The Real World – Whitewater
I was terrified of living an easy life of going through the motions. This fear of the mundane drove me to this adventure.

Standing at 18,000 feet on the edge of a glacier facing the Everest range, I took my camera out and snapped a few photos. I tried to ignore the headache creeping in and took a moment to appreciate the beauty of the sun setting over the Himalayas. My stomach felt like it could turn inside out if I tried to eat my frozen boiled egg too quickly, so I crawled in my orange, winterized tent sitting between a rock wall and the high camp cook’s tent.

My mind wandered to the summer prior when I fell into the “real world” trap of “just go get a job; you’ll hate your first job anyways.” I spent that summer crammed in the corner of a windowless office in a DC consulting firm doing mind-numbing work. I was terrified of living an easy life of going through the motions. This fear of the mundane drove me to this adventure where I experienced tea houses, prayed with Buddhist Monks, passed ancient sites and monasteries, and encountered a red panda and a troop of monkeys. After days of trekking through the jungle, we crossed into the towering Himalayan mountains, picked edelweiss flowers for luck, met climbers and trekkers from every corner of the world, and ultimately reached the side of this 21,247 foot mountain, Mera Peak.

The inside of the tent gave off a dull orange glow from the afternoon sun, which didn’t help the headache or nausea. My mind drifted with the thin air, and I wondered why I was here. I felt lucky I spent much of my childhood on my grandparents’ North Georgia farm climbing around the caves and cliffs of Lookout Mountain. It was there that my curiosity for the outdoors and exploring the natural world was born.

As I laid in my sub-20 sleeping bag, I thought about the times my cousins and I would scale our way down the bluffs below our grandparent’s house to explore and sit in silence with a deer rifle and wait for an unsuspecting buck to pass by. Experiences like these sparked my imagination and longing for a life in the outdoors. I was also fortunate to have a friend that was willing to take on this adventure with me. When I called Andrew and told him, “I have a crazy idea — let’s go climb a mountain in Nepal after graduation,” he laughed and immediately said, “I’m in.”

We spent the next year and a half planning how to make this trip a reality, and up to this point, the adventure in Nepal had already exceeded every expectation. We began our trek to Mera a week earlier, after a bumpy and exhilarating flight between mountain ranges and into the infamous Lukla airport. The airport is considered the most dangerous in the world because of the astoundingly short runway and 12 degree slope it sits on. Lukla is located in the steep and rugged foothills of the Himalayas and has an elevation of 9,500 feet. Hotels, restaurants, and small farms surround the airport.

Stepping off the plane, I ran my hands along the Tibetan Buddhist Prayer Wheels. Small, open-air vendors line the crammed storefronts of Lukla, selling everything from trekking and climbing gear to jewelry and prayer flags. There are only walking trails in this region because the landscape is too vertical and remote for vehicles.

From Lukla, we set out for Mera with the trekking guide and porter we hired, Kamal, who is 50 years old, a husband, and a father of two. His lean structure is a reflection of the eight months a year he spends guiding treks through the Himalayas. I have never met a friendlier or happier person. Dhiren, the porter Kamal hired for us, is an 18-year-old from the foothills of the Himalayas with the stature of a division one wrestler. When not in school, he carries climbing gear from mountain to mountain. “Bistari, bistari” (Nepali for “slowly, slowly”), Kamal told us as we approached Khare, the last stop before Mera basecamp. In Khare, we met Lakhpa Sherpa, our climbing guide. Lakhpa’s calloused, weathered face, ski goggle tan line, and stout stature is the staple look for the rugged and tough Sherpa guides. After a day of acclimatization and gear checks, the three of us made the push to high camp, to those orange winterized tents that pull a mountaineer back to them like a marathoner to a hellish run. We were met with 30 other climbers, most of whom were experiencing intense altitude sickness, some of which needed helicopter evacuation.

After a few hours of sleep, we woke at 2 a.m. for the summit push. I slipped my feet into frozen climbing boots, stepped into my climbing harness, adjusted my crampons and headlamp, and roped in a line of three with Lakhpa and Andrew. The night sky seemed to wrap around us, with shooting stars flying above our heads. The bright bands of the Milky Way illuminated the vast glacier. We crossed between ominous dark crevasses and up steep, icy faces lit only by our headlamps and the light of the stars. We kept a steady pace as we dug our crampons into the frozen glacier. As we looked down the vertical glacial section we had just traversed, we could see a line of climbers making their way up. Just behind them, the silhouette of the Everest range faintly glowing from the light of the glaciers and snowy peaks.

The sun began to rise over the Himalayas in the east and lit the dramatic peaks with a fiery orange and red. After another thirty minutes, we made it to the ridge just below the peak. On either side of us, dramatic snow banks dropped off for thousands of feet. As we crossed the ridge we felt the wind powerfully whip up and over the mountain. The first rays of dawn blanketed the snow, and Mera’s Peak glowed in front of us like a lost jewel. From high camp to summit, it took us just under three hours. Steep ice falls and snowbanks hung off the edges of the peak, and we were rewarded with the view of the world’s tallest mountain range, stretching into the sky and illuminated by the morning light. I pulled off my gloves, unzipped my jacket, and grabbed my camera. Within seconds, my hands were numb from the sub-zero temperatures.

We spent just 15 minutes on the peak of the mountain we had been planning to climb for over a year. As the three of us stared at the horizon — only breaking the silence with an occasional gasp at the vast beauty and the minuscule feeling caused by the grandiose landscape that surrounded us — I asked Lakhpa, “Does that ever get old?” His reply? “Nope.”

Anson Walldorf is a recent college grad & avid adventurer with roots in the Southeast.