FIU mathematician explores Mount Everest

By Melinda Hoder

Ada walk in the Himalayas

Have you ever thought about going to Mount Everest? Ada Monserrat, senior instructor within the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, traveled halfway around the globe to do just that with a trip to the Himalayas to see some of the highest peaks on the planet. Rising to 29,029 feet, Mount Everest is the highest mountain on earth, located in both Nepal and Tibet on the northern edge of Sagarmatha National Park. Getting there is an adventure in itself, full of its own challenges. Monserrat spent a year making plans, researching and preparing for the unpredictable. Being on Mount Everest assures the potential for encountering uncertainty. There is the ever-present threat of avalanches, the need for oxygen tanks, and the question of how each person might respond to the low levels of oxygen at high elevations with the inherent risk of enduring acute mountain sickness. 

Ada with Sherpa Pilot

During her spring break quest to the “top of the world,” Monserrat began her journey with a flight to Doha, Qatar, then another to Kathmandu in Nepal. From Kathmandu, she met her Sherpa and pilot, Captain Pasang Norbu, and then flew to the next stop via helicopter. Sherpas are native guides who live in the Himalayas and know the mountains best. Sir Edmund Hillary, along with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay were the first climbers to summit Mount Everest. In fact, the Tenzing-Hillary Airport, which is the gateway to Everest, is named after them. Also known as Lukla, it is considered the most dangerous airport in the world, with a short, inclined runway of 1,729 feet that leads off to a sheer drop on the other side.

There are no roads to Everest on the Nepalese side of the mountain. You can trek for two weeks over mountainous trails, or fly in by helicopter, landing at Kala Patthar, a notable landmark about 300 meters above Everest Base Camp. “As I stepped off the helicopter, my first impression was that of the crisp, cool, clean air. Looking up at the majestic views of Mount Everest, I was mesmerized by the jaw-dropping scenery and the realization that I was standing in the middle of the Himalayas,” said Monserrat, recollecting her experience. Being aware that the impact of thin air can easily cause exhaustion, one of the main concerns on Everest, she made sure to manage her pace. Knowing the risks involved and that there were no guarantees in making this moment a reality, she said to herself, “I made it, and it was well worth it.”

Ada with Live Your Story Flag

At Kala Patthar, there were prayer flags everywhere, a common tradition in the area. Monserrat had her own two flags to leave behind. At 18,519 feet, she proudly placed one American flag for her country and one Cuban flag in tribute to her parents who left behind their own country in search of freedom. Her adventurous spirit is inspired by her mother who bravely came to the United States from Cuba at the age of fifteen with nothing but the shirt on her back, along with over 14,000 other unaccompanied children who were sent to the U.S. in the Pedro Pan program between 1960 and 1962.

For Monserrat, who joined FIU in 2003, the desire to encourage students to reach for seemingly impossible goals was a motivating force in her latest adventure. She is passionate about traveling with a purpose and giving meaning to one’s life. When asked about her own drive and determination, she responded, “Wherever life leads you, embrace it, take a leap of faith and make every moment count.”

“It’s not the mountains we conquer but ourselves.” – Sir Edmund Hillary

Ada Monserrat contributed to this article.