The Mountains Are Calling
Not many people celebrate their 70th birthday climbing Mount Everest. But not a lot of people are like Riviera residents Laurie Jonqueres and her husband, Michel.
Just over two years ago, Laurie and Michel headed off on a Himalayan adventure that would prove to be the most challenging of their lives. Avid hikers, the Jonqueres have trekked hundreds of miles including from the Eiger to the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps, the Dolomites in Italy, and treks in Peru, Patagonia, Egypt and more.
But the lure of Nepal called, and the Jonqueres knew they needed intense conditioning to prepare their muscles and lungs for strenuous hiking in high altitudes. Toward that end, they spent the summer of 2019 hiking and backpacking above 9,000 ft. in the Eastern Sierras.
That fall, Laurie and Michel headed to the Himalayas for two back-to-back treks with REI. First on the itinerary was Annapurna Base Camp at 13,550 ft., followed by Everest Base Camp at 17,600 ft.
The Jonqueres flew to Kathmandu where they joined three other hikers for the 14-day trek to Annapurna Base Camp. It proved to be two challenging weeks that tested their balance and knees as they traversed up and down thousands of rocky uneven stone “steps,” through subtropical forests, remote villages and along high glacial valleys where no roads exist. Led by Sherpas, the group experienced unexpected late monsoon weather that waterlogged their tents forcing them to stay in rustic tea houses.
“Indoor shelter was actually a relief, as the rain brought out tiny leeches in the fields where we camped that could only be seen once they expanded with our blood,” said Laurie.
Arriving at Annapurna Base Camp, the group was rewarded with clear weather and encircling views of 24,000 ft.-plus high peaks and glaciers, and as the day turned to evening, a brilliantly star-studded night sky not seen at sea level.
The Annapurna trek served as excellent conditioning for the rigors of climbing to Everest Base Camp, the hardest thing the couple has ever done. Their group consisted of seven strong hikers, of whom Michel (at 75) was the oldest by 18 years. Yet Laurie and Michel remained strong, not even requiring the high-altitude medication commonly needed by climbers. Not all Himalaya hikers are that fortunate—they saw two middle-aged climbers airlifted from halfway up on their quest to Everest Base Camp.
The 19-day Everest trek involved many days of hard mileage and cold like they’ve never experienced. The strenuous climbs sometimes ascended 2,000 feet per mile, followed by an equal descent to cross a river on a swaying swing bridge. Every member of the group made it to Everest Base Camp on the Khumbu Glacier. Their exploration at Base Camp however lasted less than an hour due to the onset of hard-blowing snow that hastened their return to camp three miles away.
At 4 am the next morning, the dawn of Laurie’s 70th birthday, the group set off in the dark with headlamps to climb to Kalapatar at 18,865 ft. Reaching the top after a toe-numbing climb up steep snow and icy rocks, the group endured the breath-stealing cold to take in the extraordinary view of Mt. Everest at 29,029 ft. with its famous summit plume above and the Khumbu Glacier below.
The group spent the rest of the day hiking 14 miles—a 5,000-foot descent—to that night’s stop in the tiny village of Pheriche, where the Sherpas surprised Laurie with a birthday cake baked over hot rocks.
“It was so emotional as the Sherpa leader wrapped me in a yellow prayer shawl, the Nepalese good luck color, and our group shared a special bond in our common accomplishment,” said Laurie.
“We are so grateful we had this experience at this time in our lives,” added Michel. “It was the adventure of a lifetime and we did us ‘old folks’ proud.”
When they’re not conquering mountains, Laurie and Michel enjoy gardening (the roses in front of their Paseo de las Tortugas home are stunning) and tennis. Married for 46 years, they moved to the Riviera in 1977. What’s next on their agenda? Nothing short of hiking around Europe’s tallest peak, 15,000 ft. Mont Blanc, crossing through Switzerland, Italy, and France. We can‘t wait to see those photos!