To rise or to retreat? A dilemma above the clouds

I’m currently living in a yellow tent amongst hundreds of others at 5700M above sea level. My climber partner Kheiry and our assistant Jeremie along with 2 of our strongest climbers have left Tibet and abandoned the climb. Kheiry had the humility to accept to be evacuated, as much as we all contributed, he saved his own life. Truth is: I miss him. Dearly. I sit in his seat as I type this email unsure of what to do next.

The evacuation has left me exhausted. Yesterday I climbed to Camp1 at 6400M, trying to regain the passion for this climb and was shocked to learn that a man lay dead no more than 20 feet from away from me. He was crushed in an avalanche. It’s hard to imagine that amongst such beauty is an undertone of tragedy. I question my reasons for remaining here.

I am afraid for the first time in a long time. Should I just go home? Today I am faced with an enormous challenge, possibly one of the greatest I have ever faced. There is a weather window and I must decide if I will tempt the summit. How do yo know if you’re ready?

Well, in my case, I quiet down and I tune in. I tune into my body. I tune into the mountain. I tune into the energy of my climbing partner Dawa Tenzing. I look up at the heavens and I close my eyes and I ask myself ” Can I do this?” Is it meant to be? Truth is, I don’t have that answer yet. If I don’t leave tomorrow, it’s all over.

So why is the one of the greatest challenge I will have ever undertaken?

Physically: I have only touched camp 1 at 6400M. The summit is 8201M above sea level. All of the other climbers have climbed up and down the mountain 4-5 times preparing their bodies for the 8000M climb. I have not had that luxury. If I go, I will climb almost 2000M, much of that in an un-acclimatized state. Now… it is oxygen assisted which does make it possible. I’ve consulted with a mountaineering mentor of mine and he assured me, if I am strong, it is possible and most importantly, safe.

Emotionally: I’m tired. Taking care of Kheiry took everything I had in me. I of course, would not change a single thing, I mean, he is safe and sound in Kathmandu because of our evacuation! I’m jealous that he is sipping expressos as I warm my toes with a hot water bottle! I factor this emotional fatigue into my overall decision.

Mentally: This is where I soar. As I was climbing to Camp 1 yesterday I tested the waters and realized that this is my greatest strength. I learned a long time ago that if ‘your spirit can believe it and your mind can conceive it, your body will do it.”. Even my Sherpa cook Pasang said to me: “Dawa will go with oxygen, you’re too strong and too fast, like Sherpa!”. LOL  – I found that rather amusing.

Dawa and I have an amazing history together. In 2007, at 8000M on Everest he got sick and abandoned the climb, I was left to carry 3 bottles of oxygen when most Westerners carry one. He never left Camp 4. At the time, I had this idea in my head that Sherpas were superhuman, that day I realized they’re powerful and extremely adept to the thin air, but they are human.

In 2010, when I tempted the summit of Everest again Dawa turned out to be our head Sherpa. I was skeptical, but decided to give him a chance. I had grown and evolved and was certain he had as well. Together, it was redemption. We catapulted to the highest point on Earth, together, as equals and stood on top of the world. Now once again, we are faced with a great challenge and will entrust our lives into the hands of the other.

What next? I’m packed. Dehydrated meals are ready to go. Ra Ra soup. Dried Salami. Jujubes. Chocolate. Goo’s. Anything that will give me instant energy up high. Oxygen mask, down suit, down mitts, 8000M boots, dry socks, back up dry socks, feet warmers, DSLR + one lens and my Go Pro camera. If we are to do this, we must travel light.

Option 1:  The ideal window is in 2 days. If we tempt it, we must climb from ABC to camp 2 in one day, rest a few hours then push from Camp 2 to the summit, bypassing camp 3 then back to 2. This is an ENORMOUS day and is almost unheard of. I’m leaning towards option 2.

Option 2:   Climb from ABC to camp 1 and rest overnight. Push to Camp 2, rest a few hours, bypass camp 3, hopefully summit then back to 2. The drawback is that we’d summit in higher winds, slightly more risk, but more realistic.

Is it possible? Yes. Nothing is impossible.

What I will say is the following: No mountain is worth risking anyone’s life and if I climb, I will turn back in a heartbeat the moment there is any danger or risk. I have a responsibility to myself, my climbing Sherpa and everyone back home. I undertake these expeditions and share them publicly to demonstrate that life is an unknown road that is meant to be traveled and by challenging ourselves we grow, we learn, we evolve and we transfer all of this into our daily lives. Through challenge we find strength and abilities that we never knew existed. We learn to trust our instincts as they serve us at the highest level if we learn to properly call upon them.

Climbing an 8000M mountain isn’t the message here, the message here is to challenge yourself. Set goals above and beyond your abilities, shine, thrive, soar, surpass yourself and realize the infinite.

Whether I climb or retreat, succeed or fail makes no difference. This journey has been an amazing life experience. And what other than to experience is there there in life? The journey prevails… the rest remains but a detail.

Ad Astra!

I’ll be tweeting as I ascend every few hours. You can follow along at http://www.twitter.com/eliasaikaly

This is Our Cho Ouy Challenge – What’s Yours?

Much love,

Elia

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