to Everest Base Camp. Photo by Ed and Terry Evans

Tim and Marilyn Gunderson decided last year that they shouldn’t delay taking a bucket-list trip.

Talking to friends about trekking through Nepal beneath the Himalayan Mountains, the Burley couple found others from Minidoka and Cassia counties who shared their decades-long dream.

In mid-September, the Gundersons and 5 friends will launch their high-altitude adventure, navigating steep trails through Nepal’s mountainous lush Khumbu Valley.

To guide them, they hired a company owned by native Sherpas and chose a classic trek to a mountaineering base camp on Mount Everest’s southern flank.

The Himalayan trek fulfills a longtime birthday vow Marilyn made to herself.

“Starting at age 30, to celebrate my birthday every 5 years, I decided to do something special and memorable, so I jumped out of an airplane,” she says.

At age 50, she ran a marathon. 5 years later, she and Tim hiked in Wales near Mount Snowdon, where British mountaineers trained to climb Everest. To celebrate her 60th birthday, they explored the Grand Canyon for 21 days, rafting the Colorado River, camping and hiking.

“Last year, we decided ‘Why wait until I’m 65 to go to Nepal?’” says Marilyn, who turned 62 on August 26.

Tim says their house has been filled for years with books about the Himalayas and climbing Mount Everest.

“Even before we met and got married 27 years ago, we both wanted to trek in Nepal,” says Tim, 61, who taught math and geology at Burley High School before retiring. During summer, Tim guides whitewater boating and fishing trips on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.

To train for the trek, the Gundersons hike and envision their eight-day itinerary. They will walk 38 miles one way from Lukla at 9,200 feet to base camp at 17,600 feet. Acclimatizing slowly to higher elevations, they hope to avoid altitude sickness, which can cause shortness of breath, dizziness, headaches, fatigue and loss of appetite.

Marilyn says they look forward to visiting teahouses, Buddhist monasteries and shrines, and staying in lodges tucked in alpine villages. Long swaying suspension bridges span forested gorges carved by roaring rivers. Trails lead to Sagarmatha National Park, alpine meadows and yak pastures.

When they finally reach the windswept, snowy base camp, they will see and hear an infamous landmark, the Khumbu Icefall.

Tim and Marilyn Gunderson relax while hiking near Mount Snowdon in Wales, where mountaineers trained to climb Mount Everest. Photo by Tim and Marilyn Gunderson

“I really want to see it because I’ve read so much about it,” Marilyn says.

Although an inert colossal jumble of ice and snow, the icefall seems alive—like a dozing giant that shifts and groans, occasionally swallowing unsuspecting mountaineers without warning.

In 2014, an avalanche in the icefall killed 16 climbing Sherpas—the local porters who carry equipment and food to progressively higher camps.

Mountaineers striving to stand on Everest’s 29,032-foot-high summit must first traverse the treacherous icefall, crossing bridges formed by metal ladders tied together over precipitous crevasses.

From base camp, the group will double-back on a three-day trip down the mountain.

The itinerary excites Marilyn’s longtime hiking partner, Laurel Maughan, who has had Himalayan trekking aspirations for decades.

“Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve wanted to hike the trails that connect the high mountain villages of Nepal, meet the people there and even live among them for a short time,” says Laurel, 71. “I hoped it would happen. When Marilyn invited me, I was ready to go without hesitation.”

Marilyn often reads about Nepal’s mountains in her spare time after working with her husband, Orlo, on their sugar beet farm near Paul, where they raised their 9 children.

“During our 52 years of marriage, Orlo has been listening to me talk about hiking in the Himalayas,” Laurel says, “and he encouraged me to go.”

For decades, Marilyn has taken backpacking trips with their children in the Sawtooth, Teton and Wind River mountain ranges.

“Orlo and our children all know my love for mountains is almost as strong as my love for Jesus and our family,” Laurel says. “I’m ecstatic to have this opportunity.”

She asked for advice from friends Ed and Terry Evans, who live in Rupert and had trekked to Everest Base Camp a decade ago.

“I told her it was definitely rigorous hiking,” says Ed, 69, a retired certified public accountant. “We saw avalanches and heard the icefall rumbling. We’re not technical climbers, so reaching base camp was a doable challenge for us. After spending a few hours there, we went back down to spend the night at a lower altitude.” He says the Himalayas and local residents were unforgettable.

“The mountains are so spectacular— steep and rugged and pristine,” Ed says. “The people who live there are so welcoming. We love experiencing different cultures, traveling and hiking. It was one of our most memorable trips.”

The Gundersons invited another avid hiker with dreams of trekking in Nepal, Echo Roberts, of Burley.

“For 15 years, I’ve wanted to do a trip like this, ever since I read a book about trekking there,” says Echo, 45, a revenue integrity supervisor for medical software company R1 RCM. “Anything outside makes my heart happy. I feel so much joy during an amazing hike, being a part of my surroundings. I’m so beyond excited to go. It’s such a bucket-list trip and dream come true for all of us.”

Tim jokes that during their trek, they will be thinking about a future adventure.

“We’ll have to figure out a memorable way to celebrate Marilyn’s 65th birthday,” he says.

Marilyn says, “We’re tossing around all kinds of ideas.”