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That Everest MagicThat
Imagine yourself a snake I thought, slithering slowly steadily uphill. I watched my feet–one foot clumsily fell in front of the other as I rounded another switchback. Be a snake that slides uphill all the way up to 18,200 feet.
The air was cool around me, the trail dry and rocky. Every so often an ambitious body strode past, a faceless back heading for the summit, or an exhausted but jubilant face heading downhill to camp. In the brief moments when I lifted my focused eyes from the trail, Everest came into view–her broad flank, her massive north face, her imposing summit that towered still more than 10,000 feet from where I trod. If climbers can summit that peak, I reasoned, surely I can summit this dry hump in her shadow.
I was heading up Kala Patthar, a moderately famous trekking peak nestled in the Khumbu valley not far from the mother mountain herself–Everest. Unlike Everest Base Camp, where the peak is actually out of view, the summit of Kala Patthar boasts a fantastic vantage point of the mountain’s north face and a journey to Everest Base Camp is incomplete without a walk up Kala Patthar’s dry, non-technical slopes. I knew this going up and despite the heavy breathing, thin air, and tired legs and feet, I knew I had to summit.
But walking to 18,200 feet is harder said than done, I was quickly finding. Our guide, Karma’s voice came to mind, ‘bistari, bistari,’ he said soothingly–slowly, slowly. The switchbacks wound and my determined feet wound round them, like a body of a snake serpentining up, up. The thin air burned in my chest, inhale, exhale. Movements were small, no movement but foot, leg movement. I chanced a glance up and saw the summit crowd closer, now maybe 300 feet yet above. I looked to the left and Pumori’s broad white ridge stood parallel to Kala Patthar’s brown one. Then to the right and Everest loomed. And I faltered for a moment, just steps from the top my breath too slow, the burn too deep. Just go, I thought. I did.
Prayer flags greeted me at the top, as did a cacophony of foreign languages–German, French, Japanese, etc. Bodies perched on rocks gazing, snapping photos, smiling, laughing, panting. All of these people from all over the world here for this mountain, this mother mountain who rose up beside us, towered above us. Ah what magic I thought! The breaths coming easier now.
Everest may not be the most beautiful, technical or challenging peak in the world (