Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Everest Ledger.

Thamel district in Kathmandu.
Three days passed before our gear duffels arrived in Kathmandu from Lukla.  In that time Ty and I allowed ourselves the consumption of whatever food and drink seemed even mildly amusing. The French Open was underway so we passed many hours watching it on the television in our room. Ty is a huge tennis fan. He would wake at 3 a.m. to see a certain match broadcast live.  I watched mostly so I could entertain myself, floating fictional red herrings about each player. “I understand Federer was recently photographed kicking a dog,” I would offer casually. “Sharapova has a dwarf named Juan Pedro in her entourage,” I said as she took the court, then adding “always carries a loaded crossbow.” Unless the match was already a blowout Ty rarely rose to the bait. 

I frequented the hotel spa for massage, had my first shave with a straight razor, and caught up with my blog.  We did not go to the Monkey Temple, or the Palace. The activity board in the lobby offered everything from zip line rides to river rafting. Ty and I passed on all of them. We were done. We just wanted to go home. 

The four hour flight from Kathmandu to Dubai delivered us into a world of modern amenities that hummed with vibrance, even at one in the morning. The contrast to everything we had known for the last two months was unsettling. The ticket agent at the Emirates Airline counter took pity on our confused and bedraggled state.  “You cannot ride in economy class on this flight,” he informed us in a deadpan fashion. 
“Why is that,” Ty asked, alarmed we had somehow been bumped. 
“Because we have upgraded you both to Business Class,” the agent quipped with a smile. 

I ordered a Bloody Mary as soon as the jet lifted off. Lowering the motorized privacy screen that separated my recliner from Ty’s, I asked “Have you got any Grey Poupon?”  The flight attendant brought us warm towels and shaving kits, slippers and eye shades.  After breakfast she made each seat into a fully prone bed with sheets and pillows.  I settled in to sleep off as much of the fourteen hour flight as possible, but my mind would not quiet. It needed to make a final accounting of things before critical information was lost in the comforts of the life I would return to. 

Our team suffered the tragic loss of DaRita Sherpa.  This will be with us.  Frostbite injuries claimed a few toes and fingers. Pulmonary Edema afflicted two of us, necessitating helicopter evacuation. One hybrid climber, a woman from China, suffered some manner of mental breakdown after descending from her failed summit bid. She had to be carried to the helicopter pad, despondent and limp. In exchange, 12 of 23  IMG Climbers realized a personal dream, summiting Mt Everest. A fair bargain? Certainly not. How could it be? That said, most everyone involved would choose to do it all over again. Indeed, several will.  This is perhaps the greatest mystery of Everest. 

But the costs of an Everest expedition cannot be viewed in sum anymore than the benefits. Both reside on the personal ledgers of the individuals who chose to take part.  For all the talk of “Team”, Everest remains very much an individual endeavor with rewards differing climber by climber. Still the question remains as to what precisely those rewards are. 

I have read the opinions of those who believe it is all done for “bragging rights” or status.  This is pure none sense. There is no amount of ego large enough to get a climber to the summit of Everest. Period. I will stand by that the rest of my days. One might show up with such designs, but he will quickly be slapped to the ground. Better he should lie and save the money.  

Ironically, I found most Everest climbers, at least ostensibly, to be climbing for someone else; a cause, a charity, a fallen friend. In as much as rewards are derived from this they probably take the form of quiet satisfaction. Admirable, but still not enough to balance the costs.  

When I press Climbers to explain themselves the rewards are illusive,  often becoming sand passing through their fingers. George Mallory once put it this way;
“People ask me, 'What is the use of climbing Mount Everest?' and my answer must at once be, 'It is of no use.'There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behaviour of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron... If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won't see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to live. That is what life means and what life is for.” 

For myself, I will say it this way; I stayed true to my path.

I have long told my sons it is more important in life to know when you are on your path than to know where it is going. It is as if you were blindfolded, walking a gravel path that winds through an open field. You would have to listen for the sound of the rocks beneath your shoes. Life tells us when we are on our path, if we find the peace to listen. We wander off it now and again, but can find our way back if we move with care and an alert ear. This path represents a best-case scenario for your time here. It incorporates the precise unique combination of gifts you have been given. Parts of it will not make sense at the time. You must trust they are essential and eventually will ring true. And while there is no way of seeing where it is taking you, you may rest assured you are getting there under the best possible circumstances. 

I was meant to climb Everest. It was on my path. I enjoyed many rewards along the way and I’ve tried to share them in these pages. But to me the greatest reward was being able to stay on my path, even when it stretched skyward to the highest point on earth.