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Paul Sinclair took Blackhawks fandom to new heights with Everest trek

Tuesday, 04.09.2013 / 2:28 PM
By Emerald Gao - chicagoblackhawks.com / Through The Glass photo blog
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Through The Glass photo blog
Paul Sinclair took Blackhawks fandom to new heights with Everest trek

Chicago native Paul Sinclair is an adventurer at heart—he's visited 43 of 50 American states and 7 of 10 Canadian provinces, pushing himself to the limit while photographing animals in their natural habitat. His latest trek was probably his most dangerous yet: a nine-day climb to Mount Everest's base camp, battling the elements and the physical effects of the sky-high altitude. Carrying his regular gear, plus 15 lbs. of camera equipment, Sinclair needed an extra source of motivation to get him from one stopping point to the next. So he turned to his childhood love of the Blackhawks, who in late February and early March were enjoying a journey of their own into the NHL history books. Sinclair took the time to share his unique story and his stunning images with chicagoblackhawks.com.


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Chicago native Paul Sinclair, 61, and wife Dee Anne, 54, spent 12 days on Mount Everest in early March.


"I climbed to Mount Everest base camp at about 17,600 feet. We had about 10 people in our group, five porters who carried our things, one head guide and two assistants. It took us about nine days to go up and about three days to go back. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.

"We started from Lukla, Nepal, where the airport is located in the vicinity of the mountain. From that point to Mount Everest, there are no streets, no paved roads, nothing. You’re in nature, dirt and rocks. From the airport to about 8,000 feet, there are dzo—a hybrid of yak and cow—that can deal with the lower altitudes. The dzo can serve dual purposes—we use the milk for consumption, and it can haul. Once you get above that altitude, neither the dzo nor a cow can work, but a yak can. Yaks are as agile as mountain sheep, so they use them as a trucking system to carry cargo from the airport throughout the country."


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The group of 10, plus mountain guides and assistants, who made the trek.


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Dzo—a cross between a yak and a cow—are often used as pack animals at lower elevations.




"Growing up in Chicago, I used to live in Cabrini-Green in the 1950s. One of the games my brothers and I used to play was racing from the first floor to the 19th floor. When I tell people what it’s like to trek up this mountain, it’s like you’ve already made it to the 16th floor, and you look up and see the Hancock Center on top of that, so you have to go that much further. And as soon as you get up the Hancock, there’s another Sears Tower above. Depending on where you are and which mountain it is, you can only see so far. You’re feeling pretty good because you think, I’m going to have a leveled area where I can catch my breath. And as soon as you get there, the next thing you know, it just keeps going up.

"Our acclimation day was a two and a half hour hike, and we thought that was going to kill us. The next day it went to six and a half hours, and we knew we were dead. Then it went to eight and a half hours, and with the high altitude, we had less than two-thirds of the oxygen we would have in Chicago or Indianapolis. For even the most fit athlete, their breathing is going to be compromised if they’re up that high. When you’re in the country and start your trekking, there are signs that say, “Take it slowly, high altitudes can kill.” They don’t cut any corners, they just let you know that you can be a statistic and be carried away by an emergency helicopter—at $12,000 a ride—to a hospital that might be 25 feet by about 15 feet, and if you’re lucky and your symptoms aren’t severe, you’ll be okay."






"I had heard that there would be some wifi sites on the way from the airport to base camp, so I could find out if the Blackhawks were still maintaining their winning streak and let my family know that we’re OK and doing well. On average, we had to go three days before we had wifi. On each day, I would say, “You have to make it through today, because the only way you’re going to be able to find out if the Blackhawks are still winning is to get to the wifi spot.” You needed some type of motivation, because every day you wake up and know there’s more mountain to climb. Each day that I accomplished my goal, I was closer to the next time I could check to see if the Blackhawks were still winning. It was pretty cool, being able to see that they were still doing well. It costs about 7,000 rupees (around 128 U.S. dollars) for each minute of wifi. It cost that much just to be able to find out the score and then do a quick check-in with the family. That was it.

"After I left Chicago and moved to Indianapolis, everything kept circling back to my little-boy days of growing up with the Blackhawks, White Sox, Bulls and Bears. I tell people, I live in Indiana, but my heart’s in Chicago. Bury me in Chicago, because I’m not a Hoosier."


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Sinclair checked in on his beloved Blackhawks every few days, using the team's fortunes as motivation to keep climbing.


"Growing up, I adopted the mentality that if I put my mind to anything, I can do it. I don’t deal well with losing. When I decided that I was going to do this trip, I knew that I had to condition to be in shape, because I wasn’t traveling 4,000 miles in order to not make it to base camp. For the majority of people, they’d have a water bottle, some changes of clothes, a jacket, and that’s between 5-10 pounds. I trained on the treadmill and Jacob’s ladder with my backpack and 15 extra pounds of camera equipment that I knew I had to have in order to get the shots that I needed.

"What I really want to do next is go to Churchill, Manitoba, the 'Polar Bear Capital of the World.' With global warming affecting the highway system of the bears from the North Pole to Churchill, some of them have been falling into the water and drowning, so I want to go and see the polar bears in their own environment. My wife and I also want to go to the Galapagos Islands, which has one of the most diverse populations of animals in the world. I want to see the blue-footed booby—something about that is just wrong. It’s one of nature’s jokes, and I want to photograph that. But if I hear about something out there, and it fits the budget, then I usually follow where the camera lens points."




All photos courtesy of Paul Sinclair.