Day 1 - Up in the Air
Day 1, Sunday April 29th, 2018/Monday, April 30th, onboard Qatar Airways
I am currently en route to Kathmandu, Nepal. In a few days, along with a small group of fellow NYC-based photographers, we’ll head from there to the small Himalayan village of Lukla, to start an 11-day hike to and from Mount Everest Base Camp at 17,598 feet above sea level. Everest, at it’s peak of 29,029 feet, is notorious both due to its #1 ranking on the geologic height charts and the numerous amount of deaths that have occurred while attempting to summit it. The weather atop Everest is unpredictable, but May generally provides the perfect window between way too damn cold and monsoon season for those with the time, money and desire to summit the “roof of the world.”
Perhaps you’ve read “Into Thin Air,” John Krakauer’s harrowing account of his 1996 summit trek? Or felt his story more viscerally via the more recently released movie, “Everest?” When I first saw the film, two days prior to my previous highest-altitude trip, hiking the John Muir Trail and Mount Whitney, (a mere 14,505 feet above sea level), I never thought I’d be interested in Everest. Put a pack on my back and send me into the woods for 3 weeks to 6 months — no problemo! Walk up a single mountain that will require a couple months of hanging out at Base Camp in sub-zero temps to acclimate and then still have to use supplemental oxygen in order to make the final push just to maybe not die – otherwise leaving my frozen corpse behind to become a landmark for other hikers to know where to turn left? No thanks! Plus, isn’t, as Krakauer describes, the impact of the ever-increasing amount of visitors to Everest been causing major environmental problems for the whole Khumbu region? As an environmentalist and a white person of relative means as compared to the average Nepali, is it even ethical for me to go and add to the impact?
But at the time I saw that movie and read the book, nobody had actually asked me if I wanted to go with them to Everest – nor had they provided me with a reasonable price quote and a firm travel date. I had no idea how much the promise of a beautiful mountain adventure really had it’s pull on me until I found myself plunking down a $900 deposit after having a 1-hour conversation (and a couple of beers) with two acquaintances who had recently been on a trip to Base Camp. That and it just seemed kismet that once I decided to really turn my love of hiking into a part-time guiding career, the opportunity to accompany other photographers to Everest simply presented itself to me.
As I’m still in the air and have yet to arrive to Nepal, I can’t help but feel a smidge uncertain about my role as incoming American tourist, but that happens anytime I leave New York City for less affluent areas. I do know from experience that I am a conscientious and respectful traveller. I love visiting other regions because I am interested in and enamored with learning how other fellow humans make their way through the world. As a hiking guide myself, I know that one of the biggest lessons I can teach my clients is how to tread lightly and be respectful of the land around us.
I am more than excited for my first trip to Asia and so grateful for the opportunity to have the time and the guts to take on an adventure like this. Grateful also for my strong legs and lungs, which will bring me not to the summit of Mount Everest, but two-thirds of the way there and to the neighboring peak of Kala Pattar at 18,519 feet above sea level. From a respectful distance, I will admire the beauty of the world’s largest mountain, the people who make a living alongside it and reflect on the lives of the many mountaineers and sherpas who paid the ultimate price by challenging the limits of the human body.