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‘It still hasn’t hit me yet’: Friday Harbor man fulfills boyhood dream of climbing Himalayan peak

Jason Sears celebrates summiting Island Peak, 20,035 feet, in the Himalayas.
Jason Sears celebrates summiting Island Peak, 20,035 feet, in the Himalayas. 'It's the highest I've ever been and probably the highest I'll ever go,' he said.
— image credit: Contributed photo / Jason Sears

It doesn’t always turn out this way.

But a childhood dream, when fulfilled, sometimes ends up being better than one could’ve imagined.

Just ask Jason Sears.

“It surpassed my expectations on every single level,” said Sears, whose boyhood dream became reality at the doorstep of the world’s tallest peaks in mid-October.

“I’ve always wanted to go see the Himalayas and after me and a buddy started checking out what it would take to get there, we just decided to do it before it gets too late.”

Beginning about two years ago, Sears and his former college roommate, Ed Wood, sought advice, built up their strength and endurance, and spent about a month in the Rocky Mountains to acclimate to the thinner air of higher elevations.

After signing on with a mountaineering company for a three-week expedition in the upper reaches of the Himalayas, Sears and Wood hitched a ride to Sea-Tac International, boarded a plane bound for Kathmandu, and they were off.

It was in Kathmandu that Sears, the son of Bud and Jan Sears of San Juan Island and a 1995 graduate of Friday Harbor High School, realized there would be much more to this journey than chasing down a dream. He’d encountered pockets of poverty in developing nations before, but nothing on the scale of Kathmandu, capital of Nepal and home to roughly a half-million people.

“That was a shock,” he said. “The entire city has this feel of a Third World country.”

Still, Sears was captivated by the hospitality and kindness of the people of Kathmandu and the villages of the Himalayan foothills. There’s a simplicity and an immediacy in which they live their lives that’s noticeably absent in those of the Western World which, in comparison, he said, can seem dominated by distraction and chaos.

He found that singular sense of purpose embodied in his climbing guide, or sherpa, a 33-year-old man with a confidence-inspiring name of Karma. Educated at a four-year university and fluent in four languages, Karma’s one goal in life, Sears said, is to summit Mount Everest and then retire to his village where he’ll happily live out the rest of his life tending his garden and communing with his wife.

“He’s barely a year older than I am and he knows exactly what he wants out of life,” Sears said.

Sears is no novice when it comes to mountain climbing. He’s scaled Mount Baker several times and summitted Mount Rainier. Climbing Mount Everest, however, was never part of the plan.

That’s for “real” climbers, he said.

Sears intent was to stand at the foot of the world’s tallest mountain and soak up the famous sights that surround it, like the Kumba Ice Fields, and to get close enough to Everest to feel as if he could reach out and touch it.

On Oct. 15, standing on the summit of Kala Patthar, at 18,652 feet, Sears was living the dream. Three days later, after scaling Island Peak, at 20,035 feet, he realized childhood fantasies were no match for the reality before his eyes.

“It’s the highest I’ve ever been and probably the highest I’ll ever go,” Sears said. “And standing there, staring right out at those peaks above, like Lohtse, you realize these peaks are about another 7,000 feet above you, literally another Mount Baker higher.”

The journey didn’t end there.

From Nepal, the two men, both certified divers, then flew to island of Chuuk, also known as Truk, to explore the wreckage of World War II-era Japanese warships, transports and fighter planes that were destroyed by the U.S. military in the pivotal Operation Hailstorm.

Sears, now back at work at The Golf Club at Redmond Ridge, where he’s been assistant golf pro for more than three years, is preparing for an entirely different type of adventure. He and his fiancee, Shaena, will be married in July. He’ll take his wedding vows knowing that he’s put at least one boyhood dream to rest.

“It was an eye-opening experience,” he said. “Honestly, it still hasn’t all hit me yet.”

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