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In Character with Donovan Pacholl

A conversation with an interesting Portlander
by: Courtesy of Jim Ronning Donovan Pacholl, standing near prayer flags, has made a career of introducing other folks to high adventure. Recently, he returned from leading a group to the top of Kala Patthar, 18,192 feet, near the Mount Everest base camp. No elephants were sighted, this time.

Southeast Portland resident Donovan Pacholl has been taking the adventurous on hikes and climbs around the world for 10 years. He recently returned from leading a group to Mount Everest base camp, and if you check, he has absolutely no ear hair on him. We'll let Pacholl, who runs Embark Adventures and Expeditions, explain.

Portland Tribune: Everest must have been fun.

Donovan Pacholl: You have to understand, Everest base camp is 18,000 (feet). But in order to hike there you go through a lot of emotions. You have pain and suffering. People paid a tremendous amount of money to hike really high and to end up feeling awful. But when they return home and they walk up to their friends they say, 'I've been to Everest base camp and it was the most amazing experience ever.'

Tribune: What's the most unexpected thing you've heard from a trekker?

Pacholl: '(As we reached) the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, which is 19,300 feet, one of my clients said 'Let's go home.' Seriously.

I said, 'Give me 30 minutes for pictures and we'll get out of here.'

I was in an elephant stampede once. In the middle of the night eight elephants ran through our camp. Everyone woke up, but my friend totally slept through the whole thing because he'd had too many beers the night before. And the next morning when we he woke up there was an elephant's footprint a foot away from his head.

Tribune: Did any of you take any pictures of this?

Pacholl: No. My wife and I actually tried to run up into a tree.

Tribune: So you can't actually say you shot an elephant in your pajamas, ('and what he was doing in your pajamas you have no idea' - to quote Groucho Marx). Any other traveling mishaps?

Pacholl: I try and get a haircut in all these different countries. I've had haircuts in Turkey, Morocco, Tanzania, Tibet. It's a great experience because typically you're dealing with someone who doesn't speak your language who's not used to cutting a Caucasian person's straight hair.

Tribune: What's the worst haircut you've had?

Pacholl: I had a guy in Nepal shave my head like a monk and do something with fire. He was using some kind of a lighter, throwing fireballs at my ears to burn my ear hair.

Tribune: You have a lot of ear hair?

Pacholl: No, that's what was weird. And then he tried to charge me $40. We finally agreed on $10, which was still ripping me off.

Tribune: You've always been drawn to adventure?

Pacholl: I married my wife because I knew she liked adventure. I asked her if she wanted to hike from Eagle Creek to Timberline Lodge, which is a 45-mile hike, and she said, 'Yes.'

Tribune: And the two of you have shared a lot of trekking time?

Pacholl: Yes. In fact, I almost killed her. I planned to propose on top of this 400-foot waterfall in the middle of nowhere Africa. When we got to the top it started to rain. I decided to cross to a small cave on the other side of the river. Once we got to the cave it started raining very hard and the river rose dramatically. We decided to cross back and were almost swept over the waterfall.

Tribune: Before or after you brought out the ring?

Pacholl: Before.

Tribune: Well, that could have been the stuff of legend - newly engaged couple hand in hand over the falls.

Pacholl: When I was crossing back my wallet came out of my pocket and was swept over the waterfall. It had all of our money in it and we had no way to get back to any city.

Tribune: But what about the ring?

Pacholl: I was so mad my wallet went over the waterfall that I decided to wait.

Tribune: No.

Pacholl: We were also incredibly soaked.

Tribune: But now she stays home with your two children. Say, why doesn't she get to lead the treks and you stay home with the kids?

Pacholl: We're getting to that point.