To get to the mountains my group took a plane from Kathmandu to Lukla, a small town in the Himalayas. The plane’s cockpit, open and visible, was clearly in poor repair with a cracked windshield and no sun visors. As a Pilot myself, I found it odd that our pilot did not even have sunglasses and on takeoff and climb out he used his left hand to shield his eyes from the sun. To get to Lukla we would need to land at the Tensing-Hillary Airport (LUA). This airport was rated as the most dangerous airport in the world by a program called “Extreme Airports” aired by the history channel. Lukla would be my first stop and the first stop for most trekkers headed to the Himalayan mountain range in Nepal. The Himalayan mountain range is home to Mt Everest, the planets highest mountain, where the basecamp at 5364 meters (17,598 feet) would be my final destination. That is if I was successful of course. Something, that to me at least was in serious doubt, due to conditions.
I had already been faced with many challenges leading to this moment; I had been trekking for four days in borrowed and knockoff gear as my own gear never made it to Kathmandu. But perhaps the only issue on my mind at the moment was my cold. My cold had remained for the six days that I had been in Nepal; it was a standard cold with a sore throat and a hacking cough. On top of this I was at 3861 meters (12,076 feet) and not only could I see every breath I exhaled because it was so cold, but also I could feel each breath. I was covered head to toe and had my Sherpa-brand hoodie pulled tightly around my face with my sleeping bag also closed around me so that only a small opening remained to breathe through. Most of the time I breathed through the cloth of the hoodie so that the fabric could warm the air, but every once in a while I felt claustrophobic and took in a deep breath of the ice cold air. I had only been in the mountains for four days but I felt that I was already tested and from conversation with other trekkers in my group I knew we all felt challenged.
In my mind I could picture every step I had already taken to get to this point and I knew in order to get out of the mountains I had to do it the same way that I came, under my own power. So, as I lay in bed and labored to take simple breaths between hacking coughs, it was clear to me that the outcome was uncertain. I had doubts, was all lost, could I continue? I find it interesting that in situations like this you know you are no longer in a battle with the elements but you are now battling with yourself, your doubts and then the surrounding problems. But all of these thoughts seem to move in slow motion when your environment is void of noise and light pollution. I thought about what it would take to continue my trek, what would it take to go back. What would be the physical cost and what would be the mental price.
In the end life is a matter of habits; good or bad habits. With this in mind, early in my life I had made the decision to never quit when facing a challenge; this would become the habit most easily recognized in me. This did not mean I was foolhardy it simply meant I refused to succumb to fear. In some ways this fits my definition of courage. Freezing cold, hard to breath, and having none of my medicine, real physical stresses represented the current mood as I had begun to wage a huge battle with myself. My only personal gear was my boots, Jeans, Red Polo Boxers and a button down shirt; everything else I had quickly purchased in Katmandu, Namche, and/or borrowed. The trek to Mt Everest Base Camp (EBC) was not a walk in the park under any circumstances and without your own gear it was nearly impossible. For this reason alone quitting would have been understandable and no one would fault me. Yes, of course I cared what other people would think. Most people care about what their family and friends think, this is not only natural it is helpful.
On top of this my cold was very taxing I found it hard to breath in Katmandu and now I was at altitude congested without the medical emergency kit that I travel with to handle things like this nasty cold. So, If not having my gear was justification to quit the trek, then the inability to breath easily made it logical to quit not only acceptable. But was it logical? I had come so far, this would not be a trip easy to repeat when my cold was a memory and when conditions were better. In fact isn’t this type of struggle exactly what I had been seeking when I set out on this adventure. If it was an easy then everyone would do it and I would not have selected this adventure. But I had not slept well in days as I would wake myself up with violent coughs every night. Every day was a hard workout, on the average of 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) of Nepali flat and according to my Fitbit device that was the equivalent of going up and down a 100-200 story building daily – with a full pack. Absolutely no one would fault me if I said ‘enough’ and headed back down and off the mountain. It occurred to me, though that I would fault me, and I said to myself that I had this, ‘just try to sleep and make it through to the morning, and just make it to the morning’. My battle with myself was nearing an end, for this night anyway – the decision was made; just ‘make it to the morning and reevaluate.’