Finding peace in the Himalayas

In Travel by LauraLeave a Comment

In our 17 days of travel and trekking, my failed attempt to ascend to Kala Patthar served an amazing gift I would find no where else: peace.

The parks through which trekkers journey are considered sacred and blessed lands. Regardless of your faith or lack of, there is little denying that they Himalayan mountains, villages and the paths we followed define an incredibly special place in the world. As we crept closer to base camp, the feeling of that only intensified. And as we walked away, the majesty of the experience flooded mind and body.

Late in the day, a small sub-set of our already exhausted group started the journey to Kala Patthar. We’d previewed the route along the sandy route toward Everest Base Camp that morning and knew that the challenge ahead involved two hours of climbing a dramatic vertical. The goal: ascend within a two-hour time frame to capture a stunning view of the sun setting on Everest.

The first 5 minutes felt doable. The following 10 minutes felt like mind over matter. And the 15 minutes that followed that felt like I was climbing on will and will alone.

When ascent is at its worst, I’m notorious for my “low gear.” It’s a term I coined during one of my first hikes with Aaron – referencing my tactics for driving in the Colorado Rockies. Whatever the vehicle, drop it into low. Climb and descend at whatever pace works. Mentally, you can get through anything – even if it means you’re slow and last to finish. You can still finish.

On this particular afternoon, with Kala Patthar in our sights, I was in the lowest of low gears I’ve ever felt my body find. My dedication to hydration kept me alert. My awareness of my body and surroundings kept me calm and confident. But, the feeling of pure exhaustion on a level I’d never truly known made me think twice.

I quickly fell behind the rest of the group and would hike in frustration that I couldn’t keep up. Upon reaching them the first time, I remember telling Boyce and Katie that I hated them for this. After a brief rest, we started again and, once again, I fell behind.

This time, rejoining the group was harder. I watched them sit and rest while looking in my direction. They shouted and cheered – coaxing me to them. I made it and immediately told them I was done.

I had made it to the halfway mark. It was a notable turnaround point the guides had told us about early on. From there, they promised the views of Everest would be excellent (maybe just not as excellent as Kala Patthar). They hadn’t lied. It was stunning.

I hugged my friends and they continued their breathless journey which promised to be another 90 minutes up. As the entire group turned their backpacks to me and I watched them leave my sight once more, my body ached to continue. I took three steps – hoping to shout, run and catch up – but my legs stopped before I felt the ground below.

I was really done.

Once the team left me, I found a rock in the distance to sit and enjoy the sunset. I sat for 45 minutes in the silence of the Himalayas – the brisk winds, rock slides raining down. Lupse. I snapped a few photos of the scene. Caught a few of Everest. Took a moment to relax. Then, started my solo descent.

From the journal: Day 9, Part 2: Kala Patthar

I didn’t do justice to this story in the journal. I didn’t do justice to most, honestly. But this moment, in particular, was something magical.

I immediately sat on a ledge along the path and watched hikers pass as they too rushed to the heights of Kala Patthar. Rushing. Rushing.

The cold began to creep through my layers as the heat of my working body faded. I zipped every opening of my outerwear and found a second set of gloves in my daypack. I ate a snack, sipped water and waited for life to return to my body.

A few yards off the path, I spotted a rock. Tired of the curious glances as trekkers passed, I walked out to it. I snapped a few photos. Took a selfie. Commemorated the moment in which I existed at this point in the world. Then, perched on an island of solace, I absorbed quite possibly the most incredible moments of the entire trip.

Separated from the chaos of the lodge, the explosion of personalities, the small talk, the hike planning and the noise of my internal monologue – I sat in complete silence at the heart of the Himalayas.

The wind – brisk and fresh – rushed through the valley and over the cliff I sat on. There were no trees to put a visual to its power – but its presence was clear none-the-less. The sun provided balance. Warm – but fading as it drifted slowly behind the peaks in the distance. As light dimmed through the valley, rock slides clapped and clattered from every direction.

And there, I sat – finding my moment of scale in the universe. Small.

My body urged me to leave while my mind craved more of the calm world I’d discovered. The sun gave way to shadows and the air cooled quickly around me. In the soft glow of dusk, my legs picked me up and I began the hike back to Gorakshep.

Moving once again, my mind hyper-focused on process – a norm for me. I was alone. Alone, alone. Hikers along the trail had dwindled and those that were still out were preoccupied with completing their own tasks prior to sunset. My legs did their job to resist gravity and slow the drag down the steep path. Already fatigued, though, I wondered how long they’d continue to succeed.

Loose gravel slid under my feet as I wove along the switchbacks. The sun set further. The air grew colder. I raced to complete the descent before sundown – hoping to avoid stopping in the cold to find my headlamp. My eyes narrowed in on every foot placement. My breathing and movements found a mechanical rhythm. And, then, sand.

I walked through the sandy valley – relieved to be so near the lodge but ready to collapse at whatever moment my mind would allow it. I walked by a horse. He paid me no attention. Then, up some stairs – heavily trudging across the sandy ground. My hands found the door handle and I used the last of my strength to push through.

A punch of smoke from the yak shit fire welcomed me back with the shouts of our group. My moment of silence had gone as quickly as it had come.