Difficult doesn’t even begin to describe the trek out from Everest basecamp, not because it was physically demanding, but because my spirit was broken. My mind screamed, GET ME OUT OF HERE! Every cell in my body wanted to escape the devastation all around me, but another part of me, my essence, wanted to stay. I had come to Nepal with a goal to conquer a mountain and achieve a lifelong dream. With the mountain unattainable I turned my eyes to a nation in ruins. The Nepalese people shared their country, culture, and their beloved mountains with me and more importantly they supported my dream. It was time to reciprocate the love and support they had shown me. It was time to get to work.
“Family: A group experience of love and support.” – Marianne Williamson
Knowing there was no electricity or clean water in Kathmandu, we were in no rush to hurry up and wait. Staying out of the way was the best thing we could have done. Our two-week trek out of the Khumbu Valley and back to Kathmandu began, and we did our best to keep morale high. Laughter and smiles eventually seized everyone like a pandemic, but the reality would return swiftly and painfully, hit like a line drive to the face, as we passed through village after village and saw the destruction from the earthquake. Buildings were collapsing. Stones that were as old as the earth had crumbled and lay array, roofs had caved in and walls had gaping holes.
Amongst the destruction, I started to sense something happening, something bigger than me or my team. Every step down valley I felt the power of two worlds colliding. Western climbers and local climbers alike walked together. Of course we have always been teammates with mutual respect for each other, but this was different. I found myself walking amid the most selfless people I have ever met. My local team members didn’t know if their children were safe at school in Kathmandu or if their homes were still standing. The anxiety of the unknown was heart breaking. Instead of sprinting home, they walked, with a smile and wholesome banter. Job or no job they could have left, and they chose not too. This is an act that my heart can’t even begin to comprehend. They kept a brave face. I am confident I wouldn’t have had the same ability.
One of our destinations was the village of Phortse, set off the normal commercial trek to basecamp, and home to many of our Sherpa teammates. Burrowed in the middle of towering mountains, it’s a small terraced village that makes you work for every step to get up there. We stopped at the last beautiful lookout before walking down into Phortse. I plopped myself on a rock next to my friend Andy. Laying back on our backpacks we laughed. We laughed so hard I can’t even remember why except that I almost choked on my gum. It was one of these moments of joy amid tragedy that I cannot explain. Perhaps it was rooted in being thankful to be alive and to be amongst such extraordinary people. I’m going to be okay, and for the first time since the earthquake I could feel my mind thawing out, and I was beginning to process all that had happened.
“Sometimes, when two worlds collide, a better one is created.” – Susan Gale
Turning the final corner, my eyes fell on a sea of tents and tarps in open fields. These were now the residences of those that had been displaced from their homes. Welcomed with open arms, in the true magnanimous spirit of this culture, I felt oddly at home. It was an honor to have the opportunity to meet the families of those I had been climbing with for the last couple of weeks. News of families reporting in as okay and unharmed buzzed through the air. The nights were filled with poker, whiskey, food, dancing and roaring laughter. The days were filled with hard work salvaging any materials we could from the damaged buildings… two worlds colliding into one.
Phortse is where my healing would begin. I had been avoiding my yoga mat since the earthquake. My mat was the one place I had inside my tent at basecamp where no one could judge me and more importantly, I didn’t feel pressured to be perfect. It sounds silly when I say that out loud but having a competitive spirit can make practices like yoga difficult. Releasing all judgments and being okay with where you are that day is a hard thing for me.
“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.” –The Bhagarad Gita
I found a quiet terrace above camp with a view that would rival any mountain-scape postcard. In my head I kept saying, “You’re going to be okay. It’s going to be a long journey. Be patient. Listen to what you need. Breathe.” I calmed myself down, closed my eyes and began to focus on my breath. Breathing the crisp air in and out of lungs, circulating through my body, I was still. The earth pushed up against my skin and it was as if my yoga mat disappeared. I found myself flowing through a euphoric sequence I didn’t even know I was capable of. My soul was at ease, my mind at peace, and my body inverted. Breathing patiently I opened my eyes and saw the world upside down. I was in a headstand, the first one I have ever been able to do. Staring at the mountains from an upside down perspective made my lips smile. I couldn’t help but find the humor in that I had finally managed to find balance amongst shaking chaos. With control I brought myself back to my mat. I felt cleansed. Sitting up I opened my eyes and laughed to see I had a bit of an audience-a yak, a teammate, and a beautiful sunset.
It’s easy to think of each other as different, and perhaps we are. My life consists of computers, the hustle and bustle of American culture, Starbucks, horn honking and so much more. Their lives consist of climbing, farming, and the simplicity of life. The saying, “The grass is always greener on the other side”, rings true. To connect your roots to the energy of the earth is an extraordinary thing. I’m grateful to have been able to tap into the serenity and peace of Phortse and the members that make up their community, for through them, I found myself again. I would not be the old self who had trekked up to basecamp with dreams of standing atop Everest, but perhaps a new self, with a different view of the world and it’s extraordinary people.