chilling feet

chilling feet

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Is Mt. Everest on the Way to Antarctica?

(Sarah at the Mt. Everest Base Camp ER)
Until recently places like Palmer Station, Namche Bazaar, Khumbu Icefall,  and Invercargill were places I had never heard of before.  Names such as Shackleton, Te Rauparaha, George Leigh Mallory, and Caroline Mikkelsen were either names I vaguely recognized or if spoken around me would draw a look of blank indifference - the same might be said of you.  All of these words are associated with different subjects that could be lumped together loosely through adventure or some other category, but to me they all have one thing in common - my wife Sarah.  

Moving to New Zealand has been an amazing experience with plenty of opportunities.  Our trip has been filled to the brim with endless new experiences.  Most notably, however, it put Sarah into direct contact with people who have been all around the world working as Emergency Medicine
(Base camp at Everest.  Looks like a comfortable place!)
Physicians, including the Himalayan Mountains where Everest resides and Antarctica.  While Sarah had mentioned to me before about her dream to one day visit Antarctica, I sort of placed it into the category of things we talk about as outlandish possibilities.  There was no reality behind such a desire.  As it turns out the reality was much more real than I could have ever imagined.  I am beginning to find out being an emergency medicine physician can take you almost anywhere in the world!

As a doctor Sarah is required to continue learning and attending conferences to keep her mind sharp. To better her chances of being accepted on down in Antarctica, Sarah decided the best possible choice for her was a conference in Nepal learning Wilderness Training (a specialty that does pair along nicely with emergency medicine training).  But it was not just some fancy conference where doctors go to eat expensive food while they stay at a really nice hotel and meet
(Resting to take a photo at the entrance to Base camp)
in the conference room.  Oh no.  For this trip they flew into arguably the most dangerous airport in the world (or most fun airport in the world according to my wife) and then hiked to the base camp of Mt. Everest, while learning on the way.  Sounds like the “conference” of a life time.

I am full of immense gratitude that I have a wife who is willing to pursue the sorts of dreams most of us leave for others to experience.  Words cannot describe the sorrow I feel at missing the opportunity to accompany Sarah to Nepal for this trip as it was certainly crafted just for someone like me - it was simply too expensive.  It is difficult to navigate the waters of the heart, where we learn to work through such matters, but work through them we must.  On the heels of missing this Nepal experience, my beautifully talented wife has been offered a job in Antarctica.  The dream is becoming a reality!  So when she spent three days filled with an excitement I have nothing to compare to besides the way she was leading up to our wedding day, how could I say anything to her but “Take it!”?  Sure it’s during
(Everything gets up the mountain somehow.  Carried by humans or yaks)
the Winter and for six months and the chances of me finding a job there are next to nothing, but it’s a dream!  

And so Palmer Station is a now a fixed point in my mind.  It’s the American base on Anvers Island where Sarah will be working for six months come next March.  Namche Bazaar is a village halfway on the hike from Lukla airport to the base camp of Mt. Everest.  The Khumbu Icefall is the site of the tragic avalanche and worst tragedy in Everest history that recently killed at least sixteen Sherpas and took place while Sarah was en route to the mountain.  Invercargill is a quaintly slow paced city where we have lived for the past seven months in the southern most part of the South island of New Zealand.  Ernest Shackleton is of course the famous Antarctica explorer most known for his adventure to traverse the entire continent when his team was faced with countless
(Monuments to those who have died on Everest)
disasters.  Te Rauparaha is one of the most widely known of the Maori chiefs, or the indigenous people of New Zealand.  George Leigh Mallory was on one of the earliest attempts to ever summit Mt. Everest and during the expedition he and another man disappeared.  And Caroline Mikkelsen, appropriately mentioned, is the first woman to ever step foot on Antarctica’s surface.       

What lies in store in the future? We read about the George Mallorys and Robert Falcon Scotts of the world and are truly in awe of their life choices in pursuits of the highest point on the earth or the vast expanses of Antarctica.  I settle down into a blanket as the Winter months of New Zealand begin to finally seize the land, warm cup of coffee at my side, and am befuddled to say we are but amateurs amidst these admirable men and women who have not only put their lives on hold for adventure, but in many cases have lost their lives as they chased furiously beyond where our own desires are willing to follow.  Having been to Pakistan, Cuba, and Honduras previous to meeting my wife, it is no surprise to me we would find between the two of us a heart to travel to intriguing places.  It has been a whole
(Learning how to use the gamow bag - a hyperbaric bag employed to help
a person suffering from altitude sickness)
different experience to sit idly by while my wife hikes to the base camp of Everest and then takes a job in Antarctica where I most likely cannot follow either, watching from the sidelines as an envious child begging to be taken along.  Who knows where we will go next?  It is impossible to guess who Sarah will talk to while in Antarctica and what experiences they will suggest for her or us.  While at this point I do not see us as being the explorer working into the depths of some insane wilderness or as a climber who must attain the summit of the top seven peaks in this world, there has come along with this trip a slow comfortability with new interests, leaving both of us more open to trying new things and going new places.  

(Lukla airport - you can see how the runway is so short that
it must be at a steep enough angle for planes landing to
slow down and planes taking off to get enough speed!)
While unsure of our future I know one thing for certain.  We are changed by our experiences around the globe.  It amazes me when I consider how her trip to Nepal and future trip to the frozen world beneath us has shifted my own interests and desires.  My own goals and passions, the books I read, and my mindset on what “normal” is for two people like us have all been continually adapting in ways I could not have predicted.  I hope we will continue to have the necessary courage to wonder what our lives would look like if we pursued our dreams.  We value our friends and family back at home dearly and it is the single factor that continually wreaks havoc on our adventuring lifestyle.  Many of them are living their dreams by starting a family and at times it becomes hard to know if our own dreams have started to align more closely with theirs.  We have really learned to understand that our dreams are worthy of the sacrifices we have made to make them a reality.  What we are still learning is that until we pursue some of these heights, we are not fully aware of the reality of our own dreams.               

(Another shot at the memorials for climbers)
(Sarah's conference team!)
(Lukla airport)
(A village along the way, the trail to Everest went straight through little towns like this)
(Prayer wheels - when walking past a person reaches out their hand to spin the prayer wheels)
(Sarah had to hike across many bridges like this one)
(The bridges have to be strong enough for the yaks and the loads they are bearing)
(Look at this big prayer wheel!  Very intricate designs on the wheel and then in the entire room it's housed in)
(up close shot to show details on one of the prayer wheels)
(Namche Bazaar)
(Sarah posing for a shot)
(Namche Bazaar again)
(Prayer wheels on the side of a monastery the trail walks past)
(up close shot of the prayer wheels)
(another look at Namche Bazaar)
(Everest in the distance)
(sophisticated road signs)
(Sarah posing at a stupa set up in honor of Sir Edmund Hillary)
(A hospital along the way.  It was set up by Sir Edmund Hillary.  He came back into Nepal and helped set up schools and hospitals)
(a statue set up in honor of a Sherpa)
(Khumjung, en route to Everest - the first night of snow on the journey)
(A beautiful trail to hike)
(By yak or by human.  Humans are easier to schedule and coordinate as compared to a yak.  Can you believe how much this man is carrying?)
(A monastery along the way where climbers and hikers go to receive blessings from the monks before heading up Everest.  Sarah bought some prayer beads for me in Namche and had them blessed here by this man.  Cool)