Mount Everest. The name evokes thoughts of beauty, cold, danger, and many others.
I’m not entirely certain why I decided to trek to the base camp of Mount Everest. Maybe because it was there. Maybe because it scared me to try.
My journey hardly qualifies as dangerous, but it did involve nearly 40 hours of driving round trip from Lhasa, Tibet, along back-breaking roads. I subjected myself to altitude sickness, which causes the worst headaches almost anyone could ever have. Simple movements like walking over a stone roadway take long and calculated planning because the mind doesn’t snap quickly into even low gear.
The purpose may have been to engage in the journey. Mine included a band of two other Americans, who dabbled in real estate in Indianapolis; an Italian woman who sold insurance in Dubai; a South African man who built sports stadiums in the United States; two Malaysian businessmen; and a Vietnamese couple who worked with computers.
I can rarely talk openly in the United States about my support for Donald Trump, but the Indianapolis couple proudly announced their unconditional praise for the president. Talk about fellow travelers! One of the Malaysian businessmen couldn’t understand why the U.S. media spent so much time tearing down Trump.
The Vietnamese couple, who were in their 20s, wanted to hear about the war from an American perspective. Both were Catholics; she even referred to Ho Chi Minh City as “Saigon.”
The trip to Mount Everest starts with some training in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet and home of the Dalai Lama. The Buddhist monks there decided long ago that their monasteries and temples should be built mostly on the top of hills to be closer to heaven. That means that one has to climb hundreds of stairs in a single day in what is generally considered the top of the world, with limited oxygen levels and occasional dizziness.
After two to three days, we start the journey to Mount Everest, climbing into even thinner atmospheric conditions.
The road from Lhasa to the Mount Everest base camp takes about 20 hours and is broken up into two days, with a stop at Xigaze, which is the second-largest city in Tibet.
On the second day, we arrive at the base camp just before sunset. At just about 19,000 feet above sea level, or nearly four times the elevation of Denver, Colorado, I have to think carefully about simple actions like putting one foot in front of the other.
According to history.com, almost no wildlife is found near here, the point at which permanent snow prevents even the hardiest lichens and mosses from growing.
Two of our group feel ill. Ironically, younger people tend to get sick more frequently than older people. At 66, I am one of the few seniors among roughly 200 who have made the trek.
The view is spectacular as the summit of Mount Everest shoots up to more than 29,000 feet above sea level.
The tent is much larger than I expected, accommodating the six remaining members of our crew. Four others had gone on a separate caravan to Nepal.
The tent is decorated in Tibetan colors, with a small fire of yak dung to keep up warm in the 20-degree weather. I didn’t sleep particularly well. But my insomnia was rewarded by a wonderful view of Everest during a full moon.
The unforgettable journey, including the remarkable band of companions, was well worth it!