Montana State University

Montana students learn challenges, thrills of climbing Mount Everest

April 23, 2012 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service

Brietta Boyce (left) and Jada Goettlich, both sixth grade students at Winifred School, use hand-held microscopes and eye loupes to explore the properties of granite, garnet, schist, and limestone rock samples included in the Everest Education Expedition kit. (Photo courtesy of Bill Lee).    High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
BOZEMAN - More than 1,000 students across Montana are following the 2012 Mount Everest Expedition, sponsored by The North Face and National Geographic, which involves Montana State University geologist David Lageson, MSU student Travis Corthouts and The North Face global team athlete Conrad Anker, who is from Bozeman. An MSU alumnus, Kris Erickson, is also part of the expedition team.

Not only are the students seeing exotic photos and reading updates on MSU's Expedition website, but they are using some of the same equipment in the classroom that the climbers are using on Mount Everest, said Suzi Taylor, assistant director of outreach and communication at MSU's Extended University. Hundreds of others are following the expedition's dispatches, photos and videos via Facebook.

The climbers left Bozeman in mid-March, arrived at base camp April 1 and are estimated to reach the summit in mid-May in an expedition taking place nearly 50 years after the National Geographic-sponsored first American ascent of Mount Everest. At 29,035 feet, Mount Everest is the world's tallest mountain if measured from sea level to summit.

Extended University prepared 40 teacher kits and eight lesson plans to be used in Montana as the climbers ascend the mountain, Taylor said.

Students whose schools applied and were selected to receive the kits can now climb local hills and take GPS readings with expedition-quality equipment. They can use time-lapse cameras to monitor changes in nearby fields. They can use geologic rock hammers to sample the same kind of rocks that Lageson expects to collect on Mount Everest. Limestone, granite, garnet and schist rocks are included in the kits. Students can also write their observations on waterproof tablets and use National Geographic maps to follow the climbers' progress. Lageson's research is funded by a grant from National Geographic's Expeditions Council.

"The students are really jacked up. Some days it is hard to get them to think about the other parts of their education," said Bill Lee, who teaches fifth and sixth graders at Winifred School, located in north central Montana between Havre and Lewistown.

His students appreciated the enormous feat it is to climb Mount Everest when they had to breathe through a straw while climbing stairs with 10 pounds of textbooks on their backs, Lee said. In another activity, his students had to find and identify rocks that he hid on the school grounds. As a bonus before Easter, the students used their GPS units to find Easter eggs that were hidden half a mile away in the city park.

Lori Chapman, math/science teacher at Sleeping Giant Middle School (SGMS) in Livingston, said one of her students was so enthusiastic about the Everest unit that he took a "Rite in the Rain" notebook and pen home to see if he could find any conditions where the instruments won't work. "Rite in the Rain" is all-weather writing paper that sheds water so explorers and other users can write anywhere, in any weather.

In other activities, Chapman's students calculated how fast they walk in Livingston and compared it to the climbers in Mount Everest's "death zone." The students are also keeping track of the climbers' progress by placing markers on a scaled version they built of Mount Everest.

"The students have been ecstatic about being able to follow MSU's Everest expedition," Chapman said. "I feel this has been an excellent opportunity for SGMS students to tie in our earth science content into real world connections so they can better understand why and how scientists go about their investigations and the continuous opportunities to understand the history of how Montana and other similar geologic regions have formed and are changing."

The teacher kits came in waterproof expedition bags donated by The North Face. Items inside the bags were donated by 17 companies, including National Geographic and Montana companies such as Baladeo, Bozeman Deaconess Hospital and Monkey Business. A grant from the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation allowed the program to double the number of kits available to schools. The MSU Leadership Institute is supporting Corthouts' travel, so he can send updates and photos back to classrooms. (For a complete list of sponsors for MSU's education kits, go to

"As we have been calling companies and asking for donations, we have been very moved by how excited they have been," said Jamie Cornish, outreach specialist with Extended University. "They immediately grasp how exciting it is for the kids to be able to use equipment and watch people at Mount Everest using that same equipment."

Taylor said each teacher kit is worth an estimated $500. She added that schools can keep the kits, but they're encouraged to share them with multiple grades, other schools and their communities.

The lesson plans that Extended University prepared target fifth graders, but they can be adapted for other grade levels, Taylor said. Each lesson was designed to last about 45 minutes and together they cover meteorology, geology, climate science, the history/culture of Everest, glaciology and biodiversity. The educational outreach project was developed through a partnership with the Montana National Science Foundation EPSCoR program.

Even without a teacher kit, every school and all Montanans can follow the expedition and participate in learning activities by going to MSU's Everest Expedition website, Taylor said. One resource, "MSU Science Zone," is a series of one-page worksheets that offer a question, answer and short activity related to Mount Everest. Lageson also explains various aspects of Mount Everest science in one-minute videos available at the site.

Lageson and Corthouts have also been sending dispatches, photos and videos to the team's Facebook page. National Geographic and The North Face are also covering the expedition on their websites, and

Montana schools that received teacher kits are:

Biddle - Biddle School.
Big Timber - Big Timber School
Bonner - Potomac School
Bozeman -- Anderson School, Bozeman Summit School, Chief Joseph Middle School, Hawthorne Elementary, Hyalite Elementary, Middle Creek Montessori, Monforton School, Sacagawea Middle School
Browning - Napi Elementary School
Bynum - Bynum School
Butte - Whittier Elementary School
Chester -- Chester-Joplin-Inverness
Colstrip -- Frank Brattin Middle School
East Helena - East Helena School
Elliston - Elliston School
Great Falls - North Middle School
Hamilton - Daly School
Hammond -- Hammond School
Helena - Helena Middle School, Explore School, Warren Elementary School, East Valley Middle School.
Kalispell - St. Matthew's Catholic School
Kinsey - Kinsey School
Livingston - Sleeping Giant Middle School
Manhattan -- Manhattan Christian
Missoula -- Rattlesnake Elementary
Powder River -- South Stacy School
Powderville -- Spring Creek School
Rapelje -- Rapelje School.
Reed Point -- Reed Point School
Seeley Lake -- Seeley Lake Elementary
Twin Bridges - Twin Bridges School
Victor - Victor School
Winifred - Winifred School.

In addition to those Montana schools, Beitel Elementary in Laramie, Wyo., received a kit through a partnership between Montana NSF EPSCoR and Wyoming EPSCoR.

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or