Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Top Of The World


Alli on the summit of Mera Peak
By Alli Sinclair

In my late teens and early twenties, my vacations involved beaches, palm trees, and many hours reading books or playing water sports. At the ripe old age of twenty-four I decided to fulfill a dream I’d had since I was twelve—to travel through India. As I thumbed through guidebooks, Nepal, India’s neighbor, wouldn’t quit calling my name. Nepal is a quick flight from India, so I looked into adding a short trek in Nepal to my backpacking trip in India. This innocent thought changed everything. My ten-day Nepal trek morphed into a six-week mountaineering trip in the Himalayas and got me hooked on the one sport I’ve never lost passion for.

I’ll be honest and say I bit off more than I could chew. Up until that trip the longest I’d slept in a tent had been four days—this mountaineering expedition meant six weeks of camping, including at least two weeks sleeping on snow. In my head, I had the confidence needed to undertake such a journey but when I told family and friends about my plans there were more than a couple of raised eyebrows and exclamations of “Are you sure you want to do this? Didn’t you want to lie on the beach at Goa?”

After 18 months of rigorous training in Australia (where our highest mountain is one third the height of my Nepalese goal) I travelled to Nepal, determined to prove my silent critics wrong. I’d only been in Kathmandu two days when I sprained my ankle in a pothole and it looked like the trip had finished before it began. A few tears, icepacks and lots of drugs later, I made the eight hour trip to Jiri, our starting point for the trek.  The first few days were a blur of painkiller-induced delirium, but it go me through the discomfort and I hobbled up and down valleys with my awesome expedition team.

Mera Peak photo taken from two valleys away
For weeks we acclimatized to our new home—the Himalayas—and met amazing locals along the way. We travelled far off the beaten track, away from the usual trekking routes, and met school kids in remote villages who hadn’t seen foreigners before. Farmers with yaks in tow smiled as we passed by, women washing clothes in the freezing glacial rivers waved, and my notion of what makes a wonderful vacation changed forever.

We endured heat, cold, tiredness, sunburn, storms, boredom, blisters, and homesickness—yet our band of intrepid climbers stuck it out. Many, many times I questioned why I wasn’t laying in a beach sipping piña coladas and chatting up the pool boy, but I remembered why I undertook such a journey—to prove to myself I could take the easy with the hard and not ever give up.

When summit day finally arrived, we left High Camp at 2 am. Even though we were swaddled in the super-dooper technologically enhanced climbing gear, our fingers and toes remained numb. We traipsed through the dark, a line of head torches bobbed up the side of Mera Peak, the mountain we desperately wanted to summit. At a height of 6,476 meters (21, 247 feet), it’s not a skip through a meadow of daisies. Climbing at this altitude is serious business and one false move could mean your death, or that of your team members.

The sun rose and we traipsed onwards and upwards. The summit was in sight, yet it was still hours away. All I wanted to do was sit down on the freezing snow and sleep, but my ego and pride wouldn’t let me. The thin air at altitude meant breathing was a struggle, and near the summit we were taking one step to every two breaths.

High Camp on Mera Peak
After eight hours we finally made it to the summit of Mera Peak and I will never forget that moment. The weather cooperated and the cloud had lifted for us to view the 8,000 metre peaks around us: Sagarmatha (Mount Everest), Lhotse, Cho Oyu, Makalu, and Kanchenjunga. Bright blue sky formed the backdrop and in that moment, standing on the summit of my dreams, I was in awe of the beauty of the world before me.

The sun danced across my face, warming my skin and the air I inhaled was the freshest I’d ever experienced. Silence wrapped around us. This, I discovered, was my ideal vacation from the craziness of the world.

After summitting, it took a couple of weeks to return to Kathmandu. The mayhem of the traffic, the pollution, and the busyness of life took over and I clung to that moment on the summit. Even now, nearly twenty years later, I can close my eyes and remember the feeling of pure bliss standing, literally, on top of the world.

Less than a year after Nepal I traveled to South America to climb Aconcagua, the tallest mountain in the Americas. That’s a whole other post, though.

Sure, I love my beach vacations but for me, the most memorable vacations are the ones where I have climbed peaks around the world. I loved it so much I ditched my job as a graphic artist to work in the adventure travel industry and take my own clients on expeditions.

Humans as tiny dots near the summit of Mera Peak
The innocent trip to Nepal started me on a lifelong journey of appreciation and respect for mountain climbing and Mother Nature. As many expeditions leaders have told me, “the mountain will only be climbed if it wishes.” After witnessing a handful of accidents and getting involved in rescues on the mountains, I know this saying to be true.

Now I’m older, nowhere near as fit, and a mother of two young kids, nicking off to climb a mountain for a couple of months is a big ask. But I have my memories and stories, and the kids love to hear about my adventures and look at my photos. Perhaps I’ll inspire them to follow their dreams and find their own adventures. I certainly hope so.

8 comments:

  1. Alli, these are beautiful pictures! Also, what a great story about how you got your start traveling. I can imagine the frustration of twisting your ankle in the pothole right at the beginning!

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    1. Thanks Beth! I was gutted when I twisted my ankle but it takes a lot more than that to stop me!

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  2. Alli, what an amazing experience. I have all kinds of admiration for you, to tackle such a challenge. Sounds like you got so much out of it.

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    1. Aw, thanks Jenny! I most certainly did get a lot out of it. Mountaineering has taught me that if I put my mind to something, I can do it--all I need to do is dig deep and believe. I've transferred that thinking to writing novels, now (although my butt would probably prefer me to scale mountains rather than write about them!).

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  3. What an amazing adventure! I don't think I will ever climb that actual mountain, but I love to read about other people doing it! See, the wonders of reading! ;> Thanks for sharing with us!

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    1. Thanks for dropping by, Imelda! I'm definitely into armchair mountaineering these days. ;-)

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  4. Alli, I can't imagine making it through 18 months of rigorous training, let alone 6 weeks trekking up the Himalayas. But I'm glad you did it so I can live vicariously through you. I feel like I was up on that mountain right along with you!

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    1. Thanks, Heidi! I can't believe how fit I was back then. My mind boggles just thinking about the ridiculous training I undertook but it was well and truly worth it. I'm so glad my adventures keep you entertained!

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