In the Khumbu Valley of Nepal, the cycle of life abounds: Daily activity interwoven with dramatic beauty; the profound crammed against the profane. For me, the cycle of resilience resides here as well: recovery, renewal, and reinvention.
I first visited the Khumbu 23 years ago with my adventurous wife, Gloria. We came to experience trekking to the foot of Mount Everest, but also to recover. Just four months before, my best friend and trusted climbing partner, Mike Price, died on Mount Rainer, with me trapped in the snow just a foot away. Though I survived, I was lost, lonely and adrift. As described in my book, The Ledge, trekking in the Khumbu was a key part of my recovery. After a blessed meeting with a revered Lama from the Tengboche Monastery, we had a puja ceremony at the foot of Mount Everest to remember Mike and to honor his spirit. Emotions choked my words and tears blurred my vision that day. And now, 23 years later, I clearly see that day as a painful and necessary step in my recovery.
The Khumbu was also instrumental in the next phase after that tragic accident: renewal. For five years after losing my friend, I was busy with work and family. I still enjoyed mountain recreation, but I climbed infrequently, and a large hole remained. Then, in 1998, Rodney Ley asked me to help him train and lead an expedition of college students up two high peaks in the Khumbu. The opportunity was so alluring, that it shook me from what was starting to look like a middle-aged slump. This exciting and scary situation required me and inspired me to renew myself as a climber.
That pivotal trip to the Khumbu 18 years ago also enabled me to re-invent part of my life into something I could have scarcely dreamed of: expedition leader. The responsibilities of trip leader caused me to examine what I knew and how to best share it. I had to examine the entirety of my climbing life, both the good days and the bad ones, like the day we lost Mike. Distilling what I had learned and passing it on effectively to others eventually led me to become a speaker and author.
That second journey to the Khumbu with Rodney served as catalyst to reinvent myself in ways that enriched my life, and let me serve others. Additionally, Rodney became a great friend, a nurturing mentor, and my trusted climbing partner. Together we have shared the honor of taking others to life-changing mountains all around the world.
Recovery, renewal and reinvention are all aspects of resilience. Together they allow us to crawl back from tragic circumstances and to forge onward through life, perhaps in a new or better way. I am indebted to the mystical Khumbu and to the stalwart companions who shared these journeys with me. All of this has formed an unforeseen pathway that allowed me to become more resilient and that brought me to where I am today.
And today, I am in the Khumbu again.
This time I intend to push myself to an even higher level by climbing Mount Everest. I do not know if I will be able to ascend to the sacred summit of Sagarmāthā, but the many lessons I have learned since my first trip here 23 years ago give me a chance. It is my obligation and my honor to apply all the resilience I can to ascend that giant peak at the head of the Khumbu Valley. Though unsure of what the next seven weeks will bring, I am certain quite that Everest and the Khumbu will again teach me lessons that I cannot now imagine, and make me more resilient for whatever lies ahead.