Living the “high life”

Expedition: Mera Peak

Stephanie Miller

There are many variations of living the high life… high rollers, high fliers and more amongst the assemblage, but the one I’m referring to is as humble as a high five.

When you’re choosing a holiday you’d usually centre around the idea of relaxation, nice food, perhaps a beach somewhere on golden sands, gazing into your tequila sunrise whilst the world just melts away at your slightly tipsy fingertips. You wouldn’t usually think of expensive ways to torture yourself for weeks on end… that is unless you’re a sadistic, mountain climbing nut-job… like me.

There are people, a certain number of people, who will give all the money they own and even gamble their own lives to put themselves through some of the most mentally and physically destroying times they could possibly imagine. Sounds mad right? What if I told you that what you’d get in return will enhance and last for the rest of your life – not convinced? Ok, what if I also told you that in exchange of a few weeks in the most savage environments known to man, you would fill your soul as if filling a cup. You will never think in the same way, it may only be slight but some of life’s “burdens” will no longer be so. You will be humbled, grateful and you will return feeling as though you can see just that little bit more clearly for the rest of your life. If this still doesn’t sound appealing then take the blue pill now and read no further. If you’re intrigued then take the red pill and stay with me whilst I take you further into the rabbit hole.

Three days back from my climb and my mind has already pushed some of the adventure into Pandora’s box in some attempt to make sense of what I’ve just done. I live for this type of adventure. I thrive on it but every time I’ve completed something like this, I forget half of what I’ve done so I’ve taken to writing it all in my travel journal (something I’d recommend to anyone who is planning to embark on these types of adventures). Looking back at the altitude-driven ramblings, this journey is the most extreme rollercoaster ride you could step onto. There are extreme highs, equal lows and wonder beyond the imagination.

Before we go any further if you’re wondering whether climbing a mountain is bursting with glory, honor and self-magnificence you’re mostly wrong… well… in my experience anyway. This all develops with the memories when you’re home. When your mind has had a chance to digest what in the world has happened to you and you can look back and enjoy the grandeur over a cup of tea… or that tequila sunrise you were fantasising about. Now this next part might sound a little grim but bare with me. As Freud once said; “One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful”, never was this truer than when you relate it to a climb. Whilst you’re out there it’s bursting with hardships, some tears and at least once and hopefully just once, you will probably sh*it yourself. It’s hard, it’s brutal and you only have yourself to depend on to get you through and your mind doesn’t make it easy. After all, we are not naturally born to take on a mountain.

Whilst your body is trying to cope with every savage step and laboured breath, your mind is making imaginary friends with little mind-jacking gremlins telling you that you can’t do this, it’s too much – turn around. They may continue to torture you for minutes, hours or even days and that’s ok. You may have hard times when all you want to do is turn around and you feel like a failure but surely it’s natural right? As I said, you’re not walking to the shop to get milk, you’re climbing a frikkin mountain!

It’s important to remember that yes those little cretins are pesky non-quitters and you may continue to distract yourself with the negatives but then you just take a breath (perhaps a strenuous one at 44% oxygen), and then you look down at your feet, then back at the path behind you and realise that whilst you were “making friends”, you’ve actually been walking forward this entire time – you’re doing it step by step and you’re nearly at camp where the best feeling in the world is waiting for you – taking your boots off, (it’s probably better than crack).

When things get really “special” you can find yourself falling back into teenage-hood, throwing your walking sticks to the floor and blaming the ground for being too steep. Blaming your Sherpa for taking the route you always knew you were going to take… as if he knows of a secret lift somewhere he’s not telling you about and my personal favourite, blaming that goddamn mountain for having both an up AND a down… how dare it!! Tantrums come all too easily out there, hard is harder than hard. You throw your sticks again, throw your face into your palms and then you reach your limit. Now, this is a very special moment. This is the moment you snap (hopefully only mentally). Your mind crumbles into a soggy, pitiful, tearful and snotty mess. Tears may fall and dark moments may ensue but this is part of the magic. See, what happens when you break with no-where to go is you rebuild. Your mind begins to get the poly-filler out and mend the cracks, the same as when the Japanese mend plate cracks with gold – your mind reconstructs to become more beautiful. For those not familiar…

In the 15th century the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa broke his favourite teacup. He was very sad so his craftsmen used resin and gold to fix the pieces back together. They had taken something broken and turned it into something more beautiful. If you look back over your life’s cracks how many of them have turned out to be a positive and made you more beautiful? We all have choices; to break and wallow in the misery, or to rebuild and become more beautiful. This is why my advice would always be to just keep putting one foot in front of the other. You’ll get there and you’ll feel damn proud for it, no matter how small the steps.

We all have our own goals and ambitions for climbing a mountain. Some will want to summit, some will just want to experience the journey. For me this climb wasn’t about reaching the summit (although I’m not going to lie, the summit was seen as the very juicy cherry on top of the cake… or in that tequila sunrise I was still dreaming about). I’ve had summit fever before but this wasn’t it. My goal was Everest. Just to see it. I will never forget the day I turned around during a long slog up an icy slope and there in front of my eyes was the most beautiful view I’d ever seen. The tallest mountains on earth Everest, Lhotse, Makalu.. they were all there in wondrous glory being peaceful in their setting yet commanding the skies.

The most special moments can be found just by stopping your trek, taking your mind off your feet and looking around. Take it in, embrace it and remember, these moments that you are seeing are fleeting whilst you are there but they are so striking that they become mental pictures, ones which you won’t share with anyone and ones which will be embraced individually by each climber for a lifetime.

There is enlightenment with pushing yourself through these harsh environments. It is only by stripping away every home comfort and pushing your mind and body to limits far beyond where you thought capable, that this can be achieved. Stripping away daily, needless amenities (although before you leave you don’t yet know they are needless). Leaving behind luxurious distractions such as technology and finding other ways to be content by occupying your own mind – This is actually an underestimated challenge. Something you would usually imagine as boring can quite easily become peaceful. A very rare and wonderful feeling. A lesson which you can take home.

There’s no describing what I’ve seen, how I’ve felt, what I’ve done. They’re all bound to my memory, each moment is as precious as the last but do you know what makes these particular memories so very special and unique? It’s because I earned every single one of them.

I’ve walked through the clouds, seen the sunrise over Everest and I’ve been consumed in the beauty of the Himalayas. I’ll treasure this for the rest of my life.

A special mention to the Sherpas who are unbelievable powerhouses. These guys demonstrate superhuman strength, battling these environments with 50kg weight of your belongings on their backs, risking their own lives just so you can attempt the climb. When I was breathing out of my backside just trying to get myself and my water up “the hill” the Sherpas were carrying all of my necessities for 3 weeks on their backs and around their necks all in flip flops! What I saw them do was a wonder in its own right and I’m eternally grateful to them. I was catered for, cared for and given everything I need just to get me up there. Without any doubt, I couldn’t have even gotten through the first day without them. They remain in my heart and I forever send them endless love for helping me achieve what I did.
Thank you xx

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