Richard Smith III, 27, of Chestnut Hill, and his dad, Richard Jr., 58, of Wyndmoor, hiked to a Mount Everest base camp.
“Top of the World" was a 1972 song written, composed and performed by Richard and Karen Carpenter (“The Carpenters”), which became a Billboard number 1 hit record for two weeks in 1973.
Richard Smith III, a 27-year-old Chestnut Hill resident, was born in Flourtown more than two decades after “Top of the World” was a hit, but he says that he and his dad, Richard Jr., 58, of Wyndmoor, felt like they were literally on top of the world recently during their hike to the base camp of Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world at 29,029 feet, in the Himalayas. There are 14 mountains in the range, all higher than 8,000 feet.
“I wanted to do this once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Richard said. “You literally see stairs to the top of the world. I'm young and wanted to do it while I still have a chance. I don't go out that much … It's an experience I'll never forget. Every day when we finished hiking, I'd look at my dad and say, 'I still can't believe we're doing this. It's so unreal.' Even when you are there, you look at the huge mountains and clouds just a hundred feet up. It doesn't feel real.”
Richard attended the Crefeld School in Chestnut Hill, then boarding school in Rhode Island (“I loved it”) and Dean College in Massachusetts, where he earned cum laude honors in English. Then he worked at the Elmwood Park Zoo in Norristown, running a zipline. He now works for a real estate staging/moving company and for Fresh Market in Chestnut Hill. In his leisure hours, he enjoys painting miniature works and writing for fan fiction websites.
Richard and his dad, who owns and manages office buildings in Fort Washington, left Philadelphia last Sept. 15 and flew to Qatar (in the Persian Gulf), then to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal - 28 hours of flying in all. They spent one and a half days in Kathmandu before starting their trek, eight days of walking along mountains up to 17,000 feet and two days after coming down to unwind. They returned to Chestnut Hill on Oct. 3.
“There are no traffic lights or signs in Kathmandu,” Richard said. Residents ride “mostly mopeds. The locals are friendly. There are a lot of tourists from Europe, Australia and Asia but not many Americans. It's very expensive and takes so long to get there. And you have to do a lot of research.
“We left Kathmandu for Lukla Airport at around 3:30 a.m. local time. The skies were clear, and when we took off, the sun was just rising. Our guide, Sundip, caught up with us, and we continued our journey. The first day of the trip was both amazing and terrifying. The whole environment felt unreal, like something you would see in a movie but never in real life.
During those first hours, Richard marveled at surroundings he realized he would probably never see again. He walked across long suspension bridges that were hundreds of feet in the air and took minutes to cross. At one point, he looked down and saw the shattered remains of an older bridge. That was the last time he looked down while walking across, he said.
“On the second day, we reached Namche Bazaar, the last true piece of civilization we would experience. We spent one extra day there for acclimatization before we headed out,” Richard said. “The trek from Namche to our next destination was one of the hardest parts, at least for my dad. It was the only time in the trip he asked Sundip to carry his backpack. This was because of how much climbing up and down we had to do. Still, the scenery was amazing.”
When the Smiths started, they were walking through a tropical jungle, then a temperate forest and then grassy cliffs and shrubland. Before they started getting close to base camp, it all just became a barren, rocky wasteland. They walked for six to nine hours each day, all uphill.
Throughout the trip, they stayed at hostels called Tea Houses. “The food there was very good,” Richard said, “but since we were told to not eat any meat during our ascent, we were limited in what we could have. We mainly ate fried noodles and vegetable dumplings, and my dad quickly got sick of them…Thankfully, we discovered he could stomach instant ramen noodles.”
On the eighth day of their journey, they finally headed for base camp. “For four hours, we traversed uneven terrain on what I can only describe as rock dunes,” Richard said. “It was dangerous, and we had to be completely focused on our footing. It started snowing when we finally reached base camp, our goal. I was exhausted and had a terrible headache, but I was proud we had made it. It had been an intense and grueling experience, but we had done it. The view is so vast, it feels like it will go on forever.”
Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org