The third part of my trek, almost as short in duration as the previous one, might as well have been titled “Letting go.” A lesson I learned during this part of my adventure, because… Well because I had to accept, and move on.
[Small precision (to answer questions and comments I received): contrary to what one might deduce from their names, the passes are much more difficult and exhausting than the three small summits, which are ultimately a normal steep hike in high altitude. Passes, on the contrary, are real challenges because of the distance to be covered, the nature of their trails and the unpredictability of the weather. Also, I have to carry all of my gear over the passes, while I can leave my backpack at the lodge when climbing a summit.]
My journey until the morning of the 12th day:
Days 12 to 16
I wake up in Zongla, reinvigorated and healthier than ever, optimism flowing in my veins. It feels good!
In the previous days, I climbed my first “small” summit and went through the first two passes, not without troubles. But today, my little injuries and aches are healed, and it’s with the word “EVEREST” in the eyes that I get on the path to Lobuche, the next to last village before Everest Base Camp (EBC).
The trail is gorgeous, short and clear. I walk quickly, arriving at destination before lunch.
I am really motivated: Lobuche is also the village where I have to call the mountaineering agency in Kathmandu to finalize my Island Peak ascent (6189m)! I only have a few days left (four or five) before reaching Chhukung, the village where I will meet the guide to do the climb. We had agreed that I would contact them from Lobuche, so that they could inform their guide of the exact date of my arrival.
So I call.
[ALEX]: “Hey I am Alexandre Bilodeau Desbiens, i had to call you once I reach Lobuche, I am going to climb Island Peak.”
[Pasang]: “Oh yeah Alex! Yes yes I remember! Um… You didn’t get my email?”
[ALEX]: “Um, nope. I told you I would you call precisely because I would not have internet access during the trek.”
[Pasang]: “Okay well you should read my email and you can call me after that if you want. Can you read your emails?”
[ALEX]: “Ok, yes, I’ll find a way. Thanks.”
So I paid the high price – Wi-Fi at 5000m above sea level is a luxury good – and log in on my iPod Touch.
The email in question goes something like this:
“The new government changed the procedure to obtain permits to climb 6000m peaks, the day right after your departure from Kathmandu. If you want to get a peak permit, because of the new law you will need to pay $ 1200 USD more, and to come back to Kathmandu to do it. I am sincerely sorry.”
My eyes flew on the words, panicked.
I went back to the guesthouse while wading in a mixture of profound disappointment and anger (against life in general). My ultimate goal, my dream, this white peak waiting for me beyond the clouds, all of it is now impossible. That for which I was so careful with my knees, for which I was about to be perfectly acclimatized…
But there’s nothing I can do. And at that moment, that night, that’s what kills me: my powerlessness. I have a funny feeling, similar to that of a broken heart, as if I had done everything in my power to make it work; putting all the chances on my side, hoping to create something great and beautiful.
But no. It’s not my decision and I can’t do anything about it. As if the mountain was telling me “it’s not you, you’re great. Really, it’s me.”
I lie a long time in bed, unable to sleep, melancholic. I am at least amused at my pitiful state as I listen to Don’t cry from Guns N ‘Roses, again and again.
Don’t you take it so hard now
And please don’t take it so bad
I’ll still be thinking of you
And the times we had, baby
And please remember, that I never lied
And please remember, how I felt inside now honey
You gotta make it your own way
But you’ll be alright now sugar
You’ll feel better tomorrow
Come the morning light now baby
– Guns N’ Roses (Don’t cry)
I eventually fall asleep, laughing at myself. Better than crying, right?
Except that a few hours later, I wake up and vomit. I don’t know why. I guess I ate something inappropriate because I felt better as soon as it all came out.
“Misfortune never comes alone,” someone once said.
And then at 5:00 am, I wake up all of a sudden: this time, it wants out by the other end. Like… as fast as possible.
So I start my 13th day with a diarrhea and a lot of questioning about the rest of my trek. “At least,” I tell myself, “two small peaks and the third pass, the longest and hardest, are still to be climbed.” It’s not as if absolutely all my challenges had vanished!
Also, let’s not forget that in the Himalayas, there’s no need to go very far to enjoy spectacular views.
So I walk to Gorak Shep (the last village before EBC), keeping my buttocks as tight as possible, and decide to climb Kala Pattar (5545m) on that very evening, hoping to see the sunset on Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse and all the others.
Halfway from the top, the view is nothing less than magnificent. We are so close to these giants and I can’t get tired of it! But I don’t take any picture: the sunset will look sublime. But a few meters before the very top, clouds come out and fill the sky.
The clouds quickly close the scenery right before my eyes, and as I am freezing on top, praying for the sky to clear before dark, they persist. So I go back down in the dark, a little disappointed not to have taken pictures earlier. But I cannot complain for too long: the toilet is calling me. Again.
The next day is Everest Base Camp day. A short hike, beautiful views all around and a mandatory picture are on the menu.
Contrary to what some people hope, and to what others are saying, I don’t think the EBC is neither extraordinary nor boring. It’s true that you can’t see Everest from it, but to ignore all the other mountains and the mighty Khumbu glacier you can admire from there would be a bit pretentious. One must have an enormous ego to scorn the landscape when one is at 5364m in the Himalayas…
14th day: I still have diarrhea. I take some medication for the Turista (traveler’s diarrhea), decided to put an end to it, and hope it will not disturb my body in other ways. As the Nepali owner of the guesthouse told me, “at 5000m, your whole body is more fragile.”
And then I looked out the window…
But… shit. At least half a foot of snow fell overnight, and it’s still falling. I walk back down to Lobuche, and there I learn what I feared the most: the Kongma La pass (my last pass) is not doable. Nobody crossed it today, and it will keep on snowing all day. And tomorrow. And the next day.
All right, it’s not like I am totally foreign to the notion of “acceptance” of what I can’t control.
But let’s say things as they are: even though the landscape is great, my situation is getting pretty shitty (almost literally, as my diarrhea won’t completely stop until the next day).
I swallow my hopes and aspirations and leave Lobuche immediately, there is no way I will lament for hours on something outside of my control. I have to keep moving forward, period.
I reached Dingboche (further south) a few hours later and decided to spend the night. The next day, always under a completely white sky, I go to Chhukung (west), just to tempt fate. I don’t have much to lose: by not being able to climb Island Peak, nor Kongma La pass, the two biggest challenges of my whole trek are gone.
In Chhukung, I have the chance to meet a group of French climbers/trekkers, absolutely fantastic and hilarious. I decide to accompany them for the afternoon to climb my third small summit, the Chhukung Ri (5550m), despite a quite volatile sky.
Hiking with them is pleasant and to forget a summit lost in the clouds, a little bit of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis starts playing on a phone, so… “we danced, and we laughed!”
These ten sympathetic Europeans depart for Island Peak base camp during my sixteenth day. Unfortunately, I cannot accompany them. I asked, obviously, but my name is not on their peak permit. Nevertheless, this meeting arrived like some fresh air, reconciling me with the idea of traveling in a group.
These few days have been very difficult, both mentally and emotionally. For someone who aspired to excel, to achieve and to take every opportunity to push back its own limits, it was frustrating to the extreme to see the very core of my ambitions being silenced.
Ambitions and dreams muzzled by a variety of factors beyond my control, leaving me powerless. It was, I must admit, a hard lesson. But an eminent theologian once said:
« God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.”
– Reinhold Niebuhr