By AUTUMN TOENNIS/ Montana State News
“Shortly after breakfast, a building four doors down and across the street from where we were staying caught fire. We jumped in with the whole town in the effort to put it out but it was sadly very inefficient. It was horrific and sickening to watch peoples entire collective belongings and heirlooms be destroyed by water, smoke, and fire.”
Cody Cavill has had experience with fire before – he’s spent a few summers working on wildland fire crews. But having to jump in on a structure fire in Namche, Nepal — where the most sophisticated water system was a bucket brigade — was a completely different sort of experience for him.
“I can’t think of a more terrible way to learn the Nepali word for water than to hear an elderly woman of the town screaming it over and over again in a panic,” said Cavill. “In many ways it was as if we were stepping back into a 1920’s block fire.”
He sits across the table from me in the coffee shop, a green Patagonia hat on his head and wry smile on his face. Under the table, I’m wishing his shoes could talk. They are worn with constant and loved use; they’ve spent time trekking through the backcountry in Yosemite National Park, and climbing peaks in Nepal, from where the environmental interpretation and anthropology student recently returned. “It was my first trip to a third world country,” he said. “It changed my life more than I can put into words.”
Cavill received the opportunity to travel to Nepal this past January to work at the Khumbu Climbing Center (KCC), a program with the mission statement “to increase the safety margin of Nepali climbers and high altitude workers by encouraging responsible climbing practices in a supportive and community-based program.” The KCC is funded by the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation, a memorial organization started in the name of the late mountaineer, who died in 1999.
Cavill’s freshman year at Western, he joined Professor Steve Mock’s climbing class and fell in love with the sport. “I have always enjoyed anything that gets me outside,” said Cavill, who hails from a ranching community just outside of Ismay, Mont. He grew up working hard and took that with him, going on to fight wildfire, earn his wilderness EMT certification from the NOLS program, and spend a summer in Yosemite National Park as a climbing intern.
Mock, one of the instructors involved with the KCC, was later the one who asked Cavill to accompany him and fellow instructors on the trip. Traveling to a third world country had always been one of his goals, so he jumped at the chance to go. “My initial response was shock. My secondary reaction was a definitive yes,” he said.
“Cody was an obvious choice as he’s eager, works hard, and most importantly, suffers well in silence, an attribute for a climber,” said Mock of choosing him. “He lived up to all the expectations and did a wonderful job for us. He’s young, but he’s well on his way to great things and making major contributions in whatever calling he follows in life.”
While in Nepal, Cavill spent time in Kathmandu, the capital, and the Khumbu region, which was very rural. Phortse, the village where the program is conducted in every year, is 15 miles from the base of Mt. Everest.
While in Nepal, Cavill was struck by the contrast between the urban and the rural.
“In Kathmandu I was struck by the very real sense of desperation of a huge quantity of people,” he said. “Not the ‘Oh my gosh — if I don’t have the newest version of the iPhone I am going to die’ sense of desperation so familiar in America, but the ‘Many don’t have access to safe water or food so they do die’ sort of desperation.”
Yet, many things were also very familiar.
“In Kathmandu, I was stunned by the how different everything was. In the Khumbu, I was stunned by how similar everything was,” he said. “I grew up in a small agricultural community very removed from large populations. The similarities I found between the small communities of the Khumbu and the small community I grew up in were enormous. Many of the customs regarding respect for elders and guests, integrity of individuals, work ethic, and responsibility, were identical. So really to summarize my experience in a contradictory sentence, I was as much struck by how different Nepal was from home, as by how much it was the same.”
He hopes to continue helping with the Khumbu Climbing Center and similar organizations. Besides his involvement with KCC, he also enjoys backpacking, hunting, and caving.