The Night Before the Nangpa La

(unedited from my journal)

Nov. 11, 2015.

Lumde, Nepal. 14,400 feet.

So here I am, once again plodding up into the Himalayas, straining against the weight of my pack, the incline of the trail, the diminishing power of my legs and lungs with the altitude and the gravitational pull of the life I left below.

I once wrote that the mountains do not solve any problems, they only create new, simpler ones. It is a chance, for a moment, to pretend like the burdens of everything left behind don’t matter. And truly, nothing does matter up here except for the simple chores necessary to survival.

You focus on the trail, food, water, blisters, the aches and pains of the miles, where to sleep, what clothes to put on to stay warm, what things to stuff in your sleeping bag at night to have warm in the morning. These myriad decisions, which require no more complexity of thought than a caveman’s, relieve you from more complicated distractions.

This simple existence gives you such a spiritual and intellectual reprieve that it launches your creative and introspective capacities into an orbit impossible to achieve in normal life.

That is the attraction and the addiction to this place and this existence. And as a writer, it is a place where I feel most capable of achieving something bordering on proficiency with my craft.

There is typically a singular goal on these trips into the mountains, which stays fixed in place over your thoughts like you’re chasing the moon.

Last time I was here it was climbing Island Peak. Now it is the Nangpa La.

Those challenges, and the unknown ability of my body to meet them, funnel my thoughts, focusing them like light in a lens. They are a grand goal, which seems to somehow justify the hard work, giving the trip a sense of meaning that I search for in my life down below.

It is also, of course, tragic when the goal is achieved and you realize that your worries were unfounded. Your physical and mental limits had not been reached, and you become aware of the untapped potential still within you, locked away by your fears.

You only hope that there is enough time left in this life to find out where that horizon truly lies.

On this trip, that shifting horizon exists on the Nangpa La. After tonight, I walk off the edge of the world. And I truly have no idea what to expect.

I wonder if the trail will be passable—did the earthquake wash away the fragile slopes I need to cross and climb?

Will the nights be too cold? Will I stay healthy in the altitude? What if I get hurt? Will I be strong enough to reach the pass?

I also wonder if this journey will produce a story worthy of justifying the time spent away from Helga and the life I left behind.

I’ll know the answers to those questions weeks, months, and years later as I reread these words. The only evidence of the anxiety and the uncertainty I now feel will be these penstrokes. Emotions eroded by time and new worries and new joys.

But for now, my mind and soul live here in this stone hut high on a Himalayan ridge. The sun is setting, the clouds have moved in as they so often do in the late afternoon. The evening wind is shifting the timbers of the roof. The air inside the lodge smells of smoke from the stove. My thoughts are pointed up toward the Nangpa La, where the answers to my questions and the closing pages of this chapter of my life are waiting for me.

I go to find
What has, I fear,
Only existed in my mind.

I toil and work, suffer and strain
Pushing on to a height
Where one cannot live,
Nor life itself
Can remain.

All for what?
I cry for explanation.

For glory, fame, respect or even admiration?
Or, is it to close an end…
for which the journey
Is my one true and only friend.

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