This morning was filled with an appreciation for things that can go uncelebrated: sleeping in, a contemplative cup of coffee and then another without any sense of rush, and a day’s agenda completely without ambition.
The morning scene was different a few days ago as I prepared to depart for the Khumbu Ice Fall and a move to Camp 1. I was up and moving at 1:00 AM, wide awake and without time or desire for coffee, and I had eight hours of hard work ahead to follow a single line of rope 2,000 vertical feet up a waterfall of snow and ice.
The Khumbu Ice Fall demands respect, sobriety and focus; I approached with a full measure of all three. In addition, I approached with a forced sense of confidence and a comfort in knowing that my climbing partner, Pemba Sherpa, would be there to help me. I also prayed. It is often said that climbing Mt. Everest is as much a mental exercise as it is physical and the Khumbu Ice Fall is a test of both. As I travelled through the Ice Fall I had to maintain a sense of courage and stay completely focused on only the immediate next few steps knowing that otherwise the task could unravel into something overwhelming. It helped that for the first half of the climb I could only see as far ahead as what was illuminated by my headlamp.
Pemba and I climbed together in a way that words were not necessary. For most of the climb we were alone, working together step-by-step, accepting whatever challenges were presented along our path. As morning light emerged and I could see the full environment there was a sense of momentum and a boost of confidence that had come from the predawn work. It was a wonderful experience to be so focused in a place of incredible beauty.
I recall seeing a four section vertical ladder and very intentionally rejecting any sense of fear, but rather approaching the task rung-by-rung confident more in the safety lines than the wavering ladders.
As the morning progressed we continued our work. I soon realized that we were in an area of the Ice Fall known as the Popcorn–due to the ice features creating an uncanny resemblance to a bowl of popcorn–and I thought that it was the last major obstacle for the day.
Once we emerged from the Popcorn we were on the home stretch and after seven hours of full-on climbing I let my guard down just a bit. It was premature.
I soon discovered there was one last obstacle: a 200 foot vertical ice wall that required a tremendous amount of effort to overcome. There was a back up of climbers. It was a heartbreaker, but it gave way a step at a time. I soon emerged on the top of the vertical ice wall and could see Camp 1. I gave thanks realizing that we had made it through the Ice Fall.
I thought about the Ice Fall and the life lessons that it offers as I had my second cup of coffee this morning. I will make two more round-trips through the Ice Fall on my journey to the summit and then home safely to my family.
I look forward to more lessons learned.
Thanks for following along.