Second graders at Stourbridge Primary have their eyes fixed on Everest

I could feel the electricity in the air the minute I walked into the room.

For me, this was just another dreary Monday afternoon in March.

However, for the 21 second graders in Tammy Rickard's class at Stourbridge Primary, it was an exciting day … a day they'd been eagerly anticipating for weeks.

“Hi, Mr. Edwards!” the class shouted in smile-inducing, sing-song unison.

The desks managed to contain most of them, but four surged forward as I walked in, all wide-eyed and gap-toothed grins.

“Are you going to put us in the paper?” a little girl asked?

“Are we going to be famous? a little boy inquired.

“Yes to both,” I replied, instantly caught up in their infectious enthusiasm.

“Look at my poster!” the second little girl said.

“Mine too!” added the second little boy.

And, I have to admit: these were works of art.

Every child in the class created one and each was different than the others … even though they all bore the same message.

“Gustin Strong.

Everest 2017.”

Because It's There

Mrs. Rickard called me late last week to ask if I'd be interested in “kind of a neat, non-sports story.”

I didn't hesitate in calling her back.

“Well, my cousin is doing something pretty cool,” she said, pausing for dramatic effect. “She's getting ready to climb Mount Everest.”

“Pardon me?” I replied incredulously.

“She's getting ready to climb Mount Everest and she's going to Skype with my class. Would you like to come up and do a story?”

“Ummmmm, yeah!” I sputtered intelligently.

And, so here I am ... camera in hand, pen poised and ready to write.

Top of the World

Wendy Gustin is already a highly accomplished, veteran mountaineer.

She's only 45-years-old, but has already summited Denali and Kilimanjaro, two of the world's most famous peaks.

Dinali is located in Alaska. It's a majestic, picturesque towers more than 20,000 feet above sea level. Kilimanjaro is actually a dormant volcano with three cones. The highest of these is just over 19,000 feet. It's located in Tanzania.

Wendy called her parents when she got home from that African adventure, oozing with excitement and enthusiasm. Her mom's immediate response?

“Don't tell me. You're going to climb Everest next aren't you?”

Wendy laughed when recounting her reponse.

“Umm, funny you should mention that, mom...”

It's a dream Wendy has been working to realize for nearly a decade. She even moved to Golden, Colorado to train at higher altitude.

And despite all her last-minute preparations, she still found time to Skype with her cousin's class for half an hour on Monday.

Questions, Questions

It was obvious the kids had done an impressive amount of research because every one of their questions was interesting.

They all knew that Mount Everest measures exactly 29,029 feet and that it's actually growing by about a quarter-inch per year. They also knew that, when you stand on the summit, you're nearly as high in the air as a jetliner in mid-flight (30,000 – 35,000 feet).

“How long will it take you to get there?” one inquisitive student wanted to know.

Wendy replied that she''ll be in Nepal for two months. She and her fellow climbers will actually cover about 50 miles, doing a little bit each day while adjusting to the elevation change.

From Base Camp to the summit is approximately 12.5 miles. The final trek will last about 16 hours and Wendy will be allowed about 30 minutes at the top of the world.

“I plan on taking a lot of pictures,” she said with a big smile.

Other questions included:

“How cold will it be?”

Negative 30 degrees at night time, approaching 90 degrees at noon.

“What will you eat?”

Everything healthy and nutritious, from the boring (fresh fruits) to the bizarre (yak stew).

“What happens if you have to go to the bathroom while you're climbing?”

That one brought peals of laughter from the students.

“Holy macaroni!” Wendy giggled before showing them a special zippered flap in her snowsuit created with just that question in mind.

To the Summit

As I type these words in The Wayne Independent newsroom, Wendy Gustin has arrived safely in Nepal's capital of Kathmandu.

It took her a combined 20 hours of flying time plus 12 hours of layovers.

She'll begin her trek to base camp in two days.

When Wendy heads for the summit in a few weeks, she'll be carrying not only 100 pounds of gear, but also the hopes and dreams of Mrs. Rickard's second grade class back here in Honesdale!