26 year old Canadian, Dutch resident travelling to every country in the world (111 so far) to become the first Canadian female to visit them all. Bestselling travel AUTHOR and founder of popular #TRLT Twitter chat.
I was amazed to see that there was more than just a trekking trail up in the mountains; there was really a community lifestyle.
Children ran around cheerfully with rosy cheeks and bare feet, playing and waving to us as we passed through their small villages.
Everywhere, people went out of their way to greet us.
We often saw women out collecting water in the morning or cradling babies in their dim doorways.
Dalai Lama was a bit plump and had a very boyish face. He spoke to us sparingly because he didn’t know a lot of English, but he was observant and always smiling.
Dendee wore mirrored sunglasses nestled in his short black hair. His eyes were the colour of caramel chocolate, and I knew Bree would have to struggle to resist their warmth. There was no doubt he was endearing with his small, pinched nose and his deep dimpled smile.
“Though eighty percent of the Nepalese people are Hindus, Tibetan Buddhism is very visible around here,” Ammon said, “because of the Sherpas’ religious background. Theirs is allegedly the oldest Buddhist sect in Tibet.”
The trail was adorned with prayer flags…
…and the large, ever-watchful, white stupas.
Temples with golden spires standing tall on the roofs acted as gateways arching over the paths.
Their colourfully painted ceilings naturally engendered respect as we passed beneath them.
Placed alongside the narrow paths were flat rock tablets stacked on top of each other and giant boulders hand-painted in white local scripts. I felt like I was passing scriptures from an ancient time, and I wondered what the writing meant.
Naturally, the high altitudes created fickle temperatures, and the intensity of the sun beat threateningly on my bare skin.
The warm rays streaking the mountainside made hiking in a T-shirt enjoyable, yet whenever the sun dipped behind the clouds, it became noticeably colder; we kept our fleeces close at all times.
The smell of dirt and pine trees was sharp and zesty in the air. We relished a mix of scents from the hemlocks, firs, junipers, birch trees, and even rhododendrons that hung over the trails.
Water was plentiful and it rejuvenated the earth.
Waterfalls and rivers flowed abundantly above and below, sunlight dancing on their ripples.
Rudimentary bridges laced the steep gorges above the rushing waters far below.
I looked behind me and saw that Ammon kept his eyes fervently on the solid land ahead.
We stepped aside to let a row of heavily loaded, hairy yaks pass. The bridge was only broad enough to accommodate the width of their big horns, but amazingly, it was strong enough to support a whole parade of them fairly bursting with heavy baggage.
Whenever we did stop for a breather, mostly to keep Steph company, our Sherpas would wait behind and say encouraging things to keep us motivated.
Sherpas are known in the international mountaineering world for their endurance and hardiness at very high altitudes.
They hauled pool tables, generators, helicopter parts, and food and drink (sometimes along with the entire fridge). They were no taller than we girls, but their size did not hinder them.
We even saw a few women carrying giant boulders balanced on wooden L-shaped boards strapped to their backs, a load I would only consider loading onto a strong ox.
Most of the Sherpas carried multi-purpose, T-shaped walking sticks called a tokma to rest their loads on when they needed to take a break.
Others used the high benches that were placed along the route to help with unloading and reloading.
“Dendee, how much further is it?” Steph asked after a few hours of hiking.
We learned what was best to eat on the trek by following the Sherpas’ lead. The menus, though limited in their selection, were always written in English. For the second time I happily anticipated a bowl of hearty Sherpa stew.
As we hobbled into Namche Bazaar, Stephanie stopped next to a stone wall that was covered in brown patches. “What is that stuff? What’s on all the walls? Those brown circles.”
“What?! Like Poo-poo paddies?” she nearly screeched. “What do they do with them?!” “They use the yak poop for fuel. For their fires,” I told her.
The finished product was neatly stacked and stored outside alongside the stone and mud houses like any other stack of wood would be.
Chapter #37 “Acclimatization”
“What?! You’re kidding me, right?” I said, tripping on the uneven, jagged path in my flip-flops.
It was torturous to think we literally had to climb all that way up, only to turn around and head back down to where we started.
I could also see a crashed helicopter, half hidden on its side under a tarp. I wondered how many planes and helicopters had been lost in the Himalayas and then overgrown with trees and eaten by the forest.
Short, husky horses were grazing peacefully when we reached the plateau at the top.
Clouds hugged the surrounding mountains, giving the impression that we’d reached the heavens.
I was happy to notice how strong I’d become during our six months of travel.
When we got back to the lodge that evening, we enjoyed chatting with everyone in the communal seating area.
Bedrooms at the hostels along this trek were always just large enough to fit a couple of beds.
More often than not we had the trails to ourselves.
The various rooms we stayed in were often so small that our door wouldn’t close anymore with the beds pushed together. Rather than sleep apart, whenever that happened we agreed to sacrifice one of the sheets to hang over the doorway for privacy of other trekkers and Sherpas.
Chapter #38 “Sherpa Chaperone”
“Come. Eating breakfast. You ready? We go,” Dendee whispered ever so gently.
Stepping into my flip-flops and dragging the girls out of bed, I made my way with them to the communal area for breakfast.
By 8 a.m., we were putting foot to dirt on the trail. The crunch of brittle leaves was softened by the morning dew.
The higher up we went the colder it got, especially in the mornings.
Despite the chill, once we started walking I quickly warmed up in the sun. Throughout the day we were slowly able to peel off more layers of clothing.
“Bree,” Steph snapped. “Why do you always have that thing in your mouth? Stop it.” “I always brush my teeth on the go. I do it to pass the time.”
Ammon and I, on the other hand, spent hours in our world classroom.
I loved that he always had an in-depth answer to any question I came up with, and he had someone who was determined to learn from him…
He is a teacher at heart, so that gave him a great deal of satisfaction. I really looked up to him as a proud little sister, and we were able to bond more than we ever had before.
Walking the trail with its gorgeous mountain scenery, smelling the fresh earth, and having such great company was the best classroom I ever could have imagined.
We’d see them passing us on the trails, bump into them at a little cabin where we stopped for lunch, or chat over a cup of hot chocolate in a guesthouse at night.
Given that there was no sewage or piping, our warm water was poured into a big bucket placed on top of the wooden, outdoor shower hut. The water then flowed quickly from the shower head within, so we couldn’t afford to spare a second or a single drop.
Bree, Steph, and I decided to be friendly and impress them with our few Japanese phrases and show them some card tricks. They quickly dubbed Bree a Japanese magician and we indulged in simple games like Cat’s Cradle and Rock/Paper/Scissors.
“Do something silly with your face. Like this. Or like this.” Steph went on to explain ‘how to make a funny face’, a class I never thought I’d see. We helped by showing them cross-eyes and pulling our ears.
Chapter #39 “Slip, Slide, Scary Ride”
A layer of fresh snow carpeted the earth and moist fog caused by the chill in the early morning air made for poor visibility.
The landscape around us was becoming more and more barren.
For a short time the dense pine greens turned into a blanket of oranges and reds.
This autumn burst of colour soon faded and as we progressed higher the trees gradually shrank down to mere bushes and tufts of golden grass.
Shrubs and alpine plants had finally vanished entirely, leaving nothing more than a pit of gravel and rock…
…surrounded by snow-capped mountains.
“The environmental conditions are just too harsh for them to live. It’s either too cold, or there’s not enough moisture – that kind of thing.” Ammon did his best to explain.
Along with the growing sparsity of vegetation, the family oriented, happy villages we’d come to love were now few and far between.
The hiking was extra strenuous, but for once I was ahead of Bree, who was staying behind to keep the somewhat disgruntled Stephanie company.
The fantastic suspension bridges we’d enjoyed had…
…long since been replaced by…
…simple wooden planks or…
…large rock slabs placed over rushing rivers.
“No I can’t,” Stephanie moaned and fell face down once again. splayed out like a starfish on a large, smooth boulder.
The route ahead led down the side of the mountain to a small wooden bridge, then all the way back up the other side.
Despite having taken an extra day off to adjust, Steph was really having a rough time. She often complained of headache and nausea, so we took breaks more often to let her rest and catch her breath, and I was happy not to be the weakest link for a change.
The higher we got the more limited the menus had become in the lodges so Bree had decided to stick to that one soup, while the rest of us chose dal bhat soup, pasta with yak cheese, or momos, which were juicy, bite-sized dumplings with a steamed bun stuffed with vegetables and served with chili sauce.
Before we set off again, I added a pebble to one of the rock cairns that was stacked next to the trail. Passing hikers and locals built them to serve as landmarks and to ensure safe passage.
“I think the whole thing is ninety-five percent mental attitude, four percent lung capacity, and one percent muscle,” Ammon said, preparing himself for the next push as we headed for the decrepit, wooden bridge with no handrails at the bottom of a long hill.
“I just think to myself, ‘Okay, another seventy-five steps’. Then I take a break and do another seventy-five steps,” Mom said.
Beyond this point, there were no shops, no villages, not even a single lodge. This was it.
Chapter #40 “You Raise Me UP”
I should have expected the water in the big blue container standing next to the outdoor squatty toilet to freeze with temperatures dropping to minus ten to minus fifteen degrees Celsius at night. Most times we used the flushing scoop to break the layer of ice, but today it was frozen solid.
“I just wonder what’s out here.” I said
A bit of pre-dawn light started to cast a faint blue glow, tinting our faces. Shadows shrank beneath the colossal peaks as the light revealed the mountains surrounding us.
Not a soul was up there except for my friends and family at the tip of the rock. They were anticipating our arrival, all excited and red-nosed and sniffling icicles. Ammon, Dendee, Dalai Lama, Stephanie, and Bree greeted Mom and me warmly as we all squished up onto the rock’s edge to celebrate our achievement.
As we teetered together at the top, frozen prayer flags that had been strung up and were now tangled around the rocks, flapping stiffly in the breeze: a mark of glory.
Dendee pointed toward the mountains in front of us that were only barely lit by the faint, predawn light and said with pride, “That is Sagarmatha. Everest. Highest mountain in entire world. Here it is. For you. For you.”
“So wait, the darker one in the back there? That is Everest?” I asked, surprised. “So it’s not that one that looks like the tallest?” “Nope, Everest is little bit behind,” Dendee explained.
“What really gets to me is thinking that we’re standing on top of this little ‘hill’ that’s higher than almost every mountain in North America, and yet we’re still looking up at all these mountains.” White clouds formed around Ammon’s words.
As we waited in the eerie, predawn light, we heard nothing but the sound of our own raspy, laboured breathing. We were up so high that the mountains and clouds were parallel to us and, like the gods sitting atop Mount Olympus, we could see where the tall mountains poked their noses out from the clouds.
As the sun glimpsed a beautiful new day in the Himalayas, it sparkled between Mount Everest and Nuptse West. We watched unblinkingly and witnessed the first sunbeam shimmering between the mountain peaks. Mere seconds later the sun’s rays triumphantly burst through like a portal between heaven and earth for the angels.
The shadows of the night slipped down the jagged mountains to the ground as if negative spirits were being chased off by the light and a fresh morning arose.
We’d missed out on several amazing views because of fog and other poor weather conditions during earlier parts of our trip, but Mother Nature hand-delivered this spectacular gift and repaid any debt she might have owed us. A perfect three-hundred-and-sixty-degree view of the Himalayan mountain range was laid out before us.
“It’s absolutely amazing,” Ammon said, shamelessly showing his soft side.
Bree and Dendee enjoying the view
18505 Ft. What a feat!
“It’s breathtaking,” I said, still huffing and puffing to get enough oxygen. “Pun intended.”
On my way up the past week, I’ve been asking myself as we hiked higher and higher, ‘What could possibly possess a human being to willingly do this to themselves?’ Well, I certainly found my answer.”
“Amazing. Absolutely amazing. I’ve only been to a few places that radiated such power and beauty. This is definitely at the top of that list. It brought tears to my eyes,” Ammon said
“It was a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime experience. I don’t know exactly what happened up there, but I know it changed my life,” Mom said