Virtual mountaineers

Interactive: As Chris Warner climbs to the top, pupils in two schools will keep up with him on the Internet.

August 24, 1999|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

Chris Warner left for the roof of the world yesterday carrying three duffel bags stuffed with mountaineering gear, and the best wishes of two local schools tucked next to his heart.

Nine months from now, he hopes to stand atop Mount Everest, planting the flags of Elkridge Elementary School, Howard County, and Park School, Baltimore, in the snow.

Warner will climb five other peaks in Asia and South America, with his expeditions incorporated into both schools' curriculum on the Internet.

Communicating by e-mail, Warner will talk to pupils about cultures, geography, geology and economics, and send digital photographs.

"I'm fired up to be out there and interactive with the kids," Warner said of his Shared Summits program. "It's one of the best little tools we've thought of -- a very direct connection."

Last weekend, he sorted through stacks of equipment in the living room and dining room of his Oella home: insulated boots, boxes of energy bars and drinks, ice axes, carabiners and Gore-Tex and down clothes.

"I never use a checklist. As a result, I've gotten to South America without a sleeping bag," he said with a laugh.

The Shared Summits program has the support of several of the largest names in mountaineering equipment: the North Face, Moonstone and Blue Water.

Third-graders returning to Elkridge and middle school pupils at Park will almost immediately find themselves in Tibet with Warner and his climbing partner, Brad Johnson, as they attempt the 26,906-foot Cho Oyu and then Shishmapangma, a 26,274-footer.

The two climbers will rest briefly in Katmandu, Nepal, before guiding six amateur mountaineers up 22,584-foot Ama Dablam, which Warner scaled in 1991.

Warner hopes his e-mail diary and photos will inspire his "virtual climbing partners."

"There are so many unknowns. You have to face each challenge and figure out a way to triumph. I want them to know the power you get from solving those riddles," Warner said.

Warner, 35, has been teaching climbing for 17 years. He was a project director with Outward Bound in Baltimore before opening Earth Treks' Climbing Center in Columbia 2 1/2 years ago.

Elkridge teacher Kathleen Reinke, a climber, heard of the Shared Summits program while working out at Earth Treks'.

She thought Warner's expeditions meshed with two of the third-grade academic goals for the year: investigating the world and promoting self-awareness and positive relationships.

"With 8-year-olds, they only know their own world, they only know Howard County," she said.

"Chris will be able to show them different clothing and shelter. He can tell them about food and transportation and religion."

Using Warner as an example, Reinke said she will also teach pupils about teamwork and personal goals.

"Kids get so frustrated when they can't be perfect the first time they try something," she said. "The students need to understand that he didn't just decide one day to climb Mount Everest. There were failures and some climbs took more than one try."

The character-building aspect of Shared Summits also appealed to David Jackson, head of Park School, which has a ropes and obstacle course for middle school pupils.

"Perseverance and risk-taking can open up human development," he said. "The notion that overcoming physical challenges can have a profound effect in personal development is one educational idea that we strongly support."

Warner said he thinks the pupils will ask more searching questions than adults.

"You talk to [climbers] and they ask, `What kind of sleeping bag did you have?' Who cares? I really hope we can transcend the who, what, when and where, and begin to address what motivates people to climb and what gets us to be dreamers."

Warner will return home for a month between Thanksgiving and Christmas to gear up for the next segment of the project -- an expedition to Ecuador for a series of climbs in the Andes, ranging from 18,750 feet to 20,703 feet.

During his time home, Warner said he will visit with pupils to show them his slides, answer questions and prepare them for his climbs in Ecuador and the May assault on Everest, the world's highest mountain at 29,028 feet.

Warner and an international team of climbers will ascend the north ridge of Everest. The route, entirely in Tibet, is more technically challenging than the traditional South Col climb seen in the IMAX movie.

Reinke wants her pupils to know that weather and other difficulties could prevent their flag from reaching the summit of Everest.

She's "pushed to the back of her mind" that Shared Summits climbers might face life-threatening problems.

"They can't take for granted that he will be successful," she said. "But I have no doubt he will be."

Warner's return from Everest and reunion with his young partners will be marked by a celebratory climb at the Earth Treks' gym.

To follow the Shared Summits expeditions, log on to www.earthtreksclimbing.com.

Pub Date: 8/24/99

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