It’s 3am. We emerge from our tents in the frigid sub-zero temperatures of the Himalayan night and make our way to the dining tent where hot coffee and porridge awaits. We slip on our harnesses and climbing boots, load up our back packs and head directly for the Puja, the altar the Sherpas build to pay respect to the mountains.
You see, the Sherpas believe Gods inhabit these peaks and before climbing one must pay deep respect to the mountains and offer gifts and good intentions in exchange for safe passage. I deeply respect their beliefs (as I do all cultural beliefs) and approach the burning juniper at the base of the altar. I scoop up a small handful of rice in my right hand, bring my hand to my heart and toss the rice in the air and humbly ask for safe passage.
At 5am, after an hour of climbing we find ourselves at the first resting point. There is a fire in Pasang Kaji’s eyes that I’ve never seen before. He’s truly stepped up since we lost our team leader. I graciously pass on the expedition leader torch and place it in his hands. We work as equals, but should we succeed, it’s important to me that he be recognized officially as having stood in the forefront where he and his Sherpa brothers belong.
Pasang Kaji’s story continues to marvel me as I peel back and uncover the layers of how far he’s come in his life. He’s emerged from a family line that wed his parents at the age of nine and twelve. From incredibly humble beginnings, a village few have ever heard of, where most children in the area don’t go to school and the average income is less than a dollar a day, to standing here: shining as a leader, businessman, father, certified guide and friend. I can’t help but smile and be proud that I’m a part of HIS journey.
As we made our way up the couloir, to the point where Gab had his accident, I couldn’t help but feel anxious and wonder: will the same thing happen to one of us?
“Are you nervous?” I asked PK
“Nope” he replied. “I’m excited to climb”.
We forged a path to the left and found ourselves buried in snow up to our waists for the next 7 hours. Every vertical step was three times the effort it should have been as we’d penetrate the top layer of snow and repeatedly sink. At altitude, this is no small task. With two ice axes in our hands, we climbed in mixed terrain, leveraging the ice, the rock, the snow and fixed the route using ice screws, snow pickets and hundreds of feet of Korean rope. With deadly seracs looming ominously overhead, the common theme was: one mistake will cost me my life. I found focus within and felt my way through, front pointing my way through the difficult sections with four points of steel connected to mountain. Heart beating steadily, endorphins flowing freely, for hours we climbed and achieved a new high point, just 200m beneath our proposed camp 1.
“What do you think,” I ask PK.
“Do we go left or right?”
Option 1 is likely an ice wall we need to climb with dead end littered with invisible crevasses and Option 2 may unlock the route to upper half of the mountain. Or it might not.
We decide to descend due to the deteriorating weather. This is a huge accomplishment for us and we now know we are just 200m beneath Camp 1 which gives us access to the upper part of the mountain.
The suffering is immense, but the joy of being in the mountains, connected in nature, bonded and bound by a brotherhood, outweighs the temporary inconvenience of pain and discomfort. “This too shall pass”. My mantra for everything difficult in life.
Uncertainty awakens the soul and unlocks potential un-imagined. All is unwritten and we can’t wait to live what happens next…