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SALT LAKE CITY — Climbing the world's highest mountains requires skill, perseverance, fitness and courage. But for some, reaching the top brings a sense of discovery far beyond the conquered mountaintop. It can tap a profound sense of humanity.
Standing in the comfort of his home near the base of Little Cottonwood Canyon, Dean Cardinale is again preparing to embark on a monumental trek to the base of the world's tallest peak. The goal is Everest. The greater goal is to help orphaned children in Nepal and East Africa.
During the winter, Cardinale is the ski patrol director and avalanche forecaster for Snowbird Ski Resort. He is also owner of World Wide Trekking, which he operates during the warm weather months, guiding clients on treks to Nepal, Tanzania and Peru among other adventure spots.
It's been an unusual journey for a guy from upstate New York to end up in Utah, and here discover a passion for aiding kids in remote mountain villages. But the emotion in his voice reveals a story of compassion and kindness as Cardinale talks about the people in the villages he visits, and three children he's never forgotten.
"(In 2005) one of my Sherpas was killed," Cardinale said, as he begins the story of his friend and fellow mountaineer. "His name was Ang Pasang."
Pasang was killed in a massive avalanche that also took the lives of 10 other people who were on a trek up a 6,000-meter Himalayan peak in the fall of that year. He left behind three children, a sacrifice other Sherpas have faced as they are hired to haul gear up Everest.
The following year, Cardinale decided that he would visit Pasang's three orphaned kids in Katmandu. He brought with him a few things and took them shopping to buy necessities like socks, shoes and clothes. But it was when he returned with them to the orphanage that he had a startling realization.
"When we got back, there were about 95 kids waiting for us, and I felt horrible," he said, his voice trembling. "I was so focused on (Pasang's) kids that I didn't really think about there were so many other kids (in need)."
He made a commitment that he would help take care of all the kids as best he could. This year will be his sixth trip to check on Pasang's children and help others.
Cardinale is the president and founder of Human Outreach Project — a nonprofit charitable organization conceived out of the idea that climbers and trekkers can and should give back to communities surrounding expedition sites.
"I made a commitment that on all of our trips that we would do something to … recognize local people and to help them," he said.
Financial contributions are used to purchase and transport supplies, and to support long-term infrastructure projects focused on the health, development and education of orphaned children.
In 2010, the Human Outreach Project formed a sister organization in Africa, Human Outreach Project-Tanzania. Through supporter donations, HOP-Tanzania was able to purchase four acres of land to build a new orphanage for local children without families, he said.
Using donations and some of his own money, Cardinale was able to fund the $140,000 project that will eventually house 40 local orphaned children along with staff to provide counseling, upkeep, maintenance and security for the property — which sits in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro.
On Monday, he was in the midst of packing for another trip to base camp at Mount Everest, with boxes, clothes, bags and equipment clumped in the middle of the floor. His flight leaves Tuesday afternoon.
When he first started trekking, he said he took up to nine bags to the airport. Nowadays he's learned to put everything he needs in just two duffles.
His living room is filled with mementos of his numerous trips to exotic locales. A spear and mask from Africa, and the last oxygen tank he used to summit Everest — signed by all the members of his expedition group, including Ang Pasang Sherpa. He also has a piece of granite from the great peak with the date of his ascent — May 30, 2005.
The trek to what Tibetans call "Chomolungma" is a major excursion by any measure, with base camp at about 17,600 feet, Cardinale said. Before reaching their destination, the group will also venture up to another location called Kala Patthar, which sits at nearly 18,200 feet. Kala Patthar provides the most accessible point to view Mt. Everest from base camp.
As Earth's highest mountain, Everest's summit sits at 29,029 feet above sea level and is located in the Mahalangur section of the Himalayas — at the international border between China (Tibet) and Nepal.
Cardinale has scaled five of the seven tallest mountains in the world, but it is the completion of the Human Outreach Project-Tanzania orphanage that he is most proud of.
"It's a beautiful site with Kilimanjaro in the background," he said. "It's all for the children."
"You realize how special these places are," he said. "To see the local people that are struggling with everyday life, but most of the time they are really happy with big smiles on their faces. I get a lot of self-satisfaction and reward out of (helping)."
For more information on how to help, see www.humanoutreachproject.com/.