Many people in the Sea to Sky corridor know the unique disappointment that comes from a failed adventure.
Weather, poor choices, injury, or a packing error can all turn a coveted goal into a trip home.
But Michael Schauch’s failed attempt to climb an unknown Himalayan peak back in 2012 proves that sometimes life has other plans for you.
“It took me several days to get over it,” the Squamish resident recalls. “I went through this whole Jekyll-and-Hyde thing in my head. ‘Why am I being shut down here?’”
While Schauch had planned to climb the mystery mountain that first captured his attention in a photograph, he and his wife Chantal had travelled to Nepal with a handful of artist friends for another reason, too.
Back then, Nar Phu, otherwise known as “The Lost Valley,” had only recently opened up to visitors and Schauch realized that it wouldn’t be long before it changed.
Before that inevitable transformation, he thought it would be compelling to document the valley with his wife and a handful of other creatives.
“We thought, ‘Why don’t we go in with a different lens and observe and learn and capture a moment in time,’” Schauch says. “We brought a photographer, a nature artist, musician, and Chantal and I were going to do filming. That was the inception point.”
The mountain he wanted to climb was a secondary goal.
When the group finally arrived in Nepal and Schauch set out for his climb, however, things started to fall apart.
“One thing after the next started unravelling,” he recalls. “I was caught in a snowstorm at 17,000 ft., the mule with my climbing gear ran off and I was forced to hunker down in this little village called Phu.”
That’s when he started connecting with the locals—and his life would never be the same.
“[We were] spending days in their homes and we’d join them for meals with 20 people crammed into a stone house,” he says. “We couldn’t speak each other’s language, but we’d often speak with the eyes and go back to more basic ways of communicating.”
The village was intensely remote, but, above all, it seemed they valued education. Education meant a better life for children.
“I was getting all this information because I didn’t climb the mountain,” Schauch says. “We ended up going to another village where we learned there was this little school.”
When they arrived they met a young girl named Karma who was teaching English numbers to a group of about 17 kids.
“We thought, ‘This is very interesting. I felt this strong draw to this girl,’” he says.
The little girl seemingly took interest in Schauch and his wife too; in particular, she wanted to learn English from them. The couple wound up meeting with Karma’s family, including her sister Pemba.
“That was the beginning of our connection and the start of our familial connection,” Schauch says.
Since that trip, the couple has gone back every year to visit the family and in 2018, the sisters came on exchange to Squamish.
“They said one of the most amazing things for them was seeing the ocean,” Schauch says. “Growing up around landlocked, vertical terrain, just this flat horizon of water was mind blowing to them … They played instruments, skied, tried luge, all these things—stuff they would’ve had no exposure to there. They also brought a lot of their culture here.”
Throughout this time, Schauch had been keeping a detailed journal of the remarkable journey with its unexpected outcome, but it wasn’t until 2016 that he considered turning it into a book with some encouragement from Chantal.
While he enjoyed both creative writing and math in high school, after a bad mark on a story assignment, he focused on the latter talent.
“I decided to go into business instead,” he said. “I’ve loved this idea of creative writing, but it wasn’t until 2016—and this whole journey—that I came back to it.”
It took about two years to finish A Story of Karma: Finding Love and Truth in the Lost Valley of the Himalaya, but the book officially came out on Tuesday, Sept. 29 via Rocky Mountain Books.
To celebrate, Schauch will be signing copies at Armchair Books in Whistler on Saturday, Oct. 3 from 1 to 3 p.m.
“I got this great gift of meeting Karma, which I wouldn’t have otherwise had [if I had climbed the mountain],” he says. “It’s funny how things turn out.”
To find out more visit michaelschauch.com/book.