Francis Davis/The Montana Standard
Francis Davis/The Montana Standard
BUTTE, Mont. (AP) – It’s a classic story of a small-town boy making good, but for Cody Cavill, the story has just begun.
Cavill, a junior at the University of Montana-Western in Dillon, is spending a month in Nepal for an internship at the Khumbu Climbing Center, a nonprofit that trains sherpas and other Nepali guides about safe climbing techniques.
The center was started in honor of legendary mountaineer Alex Lowe, who died in 1999 while attempting to become the first American to ski down Tibet’s Shishapangma, the world’s 14th-highest mountain, which rises more than 26,000 feet.
Cavill, 21, who grew up on a sheep farm 30 miles outside Miles City, Mont., said he first got interested in climbing his freshman year, when he took a beginning rock-climbing class from professor Steve Mock.
Mock was Lowe’s climbing partner and has volunteered at the center since 2008. Cavill will serve as an equipment manager with the center, but he said he is willing to do anything to be useful.
“I’m really excited,” said Cavill. “That doesn’t even begin to describe it. I just never thought I’d get to go. I heard and marveled about Steve’s stories for years. It just sounded like the coolest project in the world to be able to help people in an amazing place at the same time.”
Cavill, an anthropology and environmental interpretation major, left for Nepal this week for his monthlong internship and will return Feb. 8.
The center is based in a small village of about 500 people that has no running water and minimal electricity. Cavill plans to keep a journal about his experiences in the Buddhist enclave and will offer a presentation when he returns to Dillon.
Mock said the experience should certainly broaden Cavill’s perspective.
“It’s about as far away (from Montana) as you can get and still be on this planet,” said Mock. “It will be a great cultural experience.”
Mock will be joined by fellow UMW professor Rob Thomas. The climbing course will feature 60 to 80 students and six climbing instructors. The instructors will include Conrad Anker, the Bozeman, Mont., climber who was part of the team that found George Mallory’s body on Everest in 1999.
“I’m stoked; while I’m there (I’ll) pick up on a lot of the culture and document as much as I can and bring that back,” said Cavill. “Everyone that is going is a pretty phenomenal person. They all have pretty impressive backgrounds. I’m definitely the kid. I’m just hoping I do whatever I can to live up to their expectations.”
Cavill credits Mock as a mentor and a friend, and said climbing has made his college experience unique.
“He’s helped me a ton,” said Cavill. “He’s a hugely influential guy. I took his climbing course as a freshman. I never touched any rock-climbing equipment before, and I really enjoyed it a lot and met a great group of friends who became my core group of friends here. We really bonded in the climbing class. I wouldn’t say any of us are rock stars. We are just kids who like to go climb.”
As one who had always loved the outdoors, Cavill said that he quickly fell in love with the climbing culture.
“It’s exhilarating. It’s a way to push yourself,” he said. “And I like being outside. I like the crowd that runs in that group. It very quickly builds a trust in others that you don’t find in other pursuits. It’s great to have the college life and go drink beer with your friends, but you’re going to build a lot better friendships if you’re outside doing something that builds trust like that.”
Cavill has worked as a firefighter during the summer and works at the Patagonia outlet in Dillon. Though he doesn’t know exactly what he will do when he graduates, he’s pretty sure that climbing will be part of it.
“For now, the plan is to stay in fire and keep as debt-free as possible, finish up my schooling, maybe stay in fire as a career,” he said. “But I think climbing will always be part of what I do.”