himalayan entry 4: the only thing that can be measured is the mountain

21 Jan

Never measure the height of the mountain until you have reached the top. Then you will see how low it was. -Hammarskjold

Day six was the day. It was the day we were going to scale to 4998 meters.

We woke up at 5:15am and got dressed to meet a couple that we were going to trek the mountain with. We met them a couple of days prior on the path and saw them again when we arrived in Kyanjin Gompa. They were hesitant to trek this one particular mountain but we talked them into it, reassuring them that we would do it together and they decided to come with us.

It took us nine hours, round trip. When we started, it was still dark but soon enough the sun had peeked over a mountain and the warmth of it was starting to lick our cold little noses. At such a high altitude, the sun and the wind threaten to do damage; the sun with its ability to burn your skin and the dry wind making your throat soar and your lungs weak. We dressed well for it; lots of sunscreen with layers upon layers to help protect us from the cold wind.

We were about two hours in when we saw three people coming up the mountain behind us. Two of them were on foot and one of them sat on a pony, (to say “rode” a pony would be giving them too much credit.) I was confused for a moment at this sight because ponies are usually used on the mountain with tourists when the tourist is sick from altitude but this person was ascending so they couldn’t have been sick.

As they came closer we saw that it was two local men and a tourist. As they came even closer we saw that the pony kept stopping and its chest was heaving at an alarming rate. Every time it stopped, one of the men would hit the pony with a stick. The four of us sat there watching this as we nibbled on our snacks, taking a short break. Once they were close enough, some people in our group had a verbal exchange with the locals. The locals yelled back, “Stop yelling, [the tourist] pay, we take them.”  As we continued our hike we discussed this as a group and here is the stance that I took: In many places around the world, the income of the people rely on tourist dollars. When tourists come, the locals need to meet the tourists wants and demands. The locals are doing what they need to do to make a living and so it’s the tourists that need to make a change in what they deem appropriate when visiting these places. The problem is the kind of tourist that pays to have a pony to ride on up a mountain, or an elephant ride, or a lion hunting excursion. Tourists need to be educated in how to travel. We can shape the rights and wrongs, we just need to educate ourselves.

Off topic but important.  Further into our trek, we sat and took another short break and while we did, we heard a rumbling that shook through the mountains and our bodies. Looking from the side of the mountain we were on to a mountain across from us, we saw an avalanche! The word “numinous” came to mind. I just read somewhere that it means to describe an experience that makes you fearful but fascinated, awed yet attracted. Mother Nature is the original powerhouse and when she wants to do something, there is no stopping her. We all sat there with our mouths open in silence. I looked behind me to scan the mountain we were on. It looked as though we were safe but I became even more hyper aware of my very vulnerable position on this mountain.

There were two different points on the mountain where I thought I would have Lucas go on and I would wait for him but I kept arguing with myself to keep going. I wanted to get up there, I wanted that success. There is nothing about me or my life that says “quitter” or “half-ass.” The conversations I had in my head were humorous though; it was a constant back and forth of worry and encouragement between me and myself, especially when I looked up and the tip of the mountain still looked so damn far away. In fact, Lucas was sharing our story with someone and to his enjoyment, he shared that I was talking to myself during the icy, more dangerous part of the trek, (I also talk to myself when I ski, whaddya know!) I kept saying “This is a dumb idea, this is unsafe and we shouldn’t be here. What am I doing here? This doesn’t feel safe.” Of course I followed up with “I am my mother’s daughter and I totally got this. I am going to get my ass up there and at the end of the day, enjoy a hot lemon tea. People go through much more than this just to go to school. I could be sitting at a desk at work right now.”  Then, after a while, my positive voice got tired of my my negative voice and was all like, Pshhhaaa….. Stay out of my business negative voice, I am doing this whether you like it or not so screw you and leave me…wait, I have to reapply sunscreen….“Babe, can you pass me the sunscreen? Ah, thanks!”… alone. I need to concentrate on not passing out up here.  Plus, I had a butterfly to leave up at the top for mom and I needed to get it up there.

About an hour and a half later we made it to the very top of the mountain. It was the last hour and a half that I was most nervous. We didn’t have spikes on our shoes, only poles, and it was icy. The path was icy enough to walk on but on either side of it my walking poles would stick three feet into the snow and if we weren’t careful, we could get stuck in the snow. There were holes in the ice and boulders to climb. There was blowing wind and blinding sun. There were snow leopard prints and we kept slipping and falling. We did it though.

Once up there we ate the lunch that Chime and Sumzu, our hosts, packed us; yak cheese, two boiled eggs, bread and peanut butter. It was a bit of a party because we felt so good that we made it and so there was a lot of hugging and smiling. While the others talked amongst themselves, Lucas and I went over and I hung the butterfly on the banner of the prayer flags for mom.

And down we went. Three and a half hours later, we were in the village again on our way to the shower and then off to eat some momos and dal-bhat.

We reached 4,998m that day but we all felt so much higher.

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One Response to “himalayan entry 4: the only thing that can be measured is the mountain”

  1. Jane January 22, 2014 at 1:47 am #

    LOL!!! Only an introvert can truly appreciate your “self talk”.
    Must have been amazing! xx

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