It is time to explain Everest. We felt that though we have experienced and now seen this beautiful place, and are obviously therefore “over it” (right) it is time to share some of the glory and inspire others to head up this hospitable peak.
It was, from a planning perspective, much easier than we thought: hire a guide named LAL who plans everything for the two week adventure and carries your crap so you don’t have to deal with it and can focus on getting up the damn thing. And focus we did. Our guide clarified for us that since we would never make it over 6000 meters, or 19685 feet, we were never even climbing a mountain; such paltry altitudes only constitute hills in Nepal, apparently. (For comparison, the highest peak in North America, Mt. McKinley, comes in at barely a mountain at only, or 6194 meters. Crazy Nepalis.)
The first few days were surprisingly easy - only four hours of hiking! We would exclaim each night. I bet we do it faster than that! And we would. So we scoffed and felt very smug about our hiking abilities. Hill, indeed. We saw what was going on, and what was going on were the biggest mountains we had ever seen. Surprisingly, Everest didn’t seem the biggest because it had less snow, but since the surrounding peaks are nearly as shocking in their large-ness, it was all still quite impressive. Very sound of music hills are alive, but with considerably less singing (by Lara at least).
A couple days before base camp, we huffed and puffed our way up a not-that-steep-but-shockingly-exhausting hill and came suddenly upon the Everest cemetery.
This is an amazing place.
Stone memorials to sherpas and the climbers that trusted them have been erected to remember those who have been lost since the peak was first summited in 1953. We spent a while wandering around…Lara eventually branched off to follow her new Nepali friend whose name stayed unpronounceable over the next hour of practice, while Claire stayed to fuss with the graves. In attempts to straighten one man’s prayer flag pole, she was accused of trying to wake the dead by a friendly German boy, a thought he remained convinced of long after she told him it was untrue. Apparently, her flailing motions were entirely too reminiscent of some strange voodoo dance. Those who know her will appreciate exactly how this could be so.
But despite Claire’s flailings in the dim light of monsoon season, this area was unmistakably blessed and the silence that had been growing more obvious as we climbed higher seemed only natural here. With prayer flags on every horizon, and numerous remnants of visitors that had come to remember, it was amazing to see exactly what humanity would go through to achieve the nearly unimaginable.
Humbled by the testaments to human effort that surrounded us, we moved on. Our humility became that much more pronounced that night, when the mountain decided to “make us its bitch,” if you will.
One day from base camp, Claire felt not so great. (It must be remembered HERE that Claire started our trip with a marathon and is super-fit; let’s just say Lara has not run a marathon) But with the feat of psychological strength that marathon runners and generally cool people are known for, she powered up the mountain. As the pictures prove, it was a struggle, especially with Lara mocking her slightly (also captured in picture form).
The view was gorgeous, the walk was breathy, and the German named Oliver hiking with us at this point kept stopping to pet and flirt with wild yaks. Claire would then start moaning to herself and Oliver would begin talking about how silent the air was in broken English. To get Claire up the hill (and then down the hill in the days that followed the 18 hours in a sleeping bad delerium), Lara was a true superstar, or life partner, as many must have assumed.
She would call Claire "my love" and hold her hand* and carry everything and then tell her the entire narrative of individual episodes of that reality tv show about Hugh Heffner's playboy bunny girlfriends. And she would always offer water, and nuts, and for a full 3.5 days of hiking had to endure the misery of stopping to rest for 8 minutes every 6 minutes of walking. Even when it was dark, and there were headlamps being used, and Claire was telling her she had to just shut up and not give Claire sentence by sentence French lessons anymore (which Claire had requested for hours on end) because Claire needed to say her affirmations and breathe and get in the zone because otherwise she might die. Which she kept moaning about repeatedly, occasionally also reminding Lara such important things as the fact that she had "never felt so sick in her effing life" and that "Lara had no idea and couldn't understand." And when the guide wanted to put Claire in a basket for the porters to carry, Lara thankfully believed in Claire and just gave her more drugs.
As a slightly haggard group, we made it to the final camp with the trips-off-the-tongue name of Gorak Shep. From there, Claire took to bed, following the kindly advice of a doctor named “Critter.” Lara and Oliver hiked on to base camp, missing both obvious and not so obvious signs in an apparent attempt to stay out hiking through rain and darkness. But base camp was worth it. Rumored to be only a bunch of trash gathered in one place (the movement of the glacier from year to year makes permanent buildings impossible), Oliver and I (Lara at this point) were completely unprepared for what we saw. The hike takes you straight up to the ice breaks (they could be called something different, but you get what I mean) of the glacier, huge towers of green and white ice that look like some weird DisneyLand amusement park for penguins. Following an extremely cold and blisteringly bright streambed leads you to the wreckage of a Russian helicopter that went down three years ago. Well preserved in the cold, it is one of the most disorienting sights I have ever seen: a dismembered machine that looks like a toy in front of the harsh surroundings that apparently brought it down years ago.
We turned back, pausing briefly to marvel at the fact that there were numerous human bones scattered along the trail home. Maybe it was this sight, but we raced back at a pace our guide did not believe when we told him about it, both of us not speaking and eager to get back home though we knew we were in absolutely no danger.
Getting home, I warmed up and went to check on Claire. Altitude is a bitch, as she sweetly pointed out from her sleeping bag, and the next few days were spent coping down the mountain. The good thing about altitude, though, is that if you get down, you feel better. Which we all did very soon. We raced down in only three days, and never have sore muscles been more easily forgotten: in the end, our last night was spent not reliving Everest glories, but wondering how 20,000 people could possibly find us interesting…which hopefully you still do at the end of this long long post.
*Lara made a critical observation on the Everest trek when she had to hold Claire's hand for four days. Although she had always strongly believed that boyfriends are being chivalrous when they hold your hands and help you to do things like get out of car, it turns out that what may be going on is that they think you are weak and cannot do it and need help. At least, this is why Lara realized she was holding Claire's hand (not to be chivalrous, you see, but because Claire was pathetic), and so now she thinks that maybe we should all reevaluate what handholding really means.