On top of the world Dave Hyland had long dreamed of taking a year off to travel and explore the world. Last year, he gradually cut all the strings that bound him to his everyday life and started planning the journey. His term as president of the Erie Faculty Senate was winding down. He passed on the role of biology department chair to Steve Mauro and took a leave from his teaching duties. He had no family in town; his belongings could be stored and his condo sublet. The last issue was his beloved 17-year-old cat. When Pesta died, it seemed like a sign. “It was like she was telling me ‘there’s moss under your feet – get out of here – you need to go”, he says. On Labor Day 2011, he headed west to Colorado to spend several weeks with his extended family. Climbs of Mt. Yale and La Plata Peak – each over 14,000 feet high – and a trip to the Cascades of Washington State to hone his ice-climbing skills began preparing him for his ultimate goal, Nepal’s 22,500-foot Ama Dablam. Ama Dablam is shorter and less famous than neighboring Everest, but it’s one of the more demanding and technical climbs in the eastern Himalayas. Hyland likes to
point out that Sir Edmund Hillary actually once deemed it unclimbable. That would be the Sir Edmund Hillary who was the first to summit Everest. Hyland met up with experienced climber Eric Larson for the trek. A professional mountain guide in Colorado, Larson earlier worked with actor Tom Cruise as he prepped for his role in Mission Impossible. Larson had first suggested the expedition to Nepal after he guided Hyland on an earlier climb in Wyoming’s Grand Tetons. The two spent several weeks in Nepal as they traveled toward Ama Dablam, dubbed “The Mother’s Necklace.” They prepared for the challenging altitude with acclimatization climbs of nearby peaks that each reached over 19,000 feet. “If ever there was a place where you are continuously filled with awe, it is the Himalayas,” Hyland says of those climbs. “The thing that struck me was just how vertical the world there it is, and how unworldly and mystical the mountains are. They seem to float above the clouds with no connection to terra firma.” Like all climbers preparing to tackle Ama Dablam, they also made a stop at the
venerable Pangboche Buddhist monastery to obtain Lama Geshe’s blessing. In a private ceremony, Lama Geshe presented Hyland and Larson with many gifts, most notably a personalized card. By tradition, climbing partners take pictures of each other holding up their cards at the summit and send the photos to the Lama upon their safe descent. Hyland’s photo now joins those of dozens of famous Himalayan mountaineers at the monastery. Despite the weeks of preparation, the climb itself proved challenging. It’s accomplished in stages, from Base Camp to Camp 1, then back down, then up to Camp 2, then back down to Camp 1, then up to Camp 3, before finally setting out for the peak. Hyland and Larson took a bit of a shortcut, skipping the stop at Camp 3 and climbing from Camp 2 to the summit in less than seven hours. That included probably the toughest part of the climb, Mushroom Ridge, a snow-covered, knife-edged ridge with a drop-off of about 3,000 feet on one side and about 5,000 feet on the other side.