Tragedy strikes the Thorong-La pass


I’ve been reading with great interest the news coming from Nepal (Life and Death Choices in a Himalayan Blizzard) of a freak snowstorm hitting the highest pass of the Annapurna Circuit — a 21-day trek that’s quite popular among backpackers traveling in the region. The storm caught many unawares, and dozens of people were caught up in it as they climbed to a height of more than 17,300 feet and made their way down the other side to the town of Muktinath. The tales are harrowing, of snow so deep it took minutes to make one step; nearly 30 people are dead or missing. I read with great interest, because I have done the Circuit, and trekked up that mountain side and cannot imagine doing it in the storm that’s been described.

The trek — and walking over that pass — is one of the highlights of all of my travels.

In 1998, I chucked my junior executive career out the window and set out on a year-long journey with my erstwhile spouse Melissa. After spending a few months in Southeast Asia, we flew to Kathmandu and hired a porter to carry our pack. The altitude and long days of trekking would make it hard for us to carry it by ourselves. Our porter was named Khagendra — an aspiring lawyer working for the trekking company to save up money for school — and one of the sweetest people I’ve met.

I wrote several posts during our trek, on our pre-blog-era website. This is the entry from the day we made the journey over the pass.

Thorong-La Pass, Nepal
September 16, 1998

Craig and Khagendra somewhere on the Annapurna Circuit

At 5:00 a.m., when we got up and ready to get breakfast before hitting the trail, the sky was brilliant with stars. The clouds in the lower valley had cleared and the snows on the hills shined in the celestial light.  Breakfast is sticky, but hot, and in the dining hall it’s chilly and you can see your breath, especially after drinking hot tea.  Everyone seems excited about making the pass.  One Israeli man, who had a headache from the altitude yesterday, seems fine this morning and is ready to make the journey.  In the darkness, we gather our gear and head up the trail.  As it winds in switchbacks up a green hill, which turns into rock and scree, we see a dog, which had been resting at the check-in post.  He follows along with us as we light the trail with our flashlights, and trudge up the hill.  Khagendra is watching our steps, worried as usual about our welfare.  Aside from Khagendra, along with us are the Israeli couple and their porter, Susan from Canada and her guide Robi, and Phil from Britain, who speeds ahead of all of us only minutes into the hike. As we go higher and higher up this hill, we can see the first dawn light hitting the white peaks of Annapurna II.  It’s pink and inviting, and there are no clouds at all in the sky. Continue reading “Tragedy strikes the Thorong-La pass”

Ricochet – The reverberating effects of gun violence in Chicago

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Stephen Franklin and I teamed up this summer to produce a multi-part series on gun violence in Chicago for We spent most of July and part of August exploring the areas of Chicago most affected by guns. We met the families of gun victims, paralyzed survivors of shootings, law enforcement working to curb the violence, young people who see guns as part of their everyday lives, and groups taking to the streets to take back their neighborhoods. Many thanks to Jon Groat at MSNBC for commissioning the series, to Trymaine Lee for narrating the stories, and Clancy Calkins for all her support in the edit. And I could not ask for a better partner than Steve Franklin, who cares deeply about the issues and made quick connections with sources that got us access to so many places.

04_Still1Part One: What the guns do: ER doctors at Advocate Christ Medical Center try to save the lives of gunshot victims while family and neighbors mourn after a bullet pierces a house, striking 11-year-old Shamiya Adams dead.


Part Two: Who suffers?02_Still_01 Basketball coach Shawn Harrington struggles to recover from a gunshot wound that left him paralyzed while a high school teacher offers a message of forgiveness to those who forever changed his life.


03_GenericPart Three: Who buys the guns? Kids from the Brighton Park neighborhood say gangs are their family and they would never give them up, while teens in the Back of the Yards neighborhood say it’s better to have an illegal gun and risk going to jail than be shot dead.


04_Still_02Part Four: Stopping gun crimes: Interrupters from Cure Violence, formerly known as Cease Fire, try to cool tempers and immediately defuse the conflicts that perpetuate the cycle of violence.


05_Still_06Part Five: What can Chicago residents do to change the violence that plagues the city streets? Part 5 of the msnbc original series on Chicago and life in a city under siege from guns.