On top of the world

Mark Sabo (BMgt '98) doesn't have to go far to gain a global perspective – he encounters it every day through the people he meets at the University of Lethbridge as a materials handling worker in the U of L's shipping/receiving department.

However, hearing about far-flung adventures and discussing foreign culture and research activities pales in comparison to actually experiencing them. So it was with that inspiration that Sabo set his sights on the biggest adventure of his life on one of the grandest stages the world has to offer – Everest.

"I was due for a big adventure," says Sabo, who recently returned from an expedition to Everest Base Camp, a climb to 17,600 ft. above sea level, the closest you can get to Everest without mountaineering equipment. "I don't know if it was a mid-life crisis or not but in retrospect, I wish I would have done it sooner."
Mark Sabo
Materials handling worker, Mark Sabo, with Mt. Everest looming in the background.
Sabo is an active hiker, an interest he gained from former U of L employee Norm DeJong. He'd hiked the Waterton area extensively, participated in a general mountaineering camp through Alpine Club of Canada and done a variety of backcountry trips. A fellow member of his running club – a woman who was taking the excursion as a way to celebrate her 50th birthday – put the idea of Everest to him. Sabo, just turning 41, decided it was the right time to expand his horizons.

"I walk around here and every day I've got 400 or 500 friends at my disposal with so many varied interests. There's always something I can learn just by having these amazing resources at hand," says Sabo.

"I think that's why this job is perfect for me. I have access to all these amazing people on a regular basis. If I want to learn about glacial travel I can talk to Dr. Hester Jiskoot because she just went to the Indian Himalayas. If I want to learn anything about hiking and kayaking, I can talk to Joanne Golden from biology. If I want to know more about the culture of any country, it's easy to go find someone."

The Everest adventure is a 22-day trek that basically follows the classic route to Everest used by the 1953 expedition which successfully placed Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on the summit of the world's highest mountain.

Sabo's preparation for the gruelling climb included extensive cardiovascular training and backcountry trips to Glacier National Park on the August and September long weekends. By late September, he was off to Kathmandu and the start of his adventure.

A group of 16 eventually took on the challenge, one that was both physically and emotionally draining.

"The group we had was phenomenal, and we all just got closer as we went along. Everybody was very supportive and that was important because after a few days, there were some who wanted to drop out but I think the strength of the group helped them through," he says.

The long treks through the foothills involved a week of seven and eight-hour days with seemingly no end in sight.

"We were ready to see some big peaks and move on," says Sabo.

The strength and enthusiasm of their sherpa guides was a motivating factor and as the group cleared the tree line and the big peaks of Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse and Ama Dablam beckoned, it reinvigorated their quest. On the morning of the group's final ascent to the peak of Kala Patthar (day 20), Sabo says it was an overwhelming event.

"I remember having to work really hard to get up there, the last 50 feet probably took me 15 minutes but the energy of our group was unbelievable," says Sabo.

The actual peak is at 18,200 ft., and only two or three people can occupy the top at one time.

"As I made my way down, it took an hour to do so, I stopped about half way and welled up a little bit, it was so spectacular. You could still see Everest, and after all that work I was quite emotional."

The descent took the group past memorials of some of those who had perished in trying to conquer Everest, including that of Scott Fischer, one of eight people who died during the 1996 Mount Everest disaster.

Having gone that far and realizing that Hillary and the peak of Everest resided another 10,000-plus feet away gave Sabo perspective on the accomplishment.

"When you think about climbing to the summit, they would have to do another 10 or 11 days and that blew my mind," he says. "It makes you consider what kind of individual does that and how much work it would be, both physically and emotionally."

Now back at the U of L, Sabo says he's definitely been changed by his experience.

"It's opened the world up to me so much more," he says. "I think I'm much more content with my life having seen how content the people are there with so much less. I'm also not so much intimidated about travel or adventure. So many people have come up to me and said they could never do it but I tell them, it is attainable."


· The most popular time for trekking the Everest region is in October, while the majority of ascents to the summit are done in May. The peak of Everest is at 29,029 feet.

· Sabo estimates he had "four or five showers" throughout the entire trip. The food they ate, which was all packed in by the sherpa guides, was westernized to a degree and included a lot of potatoes, rice, coleslaw, eggs and oatmeal. Despite eating regularly large portions, he estimates still losing 15 pounds in weight because of how much energy they exerted climbing.

· Sabo, born and raised in Picture Butte, Alta., earned a management degree from the U of L in 1998. He's worked at the U of L for 10 years and revels in taking advantage of the campus atmosphere. "This campus is awesome because you have so many people here doing these alternative activities and they're all at your fingertips if you ever want to talk to them."

· Since returning, he has given presentations about his trip to various campus groups. He's happy to share his photos and experiences with any others that are interested.

This story originally appeared in the Legend. For a look at the full issue of the December Legend in a flipbook format, follow this link.