Whats in a Name?
In 1980, while living in Nepal, our founder, Steve Conlon, took an artist friend on trek across eastern Nepal. On the fourth day of the trek, after a period of long silence on the trail, his friend suddenly declared, “That’s it!”. Started at first, Steve asked, “That’s WHAT?” Came the reply, “I never imagined that I’d be walking along, my feet on the ground and at the same time be above the clouds.” Thus was born one of the world’s most unique adventure travel companies.
The First Generation: Steve Conlon
We trace our roots back to 1972, when I first arrived in Nepal on the evening of the December full moon. Watching the moon rise directly out of the Himalaya, which happens only in the heart of winter, I felt the magic of Nepal ensnaring me in its warm embrace. Once I began to meet the Nepali people, among the world’s happiest, I knew I wouldn’t be going home anytime soon, and the “me” going home would never be the same again.
I returned to the US in 1982 with my Nepali wife, Muna. Nine days after we arrived, our son was born and Above the Clouds was born later that same day. Once again, necessity, combined with a fierce passion, was the mother of invention. In the five years I lived in Nepal, I had visited 65 of the country’s 75 districts, and that enabled me to develop some innovative itineraries that gave us a leg up in Nepal and proved to be foundational to our growth.
Initially we offered treks only in the Nepal and Bhutan Himalaya, establishing ourselves as the premier Himalayan trekking company by the late 1980s. We began offering adventure travel in Patagonia in the late 1980s. As we had done in the Himalaya, we developed a reputation for operating quality treks in areas that most other companies hadn’t even heard of. We didn’t do this just to avoid other trekkers, but rather to introduce our groups to villagers who weren’t so accustomed to seeing trekkers that we’d be forced into a tourist-to-native relationship. By getting well off the beaten path we enable our guests to have person-to-person experiences that open a window into the world of our hosts.
In the over three decades of our history we’ve also been the operator of choice for a wide range of educational and cultural institutions, photographic tour companies, other adventure travel companies, and a multitude of private and family groups.
Our daughter Lisa joined ATC in 2008. She grew up with one foot in Nepal, and has traveled and trekked widely throughout her life. After just over five years here as my second-in-command at ATC, I decided I was ready to move away from day-to-day management of ATC and proudly passed the mantle along to her. I’ll still be here in spirit, as an advisor, and of course, when the mountains call, I’ll be here to answer.
The Second Generation: Lisa Kumari Conlon
Throughout my childhood and life I felt as though Above the Clouds was a member of the family. A living, breathing entity that was dynamic and brought joy to all of us. Steve started the company before I was born, so I truly have no memory of my life, or an awareness of what it would be like, without ATC.
During the early years, Steve was growing the business, forging new partnerships and creating a base for the company to grow and flourish. During that time we were traveling as a family quite a bit, throughout the US, Europe and Asia - but mostly to Nepal. The time in Nepal was both to visit family as well as to explore and trek. We met many the ATC travelers, lots of Nepali villagers, and forged stronger relationships with the country and our family. Through the rest of growing up I got used to spending a lot of time abroad and enjoyed it thoroughly, but I began to create a path outside of the travel industry for myself. I enjoyed college and I was fully prepared to follow the direction school set me on, towards politics, but some part of me wasn't satisfied by it.
I spent most of the year following graduation traveling. I spent time with family in Nepal, learned to hitchhike in Bhutan, found how to travel throughout India on my own, and even worked for a while down in Patagonia. Throughout my journeys, what became clear was how deeply I loved these places and especially the people who inhabited them. While on that journey I realized that I couldn't continue my life without having the chance to explore further these corners of the world that had captured my heart - and even more - share them!
By the end of my year of adventure I knew my goals and dreams would best be achieved by joining Above the Clouds. That was over six years ago, since I’ve been fortunate enough to spend most of my time learning from my father, working with an array of amazing clients and meeting so many of our wonderful partners around the globe.
I have found fulfillment in my life in sharing the places that have shaped who I am. Above the Clouds has allowed me to experience these magical corners of the globe through the eyes of someone seeing it all for the first time. Being a part of someone falling in love with a part of the world that has captured my heart is what motivates me to create unique, once in a lifetime journeys for our clients here at ATC.