At least once a month I try to remind myself that there is never an ideal time to travel. Life always seems to get in the way and money is always limited. Far too often, travel plans become de-prioritized and short-term life minutiae takes priority. My simple monthly reminder puts this in perspective and sometimes enables me to make the moves necessary to make adventure travel a part of my life.
With my Life List deadline (May 25th 2017) quickly approaching, my life speed and daily task work has dramatically increased. I have a new book coming out in May, bi-weekly backflip lessons, bi-weekly band practice and ever-increasing client work. Right now is not a good time for me to do off the grid travel.
Happily, my Life List deadline forced my hand and prioritized travel for me. Without nearly enough preparation, I boarded an early morning flight from the USA to Nepal and jumped head first into a trek toward Mt. Everest.
I arrived in Kathmandu dazed and jetlagged. I didn’t know a single person in the entire country and knew very little about my upcoming plans. Mentally I was not ready for an adventure but physically I was already in it. After much back and forth, I met my would-be guide (Pradip) at a hotel and he told me that no one else had shown up for the scheduled trek. With a smile, he told me it would be just me and him for the duration of the hike to Namche Bazaar (the closest town to Everest basecamp). He told me to meet him again in the morning and that together we would board a small plane in order to start our trek to Mt. Everest.
Pradip was not your average tour guide. He was 26 years old and was working as a guide in order to save up for his own summit attempt. In his spare time he ran the Everest marathon (he finished in the top 10) and was studying international business.
At 5:00 AM the next morning, Pradip and I boarded a tiny plane in order to try to land at the most dangerous airport in the world. Because of the mountainous terrain, the runway could not be as long as was actually necessary so instead it was built on a slant so that landing airplanes could use gravity to slow down faster. Pradip admitted to me that he had seen a similar flight crash there last year and that everyone had died in the resulting fire.
Up in the clouds, my mind finally caught up with my body. I was finally in adventure mode.
We landed at the Lukla airport without issue and stopped only briefly for some tea before starting our trek. It was rainy season so the vast majority of the people on the trail were locals (mainly Sherpas) who were manually shuttling gear in preparation for the busy season.
Pradip and I spent as much time as we could talking about our various life experiences and our resulting world perspectives. (I had to pause the conversation often as the altitude made it hard at times for me to breath, hike and talk at the same time. Having grown up in Kathmandu, Pradip was completely unaffected by the altitude.) Being Nepalese, the major world powers that concerned Pradip’s life were China and India. I found this very refreshing as it helped us avoid talking about American politics (which he knew and cared very little about) and allowed me to ask literally hundreds of questions about Indian, Nepalese and Chinese culture.
Heading in the direction of the highest point on earth and in between chats, I spent the hike reflecting on my own experiences of the world. I felt humbled by the great opportunities I had had and felt grateful that I had continually been pushing myself to prioritize adventure even when it didn’t make logical sense.
Each night, we stopped at tea houses to sleep. Being the rainy season, I was usually the only non-nepalese person present. On most nights, I huddled around a small TV with locals and together we ate curry and watched Bollywood movies in a language that I didn’t understand.
Half way through the trek, we woke up early in the morning in Namche Bazaar and as fast as possible scrambled to the top of a viewpoint. The altitude was 11,286 ft (3,440 meters) and I could very strongly feel the resistance of my lungs and the oxygen deprivation induced headache in my brain. Unfortunately, as had been the case every day, we were surrounded by cloud cover. Although Everest was in front of us, we couldn’t see it.
In a low moment, I felt disappointed and resentful. My Life List item had been to see Mt. Everest and even after flying half way around the world and hiking for multiple days, I could not check the item off my list.
Trying to make the best of it, Pradip and I returned to the town to try to get some breakfast. By no planning of my own, it happened to be a popular Sherpa holiday so we spent much of the day listening to stories from experienced Sherpa. Back in the tea house, I shared a table with Sherpas who had summited Everest more than 10 times. They teased the Sherpa who had only summited once. I kept my mouth shut.
The cloud cover remained for the rest of the day and into the morning.
Again the next morning, Pradip and I work up early in the morning and made the trek to the high viewpoint. Again, the clouds obstructed the view. Oddly, Pradip seemed more anxious than I did. We had bonded during the trip and it was obvious that he wanted to help me cross this item off my list.
As we sat alone together at the top of a mountain, we examined the wonderful view around us.
Nepal was absolutely stunning.
We sat under the cloud cover for many hours and slowly I came to terms with the fact that I would likely have to make another trip to Nepal before my deadline in order to see Everest. I realized I had foolishly been letting my goal get in the way of my adventure. Smiling, I got up and told Pradip that I was happy and ready to start the trek back down. He looked disappointed for me and then agreed to start the multi-day trek down toward civilization.
Although I hadn’t seen Everest and thus not crossed the item off my list, I felt complete and satisfied with my experience. With a big smile, I turned around and started down the mountain.
Less than 10 seconds later, Pradip shouted my name, “Danny! Look!”. I turned around again. Right at that moment, the clouds parted and framed the summit of Everest for Pradip and I to enjoy. We both smiled. The adventure had been well worth the wait.