MY EVEREST

My Everest

May 1 to May 22, 2010, I traveled in Nepal to Everest Base Camp.  I went with a group of colleagues from USANA Health Sciences, the nutritional company I represent as an independent distributor.

Warner Berger summitted Mt Everest 2 years ago, on his 70th birthday.  He’s in the Guinness book of world records for being the oldest North American to do so.  He attributes his ability to accomplish this great feat in part to his taking USANA nutritionals for so many years.

He sent me an email in December ’09 saying he wanted to take a group to Everest base camp, to the place that inspired him so much.  He asked me if I wanted to go.  After much hesitation, I said yes.

So this is my journal and reflections from that trip.   It’s after the fact and more reminiscence are coming day by day, reviewing and re-inventing the trip each minute.

As I write this, it’s Memorial Day weekend and I’m sitting on the porch of the Sangha (community) house at the Buddhist retreat center, Padma Samye Ling (padmasamyeling.com) in the Catskill Mountains of upstate NY.  I feel I grew up here and at the NYC Buddhist retreat center that preceded this one.

I had the good fortune to meet the great Buddhist teacher, H. H. Dudjom Rinpoche, in the late 1970’s in NYC.  Unlike other opportunities in my life, I recognized this one and began to study with Rinpoche at once.  When he left NY, he advised me to continue with the Khempo Rinpoches, monks and brothers just coming to NY from India, where they had immigrated from Tibet years earlier.

I continue studying with the Khempo Rinpoches to this day. I sit on the porch after an afternoon Amitayus practice, the Buddha of long life, enjoying the perfect breeze, perfect sunshine and temperature of this Catskill hamlet.  This 500 acres is dedicated to the Buddha and here I pull my thoughts together about my recent visit to Nepal and Mt Everest.

My life has become interwoven with the ideals of compassion, meditation, and non-attachment that these noble teachers have exemplified their entire lives and I’ve had the privilege of witnessing during the last 30 years of my life.   The Khempos have never strayed from this discipline, always steadfast in their prayers and commitment to serving others.

I, on the other hand, have strayed for years at a time.  The strands of truth that they have managed to weave into the fabric of my life brought me back to Buddhism time and again.  As undisciplined a disciple that I am, the force of their teachings has been able to infiltrate my being.

I’ve had to give you this bit of information as a way to convey the force that took me to the Himalayas and the force of Buddhism that I felt in the Himalayas.  I didn’t know I was going to a Buddhist country, this section of the world surrounding Mt Everest.  So even though I was traveling to a remote and distant part of the planet, the moment I stepped off the plane in Lukla, the prayer flags, sounds of trumpets and mantras filled the air with something so common to me, that this distant land was at once home.

THE STRIKE

My trip to Katmandu went smoothly until I got to Delhi airport, where my connecting flight to Katmandu was delayed 12 hours.

The Air India official took me to the “transit area” and told me to get a comfortable lounge chair.

There was a line of about 25 lounge chairs in a long narrow glass enclosure.  I selected one next to an Indian family.  When they leave, girls coming from Nepal headed home to Paris sit down.  On the other side was a couple from Barcelona also coming from Katmandu.

The couple told me it was May Day and there were Maoist demonstrations.  Katmandu was closed, all shops closed, no taxis, cars, rickshaws or even bicycles allowed.

It’s peaceful, they said, though the army was in the street with machine guns.  He used the Russian word “Kalashnikovs.”

I had started “Life, Love, Laughter” by Osho on the plane over and read much of it that night and day, as it turned out, in Delhi airport.

“Life is uncertainty… One never knows what is to happen.  And it is beautiful that one never knows… Man lives in freedom.  Freedom needs insecurity and uncertainty.”

He quotes Lao Tzu:  “I am hesitant and I move alertly in life because I don’t know what is going to happen.  And I don’t have any principle to follow.  I have to decide every moment,…when the moment comes.”

Osho talks about how being serious kills life.  Life is love and laughter.

I have definitely been too serious lately.  I just renovated my apartment and what I thought would take a couple of months and cost around $40,000, took 6 months and was at about $100,000, dissolving my savings and winding me up in debt AND there was still a couple more things to be done.

For instance, I didn’t have a bed.

So there in Delhi airport, I began to laugh, quietly in my head.   I just spent my life savings!  HA, HA, HA, HA, HO, HO, HO!   I’m in debt!  HA, HA, HA, HA, HO, HO!

I’m going to the top of the world!  HA, HA, HA, HO, HO!

I’m leaving my daughter struggling with a difficult problem and decisions to make, and I can’t even phone her!! HA, HA, HO, HO, HO!

I don’t know how I’m going to pay all the bills when I get home!  HA, HA, HA, HO, HO, HO!

That felt better.

In the airport, I met Nancy and her daughter, Miriam.  I met Nancy because she had her USANA shaker bottle sticking out of her backpack.  So I went up to her and said, “Are you trekking with Werner Berger?”

Of course, she was.  So we introduced ourselves.  Nancy was from San Diego and her daughter, Miriam, was in college in the Boston area.  Miriam was 18 and was to be the youngest member of our trek.

DAY 1 MAY 3 ARRIVE IN KATMANDU

When I finally did arrive in the Katmandu Airport in the evening, Himalayan Glacier Trekking was there waiting for me, as they’d been waiting since early morning.  There were 3 others there at the airport from our group, Brian and Chris Vasnoras and their mom, Sandy, who is my age.

They couldn’t bring the hotel van to pick us up because of the strike.  The public buses were allowed to run, to take people from the airport to their hotels.  The guides went with us on the bus, made sure our luggage was put on and that we had seats.

The bus ride reminded me of India when I visited 6 years earlier.  We rode several buses on that trip.  This bus was packed and we wound through the narrow streets of Katmandu.  Since it was the strike, it was easy driving through traffic-less streets.  An unusual opportunity.

We arrived at the Shankar Hotel, which is a converted palace.  It’s very beautiful, with carved doorframes, Buddhist statuary, and a garden with a swimming pool.

DAY 2 MAY 4 SIGHTSEEING IN KATMANDU

The next day, we couldn’t do our planned bus tour of Katmandu because the strike was still on.  So we went on a walking tour instead, all 40 of us, walking through the streets of Katmandu.  That would have been impossible if not for the strike.

We walked all morning through the twisting streets.  It was quiet, ancient, leaning wooden and stone buildings, hand carved decorations, children shouting “Hello.”

We climbed countless steep steps to get up to the “monkey temple.”  I felt at home there because of the Tibetan style Buddhist temple housing a gentle Guru Rinpoche.  By gentle, I mean his face was beaming gently down at us.

Guru Rinpoche is recognized as the saint who brought Buddhism from India to Tibet, I think in the 5th or 6th century.  Sometimes he has a more stern, wrathful look.

At monkey temple, the highest location in Katmandu, there is both a Buddhist temple and a Hindu temple, one next to the other.  Monkeys perch, taking fruit offerings from the tourists.

We then visited the Temple of the Living Goddess, The Kumaru.  A five-year-old girl is selected as the embodiment of Tara, the Tibetan wife of Guru Rinpoche.  Tara became Guru Runpoche’s most adept student and achieved miraculous powers.  The monks who consult astrology select this child.  She is kept housed apart from everyone in her little palace.  Her parents don’t live with her, but can visit.  Children visit and play with her.  She is well cared for and given an education.

Only in Nepal do they keep this tradition.  And the girl is Kumaru only until she reaches puberty.  Once menstruation occurs, she goes back out into the world to live a normal life and another Kumaru is selected.  They can and do marry and because of their education, they often go into business.

We have a queen in our USANA Everest group as well.  Collette Larsen has come on the trip with her 2 sons Zak and Dax and her son-in-law, Ryan.  Collette is the highest income earner in USANA, and she has done it herself, over a 14-year career, starting as a single mom of 5 kids looking for a way to stay at home.  She had to stay home because the 2 girls had cystic fibrosis and they needed her.  The medical bills were huge and she had to make money.

The one daughter, Chelsea, had a double lung transplant and eventually died of late rejection.  Collette couldn’t bear to have the other daughter, Lexie, go through that ordeal.  She did everything else available, including USANA vitamins, and today Lexie is married to Ryan and has her own little boy and USANA business.

We all got to know each other pretty well on this trip so I had a chance to get to know Collette a little.  Her legs were sore after hiking all those stairs to monkey temple and I offered her a massage.  We talked in her room. I could see how she became successful in USANA.  She lets her light shine.  She embraces people.  We all are attracted to light, the light of compassion.  Collette is one person who has an amazing amount of light coming from her smile, her face, her being.

Days later, as we were struggling along up steep trails at high altitude, while I was worrying about myself and how I was going to make it, Collette caught up to me on the trial and said, “I am so worried about Edna.  How is she going to make it?”

Edna was the 84-year-old Edna Northrup in our group, who did indeed, make it all the way to Everest Base Camp.  We were all to make it, as it turned out, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I was concerned for myself, and Collette looked more tired out even than I was, and in that moment of her exhaustion, she was thinking about someone else.  That simple statement, “I’m so worried about Edna.” gave me an insight into Collette.  One can’t fake concern after an all day trek at high altitude.  One’s real self either shines or …well, is not so pretty.  Collette shines.

DAY 3 MAY 5 KATMANDU-LUKLA (9,185 FT) PHAKDING (8,7700 FT)

In Osho’s book, “Life, Love, Laughter”, he talks about a monk who wakes every morning asking himself 3 questions.

“Master, are you there?”

And he answers himself, “Yes, I am here.”

“Master, sober up!”

“Yes, Master, I will sober up!”

“Master, will you let them fool you today?”

“No, Master, I will not let them fool me today.”

Osho explains this is the monk’s way to bring himself to presence in the moment.  He reminds himself how easy it is to be carried away by life’s illusions.

I am in the plane named TARA flying over the farms of Nepal.  It’s a twin-engine prop plane.

Guru Rinpoche and Tara are appearing everywhere in front of me.  They are safe guarding me, loving me.

We are in the clouds.  The motors are Oming droning.  It is very soothing, relaxing, mesmerizing.

I am dreaming.  “Elizabeth, are you there?”

“Yes, I am here, Elizabeth.”

“Elizabeth, sober up!”

“Yes, Elizabeth, I will sober up.”

HA, HA, HA, HA, HO.

“Will you let them fool you today?”

“No, Elizabeth, I won’t let them fool me today.”

Who am I?

I am Elizabeth, the living embodiment of Tara, the goddess, the Kumaru.  I am the child in the tower, the beautiful little girl well cared for, educated.  I’m not allowed to touch my feet to the ground because of my divine nature.  I am carried on liters above the heads of my people.

I am Elizabeth.

I am the garbage in the river as we walk over the bridges of Katmandu.  I am the sewage.  My scent assaults your senses.

I am the goddess and I am the garbage.  I am the mountains rising through the clouds below our twin-engine plane.

I watch the pilot clear the fogged windshield with his handkerchief.

I am the pilot, the windshield, and the handkerchief.

I am here to learn who I am and I see myself everywhere.

I experience myself at every turn.

“Elizabeth, are you there?”

“Yes, Elizabeth, I am here.”

Lukla is the stepping off point for all trekkers to the Himalayas, whether you are planning a summit attempt or just a trekking holiday to base camp.

When the weather is right, the planes can fly you in.  Lukla has a very short airstrip surrounded by mountains.  The pilots that fly the small planes in depend on sight, no radar.  Our group of 40 chartered 3 planes from TARA AIRLINES.  I noticed another airline company at the airport called BUDDHA AIRLINES.

We had a misty day and I could just see a little of the mountains and the trees close below.  When we landed, we started off at once on our first day’s trek to Phakding

We had that misty rain most of the way.  We donned our rain gear.  The light rain kept the trail from being dusty.  We were in the Solo Kombu, or the lower region of the Himalayas.  In a day or 2, we would reach the Kombu, the upper region where Everest and its siblings, making up the 8 highest peaks in the world, reside.

Spring in the Kombu is beautiful.  Everything is turning green.  Farming is terraced, squares of land hanging onto the mountainsides, delineated by fieldstone walls.  Potato fields were everywhere.

From this day forward for the next 2 weeks we were not to see a wheeled vehicle anywhere.  The plane was the last and the next thing we were to see that had wheels.  No bicycles or even wagons.  The “roads” or trails at their best were smooth dirt about 6 feet wide and we were never on any of those that lasted as long as ¼ mile.  At the worst, the road was a boulder field or a narrow, 8-inch wide stony ledge along a steep precipice.  Most often, the road was about 3 feet wide, allowing people to walk side by side or pass each other.  It was hardly ever smooth, so one had to watch each step.  It was often a climb up steep rocky steps that were built over the centuries to make one’s passage a little easier.

The engineered steps forced one to take big climbing steps, which works well for the Nepalese.  They run past us on those steps carrying loads that dwarf their bodies.  We struggle along, preferring to take our own little steps.

It wasn’t too tough a climb from the Lukla airstrip to Phakding.  They started easy on us.  We left the airstrip at around 7:30 AM and all arrived in Phakding by early afternoon.

An “acclimatization” hike was arranged for the afternoon.  This means that we are invited to hike a steep hillside and go another 1,000 feet higher.  Then stay there for an hour or so and come down.  The climbing higher and then sleeping lower technique allows the body to acclimatize better, and is supposed to give you a better nights sleep.

I elected to explore the Namaste Lodge.  This is a “no wheel” society.  Every supply arrives on the backs of animals or people.  In the Solo Kombu, they use an animal that is a cross between a cow and a yak and they use an occasional donkey or mule.  In the Kombu, they use the yak, the large furry animal well adapted to the cold.

I was so impressed by these animals, so sure footed.  They seem patient and so willing to serve.  We were warned not to get too close to the yaks, not to try to pet them.  They wear bells that make a deep sound.  The other animals wear smaller bells with higher sounds.  So you can hear the animals approaching from quite a distance, the bells clanging in the distance.

If we heard the deep bells, we scurry to the uphill side of the trail.  We were warned to give them plenty of space to pass.  Yaks had the right of way.

I could suddenly understand so well the Tibetan refugee friends of mine in NY, the monks that have been my teachers, and how they speak so fondly of yaks.  During their own escape from China dominated Tibet, they were young and traveled with their family.  Their father led the family in winter over the Himalayas.  They had yaks to carry their few belongings.  They had to travel often at night.

Never having known a yak, I didn’t understand this fondness.  Now, after sharing these 2 weeks with yaks, I have a new insight.  I share my Tibetan friends’ distress.  What a dismal life, to never see a yak!  And to never see one again, now that I’ve seen them, I just can’t tolerate the thought!

Yak entering Tengboche Monastery

As for the lodges and architecture in general in the Solo Kombu and even more so in the Kombu, since everything has to be carried, buildings are built with the barest minimum of supplies.  The basic structure is native stone, foundation and outside walls.  Men cut these stones by hand with hammers patiently pounding away.  We passed many foundations in progress on our trip, men seated on the ground, pounding away at rock with small hammers, shaping the rock to the size brick or gravel needed.

The lodges we stayed at always had a large, central dining room with a wood or dung stove in the middle of the room.  The other stove was in the adjoining kitchen.  The rest of the building would not have heat.  So everyone would get together in the dining rooms, where it was warm.

There was often a sign at the kitchen door.  “Dinner served until 8 PM.  Be sure to give your dinner order no later than 5 PM.”

Everywhere it was evident that Nepalese have a different idea of time.

The firewood stove was in the middle and then a long line of 4-foot tables would be along each wall.  Traditionally, people sit on a bench along the wall, facing the table.  No one sits on the other side of the table, unless the group, like ours, was so big that we couldn’t all fit on the wall side.  Then plastic chairs are brought out so people can be seated on the other side.

This is where we got to know each other, during meals and card games and the games of charades afterwards.

Buddhas and prayer wheels

Because there was no heat anywhere else in the buildings, we didn’t hang out at all in our rooms.  The rooms could be very small, sometimes holding 2 or 3 small beds with hardly any room in between for a bag or to walk.  The bedroom walls were very thin, just a single sheet of plywood between rooms.  Our beds were always adequate and in every case we each had a foam mattress.

Namaste Lodge was fairly Spartan, with the “toilets” in the courtyard and a section of rooms with bathrooms.  We were a big group, so no lodge could accommodate 20 double rooms all with baths.  So we took turns getting the rooms with baths and the ones where the “toilet” was in the hall or the courtyard.

“With Bath” doesn’t mean the same thing in Nepal as it does in the U.S.  If you had a bath attached to your room, it would mean some kind of a toilet, usually a sink, and not always a working shower.  The “toilets” on the trail and in the courtyards at the lodges could mean anything from a hole in the ground to a working toilet.

The kitchens were another story.  They were the center of life at every lodge.  There was always a very big wood & dung cook stove with a huge pressure cooker making rice.

Curry vegetables, mainly potatoes and cabbage, was always stewing.

I wandered into the kitchen at Namaste Lodge.  It was a cheerful place with lots of cabinets holding bowls, pots and pans hanging from the walls, the huge central stove and a sink & work station.  I asked if I could help, which gave them a laugh, so I joined 2 young women making momos.

I’d had some momo instruction from Tibetan friends in NY, just enough to know there was an inherent skill involved that I didn’t have.  Momos are dumplings with either meat or vegetables inside that are then steamed in a large layered steamer.  The skilled momo makers produce crescent shaped momos that have a lovely series of folds along the top closure of the pastry.

My momos were neither crescent shaped or folded nicely, which gave my patient teachers a good laugh.  The proprietor, Tashiring Nima Sherpa, Shiring for short, laughed a lot.  She told me her son was in NY studying and I took his phone number, promising to call him when I got home.  He was friends with our lead guide, KP, short for Kul Prasad, but she told me her son only knows him by KP with Himalayan Glacier Treking.  Shiring had been to NY to visit him last year.

In the kitchen with KP and Shiring

DAY 4 MAY 6 PHAKDING – NAMCHE BAZAAR (11,284 feet)

Today was the day we began to do some serious climbing.  It was still misty, so our views were only what were right in front of us.

The rhododendron is the national flower of Nepal and it was blooming everywhere.  There were forests of it covering the mountainsides for as far as we could see.  Sometimes, we walked with rhododendron boughs forming a tunnel around us.  It was one of the most magical places I have ever been in my life.

We were entering the Khumbelo, the Sacred Land, Sarganatha National Park.  Sarganatha was the local name for Everest.

Entering Everest National Park

I was touched by the love of the people in the group.  There were 40 of us, most of us USANA distributors or some way connected with USANA.   There were family groups within our group.  Collette had come with her sons Zak and Dax and son-in-law, Ryan.  It was heart warming to see how Zak, Dax and Ryan were always looking out for Collette.  They tried to stay with her all the time at the beginning of the trip.  As the days went on, when they went on ahead, they would wait anxiously for her to show up at the end of the day.  Then they would have gotten her room ready and help her get to it.

Edna became the star of our group.  Being 84, she became the talk of the trail and undoubtedly was the oldest woman to visit base camp.  Though Edna had the dream of visiting base camp, it was her daughter, Penny Kirk, and her son-in-law, Phil Kirk, that encouraged her to come on the trek.

Penny told me that her mother had always supported her, trained with her for ski competitions and the Olympic ski team.  So Penny knew what her mother was capable of, and that she could do this trek.

Penny wanted her mom to be able to go at her own pace, without feeling pressured by the others to move faster.  Penny had hiked with Edna before, so she set the pace at one that was doable for Edna to keep up all day long.

So at the end of a long day, when we rejoiced at Edna and Penny showing up with one or two others, and on a couple of days it was me showing up behind them, I could feel the love and care that Penny, Phil and Edna had for each other.

There were some other family groups, brothers, mothers and daughters and sons, and at first I felt even more alone. No one was specifically looking for me, celebrating my daily triumphs.  Then I could just kind of bask in their love, care and concern, like the fire in the lodge warms all of us, even though it may have been lit for someone else.

The trail was odd in that way for me.  Daily I went from mundane ego concerned thoughts to more enlightened thoughts.  The grandeur of the environment occasionally lifted me to an experience that I can only describe with difficulty.  It approached that feeling of union that saints describe, losing my sense of self.

I enjoyed many occasions of finding myself alone on the trail.  My pace temporarily just didn’t match any of the others and I’d round a turn and recognize my aloneness and also my being one with all and everything.  It was a euphoric feeling.

Other times, I remember one of the first nights; I awoke in the middle of the night and stayed awake for hours.  I made lists in my head of all the people I had forgotten to pay before I left, all the bills waiting for me when I got home.  I felt tortured, mundane and mean.  A real hell of worry was generated by my own little mind!

After hours of creating this turmoil, something shifted.  I came up with a solution, simple.  I’ll just make this money when I get home and pay everyone.  I immediately went to sleep for the little remaining time before the sharps woke us with tea to start the morning trek.

Then the next day it started all over again.  I was part of the time in a euphoric timeless moment by delicious moment existence.  Then the next, I was frantic for a telephone to reach my daughter.  I was sure she needed me.  I borrowed a cell phone and called from the valley in view of the 8 highest peaks.  Then I heard her voice and she told me everything worked out all right.

It was up and down, the altitude and Himalayan air creating contrasts of light and dark.  It continued every day.  The trek to Namche Bazaar included 5 high suspension bridges.  These bridges are bits of steel sometimes hundreds of feet above the gorge and the Milk River.  The river runs white with minerals.

We stepped on the bridge and suspended ourselves, bounced with the winds, starring down at the river and boulders far below.  The bridges were always strewn with prayer flags, blowing prayers for peace and for the safety of the travelers.

It was so steep, traveling to Namchee, that at one point our whole group stopped to rest.  The guides began to play the drum and dance and we were doing Nepalese dancing in the midst of the days trek, singing.

When we arrived at Namchee, it could only come as a surprise.  The wonder of it, when we turned the corner and saw it for the first time, as if the village with its brightly colored roofs was pasted across heaven, hanging from the sky.  The houses seem to hang at awkward angles from a cliff.  An ornamental gate covers the road and announces that we have arrived, painted with Buddhas and lined with prayer wheels.

Namchee

Then we must circumambulate the stupa first before we enter town, turning more prayer wheels.  We continue up.  We have walked all day, battled demons and found our own god-hood, and the reward is to reach the sky and admittance into heaven.  Lemon tea and cookies are served at 4 o’clock. It’s my turn to have a room with a hot shower and rain on the roof serenades me as I write.

DAY 5 OR 6 MAY 7 OR 8 I CAN NO LONGER KEEP TRACK NAMCHE BAZAAR –KHUNJUN (12,500 FEET) – TENGPOCHE

Khumjun Hidden Valley Lodge and Restaurant greets us, like a 5 star Swiss Alpine clubhouse.  We trekked straight up and up and our bodies are stronger each day.  We are becoming conditioned.  The mountain conditioned us.  I started out as a broken down donkey.

My spirit was riding this broken down donkey body.  My spirit was enthusiastic and my body was complaining, asking for more air, more water, more rest.  The mountain snapped the whip on my donkey ass and said, “Go.”

Keep on going, up the stone steps, an interminable number of them.  Up over the perilous suspension bridges.

“Oh donkey,” says the mountain, “you are being overly dramatic.  It’s just a little bridge.  Get going, you little ass.”

I am cheering,  “Go, my little donkey!”

I am awed by the views of the market far below.  I am awed by the waterfalls, the people, the rows of stonewalls making little rectangles of farmland of this great country.

DAY 7 KHUMJUNG – TENGBOCHE (12,500 FEET)

My donkey became a charger.  The mountain transformed my donkey body.  No whipping needed any longer.

Each morning I thought of these words I memorized when I heard Paul Scheele (Learning Strategies Corporation) say them on a DVD years ago.

“I am alive, alert, joyous, and enthusiastic about this new day.  I fairly sizzle with joy and enthusiasm.  Always in the right place at the right time, I admire the way the universe conspires on my behalf with synchronistic magical opportunities.  I spring into action, making my dreams come true.”

It took me between 5 and 6 hours to walk from Khumjung to Tengboche.  We had to walk first down 1500 feet elevation and then back up.  Tengboche Monastery is an old one, but rebuilt recently after a fire.  Consequently, the paintings all looked fresh.

Entry gate for Tengboche Monastery

When I arrived through the entrance gate, I knew I was in the land of Guru Rinpoche.  His image was painted on the entrance gate.  The entry archway is painted with images of the Nyingma Buddhists, guarded by the snow lions, topped with the 2 deer, Buddhas’s first disciples.

The story is that when Buddha gave his first teaching at deer park, the deer gathered to listen.  His own disciples had deserted him and did not come back for some time.  So 2 deer at the entranceways always grace Buddhist temples, one on either side of the wheel of life.

As soon as I entered Tengboche, I met an old monk.  I greeted him as I have been trained to do, by bowing, hands clasped and said, “Tashi delek!”

He was somewhat surprised by receiving this traditional, greeting from a foreigner.  He asked where I was from and when I said, “New York” he said, “Oh, so far!”

He pointed at the white monument that is Everest and said, “Sarganartha”, the Nepalese name.  It’s the first view I had of it and I could only stand in awe.

“Nice Mothers’ Day present,” I heard Edna say later as we all sat on the patio of the “Hello, Good Day Lodge”.  In Nepalese, it’s Tashi Delek Lodge and Restaurant.  It’s directly in front of the Tengboche Monastery.  I watch a yak pass under the main entrance archway and up the steps to the temple.

DAY 8 MAY 10 TENGPOCHE – PHERICHE (13,672 FEET)

We gathered in front of the temple that morning.  We received traditional scarves from a monk to bless us on our trip.  The morning was clear and blue.  That morning, the monks opened the monastery window and recited mantras, played the cymbals and blew the conch shells, as they do every morning.

They recited the morning prayers over the land.

Mani rocks with sacred syllables along the trek

We walked all morning through the rhododendron forests. Mountainsides were covered with blossoms as far as the eye could see, up to the tree line where the snow began.

Rhododendron tunnels cooled us as we walked down to the river and then up the other side.  Then up and up, past rocks carved with sacred syllables and painted, called mani stones.  Stupas, mani stones and painted entrance gates decorated the entrance to the sacred land.

The goat show began as soon as we stepped through.  Percash, our guide, pointed out the goats above.  They were much larger than I thought they would be.  I imagined they would be puny, skinny things.  Instead, they were large, robust, with long flowing hair, crowned with curling horns.

They dove down the mountain, recklessly, gracefully.  Then they stopped at a rock just at the entrance gate through which we had just passed.  They appeared to be waiting, watching the gate.

So I waited, too.  I realized the rest of our group would soon pass under the gate, and there the goats would be.  The goats appeared to be waiting for their cue to go onstage.

We were up higher, looking down on the show, the goats like actors in the wings, waiting for the audience to arrive and the curtain to go up.

Omnot, the guide, came first, with the group right behind him.  The first goat jumped center stage, to the middle of the trail, just in front of them.

The rest of the goats followed, jumping down from the rock to the center of the trail. Just as quickly, they dove over the cliff dramatically.  It appeared as if they were flying down into the riverbed far below.  Eight goats in all were in the theater company, eight daredevil actors for our delight.

Our group below admired the show while I, hidden far above, admired them admiring the show.

Werner asked me yesterday,  “Have the trees talked to you yet?”

Today the mountain told me who I am.

Who am I?

I am the mountain that has taken shape, the clay that has separated itself from the mountain and still remains the mountain.

I am the mountain that has decided to walk about in order to appreciate myself, to love myself, to love my goats, my grandeur, my rhododendrons, my birds singing, my cliffs and crags.

I am the earth made manifest to express appreciation and gratitude for all this.

First we had the forest of flowers and birds singing.  Then we were above the tree line.  Suddenly, desolation.  Only dirt, stones, rock mountains, snow far above.  Stupas and mani stones, prayers carved in rock.

Penny and Phil were telling me about a friend of theirs.  He is a doctor from India.

He asks people, “How can I help you?  What is your chief concern?”

They tell him their problems and he says, “Don’t worry.  I can help you.”

He says,  “I am Devi’s (mother goddess) favorite son.  Whatever I ask for, she has to give me.  I will ask for you.”

It’s about complete faith.  Doubt is fear.  Without fear, the door is open and whatever is asked for is received.

We are all Devi’s favorite sons.  We are all flesh and blood of mountain father and goddess mother.  Whatever we ask for in complete faith is given.

DAYS 8, 9, 10  PHERICHE, LOBUCHE, GORAK SHEP EVEREST BASE CAMP (17,575 FEET)

We headed up to Base Camp from Gorak Shep.  I felt great the day before.  People were feeling all kinds of degrees of altitude sickness, but no one so seriously ill that they couldn’t go on.  We’d get momentary headaches, nausea, and shortness of breath.  But it would pass, and there was diamox to help.  On the last day before going up to base camp, I took some diamox because I was starting to feel nauseous pretty regularly.

My stimulator machine was working every day. A scientist friend of mine, Dr. Saul Liss, made this device and I carry it everywhere as my first aid kit.  It’s about the size of a TV remote with 2 leads that I attaché to my body.   My friend, Dr. Liss, since died and the family sold the machine to 2 doctors who are continuing the work.  It’s now called the Fisher Wallace Electrical Stimulator (fisherwallace.com).

It’s great for headaches, muscle aches, anxiety, and stomach problems. That’s just a few of the things I’ve used it for.  I used it myself to sleep better and for my unsettled stomach.  Many of the group used it either for headache or stomachaches.

I originally bought the device to treat kids with autism, as it helps them organize their thoughts.  The device can help them progress to more mental clarity, less anxiety and improved speech.  But it became the treatment I relied on to get me through health challenges, one of the first being an ulcer and digestion problems.

For years I had discomfort and pain after eating.  I started putting the machine on my stomach as I dropped off to sleep at night, as it was supposed to be good for relaxation.  It did relax me, improved my sleep and it healed my gut at the same time.

So since then I take it everywhere with me and it got a lot of use on this trip.

As we trekked each day, I learned if I went at my own pace, not trying to keep up with the others, I could go all day.  I learned the “rest step”, a slight hesitation as you put a foot down, where I allow all my muscles to rest mid-step, before taking the next step.

I felt good.  We left at 6 AM to arrive at Gorak Shep.  Now it was 11.  We were having an early lunch and continuing to Base Camp.

Maybe it was the exhaustion beginning to creep in.  Most of the distance from Gorak Shep to Base Camp wasn’t much of a trail at all.  Instead it was hour after hour of boulder field.

Maybe it was the crest of the hill where all the cairns were erected, memorializing all the people who didn’t make it back from Everest.  I photographed the memorial for Scott Fisher, the famous Everest guide whose last attempt ended in tragedy for so many.  The tragedy was caught & immortalized so eloquently on IMAX and by the writing of “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer, who happened to be on the tragic expedition and returned home alive.

Memorials

But when I reached Everest Base Camp, a pile of rocks with the banner across it announcing I had arrived, I collapsed in fatigue.  The scene was surreal.  I felt invisible, no one noticed I was there; no one clapped me on the back to congratulate me or acknowledged my achievement in any way.

The group was in excited disarray.  There was a cluster of tiny orange tents in the distance that actually was the base camp.  The part of our group that had arrived before me was rushing off in that direction.  There was the white monolith that was Everest looming overhead and there was the desolate landscape in between, glaciers with ice arms jutting upwards, reflecting an eerie green light.

It was unlike any landscape I had ever seen.  I remembered other finish lines I had crossed during my lifetime.  The NY City Marathon had an archway of ribbon, a camera that took my picture and recorded my time, and thousands of people cheering, including one who rushed toward me and draped me with a silver Mylar blanket.

When I did the 3-mile swim across the Hudson River, they handed me a towel and a T-shirt and my friends were there to take my picture.

Here I was, the biggest physical achievement of my life, and I was collapsed on a rock without even a hand to shake.

Base Camp Mt. Everest

I began crying.  It didn’t make any sense and I should have recognized it as the muddled thinking of high altitude, but one never knows their thinking is muddled.  It seemed perfectly logical to me at the time.  Self pity and other negative thinking always appears logical at the time, lol!

KP, our Nepalese guide, finally saw me and came over and hugged and congratulated me.  “I want to see the glaciers,” I said, nonsensically.

“Well, there they are,” he pointed.  “Just go a little around that way, and you can get a closer look.”

I headed off towards the little orange tents in the distance.  I saw the most remarkable boulders perched inexplicably on pedestals of ice.  I continued to cry softly during my visit to the top of the world.  I walked about half way to the tents, then sat, meditating, crying, reflecting at my aloneness, my separateness, my duality.

I finally recognized that I had been fooled again and I called, “Elizabeth, are you there?”

Reaching the goal with Himalayan Glacier Trekking

“Yes, Elizabeth, I am here!”

“Elizabeth, sober up!”

“Yes, Elizabeth, I will sober up.”

“Will you let them fool you today?”

“Yes, I have let them fool me, but I won’t let them fool me anymore.”

So I walked back to the pile of rocks with the sign Everest Base Camp.

I looked into Phil Kirk’s face and can’t begin to describe the look I saw there that was so tired and so full of, I don’t know what, anguish?  He told me later he was so worried about Edna.  “What had we done?” he asked himself, by bringing her up there.

I began to congratulate everyone there and everyone still arriving.  In turn, they congratulated me back.  Edna did arrive and we greeted her enthusiastically and with great relief.

The entire group made it, which is unheard of on treks to Everest.  Himalayan Glacier has a record better than most, because they really take care of their clients and take the time to make sure we can get acclimatized.  40% is the usual drop out rate for people headed to base camp.

We were enthusiastic and grateful that USANA kept us all so healthy, free of aches and pains for the length of the trek.

We all posed together for photographs in front of the rocks.  Olivier, our film documentarian, took photos and film.

We started down.  I don’t know what energy any of us had left to get down.  We had to reach deep.  I may have gotten things out of order.  It may have been that night that I was sick in the middle of the night.  I just woke up in the middle of the night and threw up at the foot of my bed.

I didn’t have time to say anything or even get out of bed.  My roommate,  Irina, got KP and someone else came.  They quickly cleaned it up and changed the sheets and I was asleep again.

From then on, down the mountain, for the next 2 days I could only eat porridge, rice and potatoes.  My stomach gave me a little to a lot of trouble and I was following Edna at the end of the group, hoping to be able to just continue putting one foot in front of the other.  I went to bed one afternoon at 4 PM and didn’t wake up until 5 the next morning.

I went from feeling great to feeling miserable, and I don’t think I was alone in that.  Almost everyone got sick at some point in the trek, for a day or 2 like I did, and then they bounced back, like I eventually did.

We were coming down from Everest at a pretty fast pace and I began to feel better.  My stomach improved as long as I kept to rice and potatoes, but I was exhausted.  We took 11 days to go up to Everest and 5 days to come down.  We were trekking twice as far as before and I was easily twice as tired.

I had to remind myself of the beauty of the passing countryside, as we re-entered the rhododendron forests and the farmlands.  Everything had gotten greener since the days had passed, the crops had grown higher.

I passed women sitting in piles of juniper, beating it with rocks, making juniper incense for the home altar.  The path smelled of juniper as I approached and passed by.

I found myself alone on the suspension bridges.  I opened my arms as if flying, feeling the wind against my body.  I was singing into the wind, the chant Om Mani Padme Hung that is inscribed on the rocks at every turn in the trail.

We loved getting back to Namche Bizarre, where we could take showers and some of us had clean clothes.   We all shopped that afternoon, making it a little tough on the yaks and porters with all the extra weight coming down.

The last four hours of the trek, I walked with Nancy all that afternoon.  We stopped frequently to rest.  We touched on some short stretches of trail that were so smooth and well maintained that I had to marvel at it, after so many boulders!

We made it.  We were in Lukla, at the airport, and ready to fly to Katmandu for our celebration dinner and trip home.

Except the clouds had other ideas.  Monsoon season was beginning and flights were canceled on account of weather.  The pilots needed to see to fly in and visibility was nil.  It wasn’t safe.

A helicopter or 2 was able to get in, when the weather cleared ever so slightly.  I could hardly detect a change, but the pilots could.  So little by little our group was able to leave, 5 or 6 at a time, in helicopters.  We left according to who had the next flight out from Katmandu.

My flight was not going out until a few days later, so I was at the end of the list.  We sat at the airport all day, waiting in case there was an opening in the weather, then back to the hotel at night to play charades.

With all that time waiting, I went into a review of my life, especially the last 2 years.

What had happened to me?

It began in November of 2008.  Up until then, at least since my divorce 15 years ago, it was a pretty straight run of ease and blessings.  The divorce itself was a pretty tough deal, of course.  I moved from the home I shared with my husband and daughter, an apartment on the 3rd floor, to an apartment on the second floor.  I lived on the 3rd floor apartment with my family 13 years.  Then I lived in the 2nd floor apartment 13 years, which ended last summer when I moved back to the 3rd floor apartment.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

My husband and daughter moved to Italy.  It was wrenching for me to be so separated from my daughter, but I was also free to take classes in alternative medicine.  I immersed myself in trainings and practice and I eventually became somewhat of an expert in my field.

The 3rd floor was leased out and the 2nd floor became my home, my office, classroom, and yoga studio.

For 13 years I lived there and everything went fairly smoothly.  There were a couple of failed attempts at love that jerked my heart about but seemed insignificant compared to what came next.

In November of 2008, my mom was diagnosed with a deadly cancer.  She was told to go on hospice.  All hope gone, we went to see 1 more doctor, 1 more opinion we hoped might be different.

It was.  Dr. Urken said, “I can remove that tumor and you will be fine.”

So we went for it.  The tumor was in a nasal sinus, in Mom’s face, so he described removing part of her mouth, cheekbone, left eye, to get at the tumor.  They would reconstruct her face at the same surgery and make Mom an extensive denture to replace half of the roof of her mouth.

I committed to serve my Mom, and my siblings joined me in that commitment.  I slept with her at the hospital.  I was there with my healing tools to do all I could.

She accepted my help.  I filled her with vitamins. I woke at 4 in the morning with her nightmares, to release the fear with emotional freedom technique.

We had many 4 AM talks about whether to live or die.  I would support her whatever her decision, but dying would not be any easier than the fight for life.

At the same time, my little white dog, Max, was suddenly paralyzed by a blown lumbar disc.  I couldn’t be with him, because I was with my mom.  Nights before I left him with a friend, I lay by Max’s crate where he lay unable to move.  I slept on the floor beside him, my arm extended into his cage so I could sleep with one hand touching him.   Max went to my friend, Steve’s house, where he took loving care of him.

I spent the next weeks at the hospital with Mom, lying in a chair next to her bed.  I brought her home a couple of days before Christmas and that day a branch fell through the roof of my car parked in their parents driveway.  I had a rental car for months before the repair was complete.

The surgery was a success and the tumor was gone.  Mom was having a difficult time recovering, as she had to learn how to deal with the mouthpiece and to relearn how to eat and drink.  She had swelling and everything else that comes with a surgery, including a case of pneumonia.

The pneumonia lasted about a week.  Mom came through it strong.  I think the vitamins helped her make that a non-issue.

We drove Max in the rental car to pick up a doggie wheel chair.  From the first moment he was in it, he began to move his back legs.  He eventually regained complete use of his back legs, though it took some months.  He and my mom were making parallel progress.

My Mom went through radiation, which was her Everest.  It went for 30 weeks and almost killed her.  It was targeting her nasal sinus, but burnt her throat so bad she couldn’t eat or drink.  We watched her slip away until I insisted they give her outpatient intravenous hydration and nourishment.

We went every day to the hospital and sat for 5 hours at a time getting the life back into her.  She began to come back, the radiation was over.  We found the right medication to stop the burning.

Months went by and by spring Mom was driving again and able to shop.  She had normal blood pressure for the first time in many years and she was now a healthy weight, having lost about 50 lbs in the process.

It was then, in May of 2009 that my brother, Michael was diagnosed with a particularly virulent form of lymphoma. I was going to Delaware to visit my brother, Michael in the hospital.  Except for a week or so, he was in the hospital from May until he died in September.  They couldn’t get control over an infection.

Michael didn’t survive the chemo.  The infection took over.  He lay in bed seemingly unconscious.  But I could observe that when his daughters spoke, I saw he turned his head in their direction.  I knew he was hearing them.  But he couldn’t return to us.  I spent several weekends that summer driving to Delaware to visit him.

Meanwhile, my daughter, Catherine went to visit her dad, my x-husband, Michael, for the month of August.  He was sick, but recovering.   They were able to go to the market, have dinner with friends and the movies one night.

Then the day she was to go back to New York, he died.  She found him that morning, 9/09/09.  She called me while I was in New York City, taking my mom to the doctor.

8 days later my brother, Michael, died.  I received the call early that morning.  They were gathering the family.  They were waiting for his 28 year old son, Chris to arrive from NYC.  Then they would unhook Mike from life support.

I was to drive to my parents to give them the news.  My older brother, Tony, was already there.  My mom was crying,  “Why are they saying he’s dead?  It can’t be true!”

That was the summer I moved from the 2nd floor back to the 3rd floor.  I was only there a few weeks when Mike died and then Mike died.

26 years earlier, when we moved to that building as a young married couple, I walked up to the 3rd floor and looked at the beautiful view of the Hudson River from the hall window.  There was a bathroom there blocking the view.  I thought, “That bathroom is in the wrong place.  It has to go.”

But we were young and didn’t have much money for the renovation, so the bathroom stayed and blocked the view all these years.  When I moved back up, I said,  “Now’s the time.  That bathroom is going.”

And what ensued was a renovation that started after all the funerals died down.  I busted up walls in mid summer, while everyone was sick, and we drew up a plan in November.  In December, the week before Christmas, the contractor arrived to make lines on the floor.

I thought I could live in it while it was being renovated.  We put in 2 new bathrooms, and a new kitchen.

I soon was living in my office and taking showers at the gym.  In December, I got the call from Werner.

The renovation was 6 months of being homeless, living in dust.  The building was built in 1876, so at many turns, unexpected additional costs showed up.  The new plumbing couldn’t be tied into the old plumbing because the old plumbing turned out to be rotting in the walls.  It all had to come out and be replaced.

The renovation got completed less than a week before I took off for Katmandu.  The polyurethaned floors hardly had a chance to dry when I had to get in there to find my stuff to pack.

My Everest actually started 2 years before I started packing.  My Everest included my Mom’s cancer, my dog’s paralysis, my x-husband and brother’s death, my 6 months of homelessness and building a home.  My Everest was a struggle of many years that culminated in a bleak snowy peak with me wondering why I wanted to reach this rock so badly in the first place.  My Everest was the triumph of finally learning that the destination was pointless.  It’s all about the journey.

The journey of the last 2 ½ years was the hardest of my life.  The moments of intense beauty during that time were the most pure joy.

Like the moment my brother said to his daughter, Nicole, when we were visiting at the hospital.  He said, “What a great outfit you’re wearing!  I love that skirt.  You really look nice.”

His voice was so full of love and, even though we were all visiting, he only saw her.  Nicole said later,  “He’s never said anything about what I was wearing before.”

All those 4 AM mornings when Mom and I discussed living or dying.

Sleeping with my arm around my dog as he lay fearful and paralyzed.

The rhododendrons covering the mountains with blossoms as far as the eye could see.

My x-husband Michael waiting to have a long visit with Catherine before he died.

My brother, Michael, who can’t return to life, yet turns his head to his daughter, Kim, when she speaks.

Warner and I pose with mani stones.

Penny and Phil taking Edna to Everest.

Zak, Dax, and Ryan waiting for Collette.

It’s all proof of a love so deep it makes my heart quiver to witness.

It’s a necklace of stunning moments that make me rejoice over My Everest of 2 years climbing.  I’m over the top.  I’m on my way down.  The trip is easier now.  My home is so beautiful that I just sit and stare.   My life is so beautiful that I just sit and stare.