The start of my relationship with Everest...

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.

  from a Puja ceremony, Everest base camp, Nepal, 2004.

from a Puja ceremony, Everest base camp, Nepal, 2004.

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).

  One of my tent sites, Everest base camp, Nepal, 2004.

One of my tent sites, Everest base camp, Nepal, 2004.

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):

 Belk, Fischer, Kozinets (2013) "Qualitative Marketing Research," Sage Publications, 1st edition.

Belk, Fischer, Kozinets (2013) "Qualitative Marketing Research," Sage Publications, 1st edition.

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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).

Lassen & Shasta

Sonbahar tam hizini almadan San Francisco’ya 4-5 saat uzakliktaki Shasta dagina (4320m) antreman cikisi yapmaya karar verdim. Ilk basta ekibi 3-4 kisi olarak dusunmustum, ama tirmanis oncesi son birkac gun icinde sayi ben dahil 2ye dusmesine ragmen planlari iptal etmedik ve haftanin bitiminde Cuma ogleden sonra yola ciktik. Ilk duragimiz Lassen tepesi olacakti. Kizil cam agaclari altindaki kamp yerinde gecelemek uzere cadirlarimizi kurduk. Ertesi sabah, 2650m’teki park yerinden 3190m’lik Lassen tepesine 1.5 saat icerisinde hizlica kosup/tirmanip indik.  Bu hizli aklimatizasyon tirmanisindan sonra, park yerinde birseyler yiyerek tekrar arabaya atlayip Shasta’ya dogru devam ettik.  Aksamuzeri, tirmanacagimiz rotaya giden patikanin dibine parkettik ve hemen cantalarimizi hazirlayip yola ciktik. Cadiri ve diger agir extra malzemeleri ben aldim, uzun zamandir agir canta tasimamis omuz ve sirt kaslarimi uyandirmak icin. Karanlik basmadan once 1830m’den 2590m’deki kamp yerine ulastik. Hava hafif ruzgarli ama acikti. Sabaha karsi 3te kalkip sicak birseyler icip zirveye dogru yola ciktik, 6-7 saat icinde varmak uzere. Fakat, hava tahminlerinde sadece zirve sirtinda olacagini gosteren ruzgar biz yola cikar cikmaz basladi ve hic dinmedi. Her adimda da siddetlendi. Oyle bir noktaya geldi ki artik rota uzerinde iki sarhos gibi ilerlemeye calisiyorduk ruzgar ile mucadele etmekten. Birkac kere de tokezleyip dusunce ve de hemen kalkamayinca donme karari almak zorunda oldugumuzu farkettik. Bu arada agzimiz gozumuz hep toz icindeydi ve birbirimizi bile zor duyuyorduk. 3 saatlik mucadelenin ardindan donuse gectik. Kamp yerine geri indigimizde cadir zar zor ayakta duruyordu ve ici toz toprak dolmustu fermuarda biraktigimiz minik bir bosluk yuzunden. Dinmeyen ruzgar altinda zar zor cadiri toparlayabildik ve inise devam ettik. Araba ile donus yoluna gectik ama ruzgar hala siddetle esiyordu ve San Franciscoya gelene kadar da devam etti.  Isin icinde bir gariplik vardi. Ertesi sabah, is kokulari icinde evimde uyandigimda, internette birkac saat kuzeyde cilgin yanginlarin oldugu haberini ogrendim, oyle ki kokular ve is buraya kadar gelmisti. Meger bizi zirveye cikarmayan ruzgarlar, buralarin kuzeyinde buyuk yanginlara sebep olmus. Neyseki biz tam zamaninda o bolgelerden gecip cikabilmisiz ama ruzgar sebebiyle sondurulemeyen ve neredeyse bir hafta suren bu yanginlarda bir dolu insan tum varini yogunu kaybetti malesef.

 On way up to Lassen Peak / Lassen tepesine dogru

On way up to Lassen Peak / Lassen tepesine dogru

 To the basecamp site with Shasta in the background / Shasta eteklerinde, anakampa dogru

To the basecamp site with Shasta in the background / Shasta eteklerinde, anakampa dogru

 Relentless winds / Dinmeyen ruzgarlar

Relentless winds / Dinmeyen ruzgarlar

Before the Fall started to progress, I decided to do a training climb up on Mount Shasta (14180ft), 4-5 hrs north of San Francisco. At first we had a 3-4 person team, but a few days before the climb we ended up as only 2 people. Still went ahead with the plans and left Friday afternoon first to Lassen Peak (10460ft). We stayed at the campsite under the redwood trees at the base. Then from the parking lot at the trailhead (8590ft), we did a quick 1.5hrs ascent/run and down on Lassen. After this acclimatization climb, we ate some food right at the parking lot and continued driving straight to Mount Shasta, to the base (6000ft) of the route we were going to climb. After packing our backpacks, we climbed up to the campsite (8500ft) before it got dark. I carried the tent and a few other extra heavy items since I wanted to wake up my shoulder and back muscles a bit. It was a clear night. We got up early am and had some tea and started climbing towards the summit by 4am. We thought that it was going to take 6-7 hours for us. The weather forecast had showed some wind on the summit ridge but the wind already started to pick up in the morning and got stronger with every step. At one point we looked like two drunken people trying to stay up right in that wind. After falling a few times and not being able to get up right away, we realized it was perhaps time to turn around. Our mouths and eyes were covered in dust and we were hardly hearing each other.  After 3 hours of struggling in the wind, we turned around only to find our tent almost ripped off and full of dirt thanks to a small opening one of us left on the zipper. It was an effort to put the tent down since the wind did not quiet down at all and right after we continued our descent. After we got into the car at the bottom, the wind was still howling and continued to do so during the whole drive back to San Francisco. Something felt very weird. The next morning, when I woke up to some smoke in the air, I checked the internet to find out that those big winds that beaten us down caused some massive fires in the north. We were fortunate to drive through that region right on time. But those fires went on for almost a week due to relentless high winds and unfortunately lots of people lost everything they had including their homes.

 

Yeniden Kafkaslar ve Elbrus / Caucasus and Elbrus Again

Universite yillarimda gordugum ve tirmandigim Kafkas daglarina tekrar gidebilmeyi cok istiyordum ve bunu Turkiye’de oldugum bir zamana denk getirirsem yolu da kisaltabilirim diye dusunuyordum. Daha once 1999'da gittigim ama elimde neredeyse 3-5 siyah beyaz fotografi disinda birseyi olmayan Elbruz’a (bir de o zamanlar siyah beyaz çekiyormuşum :)) 2017 yazinda bir sekilde tekrar gitmek uzere karar verdim. En fazla! bir hafta ayiracaktim ve esas amacim bol fotograf, video ve de tabi ki antreman olacakti.

Dag ve bolgeyle ilgili elimde her turlu lojistik bilgi mevcuttu asinalik da dahil. Sonucta cok populer bir dag. Basta Amerika’dan niyetlenmis birkac arkadasim da, sonradan cok kisa bir tirmanis icin o kadar yol gitmek istemedi. Tek basima gitmek uzere hazirliklara basladim yavastan, bir yandan da belki Turkiye’deki arkadaslarimdan birileri katilabilir diye de dusunuyordum. Ilk aklima gelen tabi ki Halduncugum oldu. 25 yillik dostum kendi isini yaptigi icin bircoklarina gore daha rahat boyle birseye vakit ayirabilirdi (ve de guzel foto ceker kendisi! :)). Netekim takvimine bakti ve Temmuz icin bir hafta belirledik hemen. Tirmanis ile ilgili artik cok standartlasmis lojistik islerini email ile arka arkaya hallettim ve yola cikmadan birgun once Istanbulda bulusup son hazirliklari tamamladiktan sonra kendimizi Nalchik ucaginda bulduk. Bizi karsilayan arac ile Cheget koyune geldik. Burasi Terskol’un dibinde, daha kucuk bir yerlesim. Merkezde biraz dolandik, eksiklerimizi tamamladik. Ertesi gun, Haldun’un bitmeyen isleri uzerinde calismasi gerekti, ben de aklimatizasyon kosusuna/yuruyusune ciktim, bolca fotograf cektim. Ucuncu gun, bir kere teleferik iki kere de telesiyeje binerek cikabildigimiz en yuksege ciktik (~3800m). Zaten indigimiz yerin dibinde de icinde kalacagimiz silindir seklinde “barrel” denen konteynirler bulunuyordu. Bizimkinde halihazirda 4 dagci kaliyordu, 2 de biz eklenince 6 kisilik kapasite doldu (1999'da, daha sonraki yillarda yanan ve tekrar yapilan Prius hut’da kalmistik).

Bu arada bu yukseklige kadar bizimle cikan her cesit insan gorduk, yaslisindan, gencine, cocuguna, sporcu goruneninden sporcu gorunmeyenine, yani halktan her turlu insan buradaydi. Ne kadar guzel birsey, herkesin erisebilecegi bir mekan olmus, herkes de kalkmis gelmis.  Kimi kaymaya, kimi yurumeye, kimi fotograf cekmeye… Tesisler eski, ortam cok duzensiz vs ama gelmisler iste. Alplerde de cok gordugum ve cok sevdigim bir durum bu: Daglar herkesin.

Ertesi gun agirdan kahvaltimizi ettik ve aklimatizasyon yuruyusu yapmak uzere yanimiza birkac yiyecek birsey ve su alarak yola ciktik. Ikimizin de kondusyonu yerindeydi, Haldun kendisininkinin cok kotu oldugunu soyluyordu abartarak, hatta beni bir ara endiselendirdi bile, ama tabi ki her zamanki gibi nefesi bile teklemeden cikti. Klasik Haldun. Yolda inise gecmis birkac Turk dagci ile karsilastik, buyuk bir grup olarak gelmisler, birkaci zirve yapmis, asagi iniyorlardi. Biraz sohbetten sonra devam ettik ve baya iyi yol aldik: ~5000 metreye kadar ciktik. Gune biraz daha erken baslasaymisiz zirveye bile gider gelirmisiz (zirve 5642 metrede), hatta hayiflandik bu duruma. Ikimizin de durumu superdi cunku. Neyse, bol fotograf cekip geri indik. Bu arada Haldun telesiyej ve konaklama kosullarini surekli Alplerle kiyaslayip, buradakilerin ne kadar kotu ve pahali oldugundan yakindi. Evet farkli olmasi konusunda hakliydi: kosullar daha zor, daha az “luks” denebilecek seyler var konfor acisindan, ama burasi Rusya, daha az kalabalik ve daha kucuk Avrupa Alpleriyle kiyaslamak cok dogru gelmiyor.

Ertesi gunku hava durumu kotu gosterdigi icin birsey yapmamaya karar verdik.  Malzemelerimizi gozden gecirip cantalarimizi hazirladik. Ben gunun cogunda kitap okudum, Haldun yine islerini halletmeye koyuldu. Oldugumuz yerde 3G vardi, Haldun’un da onceki tahminlerinin aksine orada oldugumuz hafta son dakikada isleri cok artmisti. Sabaha karsi ayakta olacagimizdan erkenden yattik. Gece 4'te kalktik ve bir snowmobilin arkasina atlayip (Dagda vizir vizir geziyorlar ve gunubirlikcileri yukarilara indirip cikariyorlar. Gruplar icin de daha buyuk kar araclari var) ~4200 metrelerdeki Pastukhova kayalarinin oldugu yere kadar ciktik.

Onumuzde kafa lambalariyla tirmanisa coktan baslamis bir dolu ekip gorduk. Gunesin dogusuyla bolca fotograf ceke ceke ilerledik ve ona ragmen onumuzdeki butun ekipleri gectik! :) Dogu ve bati zirvesi arasina geldigimizde (“saddle” denen bolge, ~5410m) hava isindigi icin ustumuzdeki ekstra katmanlari cikardik, birseyler yiyip ictik ve tirmanmaya devam ettik. Yine onumuzde kim varsa gectik. Cok da acaip hizli gitmiyorduk ama o gun dagdaki en guclu tirmanicilardan oldugumuzu soylemek yanlis olmaz. Zirveye vardigimizda, insan sayisi 20-25 kadardi fakat herkes herkesin istedigi gibi zirve fotografi cekmesine musade etti.

Bu arada saat sadece sabah 9 gibi olmasina ragmen hava sicakligi acaip artmisti bile, oyleki inis bir cileye donustu. Ustumuzde tek katman kalana kadar herseyi cikardik. Ellerimizde incecik eldivenler, yuzumuz agzimiz kulaklarimiz kisaca butun tenimiz kapali sekilde ve gozlerimizde bile normal gunes gozlugu yerine kayak maskeleri ile inisi yaptik. Yine de nasil kavrulduk inanamadik. Sicaklik bizi perisan etti, bitirdi. Hem havanin kendi sicakligi hem de karin yansittigi sicaklik ile koca dag bir acikhava hamamina donmustu adeta. Ve inis bitmek bilmedi. Ertesi gun de donus yolunda teleferik ve telesiyej siralarindaki uzun bekleyislerde yine sicaktan perisan olduk. En sonuncusundan iner inmez kendimizi ilk lokantaya attik ve soguk iceceklerle bir kuzu sis soyledik. Bu bolgenin eti inanilmaz lezzetli ve yemeden olmuyor. En son bu kadar lezzetli eti 2009'da Aconcagua solo tirmanisimdan sonra Mendoza/Arjantin’de gezerken yemistim. Cok et tuketen biri olmamama ragmen oralarda gezdigim bir hafta boyunca hergun oglen ve aksam et yemistim parmaklarimi yalayarak, o kadar guzeldi yani. Dusundukce hala agzim sulaniyor. Kafkaslardaki etin de altta kalir yani yoktu.

Aksamuzeri Nalchik’a geri donmustuk, ertesi sabah 6'da da Istanbul’a varmistik bile. Sonuc itibariyle, istedigim gibi hizli ve verimli bir foto/video/antreman tirmanisi oldu. Kafkaslara tekrar gidersem kisin kayak yapmaya gitmek istiyorum sanirim. Cok harika cok guzel daglar. Tekrar tekrar gidilesi ve lojistigi Turkiye’den acaip kolay. Bir de bu bolgedeki (Kabartay-Balkar bolgesi diye geciyor) insanlarin, ozellikle de yaslilarin Turkce anlamalari ve konusmalari harika birsey. Bundan bagimsiz, iletisim kurdugumuz herkes samimi ve guleryuzluydu, kimse kazik atmaya calismadi, heryerde rahat ettik, isimizi gorduk. Cok keyifliydi.

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I have wanted to go back and climb in the Caucasus mountains again since my college years. I thought I could arrange it during a summer when I am in Turkey to shorten the overall trip time. And I decided to go back to Elbrus, since, from my first time there in 1999, I only had a few black and white photos (I was into black and white photos then :)) and also it has been so long! This time it was going to be a one-week trip (max) and about photos/videos/training.

I was familiar with the area and the mountain and had all kinds of logistics info (well, it is kind of a very popular place). At the beginning a few friends in the US were interested too but then they didn’t want to travel that far for a short expedition and a quick climb. I started to organize myself to go perhaps on my own but I thought maybe some of my friends from Turkey could join me. The first person came to mind was of course my dear friend Haldun of 25 years. He has his own business so I thought he could perhaps arrange a time to come along with me relatively easier (he also takes great photos! :)).

After talking to him briefly, we already set a time in July for a week. I solved the now-very-standardised logistical stuff with emails and we met one day before our departure in Istanbul to take care of a few last minute things for our trip. And we were already on the Nalchik flight that same night! The driver I arranged picked us up from the airport to go to Cheget – a small village next to Terskol in the valley. After dropping our bags at the hotel, we wondered around a bit. The next day, Haldun stayed behind to take care of his never-ending business calls and emails and I went for an acclimatization run/hike and took some photos. The following day, we set out for the mountain and after changing one cable car and two chairlifts, we reached the base camp area called the barrels at ~3800m/12,470ft (basically some cylindrical containers). We found ours – there were already 4 Russians inside. With our addition, the 6-person capacity was now reached (In 1999, we stayed in the infamous Prius Hut which was burned down but rebuilt later).

Meanwhile, there were all kinds of people going up in the chairs with us: older, younger, kids, people who looked like athletes, people who didn't at all looked like athletes: the full spectrum. I love-d seeing people from all walks of life were taking the time and putting the effort to come up to walk, to take photos, or to just simply be in the mountains (despite the crappy infrastructure around and all). This is a familiar scene from the Alps too and I always love it: Mountains are for everyone.

The next morning after a slow breakfast, we packed some bars and water and went on an acclimatization climb. We were both in great condition. Haldun had been telling me over and over that he was not in shape at all to such extent that I had started to worry – until he started walking up without any changes in his breath. Classic Haldun.  On our way up, we saw several Turkish climbers coming down. A few of them summited that morning and now they were on their way back. We continued and made it all the way to ~5000m/16,300ft – we were moving really well and if we had started our day earlier, we could totally made the summit that day (the summit is at 5642m/18,510ft). Anyway, we took lots of photos and came back down. Meanwhile Haldun was passionately comparing the place with the Alps: where the mountain infrastructure (including huts, toilets, chairs, etc) are relatively nicer and more organized. He was right, things were better in the Alps in those aspects but this was Russia and I personally didn’t find the direct comparison to Alps with only a few million people around as fair.

The weather didn’t look very promising the next day so we decided to take it easy and went over our gear to prepare our summit packs. That was over quickly so I read books most of the day and Haldun tried to catch up with his work since there was 3G where we were. Haldun’s schedule and work load shifted significantly at the last minute for the very week we planned this expedition. The next morning we got up at 4am, and then jumped on the back of a snowmobile we arranged the day before and went up to around ~4200m/13,700ft, near Pastukhova Rocks (There were lots of snowmobiles and snow-cats on the mountain taking daily visitors, hikers, or mountaineers up and down all the time).

There were lots of headlights ahead of us. We started climbing up and although we were stopping a lot to take sunrise photos, we passed every single group/individual ahead of us! :) When we reached the saddle area (~5410m/17,700ft) between the east and the west peaks, we took some layers off, as it was starting to warm up, and continued after eating and drinking a bit. It didn’t feel like we were moving super fast but we were passing everyone – it wouldn’t be wrong to say that we were some of the strongest climbers on the mountain that day.

When we reached the summit, it was already crowded with 20-25 people with more coming in but everyone gave each other enough space and time for summit photos. It was around 9am when it started to feel really warm. On our way down, we were stripped down to single layers on top and bottom. We covered our hands with thin gloves and faces and heads with buffs. We also had ski goggles on although there was no wind, we wanted to protect ourselves from the sun as much as possible. Still though we were miserable from the heat. It was super hot and with the heat reflection from the snow, the mountain felt like one big altitude sauna being baked with sunshine. It felt like a never ending decent. The next morning again the heat did beat us up in the long chair lines trying to go down. When we finally reached the bottom, we sat down at the closest restaurant and ordered some cold drinks as we were completely dehydrated at that point. We also ordered some grilled lamb! The meat in this region is incredibly delicious so really hard to pass on. The last time I had such great meat was when I was wondering around in Mendoza/Argentina in 2009 after my solo climb of Acouncagua. Although I am not into meat much, at the time, for one whole week I ate meat for every lunch and dinner. It was just incredibly tasty. The meat in this Caucasus region was similar.

We were back in Nalchik at the end of the day and in Istanbul by 6am the next morning. At the end, it was a very efficient photo/video/training expedition – just the way I had in mind. If I ever go back to Caucasus though, I’d like it to be in winter for some skiing. Such great place, such wonderful mountains. Also, many people in this region (which is called Kabardino-Balkar), mainly the older folks, speak and understand some Turkish so it was really nice to be able to communicate with them so easily. Regardless, everyone we interacted was very sincere and kind – we were very comfortable everywhere we went and were able to care of what we needed. Overall, it was very pleasant to be there again.