Honoring the mountains we call home
By John Minier
As I write these words, a dramatic tragedy is unfolding on Mt. Everest. On April 18, a deadly avalanche swept through the Khumbu Icefall, killing 16 guides. The deceased were all Sherpa, an ethnic group from the most mountainous regions of Nepal. How this event will ultimately play out is still uncertain, but presently, it seems as though the Sherpa have decided to leave Everest for the 2014 season, to be with their families and pay respect to those who have been lost.
It is important for western expeditions, the government of Nepal and the world to respect and support the Sherpa in their decision. Their culture and even their physiology have been shaped by the high Himalayas, with which they hold a very sacred and spiritual bond. The Khumbu region is their home, and Mt. Everest is not just a mountain to them; it is Sagarmatha: Forehead of the Sky – Mother of the Universe.
A sense of place is important to all people, a fact that we are well aware of in the North Cascades. For millennia, many have considered the land between the Salish Sea and the icy mountain crest to our east to be paradise. It is a land of abundance and beauty, carved from fire and ice, and characterized by the overbearing presence of our own special mountain.
Mt. Baker is not only the most dominant feature of our landscape; it is also a cultural icon that has shaped countless generations of inhabitants. The operative word is heritage. To the first nations of the Nooksack, Skagit and Lummi, Mt. Baker was known by many different names, all variations of the term “Komo Kulshan.” Salmon were and still are of great importance, and Komo Kulshan feeds the rivers that feed the salmon that feed the world. This complex relationship between mountains, rivers, salmon and life is sacred, and arguably of much greater importance than any modern meaning we have imparted.
However, we must honor Mt. Baker’s recent heritage as well. Since Edmund Coleman’s first ascent in 1868, Mt. Baker has been a venue upon which to challenge ourselves as mountaineers and skiers, as well as celebrate the beauty and grandeur of nature in the raw. This spirit of adventure inspired the Mt. Baker Marathon in 1911. Although America’s first adventure race only lasted three years, its legacy lives on in our modern rendition: Ski to Sea. Efforts are also underway to recreate the original footrace as a modern day ultra-marathon.
Recreation on and around Mt. Baker has drawn many to the region, and has contributed greatly to making Bellingham and the North Cascades a desirable place to call home. As the owner of Mt. Baker Mountain Guides, my relationship with the mountain for which I named my business is continually evolving. I am grateful for the opportunity to live in the North Cascades and share Mt. Baker with others. However, I am also aware that we are guests in a special place, and should act as such. We must respect the mountain that has shaped our past and present, and remember those who have come before. Finally, we must continue to write our stories upon the landscape, for it will write its stories upon us. x