A little over a year ago, a last-minute invitation landed in my inbox to lead a Wilderness Medicine Course. It was a CME (Continuing Medical Education) while trekking to Everest Basecamp. The original trip leader was sick and wouldn’t be able to make the trek. For about a week the invitation sat in my inbox, until I got around to cleaning out the inbox. Which is when I deleted it.
Sound Crazy? This was my rule-out process:
1. I hate being cold.
Ask any of my backpacking pals, and they will tell you about my nightly ritual of pouring boiling water into my nalgene, which I then sleep with in my sleeping bag. Every night. No exceptions. It’s required.
2. I’m Not “A Climber.”
I’ve enjoyed some ice climbing.
But I don’t have that crazy-climbing gene – the one you need to walk across huge crevasses, roped up, carrying oxygen. And if I didn’t ever plan on attempting to summit Everest, why would I want to trek to Basecamp? Don’t get me wrong, I have other crazy outdoor genes…that just wasn’t my particular flavor of crazy.
3. Basecamp seemed like a dirty tent city.
I had a pretty extensive bucket list, and Nepal was on it, but Everest was not. When I’d envisioned trekking in Nepal, I imagined visiting the Annapurna region (where I could get the awesome views at lower altitudes, away from the glacier and the crevasses, and where it was warmer). Much of the footage I’d seen of Everest Basecamp made it look like a dirty tent city. So again, if I’m not going for the top, why go there?
Given all of the above, if I went, I’d pretty much be going to say, “I did it.” Not my style at all. Life’s too short. And I figured there were others on the short list who would be chomping at the bit at this opportunity to step in for our ill colleague . So, the email remained in the trash…but the thought lingered in my mind, enough to run it by a couple of trusted and unbiased consults.
Consult #1 – Affectionately known as “Old Flame,” without judgment or coaxing, let me know he thought the offer sounded like the opportunity of a lifetime, and couldn’t quite figure out how my list of “cons” in any way outweighed the benefits of going. No tough love, just gentle encouragement. Nope, still wasn’t sold.
Consult #2 – “Surfer Dude” A trusted work colleague (and fellow outdoor enthusiast who has his own rock wall in his garage and hops on planes following the surf) had no problem being brutally honest with me. Dude sat me down over an afternoon cider at a proper British Pub (one of the perks of shift-work – afternoon beers), toasty in front of the fireplace, where he explained the following to me:
- There was no way this wouldn’t wind up being the trip of a lifetime
- He reminded me that my academic niche is Wilderness Medicine, i.e., it’s a big part of what I do for my job. And sometimes in life, we have to do things for our job that we’d rather not do. If leading a trek to Basecamp was “the thing I had to do,” for my career, well, then things are going rather well, and I better suck it up and do it!
- How often do we get the opportunity to do something so incredibly unique and objectively awesome FOR OUR CAREERS (answer = rarely) and here this opportunity fell into my lap.
I slept on it, but realized “Surfer Dude” was right on. At this point, it was a week and a half after the initial email, and I was sure someone else signed up. But, just in case, I called the president of the WMS to inquire. They still needed someone. He would discuss it with the WMS leadership and get back to me. Meanwhile, I’d already told my family I wasn’t going, so I knew I’d have some explaining to do…And then the call came. January 26, 2013, I was at the opera with my Mom in NYC. At intermission I checked my voicemail to learn I had the green light to lead the WMS 2013 CME Trek to Everest Basecamp, lift-off in eight weeks!
And so it goes… Trekking in the Khumbu was a life-changer – a superlative in every sense of the word. While the entire trip was much more about the journey rather than Everest Basecamp (EBC) itself, turns out EBC was only a tent city in that there were tents there – but it was not dirty. It was an amazing community of explorers – locals (Sherpas) and visitors, there to admire Mt. Everest in their own special ways. And thanks to “old flame,” and “surfer dude,” not only did I not miss out, but I can’t wait to go back!
A note. In reference to my previous post on solo traveling Adult Learning. While I did “show up” to this trip alone, I did not trek alone. I trekked with a designated group as well as professional guides. I’ve met some women, on various trails, who backpack solo, but I personally choose not to backpack alone in the backcountry anywhere for any extended period of time as a matter of safety on many levels – predators (human and other), trauma, illness and also, just for my own mental health. Some adventures work out just fine, like Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. Other solo backcountry excursions end in disaster: Nepal Trekking Solo and Aron Ralston‘s “127 Hours – Between a Rock and a Hard Place.” It’s a personal choice. Feeling free to wander about the planet on my own, whether it’s on the streets of Philadelphia (thank you Bruce) or in the Sierras, is an important freedom to me (check out Natural Prozac to hear a bit about “running wild”), and I probably exercise it more than some, yet not as much as others. Just like the “crazy gene” we all have our limits.
As we approach the beginning of the 2014 climbing season on Everest, the one year anniversary of my own trip, I thought I’d use a few posts to detail how I got there, and what it was like along the way. While we trekked, our group maintained a running blog of our Collective 2013 Everest Experience , nicely collated by Peak Promotions, our professional guides. My posts will reflect how I wrote them last year, in the form of a travel journal. Welcome to the Khumbu!