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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times

I have been home from a magical trip to Nepal and Bhutan for well over a month now, but the words required to describe the experience continue to escape me. April 2010 was so incredibly physically, emotionally and visually exhausting that I am still regrouping. I look back at the pictures I took and I reread my journal entries from those four weeks and I still cannot believe I did it. I DID IT!!

I’ve long been fascinated by the really high mountains. High school and college in Colorado initially fueled the interest, but a trip to the Tetons, Yellowstone and Banff/Lake Louise several summers ago really rekindled the love. Now I knew I had to see Mt. Everest with my own eyes, without an airplane window between me and her. Small detail that I was a 60 year old overweight Krispy Kreme loving couch potato who’s major physical activity was bidding one spade at bridge or changing the channel on her remote control. I was also just rejoining the real world after having lost my husband of 28 years in an airplane crash a few years ago. In a nutshell, I was a total mess with a heavy heart.

After two years sitting of in my house, waiting to magically feel better about my personal tragedy (but secretly knowing full well that it would take me kicking my own butt), I finally took just a bit of control, lost 75 pounds (goodbye Krispy Kremes, hello Greek yogurt) and I reconnected with adventure -- I swam with dolphins in Acapulco, rode a camel in Morocco, petted llama at Machu Picchu and zip-lined in Belize.

Then came that trip to the Rockies. While in Banff, I happened to meet a group who were coincidentally staying at our hotel, a casual chat with one happy camper gave me the resolve to try a short, domestic group trip to see if I’d like that kind of program style. But I never seem to do things the normal way. Instead, the resulting 17 day (!) Above The Clouds program to Nepal (!) with a personal 11 day extension (!) in Nepal and to Bhutan seemed absolutely the right thing to do. Crazy.

I called, I booked, I paid. Then I crossed the do-or-die threshold by telling friends and family what I was going to do, so now I actually had to go through with it.

For 17 days I thoroughly enjoyed western Nepal with the most interesting and interested group of world travelers, ages 65 – 82, who climbed everything, ate everything and took part in everything to the hilt! We enjoyed informative instructors and guides, wonderfully cozy lodges, and absolutely delicious food.

Lukla to Monju:
When the group left to return home, I was suddenly on my own… climb up to where I could see Mt Everest, with my own eyes, without an airplane window between me and her. I woke up at 4am that first morning alone, grabbed my bag, and met up with my guide, Chitra. The domestic airport in KTM was swamped with all sorts of folks waiting on that infamous Lukla flight – serious summiters with serious gear, intrepid trekkers with heavy high topped mountain boots and lightweight walking poles, and me, in jeans and tennis shoes with my bogus North Face duffel bag. Geez.

The flight was much easier than I had expected, we had a cup of tea, and we were off. I cannot come up with the right words to explain my joy at being on THAT trail, the one that every south face summiter walks. It almost made me feel as one with them --- for about the first 20 minutes (which was all downhill!). Chitra and I fell into a fairly steady pace, chatting every now and then, me mostly constantly worrying about those dreaded steps, from the Hilary Bridge to Namche, that I’d have to face the next day. I kept my head down and kept worrying. I made it to Monju in seven hours, had some of the best chicken soup in the world and fell into bed, still worrying about what tomorrow would bring.

Monju to Namche Bazaar:
Nepali flat versus American flat – I woke up worried. As we trudged along toward the Hilary Bridge, I’d keep asking Chitra to describe the next part of the trail. “Is it uphill or flat?” “Oh, it’s pretty flat, Jane”, would be his reply, just as I saw a steep hill in front of me. There must be a big difference between his definition of flat and my definition of flat! And there was – if the trail starts and finishes at approximately the same altitude, the Nepali call it a flat trail. The fact that you climb a steep 1,000’ and then descend a steep 1,500’ and then climb another impossible 500’ (not my American definition of flat) has absolutely no bearing!

Goodbye to Bob – we reached the Hilary Bridge and Chitra helped me hang a Prayer Flag along this incredible span. I loved the fact that it was really high up in the mountains, high above the river and that the tradition is that prayer flags are never taken down. This was the best place in the world to say Rest In Peace to Bob – he’ll always be flying high!

You can do it, Jane – we finally began those infamous steps. This part of the trail’s reputation is well earned. I’d climb 40 paces and stop, climb 25 steps and sit, climb 10 paces and wonder how in the world I’d ever make it to Namche. Chitra was more than patient and more than encouraging. He’d quietly stop ahead of me, turn around to see me struggling, and would, in the most uplifiting tone imaginable, say “You can do it, Jane.”

Enjoy the downhill – the final hours of this part of the trail stretched on, but thanks to Chitra’s constant encouragement, my mood began to lift. Even though the trail continued up, up, always up, there were portions that were indeed (American) flat, and some parts, albeit very short parts, were even downhill. At this point in the climb, I was so tired, so exhausted, so consumed by the task of climbing, but it dawned on me that I didn’t even have the energy to worry about the what if’s or tomorrows any more – all I could do was be actively engaged in what I was doing that very minute. I was actually living in the now! What an emotional change of direction! With Chitra’s steady, quiet assistance, those five intense hours on the trail that day served to wonderfully, positively and permanently change me. Even after being home for many weeks, I’m different, my mood and outlook have been raised forever!

Never give up; no matter what is going on around you, never give up (The Dalai Lama) - I met my personal goal of reaching Namche Bazaar, I spoke with many, surprisingly humble, Everest summiters, I enjoyed the most amazingly warm camaraderie of other similarly minding nature lovers who were just as appreciative as I was of the incredible personal sacrifice it takes to reach 29,000’, I saw Mt. Everest with my own eyes, without an airplane window between me and her, and I absolutely loved every minute of the overwhelming emotion, incredible exhaustion and life-altering personal change that this adventure brought me.

Go! Try! Never give up! You can do it!

~Jane Lang
ATC Alumni

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