Everest/Lhotse 2016: Khumbu Echoes

Alan at Namche Bazaar Coffee HouseThe alarm went off at 5 am this morning; I was already awake. I looked over at my trekking pack next to my hiking shoes, my red jacket draped on the back of a hotel chair. In a few hours, I would be back in the Khumbu on my way to Everest Base Camp and an attempt on Lhotse Peak – for the second year in a row.

I was hoping for one last, long hot shower before leaving the hotel but the tepid water cut my plans short. I shaved as closely as I dared knowing it had to last a few days before I began to look like a homeless Santa Claus with a white bushy beard. As I shaved, I looked into my own eyes, and deeper – was I prepared to go back?

Returning to Nepal was an easy decision. The country badly needs tourism dollars. The Sherpas need work. I heard that compared to last year, only 60% of the Sherpa community had found work this season. My first visit to Nepal in 1997, a trek to Everest Base Camp, changed my life. I became exposed to Eastern cultures and the natural spirt of a beautiful people. And those mountains …

As we flew towards Lukla, I took on the thousand yard stare, letting the terraced hillsides go by in a blur. My mind went back to the many other flights just like this. Each trip had been different. I found life lessons in each experience, regardless of the result. If I didn’t achieve my objective, I came back. Over the years, however, my objectives shifted from summits to Alzheimer’s, and I made more summits.

The clouds were low today, shielding the snow capped Himalaya peaks from our peering eyes. The helicopter pilot appeared to have laser vision following an unseen highway in the sky directly towards Lukla. As I stepped onto the ground, a wave of satisfaction, and mission, came over me.

I’m back. My emotions are unbridled. My thoughts flow like a paper being blown by the winds. I think about flying out the Western Cwm almost exactly one year ago today after the earthquake trapped us at nearly 22,000 feet. I think of Eve, our team doctor and her death at base camp. Her 27 year-old amazing spirit that touched everyone, taken in a blink; her’s and 9,000 others throughout Nepal. I think of my mom, Ida, and how she always said to me after an expedition “Well, I’m glad you got that out of your system.”

I think of those back home. The love, support and understanding that when I climb mountains, it is more than climbing mountains.

I am writing this in my favorite coffee shop in Namche Bazaar, my coffee now cold as I’m lost in thought. The background sounds are a Tower of Babel with multiple nationalities doing what people do in a coffee shop. The Sherpa staff falling asleep, bored with few people to serve. The music is a mix of rock and roll and blues complete with soulful guitar riffs. A team of Dzo’s make their way by on the dirt path that defines main street in Namche. Their bells announcing their arrival, their eyes staring at the path ahead.

As I walked to the coffee shop from the stone teahouse at the top of the amphitheater that makes up this Khumbu village, I stopped at the top of a steep path leading lower, defined by stone steps. I took the air deeply into my lungs. It was cool, crisp mountain air – clean air. The clouds cleared enough to show a small patch of blue sky. Across the valley, a ray of sunshine lit up a snow filled gulley that traveled from a raging river below then up 2,000 feet on a steep Himalayan hillside. On the top, the skyline, the trees defined the ridge line by standing side by side like climbers with an interminable dedication to their goal.

As my mind drifted, sealing this view in my memory forever, a loud shrill filled the air followed by a laughter that only little girls are capable of creating. I started down the stone steps, one by one, taking this all in. I moved passed yet another stone building, then a dirt courtyard emerged holding three young girls. It appeared that it was two again one and the one was winning – with her laughter. The game they were playing was impossible to determine or understand, but all that mattered was that they understood and had perfect technique!

As I stood there, a bell rung above me – a baby Dzo, the odd result of breeding cows with yaks stopped one step above me. He avoided eye contact. I avoided all contact. I stepped aside and he moved on. The girls had now spotted me as I held my camera in my left hand ready to capture the moment. They fled the scene into their stone house. All that remained was the echoes of their laughs.

I am glad to be back – in Nepal, in the Khumbu, in the mountains.

I feel the spirit of so many. The sounds of their spirits echo off the hillsides saying “Wel come back. Namaste.”

Climb On!


Memories are Everything

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