Kentucky natives Krystal and Chip Dittus often plan vacations to watch Kentucky basketball postseason games even though they now live in Key West, Fla. This year, however, the two UK fans did something a little different for their special trip — they went to Nepal and hiked to the Mt. Everest base camp in May.

    It was no surprise that the trip included UK gear to show their 
loyalty to the Cats.
    "That was planned from the beginning and we even bought a new 
baseball cap for the trip. One of our porters, the amazing people who 
climb the mountain carrying approximately 100 pounds — some of which 
was our gear —liked the UK hat so we gave it to him," Krystal Dittus 
said. "Now UK is being repped on the trail all the time by a local."
    Doing this hike meant the couple decided not to attend the 
Southeastern Conference Basketball Tournament in Nashville, an event 
they love to watch. That made me wonder why they decided to do a hike 
to the Mt. Everest base camp instead.
    "We had climbed Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the United 
Kingdom, which is at an altitude of 5,000 feet in Scotland. After 
that we started watching shows on TV about Mt. Everest and thought 
that would be neat to go there," Krystal Dittus said. "We weren't 
sure if it was possible to hike to base camp so we started 
investigating. Turns out you can so we decided to do it.
    "It took about six months of planning, which was mostly deciding on 
which outfitter to use. We were lucky in that Chip's cousin teaches 
in an overseas school in Bangkok and she recommended the guide we 
used based on her friend using him on their trip."
    With all the news recently about 11 people dying trying to make the 
climb to the top of Mt. Everest, I thought "only" getting to base 
camp still seemed like a huge challenge.
    "We met our guide in Khatmandu and from there we flew to the town of 
Lukla which is at 9,000 feet. Then you start hiking. We would walk 
about 4-6 hours a day and then spend the night in tea houses, which 
are little hotels on the trail," she said. "They are not fancy and 
usually consist of a common room that serves as the dining hall and 
then a room with two beds.
    "Sometimes you get your own bathroom but more often than not you 
share a common restroom and hope its inside and a sit down toilet … 
in Nepal, sometimes they are squatting toilets.
    "Twice we stayed in the same town for multiple days to get used to 
the altitude. That is the biggest concern with the trip, avoiding 
altitude sickness. If you develop that the only cure is to go back 
down to a lower elevation which ends the journey."
    Krystal Dittus said one of the best parts of the climb for her was 
getting to eat lunch at base camp with some Sherpas, one of the 
ethnic groups native to the mountainous regions of Nepal, who were 
going to to the top of Mt. Everest as a charity event to raise money 
for widows who lost their husbands on Everest.
    "Generally hikers like us only have a small area at base camp to 
visit as they don't want hikers running all over and getting in the 
way of the climbers. However, our guide is friends with the group 
where we ate lunch with so were able to proceed through the 
checkpoint and had free reign to roam around camp and were also able 
to get on the Khumbu Glacier," Krystal Dittus said.
    However, the trip "only" to base camp was not easy for these two UK 
fans.
    The final day of the hike was at an elevation of 18,000 free where 
one has only about 50 percent of the normal oxygen level.
    "It was like walking through knee high mud and every step was sheer 
will power as we hiked about eight hours total that day. It was 
exhausting and exhilarating at the same time but worth it to make our 
goal," she said. "We never felt scared or in danger but some of the 
terrain was treacherous with big rocks and uneven footing, so you had 
to be very careful not to fall or sprain an ankle."
    Obviously weather in Key West where the couple lives is far 
different than what they faced at Mt. Everest. They both scuba dive 
but to prepare for this they did cardio workouts or hikes while 
wearing masks that simulated altitude starting at 3,000 feet and 
working their way up.
    "I don't know if it actually prepared us but we made it so I guess 
it helped some," she said.
    She also said the weather stayed nice until near the end of their 
journey when it was cold during the day as well as at night.
    "We just layered clothing and the guide provided warm sleeping bags 
and fleece liners for sleeping," she said.
    Friends are used to the couple being a little different. During UK 
games, Krystal jokes that neighbors have learned not to pay attention 
to the screams and/or noises depending on how the Cats are doing.
    "Reactions (to going on the trip) varied from ‘why would you do 
this,' to ‘please don't die' or ‘that is so amazing,'" she said 
before adding everyone also encouraged them to take and share 
pictures, which they did.
    Will they do something like this again?
    "Chip would definitely do it again and is planning to go to 
Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa," she said.  "I am glad I 
did it but would not do it again."
    After all, how many SEC Tournaments can a die-hard Kentucky fan miss 
even if it is for an adventure like this.
Kentucky's offensive line without Benny Snell
    What will it be like for Kentucky's offensive line not to have Benny 
Snell running the football?
    "That is a great question," UK offensive line coach John Schlarman 
admitted.
    Snell had three straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons and became UK's 
all-time career rushing leader. He's now in the NFL after being 
drafted in the fourth round by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
    "I am excited about the running backs that we are going to be 
blocking for. Those guys have showed a lot of talent with A.J. 
(Rose), (Kavosiey) Smoke and (Chris)Rodriguez," Schlarman said.
    Schlarmann, a former UK offensive lineman, says a lineman's 
mentality doesn't change regardless of who is running the football.
    "Obviously a guy like Benny can make you look good at times but I 
think the guys we have got are going to make us look good at times, 
too," Schlarman said. "I don't think for those guys (in the line) 
anything has really changed mentality-wise.
    "Will we miss Benny and the things he brought to the table? I am 
sure we will. But it is like what do you do next? Different year. 
Every year is like that. You have some pieces that move on, you have 
some returning and then you have some new ones. I think it is just a 
matter of seeing how it all fits together and I am confident it will 
fit together just fine."
Riley raves about Herro
    Miami Heat president Pat Riley, a former UK All-American under 
Adolph Rupp, couldn't say enough good things about Tyler Herro after 
Miami took him 13th in the NBA Draft.
    "Cal (John Calipari) couldn't keep him off the court. Cal wants to 
win, and he said he just couldn't keep the kid off the court (late in 
the season)," Riley said. "He had grown so much during the course of 
the year. He had so much confidence in him, so I think he's a 
complete player that will compete defensively (and) get better.
    "He adds depth … he is the perfect complement, I think, to any 
player because he can space the floor and shoot the ball. You can 
also put the ball in his hands, he's a catch-and-shoot player, he's a 
pick-and-roll player, but what I like about him is that his work 
ethic is second to none … I think he's going to fit right in with all 
of these guys."
    Riley already has former Cat Bam Adebayo on the Heat roster and says 
he likes drafting UK players.
    "Pat Riley has said to me before, ‘The best thing about your guys is 
they know how to fight, and the second thing is that they're good 
teammates because they know how to share here,'" Calipari said.
    "It doesn't mean that we don't have volume shooters in the NBA; we 
do. Six or seven guys that are good volume shooters, but they weren't 
here (to do that). They learned to be good teammates. Probably the 
best compliment that could be made is what he said right there."
    Calipari said Adebayo texted him as soon as Herro got drafted 
wanting his phone number.
    "He texted Tyler and said, ‘You better be ready to work. That is 
what this organization is about.' He showed me, Tyler sent it to me 
and I said, ‘He (Bam) has no idea does he?' He (Tyler) said, ‘He has 
no idea,' because that is what Tyler is about, and they knew that."
Cal glad to have
returning players
    For just the second time in his 10 years at Kentucky, John Calipari 
will have a starting point guard returning to lead his team.
    Andrew Harrison came back for a sophomore season and UK went 38-0 
before losing in the Final Four to Wisconsin in 2015. Now the Cats 
will bring back point guard Ashton Hagans from a team that reached 
the Elite Eight before falling to Auburn.
    "It's nice to have players back. We have four really quality players 
back," Calipari said.
    In addition to Hagans, Kentucky also returns Nick Richards, EJ 
Montgomery and Immanuel Quickley off last year's team. For some teams 
that might not be a lot, but for Kentucky it is a lot.
    "The last time we had four players back who were quality players 
like that was 2014-15. I enjoy coaching guys two, three and four 
years," Calipari said. "In this, what I do, you just want people when 
they leave to be prepared and ready for success. That's the whole thing.
    "We've had some guys leave too early, but it wasn't my choice. They 
were counseled, ‘It might be too early. You might want to think about 
this.' But, when they decide to do it, you're all over it to help 
them.  But it's nice to have guys back."
 
    Quote of the Week: "I kinda find it funny how history repeats itself 
and people don't see the true value of a player. Your rank and all 
these numbers, stars, whatever. It's just amazing how it all work. 
I'm finally glad that I'm on a team with an organization that values 
me," UK all-time rushing leader Benny Snell on dropping to the fourth 
round in the NFL draft before landing with Pittsburgh.
    Quote of the Week 2: "He can shoot it. He rebounds very well for his 
size, especially on the defensive end. He's got good size and 
strength. I think he can improve his decision making, sort of become 
a more versatile scoring threat. I think he can become a much better 
defender. I think he'll be among the top players in college 
basketball next year," ESPN analyst Jay Bilas on Louisville forward 
Jordan Nwora.
    Quote of the Week 3: "I really liked the idea of them being on 
campus. I can remember being a student and driving past and wishing I 
could go volunteer but I never had time. It's always been in the back 
of my mind to do a concert, so I figured this was an obvious choice 
to benefit from the concert because what they do for families is 
incredible," former Wildcat Isaac Humphries on why his recent 
Lexington concert benefitted the Ronald McDonald House.

   

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