Kanchenjunga, supreme disappointment, then acceptance

A trek I did 21 years ago. Dreaming of the stunning sunrise with Katchenjunga (the worlds third highest mountain) squarely in my sites.

I waited for five days in Darjeeling; a beautiful hill station where I’ve had myself a few travel snafus in the past. This time there was a 3 hour bus from Bhutan. Then a shared taxi to Teesta (There are no buses to Darjeeling and this taxi was going to Sikkim and had to drop me at the crossroads to Darjeeling. Only 20 miles and roughly 4000 feet) away from Darjeeling, I thought I’d take my chances.

Full taxi after full taxi passed me by as the mid day heat started to wear on me. The local guys would yell when a car went by in case there was room in the packed-to-the-gills Toyota Landcruisers; the only way for the Darjeeling-bound West Bengalis to make their way to the mountains to celebrate Diwali.

One small car stopped. It seemed like there was no room and out popped Joy; a friendly young Indian man traveling with his parents. When I told him i was going to Darjeeling, he smiled and said “no problem” and crammed me and my backpack into the back seat with him and his mom.

They kindly drove me up the mountain, letting me stop along the way with them to see various sites and engaged in long conversations about many things.

A normally 40 minute trip took over three hours but it was nice to connect with this friendly 21 year- old Physics student. Imagine my glee as him and I hiked to a small lake and engaged in a conversation about Religion, Physics, science, the caste system, marriage and Indian life. Quite the random beautiful day.

As I arrived in Darjeeling at about 7000 feet, the cool air and mist precluded what was predicted to be a strange several days of rain and clouds; delaying my departure for the trek.

Getting a short glimpse of the Himalayas at sunrise the first morning in Darjeeling had me settle into to my wait for clearer weather; knowing i had to squeeze the trek in then somehow get to Kathmandu to meet Sagar and Txaber for the Everest Trek.

I wrote and did yoga, went to the gym, enjoyed Indian food and mixed with other travelers at the hostel.

I met with Subash, who guided Andrea and I up near Katchenjunga on a different trek over 7 years ago.

We laughed and reconnected and waited out the weather. Since he knew me, he arranged for a guide to go with me without charging me for a tour. This trek requires guides now and oh by the way there is a road now. My trekking snob self was triggered!

After i met my guide and started the trek, I was ecstatic with my first glimpse of the mighty Himalaya after nearly 3 hours of hiking. My body felt good and strong. It was worth the over seven weeks of “non-trekking” I had experienced. The usual fears of being out of shape or some pain in my body were slowly falling away.

A stunning sunset over the valley had me ready to attack the likely 8 hour next day hike. Dreaming of the sunset and sunrise the next day over Mt Everest; currently obscured by other mountains. I was remembering my birthday 21 years ago in this region where i saw sunset over Everest and a full moon rise over Katchenjunga; hoping to relive it partly because I lost all the pictures from that part of my trip. I mailed them home from Kathmandu. They never made it.

I was embarking on my 17th trek in the Himalayas and marveling at my good fortune and how much I love it here.

I went bed early; sleeping between dogs barking, loud Indians arriving late by Jeep, and my drunk guide stumbling into the room late and crashing to the ground. Then snoring!

It was all good as I was going to be in the mountains for five more days. The lightening sky woke me at five am before my alarm went off and i slowly sat up in bed; ready for a short sunrise walk before breakfast.

As i sat on the bed, feet on the floor, I reached across my body for my phone and camera. I felt a small tug in my lower back then a sharp, intense shooting pain I’ve experienced several times in my life unfortunately; yet not for three years. As I leaned back in pain, I thought “are you kidding me?” “Did that just happen?”

As I contained my anger and frustration in the early morning light, I stretched and thought “it’s not so bad, maybe it will be okay?” I struggled to put my sandals on and walked out into the beautiful morning air after swallowing four ibuprofen. “Cmon” I thought “you’ve been through this before. It’s loosen up.” The sunrise was incredible.

Afterwards, I spent 30 minutes more of stretching and lying in bed, running through my brain the options in front of me. Two weeks until the Everest trek. But this trek was still on my mind. Those mountains…

My guide asked me if I wanted tea and when he returned, I told him “I’m done. I need a car back.”

His look said it all as he knew how excited I was to get going yesterday.

As I settled into the acceptance of having to cancel the first trek of my life (i DID turn back in Tibet because of blisters year ago), I was super angry and frustrated. Riding in the back of the Jeep lying down. Really? My back? No problems for three years then bam!?!?

Acceptance in Buddhism means accepting your current condition but not giving up. I’ve gotten to do 16 amazing treks; a few after thinking I’d never be able to trek again. I was able to pay for a ride back and am staying in a hotel in Darjeeling to feel better. I’m not broke. My belly is full and I’m where I love to be.

If anything the waiting around for the weather is what I hated the most.

I’ve accepted the moment and it reinforces for me all the times I’ve done this and enjoyed every minute. And the many times I’ve hurt my back and bounced back.

Fingers crossed the healing happens again!

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