Happily Everest After
Three weeks ago, I returned home to Charlotte after 3 weeks in Nepal. I climbed to the base camp of Mount Everest. Not everyone can say that… “I was on Mount Everest.” I am not going to life, it definitely feels kind of epic to to be able to.
The news has reported that within the last few weeks roughly 19 people have died attempting to summit Everest this month (some of which I may have passed on the trail and said “hello” to). It continues to have me go inward and realize what a sobering experience this was. It wasn’t a leisurely vacation to simply kick back and relax… This was a grueling journey and adventure that challenged me in every aspect of my being.
My life back here is very different from when I left it. Everything is the same, but everything feels different. It’s like I am in the twilight zone. The house is the same, the cats, the city, the jobs, the people…
But I am different. And I honestly cannot tell you what “it” is. I travel a lot, and every trip brings its own growth and changes. This trip was different though, and I am really feeling the shift, whatever “that” is.
I have needed to spend a lot of time on my own. Anyone who knows me is aware I am pretty extroverted and a chatty Cathy… but since returning, I have been turning down invitations to hang out left and right. Its odd. I simply trust that is what I need right now. My soul is demanding to ground, process, and simply “be.” This trip slapped me through a grueling physical challenge, which transposed into spiritual and emotional challenges, shifts, and purges. These types of experiences are no joke, and I am realizing I need to honor that and recover from it in whatever way my body/self needs.
And now, for the trip…I am going to talk about the highlights of my experience. May you enjoy the ride!
I started by packing 3 weeks worth of life (between 80 degree climate and 20 degree climate) into two bags, one of them being my backpack and the other a small rolling bag. I headed off to the airport first thing in the morning on March 30th. Two perks about taking the first flight out while being a standby airline employee is 1. People sleep in and don’t show up and 2. I pass the f*** out into a coma and do not wake up until arriving at the destination. It’s like I transcend time and space lol.
I first went to Dallas, then had plans to go through Hong Kong, then Hong Kong to Kathmandu. I listed myself “D1” status, which as an airline employee you can do 6 times a year to put yourself toward the top of the standby list (Again, all y’all who love to travel, work for the airline part time as a side hustle! Best life hack eva! I get health insurance and free flights, helllloooooooo). When they started to board my flight to Hong Kong, they handed me a ticket for the last first class seat… I JUMPED UP AND DOWN SMILING LIKE A KID WHO JUST WON A KITTEN. The next 16 hours on a plane consisted of me lying down with mimosas and steak dressed in my pajamas. That in itself was a trip! I truly appreciated the wonderful gift and getting a taste of the glam life.
Upon landing in Hong Kong 16 hours later (greasy and jet lagged… why do we get so greasy on planes!??!) I went up to my gate for Kathmandu. They said they would call me up at a certain time to see if there was availability. I did some work while I waited for a few hours. Later I went back up and they casually told me, “There are plenty of seats on the flight but they have a weight restriction due to cargo load. You cannot get on.” Say WHAT. UGH! At first I was so frustrated, but then I remembered my own advice of, “Life is happening for you, not to you.” So I decided to see what opportunity this was for me, as I hadn’t been to China and always wanted to try authentic Chinese food in China. I mean, how is it different than American Chinese food?!
So I decided to take the opportunity to take myself out on a date in Hong Kong. In a few hours I figured out the train system, found a hotel that actually had availability, and then the next day explored and took myself to the number 2 restaurant on Yelp! to get myself some honey glazed pork and dim sum. YUM! And it was so worth it! The next day I made it on the plane to Kathmandu.
Upon awakening in Kathmandu I got to see my friend Tonya, who was the catalyst for this trip. There is a cool story to how this trip came to fruition. Tonya invited me almost a year ago to join her on this epic journey. We worked together in 2012-2013 on the trauma ICU as nurses when I lived in Pennsylvania. I hadn’t seen or talked to her since I left (except through viewing each other’s lives on the portals of social media). The funny thing is that I was thinking to myself, “Dang I would really like to take a trip to see Mount Everest.” I never posted anything about it or said anything to anyone. But Tonya read my brainwave bat signal and messaged me one day after 7 years of no contact and said, “Hey I know you travel. Would you want to take this trip to the base camp of Mount Everest with me.” I barely had enough to pay for the trip, but I said, “F*** yes!” And the trip was booked!
And here we were, together on the other side of the world.
We walked around Kathmandu looking for a killer cup of coffee and caught up. We afterwards met the rest of our crew… 5 other women. The group was all women, which was totally cool (minus our lovely Nepalese guide, Hari). We were anywhere from 30 to 61 years old. Mary Ann told us this was the last item on her bucket list. Heidi and Kerry had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro together 6 years prior. Carrie and Lindsey had gone to Virginia Tech with each other and had not seen each other in 10 years.
Friends were reuniting, and we were coming together on a journey with a purpose that may not have been clear initially… but we all knew we were supposed to be there.
Day 1 on trek: We were up at 2 am to drive to this town 4 hours away to fly into Lukla. The winding roads unfazed some; however, I was awake, winding and weaving through the whole thing, smooshed up against the dude next to me in the small Nepalese seats (Nepalese people are smaller than me in general, so therefore things there in general were small for me haha). We finally arrived and flew into Lukla, which is deemed, “The most dangerous airport in the world.” Lukla is at the bottom of Sagarmatha National Park at a whopping 9.334 ft. We were starting at an elevation that was basically higher than anywhere I’ve ever been hahahaha. And FYI, Sagarmatha is what the Nepalese people call Everest, which translates close to “Goddess Mother.”
The first day was a nice 3 hour hike to the inn we were bunking at for the evening. It was a beautiful sunny day to start, and we were feeling good. I could already feel the elevation with my breathing, but otherwise all was well. The mountains surrounding us were STUNNING. I had never seen such high peaks with dramatic forms. I was falling in love with the yaks! OMG they were so so cute and had the demeanor of gentle giants. Loved passing the herds. And then these little children were running out of their homes and saying in their sweet little voices, “Namaste!” to all of us passing by. Be still my heart!
We made it to our inn, settled into our bunks, ate some food, and did some Nepalese healing bowl (which I had bought back in the city and packed on the trip). I asked Tonya to use the bowl on my sacral chakra. It felt so good that night…. however the next morning, that all changed….
Day 2 and 3 on the trek: I had woken up in the middle of the night feeling horrendously nauseous... And nothing feels physically worse to me than persistent and violent nausea. For hours I tried to breathe through it, attempting to go back to sleep hoping it would go away. But it didn’t. I finally got up around 5 am and went to the toilet and puked. It could be heard all the way down the hallway because when I came back Tonya asked, “Was that you puking?!??”
Why yes, yes it was. Apparently my heaves were the crew’s alarm clocks that morning. Yummy.
I was hopeful that once I puked I would be all better… I just needed to get whatever it was out my system. But it didn’t. The rest of me felt fine and great (no other GI issues thank goodness), but I could not shake the nausea, and I puked 3 more times before breakfast. I did eat breakfast (hoping I was past it) as our guide told us we were hiking for 6 hours that day, and that it would be, “A pretty hard day.” I wanted to be nourished and hydrated for what I was about to put my body through.
When we started to hike I felt like the world was spinning around me and that things were only getting worse. About 30 min or so into the trail I saw an outhouse on the side behind a store. I jumped ship and told the group, “Mayday,” ran into this outhouse and projected half my bodyweight of breakfast, fluids, and electrolytes in a lovely chlorophyll green waterfall out my pie hole. “This is not good,” I thought.
I emerged the outhouse and everyone looked at me in horror. We had a long day ahead and my status was not improving with la purga. I took some anti-nausea medication (which in normal circumstances would knock me out), and we carried on.
For the next 3 hours I barely kept up going up and down these gargantuan hills. I needed to drink water, but knew I wouldn’t be able to keep it down. So I took sips where I could, but was craving an IV (I do not say that often haha).
Three hours in and I was looking in a bad way. Our guide, Hari, was like, “Hey do you want a horse?” Hell, I would’ve rode on the back of a clown at that point. My body was done, and the hike was only going to get more challenging from there. We found a guy in the village and negotiated a price for him and his horse. I got on top of Calle (the horse), waved to my companions as they stopped for lunch, and rode onward.
Mind you, I do not ride horses. However, at the end of those 3 hours I felt pro status. We went up these hills that were incredibly steep with massive drop offs. If I wasn’t so out of it I may have felt anxiety, but I had no energy or care to feel anything except relief. The faces of the hikers next to me all had some version of, “Are we there yet?” The views were stunning, but the terrain this day was beyond humbling. I hike, the people on this trail hike for sure, and we were all on the struggle bus.
People asked, “Hey how is the horse?” I said, “Certainly better than any shape I would be in without it!” I could sense some feelings of jelly. I kept saying, “Trust me, you do not want to be feeling how I feel to be on here.”
We finally reached Namche around 2 pm. I thanked my horse, Calle, and gave him a big hug. Him and the owner took off back down the mountain. I found the inn I was staying at, told them I was early, got to my room, and passed out into a borderline coma. I know the group got there around 4 and checked in on me, and I don’t remember what I said, but I said something lol. I got up around 7 to eat some soup, and went back to bed. I slept for 16 hours and it was glorious.
The next day we had a rest and acclimation day in Namche. I read my book and stayed around the inn, while meandering around the town a little bit. It was so funny to see these typical Nepalese shops, and then a random North Face store in this town with no cars 12,000 feet up in Himalayas… First world colliding with the third world. We bought what we needed in town (as it only got more scarce and expensive from there).
I cannot tell you exactly what happened that day I got ill. However, I know I purged some things that did not serve me. I let it go and left it on the mountain.
Day 4 on the trek: It was hiking Namche to Tengboche. This day the skies opened and poured chunky blobs of cold rain. I was praising my new NorthFace jacket that kept me oh so warm and dry. The terrain this day was more mild in the beginning and demanding toward the end. It was another 6 hour-ish day on the trail. At this point I realized I didn’t have much of an appetite due to the altitude. There was only one item on the menu at any given meal that sounded good to me… what was good at breakfast may have sounded repulsive at lunch, and what was good at lunch sounded repulsive at dinner. It was odd. I just accepted it as my reality at this point.
We stopped for lunch at this little lunch place on the trail (There were many places to eat and sleep along the way. Providing these services to trekkers is how many people in the mountains make a living). While at lunch, a guy walked in who was 6’4” of pure hunk… And he had the same Hyperlite backpack I did, so clearly we were meant to be hahahha. Anyways, I overheard him talking, and he has summited Everest 6 times. SIX TIMES he had climbed the whole damn mountain. It was then I realized him and I were not meant to be, but I gave him kudos from across the room as it is such an intense process I cannot even imagine. And here we were, doing our darnest to get to base camp (which is close to 17,600 ft, so its no joke). There are Sherpas and porters who have summited Everest over a dozen times (they do not get the credit but certainly have earned it). Everyday brought its increasing challenges, and this realization just blew me away that some people do this quasi often. Mind. Blown.
As we continued to ascend, the hills got steeper, and the rain slowly turned from cold wet blobs to fluffy clouds of snow. The air continued to feel less and less available, and my lungs were expanding as much as they could to take in what oxygen was available. The cloud cover prevented us from admiring the landscapes around us this day; however, the break in the cloud line showed we were still amongst the trees.
When we arrived in Tengboche it was freezing, so we grabbed some apple pie at the inn to snack on, and then went to the Buddhist Monastery that was in town. I have never been to a Buddhist Monastery, but was intrigued to see where some choose to live and how to live, which is very different from me. Inside it was very simple, until we got into the “main room.” The paintings and work of art between the walls and ceilings were so intricate and beautiful. Not going to lie, some of the art was disturbing… for example there was a small picture of a guy having sex with a corpse. I am sure there is some Buddhist story around this that I am not aware of, but Carrie and I gave each other the look of, “WTF!”
There were mats along the wall to sit down and meditate. The setting was very quiet and serene, as no talking was allowed. I closed my eyes, and my body relaxed as it realized it did not have to hike anymore that day. I could just breathe. Being the high energy ninja that I am, slowing down is certainly a process that I have been working on. While in this setting, it was infinitely easier than anywhere else to be able to let go and be present. Before I knew it, I had been sitting down meditating for close to 45 minutes. When you are without the distractions of everyday life like cell phone, job, and to do’s, it is a much different experience.
Day 5 and 6 on the trek: Here we hiked from Tengboche to Dingboche, with one rest day after arriving in Dingboche. This day was not quite as demanding as the prior two hike days. It was cloudy for the most part, but the weather stayed at bay. It even warmed up ever so slightly that we had to shed some layers. The trees started to dissipate, and the landscape became increasingly barren. I felt stronger this day hiking than I did on the others, which was refreshing.
I look back and just remember hiking a lot of this part solo. I was feeling contemplative and had a good pace going. I just used the silence as my surround sound. The wind brought the occasional company and presence as I ascended. I passed many a heard of yaks which also provided some comfort. They are so sweet with their big eyes and sweet demeanor. And their bells became a joyful sound for me.
Dingboche is this pretty valley town about 14,000 ft. up. You cannot see Everest at this point, but the mountains surrounding it were absolute giants. The temperature started to really drop here, and we went to bed in all of our gear (none of the inns we stayed at had heat or warm showers, so we were cold and ripe lol).
As I was in Dingboche, I ran into a man from New Zealand I had seen on the trail days earlier. “Hey, aren't you the girl on the horse?” LOL! I was now to many, “The girl on the horse.” I laughed and told him indeed I was, and that I was feeling much better. He told me his story, how he was planning on summiting. He was a frequent climber. “I must like to suffer, or else why would I climb these mountains all of the time?” Yes... I am sure there is some deeper story there!
I enjoyed talking to others on the trek. People were from every continent and corner of the planet. It is a powerful experience to be part of something something bigger than ourselves that brings us all together.
Day 7 on the trek: This was Dingboche to Loboche. The trees were all gone at this point. The first few hours of this hike were not bad; however, after we passed this one town, the uphill was unreal! And the lack of oxygen was increasingly palpable. I was starting to feel light headed and did not want to talk to anyone haha. I barely had enough air to walk, let alone talk.
When I got to the top of this hill pictured above, I felt super high. Hypoxia to the brain does all kinds of gnarly things haha. I had to stop and just breathe. I kept telling myself that air was abundant, that I had enough…. trying to be mind over matter.
Once I got my bearings, I continued on until I hit Loboche. I was trying my hardest to not fall asleep prematurely as I wanted to do my best and get a full night’s sleep. I had not been sleeping well. Almost every night I had woken up gasping for air and my heart beating out of my chest. I would again take deep breaths and tell myself I had enough air, then eventually go back to sleep. Anyone who knows about oxygen saturation knows we are best above 95%. I was hovering around 78% according to the sat machine our guide had.
I was making room calls for my fellow hikers with the Nepalese Healing Gong haha! I was treating aches and pains that were accumulating along the way for some of the gals. I was glad I had bought it because it really did work to provide relief. They use them in the Nepalese hospitals when medications aren’t working….Truly amazing.
We hit the hay to prepare for the final leg of the climb…
Day 8 and 9 on the trek: The next day we headed to Gorek Shep from Loboche. Base Camp was getting so close and we were getting ancy. Once we hit Gorek Shep, Base Camp was only another few miles, although a demanding few miles. At this point we were surrounded by snow and cold, but the sun was shining and the sky was blue. For that we were grateful. We ate some lunch, and then continued on to hit Base Camp by 1ish. We trekked on, bellies full. I had a pep in my step as I wanted to get to Base Camp and then rest.
I have to be honest when I say that the walk from Gorek Shep to Base Camp for me was kind of a blur. I remember certain parts… like how sunny it was, this one ridge that was more narrow, some more yaks haha. But my memory comes really back online when we got there.
And just like that, I was on Mount Everest.
It was one of those things that you kind of almost don’t believe. It was surreal. Am I really here? Is this really it? When I was a kid I remember looking at the National Geographic magazines my grandmother had and awing over world destinations. I remember seeing an article on Mount Everest and just thinking that was one of the most exotic and adventurous destinations in the world. I daydreamed a lot as a kid, and I remember I would make up fantasies about traveling to far off lands and climbing mountains such as this. And here I was, 32, and on the tallest mountain in the world, as I had pictured many moons beforehand…. Just really freaking cool.
The sea tents of those who were summiting the mountain were off in the distance. This was the season to summit, so anyone who had their eyes set on doing so, the time was now. I was surrounded by other people, including my girls (and Hari haha) smiling from ear to ear, as we had accomplished what they had set out to do.
As I was walking back to Gorek Shep, I ran into my New Zealand friend. He was tired, as he had ascended the peak of another mountain that morning. We were talking when all of the sudden we heard this rumble. There was a massive avalanche happening on the mountain directly on the other side of us. All I could think is that could be us there, but it was not. All I had was gratitude. Nature simply does its thing.
The trek back down: We took a different route than the way we came. We still passed through a handful of the same towns and trails that we did going up, so much of it was familiar. Coming down was such a relief… those mountains are no joke, and the areas that we went uphill were now turning into downhills. Praise be!
I was able to take in much more of the landscapes and savor my surroundings instead of being so focused on the task at hand. There were a handful of times I caught myself skipping down the mountains because I felt so good! No more air hunger. No more hills that felt like they never ended.
But that’s relativity. You do not know what joy is unless you experience pain and sorrow. You do not know peace without turmoil. We do not know what light is without dark. And so I could not savor the comedown of the mountain without the struggle of the uphill.
It took about 4 days (if I recall correctly) to get down since we were ninja quick and then we did not have any acclimation days.
The day we arrived back in Lukla (the bottom town we were flying out of) we walked into town and this man approached us. “The plane I just came off of tried to take off but crashed.” We went and looked down at the airport runway to see the wreckage. The copilot and two others died, as the plane went off the runway while taking off. This was the little airline we flew in and were flying out with.
It was a stark reminder of how this life can be gone in an instant. The people who have died climbing Everest this year are another stark reminder. No one is promised tomorrow, and that includes me. It reinforced I want to wake up everyday with choosing to make the best of it. It is really all we have… the present.
We made it back to Kathmandu the next day, safe and sound. We enjoyed our last few days with spas, shopping, and NOT doing anything physically demanding haha. Like I mentioned in my one post, our last night felt like the ending of Lord of the Rings to me. So bittersweet. I had just met these people 3 weeks ago, and we had been through a lot together. We did what we set out to do, and it was time to go home.
I will always remember this trip. I am still processing what happened, and how things are different. I am noticing in myself an ever deeper level of carefree-ness (if you will). I am noticing myself expanding into my “bigness” with less resistance. I am noticing that I am inviting love and receiving love more and more. I couldn’t tell you exactly why… but I think I left on the mountain what was getting in my way, dropped it off, and said Ciao. The mountain is good for that.
I am grateful. I am living… not simply being alive waiting to die. And it feels mighty good.