Six years ago today, I arrived at Mt. Everest Base Camp.
No, I was not planning to go further, to risk my life in the Khumbu ice fall, to stand with others on that famous summit.
But I was where I’d dreamed of being, standing amongst some who would be standing at the top of the world in a few weeks. Looking up at that famous mountain.
Ever since I’d read Into Thin Air, the story of the tragic 1996 Everest climbing season by one who was in the midst of it all, I’d become enamoured with everything Everest.
A small-time climber in the Fraser Valley myself, I decided I’d climb Mt. Baker. That would be “my Everest.” I bounced the idea off a few friends, and the planning was underway. Seven months later, we stood at the top of our famous Fraser Valley sentinel. One colleague even made me a small trophy, labelled it “My Everest.”
For a few years, that was good enough. I even summited Baker a second time.
But the real Mt. Everest was in my blood—or at least, in my imagination. Plus, I was getting on in life, and there was so much of the world I still wanted to see. (Okay, I wasn’t that “on” yet, but somewhat “on” anyway.) So I made a bucket list of places I wanted to go (okay, that proves I was somewhat “on”).
List made, rankings done, analysis complete, Mt. Everest emerged at the top of the list. So I started making plans. No, I didn’t have the money. No, I didn’t really have the time. And summiting Everest was clearly beyond me. But base camp was a possibility, a dream. And what is really the most important in life? Is it to fulfill one’s dreams?
A year-and-a-half later, five of us embarked on the trip together (and in the process, raised $64,000 for our favorite charity).
For 14 days we’d been trekking among the Himalayan peaks, gradually gaining altitude so as to acclimatize our bodies slowly. Base Camp, at 17,500 ft. elevation, has only half the oxygen of the sea level air we were used to. Sleep had been poor. Colds, coughs and headaches, routine. Accommodations, minimal, and always chilly (Yak dung does not make the hottest fires.) Our greatest comfort, our warm down sleeping bags, in which we’d spent endless hours staring into the blackness of non-sleep.
But the beauty of the trip had been incredible! The cobalt blue skies; the massive, glorious mountains that made the mountains back home look like toys (base camp elevation is the equivalent of Mt. Cheam stacked on top of Mt. Baker, and the summit of Everest is more than another Baker stacked on top of that); landscape being formed before our very eyes, as if we’d gone back a million years in time; glaciers the size of the Fraser Valley.
And then there were the people—fellow trekkers from around the world, from multiple cultures, with loads of stories; and the local, friendly Sherpas, with their strong Buddhist religious culture, their colourful prayer flags, and their undaunting spirit.
And now, the final goal! As we made those final few steps toward base camp, we were greeted by the large “Base Camp Bakery and Massage” sign. What a treat, even though the cinnamon buns weren’t quite to CinnaBon standards. Then, having tea with past and future summiters in the tent behind the big Canadian flag, and listening to their stories!
We all have our Everests. What’s yours? Maybe it’s home ownership. Is it worth going for?