I left Minneapolis on April 5. This departure felt quite different than did leaving Philly two years ago—perhaps because I'm in such a different position in life (working consultant vs. graduate student), perhaps because I know now what to expect out of the trek and Everest's lower slopes, or perhaps because two years ago the closest call I'd ever had in the mountains involved falling into a crevasse on Denali. Our 2015 expedition forever changed me: it reminded me first-hand just how precious life is, when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake unleashed a wall of ice and rocks on our camp, narrowly missing me and my teammates. We helped treat and comfort the victims before assisting with reconstruction efforts in the Khumbu on our way out of Nepal.
As our flight from Chicago to Abu Dhabi flew over Page Hill—not far from where my mother Page lived in Maine in her twenties—I couldn't help but wonder what she would think of these endeavors to complete the Seven Summits and promote intercultural understanding through Youth For Understanding (YFU). She was a wonderful pen-pal during my YFU exchange year in Germany, and she set my early career direction after the exchange, when she picked me up at the airport and whispered into my ear "baby, I think you should go to a good school and become a diplomat". She was proud of my decision to switch from choir to crew in college, even delighting my roommates by waving a pair of my white boxers as a "homer hankie" at the one regatta she was able to attend before she died. If my mom were alive today, I think she would have some of the same feelings as my dad: proud of my athletic endeavor and support for the organization that gave me so much, and also nervous about the dangers of the world's highest peak.
I spent most of the flight watching movies I'd missed in the past couple of years, and before I knew it I was reunited with my IMG guide from 2015—a terrific Coloradoan and fly-fisher extraordinaire. We had one day in Kathmandu, which I spent buying a Tibetan rug to insulate my tent floor at basecamp, chatting with folks attending the Nepal Society of Obstetrics and Gynecologists annual meeting next to our hotel, and visiting the famous Monkey Temple atop one of Kathmandu's many hills. I was impressed with how much Kathmandu seemed to have bounced back from the earthquake. Aside from the Monkey Temple (which was still being repaired), everything I saw seemed to be as lively as I remembered it from before the earthquake. The hotel owner said business was strong and that she hoped that international travelers understood that Nepal was back and ready for tourists.
On April 8, we landed on the cliff at Lukla's Tenzing-Hillary Airport (~9,000') and began our 40-mile hike up the Khumbu valley. For the ten days since then, we have gained an average of 750' of altitude per day to allow our bodies to build more red blood cells to compensate for the lower concentrations of oxygen in the air. In Namche Bazaar (the capital of the Khumbu) we organized a hilarious Secret Santa gift exchange, and I had a chance to catch up with three of my Polish teammates from Vinson Massif who are climbing with different expeditions.
We spent one night next to the famous Tengboche monastery and attended one of the monks' daily chanting sessions. The next day in Pangboche, we were blessed by Lama Geshi—the high lama of the Khumbu who walked here from Tibet decades ago. The Buddhist influence in this culture is palpable and inspiring. In so many of the Sherpa, I perceive a presence, humility and kindness that I rarely perceive in Americans. Lama Geshi seemed almost overjoyed by life, even as he admitted that he had recently been diagnosed with a serious disease. Being in this environment reinforces my belief that happiness is a choice. I am so incredibly lucky to live in America, where so few people will ever want for basic food and shelter and where there are systems to support many who can't care for themselves. The stresses I feel in America are often self-created, and the mindset I bring to my work, relationships and communities is on me. When I come back, I look forward to focusing on how lucky I am, even as I continue to find deeper sources of fulfillment in life.
Our hikes to Pheriche and the base of Lobuche peak brought more great views and conversation, shaggy yaks, and the Presidential podcast carrying me up the trail.
Thank you again for helping give our youth the opportunity to see the world through others' eyes.