Photos courtesy of Andy Irwin.

If you’ve got a globe and you put your fingers on opposite sides, you’d have Dallas on one finger and Nepal on the other,” says Andy Irwin. “You’re about as far away from Dallas as you can get and still be on planet Earth.”

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He’s right, but it doesn’t take him a globe to know. Irwin saw that distance for himself, hiking to the Everest Base Camp with his son Dylan and father-son combo Bob and Aidan Burke.

Dylan and Aidan met in Boy Scouts. They were both the eldest sons to engineer fathers, but the families’ shared interest in backpacking became most relevant. 

“We got the idea a couple years ago,” says Aidan Burke. “Logistically, it probably took a year to plan.”

Aidan bonded with his father through outdoor activities and nature trips growing up. Now a senior at the University of Texas, they decided a climb on Everest was the perfect way to usher him into his post-graduation life. 

The Burkes set their sights on Everest Base Camp, a historic rest station established in 1924 that’s almost nine kilometers below the summit. When they invited the Irwins to join them, it was a no-brainer.

“It’s kind of the Super Bowl of backpacking,” says Andy. “There was just no way I wasn’t gonna go.” 

Everest was no longer an if, but a when. The two families settled on winter break, flying from DFW airport to Nepal on Dec. 17, 2023. 

“The boys were out of school and between semesters,” Bob recalls. “As far as work is concerned, there’s a lot of vacation. It’s surprisingly convenient from a work perspective.”

The four men traveled to Tenzing-Hillary airport in Lukla, Nepal, which serves as the trailhead for the hike to Everest Base Camp. Tenzing Hillary airport is named after mountaineers Sir Edmund Hillary from New Zealand and Tenzing Norgay from Nepal who made history as the first to scale Mount Everest in 1953.

Seventy years later, four men from Dallas faced a 125 kilometer round-trip hike from Tenzing-Hillary to base camp. The families prepared a tight schedule for where they would be staying along the way, mapping out the exact distance needed per day to meet their goal. At each stop, they were able to stay in pre-booked hostel-style rooms with a mattress and no heating. 

For food, they were prepared local fare by the Sherpa tribes.

Sherpa is a broad term that classifies various ethnic tribes that live in mountainous regions of Nepal and Tibet. The most common food prepared by Sherpa is dal bhat, a traditional Nepalese dish made of steamed rice, lentils and spices.

As elevation began to increase up the mountain, their oxygen levels decreased dangerously. Standard oxygen saturation deemed healthy for humans should be around 95-100%. When the four approached Everest Base Camp, they were measuring in the high 70s.

To combat it, the four worked a new dish into their diet. 

“We had to eat this particular kind of food called garlic soup and it’s about as appealing as it sounds,” Andy says. “It really stimulates your cardiovascular system and that helps with oxygen uptake and makes your muscles feel good. But it sure is garlicky.”

Each day, they woke around 6 a.m. and hiked until about 3 to 4 p.m. before eating and resting for the following day. They spent 12 days on the trail under this schedule, battling the weather, elevation and exhaustion. 

After eight long days of hiking uphill, they reached Everest Base Camp.

“It was cool until you realize you have to hike back,” jokes Dylan.

Hiking back downhill shouldn’t have been as difficult, but an accident complicated things. 

“I was just stepping down from a big rock and just didn’t step right,” Dylan says. “I hyperextended my knee pretty bad, so the rest of the days down were pretty brutal.”

Dylan fought through the pain, and the four men returned home to Lake Highlands safely on Jan. 4. 

Hiking the distance is an accomplishment in and of itself, but it held a certain significance to each member of the party. 

Andy and Bob are 59 and 57, respectively. Pushing their bodies to such a high degree of physicality was an achievement. Dylan and Aidan got to go full circle, capping off their college years on Mt. Everest after growing up together as scouts. 

Andy described the time spent with his son on the trip as “invaluable.” The four men say they couldn’t have gotten through the hike without each other, and wouldn’t have wanted to experience Everest solo. 

“Physically and mentally it was a pretty big challenge,” Dylan says. “But also (I was) getting to have one last hurrah with my dad.”

After a childhood full of backpacking trips, Everest was the “coolest,” Aidan says. 

“It was kind of like a sendoff,” Bob says. “Instead of a graduation present, one last big trek.”