Trinity Students and Faculty Visit Nepal for a Hiking Expedition Over January Break

Trip Marks 10th Anniversary of the O’Neill Asia Cum Laude Endowment Fund

Hartford, Connecticut, February 23, 2016 – Several Trinity College students who took part in the First-Year Seminars “Plants and Animals in Extreme Environments” and “Peoples and Cultures of the Himalayas” visited Nepal over the January break for a hiking expedition. The trip was supported by the O’Neill Asia Cum Laude Endowment Fund, which fosters credit-bearing study by Trinity undergraduates throughout Asia. The endowment, established by Michael and Trish O’Neill, is now in its 10th year. 

The faculty team of the 19-member Trinity expedition was made up of Associate Professor of History Michael Lestz ’68, Charles A. Dana Professor of Biology Craig Schneider, Professor of Chemistry Richard Prigodich, Associate Professor of Physical Education Anne Parmenter, and Professor of Physics and Environmental Science Christoph Geiss. A number of seminar participants went along, as did two student mentors. The group left for Nepal on December 28 and celebrated the new year in Kathmandu. The trek was launched from Pokhara and, after hiking for about 110 miles and making several “tune-up” trips, the expedition reached Annapurna Base Camp on January 7.

The students underwent the process of acclimatization by climbing up to a higher altitude each day and sleeping at a lower altitude. Everyone acclimatized remarkably well, considering that they once found themselves in the midst of a blizzard and woke up to 10 inches of snow. After the white-out, the group enjoyed a clear, beautiful view of the mountains the next day.

Lestz believes that such a trip builds on what students learn in the classroom. “It gives students a remarkable sense of life in the Himalayas – whether it is the meaning of subsistence agriculture or Nepal’s emergence as a constitutional democracy in the wake of the fall of the monarchy, he said. Also, Nepal is divided geographically into three sections – the flatland or Terai, the foothills of the Himalayas, and the snow-covered peaks above 10,000 feet. On this trip, all of these regions were visited and the group gained a unique idea of Nepal’s geography. They also gained an expansive sense of the diversity of the peoples of Nepal and their many languages.”

Following their successful ascent to the Annapurna Base Camp, the group visited Chitwan National Park, where they participated in a safari. They enjoyed the animal life of Nepal as they saw spotted deer, wild boars, and rhinoceroses. Another memorable experience occurred during the bus ride to Chitwan. The brakes of the bus burned out during the ride, so the group was stuck for seven hours. “If in the United States another bus would be sent, in Nepal the bus company sent a single mechanic,” said Lestz. “He was wearing shorts, flip flops, and carried a Winnie the Pooh bag that contained his tools. At the side of the road with trucks and cars whizzing by them, he took apart the brake, installed the new brake pads, and we were on our way. Nepalis share a resourcefulness and an ability to improvise that often appears in startling ways.”

The students also gained a sense of how the country is still suffering from the effects of the earthquakes in spring 2015. A female porter accompanied the group on their hike, which is rare, according to student Luisa Lestz ’19. The female porter was the wife of one of the male porters and she preferred to haul bags and navigate for the group as her house underwent reconstruction after the earthquake.

Maura Griffith ’17, a mentor for the “Plants and Animals in Extreme Environments” seminar, said, “I am thankful to have had the opportunity to go on this trek.”

Written by Bhumika Choudhary ’18

Photos by Christoph Geiss