Dave Legg is getting a second chance at living out his dreams of hiking in the mountains.
Not just any mountains, mind you. Legg’s dreams are of high, lofty places – trails only the very few adventuresome traverse. Trails that lead to places such as base camp at Mount Everest – the world’s tallest mountain with its peak reaching to 29,029 feet on the border between China and Nepal.
It is a long way from the doctor’s office and therapy sessions Legg endured a year ago after taking a tumble down the ramp near the cafeteria at Chugiak High School on Nov. 20, 2015. The fall broke his hip.
“I was told I may never be able to climb and hike again,” Legg, the current principal at CHS, said. “I will be honest: That news was very difficult to accept.”
And it made him worker harder at regaining the strength in his hip and legs. Last summer, he was back out in the Chugach Mountains – hiking and enjoying the trails.
Little did he know that last fall’s back-to-school night would put his dreams of taller mountains back on track – or should we say, trail?
It’s when Legg met Larry Daugherty – an Eagle River resident, radiation oncologist specialist with the Alaska Cancer Treatment Center in Anchorage and local adventurer extraordinaire who climbs two large mountains every year and as of March 2017 just finished his second Iditarod run.
Daugherty was at CHS with his daughter. Legg was handling the standard meet-and-greet that a high school principal facilitates.
It did not take long for the conversation between the two new acquaintances to turn toward mountain climbing.
As Daugherty listened to Legg relive his younger years and his 1986 attempt on Denali, he also began to hear a touch of remorse – not self-pity – but more an awareness of potential missed opportunities as Legg recounted his hip injury and the struggles his wife – Sheri Legg – has endured for the past couple years with a breast cancer battle and a Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis mixed in to the process.
Daugherty extended an offer to Legg to join him on the spring 2017 trek to Mount Everest with the non-profit organization, “Radiating Hope,” that brings much needed cancer treatment equipment to remote locations across the globe.
“I could sense from the minute I started talking to Dave that this was already enormously meaningful for him,” Daugherty told the ECHO News the morning of Wed., April 6, as he was making final preparations to depart for Nepal. “Watching him prepare for this has meant a lot to me. To me, Dave is so symbolic of the many people out there that say, ‘I wish I could or that would be awesome.’ But he is the one person who turns it around and is doing it. That is so inspirational and rare and awesome.”
If all goes as planned for the trip, Daugherty and Legg will be at Mount Everest base camp on Tues., April 18.
That is where Legg will bid his new friend, Daugherty, good luck on his attempted ascension to the summit of Mount Everest. It is also where the purpose of Legg’s trip; the purpose of his quest to trek to base camp will converge on its final step as Legg gives custody of several prayer flags to Daugherty for the later to post at the summit.
For Legg, his trek to base camp represents much more than just a victory over his own physical challenge. It is more than a celebration of his own rehabilitation from that Nov. 2015 fall.
Each step he will take across the 38.5-mile trek from Lukla, Nepal to Mount Everest base camp also honors the recent death of a childhood hero whom introduced Legg to mountain climbing and rappelling combined with a symbolic victory for Legg’s wife, Sheri, achieved each time her husband’s feet touch the ground and move forward with the next step.
Legg knows Sheri cannot make that trek. He will do it on her behalf – as well as many other cancer patients and survivors. He will carry their prayer flags – some that have been blessed by religious leaders; others full of the emotions that accompany cancer diagnosis and treatment – as his way of giving respect to the battle he has watched his sweetheart and others dear to him fight. One of the flags in Legg’s possession belongs to a current stage four cancer patient.
The tradition of carrying prayer flags to Mount Everest is an ancient one dating back to Bon traditions in Tibet thousands of years ago before the region became predominantly Buddhist.
The Bon shamans used square-shaped flag-like cloths made from primary colors in healing ceremonies. As Buddhist tradition took over the region, the use of symbols and writing emerged on the flags. Today, the tradition of carrying prayer flags to Mount Everest honors the Tibetian belief that as the harsh, swirling winds that characterize the mountain’s high reaches whip and tear the flags apart, the blessings, compassion and good will engrained in each flag by those it represents and those that bring it to its final destination is spread across the land and the prayers are immersed in the entire universe.
Along the way, Legg and his companions will visit villages and one of the medical clinics that has been a benefactor of the Radiating Hope organization. He said he looks forward to that day – to getting to see first-hand the help that doctors such as Daugherty are bringing to regions with limited resources through the non-profit organization.
The villages Daugherty and Legg will visit on their way to base camp are in high altitude regions. With Eagle River being near sea level, this dramatic elevation change could present a problem for hikers, Legg acknowledges.
When he attempted Denali – then McKinley – in 1986, he experienced high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE). It is when the brain swells with fluid because of the physiological effects of traveling to a high altitude. It generally appears in patients who have acute mountain sickness and involves disorientation, lethargy and nausea among other symptoms.
He knows how to recognize it, what to expect should it occur and what measures go a long way toward preventing it. He is confident he can handle the elevation change.
“Proper hydration, going slow and acclimatization all help,” Legg said.
On the way to base camp, each travel day is followed by a rest day, he explained. In mountain climbing, a rest day means hiking up a bit higher and then going to a lower elevation to sleep at the end of the day. This allows the body time to get used to the increasing elevations.
Along the way, he will also be able to let go of some very painful emotions regarding how his hip accident impacted his family.
At the time, Sheri was in the thick weeds of cancer treatment. Her physical needs were tremendous, yet, she was caring for her husband who could not walk.
And his now 10-year-old daughter was continuously asking him to take her on a hike up Flattop in the South Anchorage Hillside.
A summer prior to Legg’s fall at CHS and prior to Sheri’s diagnosis, the entire family planned a Flattop Hike and was in the parking lot at the popular gateway to the Chugach Mountains when Sheri told Dave her legs just were not going to work. She just was not able to make the hike. Sheri and the youngest daughter remained behind while Dave and the two older children took a day jaunt. The possibility of not being able to fulfill his promise to take his youngest daughter to Flattop – age 8 at the time – weighed heavily on his mind then and continued to during his rehabilitation.
“She just kept saying, ‘Dad, when is it my turn to go to Flattop,’” he recalled with highly detectable emotion in his voice. “When I broke my hip, I not only thought, I won’t be able to hike anymore, but I also thought, I won’t be able to take her to Flattop.”
On July 2016, Legg was able to fulfill his promise to his youngest daughter: A hike to Flattop that was much more than just a family outing. It was a turning point in which he as a father was able to make good on something that mattered deeply to his daughter. It was marked him knowing he could hike again.
Legg struggled Wednesday night to put all of the emotion associated with the trip to Mount Everest base camp in to words. The normally staunch – yet always friendly and encouraging to his staff and students – CHS principal kept saying he just did not have the right words to fully express the complete meaning this trip has for him, but that he wanted the local community to know this trip was not just about him.
“This trip goes back to all of the people that are important in my life,” he said.
Editor’s Note: The ECHO News will post reports from Daugherty and Legg’s trips as possible. To learn more about Radiating Hope and to purchase a prayer flag to be delivered to Mount Everest, visit the non-profit’s website at www.radiatinghope.org.