Below the Sacred Mountain

The entire world has been slam-dunked by a global pandemic. While I’m sitting here, alone, I’m sending out prayers to all of you. Please be safe. Be healthy. Laugh and learn something new in these days of “shelter at home.” One question : would you like to see Iceland or Egypt next? Send me a note!

Today we trek to Mount Everest Base Camp. I’m tired of squatting to pee over an open hole with a wet floor. Why can’t people hit the yawning pit? Is that too much to ask at 2:00 A.M. in the dark?  I roll back into my sleeping bag and grimace in the freezing cold room. I fall asleep and dream of taking a 30 minute hot shower with a super-sized bottle of body wash.

We’ve been inhaling tiny particles of dust kicked up on the trail which hardens to concrete in our lungs. I’ve worn masks or buffs across my nose and mouth until heat builds up in the thin air and feelings of suffocation overwhelm me. Now I’ve come down with the Khumbu cough along with our guides and other team members.

After breakfast, my mood lightens. Wonders of a meal and a warm room. Brilliant blue sky arches overhead and I’m filled with elation. We’re gonna make it! God willing. 

Of course it’s uphill, but the terrain has changed to glacial skree. Boulders. Ice fields covered in dirt. Amazing sculptures erupting from a jumble of frozen water Every step requires concentration.

I stop often. Not because I need to, but because I must take in the majesty surrounding me. Slow down. Capture this beauty into your soul. I am so insignificant in this process of creation but I’m honored to witness the soaring peaks that surround me in every direction. ( Lobuche-20,075′, Nuptse–25,830′, Lhotse–27,939′, Kalapathar–18,192′ and Everest–29,029′)

We keep stepping off trail to allowing transport animals the right of way. And the biggest disappointment? The traffic jam of people here. Nothing zen about a conga line ordering “Step to the right!” Gritting my teeth, I follow a snaking line of hikers heading for Gorkashep where we’ll drop our bags at the tea house and eat before heading to Base Camp in the afternoon.

It’s been a surprise to some of my companions about the limited time at Mount Everest. And there’s restrictions. Of course, you can’t wander through the expedition tents. Think about it. Makes sense. They won’t be waiting for us. They need to focus on their own hardship and goals.

After lunch we head across the first valley which is merciful in its flatness. But it doesn’t last long. Up.Down.Up.Down. Climb over uneven rocks. Hug a cliff wall. I won’t stop in fear now.

We tread along a high ridge where an avalanche roars like a jet engine to our right and a rock slide tumbles into a chasm on the left. I’m so dry I cannot spit. Fighting fatigue, we step off trail to drink and eat quick snacks. Jerky. Nuts with sweets. Protein bars. Can’t get enough and will learn later that my weight dropped twelve pounds. I share with the Sherpas and their smiles make me joyful. New friends. You can’t ever have too many.

I’ve been so intent upon putting one foot before the other, it takes me a few moments to realize we’ve arrived at the stupa for the dead above base camp. Then my world begins to crash into an unexpected tsunami of feelings.

I walk farther, taking quick pictures of base camp before afternoon clouds roll in. Yes. There’s the Khombu Ice. Quick look at the tents. But my heart is drawn back to the stupa for the dead. I’ve written messages on prayer flags for my deceased husband. This close to heaven, he’ll certainly hear. “Please help our kids. Give them dreams of how to proceed safely in this world” or simply, “I’m sorry that you suffered so much”. Twenty-two squares of fabric. Twenty-two appeals to eternity beyond.

I’m shaking with emotion, my body turned away from the mountain as a friend helps me connect my flags onto a chain of hundreds of prayers already there. This turned out to be the most important moment of my six year journey through death and grief. Later, I realize the gift the goddess of the mountain bestowed upon me that day. The veil of mourning sloughed away, transforming me with concious effort into a healed version. The next steps are with intentions for survival, hope, and renewel.