Having been forced down from the Annapurnas and locked out of the mountains, following 8 challenging months, things were looking up. Embarking upon the most technical test of my vision, physical and mental strength, when an avalanche hit.


Part 1: An Extreme Descent

Tears on the Trail, Anxiety in the Annapurnas, Struggling despite Sunshine, Hurting amoung Himals: all titles of the piece I drafted in my mind as I pivoted on the trail. A reflection I have been anticipating writing for weeks yet have allowed myself to continue holding and building, scattered and stoic. I set off to run, there was no power. I tried to hike, a tear. Like elements stressing a snowpack to its breaking point, the mountains in my mind build like an avalanche about to trigger.

Like debris in the wake of an icefall, I have been scattered since the collision of a Himalayan high with an extreme low.

Disheveled from the time two extremes collided, the phone call triggered tears yet only today, more than 2 months later and a handful of himals away, has a drop fallen from my eye. High in the Himalayas when an extraordinary occurrence of events led to mobile reception and news of my Dad unexpectedly passing. I type the words, still surreal. 

We descended from Ama Dablam Base Camp as part of our acclimatization rotation on our expedition that began 10 days earlier when we left Kathmandu. Having been forced down from ski touring in the Annapurnas when COVID was taunting Nepal, locked out of the mountains and in our rooms for 8 months, we were giddy little school kids dancing along the trail from Lukla in the playground that is Khumbu. In Pangboche amidst a pandemic, we were days from an airport, embarking upon the most technical test of my vision, physical and mental strength, when, hovering over my knees beside him and the warmth of the Tea House fire, alerts lit my phone like fireworks.

“Your Dad died this morning.” 

Straight out of a fiction novel. The visually impaired girl whose rocky trail is already impossible to map, about to climb once of the world’s most notoriously technical mountains, gets launched into a whole new chapter. Devastated. 

Oceans apart and hundreds of himals between, all my heart knew was to try to assure Mom that, though being at the isolated lake in Northern Ontario ,she was not alone. In only the company of all she knew, Dad’s chair, his special coffee creamer in the fridge, shaving cream beside the sink, his favourite oatmeal cookies on the counter and his countless toques, gloves, dog leashes and flashlights littering the back landing and a garage overflowing with his toys, there are hundreds of hands and hearts wanting to comfort.

While respecting that the concept is not easy for humankind to embrace, I have developed an intimate relationship with impermanence in recent years. Letting go of a life partner of over 50 years is not something I will ever know. I cannot understand rather reach out and try to feel with Mom. Empathy has no script. There is no right way or wrong way. As scattered as the avalanche had me, I felt no need to try to craft articulate words rather simply listen, hold space, emotionally connect and communicate that, despite the obvious, she is not alone and everything she feels is valid. Dad is at peace and absolutely would not want any tears of sadness; yet mine fell as natural as ice melting hearing the hurt in her voice.

“Don’t cry,” a hand on my back, his presence calmed as did the magnitude of the mountains that shadowed us. 

The avalanche halted with tranquil thoughts of Dad now with me in the himals; cathartic. The shock diffused like the translucent smoke of the butter candle lit for him on the room’s Buddhist altar. Dad’s light, his contagious smile and loveable nature, held me as the sun set behind the highest of the Himalayas. 

Climbing on is what Dad would want. Sit on the deck, have a beer, raise a glass: no fuss. Such thoughts on repeat as I stuffed my pack while simultaneously trying to silence the sounds of a hurting heart before sunrise. Like early mornings at the lake that only Dad and I will ever know, when we would share a quiet coffee before I laced up to get the paper, dodge moose and mosquitoes, the chilly November morning began with intimate coffee, gratitude for the nature that surrounded me and the company beside me.    

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Tom Stevens says:

    Jill, the video is amazing. Your writing is heartfelt and moving. You have a unique voice. If it would help to talk to someone I would be glad to help in any way I can. 24/7 I’m here.

    • Jill Wheatley says:

      Knowing you are watching, reading, and following along are all gifts that I am fortunate to have Tom. Thankful to know you welcome connection at all the times in between ~ Your friendship is heartfelt.

    • Jill Wheatley says:

      Ah Mel ~ thankful tears seeing your name on my screen and your heartfelt ‘hug’ in a handful of words.
      So thankful our trails connected and look forward to the day we can adventure together again. Til then, sending much strength and love your way …and to your brother, Dean and extended family as well x

  2. Twylla & Drew Alexander says:

    Speaking as parents who are the same generation as your father … and speaking as parents who are blessed with a daughter who shares your spirit …. we totally agree that “Climbing on is what Dad would want. Sit on the deck, have a beer, raise a glass: no fuss.” Sending you sympathy, love and best wishes as you continue on your climb.

    • Jill Wheatley says:

      Thank you for such a heartfelt connection Twylla and Drew ~ My smile lights thinking of you, your encouraging words and my Dad watching down on us all with a grin.
      Gratitude, love and light,

  3. Joanne Valin says:

    Such a heart rending post, Jill. I am so sorry for your loss and so sure your father is with you at every moment and every step of your climb, this one and all the ones to come. Lots of love from here.

    • Jill Wheatley says:

      What a beautiful message from a beautiful friend. Thank you for that hug that I will continue to tap into as I work to navigate the mountains of my mind. Heartfelt in the Himalayas Jo ~ love and light , j x

    • Jill Wheatley says:

      So thoughtful of you to make the time to read and reach out Meri ~ I am still working through part 2 and sincerely hope you can connect with it as well. Sincerely appreciate you following along ~ Namaste, jill