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Summit Stories

THANK YOU for your support to the Everest fundraiser for the NYF

July 20, 2014 by

I want to THANK YOU very much for participating in the fundraiser for the Nepal Youth Foundation.

We successfully raised the INCREDIBLE SUM OF ~$7,000.

I had the opportunity to visit the Nepal Youth Foundation in Kathmandu (see my post): I could not only see the incredible work they do, but also meet the beneficiaries of these efforts – the Nepalese mothers and children that learn and grow with the NYF, that are supported in their fight against HIV and that can steer their life towards a more positive future.

Seeing how our efforts can HELP CHANGING LIVES is a wonderful gift and being part of this fundraising initiative has been a privilege. I hope you feel the same way.

It has been A TRUE HONOR TO COUNT ON YOUR SUPPORT and I thank you very much for it!

Please keep following and supporting the Nepal Youth Foundation!



Using PayPal at 20,000ft

May 18, 2014 by

Another beautiful and quite unique element of a Himalayan adventure is the need to bring only cash to pay for your purchases, whether food, accommodations or other services on the trail – something that I almost forgot about in the US. Credit cards are at best used to cut a fruit.

The at times sporadic gift of connectivity brings a trekker back to the endless world of web opportunities and, fortunately in my case, the forgotten payments due.

DSC02648 smallWhether it was a bill for gear I sold and purchased on eBay, a due payment for glacier training I did back home or a surprise bouquet of flower ordered from Base Camp to send home, PayPal came to the rescue and helped me make those happen with a couple of clicks.

As you all know, the Everest expedition is combined with my fundraising support for the Nepal Youth Foundation (it was an absolute delight to meet them in Kathmandu and see first hand how their work positively affects the lives of local underprivileged children). PayPal has been an essential instrument to enable donors to contribute to this cause. Fundraising happened on the crowdfunding platform we used as well as through the multiple donations I accepted using the mobile apps.

Funny enough, during the meeting at Base Camp between the Sherpas and representatives from the ministry of tourism, one of the Minister’s people noticed the PayPal logo on my hat and said:” PayPal, global payments!!”

Does it mean that in the future I will pay the Himalayan tea houses for my delicious momos or ginger tea using PayPal?!

Whether you’re an user or never tried PayPal, our fundraising campaign to build a New Life Center for children affected by HIV is still open: make a donation and help us make this dream become possible.

Visiting the Nepal Youth Foundation in Kathmandu

May 8, 2014 by

My last day in Kathmandu was dedicated to the visit of the Nepal Youth Foundation, the non-profit organization that I have been supporting for my Everest expedition. I was really looking forward to seeing in person the great work they do and hearing first-hand about their accomplishment and plans. Som Paneru, NYF President and and a former NYF scholar, greeted me and acted as my Cicero to the visit of NYF Centers in the south part of the city.

We initially visited the Nutritional Rehabilitation Home, where Nutritional centermothers and their malnourished children are welcome for a treatment period of about 6 weeks. During this period, children go through a nutritional rehabilitation and the mothers receive education about preparing nutritious meals with food and ingredients available in Nepal. The NYF has established 16 similar centers all over Nepal and the model is such that after 5 years each Center is handed over to the local government who will continue the implementation of the programs. Insofar, the Kathmandu Home has counted 258 admissions in 2014 and 3400 since its inception.

Our next stop was at the New Life Center, where children affected by New Life CenterHIV are hosted and treated. HIV is a growing health problem in Nepal and, even more worryingly, it causes discrimination and as a result abandonment for both children and their caretaker. During their staying at the Center, food, housing and medical treatment are provided for free – an ambulance is also parked in the garden, as trips to the hospital are often necessary. During my visit, four children were permanent residents and the Center has the capacity to host up to 20 people. We reached the Center just before lunch and we briefly interrupted a singing and dance class – several young volunteers from Europe and US were assisting the children and the energy of the kids was wonderfully joyful (no, I didn’t sing fortunately …)

The New Life Center offers a very comprehensive approach to HIV treatment and for this reason is very costly. The New Life Centerwork NYF has been doing over the last 20 years is truly phenomenal and their success in Nepal is proof that their commitment and approach are what makes the difference.

The fundraising I have been championing during my Everest expedition will support NYF’s plans for the New Life Center: I encourage you to learn more about it and consider making a donation. Think about this: if a single dollar goes a really long way in Nepal, how big can your impact be?!

Dreams are possible if you believe!

Christmas shopping anxiety? here is how to avoid it

December 20, 2013 by

Why be stressed out in the mad rush to the store to fight over toys and gadgets that will soon be forgotten or obsolete? Wanna get rid of that anxiety over finding THE gift for your loved ones?

IMG_0803This year, offer a memorable and impactful gift by means of a donation to the Nepal Youth Foundation, the non-profit organization that we will support during our upcoming trip to Everest.

The funds will go to help build a home and education center for Nepalese children who are living with HIV/AIDS and are neglected by their families. Sickness is a stigma in Nepal and it only worsens the already extreme conditions of the very poor.

My recent climbs have helped build a children’s library in Argentina as well as a new welcome center in Tanzania. These amazing results were made possible by supporters like you.

Give the gift of hope and education this Holiday Season. Make a donation to the Nepal Youth Foundation.





Destination Everest

December 4, 2013 by

Once again the countdown has started. This time is longer, about 120 days, which will give enough time for all the necessary preparation. Right! “Where?” you are probably asking (though the title should have given a good hint)!

IMG_0260 - CopyIt will be to gorgeous Nepal, and specifically to the imposing grandeur of the Himalayas. We will head to Everest Base Camp, one of the most scenic and impressive trek in the world. Crossing the stunning Himalayan valleys, the trek exposes the trekkers to the most breathtaking mountain scenery anyone can imagine: several 8,000mt/28,000ft mountains are rising as stunning cathedrals, culminating with the unique view of Mt Everest.

Starting at about 3,000mt/10,000ft in the small village of Lukla, the trek reaches its highest point at 5,545mt (Mt. Kalapathar) and it allows the trekkers to spend several days moving through the homeland of the Sherpa people, visiting monasteries and enjoying the spectacular views of the mountains.

The second BIG part of the expedition will see Mr Francesco heading further up and negotiating a successful summit bid to the top of the world. A non-plus-ultra adventure he has been preparing and training for quite some time.

nyf-educationTo make things even more interesting (and consistently with Summit Stories’ mission), we will be fundraising for the Nepal Youth Foundation, a non-profit organization whose mission is to bring freedom, health, shelter and education to Nepal’s most impoverished children. We will also test and use innovative technologies during the trek (we like being a bit nerdy even at high elevation).

A very fun plan is cooking, so stay tuned for future updates as we progress. Namaste!

Building a children library? Yes, we did!

November 26, 2013 by

This is one of the proudest post I have written in quite a while. The reason is simple: how many times can you celebrate the building of a children library because of the work you have done?

As some of you may remember, last winter I asked friends and many other people to support Summit Stories fundraise for Fundacion Leer, the leer logoleading Argentine non-profit organization that promotes literacy amongst children, serving 1.7 million young readers nationwide.

Summit Stories’ goal was to raise $6,962 (one dollar for each meter of elevation of Mt Aconcagua) to help Fundacion Leer build a children library and train educators in a remote region of Argentina.

Well, of the three goals (summit Mt Aconcagua, raise $6,962, build a library) only one was reached and probably the most compelling! I am very happy to share that the children library was opened a few weeks ago and the local community is actively enjoying it.

In the words of the Child Development Center coordinator:

“The Reading Corner is being widely used. Community operators and the kids are reading together the new books. The reading corner attracted the interest of the community, including many retired teachers that volunteered to read with the children. We are grateful for the help that was given to us, is a very valuable contribution to the community.“

Whether it was 20$, 50$ or a larger amount, don’t you think that it was a wonderful way to make an impact by putting money to work in a very different way?

A big THANK YOU to everybody who contributed to put a book in the hands of a child.

Children and community members sharing the opening of the Reading Corner

Children and community members sharing the opening of the Reading Corner


the reading corner

the reading corner

Puncak Jaya, part 6: the Children of Bali

November 19, 2013 by

You missed part 5? read it here

The very last leg of my Indonesian trip sees me in Bali: while Bali is world-famous for its beaches and zen/meditation/yoga environment, it is also rich of mountainous and more remote areas that don’t get touched much nor exposed to developed tourism. This is where we will be in this post.

Thanks to a collaboration with Summit Stories’ partner BCP (Balinese Children’s project), I am conducting workshops about international culture and entrepreneurship at local schools in rural parts of Bali.

Ubud PenestananThe Bali Children’s Project (BCP) has been working with young people and their families in rural Bali for 20 years and is dedicated to improve life through education. As many communities in Bali are very underdeveloped and don’t benefit from tourism, BCP was founded on the belief that when children are empowered to realize their potential, they will be able to access more opportunities and as a result give back to their villages and their communities. Conscious of Bali’s unique cultural heritage, BCP programs are designed to integrate the demands of economic progress with the island’s traditional values.

Among BCP’s many programs (they currently support more than 200 children, enabling them to stay in school and finish their education), BCP helped create a dozen village pre-schools and kindergartens, administer a micro-investment scheme for impoverished families, and runs health initiatives that include sex education and HIV/AIDS awareness (as HIV/AIDS is becoming a growing threat in Bali). You can read more about BCP here.

Ubud BangliDuring the course of several days, I had the opportunity to spend time with BCP’s staff and meet more than 100 children aged 6-14 while talking about Summit Stories’ journey around the world (mountains have a very important spiritual role in Balinese culture) and entrepreneurship.

The goal was to instill curiosity and inspiration by means of sharing experiences, examples and principles from the outside-of-rural-Bali world. Typically, these children, when they manage to finish their studies or if they don’t marry at teen-age, pursue the obvious career in the hospitality industry, likely in low-paying and low-skilled jobs. Often this is due to lack of ambition and self-confidence or more simply of accessible role-models. ..Ah (before you ask) internet access is far from being a basic right or even a privilege amongst these communities, therefore limiting the access to and diversity of information we are used to.

I presented Summit Stories’ journey and guiding principles (to the amusement of the children who have never seen so much snow or even the snow in fact, – loud “wows” where heard across the room as my photos arose).  And success stories of local small entrepreneurs in various parts Munduk Rindigitof the world (whether a runner-farmer turned businessman from Africa or a former Nepalese porter who leads a successful trekking business).

Passion, motivation, setting goals, preparation are concepts that are to different degrees very familiar to all of us, but hardly framed as attributes for personal and professional development in many other realities and societies.

I feel very privileged to have met these children and their families and, while facing a language and cultural barrier, I believe we successfully brought a very new and fresh perspective to their learning. I am curious to see whether these workshops (both the ones I held and the others that BCP sponsors) trigger a desire to explore additional and different topics and maybe paths in the future. Wouldn’t be amazing if the workshop (or the model spearheaded by TED) could be replicated by motivating travelers when they visit or volunteer for local schools?

I would love to hear any feedback or comment you may have with regards to this model of knowledge sharing through short 1-hour workshops and whether it could be implemented in a scalable way (with all the necessary adjustments as far as content, context and delivery).



Puncak Jaya, part 5: the Gold Mine

November 15, 2013 by

You missed part 4? read it here

My idea of a gold mine was a dark tunnel, some small wheeled carts and a bunch of short people digging with their pick  and singing aloud (another version would include an old bearded and armed pioneer ready to jump on his horse to run and register the newly found treasure at the nearby village). Well, as with Santa Claus, the actual thing is very different: none of the above exists (not even the dark tunnel!!), rather massive Caterpillar trucks, a more than 3,000ft-deep multi layer pit, a 40+miles long mine area with processing facilities, villages, schools and hospitals. Jaw-dropping impressive. After all is the largest gold mine in the world (operated by the US-based Freeport and the Indonesian government).

We had decided to take the path through the mine as quite a few team members were sick and problems with the porters would have made our way back via the normal route difficult. A decision that we knew would be a big gamble as the security at the mine and their policy do not encourage (=welcome) trekkers on their premises.

A short 1-hour trek and we get to the edge of the mine where the huge trucks (whose tiresIMG_1661small are 8ft/2.5mt high – imagine their size!) unload the debris from the digging and the massive explosions deep inside the mine pits. We don’t venture further because of the continuous traffic of the trucks and the strong rain and we just wait to be spotted by the mine security- which eventually happen mid afternoon. We are soaked. After several discussions, one member of the team is hospitalized due to injuries, dehydration and fatigue, while the others are denied access (fortunately given basic food and drinking water): we resort to find shelter in an abandoned container which is in more than distressed conditions. Dark is coming and we better get organized for the night: we cover the holes and window-like openings to prevent the wind and the incessant rain to get in and my German-Austrian-Swiss fellows develop an highly advanced engineering system to funnel the dropping water outside from the ceiling using whatever we find around.

The reasonably cold and wet night leaves us fairly tired in the morning and whatever leftover snacks we have provide some form of breakfast. We start brainstorming about the possible scenarios at hand and a second interaction with the mine security team, initially confrontational then turning more understanding, shows that we risk being here for a while. A satellite phone is put to great use and several local embassies are contacted to try and unlock the situation – our confidence and mood were at their lowest this morning and now start improving as we receive reassuring messages that actions are being taken. The wait begins and I roam around and look at the rocks and stones on the ground: I keep stepping on golden nuggets and stones with a golden layer. If this is pretty much an abandoned area, imagine what the rest of the mine contains!! After all, I find afterwards, this mine produces 1 million ounces of gold yearly – almost $1.7billion, down from 2.6 million ounces in 2009 - and employs 20,000 people, mostly locals, therefore being a critical contributor to the economy of this region.

This makes me wonder what the other mountains and hills around the mine, including Puncak Jaya itself, hide, given that they are part of the same range and the same rock formations, and whether they risk facing a similar destiny in the next 10 years or so. Mmmhhhh!

It’s getting dark and we are readying for another container-night, when red-blue lights illuminate the walls: it’s security informing us that we will be driven to the mine’s police station. This is good news: our calls for assistance worked and we will spend the night in a proper building, though we don’t know what chain if events this will trigger.

Which we quickly find out: the Indonesian foreign ministry and the presidential office have been contacted and willIMG_1685small be informed of the situation following what will be a 7-hours long interrogation in the night by the police who wants to know (and needs to report on) our conditions, motives and reasons for being there – A 10pages report is eventually prepared and we are asked to approve and sign it, before it is sent up the ranks.

A few hours sleep and a convoy with fully armed escort and armored vehicles is ready to bring us back to the airport – the area will drive through from the mine is often theatre of ambushes and shooting, as the presence of the mine is fiercely opposed by the Movement for a Free Papua. The police chief tells us, in case of ambush, to stay inside and not to move until he tells us so – I (want to) think more to scare us than anything else, though similar incidents happened in the recent past.

IMG_1691smallThe uneventful drive ends at the regional police station, where I go through some more questioning and a crowd of journalists and photographers awaits us: the news of the lost trekkers and the rescue operation of the brave police assisted by the benevolent mining company will make it to the front page of several newspapers, to the amusement of some journalists and the trekkers. Here is another article on the Jakarta Globe (correction: it was 10 of us..).

My last reflection goes to the future of this area and how its mountains, jungle and people will be affected in the future: such a vulnerable ecosystem with a weak voice in the large scheme (few hundreds trekkers/climbers come here yearly and Papua with its marked cultural differences is only politically part of Indonesia) may be so easily destroyed by materialistic ambitions (native Americans and Australian aborigines are just obvious examples). I am exploring what it takes to make it a Unesco-protected world heritage site.

It has been a wonderfully rich and intense expedition, which I would re-do tomorrow. The last part of this journey will be the collaboration with Summit Stories’ partner BCP (the Balinese Children’s project), whose mission is to support rural Balinese communities with educational programs : I will conduct workshops about international culture and entrepreneurship in local schools in rural parts of Bali.

To be continued…

Puncak Jaya, Part 4: Summit Day

November 11, 2013 by

You missed part 3? read it here

It’s an incredibly warm night: we expected a freezing alpine-grade cold (we are at 4350mt/14000ft after all), bad weather and rain. Instead we are welcome at 2am by a calm and clear night (almost full moon) and remarkably warm! We quickly dress down and after a warm tea and brief breakfast, we are set to go.

IMG_1599smallIt takes about 1 hour to reach the steep slopes of the long mountain wall, where we wear helmet and harness and start our long-awaited way up. Despite the clear night, it’s pitch dark and the headlamp helps little in setting the best route up. To our surprise, it’s fixed rope most of the way up, and we do make good use of our ascenders. The occasional shower of stones and rocks from above make us regularly look for cover. I proceed smoothly and the rock climbing training of the past few months proves highly helpful – it eventually turns out that only my almost-new boots will not fully enjoy the sharp limestone of the Pyramid and will keep its permanent signs.

Past 5am and the first lights of the rising sun cast shadows of the steep lines of the walls and illuminate the upcoming next challenge: a vertical wall of about 50mt/160ft, rated 5.8, that leads to the summit ridge. It looks pretty intimidating, but there are a large cracks and a good amount of good holds. Well, climb on!

A couple of times during the climb, I wonder what keeps me away from sitting on a comfortable couch and the daunting task of turning the tv cable on (..!!!…). Yet once I put the first foot on the summit ridge and look around me, the view is unforgettable and makes me forget the doubtful (and WTF) moments I had on the wall – which won’t be the last ones, it turns out soon.

A few minutes to breathe it in and glimpse at the tiny camp down down there at the bottom of the mountain – a steep way up indeed and all in all in full safety.

A short walk on the tiny ridge and I get to the next little adventure – it looks like a video game, remember Pitfall? (If you don’t know what I am talking about, you probably were not old enough to even watch the Olympic Games in Moscow ;) – That is the (in-)famous Tyrolean traverse we had read so much about. A Tyrolean traverse involves using a fixed rope across a gap between two points using one’s hands and legs. To make things slightly more terrifying, this traverse us about 20mt/70ft long and lays on a deep 500mt/1,700ft feet vertical drop (hence the importance to know how to be safely and have good muscles).

While technically moderately demanding, it was probably one of the most frightening mountain experiences I had so far. Even if you know that the ropes are solid and super-safe, you can stop thinking in the back of your mind about that remote possibility where an angry eagle will attack you while crossing or a massive earthquake with a thunderstorm will shake the island and release the bolts that keep the ropes fixed (!!! Some imagination eh?!).

When off the ropes and on solid ground (relatively speaking), the ridge to the summit is a very exposed narrow path that still shows quite a few tricky hazards: two large gaps between walls that require rappelling and a couple of jumps of faith. As the sun rises and brightens the tiny trail, the sharp profile of the summit plateau becomes apparent and screams of joy and celebration echo around. Few more minutes and some more scrambling and I finally reach a cloud-free and limit-less view from the summit of the Oceania continent. Success!!!!

What a climb! I really tested my limits and all the training I have been through in the past IMG_1609smallmonths (especially indoor and outdoor rock climbing) proved essential. Plus that stubborn and lucid persistence that is absolutely necessary in the mountaineering kit.

And… This is just half of it of course, because we need to make it back to camp all the way back. We spend 30minutes or so on the summit enjoying the view: the ocean is just visible and the vertical profile of the mountain we just climbed is truly jaw-dropping (we also see the massive Freeport mine in the distance – the largest gold mine in the world).

and now off back to camp, jumping across the same large gaps, crossing through the Tyrolean again, and a long self-rappelling down on the vertical walls. the very excellent weather allows us not to experience the rain on these steep rocks – it would have certainly been another challenge (the rain eventually makes its appearance as soon as I am off the wall and walking back to camp – I don’t mind it, it is very refreshing after such a wonderful and long day).

More on the gold mine and Indonesian police in the next post.  To be continued…

Puncak Jaya, Part 3: a Muddy Jungle

November 8, 2013 by

You missed part 2? read it here

And we are finally ready to go, no major disruptions today. It will be 5 days of trekking in the Papuan jungle until we reach the high camp at 4300mt for the summit push. The overnight rain made the skies super clear and the sight over the hills is very energizing.

IMG_1486smallWe all wear our knee-high rubber boots per the precise instructions of the guides: we shall expect a combination of very wet and muddy trail and a fair amount of river crossing. We will get dirty! The dream of every child! Ah!

And the expectations are quickly met: not even 20 minutes into the trek and a blobby mud is crawling up my legs and starts layering on my pants. Any attempt to limit the damage is hopeless, oh well this is the way it’s gonna be.

It also turns out that walking with the rubber boots in deep mud is a demanding physical workout, as the feet get often stuck deeply all the way to the knee and it takes a good amount of strength to pull them out. After few days of this, I totally understand how many people refer to the approach to camp as the hardest part of the expedition.

The fun continues with the river crossing, sometimes by means of a bridge (sort of), sometimes by practicing own balance skills on the mid-size logs laid across. And some rivers are simple streams, others are roaring masses of water probably worth a good class-4 rafting (maybe we should do that on the way back).

The next five days are between 6-8 hours long in this muddy and rainy rat-race to get to camp in time to anticipate a heavier rain. We continuously go up and down the hills of this largely un-inhabited jungle (at least to our eyes), hoping to gain enough altitude to feel the high camp closer. The landscape around us is becoming fairly monotonus and we barely spot any animal or bird (which maybe is a good thing) – figure the excitement when the papuan porters capture a mouse (that may have eventually turned in one of those chicken nuggets we had for dinner) and one of the kids kills a bird with his slingshot!

To be continued…