I tried to smile like you – less often –
And wear the uniforms you do;
I gave myself another chance to
Follow your common sense’s rules:
I sat and learned for endless hours
To think your way and love your way,
I understood and spoke your language,
But never found a word to share;
I watched you dream, and wished your beauty
Would touch but one string of my heart,
Yet, it remained alone and silent,
And started hurting as time passed;
I’m sorry, none of this is for me;
Your aspirations won’t be mine;
What you call light I still call glitter,
What you call passion I call greed;
I close your book and leave – I have to,
I have a place I want to be;
There are mistakes to make and lessons
To learn, and things to lose and gain,
And mountaintops to reach
On the sixth of February Dorje and I climb up to Phakding Monastery for a Buddhist prayer ceremony, a puja, to be performed by the monks to protect our team, separated by bad weather and other circumstances. One of the climbers, Pasang, is still in Kathmandu, another climbing Sherpa, Chongba, and the cook, Jangbu, are in Lukla, and I am planning to trek to Namche Bazaar early next morning to acclimatize to high altitude.
The day of the puja is beautifully sunny and the monastery, perched up on the hill overlooking the village of Phakding, is quiet and peaceful. During the long ceremony held in the cold prayer hall, I feel like I am in a dream. The sweetness and warmth of milk tea on my palate, the clear sound of the bell and the guttural chanting in the dim air as well as the icy numbness of my suddenly still body seem alien, far removed from whatever it is that I am. When the ceremony is over and we receive blessings from the lamas, I feel unassailably happy and prepared for what is coming. A Hurricane.
The day after I arrive in Namche, a storm hits the Everest Region with surprising force; it tumbles trees and moves rocks, howling and growling, while I, the only guest in a limbo like lodge, read The Wheel of Sharp Weapons stubbornly, over and over again; when I can’t hear my own thoughts because of the wind, I read aloud. The lights go out, and I turn my head lamp on to keep reading, to stay awake. The morning after brings little relief as the Hurricane takes a quiet breath before the next blow.
‘I will not stop until you understand,’ the Hurricane seems to whisper to me, ‘that I am not some external force, a storm you can sit out or hide from; I am your mind. I will tear, and break, and hurt everything you care about until you find the strength to tame me. ’
‘What am I to a Hurricane? I don’t have that strength.’
‘Then, make it out of something you have in excess.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘‘Dance and trample on the head of this betrayer, false conception;
Mortally strike at the heart of this butcher and enemy, Ego’’
[‘The Wheel of Sharp Weapons’, translated by Thupten Jinpa]
‘I don’t understand.’
‘Of course not; that is exactly why I want you to think about it.’
At four p.m. my phone is working again, and I can finally call Dorje: I want to let him know that tomorrow I will start down, and that the expedition is over: I will not risk my team’s safety for something I want, no matter how badly. Before I have the chance to say a word to Dorje on the phone, however, his tired voice tells me that he is already on the way to Namche. When he and Jangbu arrive I learn that, after six days of waiting, Pasang was able to fly out of Kathmandu by helicopter and will be joining us next morning. Strangely, instead of joy, I am overcome with grim anxiety: I had given up on Cholatse, I had decided to forget my insatiable ambition, but the Hurricane, true to its promise, will not stop until I’ve learnt my lesson well.
‘If you hadn’t come and Pasang had still been in Kathmandu, I would have simply walked back tomorrow morning, you know…’ I tell Dorje at dinner. It would have been easy, too easy.
‘That would have been hard, Milarepa,’ he smiles, ‘the trail is completely blocked by fallen trees after the hurricane. Our yaks couldn’t pass. It’s a mess.’
‘Oh…’ I am hardly surprised to hear that the way back to ‘before the storm’ is impassable. I must walk a full circle before returning home, and it is my fault, undeniably, that four good people have to join me on this eerie adventure. My desire to climb Cholatse will now have to turn into a quest to keep the team away from it.
‘Remember, Dorje,’ I ask after a moment’s pause, ‘how I told you I was an ice swimmer? Well, if we get to base camp and don’t like the look of the Devil Mountain, we’re gonna go swimming instead. In Gokyo. You can make me a hole is the ice and I’ll sit there and pretend I’m on the summit of Cholatse.’
‘Whatever you like it, take it,’ is Dorje’s response, his trademark, accompanied by laughter, ‘but,’ he adds, ‘we have to try.’
That night, for the first time ever since I began to live and to want, I pray that we fail.
Many things happened in February 2011: I successfully passed my GUE Tech 1 course in Puerto Galera, Philippines; I returned home and was forced to stay; on a bad, bad night I went climbing alone – in the morning I woke up at the hospital, somewhat broken and completely dispirited; then, I started this blog.
The sole possibility of February 2011 and the pain of the months that followed it repeating itself in 2012 is nothing less than horrifying to me. February is fast approaching, and I must find a way not to have ‘a February’ this year. Where better to hide and sit out a storm than in a tent on a mountain which your friends refer to as ‘The Devil Mountain’? I know, it makes perfect sense, right?
The mountain my team of Sherpas and I are going to climb this Febuary is called Cholatse. It grows out of the frozen ground of the Everest Region like an enormous claw. At just under 6500 metres, Cholatse is not the highest of peaks but it is considered to be one tough cookie. Due to its reputation as an ‘evil’ mountain, it is climbed much less often than the other prominent Khumbu peaks. Very few of the few ascents on Cholatse have been successfully completed in winter, which is when we are going to climb. Again, it all makes sense, non?
I expect the weather to be one of our most serious issues during this expedition. In February spring comes knocking on Nepal’s door, bringing with it strong winds, heavy clouds and snow. It is unlikely that we should have a good weather window to get to the summit, and climbing a peak as tough as Cholatse in less than perfect conditions is a ridiculous and hopeless undertaking. Other problems will include my favourite steep winter ice, vertical rock and… me: it is a problem when someone so depressed finds herself on a mountain that has killed or injured many with a healthier mindset; it is a problem because I’ve been seriously ill for the past month and, thus, will not have my usual physical strength going for me. And this, too, somehow makes sense.
How does it make sense, exactly? It makes sense to me because I know that in order to survive this February I must have an opponent who wants me not to: in order to win, I must be made to fight. I have always thought that if I were a mountain, I would be Cholatse and, therefore, there couldn’t be a more fitting adversary… or a better friend.
I am very excited about the upcoming expedition and hope to tell my readers all about it when I return to Kathmandu at the end of February. For now, take care of yourselves and keep your fingers crossed for me!