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Locals hope hut system can stave off

Aspen Times Staff Report

A group of Aspen-area residents, working with a group called Future Generations, is planning to build a series of wilderness huts in the backcountry of Tibet.

The hut system would make it practical for Westerners to trek to the base of Mount Everest, assisted by Tibetan guides and yak herders. The planners are hoping that the trekking hut system will stave off corporate efforts to develop the region with hotels and motor vehicle tours, according to a member of a design team which just returned from Tibet.

The system would have five huts, spaced a moderate day’s hike apart, within a cultural and natural preserve called Qomolangma National Nature Preserve (QNNP), on the southern edge of Tibet. Qomolangma is the Tibetan name for Mount Everest.

Aspen architect Harry Teague, who led the design team of Aspen-area residents, said his group traveled to Tibet at the end of April on an exploratory trip for the project. They laid out the trail and sited the huts, using global positioning systems (GPS) technology. The distance between huts might be six to seven miles, with an elevation gain of no more than about 500 feet.

“We were trying to scout locations for huts so that people aren’t sleeping too high, and so they gain elevation gradually,” Teague said.

The greatest danger to high-elevation travelers is acute mountain sickness, which can manifest itself as pulmonary edema or cerebral edema, fluid within the lungs or skull.

The hut system trail would start at a village called Dingri, two and a half days from Lhasa by motor vehicle. The trekking route would take travelers from about 14,000 feet above sea level to a high pass at more than 17,000 feet.

Though it crosses major Himalayan passes, Teague said it’s much more gentle than standard trekking routes in Nepal. Overall, it’s a perfect route for the kind of travel envisioned.

“We’re stoked,” Teague said. “It would be a wonderful trek.”

The huts will make the trek more practical and enjoyable because high winds and bad weather can rake the Tibetan Plateau, he said.

The route ends near an Everest base camp, a place called Rongbuk. The Rongphu Monastery stands nearby. According to Teague’s account, it’s a wild and beautiful spot.

Teague’s group arrived after four days of walking, accompanied by their Tibetan guide, Dorji Tsring, an employee of QNNP, and four yak herders and their animals. Good weather deserted them on the day they arrived at Rongbuk.

“We headed into a blinding snowstorm, which wasn’t expected at all,” Teague said. “The next morning, we woke up to a view of Everest that’s much less obstructed than from the Nepal side.” He said from their elevation of 16,000 feet, they could see the entire northern side of Everest, majestically rising another 13,000 feet above them.

“There’s no description for how that makes you feel,” Teague said.

The terrain the trail would traverse is rugged and devoid of trees, but there’s a surprising amount of water coming from springs and snowmelt, Teague said. The trail would afford views of very high peaks.

“It’s harsh and cold,” Teague said. It was most often below freezing at night.

Cultural learning – familiarizing trekkers with Tibetan culture – would be an important part of the trip experience, Teague said. An orientation session at the beginning of the journey would include cultural education. Guests would be required to spend perhaps two days in Lhasa at the beginning of each trip, to acclimatize to the elevation as well.

Though the hut system is not yet a sure thing, Teague said, Tibetans are excited about the prospect. They plan to begin stockpiling building materials at the proposed hut sites this summer. Construction could start in 2001.

“That’s the most optimistic plan,” he said. Training of guides, cooks and hut keepers would take time, too. Employees would have to receive safety and emergency medical training.

The huts would be of traditional Tibetan architecture, built primarily of stone with wood beams and framing, with flat roofs.

“They’re very handsome,” Teague said.

The American architects would provide guidance on the size, layout and number of rooms. A Future Generations Web site indicates the huts would sleep 20 and have solar lighting and composting toilets. Pasture for pack animals would be provided at each one.

The group submitted an outline of their proposal to the Chinese government and to Tibetan officials who work for the Chinese, Teague said. He’s optimistic that it will be accepted. Changes in U.S. relations with China could threaten the project, though, he said.

Teague said the group is hoping the Tenth Mountain Trail Association will be able to take a role in the system, too.

Funds must also be raised for the system to become a reality, Teague said.

The hut system is the brain child of the West Virgina-based, nonprofit group Future Generations, which took an important role in advising the Chinese government to set aside QNNP.

Future Generations is involved in creating sustainable futures for communities and concentrates its work along the China-India border. Aspen area residents George Stranahan and Sally Warner are Future Generations board members.

The team included Teague, attorney Karin Gustafson, architect Phil Beck, landscape architect Elizabeta Stacishin de Mouro, Jarod Trow, Leigh Girvin, Dan Jantzen, and his son Ken.


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