Friday, May 29, 2009

Walk to the bottom of the world's highest peak

The 2009 IMG Sherpa Trek team above Namche. Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse are in the background, a bit washed out.

Our trek to Everest Base Camp is complete, and we've left Nepal. The trek was an incredible experience, and quite different from what we had been doing traveling simply as a couple. The Sherpa Trek to Everest Base Camp with IMG had a decidedly different flavor than our circuit around Annapurna for many reasons, and it made a great compliment to our time in the Annapurna region.

The goal of the Khumbu trek: views of Mt. Everest

First, we were traveling in a group of 15: 10 trekkers including Liz and me, and 5 Sherpa guides. Several porters and yaks carried our stuff (it makes a big difference when you're not carrying 15 kilos at altitude), but we rarely saw them. During the rest of our trip when it was just the two of us, we had the freedom to decide what to do as the days came. In our professional lives, we're both detailed planners and organizers. You make a plan and execute it -- its what makes us decent engineers. But traveling lends itself to a more open agenda, throwing designs to the wind, keeping options in mind and following your nose wherever it takes you. Sometimes, simply the act of not planning was the best plan of action, and we fell into some of our most memorable experiences this way. I hadn't realized how much we'd actually let go of our controlling minds until I jumped into executing the Sherpa Trek itinerary in early May. It went smoothly, but certainly demanded efforts I hadn't been required to put forth for months.

The largest "city in the Khumbu: Everest Base Camp

IMG's basecamp puja, a place where Bhuddist Sherpa make morning offerings, with the Khumbu Icefall in the background

The number of people in the group meant that something was always going on, with many personal highs and lows as people grappelled with the challenges of the trip and supported one another. I'd like to do some justice to the group's efforts given their experience levels coming into this trip. Half had never even hiked before, let alone for 18 days at altitude. Its not just a hike. Its not even just a hike to the bottom of the world's highest peak, which is a strenuous undertaking in itself. Its a whole experience, a journey of the senses and the mind, as well as the body. Many factors in the environment contribute to a trekker's experience, and someone who might have no problems hiking 12 miles a day at home can find themselves unexpectedly drained and depleted on a trip in Nepal. Sleeping in rustic accommodations and trying to find something appealing to a finicky stomach from the limited lodge menus, along with the inevitability of gastrointestinal illness and the potential for altitude sickness conspire against the body. The mind is often caught off guard by the cultural differences -- some strange, fascinating, and thought-provoking, others confusing and heart wrenching -- presented in the plights of Nepalis one sees on the trail at every turn, and in every village. These are people living lives very different in many ways from our own, and their situations are often written clearly on their face. By day's end, the trekker may have been pondering (consciously or unconsciously) one such face for hours, and feel complete mental fatigue in addition to the physical exhaustion.

View of Everest and Nuptse at dawn from Kala Pathar

These folks performed admirably, and were duly rewarded for their efforts with a genuine experience, accompanied by the satisfaction of having achieved something big. It was a life goal for some.

Second, the Khumbu valley and its prominence in mountaineering history is well known, as are its native Sherpa people. The Annapurna region is home to as many Himalayan giants, but Mt Everest gets most of the press.

Our Sirdar (head guide) Phu Tashi Sherpa with Chris and Liz at Basecamp

While Liz is still out of the country, we've come to the end of our travels together. Liz is in Korea revisiting some of our Baekdu Daegan travels for a to-be-announced future purpose, road tripping with her mother, and visiting family. I am home in Seattle trying to get life going again, absorbing our Nepal experiences and settling as gently as possible back into American life. It won't be a simple process, and I hope we can bring our experiences back into our everyday lives.


At June 2, 2009 at 11:12 AM , Blogger daniel said...

What an amazing journey!

At June 3, 2009 at 6:22 AM , Blogger The Fungi Review said...

Great blog. Great adventure. Also, nice way to leave a bit of a cliffhanger with the "to-be-announced future purpose" in relation to Liz's delayed homecoming.

Hope to see you guys soon.


At June 3, 2009 at 6:23 AM , Blogger The Fungi Review said...

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