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Hummel Meets the Mountain

The Story of
the First (and Only)
All-American, All-Cat
Himalayan Expedition

Part 3

Chapter 5: Training

Early one fine winter morning all the cats huddled together in the back off the bald guys Van. They were off to Shenandoah National Park on a practise climb.

They spent the whole day climbing on the rock walls of Little Stoney Cat, which is right near Little Stoney Man. They realized how important all the rope work they had done would be. They practised belaying the leader, that is holding the rope to catch a falling climber. They practised rapelling; using the rope to lower themselves from the mountain. You can read about these and other climbing terms, techniques and devices.

They spent the next day climbing the ice walls of White Oak Canyon. Humans use crampons, sharp spiked attachments on the bottom of their boots, to climb up ice. The cats didn't need special attachments. They had custom designed boots with holes for each paw. They could use their own claws as retractable crampons. They soon were able to climb ice as easily as trees. But, for some of the more difficult sections, they learned how to use special tools, like ice axes, to aid them in gripping the ice.

The cats worked hard all week getting to know each other and learning the techniques that would mean life or death in the big Himalayan mountains. You see, these mountains are very high. It is very dangerous to be at high altitudes without careful preparation. They practiced all they had learned about ropes and knots. They learned all about glaciers and avalanches.

When they came back to Washington they continued to practice EVERY day. They trained and trained until they knew that, at last, they were a real team.

But they still needed a real test. The bald guy said that in New Hampshire they could find some hard climbs to try. So back in the Van they climbed for the day long drive to the White Mountains. They went straight to Pinkham Notch where the Appalachian Mountain Club has a hut system for climbers to use. They decided they would climb the famous Mount Washington by the Huntington Ravine route. They worked well together and each of the cats succeeded in reaching the summit. They were ready.

Departure day was drawing near and the bald guy was worried. "Hummel," he said, "you just can't put it off any longer." Sadly, expedition leader Hummel agreed. "Its time to get our shots." Moans and CATcalls filled the house. Hummel was appalled. "You call yourselves brave mountaineers and you're afraid of a little needle!" Stoically Hummel led all the cats down to the Vets office. He didn't even flinch as the Vet gave him not one, not two, but three shots. The bald guy was proud to see this and of course, all the expeditioners followed Hummel's lead.

Finally the big day arrived. At 1409 things were in an uproar. The cats were tearing around making sure they had everything packed and that all their papers were in order. Communications Officer B.C. handed everyone their tickets. "Now anyone who loses their ticket will have to get in a cat travel box and stay in the luggage compartment." All the cats clutched their tickets tightly.

The bald guy and the long haired girl drove the cats to Dulles International Airport. It was quite a scene ... hundreds of cats crowded around waving goodbye. Why even the Washington Post, which usually does not cover cat news, sent a reporter and photographer to cover the expeditions departure. For once in his life Hummel was taken aback. Why even the nasty white cat from the alley had written something for the occasion:

        Trees may be tall,
        But mountains are cold,
        So please don't fall,
        Because you will freeze.

"I know it doesn't rhyme, but its the best I could do."

Hummel was clearly touched. He even let the long haired girl kiss him goodbye on his forehead. But then he gathered himself together and proudly shook hands with the bald guy.

"Thanks," was all he said ... and he turned and headed for the plane.

Chapter 6: Kathmandu

The airplane that carried the cats flew all night and the next morning it landed in India. Here it was necessary to change planes. Even Hummel was a little nervous; they were really on their own. There was no bald guy here to get them out of trouble. A kind stewardess, however, knew the situation and, without any fuss or ado, the cats found their way to the flight to Kathmandu, the ancient capital of Nepal.

This flight was much shorter than the first one. It was only three hours. The cats were so excited that they wouldn't even CATnap. When the plane landed they all jumped out eager to see the strange, exotic land awaiting.

First, however, they had to go through the formalities at the airport. In order to enter any new country, it is necessary to go through the Customs Office. Here the cats were asked questions about their plans in Nepal, where they would stay, and how long they would be. Fortunately B.C. had prepared well; all was in order.

The cats stayed in Kathmandu for three days. Athena had arranged a full slate of activities so the cats could get accustomed to all the new things. They loved Swyambhunath with all the monkeys running around. It was hard to control their urge to jump on the monkeys. But they were astounded when the guide told them all about the temples they saw and how the Buddhists and the Hindus shared the holy site.

They rented bicycles and rode all over the city. They couldn't believe that so many people rode bicycles. In Kathmandu, you see, the people cannot all afford cars like we can, so they rely on their bicycles to go everywhere.

The cats rode into the countryside and explored the other villages of the valley. They saw beautiful temples and participated in holiday festivals. They saw all the sights. But no one was able to explain to them why the city had a KAT in its name. It was a mystery.

There was one important piece of business to perform in Kathmandu; they had to have their permit validated at the proper office. They all trooped over, en masse, with their passports. All went smoothly once the long line had thinned out. The cats had their visas extended and their permit was in force. They were ready for the mountain.

Chapter 7: The Bus Ride

Tabby Cat set her alarm for 4:30. She and B.C. had bought tickets for the early bus. Naturally all the cats complained, meowing loudly. "It's just as well', Winston mused, "we must get used to early starts."

Even so, it was hard to coax the cats from their beds at such an early hour. What a sight to see; 12 cats staggering along to the bus terminal in the pre-dawn light. Luckily all their equipment had already been sent ahead so all they had to carry their their own personal packs.

The bus station was a madhouse. People were dashing around in all directions trying to find their bus. The cats were quite bewildered. Luckily a little Nepali boy saw them.

"What are you cats doing here at the bus stop?"

"We are on our way to Pokhara," Hummel replied.

The boy was surprised. He had never before seen any cats on the bus to Pokhara. "I'm going there myself," he finally volunteered, "and you can ride with me."

The boy helped the cats get all their luggage onto the top of the bus. In Nepal all the baggage is put on top because there are no other compartments on the rickety old buses. The driver blared his radio loudly. The music was worse than the loudest rock and roll the bald guy played.

But the bus ride was beautiful; the cats had never experienced anything quite like it. The bus drove along a valley, called the Trisula River Valley, that had fantastic views around every sharp curve. These sharp curves, however, were VERY VERY sharp curves and each cat expected each curve to be their VERY VERY last curve. But the bus driver was very skillful and even though the bus shook terribly, it stayed on the road.

The valley was quite steep; the people had built little patios on the sides of the hills so they could grow their rice. If it were not for these patios, there would not be enough food. These were called rice patties and were very impressive to the cats.

There was a modern suspension bridge across the river. The little boy was very proud of it. He told them about every little village on the way to Pokhara. He was able to point out the distant mountains but the sky was too hazy to get a good view. It's like this every spring, but," he assured them, "you will have your nice days too."

Hummel already knew about the summer monsoons when it rained every day, all day. The boy explained that it was important that they get off the mountain before the rains got bad. Winston showed the boy his timetable for the climb. They would have just enough time ... if all went according to plan.

Chapter 8: POKHARA

Pokhara turned out to be much smaller than Katmandu. The little boy took the cats to his house by a big lake. "On a clear day you can see Macchupachere from here."

The cats were all hoping for it to clear up soon.

On an island in the middle of the lake was 'Fishtail Lodge'. It was named after the very mountain they would climb. To get to the lodge they had to get on a wooden raft that had a long rope tied to a tree on the island. The little boy came and pulled the raft across to the island. Needless to say it was a nervewracking experience for 12 cats who had never swum in their lives.

At the lodge they were to meet the porters they would need for the expedition. There would be 250 of the hardiest cats the area could offer. They were needed to carry all the equipment and food for the expedition. These were strong, healthy, hard workers who would carry heavy loads into the rugged mountains.

The cats also hired 3 of the best Sherpa cats available. The Sherpas were expert in mountain travel ... they knew every feature, every danger ... but they had never climbed Macchupachere. No one had ever climbed Macchupachere.

The chief Sherpa for an expedition is called a Sirdar and, as Sirdar, the cats were lucky enough to find Nefri, a resolute and reliable youngster. He would arrange for the other Sherpas from among his climbing comrades.

After the arrangements were complete the cats could finally relax. All was in readiness; the food, the equipment, the porters. They were on schedule and could take the rest of the day off. They scattered through town; some went to the marketplace to look around, others went to the lake to nap.

Hummel and Athena went with the boy to the Tibetan tea house for some hot soup. They spoke with everyone there about Macchupachere. The Tibetan cats were impressed with Hummel's resolve. Imagine!! A cat thought he would climb a mountain that had NEVER been climbed by ANYONE.

That night the cats were soundly asleep when Winston came rushing into the house.

"Meow, meow," he called. He was besides himself with excitement.

"What's wrong? What is the matter Winston?" everyone asked.

"Outside, outside" was all he could gasp.

The cats raced outside. There, silhoutted against a full moon, was the stark outline of a very impressive mountain. The cats were stunned; it was their first sight of Macchupachere. They sat silently and stared. Even Hummel was a bit awed by it.

"Well," he finally volunteered, "we wanted something that would be worthwhile.".

If you are enjoying the Hummel Mountaineering story please Let Us Know. We will be putting the rest of the book on the Web with some great photos of the peaks and images of the expeditioneers. Check back to keep in touch with Hummel.

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