This is a guest post from LuminAID Ambassador Sunny Stroeer, climber and adventurer, about her recent trek sharing light in the peaks of Nepal.
I discovered LuminAID through Cairn [Subscription Box] long before I was a professional mountain athlete or full-time adventurer. Have you ever taken a peak inside a Cairn? I don’t mean cairn rock piles, but the subscription box - essentially the outdoor industry’s answer to BarkBox. Back when I still was trying my hand at adulting (ha…) by holding down a proper job and enjoying the luxury of a certain amount of disposable income, I had a Cairn subscription - and I’m glad I did, because Cairn introduced me to products and brands that I might never otherwise have heard of: brands like LuminAID whose inflatable solar lights quickly turned into some of my favorite outdoor accessories.
I’ve been loving and using their lights ever since - first for weekend warrior backpacking trips and later, after becoming a full-time nomad, as one of the primary light sources in my van; to provide lighting for my outdoor photography work and also as a staple tent accessory for the high altitude mountaineering teams that I now lead.
The trusty old PackLite 16 - always along for the ride
Speaking of high altitude mountaineering: last year I tried to open up a new route on a 6,000m in Nepal with my Sherpa friend Mingma Tenjen. I had a couple of PackLite 16s along for the ride, and I could see Mingma’s eyes light up when he understood what this little lightweight device was meant for. At the end of our trip, I offered him a lantern as a gift to use in his guiding endeavors on Everest and other high altitude peaks. Seeing Mingma’s excitement, I made mental note to myself to come back with more lights: to share with climbing sherpas and porters but most importantly also with a view towards the many settlements in the mountains that are still entirely disconnected from the electrical grid.
This year I returned to Nepal leading an all-female team to climb Mera Peak. Mera is a popular trekking peak not far from Everest as the crow flies, but the approach to Mera follows the fairly remote Hinku valley which most Everest hopefuls and base camp trekkers never set foot in.
Having been through the Hinku before I knew that there are numerous settlements along the valley that have no access to the electrical grid or solar installations. Outside the largest trekking lodges, many families in the Hinku still struggle to make a living through subsistence farming. The only source of light in their modest huts is often the smoky kitchen hearth, and the nights are long. So this time around I came prepared: in partnership with LuminAID loaded up my backpack (or whatever space I could free up in it, given we were also carrying trekking and mountaineering gear for the three weeks on trail) with two dozen LuminAID lights to distribute to those families most in need.
The farmer couple posing in their hut
With my friend Mingma as interpreter and guide, I tried to zero in on the most remote and poorest huts - the ones high up on passes or far out in between bigger settlements, those with no one-off lightbulbs and solar installations. It took us almost three days of walking from the end of the road to reach the Hinku Valley, and once there I didn’t have to search for long to find families relying on fire as their only light source.
The first light recipients: father and son at the top of Panggom La Pass
There was the single father, running a tiny teashop at the high point of Panggom La Pass and trying to provide for his 4-year old son. The elder couple, farmers both, living in isolation high above the valley floor and working hard to make a meager living off the land. The young woman who just recently lost her husband and was working to get by all by herself in a dirt hut a a few miles down valley from Mera Peak. The monk living in austerity hours from the next settlement. And then there were the families that Mingma knew of:
“Ma’am, come walk. Old woman above village has no light. You still have light?”
One thing that all of the recipients of PackLite lanterns had in common was their incredible, raw gratitude. I saw old men with tears in their eyes, husbands shouting for their wives to come and celebrate their gift, and women offering meals and pots of chhaang - the local rice beer - as a thank you for the lanterns.
This lady lives in an off-grid hut and actively came looking for me because she heard about the lanterns
I carried 25 LuminAid lights; my supplies were exhausted before I knew it. It was a joy to witness the impact that the gift of these lanterns had, and when I had given away the final LuminAID light I was wishing so much to have carried more that I ended up rooting through my pack and dug up those well-loved PackLite 16s that I had brought along for personal use. I gave away my last personal PackLite 16 to two brothers running a tea shack at the crest of 17,700ft Thorong La pass, which I crossed during my final days in Nepal while setting a new speed record on the Annapurna Circuit.
It was a humbling and powerful experience to be reminded that access to light and power at the flick of a switch is not something to be taken for granted, and I very much hope to continue working with LuminAID to give light whenever I climb, run or guide beyond the outer boundaries of the electrical grid.
Rajany Matthew, a peace corps volunteer in Madagascar, distributes LuminAID lights to silk weavers as part of our Give Light, Get Light campaign.