Room for anything but mindfulness does not exist when maneuvering amidst renowned technical terrain, anchor after endless anchor with frigid fingers and without depth perception, one breath at a time I climbed in body and mind.

Part 3:  Mind over Mountain

I did not come this far to only come this far.

Life experience has taught the intangible value of mental weight. Burdensome or balmy is completely up to me. Knowing we likely had another 6 hours to the summit, climbing away from dark, doubtful thoughts hovering around Camp 3 was the only trail to take towards 6 812 m. 

Endless false summits, cruel inner critical conversations and a pace I wanted more from yet not for a split second did I consider taking the trail anywhere but up. Despite what could have left me drowning in doubt, Vinayak’s concern was rooted in safety. His mind set on reaching the summit and getting safely back to camp, though we shared the same goal, my focus was on each and every breath, one at a time. 

I chose the present when the mountain tempted sways into the past, between confidence and lack of conviction. I used that momentum. 

Thoughts of Dad, thoughts of the trail that led me here, the hurt along the way when I did not want to live to see another day, heavy thoughts could have crushed me yet deep deep in my essence inherent strength coddled me one slow sloth-like step towards the summit. 

The peak was not a fairy tale ending, simply sunshine in a complex chapter. Descending, a glaring test of my vision, keeps the plot thick. Though reaching the top was fuel, the toll of all that previous weeks’ presented needed respect as much as my limited depth perception. While exhaustion was attempting to settle in, acute attention on every downward step and every anchor remained essential. 

Room for anything but mindfulness does not exist when maneuvering amidst renowned technical terrain, anchor after endless anchor with frigid fingers and without depth perception. From the bottom of a crevasse in the black of night I saw myself in a novel, fictitious with a dark ending. Movement between drifting thoughts, focus and facts, the story from my eye remains surreal. Wrong rights and ridges, missteps and missing gloves, helmet saves and stone showers have turned to tales with roots in resilience. 

Short on sleep, daylight and belief, spotting Camp 2 confused. Comprehending the layout and the company that met us there would have to wait. Rest should have come easy. Logic and shoulds can get messy in the mountains. With down suit insulation scattered and the light of a new day beaming in, the morning filled with questions, laughs and an attempt to digest all that went up and down. 

Perhaps only a handful of souls have ever had a Himalayan summit to themselves, a gift climbing in a pandemic. With bodies telling a tiring story and wide open real estate, had the weather window been wide open, staying at Camp 2 would have taken no convincing. With wind increasing and snow on its way, to keep the chapter bright, we needed to get off the mountain. 

Descending is the real climb. Slow at the best of times, between fixed lines and endless anchors the lighthearted laughs were intermittent between silent steps down to C1. Reminiscing and reflecting, weather went unnoticed until spotting the yellow tents coincided with falling flakes. Rations were anything but appetizing yet deficits needed replenishing and dehydration tending to. While we stopped the snow did not. Temptation to stay put quickly escalated yet safety wins so moved back on the heel-toe express towards Base Camp. 

Descending from  Camp 1 begins with a 200 m scarped face, like a mirage, it had become a vertical ice field with the freezing precipitation. Thoughts slid quickly and Base Camp felt its own summit. The conditions screamed focus and the pace on foot was on the opposite end of the odometer of thoughts racing. The shoulds made a tempting appearance, time, location, speed yet kept working to tap into the summit sunshine amidst the critical storm. 

Turned ankles and broken bones happen when thoughts of summit celebrations start too soon. Even as daylight dwindled, Vinayak’s focus on safety never slipped.

The cheers at Base Camp were a precise example of the Nepali people being even more beautiful than the mountains in which they reside. Himalayan sized smiles, cake and so much genuine happiness for our summit and safe return. Surreal, there was no question, this was going to be slow to digest.

Summit Smiles with Vinayak

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  1. Thomas Stevens says:

    Wow. Another compelling story. What a gift to be on the mountain without a crowd. Jill climbs for many who, for one reason or another, can’t.

    • Jill Wheatley says:

      A gift indeed Tom! ~ very much like knowing you are following along and encouraging my every step.
      With gratitude,