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Life After Lax: Nate Menninger, a Higher Calling

This article appears in the March edition of US Lacrosse Magazine, available exclusively to US Lacrosse members. Join or renew today! Thank you for your support.

Nate Menninger is a self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie. Over the past decade, he has chased different escapades and learned about a variety of cultures. 

Menninger’s interest in taking chances came from his college lacrosse days, where he scored a goal in all three divisions. He started at Hamilton (Division III), transferred to Virginia (Division I) and finished at Florida Tech (Division II). 

Injuries derailed Menninger’s lacrosse career, but then he stepped into a new passion — adventure. His interests brought him to Mount Everest, where he decided to live the life of a porter, or Sherpa, for an 11-day trek to the mountain’s Base Camp.

Menninger became one of the first non-native porters to hike on Everest, and he brought a camera with him. The result was an hourlong documentary called “The Porter.” The more he worked on the film, the more he realized the poor conditions the porters endured. 

Menninger spoke with US Lacrosse Magazine about his experiences.

“I just kept chasing this lust for adrenaline and adventure, until eventually the highest adventure becomes Everest.”

How do you sum up your lacrosse career? 

I went to Hamilton College and played there for a season. I always wanted to see if my skillset translated to the highest level, so I made a highlight reel and sent it to the top schools. UVA was the only one to offer any hope of lacrosse. It was like, “If you get in academically, you can try to make the team as a walk-on. You don’t have a spot on the team right now and we recommend you don’t transfer.” That was enough for me.

I managed to walk on and start for a few games and then injuries set in. I had four surgeries, one of which was a double operation. I left college lacrosse for a year before giving it one more try at Florida Institute of Technology. There, my body started falling apart again, but I did manage to score a goal, making it one in every division. 

That’s a crazy stat. How do you feel about that accomplishment?

It’s the coolest thing ever. It just very much sums up my life. I’m not the best player. I don’t have a hundred goals a game. But I somehow find my way into various different situations. 

What led you to the running with bulls in Pamplona?

When I got injured, it was sophomore year of college and that gave me my first real summer free. While I was rehabbing, I wasn’t really doing anything, so I had to get away. I went to Spain on a study abroad trip and that’s when I ran with the bulls. Here I am, this idiotic kid who went from this low D-III school to the top Division I level. Clearly grandiosity is part of my nature, and extreme adrenaline. I just fell in love with adventuring and adrenaline, and then doing it in this really immersive held-by-a-hand-of-a-local type of way. It was this Red Bull era — how close can you get to the edge of a building, parkour and all of that. 

What adventures came after college? 

I packed a bag and brought my saxophone and a skateboard and just left. I went to South America. For the next six months, I descended into pretty extreme poverty, but I did get to do a few more things — skiing back country, living in a favela, learning how to survive and get along. I just kept chasing this lust for adrenaline and adventure, until eventually the highest adventure becomes Everest. 

Why Everest? 

I wanted to climb Everest young. I wanted to do everything young. I had been to Nepal and gotten a job as a guide because I had learned and spoken Nepali. I wanted to climb Everest but I didn’t have $65,000. I had been poor because I was chasing this crazy dream. I kept asking, “How can I climb this mountain?” I came up with, “What if I became a porter?” I would not only get to climb Everest for free, but also I needed to bring a camera because no one would believe the books if I wrote them. 

What was your goal?

After I couldn’t find the money for this project and I was running out of what I did have, I decided I’d just go to Everest Base Camp as a porter. I’d be able to live their life. I decided I was going to do everything they do. I was going to use the same water and sleep in the same beds, everything — eating, drinking, wearing the same clothes, having the same accessories. I wanted to live their life and see if I could perform under the same stress. I swore to their life and for the next 23 days dove into this completely different way of life. 


What struck you most about life as a porter?

There was one point at this high camp. It’s negative-20 degrees and you’re sleeping on the floor with two other porters. You’re in everything you own at that point. All of your clothes. I’d wake up without a blanket and want to kick these guys like I would my brother. That was when I thought, “You get to go home in a few days. This isn’t your life.”

What did you learn while editing the film? 

I was trying so hard to just make this movie. I went straight to Hollywood. I tried to get anyone to make my film. I’m pushing my film and eating 7-Eleven hot dogs for sustenance, riding around with a bike that had no brakes — making the stand-up, talking-head film of me talking about Nepal. It wasn’t until months in when I realized we got paid $15 and spent $20 at the high camp. We were losing money as we were working. As I’m editing, I’m reading transcripts with the porters preaching illiteracy and abandonment and talking about death. It was such a dire circumstance. How did I get myself into something so serious?

What’s your goal now?

This is only as good as a film can be. It’s just something to watch. It’s not actual change. I feel an obligation to at least help the two people who helped me kickstart my career. The goal is to use this film and see if there can be sustainable change. This can just be another step towards that change in Nepal and maybe globally.