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Photos: Khumbu Climbing School

Located in Phortse, Nepal, a few days’ trekking from Lukla, the Khumbu Climbing Center (KCC) provides Sherpas with top-notch mountaineering training. Their teachers are some of the world’s most famous climbers—Conrad Anker, Pete Athans, Jon Krakauer, Jimmy Chin, Renan Ozturk, and Cory Richards. Since its first course of 34 students in 2003, more than 700 Sherpas have attended—and 26 are now qualified to teach.

The Khumbu Climbing Center is located in the remote village of Phortse, as seen from Monjo with Ama Deblam (6,812 meters or 22,349 feet) in the background. Instructors fly from Kathmandu to the town of Lukla, where they hike for three days to reach the school.
Instructor Zoe Hart, a Patagonia athlete, passes a painted mani stone along the Dudh Kosi River on the approach to Phortse.
A local lama performs the puja ceremony at the beginning of the course. In this ceremony the lama blesses climbing equipment spread before him by students and instructors for good luck and safe climbing.
Instructor Heidi Wirtz gets a traditional flour face painting at the puja ceremony that begins each KCC course.
Climbing instructor Eric Knoff outfits KCC students with helmets, boots, and climbing gear for the school session. Equipment has been donated to the school over the years from equipment companies, organizations, and individuals.
Instructors Dawa Sherpa and climber Pete Athens, co-program director with Steve Mock, turn prayer wheels on the approach hike from Lukla headed for Phortse, where the school is located. It is believed that spinning the wheels has the same meritorious effect as orally reciting the prayers.
Longtime National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) instructor Phil Henderson, part of the upcoming 2012 Americans on Everest expedition, teaches an avalanche course for Nepali students. While the bulk of the KCC program is centered on technical ice climbing, students are also taught a variety of mountain safety skills, from first aid to basic technical rescue techniques.
Instructors teach knot techniques on the first day of the basic climbing course. Like most climbing programs, the KCC courses begin on the ground, teaching rope fundamentals before moving to a vertical environment.
Three Nepali students return to Phortse from above the seasonal herding town of Konar. In addition to ice climbing, the KCC program provides an introduction to technical rock climbing. Since the program’s beginning, American instructors have worked with Nepali instructors to establish a number of local climbing areas.
Basic course students observe an ice screw demonstration while a porter resting on the trail watches. Many of the students who attend the KCC program have previously worked as porters in the Khumbu region and elsewhere in Nepal. A few years earlier this porter actually carried the photographer, Lincoln Else, partway to Namche, the region’s capital, when he was extremely sick. Shortly before taking this photo they recognized each other and enjoyed a reunion.
Climber Amy Bullard, a Marmot athlete, teaches a Nepali student how to rig a hauling system built off an ice anchor.
Phunuru Sherpa is lowered with Chandra Ale, acting as the patient, during an advanced rescue training session in 2009. Brandon Latham, a climbing ranger in Denali National Park, and photographer Lincoln Else taught this course for the more advanced Nepali students.
Phortse community members attend the KCC closing ceremony at the completion of the school course. A majority of the village residents attend the event, where each student and Nepali instructor is recognized with a certificate for the course level completed or taught.
A Sherpa instructor gives KCC instructor Adam Knoff a prayer kata at the closing ceremony. A form of respect, celebration, and thanks, katas are exchanged frequently throughout Nepal.
Students, instructors, and community members gather for the closing ceremony at the end of the KCC program. The celebration includes a traditional step dance.

Photo by Lincoln Else