Today we set out for the goal of our trip, to reach the Mount Everest Base Camp at 17,600 feet. This is what we all came for, to see this place, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so full of history of great success and tragic failure. On the way up we passed memorials to climbers and Sherpa’s who have died on this mountain. We trekked for hours, a total of eight, to get to the remote Base Camp location. Along the way, we passed majestic snow-capped mountains that encircled us in every direction. The mountains continued as far as the eye could see. To me, I felt like I arrived in God’s Cathedral. His home up above the clouds that is too beautiful to describe.
The mountains did more than bring a tear to my eye. I was outright crying at various points. When I shared this with my group at dinner, others confirmed they also broke out crying from the awesome beauty of this place. The majesty of the place needs to be balanced by the effort to get there and the toll it takes on the body. Sherpa’s have genetically adapted over the years to live in these altitudes. I am not a Sherpa and neither are the majority of the people who come here. The price paid to enjoy this natural splendor is exhaustion, altitude sickness, digestive problems from contaminated water and the effects of many days of not sleeping (it’s difficult to sleep at this altitude where the oxygen level is 50% of sea level). However, it all seems worth it to see this beautiful place. A couple of times I said to myself “My eyes have seen the glory”. So balancing the good and not so good, we trek on.
You cannot miss the summit of Everest as you approach the Base Camp. It’s the only mountain that creates its own weather and has constant clouds surrounding it and snow blowing off of its summit. Simply put, the awesomeness of Everest cannot be missed or overlooked. It’s the king of all mountains even here at the top of the world. At 29,000 feet plus, it’s summit is the same height as the cruising altitude of 747 and larger aircraft. It’s nature at its most awesome and most dangerous.
The Base Camp is much smaller than I expected. It’s amazing the history of this place and the people who have passed through it. To be honest, the size of the physical space is puny to compared to the hero’s and legends that have come out of it. As I perused the site, I started to imagine what the Camp must be like in prime season when it’s packed with climbers, Sherpas and other support personnel. It must be quite a scene indeed. I said a prayer for all those that have climbed in the past, will climb in the future and those who have given their lives trying to summit. With clouds coming in, it became very cold. It was time to leave and head back to our tea house before the weather turned for the worse. Our group had dinner that night and while we were all exhausted, we collectively shared about how awesome it was to be here, even if it was so cold. For many of us, this was an item on our bucket list that we could now check off. That night, I slept in my heated tea house bed as the temperature outside went as low as -20 degrees Fahrenheit with the wind-chill. Even with the cold and exhaustion, I pinched myself that I was here and told myself this was “a gift of the program”. But for my sobriety, I would not have been here!
Waking up in Tashinga was an experience. When we arrived at this small village the evening haze blocked the view. The weather here is pretty consistent with clear morning skies and overcast and foggy afternoons and late evenings. After waking up I went outside to check out the scenery and my jaw literally dropped. In each direction you could see tall snow-capped mountains. The view was one of the most beautiful I had ever seen. I am not exaggerating when I say the view brought tears to my eyes. This is what I came to see! I felt so alive and excited to get back out and trek higher. Like any addict or alcoholic, one gorgeous mountain vista is not enough: I want more. I want to go higher, see bigger mountains and more of them. I just finished my morning spiritual program, reading Just for Today and Daily Reflections. So I tell myself easy does it. Pace yourself. Stop chasing more and enjoy what is! Stay in the present and breath deep.
Today we wake up at 11,500 feet and when we arrive at our destination, Pongboche, we will be at 13,500. Off we go….
We hiked for two hours on a forty-five-degree angle straight up. Right at the beginning of our trek we came to a suspension bridge. Not as high or as long as some of the others we encountered. Having gone over so many yesterday, I took Deep breath, said to myself “fear is not my friend” and “fear is not a fact”. I kept my eyes on the other side and made my way across. It was a little less challenging than the day before. When you confront fear, it loses its power.
Our two hour forty-five-degree incline climb was hard. To say this was a challenging is an understatement. There were a couple of times I thought my heart might pop out of my chest it was pounded so hard. I needed a lot of breaks as did everyone in our group. Once again each of us was supportive of one another and slowly but surely we arrived in Tambuche.
Tambuche is the location of a stunning Buddhist Monastery with a breathtaking view of the valley, including Mount Everest. No matter what direction you turn, snow-capped mountains take your breath away. You can see a number of peaks, including Themacrku, Khonde, Amadablam and of course Everest. The place has a surreal and almost magical feeling to it which is hard to explain. Prayers have been carved into rocks all around the town and prayer flags also adorn the hilltops. I will never forget the beauty and peacefulness of this place. I will also never forget how it sits so perfectly in the valley and seems like it belongs there. As if it was meant to be by the design of some higher power.
After Tambuche, we began another two hour hike up to our final destination of Pangboche. I think it’s worth pointing out that we don’t just go higher, but drop down hundreds or thousands of feet and then have to re-climb back up to the altitude where we started before going higher. We have to follow the natural contours and that means often going down and then back up. Both the morning and afternoon hikes took us way down in altitude before we began our ascent. It’s frustrating but part of the trek and everyone has to do it and you kind of get used to it.
When we arrive in Pangboche, the skies are still somewhat clear but clouds have rolled in. The clouds give the mountains an eerie, almost ominous feeling. The landscape becomes so much more dramatic when the clouds role in. On our hike up, we passed massive prayer rocks high up the cliff face. We passed rolling fields with mountain yaks grazing, lots of Sherpa’s carrying heavy loads up to the villages in the higher altitudes and of course fellow trekkers.
Our tea house for tonight is the Everest View Lodge. True to it’s name, we have a view of the summit of Mount Everest with the snow and wind blowing flares of snow off of the summit. As we go higher, the tea houses become increasingly basic and quite cold. Not like sleeping in a tent kind of cold but all the luxuries from lower on the mountain are slowly disappearing, Aside from the cold given the building has no insulation, the lights flicker on and off. As I laid in my bed, I started to realize that this altitude isn’t really meant for people. We as humans are able to master nature to some extent, but up here nature is showing us who the boss truly is. It’s not us! By recognizing nature is in charge, I avoid the mistake of my ego not showing nature and the mountains the respect they deserve. Mountains show no mercy! So it’s good for me to remember this and keep my ego in check as we begin our final days of trekking into much higher altitudes.
After breakfast, we set out for a morning hike of about three hours to Namche Bazaar. The morning hike was extremely steep and very challenging. It challenged everyone in my group, and made me so grateful that I had quit smoking. I kept focusing on how my lungs felt as I took very deep breaths in and out. As I made my way up the steep and curving incline I couldn’t help but think about how my lungs and body would be reacting to this climb if I still smoked. Here’s what I know: I wouldn’t have made it to this point. It wouldn’t have been possible. I could barely walk a city block without wheezing. I wouldn’t have been here enjoying the beautiful vistas, breathing in the fresh mountain air and physically challenging myself on this difficult trek. If I tried this trek while smoking, an air ambulance would be needed to come and take me to the hospital in Lukla.
The morning hike also brought me once again face-to-face with my biggest fear: A suspension-bridge to Namche. It’s the highest suspension bridge on the trek and I was not looking forward to crossing it.
We came to two smaller bridges earlier which helped give me the confidence I needed as a build up to this bridge. When we finally arrived, my fellow trekkers gave me lots of encouragement as we were about to head across. That really made me feel great and it reinforced just how important it is to have sangha or a community of people to support one another. At various times even this early into the hike, I’d encouraged others and tried to keep their spirits up when they were struggling. Now it was my turn to get encouragement and boy did I need it.
I started out across the bridge, I took the advice of one of my fellow trekkers and focused on the prayer flags. I kept looking at the prayer flags, hoping my higher power was paying attention and kept telling myself “fear is not a fact and doesn’t rule my life”. I made it into a mantra and kept repeating it and it helped a lot. I had a sense of support from my fellow trekker, the Sherpa’s who placed the prayer flags on the bridge and their prayers blowing in the wind to give me strength, and all that my higher power has allowed me to accomplish in the last eight years. There was no way I was I turning back! I walked through the renunciation gate in Lumbini and am committed to my new lifestyle, the Spiritual Adrenaline lifestyle, no matter what. With all that in mind, I successfully crossed that bridge and believe I have the tools necessary to continue crossing whatever bridge or barrier that gets in my way.
The hike continued to an amazing town at 11,000 feet, Namche Bazaar, To reach Namche, you must climb for about two hours through a beautiful but dense forest with steep inclines almost the whole way.
When you arrive at Namche, you cannot miss the Stupa, prayer flags and seven prayer wheels that greet you as you enter. It’s a testament to the strength of the Buddhist faith that even at 11,000 feet, large stone monuments have been constructed to act as a “gate” or entry way into the village. Namche has tiny ancient roads, alleys and lots of other places to explore. I was really careful walking around as people share the steers with donkeys and yaks. In fact, a renegade yak was running through one of the narrow streets chased by a Sherpa during our short visit. Women wash clothes and gather water for their families at the public fountains near the entrance to town. The water comes from the glaciers high above. It’s the easy access to plentiful and clean glacier water that makes Namche’s existence possible. Everyone in the group wished we had more time to spend in Namche. However, we had to keep climbing.
Past Namche we walked along a narrow mountain ledge that winded it’s way to the village of Tashinga. All along the narrow pass was one stupa after another and prayers carved into the rock situated along the trail. The prayer rocks are the Buddhist way of communicating with trekkers, Sherpa’s and anyone else passing through. This gave the ancient trail a feel of being a sacred place. We finally arrived at our tea house for a total trekking time for day was six hours and our altitude is 11,500 feet. We’ll all sleep very well.
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