« We want to be the poets of our lives. »
– Friedrich Nietzsche
I believe we can create things. Moments, opportunities, smiles.
I believe we can even create Beauty itself.
Boarding a plane for the Khumbu – the Everest region – I had only one certainty: the odds were playing against me. To create something – something beautiful, maybe – I would have to work hard, patiently and intelligently.
Less than two weeks after ending the Annapurna circuit with my injured right knee, I had let it heal and even strengthened it, but I (sadly and stupidly) injured my left knee during the process …
But first of all, the trek:
In the Everest region, there are several possible routes. The most popular and busiest is certainly the path from Lukla to Everest base camp (EBC), making it easy to climb Kala Pattar (5640m) for an amazing view.
There is also the Three Passes Trek, much longer, through the Renjo La pass (5 360m), Cho La pass (5 420m) and Kongma La pass (5 550m), adding the EBC (5 364m) on the way.
One can even hike the three passes + three peaks by adding the climb of Gokyo Ri (5 360m), Kala Pattar (5 640m) and Chhukung Ri (5 550m).
And then from Lukla, the city where we land to begin the trek to the north, one can also go down to the south to join Salleri (3 days) or Jiri (6 days) and reach Kathmandu by jeep/minibus rather than take the airplane. But this section is deemed ultra-steep and rough for the knees – even though it never goes higher than 3000m above sea level – so you understand that it was not part of my plans (both my knees are kind of injured, remember?)
So what was my plan?
Everything else. The three passes, the three summits and the Everest base camp.
And for the fun of it, for the fun of making dreams come true, I added the Imja Tse (6189m) – better known as the Island Peak – to my itinerary. A summit that requires guide, peak permit and mountaineering equipment.
In this spirit of optimism and “creation”, I had even arranged with a peak climbing agency in Kathmandu, planning to meet the guide near Island Peak once I would be in the region.
The rest, all of it, would be solo.
Here is the first part of my adventures in the Khumbu, land of the Everest.
So I started hiking from Lukla before noon, on a Thursday like any other, if not for this belief/fear that I would quickly be forced to turn back because of my knees. I walked the first day slowly, following the pace of yaks and prudence. The second, in the same spirit, leads me to Namche smoothly.
As the last “normal village”, Namche is quite important. Its size and its elevation (3440m) make it a traditional acclimatization stop for all trekkers in the area. I therefore decide to spend, as everybody else does, a rest day and enjoy the weekly market taking place on that exact day.
Then I’m off to Thame, a quiet and beautiful half-day hiking, mostly marked by the meeting of an American psychologist incredibly fond of cycling.
Both arriving in Thame a little before noon, my new friend and I sit down with a cup of black tea and start sharing our impressions and experiences of the White Mountains and Presidentials Mountains (in New-England), who happened to be our common “backyard”. Discussions about travel, trekking and cycling quickly fill up our afternoon and evening, and before we know it it’s bedtime!
The next morning, a similar day presents itself with an easy walk to Lumde, the last village before the Renjo La pass. I reach my destination, happy and confident: my knees are in perfect condition and despite my prudence and relative slowness, I hike faster than expected.
Sixth day: acclimatization. I am pretty sure I can do without it. But if only for the health of my knees I take a day off, spending long hours between my harmonica, Dostoevsky and the Himalayas.
Finally, the fateful day arrives.
The first pass, Renjo La.
I leave just a few minutes after two groups (one of six trekkers and three guides and another one of one trekker and her guide) not to be completely alone in case something goes wrong. We still need to go up a thousand meters higher before crossing the pass – possibly snowy and icy – a significantly more difficult path than the Annapurna…
But I quickly realized that:
- The path is clear, very clear;
- I advance quickly, and well.
So I slowly pass all the trekkers, guides and porters, and eventually take it alone towards the Renjo La pass. A few minutes before reaching the summit of the pass, however, a French mountain guide overpasses me and prevents me from being the first on top. I was very excited to be the first to reach it, but in the end I manage to stick to my cautious pace.
And then I learned that this 48 years old guide – on vacation because of the recent earthquake – is trekking through Nepal on foot; today happens to be the 89th day of his trek (or something like that).
It’s my seventh… Alex, take it easy.
Five minutes later, he greets me on Renjo La, shakes my hand and congratulates me: I did it! He points to the horizon that suddenly unrolls before me like a red carpet:
“I present to you, Mount Everest.”
The highest mountains in the world, right before my eyes. It’s beautiful. It’s so damn beautiful.
And maybe, just maybe, I’m creating something.
[To read the next episode, click here.]