April 28, 2015: It’s over. I knew this was coming but the words pained me like a searing burn. It’s bittersweet. I’m happy to be alive, happy to be heading home to my family and friends, but devastated. It’s really over. I’m going home.
“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened!” – Dr. Seuss
After our entire expedition team heard the news and everyone broke from our meeting, I decided I needed a walk. I grabbed my camera, two of my teammates, and took off. I needed to see what a 7.8 earthquake had done to my home away from home. We walked quietly up the valley, taking it all in. Over the first hill and I laid my eyes on the prepared remains of those lost, to be sent home to their families. My throat dry and adrenaline pumping, my spirit was breaking. They were supposed to be safe at basecamp. My core ached for their families. The eerie sensation of walking through a cemetery over-came my body and soul.
We continued on, could it get any worse? Yes. It was as if a tornado had ripped through the middle of basecamp. Personal items had been flung in every direction as far as the eye could see. Massive boulders had flattened tents, chairs, and cameras. The blast had shredded pages from journals and books and plastered these lost words against rock and ice. An ace of hearts from a deck of cards rest deserted, next to a bloody rock. My mind raced. I can’t begin to imagine what they went through. People wandered aimlessly like the walking dead looking for their lost possessions. A man was digging around with his ice axe. I asked him if I could help him find something in particular. His phone was all he wanted. It had pictures of his family.
“Sometimes your heart needs more time to accept what your mind already knows.”
When faced with life or death, what really matters? Loved ones. Pictures help us to stay close to the things we love and long for most. Tents, sleeping bags, jackets, pants, shoes, harnesses, helmets and money can all be replaced. When disaster attacks there is a comfort found in looking at the images of the ones we love. Looking for a needle in a haystack, we never found his phone.
After our somber march through basecamp, we gathered for dinner. It was comical as always, despite the solemn circumstances. Vodka, whiskey and wine appeared out of the woodworks. There was talk of climbing, food, showers, sports, sex, death, children, spouses, jobs and so much more. We laughed hard, but eventually the laughter ended. People slowly peeled off to their tents for the last time, for in the morning we would begin our long journey home.
I didn’t want to leave the dining tent. I knew it was the last time I would sit there, and if I moved, it was over. Pulling myself reluctantly out of my chair, I took a long walk back to my tent. I found my “tooth-brushing” rock right outside my tent and plopped myself down one more time. The sky was clear and the air was crisp against my cheeks. Every star had a twinkle. I felt at peace. I grabbed my remaining small bottle of “Signature Whiskey” (only the best!) and opened it.
Staring at the stars, sitting on my rock, I found the same comfort in them that night as I did at Camp 2. The feeling of being alone doesn’t exist when you can see the stars, simply because you know your loved ones are staring at the very same sky. Tears rolled down my cheeks. I turned my head and began to stare with blurry tear vision at my dream. Everest was glowing. It looked stunning and still. Will I ever see her again? Of course. But really, will I? Will this be the last time I see the Khumbu icefall glowing from the stars and the moon above? Maybe. Not by choice, but maybe. My family will never let me come back as I’ve been selfish enough putting them through this. It took a miracle to get here in the first place. I don’t have a lot of money. I’m just a girl who needed the love and support of thousands to make this trip a reality. Can I do it again? Yes. Do I want to do it again? Yes. Do I have the strength and energy to go back down this road again? Maybe. Maybe? Of course I do.
“F.E.A.R. has two meanings: Forget everything and run
– OR – Face everything and rise…the choice is yours.”
Frozen to my rock, I smiled. I made it here when so many people told me I never would. I laughed. My teammate Paul joined me on my rock. We sat there quietly, drinking whiskey, staring at the stars. Sherpa and clients alike were ready to return to their loved ones…I was exactly where I wanted to be.
It has taken me some time to realize that what I’ve been pursuing and accomplishing has made a difference in the lives of others. If people find inspiration and motivation in my story to go chase down their “Everest”, then I sure as s*^$ have the strength to do this again. Listen to yourself. If you truly want something bad enough, in the depths of your soul where no one else has been, you will achieve it. I want this more than anything. I want it more than a career, more than money, love, security and a cute puppy. I want this. This will not be the last time I sit here on my “tooth-brushing” rock and stare at the sky and valley with frozen eyelashes. I will be back, as I have unfinished business to attend to.