Carmel Valley resident experiences Himalayan adventure

John Montague atop Mt. Everest base camp marker on Khumbu glacier.
John Montague atop Mt. Everest base camp marker on Khumbu glacier.
(Elizabeth Soroka)

Many people edging toward retirement use their vacation time to do laid-back things like lolling on seaside beaches, chilling by resort pools or taking cruises.

John Montague, PhD, 63, of Carmel Valley, spent his time off in late October through early November by trekking nearly 50 miles in the Himalayas, including the ascent of Kala Patthar, an 18,300-foot mountain.

“I like to hike and I like adventure and this was a wonderful hiking adventure,” Montague said in a recent interview at his home.“Part of the reason I took this trip is that I am heading into retirement and wanted to kick off the next phase of my life with some meaningful adventures. The Mt. Everest Base Camp trip was out of this world. It was an amazing experience.

“It was also the personal challenge of being up at that elevation. The highest I had been before was 13,500 feet and I wasn’t sure 18,500 feet was something I could do. Fortunately, when the time came, I was able to get up there.”

A native of Oakland, Montague’s passion for hiking blossomed in childhood when he went with his family on trips to Desolation Wilderness near Lake Tahoe, including backpacking jaunts with his brother.

John Montague on his Mt. Everest Base Camp trip.
John Montague on his Mt. Everest Base Camp trip.
(Elizabeth Soroka)

After graduating from high school, Montague attended UC Berkeley, then pursued his studies at UCSD before embarking on a career as a clinical psychologist.

He has lived in Carmel Valley since 1991. While maintaining his career and supporting a family, Montague continued his interest in travel and adventure.

Last summer, Montague said, he hiked up to Alta Peak in Sequoia National Park and Mt. Tallac in Desolation Wilderness. He’s also been to the Galápagos Islands and snorkeled in the Republic of Palau in Micronesia.

“I like being in nature and enjoying more exotic areas,” Montague said.

The recent trip to Nepal wasn’t his first. He had traveled there in 2015 to visit a friend working at the U.S. Embassy. They hiked up to the base camp of Annapurna, the 10th highest mountain in the world at 26,545 feet above sea level.

John Montague at another stop on his trek.
John Montague at another stop on his trek.
(Elizabeth Soroka)

A base camp is where mountain climbers rest up and acclimatize to high altitude in their quests to reach higher summits. Annapurna’s camp is at about 13,500 square feet.

Many such as Montague, however, enjoy the experience of venturing to a high-elevation base camp without taking on the safety risks and vast expense of conquering the likes of Annapurna and Everest, earth’s highest mountain at 29,000 feet.

“My buddy and I thought Annapurna was going to be our warmup to Everest base camp,” Montague said.

This year, he signed up for Stanford Travel/Study’s 2022 Mount Everest Base Camp Trek.

The trip was led by veteran mountaineer and high-altitude trainer Dean Cardinale, founder of World Wide Trekking. He has summited Mt. Everest and many other tall peaks and led numerous expeditions.

“He was an outstanding guide,” Montague said. “I felt very confident under his leadership.”

The Everest group consisted of 21 hikers, plus 20 Sherpas, the legendary Nepalese climbers and guides who provided support, Montague said.

Also, he said, the entourage included several Himalayan oxen known as yaks that hauled gear under the guidance of their tenders.

The trekkers were treated to a tour of sites in Nepal’s ancient capital of Kathmandu after which they flew to the entrance of Everest National Park.

Over the next 11 days, they hiked from 8,613 feet above sea level at Phakding to the Everest Base Camp at 17,688 feet.

Montague was among those who chose to climb up Kala Patthar mountain at 18,300 feet.

Along the way, the climbers experienced views of Mount Everest, crossed deep river gorges on rope bridges, traipsed over treacherous glaciers and stayed at rustic Nepalese tea houses.

“I was constantly in awe, hiking through areas where I was surrounded by mountains that were 22,000 feet or higher,” he said. “The grandeur is hard to put into words. The mountains are majestic and powerful and awe-inspiring.”

Aside from the demands of constant elevation gains, the hikers endured sparse oxygen levels and freezing temperatures.

“Another positive was the camaraderie,” he said. “It was a good group of people who like to hike and were patient with the challenges they faced. People didn’t really complain about the cold or the air or the rustic accommodations. Everyone pulled together and helped each other.”

Montague is already planning the next adventure — a white-water rafting trip to Costa Rica with his children.

“I think my physical training and preparation for the (Everest) trip was good for my retirement,” he said. “I feel more fit now than I have at any time in the last five years.”

In an email Montague added that “I like challenges and wanted to start my retirement by proving I could still do something hard. I wanted to kick off retirement with the hardest thing I could think of so that later on I could more readily enjoy the easier trips to come. And the preparatory exercise was a good way to prepare myself for the coming years.”