For a climber, especially a nonprofessional one, no mountain is just an enormous chunk of rock, ice and snow. Many of the ‘mountain people’ I know think of the peaks they climb almost as sentient beings, with unique faces and ‘personalities’. A ‘conquest’ of a mountain is often an overcoming of some inner obstacle to happiness or success for a mountaineer, a vanquishing of an enemy within, of whom the mountain is the embodiment. The mountain one chooses to climb must, therefore, bear certain resemblances to that inner enemy. Thus, climbers satisfied with proving themselves on a trekking peak of five-six thousand metres and those battling the many demons of Chogori or Chomolungma on long expeditions are, probably, rather different people.
The desire to climb Everest may not say much about the personality of a professional mountaineer, who is simply undergoing a sports ‘rite of passage’; an amateur’s choice to climb to the top of the world, however, is much more telling. Everest is the world’s highest climb in terms of altitude, price and prestige among non-mountaineers. During short ‘weather windows’ allowing climbers to reach Chomolungma’s summit, blasted almost year-round by the powerful jet stream, over two hundred people at a time may head into the ‘death zone’ above eight thousand metres in the first hours of the morning. For some, summit day on Everest ends in tragedy: the mountain is the last resting place for many climbers, suspended forever between reality and dream.
Although both the South/Nepal and the North/Tibet sides of the mountain are crowded, commercialized and still very dangerous to climb on, hundreds of people flock by the foot of Mother Goddess of the World every spring, along with their wounded egos and larger-than-life personal issues. This spring I will be among those people at the North Side base camp. How and why? By working day and night as well as selling my apartment; because my inner demons are, like the world’s tallest mountain, enormous.
I first ‘met with’ Everest three years ago, at its base camp in Nepal. It was a cloudy day in November, and I could feel rather than see the presence of something colossal and powerful close to me. It was like touching something you thought was just an idea, a concept, too grand to exist in the real world in solid form. I dared not imagine then that one day I would be planning to actually climb that half-real, half-dream mountain. However, last June I met a woman who made me believe that Chomolungma could and should be real for me; that it was something I needed to experience. ‘Just do it,’ she wrote on a photograph of her on the summit of Everest, and I decided that do it I would, no matter what it would cost me.
As frequent visitors to this blog will have observed, I have spent quite a long time in the mountains of Nepal between August and February: I climbed on Manaslu and Cholatse, and summited Chulu Far East, Ama Dablam and Ganchenpo. Although I tried to view each of the climbs as a meaningful experience in its own right, I was constantly mindful of the fact that each was a stepping stone towards Everest. Failures and successes of my expeditions have all contributed to the training process for a climb that can end in either. Whether I summit or not, whether or not I return, I have done my best to prepare for Everest, mentally and physically.
In the series of articles I will be posting in the course of the next couple of weeks, I will talk about how I trained for the expedition, the climb strategy and gear I will use, and, finally, my reasons for embarking on a pilgrimage to Chomolungma. Given that I’ll be posting from the moody St. Petersburg, which I am visiting before the climb, I will certainly be inspired to dilute the mountaineering broth with some whiny poetry. Drop by if you’re curious.