I traveled to Nepal for the first time in 2004 in order to trek to and stay at Everest basecamp. My purpose was to collect data for my PhD research on risk marketing and risk consumption. I flew to Kathmandu, stayed in a hostel in Thamel, and flew to Lukla. I hired a porter among the crowd hanging out at the airport looking for a job. I travelled alone: I was not part of a group nor I had a guide. I trekked 10 days on the trails to Everest base camp.
For the first 3 years of the doctoral program (and afterwards), I visited the world's biggest outdoor industry trade show regularly, met key players along with well-known climbers, and interviewed them (and got some gear sponsorships along the way). Also, I had read anything and everything about risk taking behavior, using theories from psychology, sociology, economy, along with other disciplines. As a matter of fact, before changing my career into marketing through an MBA and a PhD, I was an engineer and my master thesis was a risk assessment study of tanker traffic in Bosphorus (yes, I have four degrees). I already had a decent understanding of how risk was thought in technical terms. And along with my mountaineering experiences since age 17, I was immersing myself more into risk literature in a different way with a focus on its commercial aspects. This included not only popular press articles and books, but also academic publications along with learning from my connections in the outdoor industry.
At first, I was asking the why question only to realize that it was an elusive one. There were/are hundreds of books/stories out there where people would try to explain why they take risk - subjectively - so there were hundreds of answers. Yes, you could identify patterns etc. but the why question was no longer interesting to me. And it didn't have much of the commercial side. I shifted my focus instead to “how” and “what” questions. I was in marketing at a business school and questions around how the markets for risk taking form and continue, and what their dynamics are, etc started to intrigue me more and more. How was risk marketed? How was it consumed? How was risk negotiated between marketer/service provider and consumer? How were the contracts unique to outdoor industry working? These became my driving questions which ultimately led me into more intriguing ones about this market (I talk about these more in my publications but just as an example a similar market is financial products/services market).
During my 10-day trek to base camp, my porter got sick and I found myself sitting on a rock with 2 duffle bags in the middle of nowhere. Not after too long, among the ones coming back down from the basecamp, I found another porter who agreed to continue with me. I finally reached and stayed at Everest base camp in a tent on rock and ice on the glacier for the whole climbing season (about 2 months) for my ethnographic research. I was able to stay with three different climbing teams (I set up my tent at their site and paid their kitchen staff for food). I participated in their daily routines. I interviewed key players, backstage actors, climbers, with particular attention to the unspoken/less visible to build on what I read and what I already knew. Being a mountaineer and having a relatively good understanding of the experience gave me enough legitimacy to establish rapport with people ( more details of my field work are in my publications). However, it was a very challenging experience both physically and emotionally with so much pressure on me. My PhD supervisor summarizes it well in this quote in a book (Prof. Russell Belk, one of the authors):
I finished my PhD having shaped my research agenda mostly around these topics for years. And my work resulted in academic publications in top marketing outlets. So if you are interested in reading something other than those predictable and mostly cliché popular press materials on Everest, here is a list for you (if you don't have access to an academic database, email me and I'll send you a copy):
Tumbat, Gülnur and Kent Grayson (2016), “Authority Relinquishment in Agency Relationships,” Journal of Marketing, 80, 42-59.
Tumbat, Gülnur and Russell W. Belk (2013), “Co-construction and Performancescapes,” Journal of Consumer Behavior, 12, 49-59.
Tumbat, Gülnur (2011), “Co-constructing the Service Experience: Exploring The Role of Customer Emotion Management,” Marketing Theory 11 (2), 187-206.
Tumbat, Gülnur and Russell W. Belk (2011), “Marketplace Tensions in Extraordinary Experiences,” Journal of Consumer Research 38 (7), 42-61.
I established great connections and friendships all these years within Everest network and the outdoor industry. I kept most of my gear sponsors who helped me conduct my research in 2004 and also afterwards. At the end, I was and am happy with all the hard work and the intellectual, professional, and athletic investments I made along the way (I'll write more about the athletic part later).
After the climbing season and my field research was over, walking down in the valley back to Lukla, I remember my tears mixing up with the midst of the already-started monsoon season and dropping down on my face... I knew I was going to come back. And I did (2014, 2015, 2018 - I will write about them separately later).