Roommates Reunited: Michael Kates '80 and William Cohan '81

October 4, 2012

Last October, Michael Kates ’80 called William Cohan ’81 with a tempting offer. Kates had found a great deal with a tour-company expedition to Mount Everest’s south base camp in Nepal. Was Cohan in?

Although the Duke roommates had traveled together throughout Europe after Kates’ graduation and stayed in regular touch during the three decades since, their lives had taken them in different directions. Kates became a radiologist in Philadelphia; Cohan went into investment banking and then became an author and journalist in New York. Yet the prospect of reconnecting with each other for a once-ina- lifetime journey to the world’s highest mountain eclipsed any initial fear and trepidation.

Unforgettable: Kates, left, and Cohan at the summit of Kala Patthar. [Courtesy Michael Kates]

Still, both were well aware of the risks involved. Crippling blisters. Altitude sickness. Death. (Cohan had been on a National Outdoor Leadership School trip in Washington State led by Scott Fischer, the American climber and guide who died descending the summit of Mount Everest in 1996.)

As it turned out, both Kates and Cohan were up to the challenge and made it to Everest base camp, at nearly 17,600 feet, without incident. The next day, they went even higher: to the summit of Kala Patthar at 18,400 feet, which provided a stunning view of Everest’s peak. During the three-week trek, they stopped at Buddhist shrines and monasteries, primitive tea houses heated by burning yak dung, and memorials to hikers who had died on Everest— including that of Fischer, whose body remains on the mountain.

Both men say the trip profoundly changed them. “Even pictures don’t communicate how extraordinary the experience was,” says Cohan. “It was physically and emotionally demanding but also spiritually and culturally fascinating. And sharing it with my Duke roommate made it even more special.”