It Was Never About the Summit

June 16, 2015
Posted in Kim's Blog
June 16, 2015 Kim Hess

It Was Never About the Summit

I have been overwhelmed with the feeling of being cheated out of a dream. I was cheated of the dream I worked so hard to achieve and the dream I chased down when everyone said I couldn’t do it. I was climbing Mt. Everest. I could taste the summit but then the world started shaking (literally) and in the course of a few minutes my dream slipped through my hands.

“Through humor, you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers. And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive it.”                   -Unknown

April 25, 2015 at 12pm the glacier beneath my tent rumbled, violently shaking. I could hear avalanches kicking off all around us. I should have been scared standing in the snow barefoot in my long johns, but with no visual and being unaware of my surroundings from the falling snow and low clouds, I started laughing. Which avalanche would hit us first? The ground stopped shaking but the thunder of avalanches grew loader.  One avalanche bellowed off the western shoulder before stopping in a crevasse just shy of our camp. Fuck. I turned toward the Lhotse face and my heart began to pound out of my chest – a group of Sherpa were sprinting down the valley in a panic, and following them was the powder cloud. I ran toward my teammates and hid behind a tent, which is completely useless and even more dangerous in an avalanche. The blowing powder cloud was cold and suffocating yet I sat huddled up, barefoot, snow-covered, and still laughing. Things settled and we sat down for lunch and began listening to our only lifeline, the radios. They exploded with chatter – controlled chaos at basecamp. Our team was okay, thank God, but basecamp had been wiped out. Helpless.

Camp 2, (21,300ft) sits in a fishbowl: the west shoulder of Mt. Everest on one side, Lhotse to another, and Nuptse finishing it off. We were sitting in the middle of a ticking time bomb comprised of thousands of feet of ice and rock towering over us ready to cause destruction at any moment. No one was seriously injured of the 70+ living at Camp 2 that day. How is that possible? What is going on down at basecamp? What is going on at Camp 1? Was anyone still in the icefall? Although I was not physically harmed, my spirit was shattered. Emotions fluttered. I felt helpless, angry, sad, vulnerable, dispirited, and thankful…I felt alive.

“Life is a gift. Never forget to enjoy and bask in every moment you are in.” –Unknown

The radios quieted down for the night and I took the long slow walk back to my tent. I looked up at the sky. The clouds had lifted and the snow had stopped. It was beautiful. Breathtaking really. The glowing stars offered hope and comfort. I had been overwhelmed with the feeling of being alone, cut off from the outside world and abandoned, but when you look up at the stars you know you’re not alone. I sat down on a rock and took it all in, with a smile and a laugh.  Drained from the emotions of the day, I fell asleep with ease, waking up occasionally to the humming vibrations of the ground answering to the avalanches. Tomorrow will be better.

The sun shined optimistically on my face the next morning. My dream was over and I knew it, but I also knew I was given a gift, the gift of a second chance. I was given a chance to come home and appreciate everything, everyone, and everyday. I was given a chance to look at the world through the eyes of a renewed soul. I was given a chance to change. I was given a chance to live. I was given a gift, and now I need to find out why.

“No matter what happens, or how bad is seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow.” –Maya Angelou

The location of Camp 2 is highly exposed to the surrounding mountains. This makes it arguably one of the most threatening places on the south side of Mt. Everest to withstand an avalanche, let alone multiple avalanches. One must wonder how we were left unscathed? Luck? Prayer? Angels? Snowpack? Basecamp is meant to be our safe-haven, so why was it annihilated? Asking why things happened to others and not myself has become all-consuming. What does it mean? What lesson am I meant to take away from this? What am I meant to do with my second chance at life? I don’t have the answers to these questions yet but what I do know is simple…
…I have visualized conquering Mt. Everest my entire life knowing it was 100% attainable. But when I closed my eyes at night to dream, I could never actually see myself standing on the summit taking that celebratory photo laughing and crying.  When I closed my eyes to dream all I could see was myself sitting on the beach celebrating, watching the sunset over the ocean, decompressing from my life changing experience of summiting Mt. Everest the tallest mountain in the world. Nothing more. In my dreams I couldn’t see coming home, I couldn’t see embracing my family at the airport, I couldn’t see unpacking and going back to work…I could just see the beach.  Perhaps this trip had more in store for me than I originally prepared for, but what? Time will tell, but I now know, it was never about the summit.

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