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Why Climb?

 Why Climb?

by Sonam Bennett

March 10, 2002

So why would anyone want to suffer through near frost-bitten toes, a nose not too far off from the same state, chapped lips and hands, poor and restless sleep, and, worst of all, a headache that feels as if it might shatter your skull. Because when you do go through the hardships of high altitude and extreme cold to get to the dizzying heights of even a small Himalayan peak, the absolutely breathtaking view that slowly unfolds as you climb makes it very worthwhile.

From High Camp on Mera Peak, at 5,900m, a single panorama affords you five of the world’s fourteen 8,000+ metre peaks (eight of which are in Nepal) – Everest (unobstructed by the Nuptse ridge, thanks to our height and angle) and Lhotse dead ahead, Cho Oyu to the west, Makalu just over to the east, and in the distant east, Kanchenjunga in its full glory. No mountain flight will give you the exhilaration of actually being there. You could be dropped off by helicopter, but not only would that be expensive cheating if any pilot agreed to fly you there, it would also be downright dangerous without the proper acclimatisation one gets from climbing up. And anyway, walking for long hours on that blinding, beautiful glacier, crunching ice and frozen snow in plastic boots and crampons, roped up to your climbing partner for safety, is an experience you wouldn’t want to miss.

Sunrise on the Mera Peak summit It is truly beautiful – the majestic grandeur of those imposing Himals, thrust into the air with unimaginable force. The eerie yet soothing silence, the total lack of tangible life all around – and even more mystifying: the lone track of a single set of small feline footprints that appeared from nowhere and disappeared beyond the curve of the glacier, frozen in time. Where on earth did it come from? What the heck was it doing up here, in such a desolate place? The sunset that graced us that evening will forever remain etched in my memory. I wish I could share it with others, but the effort it would have taken to take my backpack off, dig out my camera and take a photograph was well beyond what reserves I had left, and we hadn’t quite reached the rock outcrop of High Camp yet. A blaze of rich red all across the mountains, and underneath that painted streak, perceptible between the peaks, beyond, a strong blue sky. And not a cloud in the sky, not even the characteristic plume streaking off Everest. It was a dizzying, awesome sight.

The hardships, it has to be said, are quickly forgotten. The beauty, however, will live on. The roar of avalanches in the distance at night. The bizarre dreams of the subconscious that unravel at high altitude. The stark contrasts of the deeply carved valleys, enchanted rhododendron forests, rolling alpine meadows and jagged Himalayan peaks. The alpenglow on the snow peaks just after sunset and the star-studded nights. And the laughter, singing and chatter of the fun-loving, hard-working sherpa team.

Time is a valuable thing, and how one spends it is therefore of the essence. Challenges and pushing one’s limit are enriching experiences. They give a great sense of satisfaction and make you really feel alive. We only got as far as High Camp, just 600 metres short of the summit. As disappointing as it is not to have stood at the top of Mera Peak, it was an experience I cherish and plan to repeat someday, on some other Himalayan peak.

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