“Determination, with an optimistic attitude, is the key factor for success.”
-The Dalai Lama
Two years ago, this trip to Nepal was hatched by a group of classmates from the University of Vermont. Since our graduation in 1985, we’ve gathered roughly every five years to spend time in each other’s company doing something we mutually love, enjoying the outdoors. Together we’ve spent backcountry days in the mountains of Canada, the recesses of the Grand Canyon, the wilds of Alaska, and the outbacks of Glacier National Park. As we crossed the 50 years old threshold, our thinking began to venture overseas. Two of us were able to pursue and achieve a childhood dream, the summit of Kilimanjaro in September of 2017. The Nepal trip was intended to be a culmination of all of our dreams, climbing in the high Himalaya. Sadly, injury and surgery precluded two of the group from going in the end, but it was a joy to reunite with my Kili partner, Amy Daniels, to execute what we’d both thought about for years, actually being in the presence of the highest mountains in the world.
Neither Amy nor I was naive to the realities of sustained high altitude climbing, and executed a six month training regimen for preparation. But fundamentally, one never knows how one will react to altitude and circumstance. The best training, the right gear, appropriate acclimatization technique, and regular diamox pills while at altitude may be enough in one moment, but not in another.
This trip was the toughest physical experience of my life. Over the course of two weeks…
Traveled approximately 80 miles by foot.
Was above 9,000 feet the entire time and above 14,000 feet the majority of the time.
Ascended at least 12,660 total vertical feet. I say “at least” since there were always ups on days where the destination was a “down”.
Three times above 17,000 feet, Everest Basecamp, Cho La Pass, and Renjo La Pass.
Whereas Kilimanjaro was higher (19,341 feet) and tough, sustained high altitude and for a longer duration was the differentiator here in Nepal. Every day one feels the body wearing down. The battles to keep eating when you don’t feel like it getting stronger every day, the cold at night settling in more each move higher, the dry hack that begins to affect everyone from the heavy breathing of dry air and of yak dung stoves gets more acute, and the list goes on.
But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world:
To be in the presence of 4 of the 6 highest mountains in the world, including Nuptse, Cho Oyu, Makalu, Lhotse, and of course, Everest.
To be in the presence of numerous other mountains with storied histories such as Ama Dablam, Pumori, Tabuche, Cholotse, and many others.
To cross two major glaciers, the Khumbu and the Nogozumba.
To see Everest from both the south and the west multiple times, including at dawn and sunset.
To cross two major passes and to make it to Everest Basecamp.
To place a prayer flag at the highest point on the climb, Cho La Pass, and know that it flies there even now linked to key people in my life.
To meet and engage numerous Nepalese from various regions of the country, including the Sherpa.
To learn about both Hinduism and Buddhism and the culture and values that undergird each.
To experience not only physical, but emotional challenge as well, particularly with respect to the departure of my climbing partner, and persevering.
Beyond there, this experience has helped me to also be self-reflective on one’s life purpose. The morning of our first day in Namche, I noticed this quote on the tea house wall by the Dalai Lama:
THE TRUE MEANING OF LIFE
We are visitors on this planet. We are here for 90 or 100 years at the very most. During that period, we must try to do something good, something useful, with our lives. If you contribute to other people’s happiness, you will find the true goal, the true meaning of life.
For my roughly 30+ years in higher education, my focus has been on the opportunity that a college education provides and a relentless commitment to that goal, especially for student who are the first in their families to attend college. This trip has reminded me that purpose in life is important, but in service to others one finds true meaning.
Thanks to everyone who has supported me on this trip and and may you find strength and meaning in the contributions you make to others!
Tapā’īṁ ānandita huna sakcha