The Everest 2013 season has begun! Teams are streaming into Kathmandu this weekend preparing for a journey of a lifetime.
For the first time climbers, s the sights, smells and sounds of Kathmandu take them to another place in time. For the returning climbers, memories are activated of previous adventures. And for everyone, there and back home, stomachs turn in anticipation.
Numerous teams have already started their trek towards Everest Base Camp. This should take about 7 to 10 days depending on their side trips. The trek is a critical part of any high altitude climb as it prepares the body for the extreme altitudes yet to come, not to mention an amazing experience on it’s own.
Also, there are throngs of trekkers making their way to Everest Base Camp. This is how my love affair with the Himalaya started back in 1997. I saw Everest, Ama Dablam, Cho Oyu for the first time, never dreaming I would climb them one day.
I always say, if you have a chance to trek in Nepal, it will change your life.
For Nepal climbers, they fly into Lukla’s Tenzing-Hillary airport at 9,400 feet. If they are climbing from Tibet, most will start with an overland journey and a week long drive through the amazing Tibetan countryside.
Regardless, it is an adventure.
I’m excited to start my annual coverage with almost daily updates of the season. If you have followed me in the past you know I try to reflect on my own adventures in Nepal and Tibet with a few personal stories and pictures.
As soon as the climbers get settled and start updating their blogs, I will integrate their live updates into my coverage.
Paraphrasing Thorton Wilder’s quote on adventure:
“An adventure is when you are in it you pray to come home alive, and when you are back home, you pray to go back.”
That is how I feel about Everest.
If you have ever been at Everest Base Camp when a tired, exhausted climber returns from the summit, well, it is inspiring. All the pains go away, huge smiles and easy laughs emerge as the climber rallies to tell her tale; her audience spell bound even though they have heard similar stories before.
At the other end of the experience are the climbers who return without the summit. Some are pleased with their effort and join in the celebration; others are devastated as the dream melts away like the ice under their feet. Huge, strong men fight the tears with gasps of air.
What is a summit? What is a climb? It is simplistic to wave it away as hubris, the indulgences of the self-absorbed, the narcissistic looking for bragging rights. Are there climbers guilty of these at times? Of course, but Everest has a way of bringing every climber back to reality.
For many Everest climbers, the weeks and months back home from the climb are difficult, regardless of the result. For summiters, there is adjusting to reality of a goal accomplished and the inevitable question of what’s next. There is an unexpected feeling of loss on top of accomplishment.
For those who did not make the summit, the journey back is even more difficult. There are few words to describe what happened. There is no headline but one is created to satisfy those party conversations. Deep down, each answer is followed by a long inward look.
Why climb this beast if it destroys you regardless of your result?
Lying in the tent at 23,000 feet knowing the time has come to push harder than you have ever pushed for anything brings focus to life.
Quiet words over deafening winds with a teammate lying a hair width away in their sleeping bag, you both stare at the ceiling sharing thoughts that few would understand. A lifetime bond is made with simple words and shorts glances.
The climb itself is lonely. One step followed by heavy breaths. You look around for support from friends, strangers, anyone – anything human. You take strength from the climber making progress ahead of you. You take lessons from the struggling one. The images are locked in your memory for life.
You wish you were somewhere else, anywhere. Maybe home, perhaps a beach with your spouse, your kids. You want to go down. But you don’t.
Why would anyone do this to themselves?
Today hundreds of climbers from around the world are starting this journey. Many don’t know what they don’t know. Others know it too well.
Each will come home with few words to explain what happened. But they will have a different look in their eyes, a different view of the world, of themselves.
Memories are Everything