Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Return Home

After three long days of walking thirty-five miles and one flight we have arrived back in Kathmandu. It's much warmer here now. We were both exhausted from the journey and hungry, so we immediately showered and went to have two vegan pizzas and then napped the afternoon away.

The trek though the Khumbu was bittersweet. The last three days walking down the valley were difficult. Emotionally, I was done and my heart just wasn't into it. We are still very sad for the loss of so many lives on the mountain and also sad the climb did not continue.

There appears to be many reasons and much speculation as to why the Sherpa decided to not continue this year. Was it respect for the dead climbers, superstition, maoist threats, or family pressure? In the end, I suspect, it was all of those and more.  I'll trust our Sherpas when they told us they weren't being threatened. My gut tells me they simply just did not wish to continue after the accident. Our head Sherpa, Nima Tashi, told Barbara that his wife walked up from their home and took his crampons, ice axe, and harness from him so he couldn't climb. What a powerful statement. I'll never forget Nima grabbing his pack and running into the Ice Fall to check on his family members. I was with him part of the way and he kept repeating out loud, "everything okay, everything okay, everything okay." This strong brave man was trying to comfort me as he feared the worst. His tears when he came back to camp with the good news for his family gave me  a good idea early on what impact this would have on our climb. My tears come every time I recall this moment.

I had many conversations with Sherpa since the accident and they all feel sad the season ended the way it did, and although they are reluctant to say it, I believe in the end most of them just didn't feel it was right to continue this year. They are extremely loyal to their expedition leaders and don't want to disappoint them. They would have continued if asked. Jim didn't pressure our Sherpa to continue and he left it to Nima Tashi to make the final decision.

The Khumbu valley is a close knit community and in some ways it was their 9/11. Of course, it wasn't a terrorist attack, but the loss of so many lives, so quickly, overwhelmed this valley. One teahouse owner told me he could hear two different families crying all night on both sides of his house after they each heard the news that they had lost family members in the accident.

There has been much talk or rumors of threats and tension between foreign climbers and Sherpas. I never once saw any of this tension or felt threatened. The hardest part was trying to express our mutual grief for each other's losses given the barriers of language and cultural differences. Even though their loss was on a much greater scale, many Sherpa felt the need to say they were sorry that my climb did not continue. It is a culture that doesn't like to disappoint and respects the efforts us climbers make to come here.

The Khumbu Valley is changing and I'm sure this year will change it even more. Yes, there does appear to be a younger and better educated generation of Sherpas that want progress, change, and aren't willing to cater to foreign climbers quite as much as their fathers and grandfathers have. That's the pain of progress and not unlike what many cultures have gone through.

Even with all that has happened this year this valley is still an amazing place with many kind compassionate people. There is a spirit here that is unlike anywhere else in the world.

There have been many great moments from this trip. Very funny moments too. As I mentioned before, Barbara and I had some of the funniest interactions with four Buddhist monks at dinner one night over cake, ketchup, and salt. Another involved a young boy, who I called big boss, who worked in a teahouse where we stayed for several nights. This kid was from a very poor family and the teahouse owner took him in and gave him a job. His smile and pride in working brightened the entire room every time he was present. The owner wanted to send him to school, but he said he'd had nine years and that was enough. He called me big boss too. His English was okay, but not great, and one night after a coke got spilled on the table I was trying to tell him that it was sticky and we needed something to wipe it up. He was confused, and told the teahouse owner that big boss (me) needed a stick. Barbara and I are still laughing about that one. Yet another moment was the sweet dog that followed Barbara and me home from the middle of Namche Bazar one night. He made his way over a wall, into the lodge, up two flights of stairs, and sat outside our door. We kept opening the door to see if he was still there and there he was. We promised each other we'd take him home if he was still there in the morning. Unfortunately he had moved on. Our team members, trekkers, and support crew also were some of the finest people I've ever had the pleasure to spend time with. The banter and laughter was infectious. Danny's stories about Martin, Steve, Barbara, and me were quite entertaining. We walked down and out of the Khumbu valley with Karma, the son of Jetha, our first Nepal trekking guide in 2007. Karma is every bit as special has his father and it was a pleasure to get to know him. These moments and many more are what I'll take away from this climb.

Will I come back for another try again? Probably not. I can accept the risks of mountaineering for myself, but to ask others to take more of the risk for my benefit is now painfully more difficult - even if it is how they choose to make their living. Climbing Mt. Everest on the backs of these fine people does not feel like a prize worth obtaining to me now. Maybe these thoughts will change with time. I just don't know yet. It's very raw, emotional, and confusing for me on many levels.

Barbara and I will spend a few days here in Kathmandu visiting with new and old friends before heading home and just celebrating life!

This was an adventure beyond what I could ever have imagined and it sure as hell Embraced All Things Funky.

I'd like to thank everyone for their kind words and encouragement these past few weeks. Believe me they mattered and helped  tremendously.

Over and Out

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