A Look Back (and Forward)

A photo of Everest outside a gallery in Kathmandu
A photo of Everest outside a gallery in Kathmandu

It’s about who and what stays with you, when all the rest move quietly aside, when it’s neither necessary to keep kicking you so you stay down, nor possible to help you up any longer. And as you lie, and breathe, and wait for absolutely nothing, you begin to really watch your dreams. Mostly, they are memories, awkwardly assembled by the subconscious into puzzles, which look like nothing real but never fail to evoke a feeling.

After everything that’s happened in the course of the past year, I can’t help but watch my dreams carefully. I had a dream of climbing Everest without oxygen, but another idea, this of Muay Thai, kicked and punched it out of me. As my friends, who follow this blog, know, I walked to Everest base camp in April, looked up at The Mountain, and went right back to where’d come from. You can read about what was going through my head at the time here: https://sixthsymph.com/2013/04/13/everest-2013-requiem-for-a-dream/

My return to Thailand and Muay Thai after the expedition forced me to deal with many conflicting thoughts and feelings about the decision to trade 8000-meter mitts for boxing gloves; I was on an indefinite break from climbing. An accidental visit to the hospital in Bangkok revealed I was very ill, and soon enough I began to experience the truth of the diagnosis in my very bones. Then, suddenly, I was that person on the ground, whom life was stepping away from – as I encouraged it to do. When the pain became unbearable and the loneliness frightening, in rare moments of sleep I dreamed not about wearing a champion’s belt around my waist, or completing my PhD, or emerging safe and sound after a record-setting deep dive or ice-swim, or writing a book, or anything but… the mountains. In one recurring dream, a cloud of snow and wind holds me without touching, suspended above the clouds and the Himalaya, with mountain peaks rising like waves of an uncontainable ancient flood under my feet. Time passes, and people, whole civilizations, die and are reborn, but little changes up there, where Eternity lives. I always awaken from this vision calm and brave; it must be because in it I see this that I love more than I know. It is not mountaineering as such, nor the support and love I get from people, who emphathize with the climber in me, nor is it any mountain in particular – it’s how I feel in the mountains that I treasure and the person I become when I try to touch something unchanging.

I hope, this post doesn’t make it sound like I regret my decision to abort the Everest expedition last spring. I truly don’t. My heart was not in it: it was hurting, and confused, and angry. I felt and still feel too much awe and gratitude for Chomolungma to climb on her slopes with the wrong motivation. I know people, for whom mountains are steps to a certain social standing or a pedestal, on which to place their ego. I understand and wouldn’t dream of judging those, who approach climbing differently from me. My own approach is, perhaps, too sentimental, but I kinda like it this way. Thus, I don’t want to turn back time: to un-make the Everest decision, un-do Muay Thai or even to un-fall dangerously ill. Instead, I want to thank life for all these experiences, because when the storm of the physical and mental events of the year started to quiet down, what remained standing – perhaps, the only thing that did – was The Mountain, and I was relieved to see Her!

My recent test results from the hospital are looking reasonably good and promising, which means I can start hoping again. I will not say yet what it is I am hoping for for the 2014 spring climbing season, but I can tell you that, all going well, it will take me back to the Himalaya – the place I dream of even when I am more dead than alive. Following over 3 months in bed on drugs, I will need some serious training if my hopes are to have a strong foundation. Given that I still like Muay Thai just as much as before, it will once again be my training tool of choice for the possible climb. I have just seven months to bring myself back to life. Can I pull it off? Well, if I keep seeing that dream, then, maybe!

Keep your fingers crossed for me and, if you wish to follow my return from the dead (I actually do look a bit like a zombie right now)/preparation for the next climb, drop by the blog again soon!



P. S. I would like to give my most heartfelt thanks to those of my friends, who have been waiting and listening even when I wouldn’t come and wouldn’t talk, who flew across the globe to see me, and I wouldn’t see them; who supported me unconditionally. You know who you are, the amazing people I am bessed to have in my life: Michelle P., Kim S., India H., Eileen H., Jaimie S., Liz., E. N., and many others, Thank You!

P. P. S. Good luck to the teams climbing the gorgeous Manaslu this fall season, especially, of course, to Altitude Junkies!

10 thoughts on “A Look Back (and Forward)

  1. Some people have such inner beauty that our hearts are touched by their lives and what they do…you are one such person…I hope that your health improves and your dreams become reality…peace be with you.

    1. Wow… I don’t know how to thank you for your kind words! I certainly don’t deserve such enduring support as people like you show me, but it makes me beyond happy to have it!
      Much love to you, my friend!

  2. Hi Mila,

    I have just discovered your blog through Carl D’Agostino who suggested I may like to check out your blog. I am so pleased I did, and consequently read this post.

    I found myself at the base of the highest mountain I have ever seen in April 2011. After years of tests and not knowing but “knowing”, I was diagnosed with a progressive form of multiple sclerosis. 2 years on, I have finally set off… 🙂
    I am pausing along the way to click “follow” on your inspiring blog.

    Best wishes


    1. Dear Christine, hi! I am very happy to meet you through Carl, who gives my writing much more credit than it deserves!
      Sorry to hear you are suffering from MS. One of my very best friends was diagnosed with the same condition, but it doesn’t prevent us from dreaming of climbing in the Himalaya together one day. Given my friend’s strength, I have absolute faith that it’ll happen.
      In my experience, mountains somehow elevate one above the pains and the fears a serious illness brings along. One of the reasons I love climbing so much is that it makes me want to rise to the challenge – and the reward is pure beauty, pure life!
      I wish you every success on your climb and all the strength you need to deal with the illness! Do keep in touch and let me know how it goes!



      1. Thank you so much Mila for your lovely reply.

        I have been, and still go, through up and down times with this illness, but I am getting to know it now! I won’t say we are best friends but we walk (kind of, with a limp!) side by side and chat to each other a little. 🙂

        MS is different for everyone and we cant compare symptoms really, but what we can do in abundance is empathise with others who have it. I was only diagnosed 2 years ago as my symptoms became visible (muscle weakness) but the doctors tell me I have had it 30 years, with lots of unexplained symptoms many years ago that were put down to anxiety at the time. But I knew something was wrong then. So its kind of a relief to know.

        Im looking forward to following your blog. xxx

      2. Like you, I prefer to know my adversary, so, as you say, we can walk together and discuss ‘a comprimise’.
        I also discovered my illness by accident, and just hearing the name was devastating. Later, I remembered that I’d always sort of seen it coming, which must have been why I’ve been in a rush – with everything. And it was a good thing: having seen so much, I know only too well that there’s a lot more still to see. So let’s just keep walking, and who knows, perhaps, our uninvited companions may actually take us somewhere remarkable we would not have visited without them.
        Thank you again for reading the blog and sharing your story, and good luck on the hill :)!

  3. Yes definitely! Mine has already taken me to places I would never have been simply by alerting the ‘muse’ which allows me to write when I didn’t think I had a word to say. In turn this has led me to write a book of poetry and to have a wealth of new friends, some of whom are ‘virtual’, but nevertheless very real to me. And recently I was invited to submit some of my MS related poems for an anthology which is out in a week or so. So as you say we can be taken to remarkable places!

    Good luck to you on the hill too!

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