We were told to be ready to go at 730 this morning. Krishna, owner of HST Adventures, Royal Gurkha, and now friend, pulled up to the Fairfield Inn in Kathmandu. I don’t know what it is about him, but I can’t help wanting to squeeze him every time I see him. I have yet to see him not wearing a smile from ear to ear; one that hides his eyes. We started shuffling bags, and loaded in to the car to head back to the Kathmandu airport – this time to the domestic terminal. This time to the heli pad.
I cracked a grin as Christopher and Rob chatted back and forth. Rob, the third climbing partner of our team, my cinematographer from Denali, and the most relaxed human I’ve ever encountered, would reply to Christopher with the casual, “Riiight” from time to time — a staple in his vocabulary. How did I get so lucky to have these guys in my life? I don’t know if I’ll ever feel totally deserving of their support, their willingness to climb with me, or their faith in me. But I am forever grateful to have them both here with me.
My thoughts started to align with how I should have been feeling all along. I watched the chaos of traffic and pedestrians barely dodging each other. I’m surprised I’ve gone numb to the near head on collisions with scooters or bicycles. My body sways back and forth as Krisha navigates the narrow roads. I stay fixated on the wire bundles that are now tangled permanent fixtures to the sides of buildings.
Maybe it was the coffee I slammed, but my stomach started to pit. For the first time I realized that I am actually climbing Everest, the tallest mountain in the world. If this actually happens, I will be standing on top of the world with one leg. The pitting feeling was now a lump in my throat. I wasn’t going to cry. Not yet anyway. For the last year and a half, I have talked about making this happen. And now here I am. I try my hardest to do as I say, and say what I mean. This is now the truest testament to that.
I’ve worked hard to get to this point. I’ve neglected family, friendships, and relationships. I’ve put work first to put money in the bank to make this dream a reality. I’ve been selfish and frustrated, which radiated on to those around me. I’ve trained to exhaustion mentally and physically. I’ve thrown every complicated situation to my doctors and prosthetists. Will I feel guilty for these things? Always. But I hope the people I care about, and those who care about me, are proud.
Our flight in to Lukla was meant to be at 8. It almost happened that way, just three hours later. Pulling up to the helicopters tore at my heart strings. I’m not afraid of flying by any means any more, but it’s easy to let my mind wander to the good and bad memories I’ve made in the aviation world. Everything from the Marine Corps, to Afghanistan, to my mistakes as a mechanic, to the inside jokes amongst the air crews, to the crash, to my medical retirement, and anything in between.
We loaded up. I watched the gauges light up and move. The blades started to turn, I missed that sound. The helicopter started to rock. It was warm. Too warm. My thoughts went from reminiscing to wanting to get the Hell out. Taking off is usually the worst part. The swaying hover makes me think of the worst possible situations.
For thirty minutes I just stared out the window looking down over the villages. I’m impressed with the stepped landscaping – how many hours had these people worked on it? Better yet what did they use to get it done? How in Gods name did they even get the materials to build their structures!? I used to think I had a strong work ethic, I don’t any more. The Nepalese are a different breed. Resilient. They have to be.
Landing in Lukla in a helicopter was far more relaxing than trying to in a fixed wing plane on a runway the size of my driveway. We tumbled out of the bird and as soon as my feet hit the ground, a wave of relief came over me. We’re finally here. It’s finally happening. I MADE THIS HAPPEN. Then, the excitement hit; a twisted kind of it. I day dreamed about dragging my body through the Khumbu ice fall and teetering on ladders across crevasses. I wondered if I would feel ironically suffocated by wearing an oxygen mask. I could nearly feel the pain I was going to put my body through. Admittedly, to motivate myself I visualize summiting Everest. But what if that actually happens? We may actually be able to pull this off.
We were told an hour for our cargo to arrive. Two hours went by, then three. Rob, Christopher, and I watched the weather roll in. We wouldn’t be getting our bags today and we wouldn’t be moving to Namche. A good mountaineer has to be flexible and willing to roll with the punches. We made ourselves comfy at the tea house and crossed our fingers that the weather would lift allowing us to move in the morning.
Conveniently, Christopher was the only one with all of his bags. Ya know hygiene gear, sleeping setup, and electronics. I’m beginning to see a trend here…