The pair dreamed of trekking to base camp for years, but climbing the mountain was never in the cards for the duo, as it takes two months and can cost more than $100,000 to reach the top.
Fascinated by Mount Everest, both Harry and Jeff devoured the many books that were published after eight people died in a blizzard on the mountain in 1996. Everest, the highest mountain on Earth at more than 29,000 feet above sea level, claimed more lives in 1996 than any previous year on record. Only 2014 has been more deadly.
Two months before the Schlieffs began their trek, 16 perished in an avalanche near base camp, but the danger didn’t quell the Schlieffs’ desire to see what Mount Everest is all about.
They had purchased their plane tickets to Katmandu, Nepal, earlier in 2014 and had started planning for a three-week adventure in the mountains.
With Harry’s 75th birthday approaching – the big day was July 5 – they wanted to make the trip happen this year.
“I’m not getting any younger,” Harry said.
After retiring from Mounds View High School in 1996, where he worked as a physical education teacher, then as activities director, Harry has more time on his hands than Jeff, he said. So, Harry made the bulk of the arrangements, including contracting a guide to accompany them to base camp.
The two flew out of the United States May 30. It was the first time Jeff traveled overseas.
Arriving in Katmandu, the Schlieffs experienced some culture shock, Jeff said. The most surprising element of the whole trip was the harrowing moments spent in taxis in the city, both men said.
“I cannot believe we never witnessed an accident,” Jeff said. “They just beep and swerve.”
On June 3, the Schlieffs took the 50-minute plane ride to Lukla, where the seemingly endless walking began.
With a guide to accompany them and a porter to carry much of their gear, the Schlieffs hiked for anywhere from six to eight hours each day, traveling 4 or 5 miles on a map, but ultimately walking much farther when steep ascents are figured in, Jeff said.
They slept in small lodges in villages along the way, spending two nights in both Namche Bazaar and Dingboche in an attempt to acclimate to the higher elevation, avoiding altitude sickness.
Climbing to a height of more than 18,000 feet above sea level, neither man took ill, though they met another father-son pair on the mountain who didn’t make it to base camp. A young, fit boy was too sick to continue, Jeff said.
“If you get hit with that altitude sickness, it starts messing with your brain,” he said.
The Schlieffs’ guide has been leading others to base camp for 30 years and has only brought one individual older than Harry up the mountain: an 80-year-old man. At first, the guide was a little worried about a 74-year-old man making the trek, but it was soon apparent that Harry was fit enough to do so, Jeff said.
“I wasn’t nervous about it,” Harry said. “I felt like I was ready.”
Jeff, 51, hopes that when in his 70s he will be in as good of shape as Harry is now.
“I’m thinking just taking a walk through your gated retirement community or taking a walk on the golf course is what most 75-year-old (people) do,” Jeff said, laughing. “He’s an inspiration to me.”
Harry said that he was particularly proud of Jeff when he crossed several rope bridges, conquering his fear of heights.
“I knew when the yaks and the donkeys were crossing that I should be OK,” Jeff said, but it was none too comforting when they saw a down bridge and their guide said a rock slide had destroyed it.
The climb got more difficult as the air became thinner and they approached base camp.
“I knew it would be tough some days,” Harry said.
They didn’t complete any special training before the trek, but Jeff did make sure to break in new trail shoes he bought for the adventure, taking long walks in his Coon Rapids neighborhood.
Harry is a seasoned climber. He’s conquered Mount Rainier in Washington twice and he scaled Devil’s Tower in Wyoming some time ago.
Though it was nice to have a guide, the two could have managed without one, Jeff said.
The trail was well marked, though Jeff could see how looking up at the mountains, distracted, instead of looking at one’s feet could be dangerous.
They came across several signs for missing trekkers.
The trail to base camp was not overly crowded, since it’s now monsoon season in the region and the weather is a little less predictable. April is the most popular time to climb.
Harry and Jeff were worried about whether their plane would be able to make it out of Lukla with heavy fog.
After they arrived, the weather turned and no planes came in or out of Lukla for six days, they heard. But it was nice higher up. Temperatures were in the 60s, Jeff said.
With lots of time to think, Jeff came away from the trip with a belief that climbing is much like life.
“You’ve got to go up to get rewarded,” he said. “Falling down or going down is easy, but you’ve got to go up.”
The Schlieffs arrived home June 19 as scheduled.
“It was a dream come true, (the) trip of a lifetime to take with your father,” Jeff said.
“To be able to share it was pretty special,” Harry agreed.
Olivia Koester is at firstname.lastname@example.org