Everest 2013: Requiem For a Dream

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The Everest Memorial

A cloud has caught on her steep summit pyramid, and streams downwards; the black frozen rock of the ridges peeks through its airy whiteness. I stop in the middle of the path on the moraine leading to Everest Base Camp, and take a picture of my stone idol, Chomolungma. Somewhere up there, where the summit pierces the cloud, as if cutting through a dream, beats my heart: I always say that I left it up there – so no one could have it, not even I. I put the camera away, and carry on to EBC at the foot of the notorious Khumbu Icefall, which has already swallowed one life this climbing season. As it shows off its enormous teeth of ice to the morning sun, I pray for the Sherpa ‘Icefall Doctor’, who died in a crevasse just two days earlier.

Khumbu Icefall on the way to Everest Base Camp
Khumbu Icefall on the way to Everest Base Camp

‘Are you afraid?’ I ask myself. No. I am worse than afraid – I am indifferent to the task, which lies ahead of me and to the outcome of the expedition. This feeling – indifference – has been with me ever since I landed in Kathmandu after my stay in Bangkok. I carried it on my shoulders all the way up to 5300 meters; I slept with it; I fed it; I hoped to appease it, so, satisfied, it would leave me and give room to the passion and love I used to always feel for the Himalaya. Yet, my indifference only grows bigger and fatter as I approach the foot of Everest. After trekking for 6 days, ill, I kneel beside my backpack in my tent at the foot of the Icefall and Everest, – home to be for the next month-and-a-half – and like a ghost of somebody long-gone, indifference kneels by my side and wonders: ‘If this is truly your dream still, to climb Everest for the second time, then, why am I here? And if it isn’t your dream, then, why are you here?’ These are good questions, even put to one belatedly, and they must be answered before it is too late.

The answer to the first question surprises and devastates me. Mountains were her dreams, and Chomolungma – the grandest, most sacred of them. She is gone now, she, in whose skin I live. I think, what she learnt about herself and others after Pumori made her want to go: made her want to do a solo on Cholatse in winter – a suicide mission; made her want to be punched, and kicked, and humiliated to no end until she would finally stop dreaming. Her last dream came true – she disappeared, and nowhere within me can I feel her presence. It seems that her dreams vanished with her.

Everest and Ama Dablam from Tengboche
Everest and Ama Dablam from Tengboche

The answer to the second question is that some things must be seen and touched to make one believe they are possible, real and irreversible. I had to see and touch Everest to believe I didn’t want to climb on The Mountain again. I would trek to Everest Base Camp through the land I used to love, looking at the skyline and the ‘friends’ of my past, the harsh and stunning Himalayan peaks, following trails, on one of which, one day in 2009, I remember feeling spotlessly, perfectly happy for a few minutes. Yet, no matter how hard I would try to feel what the ‘I’ from just a few months back doubtless would be feeling, I couldn’t see anything but blurry images from the past: they were overflowing with love, curiosity, ambition, passion, hope, pain – her everything. What they lacked now was life: they were but beautiful pictures to be hung on the wall and admired, but one could not live in a frame.

When I stood at the foot of Chomolungma this season, I realized that climbing on Her slopes would be like trying to stage a scene from last year’s summit photo and improve on it to make the perfect picture. ‘Move slightly to the right, don’t forget to cry with emotion; hide that oxygen mask…’ What would such a picture be a picture of, if not one’s own greed and vanity? Not even she, who couldn’t stop dreaming of Chomolungma, would want such a photo on her wall, let alone I. Although I do not share her dreams, I respect them as a memory of someone, who was superior to me in a million ways. I could have climbed – if anything, I am stronger and more experienced now than I was last season – but what good is any of this, if the Dream and the Dreamer have both been lost?

I spend two nights without sleep at Everest Base Camp, watching condensation form on the thin walls of my tent and listening to the rumble of avalanches and the creaking of ice all around base camp. In the dark and the cold I try to reason with myself: ‘You are already here. Just… do it! Think of all the people, who are supporting you in this, who call you inspirational, to whom what you do means something – even if it no longer means what it used to mean to you! Climb for them!’ But I can’t – I can’t inspire what I don’t truly and honestly feel myself.

Our EBC and the Khumbu Icefall
Our EBC and the Khumbu Icefall

The morning I make the final decision to abort my expedition, I go towards the gaping mouth of the Khumbu Icefall. It is still very early and cold, and I am the only one outside. I walk as far as I can from the sleeping base camp to get as close as I dare to Chomolungma. I can’t see Her, but I feel that She is there. I talk to the stone Goddess in a whisper, and, before turning away, throw something into the Icefall’s white mouth – something she, the Dreamer, treasured. ‘Good-bye,’ I say to the Dream, and to her, who had dreamt the Dream so well and fulfilled it, and to my heart, which remains where she left it, ‘good-bye!’ Simultaneously, an enormous serac collapses onto the Khumbu Glacier from the slopes of Nuptse. ‘Good-bye,’ thunders Chomolungma in reply. Then, I know I am free to leave.

Leaving Khumbu
Leaving Khumbu

A helicopter picks me and a couple more people up at base camp and ferries us to Lukla. From there we fly to Kathmandu next morning. I will rest here for a few days before starting to pack again and leaving Nepal to travel elsewhere. As you may have guessed, I will be taking an indefinite break from mountaineering. I will, however, continue to support Pema Choling Monastery, and you can rest assured that whatever donations you have made or might make in the future will find their way to the children.

Thank you for dreaming with me, for believing what I believed in and for supporting me! I will continue to blog, and, I think, I already know what I will be writing about. Drop by if you’d like to join me on a different kind of adventure!

Love,

Mila

27 thoughts on “Everest 2013: Requiem For a Dream

  1. La Rochefoucauld said “It’s easier to be wise for others than for ourselves.” It seems to me that you are being wise with your decision since your dream is no longer on Chomolungma…such wise decisions are as inspiring as any climb…I look forward to your new adventures…take good care.

    1. Wonderful to hear words of understanding and support from my long-term reader and friend! I am flattered that you are on board for the next adventure, too.
      Many thanks and best wishes to you!

  2. Excellent Blog, Mila expressing your deep feelings. You have taken the spiritual call & not got into the rat race . Wish you all success & hoping to hear more from you.

  3. I read many blogs of the Everest experience. It is so good to read of your thoughts and honesty of why you are not climbing further. Yours seems a spiritual experience and you are listening to yourself and doing the best thing for YOU. Thank you for your insights.

    1. Thank you for your feedback, Karen! Climbing in the Himalaya, and especially on Everest, has always been spiritually meaningful to me; it has always been about honesty with myself and my environment. I want to keep it that way.

  4. “Be true to thine own self!”

    I love how you write about this. I was shaking my head up and down and thinking that you are being true to whatever spiritual experience you are living, and you will go on doing beautiful things! The pictures are beautiful, and the power of them overwhelms and intimidates me.

    1. Many thanks for reading this, Carl!
      To leave Everest was a heartbreaking decision to make, but it was the only choice available to me, such as I am now. I have to be completely honest if I am to trust myself to try and do those things you so kindly call beautiful, but most consider insane.
      Thank you for your support and understanding! I hope you stay on board for the next adventure, too!

  5. Much courage is needed to launch a venture; even larger courage is needed to be there, step back and say no to the venture, to listen to one’s little voice. God will lead you onward. Thanks for the post.

  6. I sit here in awe, reading Mila’s goodby to Everet. Tears in my eyes, my heart trembling. Such bravery and honesty! The humble acceptance to what most of us, will not..not worth it if it’s not in your heart! no matter what! Such a difficult decision..ripping and leaving behind such efforts, admiration and “go for it” in the name of “honesty in her heart”! Good for her. I personally very glad, she’s done it and one more life saved My daughter Georgina is trying her second attempt..my dream: similar to Mila’s experience. Pray she makes it and may God bring a similar satisfaction for her to move on to other accomplishments! and to “be in this world” for those who love her. God bless Mila, have a great rest of your life. A mother who admires you. Caroline

    1. Dear Caroline, thank you! I am very touched by your kind words! I understand how you must be feeling about your daughter climbing on Everest; you are a brave mother for letting her go and supporting her, and I admire both yours and your daughter’s courage.
      How people, who wait for us at sea level, feel about our pursuits, affects climbers very strongly. If we know that we are loved, LOVED unconditionally, and trusted to be strong and make the right choices, then, we can climb well and honestly. Most importantly, though, we then know that it is much more vital to come home than to reach the summit.
      Don’t be afraid! Your daughter is obviously loved, and this will take her as far as she wishes to go and back to you, stronger than ever.
      My love and best wishes to both of you, brave women!

      1. Thank you! When I’m in my room, alone at night, getting ready to go to bed; I lift my eyes and bend my knees to our father & creator, thanking him for all his mercies and asking him to take care of all of you brave people with such focus..not only personal but in the pursue of making the world a better place for the most unfortunate ones. What a perfect world this would be if more of us, reached inside ourselves in such divine pursue! Don’t know u, probably never will, but in my heart you are a hovering blessing to human kind!

      2. It truly is best to look for happiness outside ourselves. Thank you again for your kind words, and much love and courage to you always!

  7. There is no doubt that a spiritual umbilical chord connects you and the mountain. Would seem the climb is a conquest for some but your imagery reveals it may be climbed but never vanquished. You did not climb it, you embraced it as it embraced you and you write as one of its prophets. You have been chosen by the mountain, Mila.

    1. Goosebumps on my skin right now… Thank you, Carl! I believe you are right in that the mountain and I are connected. Chomolungma is Goddess-Mother of the World – of the world, which dazzles and scares me; of the world I detest and love…
      Climbing for me has never been like a conquest but more like a pilgrimage. There is no need to walk the same path again, however. I must carry on in a different direction; I believe, that is what She would want me to do.

  8. Hi Mila, Axe here. I just landed in Boston after almost 30 hours of travelling so brain is not working that well. Suffice to say that I understand many of the things you say in here. I also feel like I left something up there after last year and I miss Everest enormously. But I know I cannot go back and climb on her again, possibly spoiling the memories, now I am finding new Everest’s in my life and I think you will too. Good luck my friend!

    1. Great to hear from you, Axe! I miss Everest, too. I missed her even as this season I was at her foot again. There’s just no going back, unfortunately. Change, like aging, is inevitable – it suits only some but it happens to all and is irreversible.
      There’s gotta be new Everest’s, buddy, and I hope that both you and I find ours and reach their summits.

  9. I read this post not sure what was happening until the end.
    This is insight and an awakening to what has been what is and what can be
    Yes ,a Mountain Doctor has passed,and this is serious business,cause errors can cost your life.
    The strength to turn back is huge and is of major importance to those who read the blogs
    Often we take the high road or the low road and assume that that is how it will pan out
    However you can reverse on the road and choose the one not travelled
    I am proud you made your decision
    The mountain is proud of your decision
    The Mountain will love you in the high places on the wind……………..
    Regards
    dr Dave South Africa

    1. Thank you for your reading the post and for your feedback! I am flattered that you understand and support my decision. I hope that, as you say, stories like mine may give other climbers the courage to make such choices on the mountain as would be right for them personally and respectful towards their environment.

  10. My whole life is, if in doubt don’t do it, courage to follow your feelings is brave, you suffer emotions all you life but life goes on and you find new horizons. You have scaled the heights and you have nothing to prove. Your pure sincerity and love of all this beautiful that life can offer in thoughts and words is amazing.Whatever you do we wan’t to be part of.

    Love always Don and Gill xx

    1. Thank you, my darling friends! It is amazing and beautiful that, although we haven’t seen each other in a long while, you are still ‘with me’, supportive and understanding as ever. I certainly hope that you will join me on my next adventure!

      Much love from Bangkok!

      1. We will always be with you in mind,our life at the moment is caring for others and life is on hold. we will meet again that’s a promise we will always be part of your thoughts and you are always in ours.Where you are we are in thoughts.

        Love Don and Gill.xx

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