Engaged to the Mountains

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (October 25 , 2022) – Recently one of our team members, Madeline Brennan, Associate of Project Development, had the opportunity of a lifetime to trek with her father to the Mt. Everest basecamp, a 12-day journey. Throughout her trek, her Silicon Ranch colleagues were continuously inspired by updates and photos from her trip. Following the adventure, Madeline sat down for an interview to share more of her experiences–with our team, the communities we serve and our customers–which has been captured below.

Madeline, tell us a little about yourself.

I am originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, born and raised, and then I moved to Knoxville, Tennessee to attend the University of Tennessee. While at UT, I studied geology and environmental studies.

Madeline and her father on their first backpacking trip together in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park

What peaked your interest in backpacking?

It started with my dad, actually. He began backpacking in high school and really got into it in college. And from there, his love for backpacking and being in the outdoors really flourished into mountain climbing. I can remember being young and him being gone on these crazy adventures to climb all these mountains all over the world.

He started his journey to climb all of the Seven Summits, so the highest peak on each continent. And I can remember calling him while he was on these expeditions when I was younger. He would call in on this satellite phone. I would pack a little teddy bear, his name is Teddy, in his carry-on, and he would take that up the mountain with him.

Around the age of 11, that was our first trip we did together. We went to the Smoky Mountains for a weekend trip, and from then I was completely hooked on backpacking. So, it started in the Smoky Mountains, and came full circle because this hobby is a big reason I ended up studying around the corner at the University of Tennessee. Ever since, we’ve tried to do a trip every summer together. We’ve been to national parks all over the country.

Madeline and her dad in the Grand Tetons.
Madeline and her father at Camp Muir on Mt. Rainier, 10,000ft.

Did your love for the outdoors play a role in why you began your career in solar?

Definitely! It’s why I decided to major in environmental studies. But I found myself questioning what I wanted to do, and the green space is so large that there’s so many things you can do within it.

So I started to ask myself, “Okay, I came into this with sustainability in mind, so what can I do to make a difference?” Or, “What’s something that just one person can do to make a difference?” And that’s where I turned to renewable energy. I started taking courses. My junior year of college I studied abroad in Freiburg, Germany, but only for three weeks, because that was Spring of 2020 when COVID hit. I came home, but I took a sustainable energies course and that’s really where I connected with solar.

Why did you choose to join Silicon Ranch?

I really, really admired the company’s mission, especially again, the sustainability aspect. It was definitely hitting all of the marks of what I was looking for in a company and career. And again, I go back to that question of, “What can I do to make a difference?” And I was able, even just by my brief interaction with the company and learning about it during my internship, I was able to see that Silicon Ranch is really sustainability-focused too, which is reflected in its core values. That really attracted me to the company.

From the get-go I knew that this was where I belonged because the camaraderie of the team was unlike anything I’ve experienced before in anything I was involved in. And it honestly just made my internship really enjoyable to be working with such wonderful people. I could definitely feel that although we were going through, and still are going through, a pandemic and it was remote, there was still that sense of camaraderie with everyone. That really attracted me to the company.

Tell us a little bit about what you do at Silicon Ranch.

Since joining the Ranch, I have transitioned to managing the diligence for projects. So my day to day is, working directly with our vendors, managing our environmental, geotechnical, hydrological, all of our preliminary site-testing efforts. I’m working on coordinating and scheduling those and ultimately helping to setup our LPC Flex projects to move into, the engineering, planning and construction phase.

Madeline sporting her coveted LPC Flex Team Jersey in the village Tengboche with Mt. Everest in the background.
Madeline showing off her coveted LPC Flex Team Jersey at Base Camp.

What does a successful or productive day look like for you?

For me, a successful day is, if a problem arises, figuring out the solution and then learning from that experience. I like to tell the interns too, on the project development team, that one reason the internship, and now this position, is really rewarding and enjoyable is because it’s a learning experience. And I am really early in my career, so if I can learn something new at the end of the day, then I would count that as a very successful day.

Madeline representing Silicon Ranch with her flag at Base Camp.

Now let’s go to Mt. Everest. Why did you decide to climb to the Mt. Everest Base Camp?

Again, it all kind of goes back to my dad’s story. Like I mentioned, he’s attempting to climb all Seven Summits. He has five down so far, two to go. The last remaining two are Everest and Kosciuszko. He’s attempted Everest a couple times before. Once in 2018 and again in 2019, then in 2020, COVID hit and 2021, I graduated from college. So this was going to be his third attempt.

The original plan was to go over with him and trek to Everest base camp with him, then I would leave and he would continue on from there. But unfortunately, he ran into a few issues with his back that prohibited him from continuing on, so we just decided to go do the trek to Everest base camp together and leave.

I think about this too. When he presented the opportunity to me and I thought, “Why not take this?” I never thought that I would be going all the way to Mt. Everest so young. I knew that it was always a dream in the back of my mind, but I never thought I would get there so soon. And just because I went to Everest Base Camp, I think now I definitely want to climb the whole thing. I’m totally hooked on the whole mountaineering experience. That’s the story of how we ended up going over there.

How did you get to base camp?

You arrive in Kathmandu, Nepal, and from there you take a plane or a helicopter to the town of Lukla. Lukla is the most dangerous airport in the world. And I love to point that out too, because not only are some people attempting to climb the highest mountain in the world, but you have to fly into the most dangerous airport in the world first. So, it makes for quite a journey.

We took a helicopter and because everything that happens in the Khumbu valley is all dependent on the weather, we sat in the airport for seven hours waiting for a flight to start our journey. And from Lukla, that’s really where it starts.

We went to about five to six different villages in-between. It took us 12 days in total to get to base camp. And a lot of that reason being is because of the altitude. If you were to take a helicopter from Lukla all the way to Base Camp, you would get pretty serious altitude sickness. So, the guiding companies and a lot of people who have done it in the past recommend to have a few days in-between hiking to acclimatize. We started at around a little over 9,300 feet in elevation and end at a little over 17,500 feet.

What’s base camp like?

Base camp was actually completely different than I thought it would be. It’s a huge base camp. For me, and I don’t know why I was picturing it like this, but I was thinking it was going to be this flat, snow-covered area out in the middle of nowhere, but it’s actually everything but that. It’s very rocky. The snow doesn’t necessarily stick during the day because the sun is so hot and so bright,  all the snow melts. I thought it was kind of funny that I’m putting on 50 SPF, but wearing a parka and little gloves and everything at the same time, but it’s incredible. It is so beautiful.

At the beginning of the base camp, there’s what they call Trekker’s Rock. The pictures I had sent on top of the rock with myself, holding the Silicon Ranch flag, that’s Trekker’s Rock. They call it that because, I think on average, 30,000 people trek to Base Camp every year, but not everyone is staying in Base Camp.

You’re only able to stay in Base Camp if you are going with a guiding company. And we were, since my dad was planning on climbing. So for a lot of people, that’s where their journey stops, is the rock. I remember walking into Everest Base Camp. I was so tired. It was such a long day. We actually made the day a little longer for ourselves and decided to skip one village we were supposed to stay in. I didn’t know how I was going to react when I got to base camp, but I remember crying because it was just such an accomplishment for me and for a lot of the members in our team, but we still had more to go. From Trekker’s Rock, it took us an hour to get into our base camp, it’s that big.

Like I said, base camp is very rocky, very rugged. And one thing that really impressed me, too, is all of the campsites have to be cleared out for the season. So, because you’re going up the valley, there’s one of three ways that any supplies or anything will get up the valley. It’s either by porter, so Sherpas carrying supplies on their backs, by yak or cow carrying supplies, or by helicopter. So a lot of the supplies, people are physically carrying all the way to base camp, and it’s so impressive to see these porters and Sherpa just fly by you on the trail with, easily, 100-150 pounds on their back when you’re struggling to carry your, maybe, 20-pound-pack in altitude.

Madeline and her father at Mt. Everest Base Camp.

What was the hardest part of the whole trip?

Probably the altitude, I would say. Prior to Everest, the highest I’d been to was 15,000 feet, and that was in a trip in Peru. I volunteered for the WindAid Institute where we built a small wind turbine for a school in the local community. But during that volunteering experience, we did some hiking of our own and the highest we went was 15,000 feet. And that was still a little tough, but I knew my body could handle high altitude so I wasn’t too nervous.

But that was definitely the hardest part, is just altitude, and a lot of people say the same thing. Our bodies in the U.S. are not meant for that high altitude so quickly. It had a toll on my body, especially. But again, that’s part of the experience. And honestly, it kind of sounds crazy, but that’s part of what makes it really fun and adventurous, that feeling you get when in altitude. But again, probably the hardest part.

Is there a presence of solar at base camp?

I actually have a whole presentation put together on this, that hopefully I can give to the whole company or even just a few teams of how I witnessed solar over there. And I was so surprised to see solar being implemented, not only at Base Camp but throughout the journey. I’ve told a few people that I think working in this industry, you become hyper-aware of any examples of solar in your everyday life. So as soon as I identified a few examples, I was zoned in on, “Okay, there is a solar presence here, what does it look like?”

They had solar at our Lobuche Base Camp, which was our first tented camp we slept in, and that was the camp right before making it to Everest Base Camp. There was an even bigger array at Everest Base Camp. I really think that solar is going to change the mountaineering community. I asked myself, “why solar?” at all of these base camps, and it just makes the most sense.

It’s powering flood lights, heaters within the dining tents, powering the entire cook tents. They have full stoves, everything that you would need to cook these elaborate, very nice meals up there too, which is just something you might not expect from Base Camp and at the foot of Mount Everest. It’s powering a lot, but not necessarily as big as one of our projects.

Madeline with her Silicon Ranch Flag in the village Tengboche with Mt. Everest in the background.

What was your favorite moment of the whole trip?

I have a couple of favorite moments. My first one would be reaching Base Camp because that’s when it really hit me. It was so surreal. And there were moments along the way where, it was difficult. I was out there for 12 days and that was just to get to Base Camp. Then we spent two to three days at Base Camp, too. But there were a few times where I just, I wanted to go home. I needed my bed. I wanted to turn around. The altitude was really taking a toll on me at some points. It was hard to breathe, and some points I just really, I wanted to go home. But as soon as I got to Base Camp, I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want to leave at all.

We had a mix of trekkers and climbers in our group that we got to know and we’re still friends with, and we actually have a Zoom call coming up to reconnect with everyone on the team. But when it was time to go, I told everyone, “I don’t want to leave. I want to stay here for the whole climbing season.” That was one of my favorite moments.

And then another one is from when I was leaving Base Camp. We took a helicopter out. My dad and I were some of the first in our group to leave Base Camp. And in the sherpa tradition, what they do when someone’s leaving Base Camp or leaving any of the base camps, all of the Sherpa and everyone line up and create this runway or hallway that you walk through.

And we were walking towards the helicopters and everyone was waving, saying goodbye. And when I got in the helicopter, I looked down and I saw everyone from the team, all of the people I just spent 12 days backpacking with who I really got to know. During the trek, I felt like I knew them for months when I really only knew them for less than two weeks. I see everyone waving back at me and I just start crying. I just lost it because some of these people, they’re from all over the world and I may never see them again in person, but they had such an impact on my life. And they were a part of my journey, but I was also a part of their journey that they’ll never forget too!

I know it sounds kind of funny. I didn’t want to leave Base Camp, but one of my favorite moments was leaving Base Camp because I realized what I’d just done and what an accomplishment it was, and all of these wonderful people now in my life who were a part of my journey. So that was truly a special moment for me.

Madeline waving her Silicon Ranch flag near Cho La Pass

What was the biggest surprise of the trip?

Something I didn’t expect, but also now looking back at it, I should have seen this coming, is now I have a drive and a desire to climb mountains, which I had not had prior to this trip. But now I’m totally hooked. And people in the mountaineering community say that when you experience the mountains, you get married to the mountains or you’re “married to the mountains.”  I came back, I said, “well, if that’s the case, then I’m engaged because I am totally hooked and I want to do more of this.” This is not my last trip. Definitely a very hard trip to top, but this will not be my last trip.

Also, how appreciative and thankful I am for this opportunity too, and just also the opportunity in general. The support I felt from Silicon Ranch was completely unexpected. I knew everyone would be supportive and have encouraging words, but I received so many questions from everyone about the trip, so many words of encouragement, so much support that was so overwhelming. And I am so, so incredibly grateful for that. I am not only grateful for the opportunity to even take a trip like this, which many people don’t have the opportunity to do something like this. I’m so grateful for the support and everyone’s kind and encouraging words, and everyone here at Silicon Ranch inquiring about it too.



About Silicon Ranch

Founded in 2011, Silicon Ranch is a fully integrated provider of customized renewable energy, carbon, and battery storage solutions for a diverse set of partners across North America. The company is one of the largest independent power producers in the country, with a portfolio that includes more than five gigawatts of solar and battery storage systems that are contracted, under construction, or operating across the US and Canada. Silicon Ranch owns and operates every project in its portfolio and has maintained an unblemished track record of project execution, having successfully commissioned every project it has contracted in its history. Silicon Ranch has the largest utility-scale agrivoltaics portfolio in the country under Regenerative Energy®, its nationally recognized holistic approach to project design, construction, and land management. This model incorporates regenerative ranching and other regenerative land management practices to restore livelihoods and soil health, biodiversity, and water quality. In 2021, Silicon Ranch acquired Clearloop, which helps businesses of all sizes reclaim their carbon footprint with a direct investment in building new solar projects while helping to bring renewable energy and economic development to distressed communities. To learn more, visit siliconranch.com, regenerativeenergy.org, and clearloop.us. Follow Silicon Ranch on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.



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