Kathmandu to the Khumbu

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Hard to believe that it was nearly a year ago when I was tying my laces with some newly made friends and fellow hikers in the small hill-town of Jiri – the start of what would turn into a 5 week epic along seven major valleys and over three 5500m passes. Even harder to put to words, the sensations of ecstasy and exhaustion as they wove into one seamless humbled happiness over the 37 days on trail…breathing in, breathing out, step after step, our eyes and smiles in tandem – and imagine, the anticipation of seeing the highest summits on Earth, and finally reaching that fabled throne of Chomolungma after three sweat-soaked and sundry weeks!
day 7, Bupsa
day 20, Thamserku
day 2, Bhandar (2)
day 19, Cholatse and Arakamtse
day 5, corn and hemp at 3500m, Ringmo
From the sub-tropic lowlands amongst the banana palms and rice, to the snow-sodden passes trodden by the likes of Hillary, Tenzing, Messner, Viesturs (never mind all the Joe Schmoes with their selfie-sticks and NoPros!). To find the rhythm of the mountains: rising before the sun, tea with Tibetan bread, lunch of Sherpa stew, dal bhat dinners and apple pie for dessert. A down jacket, an afternoon scramble, tripod and water. Suncrisp lips, toque, yak cheese and bread. To lose oneself in the meditative trance of our oldest vocation, step by step towards that far horizon, that next valley over yonder pass… breathe in, breathe out, another step, another glance. Words leave you, lose their meaning, in the cold cobalt air.
day 13, Gokyo Sunset
Close to 280kms of hiking all told, and more than twice the height of Everest in elevation gain, culminating in a glorious climb of 6189m Imja Tse, that jewel of an Island in the Sky. We set out from base camp just past midnight to start the 1200m slog upwards in the thick black of night. Cold as bones. Headlamps flickering. 5 hours of frost and rockfall under foot, crampons for the summit push. A lost glove-liner. Fingertips that took four weeks to regain full sensation. Deep breaths, exhausted legs, the cringing pain of changing lenses with frozen hands…
day 28, Island Peak Base Camp
day 29, Island Pk summit, looking towards Lhotse
But my oh my! What a world which came to light under our numb noses as we reached that summit ridge, the Himalayan heavens catching the first rays of dawn as a world of impossibly deep blue and black caught afire, revealing a sawtooth horizon of daybreak colour cascading in all directions. And to stand atop a summit higher than any in North America, yet still crane our necks skyward at Lhotse’s southwest face looming another 2300m above us! Bah! And Ama Dablam to the southwest, with its improbable spearhead summit scraping the sunkissed sky… a 360 like we’d never seen before, the names of the surrounding peaks spoken of in legend and lore…
day 29, Island Pk summit ridge
day 31, Thamserku
day 18, Arakamtse
day 13, First full view of Everest
And so it felt. To walk amongst these giants, in the footsteps of the mountain dreamers of yore. To be reminded with every rarefied breath, how fleeting and finite our time on Earth, how preposterously fortunate to have it as our hearth. To be alive, today, among all other days, in the deep dark depths of this Universe. And as with the Ouroboros, to be conscious – aLive – to the delicious Mystery of Life! For long after you and I are gone, returned to the dust that bore us, these mountains will stand sentinel to the comings and goings of our ancestors and theirs, til they too will be forgotten, their names no longer spoken, their stories lost in the sediments of time. Until perhaps someday, like our crustacean cousins, the bones of our long buried bodies will give rise again to the spines of new ranges, the spires of new summits, our ancient forms blending back into the great unceasing river of renewal…
 
day 30, Lhotse's South Face from Chukhung
day 2, abandoned stuppa, Bhandar
day 16, last rays on Cho-Oyu
day 7, Bupsa (2)
day 15, Cho-Oyu ramparts
Kathmandu 3
day 5, corn growing at 3500m, Ringmo
day 10, Thame
day 1, the kids of Jiri
day 28, Island Pk Base Camp
day 4, dal bhat drop-off zone, Lamjura-La
day 6, first view of the big peaks, Ringmo
day 5, Jumbesi
day 29, Island Pk summit team