Visit to Nepal life-changing
But these are recent revelations for the 17-year-old, who has just returned from 18 days living in a valley at the foot of Mt Everest, 4300 metres above sea level.
The Year 13 student won a $7500 scholarship from Halls Transport last year, meaning he was part of a team of 43 students and four team leaders, led by Everest Trek founder John Gully.
Gully developed a passion for mountaineering in the Southern Alps of New Zealand and made a number of Himalayan summit attempts in the 1980s, including three expeditions to Mt Everest.
On April 5, the team met at Auckland Airport and Tom admitted he was tense.
“We were all a bit nervous because no one knew each other, but well, we were all in the same boat really,” he said.
Tom will never forget arriving in Kathmandu.
“The poverty, the noisy streets, the dirt, I really couldn’t believe it. I mean when you compare it to the way we live here … I will never, ever forget it.”
From Kathmandu, they flew out in a small plane to Lukla.
“I’m really glad I didn’t know then that it was one of the world’s most dangerous places,” the teen said.
This was followed by a two-day trek with Sherpas helping them with their packs, taking them to a valley at the foot of Mt Everest.
“We did so much. We planted more than 1000 trees in a reforestation project there. We really got to be with the local people, it was so good.”
When he told the local people he was a New Zealander, they were so excited, he said.
“Because Sir Ed Hillary is so loved there. They have pictures of him everywhere and they absolutely love Kiwi people. It was such a great feeling, it really was, and it made me feel so proud.”
Tom said he found it amazing that while he was there, there were 800 people from all over the world climbing Everest at the same time.
“I am determined to go back and one day climb to the base camp.”
Every morning, the team would get up early just to gaze in awe at the mountain. “You couldn’t always see it properly, but when it was clear, the mountain was incredible to look at.”
Before leaving Nepal, Tom was blessed by an 80-year-old Tibetan monk who tied a piece of silken string around his neck to keep him safe.
Tom said his trip changed his life and now he was on a mission to save up to go back: “I really have to go back, it’s very important to me.”