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Lessons from the Himalayas


Curriculum Center

Nevada teacher Claudia Berryman-Shafer is part of a group planning to climb Cho Oyu, a Himalayan mountain on the Nepal-Tibet border. Her husband, also a teacher, has prepared a Web site to keep her students and teachers and students around the world updated about her trip. Included: Links to lessons and activities about the Himalayas, Nepal, Tibet, and mountain climbing.

As a child, Claudia Berryman-Shafer read Annapurna, the account of a trek up that Himalyan peak, and dreamed of climbing in the Himalayas herself.

This week, Berryman-Shafer, who teaches seventh-grade science at Fernley (Nevada) Intermediate School begins her trip to reach the summit of Cho Oyu. She hopes to share her journey with students around the world.

While she is away on her seven-week expedition, her husband, James, a technology integration teacher at the same school, will oversee Cho Oyu: An 8,000 Meter Adventure, a Web site scheduled to carry reports about the trip. The site offers lessons and activities for students and includes information about the culture, history, and geography of Nepal and Tibet, the countries that share Cho Oyu, as well as activities related to altitude, geology, weather, and mountain climbing. Teachers can register to receive e-mail updates about the trip, but technical difficulties may prevent Berryman-Shafer from sending messages or photos.


"It's something I've wanted to do since I was a kid," Claudia Berryman-Shafer told Education World about her adventure. "I signed on with an expedition, and I wanted some way to involve students."

Berryman-Shafer received an unpaid leave from her teaching job for the trip; she was scheduled to leave April 6 and will return to the United States May 24. She set up lessons and activities before she left, and she will try to send regular reports of her journey, teaching as she travels. "I think it's neat that she's doing it," her husband, James, tells Education World. "I hope teachers take the time to write questions. I know how exciting an international project can be for kids."

Students in Berryman-Shafer's science classes have peppered her with questions about the trip for several weeks. They wonder how cold it will get on the mountain, what she will eat and wear, and how she will go to the bathroom, which she addressed.

The site also includes biographies and pictures of Shafer-Berryman and the other nine people in the expedition, including one other woman, as well as descriptions of mountain climbing gear, food, and routines.


Image The Himalayan trip has been one of Shafer-Berryman's goals for a long time; she had also considered climbing Mount Everest. The cost for that trip, however, was more than $100,000, James Berryman-Shafer says. "When she came up with this mountain [Cho Oyu], I said, 'Go do it,'"

Located on the border of Nepal and Tibet, Cho Oyu, at 26,906 feet high, is the sixth-highest mountain in the world. At this time of year, the weather is best for mountain climbing in that region, Berryman-Shafer says. The season lasts between two and three weeks. Travel to and from the site, some sightseeing in the area, and trip preparations will take several weeks as well. "You just hope you have everything in place when the window of weather opens," she explains.

Seven Sherpa guides will join the mountaineers. A small Tibetan ethnic group, Sherpas live in the high mountain region of the eastern Himalayas.

To reach the summit, climbers will set up a total of four camps on the mountain, each one closer to the top. They spend several days climbing and returning to a camp, in part to help them adjust to the altitude.


Both Berryman-Shafers are experienced mountain climbers, although James said his last major climb was Mount Denali in Alaska about 12 years ago. It was the couple's last activity together before they decided to get married.

A major storm kept them from reaching the top, however, and Claudia had to be taken off the mountain by helicopter with severe frostbite on her feet. She spent several months recovering.

She also faced a major challenge several years ago when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Berryman-Shafer underwent surgery and chemotherapy and continued her active lifestyle; six months after completing chemotherapy, she stood atop Mount Aconcagua, in South America, one of three cancer survivors to make it to the summit.


Berryman-Shafer said she always has enjoyed outdoor activities and, in addition to mountain climbing, has run in 100-mile trail races. She will celebrate her 52nd birthday in Tibet.

Her commitment and enthusiasm have been an inspiration to her principal, Jeffrey Freeman, who became more active himself. "She is a hero to me of sorts," Freeman tells Education World. "She urged me to get in shape, and I've lost 85 pounds over the past year. She just told me I had to get in shape. She's helped me to re-kindle my can-do attitude."

Students and staff are looking forward to following Berryman-Shafer's journey. The climb is a good example for them, Freeman says. "Our students here need role models and to know people can persevere and succeed."