NEWPORT BEACH : Taking on an Uphill Challenge

Jason Soukeras enjoys tackling challenges. An avid student with his sights set on medical school, the Corona del Mar 10th-grader speaks fluent Swedish, studies Greek, is a whiz on violin in the school's noted orchestra and participates in wrestling and track.

But his biggest challenge to date may be a trip he's taking in a few weeks to Mt. Everest, where he will be part of the support team for a group of hikers climbing the world's highest peak.

"The prospect of climbing a peak--that's interesting," the reserved 16-year-old said recently.

Soukeras is part of Boy Scout Troop 90, the Newport Beach-based group known in the Scouting community as an active hiking troop, and whose members had planned a year ago to be part of the support team.

Unfortunately, fund raising had not been as successful as the troop had hoped, and it only raised enough money for one member to go. Soukeras was chosen because he was an Eagle Scout and the oldest member of the troop.

As a result, Soukeras has the added responsibility of taking extensive notes so he can tell the tale of his journey to his fellow troop members once he returns.

"I better take good pictures," he joked.

"I'm still unhappy the rest of the troop won't be able to go," Soukeras said, "but I'm hoping I can make up for it somehow by telling them what I saw."

The climbers that Soukeras will accompany are a group of Southern California businessmen who plan to bring back the garbage they produce, instead of leaving it on the snow-covered mountain as some hikers have done.

Mt. Everest, the highest mountain in the world at 29,108 feet, is in the Himalayas, which border Nepal and Tibet.

The expedition's support group includes the climbers' wives and friends who are helping to arrange for gear and supplies in Nepal. They will also keep camp while the climbers start the early phases of the trek.

Soukeras will be with the group for about 20 days of its 10-week stay, touring the area's rich historic, cultural and natural offerings, and doing a little hiking.

Hopefully, Soukeras said, he will be able to hike to the expedition's first camp, which is at the lowest altitude in the journey up the mountain.

Peering from wire-frame glasses and dark, wiry bangs, Soukeras said that while hiking is his favorite aspect of Scouting, he knows acclimating to the area's weather and altitude will be difficult.

Claremont resident Deb Larson, who has organized the hiking expedition and the support team, says that in addition to being a challenge, Soukeras' trip will probably also be one of the best educational experiences of his young adult life.

"Growing up in Southern California is a really unique environment, for good or for bad, or a little of both," said Larson, whose husband is one of the climbers.

"To get one Scout over there at that age, and to share that with the rest of the troop . . . just to experience another country like that, for a kid raised in Newport Beach, that's an experience."

The troop is still raising funds for Soukeras' trip. Information is available from the troop's Newport Beach office.

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