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A Trek to the Base Camp of Mt. Everest (Chomolungma) that Other Scouts May Learn From: Coming Face to Face with Death

October 29, 2004

My son Steven and I flew into Lukla in a small two prop plane. The airport was on top of a several thousand foot mountain at the foot of the Himalayan Mountain range. The runway was very short so the plane landed having to go uphill to help slow it down. When we flew out on our way home the plane actually had to fly off a cliff before it got air!

We were on our way to the base camp of Mt. Everest or as the locals say Mt. Chomolungma. We trekked for several days visiting one small village to another. We camped outside at several villages, but as we got closer to Everest it became to cold to sleep outside. Steven being an Eagle Scout led the way. He used his map to make certain we were going to the correct village. He also read elevations so we'd best be able to climatize. The base camp of Everest is almost 18,000 feet and trekkers can get altitude sickness if they go to fast. In fact we saw many helicopters flying people out who experienced severe altitude sickness. Steven and I also ate at
some of the homes of the village people. The food was good and consisted mostly of rice, potatoes, yak meat, cheese, with some few vegetables. It beat eating cliff and power bars, which were Steven and my main food that
we carried. Yes, we carried our own packs unlike many who used porters. We just felt if we were going to reach the base camp we didn't want to be carried there. We wanted to do it on our own. Along the way we met many
wonderful families and children. The Mt. Everest people I call them where very friendly people who lived simple but very physically demanding lives. Sherpas and Porters would carry loads of two hundred pounds or more up and down some of the steepest mountains and oxygen deprived environment in the world. And the people of Everest were small in stature, no more them 5 feet in most cases.

Trekking to Everest felt like walking on the moon, if you can imagine that. Our steps were slow and we just focused on our breathing and our next step as we drew closer to the base camp. As we approached the base
camp Steven and I just could not believe it that we made it. Our trek was the most physically demanding thing I've ever done. Steven being in great condition as a cyclist also felt the trek was difficult. But we got there, to the base camp. We were representing Scouting for All, and Robert Knight a young man 18 who is battling an aggressive cancer. As part of our trek Steven and I were rasing money for Robert and his family to help with
medical expenses. So we took photos of our Scouting for All flag as well as the Carousel Fund organization flag that helps raise money for individuals and their families who are experiencing life threatening illnesses. We also took photos of us holding the GLBT diversity rainbow flag. Steven and I had a moment of silence for my dad. I spread some of his ashes while at the base camp. That was an emotional moment for me. My father died in 2001 and was the most loving person in my life as a grew up. I miss him very much.

Well, after exploring, experiencing, and witnessing the beauty of the base camp Steven and I decided that we needed to leave before it became dark. We were very tired after trekking several hours to get to the base camp.
And the oxygen was at very low levels at the altitude we were at. So we finally got to a little village called Gorak Shep. It was the village just before Lobuje, which was the village Steven and I were staying at and which we needed to reach before it became dark. Steven and I agreed we should get some dinner before we left for our trek back to Lobuje. I remember being so tired while eating that it took energy just to eat. We drank some warm tea and left to begin our journey back to Lobuje, not realizing that we would come face to face with the possibility of dying. The trek back to Lobuje should not take more then 1.5 hours we should get there before dark.

Steven was the guide throughout our trek to Everest. He is an excellent map reader and has a good scouting survival skills, which he learned as an Eagle scout. We walked for about a half hour or so. Time seems like a blur now as I reflect back on our terrifying experience. It began to get dark very quickly. Something Steven and I didn't expect. It also became foggy and then began a light snow fall. The environment was changing rapidly
before us, something we thought we were prepared for. We had our flashlights. As we walked under these new conditions we began to realize we lost our way. We began to search for the path and soon realized we were
lost. As we both began to accept that reality, it began to set in that we might die. A cloud of panic rolled over both of us, a horrific feeling of doom. As this feeling came over me I told myself I had to remain calm and not allow the panic feeling to overwhelm me. Steven broke down and cried. But he wasn't crying because he was fearful of losing his own life. He told me as he was crying, "Dad I'm so sorry, I've led you to your death. I don't want you to die." Like Steven, he was not thinking of himself but me his father. That was a very emotional moment for me and I too was concerned for Steven's life. So we spent a few moments hugging one another. I told Steven it wasn't his fault we got lost. We got lost together both following the same path, but now we needed to find our way out of an environment that was beautiful in the day light but potentially hostile at night. So the story begins.

We both began to search for the trail in the dark with our flashlights. And then something very unexpected happened, Steven's flashlight went out and then my flashlight went out only minutes after his. We were in the
dark, freezing cold, foggy with a light snow fall and the panic settles in again. We both remained calm and provided one another the message to focus on finding our way out. We both realized after an hour or so that we were getting further lost. I was afraid we'd walk off a cliff or get so lost we'd never be found. Steven and I agreed we should search for shelter. We finally found a large boulder that we got under and cuddled trying to keep
warm from our own body temperatures. After an hour of holding one another under this large rock in the dark, although to our fortune there was a full moon, Steven said, "Dad I'm freezing, my legs are freezing." So we
talked and Steven said, "If we are going to die lets die trying to walk out of here rather then just freezing to death under this rock." I couldn't agree more and we both came up with another plan.

I would stay at a fixed place and Steven would go out within my sight searching for foot prints. After several hours of searching Steven found foot prints. We were so happy, but then we lost the foot prints and had to
search again. Then we stumbled into a marker which was a memorial of a person who had died trying to climb Everest. We both remembered that memorial and knew that we were going in the correct direction. Steven
saved us by finding those foot prints, but as Steven and I continued our walk we thought as many do in situations like this that there must have been something or someone helping us. I had my father's ashes with me in my pocket the entire time. We both felt grandpa helped pull us out of this one and saved our lives, but who knows. It took teamwork, not panicking, staying focused, and a strong will to live, as will as luck that saved us. As Steven said, "If we were going to die we wouldn't die under a rock, but walking trying to live, to find our way out." And that just what we did.

After Steven spotted lights in the distance it was that moment that we knew we were going to live. He began to yell and sing. He was so happy I couldn't calm him down. So I just watched him express his joy as I was trying to save my energy and smile to myself and be thankful that both Steven and I would be able to breath and live... Our story of facing death and finding life...

The irony of this story is that one of the reasons Steven and I went to the base camp was to raise money for a courageous young man Robert Knight who was battling an aggressive cancer and was facing the possibility of
death. And then Steven and I found ourselves also facing the possibility of death.

In life there are many lessons to be learned. One that my father taught me was that life is a gift and while we have the gift of life we should spend it by loving, that the meaning and purpose of our life's if to just love. As Scouts you can also try to do that in your lives. To say the Scout Oath and Laws means nothing unless you try and live it. So to you Scouts and other youth the message that Steven and I want to leave you is, "Try and find the courage in your lives to love and by doing so you'll help make the world a better place."

Scott and Steven Cozza, Eagle Scout




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