Into the Khumbu: Ellusive Nepal
I sit in a rooftop hukka bar in the Thamel district of Kathmandu. Honking horns and pop music blend with a techno remix of the Tibetan Buddhist mantra "Omani Ped Me hom". I savor the flavor of blackberry tobacco and watch yet another chaotic night unfold in a place whose name is synonymous with the edge of the map.
I have spent two months in the mountains of the Khumbu sub-range of the Himalaya, attempting to climb some of the most beautiful peaks upon which I have ever laid my eyes. I began the trip riding a string of successful climbs and expeditions, my ego was strong, and failure felt remote. However, despite looking at mountain faces which I felt myself and my teammates capable of climbing,they successfully eluded us.
When designing an expedition into the big mountains, I make all sorts of contingency plans; med kits, antibiotics, whiskey, and ipods cover potential eventualities. But when the planning is done for the day, while sitting back thinking about the expedition at hand, I visualize climbing high on beautiful technical terrain, of pushing through fear and exhaustion, and of SENDING.
Nevertheless, sickness, heavy snowfall, high winds, and melting ice conspired to break down our psyches and keep us off the flanks of the mountains. Despite changes in objective, group psyche meetings, runs of antibiotics, and finally a day of drinking whiskey and smoking cheap Nepali cigarettes, we found ourselves defeated in a realm that we felt ourselves savvy.
Now alone, my partners having left a couple of days ago for the hills, crags, and loved ones of home, I hang in Kathmandu waiting for an Indian visa to be approved. My days and evenings are spent walking the streets plugged into my headphones and sitting in restaurants writing. Heavy beats, loud guitars, and poignant lyrics carry me around the cars and motorcycles weaving down the narrow streets and past peddlers selling fake antiques, illicit substances, and tiger balm. With nothing to do, I am left to wander and digest the experiences of the past months.
Why do I live a migrant, intentional, and extremely frugal lifestyle in order to pursue steep unknown terrain in wild places?
The answer is simple, I climb and attempt new routes on demanding terrain to taste what is not easily attained, to step close to the edge and come back to share. Along with pushing personal limits comes the discovery of personal boundaries; the edge of the envelope.
I love to push my limits and I love to climb. In the Khumbu we made decisions that kept us mentally healthy, alive, and ready to push again another day as stronger more humble and confident alpinists.
In the evening, the streets of Kathmandu, lit by bare light bulbs in open-air shops, have taken on a more ominous quality, and I walk back to my guesthouse. I have just finalized plans to return to the greater ranges in the spring, this time to Alaska. I consider with a humble attitude, the recognition that failure on the mountain is a real possibility, with real learning opportunities. I rejoice in being drawn to the flanks of these mountains that I find so beautiful. With excitement and anticipation, I think of climbing high on beautiful technical terrain, of pushing through fear and exhaustion and of SENDING.