Misadventures in the Wild: New book by local author gets personal with outdoor reporting

As a passionate outdoor reporter for many years, Kris Millgate said there were moments that would cause her to step back out of objective “work mode” and become human.

Like the time she was nose-to-nose with a grizzly bear, and it woke up from its sedation.

“So what’s it like to go nose-to-nose with a grizzly bear? You’re going to pee your pants,” Millgate said. “I could never tell you in my news story that I peed my pants, but inside a book, I can tell you that you are so scared that you pee your pants.”

Millgate was talking about some of her personal experiences she has included in her new book “My Place Among Men — Misadventures in the Wild,” while sitting alongside the Snake River at Freeman Park last week.

Her first book tells the personal side of many of the stories she covered as an outdoors reporter. The book is due on shelves Aug. 6, and her first book signing event will be Aug. 7 at Great Harvest in Idaho Falls. The event is sponsored by Teton Land Trust. Millgate, who lives in Idaho Falls, has planned her first seven book signing events in Idaho before going out of state.

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Millgate said the book grew out of answering the question, “What’s it like to be the only woman in the woods?”

“They wanted to know what it was like to be in that moment, and I realized that maybe writing inside of a news story wasn’t giving them that,” she said.

Millgate said because of her journalistic approach, she carefully kept herself out of her stories. In her new book, she puts herself front and center, in an autobiographical way. Sometimes the stories are awkward, sometimes humorous.

One tells how she stepped away from a huddle of men collaring a bighorn sheep to get a video shot of the animal being released. Microphones were still attached to men in the group and linked to her ear.

“In the huddle as I walk away I hear, ‘Where’s she going? Does she even know what she’s doing? Is she any good?’” she said. “It’s that moment when you kind of roll your eyes and think, ‘Honestly, is he really asking if I’m any good? He has no idea of what I’m really doing. He thinks I’m just this silly little girl running around in the woods.’ I heard somebody else in the huddle say, ‘You’ll know the answer to that when you see her story.’ I was kinda proud of that moment. I don’t know who said either statement.”

A goofier story in her book involves a hunting guide in New Mexico taking her to elk habitat that was recovering.

“I’ve never been to New Mexico, I don’t know New Mexico at all,” she said. “I don’t know this guide at all. Before the sun is even up we are hiking in single file, and we have to get into our spot before the sun comes up and he says, ‘I really wish you would fart.’ I said ‘What?’ He said, ‘It would make us feel more comfortable because we have a woman with us, and we would all feel more comfortable if you’d just go ahead and fart.’ I said, ‘I don’t fart on cue, but I will be so upset if you keep talking when the sun comes up and you ruin my shot.’ ”

Kris Millgate

Kris Millgate of Tight Line Media poses for a photo at Russ Freeman Park on Tuesday, July 2, 2019.

Millgate started working as a general assignment TV reporter before she left college at the University of Utah. She bounced around to several cities across the U.S. for about 10 years. She and her husband settled in Idaho Falls, and she started the company Tight Line Media to produce stories for a variety of media and also do production work. Millgate is a lifetime member of Trout Unlimited and former commissioner for Idaho Falls Parks and Recreation. She’s a fly fisher, trail runner and youth hockey coach.

During her time at other cities, she always wanted to get back West. Unlike several other female TV reporters, she didn’t mind getting a little dirty.

“I was the only one that would keep boots in my car,” she said. “So I could go from court to a farmer’s field and get muddy, and I’d have the boots to do it.”

Millgate grew up in Utah surrounded by the Wasatch Mountains.

“A lot of people will say, ‘Do you miss those mountains because mountains don’t surround us here?’” she said. “I do miss the Wasatch Mountains, but I would not trade them for the Snake River.”

She grew up hiking the mountains with her father.

“My mother says I don’t have a danger gene, which is true, but my dad doesn’t have an internal compass,” she said. “We were always lost, and he would never admit it. I learned to follow him wherever he was going. It taught me persistence and endurance and patience. I use all of those skills in my job now.”

The book shows readers a personal side of many of the major outdoor issues facing the West today, such as public lands, grizzly bears, wolves and the loss of salmon in the West. It was stories such as these that pulled her into outdoor reporting.

“Those stories mattered, and you have to get dirty to get those, or you have to get cold,” she said. “There were days when it was 20 below, and my batteries were in my armpits, and the snot freezes in my nose. Some people don’t have any interest in having a workday like that. But I do. I think the stories that come out of the wild are just fascinating.”

Now with her new book, readers will learn her reaction to the experiences. Her human side.

“Inside those stories there’s a moment where I stop what I’m doing, and even though my camera is still rolling I step back as a human and look at the moment and think, I’m on top of a beaver dam and looking at the first Chinook I’ve ever seen in my life,” she said. “I’m human right then, I’m not a reporter. You feel things in a different way when you flip from work mode to personal mode. Those moments go into the book.”

Is it over? Nah, crappie are still biting

Normally I do good crappie fishing until the end of May, maybe the first week of June, but the last few years I have been doing well on up until early September. This year, though, it may be slipping back into the old routine. Katy and I went the last week of June and only caught 45. Then the first week of July we only got 12 to 15 fish. But two were big bluegills, and my wife, Katy, got one nice bass.

But we did lose a little time because of boat troubles. The trolling motor on the jon boat gave up the ghost, and we had to paddle back all the way across the lake. Luckily, there was zero wind. I haven’t had to paddle that much since I canoed the Mississippi with the Quapaw Canoe Co. a few years back. Because of the lack of wind which you normally have to deal with on the C. J. Strike Reservoir, it wasn’t really bad at all. We made it across in record time before the wind started kicking up.

The crappie we are catching now are on the smaller side. And as is usually the case, the more the spring/summer progresses, the smaller they get. I assume because fishermen have culled through the larger fish ,but it could also be that the bigger fish have moved out deeper.

I fish and hunt all day but you’ll do better as a general rule on all outdoor activities at daylight/dusk. Fish and animals have their own schedules. If you want to be successful, you will be there when they’re moving. If you want to sleep in and come out after brunch, you can — just don’t expect them to wait on you. For instance we’re going Kokanee fishing on Monday with the Lucky Tackle Co. We’re meeting in Boise at 5:30 a.m. I just throw in this advice for all of the little yuppie fishermen who think they can be successful outdoors by strolling out from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

There are a lot of methods you can employ to be successful catching crappie, but we catch hundreds of crappies with the plain ole tube jig. How windy it is which will determine how big of a jig head I will use. I say this because if I am blowing along pretty fast, my jig won’t get down to where I want it to be. But with that said, I use a smaller jig no matter what and just add a small split shot if necessary.

Big jigs sink too fast, and I hang up and I don’t catch as many fish as I do with smaller jig heads. For whatever reason, I catch a lot more fish using a smaller jig head. I can’t tell you if the smaller weight stays in the zone where the fish are or if it just floats more naturally. I just know that it works. Instead of carrying bigger jigs for when it is super windy, I just clip on a small split shot or two.

One thing that I have started using the last few years is Crappie Nibbles. This year I switched to Pautzke Fireball Crappie Nibbles. Using nibbles will increase your hits big time. I discovered this by mistake. A couple of years ago, I ran over to do a two-day crappie trip. Unbelievable. I forgot my tackle box. Luckily, I had taken a handful of rods and everyone was rigged up with jigs from the last trip. More unbelievable is that I never lost a set-up. I had a bottle of Crappie Nibbles I’d found and used them. I caught more fish than ever before and have used them ever since.

As far as jig color. It seems to change every year or two as to what works best. Of course a lot of it is determined by the sunshine or lack thereof. So always carry multiple colors. And at the start of the day, have everyone using a different color until you determine which color works best. If the bite slows down, try a different color.

And lastly, you will be catching large numbers of fish, so you’ll want an electric fillet knife. I just got a Waring Commercial Electric Knife, which is sweet because it is cordless. That means I can fillet fish with an electric knife on overnighters.

So as we close, even though most people consider the spring crappie fishing season to be over, don’t quite give up yet. I plan on milking it for a little longer.

Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana.

3D Archery Shoot and Tournament to be held July 27-28 at Pebble Creek Ski Area

INKOM — Pocatello Field Archers and Pebble Creek Ski Area will be hosting the third Annual 3D Archery Shoot and Tournament. This event is open to the public and will be held on July 27 and 28 at Pebble Creek Ski Area in Inkom. There will be an A and B course on the mountain, and you must shoot both courses for a score. Also, there will be a kids course set up by the lodge for kids to shoot. Prizes will be awarded for first, second and third place in each age group as well as for the kids events.

This event is open to everyone with discounted rates for Pocatello Field Archers members. The price per day is $10 for member adults, $15 for non-member adults, $5 for member kids 12 and under, and $10 non-member kids. A member family can participate for $40 and non-member families are $50. Individuals may enter or three shooters (men and women) can make a class. Classes are for bow hunters, open, traditional, male, female and youth. A money class is available for $50 with a 60 percent payout with a $250 guarantee. There will be a smoker round and a long dot shoot with 70 percent payouts as well as $800 for money dots on the course. These fees are for the 3D shoot and do not include the $10 lift ticket for adults or $5 for kids ages 6 to 12.

Chair lift rides will start at 8 a.m. and run until 2 p.m. Shoot hours are from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the lodge. The lodge will be open for food and beverages during shoot hours. Breakfast, lunch and drinks will be available for purchase. Camping is available in the ski area parking lot. For more information, contact the Pocatello Field Archers at 208-251-3763 or Pebble Creek Ski Area.

Volunteers needed to construct fence to improve Pocatello’s municipal watershed

The U.S. Forest Service and the city of Pocatello are partnering to construct a wildlife-friendly fence to protect the municipal watershed southwest of Pocatello in the Gibson Jack and West Fork Mink Creek drainages. The agencies are looking for volunteers to help install the fence. Two work days are scheduled for July 20 and Aug. 24.

Training will be provided, but volunteers should bring leather gloves and eye protection. Those interested in participating should contact the Westside Ranger District at 208-236-7500 so they can coordinate logistics and necessary gear. Volunteers may also meet at the Cherry Springs Nature Area at 9 a.m. July 20.

“Preserving and ensuring water quality is important to the citizens of Pocatello,” said Lori Bell, Westside District ranger. “This project gives people a chance to come together and help manage their public lands” 

“This project will help the city for years to come,” Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad said. “Not only have several partners contributed financially to the success of this endeavor but now every individual has a personal opportunity to physically contribute to improving our watershed.”

Idaho Fish and Game donated $20,000 to pay for fencing materials and the city of Pocatello and USFS marked the fence line. Forest Service Fire Crews cleared the line of vegetation prior to fire season and then the Youth Work Crew installed the H-braces. They are now looking for volunteers to help with the final step of installing fence posts and stringing barbed wire.

For more information, contact the Westside Ranger District at 208-236-7500 or the city of Pocatello at 208-234-6225.

Grand Teton’s refurbished Jenny Lake ready to take on the public

A project, started in 2012 and employing more than 100,000 hours of labor to spruce up, rehabilitate and rebuild the Jenny Lake area in Grand Teton National Park, has finally been completed.

With a snip of the ribbon earlier this month, national park officials and the Grand Teton National Park Foundation celebrated the refurbished Jenny Lake area, the park’s most popular destination.

Leslie A. Mattson, president of the Grand Teton National Park Foundation noted a long list of changes from exhibits, to kiosks, to the walkways under your feet.

“Everything is going to be different,” Mattson said. “The central area where the visitors center is and the store there has all been redone. There are interpretive exhibits outside. There’s a bronze relief map of the mountain range, there’s interpretive elements that talk about the history of climbing the Grand Teton. The visitors center has been updated and redone inside, it’s absolutely beautiful.”

She said there also are some interpretive elements and access to the lake shoreline from the visitors center is also disabled accessible.

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A photo of an eroded trail leading to Hidden Falls on the west side of Jenny Lake before the trail was refurbished.

Also, heavy revamping was done to eroded trails around the lake and rerouting and refurbishing trails from the boat dock on the west side of the lake to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point.

“There was an area on the hike to Hidden Falls where four points of the trail were all intersecting and it was very confusing,” Mattson said. “In fact the rangers called it “confusion junction” because kids would get lost there. They might be ahead of their parents and the parents didn’t know which way they went. That’s been eliminated.”

The park said in a news release that work completed reduces congestion and ambiguity by creating suggested directional trails, larger boat docks, increased restroom facilities, and designated areas to rest and take in the stunning views. Mattson said an old bridge has been replaced with an “absolutely beautiful” new bridge.

“Jenny Lake’s trails, bridges, key destinations, and visitor complex have transformed into a portal for discovery and now allow people with a wider range of abilities to connect with the park in meaningful, memorable ways,” the park said in a news release.

Park trail crews specifically worked to improve drainage of rainwater and snowmelt on Jenny Lake trails to fix erosion. Some trails suffered from rocks and tree roots being exposed by years of use and erosion.

One of the trail sections that benefited from the revamp was the route to Inspiration Point.

“That is a lot of intense rock work by the trail crew here,” Mattson said. “It’s been made safer and easier for people to access that. It’s still a wilderness experience — it is a backcountry — but it’s much easier and safer than it was.”

“The transformation that has taken shape at Jenny Lake … would not have been possible without the incredible public-private partnership between the foundation and the park,” Mattson said. “We cannot wait for visitors to experience the renewed Jenny Lake area.”

The foundation raised $14.5 million and the National Park Service contributed more than $6 million to make the transformation a reality.

Standard calibers or Magnums?

Maybe it was inevitable that I would grow up to be a hunter and look forward to deer and elk season each year. Both my grandfathers were big game hunters as well as bird hunters. Unfortunately, my grandfather Merkley died before I was born, so I never was able to hunt with him. My grandfather Andersen was in his mid 60s when I was born and had stopped hunting by the time I was old enough to start hunting.

My father started me off by taking me jack rabbit hunting on the Arco desert during the 1950s. When I was 12 years old I received a .30-30 Winchester for deer hunting, and my grandfather Andersen gave me the only hunting rifle he owned, a .30-40 Krag-Jorgensen, a rifle that was almost taller than I was. He had hunted both deer and elk with that rifle.

Although I never hunted with my grandfathers, I did hunt with my father’s older brothers, so many of my grandfather Merkley’s lessons on hunting and firearm safety as well as proper care and storage of firearms were handed down to me.

No one on either my mother or father’s side of the family ever owned a Magnum-caliber hunting rifle until I decided to purchase a .300 Weatherby Magnum and began considering a couple of others. Now my son has purchased a couple of Magnum rifles also.

Today some of the most interesting discussions among hunters deal with the merits of standard hunting calibers as opposed to various Magnum calibers that became available to hunters starting in the late 1940s. Most advocates of the old standard hunting calibers such as the .30-30, .270 Winchester, .308, .30-40 Krag and .30-06 will tell you that those old standard calibers will kill and continue to kill everything on the North American continent including the big bears of the Rocky Mountain Northwest, Canada and Alaska, and they are absolutely correct.

Hosea Sarber, an Alaskan hunter, guide and game officer out of Saint Petersburg Alaska, killed most of the problem bears he was sent to dispatch with either a .270 Win or a .30-06. His favorite load for the .30-06 was the now-obsolete 172-grain Western Tool and Copper company cartridge with an open-point bullet. Jack O Conner, a popular outdoor and hunting writer, preferred a 180-grain Remington round-nose Core-Lokt bullet in .30-06 caliber, which he always referred to as the perfect bear medicine. Dave Hetzler, of Petersen’s Hunting Magazine, once said, “If I can’t get it done with a .30-06, I can’t get it done.”

However, the cheering section for Magnum calibers will at least insinuate that if you play around with North America’s big stuff using any of the standard calibers that my grandfathers and uncles used, you are going to get your profile really messed up eventually, and probably eaten. Therefore, you ought to be doing your serious hunting with one of the more powerful Magnums.

So who is right, the standard caliber advocates or the Magnum cheering section? As is usually the case, one has to make that decision based on the advantages and disadvantages as perceived by the individual.

Using the .270 Winchester and .30-06 as examples of standard calibers, the advantages I see are adequate power out to several hundred yards, inherent accuracy, easily available ammunition in several bullet weights, reasonably flat trajectories over 300 to 400 yards, versatility for several different species of game animals and acceptable recoil with which most can become very comfortable.

The primary disadvantages of standard calibers are less bullet weight, loss of effective power over distance and accompanying bullet drop over distance.

If you think that the .270 or .30-06 are marginal for the bigger bears in North America, stop and think for a moment. Once a hunter finds a bear, the distance is usually under 100 yards, and at 100 yards or less both the .270 and especially the .30-06 “hit like a ton of bricks,” to coin a phrase. However, both calibers have taken North American bruins of all sizes at considerably more than 100 yards and were doing so before magnum calibers became popular.

The 700 Remington Magnum and the various .300 Magnums as well as the .375 H&H, and .340 Weatherby Magnums are cartridges with a purpose. That purpose is to achieve higher velocity with any given bullet, and in some cases larger heavier bullets, while achieving flatter trajectories over greater distances than the standard calibers.

The advantage is more retained power at distance and less bullet drop. The disadvantages are more expensive ammo whether or not one reloads, generally a rifle with a couple extra pounds to carry around, and more than twice as much recoil in some cases, which makes most people flinch in anticipation of the shot. Recoil of the Magnum calibers really isn’t something most people are completely comfortable with. However, it can be tolerated by some to the point that they can concentrate on sight picture right through the shot with no flinching.

Typically, an 8-pound .30-06 firing a 180-grain bullet will recoil back at the shooter with 20 foot-pounds of energy at a speed of 12.8 feet per second. A 9-pound .300 Weatherby Magnum firing a 180-grain bullet will recoil back at the shooter at close to 35 foot-pounds of energy at a speed of 15 feet per second. A 9-pound .375 H&H Magnum firing a 300-grain bullet will recoil back at the shooter with about 40 foot-pounds of energy, at a speed of 16.3 feet per second. A 9-pound .340 Weatherby Magnum firing a 250-grain bullet will recoil back at the shooter with 43 foot-pounds of energy at 17.6 feet per second. We all have a limit as to how much recoil we can ignore without flinching in order to get an accurate shot off.

It makes little sense to hunt with one of the Magnum calibers if you are thinking about the recoil when you could shoot a standard caliber that will do the job and with which you are more comfortable.

An Alaskan guide and outfitter put it in perspective once when he advised me, “If you can shoot your Magnum rifle really well, then bring it; otherwise your .30-06 will do just fine.”

Smokey Merkley was raised in Idaho and has been hunting since he was 10 years old. He can be contacted at mokeydo41245@hotmail.com.

New group conducting routine City Creek trail maintenance

POCATELLO — Some of the paths within the City Creek Trail system are no longer choked by overgrown brush and overhanging branches, thanks to a new volunteer group.

The volunteers meet twice per month to conduct City Creek trail maintenance. They say trail users should expect to see more sections of the popular recreation area better manicured in the near future. 

Old Town Pocatello-based East Fork Bikes has partnered with the staff at Fairway Independent Mortgage to organize regular volunteer trail maintenance shifts, starting at 7 p.m. on the first and third Tuesdays of each summer month. The group launched on June 18 and plans to continue with trail maintenance through September. 

Volunteers meet at East Fork, 346 N. Main St., and gather back at the shop after completing their work for a free dinner. The Sand Trap Grill caters the food at a discounted rate, and a few local businesses, such as Brizzee Family Medicine and Art of Motion Chiropractic pitch in to help buy the meals.

“If we want the quality of the trails to stay the same then more people are going to have to start pitching in on the maintenance of the trails,” said Ty Nelson, owner of East Fork. “You don’t have to be a biker to come help with the trail maintenance.”

Jeremy Lambson, with Fairway Independent Mortgage, said he and his staff were mulling ways to do community service. As an avid cyclist since 1994, he thought trail maintenance at City Creek would be an apt way to give back to the community — especially given that the former Pedal Fest mountain bike race, which used to raise funds for building bridges and other projects at City Creek — has been discontinued.

“We felt somebody needed to keep that up,” Lambson said, referring to the void left in the absence of Pedal Fest. “We just saw a need.”

Lambson approached Nelson about the concept. Nelson already had similar plans in mind. During the most recent maintenance session, about 17 volunteers showed up to work for about two hours, trimming branches throughout the entire main stem trail of City Creek.

During the next maintenance session, Lambson said the group will focus on the Burrito and Prison Loop trails — cutting weeds, installing erosion bars and filling in ruts.

Lambson anticipates participation in the maintenance sessions will grow considerably.

“On any give day, we’ve got 400 to 500 trail users on City Creek alone, and I would say we’ve got another 400 to 500 runners,” Lambson said. “It shouldn’t be hard to get 40 (volunteers) one day for an hour and a half.”

The group works closely with the city in planning its projects.

Lambson also envisions organizing a bike festival in August, to be called the Rubber Side Down Festival. He’s planning to host road cycling and mountain biking relay races for teams of four.

“We want to involve anybody who cycles in any capacity,” Lambson said.

Though the group is devoted to trail maintenance, Lambson also plans to pursue approval for a new trail this fall, which would be an advanced course for downhill bikers spanning from the Ritalin trail to 911.

Casey Hyde, another volunteer from the mortgage company, hopes the maintenance nights will “gain traction” so that they become a local summer tradition.

For more information about the group, visit East Fork Bikes on Facebook.

Department of Ag offers tips on preventing invasive species on watercrafts

So far this year, the Idaho State Department of Agriculture has performed more than 45,000 watercraft inspections looking for invasive species. In those inspections, 35 mussel-fouled watercraft carrying dead, non-viable mussels have been found.

The inspections, with are in its 11th season, are done to prevent spreading invasive species such as quagga and zebra mussels.

Before launching on Idaho waters, all watercraft must have a current invasive species sticker, which is sold by the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation at many locations across the state.

“Keeping Idaho’s waterways free from invasive species requires the diligence of all boat owners, including non-motorized vessels,” said Jennifer Okerlund, communications manager for the IDPR. “Idaho law states that any motorized or non-motorized boat operating in Idaho is required to display an Invasive Species Fund sticker. Only inflatable, non-motorized vessels that are less than 10 feet in length are exempt from this requirement.”

Tips for avoiding the growth of invasive species on a watercraft include: 

  • Clean watercraft and equipment before leaving any body of water. Clean watercraft, anchors, planes, trailers, waders, shoes, and gear for visible plants and pests. Dispose of material on-site in a trash can or on high, dry ground where there is no danger of it washing into water.
  • Drain water from all equipment, including motors, live wells, sea strainers, wakeboard ballast tanks, boat hulls, scuba gear, bait buckets and boots. Pull the boat’s bilge plug and allow water to drain.
  • Dry all vessel compartments and lay equipment out to dry before using in a different body of water.

The ISDA operates 20 watercraft inspection stations positioned at important corridors into Idaho. The program also includes six roving inspection teams. Law enforcement officers also play a role in the watercraft inspection program and have turned back nearly 1,000 vehicles traveling with boats or watercrafts. 

“We’ve worked hard on this program but we certainly haven’t worked alone,” said ISDA Director Celia Gould. “We are very grateful for committed cooperators, law enforcement service, strong legislative backing, and the support of important partners such as Idaho Power. A collaborative approach is the only option for a threat of this magnitude.”

Watercraft users are required by law to stop for inspection when traveling past an Idaho invasive species station during operating hours.  

The ISDA operates a hotline at 877-336-8676 for anyone needing information or a free decontamination wash for watercraft that may have been in mussel-infested waters. More information on the operation of inspection stations is available here.

Idaho man climbs Mount Everest for 20th time

BOISE — In recent weeks, crowds of climbers attempting to conquer Mount Everest have made international headlines as several people died in “traffic jams” atop the tallest peak in the world.

Ang Dorjee Sherpa, a Boise resident, was there. He saw the lines of people at the top of the 29,029-foot peak. He made it to the summit and safely descended, and all members of the group he was leading accounted for.

Ang Dorjee, who works as a guide for New Zealand-based Adventure Consultants, estimates about 300 climbers were lined up at the summit on May 22, the same day a Utah man died of altitude sickness on the mountain. In the following days, eight other climbers died on Everest.

The Nepalese-born guide understood, perhaps better than almost anyone in the world, just how unusually crowded Everest was this spring. That’s because it was Ang Dorjee’s 20th trip to the summit.

“In 2013 was the busiest (I’d seen it),” Ang Dorjee told the Idaho Statesman in an interview just days after returning from Nepal. “This year got worse than that time.”

He said the traffic jams start just below the summit, where the route to the peak is very narrow.

“The ascending part is easy,” Ang Dorjee, 49, said. “A lot of people die on the way down. They don’t think about (when they’re at the top), they’re only halfway.”

SAFELY SUMMITING EVEREST

Everest is always risky, Ang Dorjee said. Which is likely why only four people have climbed the mountain more times than Ang Dorjee has. (“A lot of people ask me, ‘Do you want to go for a record?’ “ he said. “I’m not that interested in that.”)

The key to getting there and back safely, Ang Dorjee said, is to go with an experienced guide. In spite of the recent rash of deaths on the mountain and worries of overcrowding, Ang Dorjee said conditions on Everest are better now than they’ve been since he started climbing in the early 1990s.

“Compared to then, everything is better,” he said. “You can get internet and everything around Base Camp.”

Sophie Hilaire, a 31-year-old Army veteran from New York City, was part of the group Ang Dorjee was guiding in May.

“I remember meeting him for the first time on our trek to Everest Base Camp and being starstruck,” Hilaire wrote in an email. “I was thrilled to learn from and climb with an Everest legend!”

After spending seven weeks together, Hilaire said, she began to think of Ang Dorjee as a mentor and friend. He offered feedback and pointers, which Hilaire said made her a better mountaineer.

In addition, his deep roots in climbing and in Nepal were crucial.

“He played a really valuable role for our team as a guide and former Sherpa, often acting as the bridge between our Western guides/base camp team and our sherpas,” Hilaire said. “There aren’t a lot of Sherpas who are also Western guides. He’s a rarity.”

Ang Dorjee said there are a few things every Everest hopeful should know: They should have avalanche rescue training, know how to rappel, be aware of how to dress properly for the climb, have expertise in both ascending and descending, and train for the altitude on peaks around 23,000 to 24,000 feet.

Of course, there’s plenty more when it comes to being prepared for such a feat. But having an expert on your side doesn’t hurt.

“He was right next to me on our summit day, and I can’t describe how overwhelmed with gratitude I was as he led our team to the top of the planet,” Hilaire said.

ANG DORJEE’S MOUNTAINEERING BACKGROUND

Ang Dorjee grew up in Pangboche, Nepal, where his father led expeditions as a Sherpa, the Himalayan guides known for their mountaineering skills.

He started his mountaineering career as a teenager, when he would work as a porter on climbing expeditions. From there, he became a sirdar — the Sherpa in charge of managing all of the other Sherpas in an expedition.

“When I first started working with Ang Dorjee in 2000, he was a climbing sirdar, supervising the mountain staff, carrying loads, establishing camps, fixing ropes and ensuring the logistical pyramid was put in place; no easy task,” fellow Adventure Consultants guide Mike Roberts wrote in an email.

Roberts was part of Ang Dorjee and Hilaire’s group that summited in May.

Ang Dorjee was working as a sardar in May 1996 when his group was caught in a blizzard. The storm, known as the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, killed eight people. The trip was the basis for the 1997 book “Into Thin Air” and 2015 movie “Everest.”

Roberts said Ang Dorjee has a passion for climbing and “remains intrinsically driven to climb.”

“The high, icy realm of the Himalaya holds a compelling draw for him that is in many ways spiritual,” Roberts said. “When climbing with Ang Dorjee, I’ll often (hear) him reciting Buddhist chants and prayers, as an act of reverence and for safety and success.”

Hilaire noticed the same practice. She said it was a welcome part of the journey.

“Whenever I was next to him while we went through the (Khumbu) Icefall, I’d hear him praying. … It made me feel even more connected to the spiritual part of the journey, and safe,” Hilaire said.

Ang Dorjee moved to Eastern Washington in 2002 with his wife and two children. In 2014, he told the Tri-City Herald that he might retire from mountaineering after his 17th summit of Everest. Five years later, he’s still climbing.

“I keep saying, ‘A few more years,’ “ Ang Dorjee told the Statesman. “Why do I keep going back? I have a lot of family, siblings there.”

And leading an expedition means the opportunity to hire local Sherpas, an economic boon for the area.

“As the youngest member of his family, according to Sherpa tradition, Ang Dorjee is responsible to take care of his parents in their retirement, a responsibility he took seriously,” Roberts said. “Just last week when I was in Kathmandu with Ang Dorjee, he went to a series of schools paying fees for multiple nieces and nephews that he wishes to get a good education, and opportunities he never had.”

In 2016, Ang Dorjee moved to Boise. He’d been through the Treasure Valley while working as a wind turbine mechanic. He said he enjoyed seeing people hiking and biking in the Foothills when he visited.

He hasn’t spent much time in Idaho, as his adventure consulting work takes him all around the world. He’s spent some time in the Sawtooth mountains and enjoys mountain biking and hiking around Boise. But the terrain doesn’t compare to the Himalayas.

“I don’t really call them mountains,” Ang Dorjee said with a smile. “These are hills.”