In April 2015, I led an expedition into the Khumbu Valley in northeastern Nepal.
Our team supported Dr. Jeff Phillips (of Silverdale Dental Center) as he provided free dental care for families in the Khumbu. Our expedition members—who included Dr. Phillips, a videographer, and a dental assistant—met in Kathmandu, then flew to Lukla and made the two-day trek to Khumjung. For eight days, we operated our dental camp out of the Khumjung Secondary School (which was founded by Sir Edmund Hillary through the Himalayan Trust).
During those eight days in our makeshift dental clinic, Dr. Phillips treated as many patients as possible, giving priority to the wives and children of the victims of the 2014 accident on Mount Everest. His services were in great demand, as tooth decay can cause bacterial infection, gum disease, and chronic pain, and there is very little dental care in rural villages. And the dental crisis isn’t limited to adults: according to a 2000 report from the World Health Organization, 67% of Nepali children who are five or six years old have tooth decay, with the average child having three to four decayed, missing, or filled teeth. To help with prevention, we also distributed toothbrushes, toothpaste, and as much oral health information as possible.
In mid-April, we packed up the dental clinic and trekked further into the Khumbu Valley. We visited monks at the legendary Tengboche Monastery to ask for a traveler’s blessing, then split into teams. One team trekked to Everest Base Camp; the other (including me!) climbed Island Peak (20,305′). We reached the summit at 12:10pm on April 24th, 2015, and enjoyed magnificent views of Everest (29,029′), Lhotse (27,940′), and Makalu (27,838′).
On April 25th, the earthquake hit. (Read about that here.) These photos are from before the earthquake:
Because relief work is sometimes linked to a larger organization, I’ve been asked if our expedition had political or religious affiliations. The answer is simple: there were no ulterior motives. The dental camp was organized entirely by a small group of team members with two simple goals: to offer open-hearted help to our fellow human beings and to have a grand adventure.
We believe that we met those goals, though in the post-earthquake weeks the trip changed dramatically. Though we were deep in the Khumbu when the earthquake struck, none of our team sustained injuries. Throughout our travels in Nepal, we were met with kindness, generosity, and warmth—both before and after the earthquake—and with more help from more people than we will ever be able to repay, our team has safely returned home. I will never forget the many, many strangers and friends who helped us through the storm.
We’re all processing the journey in our own ways, but we are each profoundly grateful for our safety. We grieve with shattered hearts for the magnificent country that we left behind, and we are committed to doing everything we can to help the communities we love.