Tuesday, December 6, 2011

History Lesson

So this is a little behind, and I've gone back and forth on how I wanted to approach these thoughts. So I've been slightly hesitant to post but what the heck.. there's no better way to process your thoughts then to put them out into the world and see how the world responds.
Why is it that we have to wait all year to start over again? I find it odd that we put so much into the starting of a new year.. a "new beginning." For me, I think every day should be celebrated as a new beginning (if you are looking for one). Instead for me the new year is a time to reflect on the previous months and decide how to continue on forward.

Mr. Codi, one of my favorite teachers from high school, was known for always saying, "Those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it" On the day of his retirement he gave me a magazine cut out that had that quote on it. He said he carried it all throughout his decades of teaching. To this day, I still have that cut out and I carry it with me. Why? Because I really enjoyed this teacher (he had the reputation of being the hardest and grumpiest teacher in the school district) and how passionate he was about history. I find a lot of value in the way that history really does have a way of repeating itself. If we aren't careful and do not learn from the past we won't be better prepared the next time or a new time, there will be no growth. One of my favorite bands once said, "If you don't learn you won't grow. If you aren't growing then you're not really living" - Savage Garden. (They're really good just give them a chance)
So reflection and acknowledging lessons of 2011 is what I've spent a lot of time doing lately. The last time I was back in Pennsylvania, over a year ago, I found a book in my Dad's library, Blue Like Jazz. Not sure if he knows it or not, but I took the book because I had heard from some friends it was a great read. I spent the last year reading this book. It's not a long book, but it is a book that needs to be processed, slowly read, and considered. This past November I was coming to one of the closing chapters and it was about loving yourself well in order to love others. He referenced the golden rule "Love others as you love yourself." Naturally I believe we tend to see that and focus on the idea of loving others.. but his challenge was to focus on the second part of that, maybe the more important part, and that is to love yourself well.
And that is what 2011 was about for me. Learning to love myself well. Because if we don't love ourselves well, if we don't have grace with our own weaknesses, if we don't believe in our own dreams, if we don't stand firm in our own convictions.. then how are we suppose to have grace, patience, love, encouragement, or strength in our relationships with others? So as I looked back on 2011, I saw that it presented itself as a year of first experiences and a lot of hard experiences that has led me to a new year of taking those experiences and growing from them.
I started teaching video production at the collegiate level. That is very intimidating for someone who was fresh out of undergrad myself. Not to mention someone who had a history of being way too shy to talk to an audience, let alone carry the responsibility of education. But what I found was that not only do I have a passion for teaching, but that I'm good at it. And I know what I'm talking about. There were definitely times I felt overwhelmed and unequipped. But I kept with it and each class I became more capable and comfortable.
I suffered with my health. My digestive system went all sorts of whack and I faced a lot of trouble with food and my body. I couldn't eat without getting sick which resulted in lot of weight loss. I wasn't very encouraged at all when I went on the treatment and didn't see results. It made me feel horrible about myself... that I wasn't capable of getting healthier and I feared that meant not capable of climbing or mountaineering.
I traveled across the world into a new country without any real plans. I saw an opportunity and I took a leap of faith. I pushed my limits to trek a great distance on foot and climb high for the goal of just doing so. I sought relationships and conversations with people I would never have met if I didn't pick up and go. And I realized new potential and dreams within myself.
I spent the fall teaching and climbing and getting healthier. I put my mind to lead climbing, and I did it with the encouragement of great climbing partners. I started working out with a trainer who definitely pushes me way harder and further then I'd ever push myself. I really began to understand what's failing in my body and what I need to do to work with it and not let it defeat me. I set new goals and made new plans to go further in my travels, my productions, and my climbing. I taught again with a lot more certainty and a lot more confidence. I began to be more bold in my writing and the way I talked to people. I had a new outlook.
Things were going well.. until November when I began to get really sick again. And then I began to lose focus on where I was going in my career and if I was capable of making this film about women development, was it really even realistic? And then I was challenged hard on my faith, what I believe to be true in life, was I just ridiculous? Some mornings at the gym I would just flat out be weak.. why was I working out here again? I do not match up to these other athletes.. but that's when I read this chapter in Blue Like Jazz.. loving yourself well.
See for me, what I came to find to be true in my life is that I have a conditional love for myself. When I'm strong and things are going well, I feel good about myself, what I'm doing, and where I'm at. When things fall apart, take a hit, or challenge me to the point I feel an ounce of defeat.. I break. There is where 2011 ended and where 2012 will take me. What I want to do in my life and who I want to be comes with a lot of mountains and valleys. History has a way of repeating itself. I find myself approaching another semester of teaching, I find my health and my system failing, and I find myself inspired with plans of traveling and climbing this summer.
So here is where I'm at now, taking a look at what I have learned from my past year of experiences, and focusing and applying what those moments taught me.. I know I need to really process and absorb those times if I am to grow and move forward.
If we set new year resolutions without allowing ourselves to reflect and learn from the previous year then we're doomed to repeat the same failures or not grow towards goals. My health for example isn't cooperating the way I would want it to. But I also saw that no matter the effort I put in to make it better, nothing was working. I was setting myself up to fail again... and I had honestly come very far. So I sought some medical attention, I accepted treatment that terrified me, and now I'm also working on loving myself despite how I feel. I found that I can't fully contribute to relationships in my life until I fully invest in myself. I can't be strong for someone I know is sick and encourage that there is light at the end of the treatment if I don't believe it to be true for myself.
I think all too often we rely on each other and the opportunity to be relied on so we don't have to face ourselves. For example, I look to my climbing partners for feedback and encouragement to allow myself to say, good job you've done the best you can do at this point. If I don't get that then I feel very incapable. If I work out and hear someone say, "Nice job today" then I walk out of the gym feeling great. If I work out, and don't hear that feedback and don't reach the number of weight or reps as someone else, then I feel like a waste.
Love your neighbor as you love yourself. I think this is more challenging then loving someone else. But I also found this to be a great challenge, one that I really want to take head on. It makes sense to me and it makes sense how it's not selfish but rather being more capable of being a better half in a relationship whether thats a professional relationship or a romantic relationship. Any day, no matter the date, can be a day of beginnings, of starting a new path, whatever the path looks like. But if you're stuck, if you find that you made a resolution and you're not able to carry through with the commitment, stop. Take sometime to look at how it went for you before, take note of the similar movements and thoughts that didn't lead to success last time, and try something new. Allow yourself to have some grace and be confident enough that you can reach goals. Don't settle on when things aren't working at the moment, that doesn't mean failure. Most importantly, be assured in who you are, how far you've come, and that you can reach where you're going. It'll make you a lot happier and a lot healthier. That's my goal this year, and every year after. To love myself well and to love others well. To learn how to really be a better person to myself, more accepting. To work on my weaknesses, credit my strengths, allow moments for failure and be assured that there is light in those dark areas. And to just know that what I believe, value, and want isn't ridiculous. Its what brings me life and gives me strength, and is who I am. I'm going to learn from history, I'm going to be better prepared for the future, and I'm going to be open to new experiences, opportunities, and challenges.

The vision must be followed by the venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps - we must step up the stairs.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

This Holiday I'm Thankful for Family.. and Grace

I watched a documentary the other day, "Happy" A filmmaker's story of how we achieve happiness, what it means to be happy, and who are the happiest people alive. There was one particular piece of the movie that stuck out to me. A woman shared her story of how through tragedy she found light and happiness. When she was a teen and throughout her twenties, she was this very beautiful woman. She married and had children and spent her days being a super mom. She talked about how busy and demanding she allowed her life to be. I think she felt she was on show for the world to see. The beautiful wonderful perfect wife and mother. One day she was run over by a truck and her face was smashed into a dirt road. Her beauty was completely ripped away.. or so she thought. The images that followed were horrible. She had no nose, no lips, and her cheeks were completely ripped open. Awful. Her accident didn't only affect her physically. She suffered from flashbacks of being sexually abused by her father as a child. For years she hid her past behind her beauty and her determination to be a super wife and mother. But now she was forced to face the ugliness in her own life. She was helpless.. hopeless.. and her husband left her. Awful. How do you live life when everything is taken away from you? She didn't know and so she thought seriously about suicide. "After my children are grown and don't need me, then I'll kill myself" That was her plan. But you see, in the six months proceeding her decision to take her own life she realized that despite her physical appearance from the accident and despite her burdened heart from her abuse, she was still needed and she was still a super mom. Her children didn't need her because she was beautiful or because she was such a great multitasker.. they needed her because she was their mom. Her story had a happy ending. She found purpose to live, fulfillment in her life, and she met a new man who loved her exactly for who she was. She said she found happiness for the first time.

Some might say.. well everything happens for a reason. And in this particular story I'm sure that would be a common reaction, but I disagree. One interview with a psychologist in this documentary said, "You can't have pleasure without pain" You can't know happiness or reach contentment without knowing loss or suffering. But I don't think that means we have to face significant tragedy in order to pursue a life of happiness. But when we do face hardship if we allow ourselves to, we can find joy and purpose in midst of life's hardest situations. I can relate to this woman. I can relate to her preaccident life of work work work, do everything perfect, don't mess up, be everything to everyone... and then suddenly life smashes your face in and you have to really stop and see ugliness for the first time.

Maybe you know and maybe you don't, but my senior year of college I lost my little brother. Tomorrow, November 22, is Christopher's 23 birthday and on December 9 of this year it will be three years since he was killed. I've been thinking a lot about him lately, who he was, what his life meant, what our relationship was and what it wasn't. And then I've been thinking of his laugh. He had a very joyful laugh.. probably the best one I've ever heard. I never told him that nor did I ever appreciate it while he was alive. Christopher and I didn't have much of a relationship. He was a troubled soul and I never could allow myself to have patience or grace with him.. why couldn't he find happiness? Because of this bitterness towards him I rarely found happiness myself. I just decided that I had to compensate for his life by always being on top of my own game and doing as much as humanly possible.

When Christopher died I didn't know how life would continue on. How could someone be in my life for 20 years and then poof they're gone? What do you do with that? I found it hard to even remember that I had a little brother, that I spent the first part of life with him. But like the woman in the accident I found out that my work ethic or my talents weren't going to bring me happiness and didn't define who I was. Its been a long road, but I'm finding more happiness and contentment in life then I could have imagined. A lot of it has come from Christopher's story in my life. I've learned to slow down, appreciate and pursue relationships, accept grace, and pursue peace.

What got me thinking when I saw this documentary the other day was one man's testimony of how he found happiness. He started volunteering at a shelter called the Home of the Dying founded by Mother Teresa. He said he found happiness in carrying these men's burdens. He fed them, helped them move about, held their hand. That's what gave his life purpose. To carry another's burden. I think all too often we associate happiness with only sunny days and lots of money. But this picture of an old building full of sick and handicapped men being carried and fed by strong and healthy men was one of the most beautiful scenes I've ever watched. And in that I understood finally the happiness of being a part of a community. It's about carrying each other's burdens. It's about grace, patience, and love unconditional. Christopher's death, though tragic and hard to accept, has taught me grace, patience, and to love without conditions. It showed me that we're not promised perfect lives and everyone is on their own path, but in community and through grace and acceptance we can help each other find happiness. Not everything happens for a reason..

When I think about Christopher and I think of the life I have in my own hands I realize how happy I am for all that has come about. Again.. not everything happens for a reason.. I didn't need to lose a sibling.. But the above has happened and I am going to spend this holiday season and everyday from here on out in happiness, celebrating the wonderful family and friends I've been blessed with. I want to practice grace like I've been shown by those who choose to be in my life and like the grace Jesus showed us all when he came to carry our burdens. When he loved us unconditionally. I want to carry burdens of people I love so much and have patience as they pursue their own sense of happiness.

I do mourn the idea that in twenty years from now.. when we're much older.. my siblings and I will get together on the holidays (hopefully) with our new families and reflect on our younger years, but Christopher won't physically be there. I have a picture in my mind of what that will be like and I wish a lot that Christopher will be there. But he won't. But I'm still a sister to my other siblings. Just because tragedy happens doesn't mean we stop living. The woman in the truck accident was still a wonderful needed mother. And I can still be a big sister.

My happiness truly comes from the family I have. Both the family I'm
born into and the family I've found in my travels. And I'm thankful for my students for helping me to find happiness in teaching. I'm thankful for my friends who have helped me find happiness in who I am, and what I dream of doing with my life. And as I think of Christopher I find happiness in the memory of his laugh. I heard lyrics of a song the other night that said mourning is love. And this year I think I'm finally able to mourn and love Christopher and his life.

My favorite picture of Christopher Joel


Monday, October 31, 2011

A List for Life

Ask my roommate, closest friends, or my students about my list-making OCD-ness. I love to write out lists and carry them around checking off the items. Whether it's for packing for a trip, buying groceries, buying outdoor gear, or putting together a production, you can guarantee I will hand write out a list.. and check off the items until they're all done. Well the other week my good friend Bill and I were talking and he asked me what my list of 30 before 30 was. What is that?! He explained that it's a list of goals you want to accomplish before you turn 30. Well.. let's see.. I want to......

A few days later I was waiting for some video to render out, which if you know anything about editing high end video, rendering can take some time. Off to the side of the computer was a yellow tablet and a pen. Bill's question, Anne what is your 30 before 30, popped into my head so I began to write down the numerals. What do I want to do before 30? How much can really be accomplished in five years?

Recently I was given news that a classmate of mine from high school had suddenly passed away. I hadn't talked to him since we graduated, and I began to wonder how much of life he really got to experience. Did he get to travel? Did he find love? Did he pursue the things that made him feel alive? Did he have peace? Did he accomplish any of his goals? I thought about his death a lot and how fast it came.

I think often times about the pace of life, or the stages. First you're a child and you get to experience whatever your parents decide you need and should experience. Then you go through 12 years of education which doesn't lend much time to gain a worldly education. Then its either off to higher ed or work. By this time, 18 or so years of life has already come and gone. That's a lot of years that just flew by. So what made them worth it?

During college I worked very hard and experience a life time of stress. The only thing I regret is not letting go of work and grabbing ahold of my own passions outside of production. I remember a classmate commenting on another classmate's commitment to our department. "Why would you come to college to play football.. where is that going to get you?!" was his comment. Well.. I replied.. maybe that's what truly makes him happy so that's what college is worth to him. I think that's great.

What I have learned most since I moved to Colorado a few years back is that you have to have time for your passions. Work can be a passion, I know it is for me, but there are also a lot of other passions outside of career worth pursuing. So when Bill asked me what my 30 before 30 was, I became anxious to see what my pen would put on the paper. I ended up surprising myself with what my mind brought to the forefront. Seeing what I love and value and want in life on paper was a moment of growth and excitement for me.

It has been seven years since I graduated high school and I wondered, after hearing of my classmate's death, what has happened in the past seven years for him that made life worth it? I hope a lot. What the news of his passing taught me is that we really don't know how many years we will individually have in our own life. How did we know sitting in English class at the age of 15 that he'd only have ten more years left to do all he was dreaming of getting done. It's amazing. I think for me this news just gave me a kick of motivation to not be so worried about the uncertainties because after all life is uncertain and there is nothing we can do to change that.

So I thought I'd share my list with you..

1. Go to grad school - pursue leadership development and international/intercultural studies
2. Get a dog
3. Go to Egypt.. Egyptian history fascinates me
4. Climb some of the world's biggest mountain peaks (of course)
5. Travel through Europe and eat
6. Trek the Continental Divide with friends
7. Learn to play the violin.. it has to be one of the most beautiful sounds in the world when played right
8. Start putting together my own artwork. I love crafts, to paint, scrapbook, why not share it with more people?
9. Produce films.. Tell more stories..
10. See the Northern Lights
11. Teach English in another country
12. Visit more museums with my Dad. I love history, art, science and most of all I love my Dad and learning about life from him and with him
13. Scuba Dive.. hang out with sea turtles
14. Meet my penpal in Zimbabwe. Duma and I have been writing to each other for over ten years now.. and its about time we actually hang out
15. Start my own company, consulting with non-profits and organizations on how to effectively reach out to an audience and tell their stories
16. Keep on improving my cooking skills.. I just love making & baking
17. Become a life coach
18. Volunteer at the Sundance Film Festival (or have one of my films shown there..)
19. Sing at an open mic night.. maybe show off my harmonica skills too
20. Lead on trad and climb more places
21. See the Beatles "LOVE" Cirque Du Soleil show
22. Shoot a production with a RED camera.. I'm a nerd!
23. Attend a Star Wars convention.. dressed up as a Jedi Master
24. Be a guest eater on Epic Meal Time.. I would die.. seriously they use more bacon and grease in one meal the I've consumed in my whole life
25. Direct another live concert .. energy at concerts is such a great high! especially when you're orchestrating it on film!
26. Attend a NBA game.. I know I live in Denver and we have the Nuggets.. so let
me know if you want to go to a game with me
27. Jump off a cliff wearing a go-pro and a squirrel suit
28. Learn to ice climb
29. Learn to drive a manual car.. its probably about time, I do live in Colorado afterall
30. Start my own garden

Five years isn't a whole lot of time.. but again it's plenty to do what you've always wanted to do. All too often I think we get wrapped up in "what stage is it for me.." and think there are regulations or guidelines on what you can and cannot do depending on your age. Well that to me is just plain SILLY. I hardly believe I will accomplish all of those things in five years, and maybe my list will change as time goes on, but it does give me a foundation of where I want to go. I'm a visual person, I like to put things in front of me. Who knows what the next five years will bring.. but if I'm lucky I will have the chance at 30 to reflect, celebrate, and make a whole new list of 40 before 40.. then 50 before 50.. and so on. You should never come to a point in your life where you think you're too old to make new plans. Actually what the truth is that you've been given this incredible gift of life and you should accept it, embrace it, and live it.

Some things we want in life are so simple.. to go to a basketball game.. and yet other things are much more complex, but when it comes down to it all we have is time so we might as well use what we're given and make the most of it. I do hope my friend's life was a solid 25 years. Looking back on the past 7 years since I've seen him, I realized that I may not have accomplished all that I wanted to yet but I have tried my best to find joy, peace, friendship, and faith for the majority of it. So that's all. My prayers go out to his family and friends who are mourning their loss and celebrating his life. Maybe you can't come up with 30 or maybe you can come up with 100 things.. but it's a great activity to collect your thoughts, recognize your own goals, and press on and up into the future.


That little spec is me at the top of Huron Peak. I reached my
goal at the top.. climbing 25 peaks for my 25 year of life.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Time Flies By When You're Living

Once again I find myself stumbling onto my blog and realizing that it has been over two months since my last post. To blog or not to blog.. that is the question I often ask myself. I find myself writing novels and posting questions in my mind as I'm teaching, rock climbing, camping, sitting at the top of a mountain. But when I return to my computer in the comfort of my own home its like my mind is shut off and my desire to put my thoughts and wonders out into the universe has lost its charm and motivation. Sometimes I wish I had the same amount of motivation to relax, reflect, and share life that I do to climb. However, for me, I find it hard to sit. To be still. To sleep. This is what I want to work on, starting with today as I sit and type out an updated post on me, my adventures, and my plans.

Nepal was truly a life-changing experience. Everyday something new and unique happened. Everyday I met someone who touched my soul in ways I cannot express. It created in me a desire to be more, to do more, then what I thought I was capable of. Putting myself through a summer of traveling, I look back and realized the exploring was more of me getting to know me then of me sightseeing and climbing. When in Nepal I made a wonderful new friend, Neelam, who taught me a lot about life through her stories. She was telling me about her culture, family life, and traditions. Women in Nepal are now slowly but surely allowed to pursue an education and careers, but that doesn't mean they have let go of their traditions of arranged marriages and living with and serving their husbands and families for their entire lives. This didn't seem to bother her though. She loved so much her family and the men in her life. You can tell she had a genuine passion to serve them, to love them, and to be a part of her family. Family was not a question, it was a necessity. Community was not an option, it was a necessity. When I was her age I ran away to college then ran away to Colorado. I thought being an adult and a woman meant you had to prove yourself capable and you had to do it on your own. I explained to another friend, Ashok, who I met in Nepal that that was my mentality. He asked, "why?" Why would you want to leave your family? Why do women feel they need to "fight" and be "independent"? I'm not sure.. why do we?

Since Nepal I've been working with some organizations and educational communities that promote the education and job opportunity of women both nationally in the USA and internationally. It's been great and I'm really developing a passion to understand and communicate better on the ideas of investing in women who then invest back into their families and communities.

My love to be in the mountains has grown even more since Nepal as well. I've been climbing a whole lot and have really improved my technique and strength. I've invested in personal training and every weekend I'm pushing my limits on endurance, strength, and technique. I want to know more about climbing big peaks.. and then I want to climb them. There's so much to be learned from climbing that can be applied to leadership. Characteristics such as patience, humbleness, perseverance, and finding contentment in one's abilities. I have found that being a young adult woman in the world is much like being a young adult female climber. I have the choice to power up mountains at my own speed without any climbing partners. I can view the sites from the top, check the peaks off my "to-do" list, and climb down alone knowing I am capable. OR I can team up with others and work together to climb high, climb strong, and accomplish goals. I really don't like this idea of "fighting" for a position in relationships, in career, in the world in general. I'd rather be on a team. Sometimes I'm the strongest, the fastest, the most knowledgeable.. the leader. And sometimes I'm not and the men on my team are the ones helping me and the rest of the team get up and down the rocks. What Neelam taught me was there is room to pursue my own passions and yet allow others to invest in me and me to invest in relationships. That it's ok to be a woman, a wife, a mother, a girlfriend, and a professional, and a mountaineer. I think its much better that way. Who ever came up with the idea that this was America and you got to fight for your right to be at the top was a coward. I think it takes much more strength and character to relax, to serve, to love others and allow others to love you. To want to be a part of a team, a family, a community and want to balance between relationships and work.

The team at Three Sisters is really trying to accomplish is not to overpower men on the mountain, but rather that women are capable to be on the same hill side. How are we expected to survive if we can't allow good positive change? Without change there is not growth, and without growth what's the point of life? So we can our attitudes, our viewpoints. We say "yes women can be educated, can work and contribute" But we don't have to then rule out the responsibility of women to be mothers and wives. There's room for both.

I'm reading "Breaking Trail" by Arlene Blum and it is literally rocking my soul.. no pun intended. She is a scientist, a mountaineer, a servant to the needy, and a woman. She desires relationships.. family.. love. She's not afraid to write that she struggles up mountains and isn't as strong as her male climbing partners. But that doesn't defeat her desire or ability to lead expeditions up the world's highest and toughest peaks. That doesn't stop her from pursuing her career in science. She's not fighting for her spot in a male dominated lab. She's working along side other scientists, gender regardless, to make discoveries and find solutions. My soul connects so much with her and her stories. She's brilliant and so inspiring. And she started all of this when she was my age.

I came back from Alaska to find a lot about me had changed. Not just inner-being stuff, but relationships I had left the states had changed when I returned. Friends got married, roommates moved out, new roommates moved in, family situations happened, teaching had become more a part of my life then expected, the idea of grad school came into the picture, new partnerships started, and my once "activity" of climbing, both rock and mountaineering, has now become a life style.

I want to know more about what it is that truly makes a community grow. I want to understand why we need money, politics, good leadership, equality, education, etc. and to effectively implement not only the idea of change into society but change itself. Real change which starts by changing the way we think.. communicate.. react.

I want to climb bigger peaks and see the world the way some of the great mountaineers have, the way Arlene Blum has. I'm planning on returning to Nepal.. hopefully shortly if life allows. But I'm also building the plan and hopefully team to head up Mt. Rainier next summer. I'll start there, and then move on to Denali, Annapurna I-IV & South, and who knows where else. Why not? Who says I can't? And who says I won't? I already proved to myself that I can carry my own in Nepal, where else can I go? How high can I climb? What else can I learn? But be assured I didn't go to Nepal alone. I had an amazing support team both during my trip and after and I won't go anywhere else or do anything else in life alone either. The peaks and valleys in our lives will come and go, but what is most important is the team you have alongside of you during those times. Climbing alone sometimes can be nice, we all need our personal time, but in the end you have no one to celebrate the summit with. And when you get stuck on a cliff in a blizzard with all your gear frozen to the rock alongside your numb body, the only thing that really matters is who is there freezing their fingers and toes off with you.

I don't know what this whole ramble was really about. Time really is flying by and I love it. Some people look at their age or the time of year and moan/groan, but I think every new number and every new season is a new opportunity to have a good time and get crazy pursuing life. So my challenge to you is to seek the absolute joy in every moment and to make sure you aren't seeking it alone. My challenge to myself is to not get so ahead of myself. To slow down and bit and find it ok not to be out climbing and shooting video every second of every day ;) (But boy that does sound like a dream life to me!)

My second challenge is to keep up on this blog. If someone is actually reading this then hold me to it. Hopefully it's interesting. It feels good to get this out of my head and put it out into the world.


My friend Brian & I at the top of Mt. Oxford in Colorado, 14,153 ft

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Trekking Day Thirteen, Fourteen, & Fifteen: June 3 - 5

June 3, 2011 - I was awoken pretty early, right at sunrise by the commotion of the village starting their day. As I rolled over in my bed to peek out the window I was instantly grateful for the noise.. what was covered by clouds the day before now had been uncovered and dressed in an aray of pinks and oranges from the rising sun. I grabbed my camera and leaped out of bed to push away all the blinds and begin to capture the mighty Mukintath Mountain, it was breath taking. Truly no angle or filter of my camera would ever be able to capture the beauty, mystique, or grace this mountain had at sunrise. It was amazing. This village was so blessed. It was rich with community, friendship, family, faith, yaks, and wonderful mother nature. I wanted to be a resident of Yak Kharka just so I too could wake up everyday to this sight!

But it was very early and so after a few pictures and some time just gazing out my window I crawled back into bed for another short hour of rest before it would officially be time to get up and start the day. When I got out of bed the second time I quickly looked out the window but my colorful mountain was now dressed in clouds and you could barely even tell there was an enormous rock in the distance. We got dressed, packed up all of our belongings, and headed to the kitchen to eat and pay for our stay. Today we would be heading to Thorung Phedi which means village at the foot of the mountain. This would be the last village we would be at before we went through the pass. We said our goodbyes to Yak Kharka and started up the trail. Today's route wasted no time in giving us lots of eye candy. After walking up a short climb we came into a wide open valley with massive boulders and lots of green grass in every direction. Tents were pitched all over and many prayer flags and painted rocks were stacked along the trails. The sky was clear and the Annapurna ranges were in full view, showing off their jagged peaks, large vast bodies, and neatly untouched snow pack. I just couldn't stand it. I threw off my pack and grabbed my camera. I started running up the hills towards the peaks I could no longer just pass them by below. I wanted so much to meet them face to face. The wild yaks watched me as I ran closer and higher on the hills towards the boulders probably wondering at what point along this travel I officially lost my mind. These ranges are just huge and unreachable. I finally reached a point of where I knew I couldn't run any closer. I stood in awe of the majesty before me, snapped as many pictures as I could, took a few deep breathes of the cool air to soak up the moment then turned around and headed back to the trail. I strapped back on my pack and headed across the bridge passing a herd of goats (little ones) and their babies singing and running up and down the cliffs.

Elise decided to stay back to rest and I all pumped up on my mountain high continued on merrily down the trail. The peaks were behind me and I couldn't stand knowing my back was turned to them so I hiked backwards. Not the safest move for me since I'm extremely clumsy but I was taught way back in high school tv classes that your eyes are the best lens. I knew my camera would never be able to fully capture what I was seeing and feeling so I needed to capture it and store it in my memory as best as I could. I stopped in another boulder field to see if Elise would catch up. I was greeted by some men on horses who came over to me to chat about the beautiful weather. Its like the universal conversation when your language is limited and so are the topics of discussion. But they were friendly and laughed at my enthusiasm for the landscape. After a while though I still didn't see Elise and so I picked up and carried on. I came to a fork in the trail. I could go up or down. Sizing up my options the up trail looked more fitting.. and I was suppose to be gaining altitude so I took the higher road. It was a steep climb made up of all loose scree and rocks. Funny.. the guide book said today's trek would be light and there was a beaten path... but I didn't have the book Elise did. I looked at my map and I seemed to be heading the right direction so up.. carefully as I could.. I went.

I reached the top of the cliff which flattened out to large pastures. There were some ruins of an old village on either side of a small trail. I walked along when all of a sudden from behind the lower ruins a huge yak came running up and blocked me from continuing on. He was massive with long hair. His face was half white and half black and it reminded me of the Phantom of the Opera. So the masked beast stared me up and down wondering what I was doing on his turf. I hesitated and he moved closer to me. I turned around and started back.. sorry Phantom! I didn't mean to invade! I went back to check out the route I had just taken and still no Elise and I didn't seem to have any better options for trails. Ok just move quickly. I went back to the ruins and my phantom yak, the guardian of the pastures, was gone. So I picked up the pace until I was far past the herds of yaks. I turned a bend and in the distance could see the basecamp of Thorung Phedi. Phew! I thought .. I am going in the right direction. However the closer I moved towards the basecamp the more I realized I had taken the wrong trail. The lower trail led to a stable bridge to cross the river then move up to the basecamp. I on the other hand was already too high and saw that I had to down climb and cross the waters and then hike back up. I saw a wooden bridge in the distance and being as stubborn as I am decided to head for that instead of turning around and going on the right trail. The trail I was on had been closed off for quite some time and for obvious reasons.

Reason number one being that it was a straight shot down with all loose scree again and every step your feet sunk into the gravel and slid. Great. I steadied myself and gracefully side stepped to hold my position. It took me a while to move down the never ending descent. When I hit the river back I was releaved! But the complications were not over. The wooden bridge I saw was reason number two the trail was no longer in use. The bridge had collasped on one side leaving me with very limited options on how to cross the river. There was a small island in the middle of the rushing water just before a small but fast moving waterfall.. I had to carefully jump on the boulders to the island. I used my trekking poles for balance and stretched my legs to reach the rocks. The water was rushing over my boots, thank goodness for gortex. I made it to the island and again had to figure out a strategy to move quickly across the very spread out boulders. Why do I do this to myself I wondered. Elise is going to laugh at me when I tell her about all of this. Well thankfully I made it across with dry feet. There was a trail I had to hike straight up to the camp above me. I turned around to take one last look at the death cliff I just conquered when I saw a white face and blue jacket moving ever so steadily down towards the river bank. Yes it was Elise who too took the wrong trail. The distance from one side of the river to the other was too much to yell for her so I sat on a boulder and watched her try to cross the broken bridge then hop the boulders and avoid getting swept up by the river like I had done. "So I think that lower trail was the right one" I said as she reached me and sat down to catch her breath. I don't think she was too amused. But we made it to Thorung Phedi safely and would be camping here for the night, around 14,500 ft before going to the pass.

I took a small rest to read before dinner. That night we met a wonderful newly wed couple from Texas, Aaron and Lidia, and played a few rounds of card games with them. Aaron told me of a little girl who tried to break his hands for candy on his second day of the trek.. sound familiar? She strikes again! We went to bed early that night because it would be a very early start to the pass. As we tried to fall asleep I heard some rustling of paper and scurrying of feet.. must be something outside.. so I closed my eyes and dreamt about the journeys to come.

June 4, 2011

We woke up bright and early.. very early.. to get started up the trail to the pass. We quickly discovered what all the rustling during the night was. Mice had broken into Elise's pack, feasted on her lunch for the day, and made a quick getaway before we could catch them. I checked my pack and found no fuzzy animals thank goodness. We put on all the layers we had for the day. We didn't know what to expect as far as weather was concerned. The night before we bantered back and forth with Aaron and Lidia about weather conditions but I kept my optimism up and predicted sun and blue skies while the other three predicted clouds and snow. We had our breakfast and started up the trail. The sun was high and the skies were empty of clouds (I was right about the weather!) I took the lead up the trail which was a series of switchbacks going up and up around big boulders and passing little streams caused by melting snow. After about an hour of climbing we reached the basecamp. Elise stopped to charge her camera batteries and I proceeded on up the curved path to find higher grounds for better pictures. Following me was another American couple who was from Steamboat Colorado. The Annapurnas were in full view, dressed to impress! They had no clouds or hills to hide behind today. Back and forth along the peaks my lens ran, snapping as many pictures as it could. When Elise met me at the top we decided to go on. The path was empty of any vegetation and wild life. Just rocks and dirt. The sun was high and the air was cool. There were snow patches but for the most part we had a clear path to trek across.

I'd stop to capture some quick pictures of the progress we were making up to the pass then proceed on. It was challenging but not impossible to climb the steep slopes to the pass. I felt strong and though we were in a much higher altitude then I had ever been in, it didn't bother me to keep a steady pace of breathing. We were moving right along. The guide book projected about a 4-6 hour climb up to the pass but after about three hours I saw in the distance a pile of red, yellow, and green material. Remember what I said about prayer flags being a sign of reaching your destination? Well there they were and we were about fifteen minutes from them. I could hear the winds at the top calling my name and I booked it forward. And then there we were, standing in front of a mound of prayer flags with more prayer flags strung and waving in all directions. In the middle was a sign that read "Congratulations for completing the Annapurna Circuit to Thorung La Pass" I burst into tears. I couldn't believe we had reached the top, over 17,700 ft. In every direction stood huge white peaks, all smiling and welcoming us to their view of the world. I was so humbled by the giants around us. The creation was overwhelming and the sense of acheivement was empowering. I just cried and laughed and took pictures. I had so much joy at this moment. It's a memory I'll never forget. I get asked by a lot of people why I enjoy climbing mountains so much. What's the appeal? What's the reward? Well climb a mountain and you will instantly understand. I can't explain it and pictures never do it justice. But you can feel your soul connecting with the wind when you're up on the top. And your feet sink into the ground like that's where they belong. Your body stands as still as the mountains against the breeze. It's that instant connection with nature. Its where we belong.. I know its definitely where I belong.

Well we couldn't stay up there all day especially on such a clear day with the sun being so bright. After an hour we began the descent. I hate descents I'll be honest. We had gained so much elevation and now we had to dropped down even more then we had gained. For a few hours we went straight down hill into the canyon. In the early afternoon we found a little hut to have a sandwhich and cool drink at. Our legs were tired and our faces were getting burned. We were heading into the desert and it was hot and dusty. The hut overlooked the valley. The canyon was beautiful with it's red and purple rock formation and winding rivers. In the middle was a big patch of green, an oasis called Muktinah. That would be our ending point for the day.

It took about another two hours of down climbing until we reached Muktinah. This city was a holy city where both the Hindu and Buddist faith were practiced. It attracted those of both faiths to travel great distances to celebrate and worship together in the many temples in the city. It didn't really matter what you believe because everyone got along and accepted each other. It was really a wonderful picture to witness. There was no judgement or pride. Simply ok that two people can live in harmony and have different beliefs and practices. It was good.

Our lodge that night was the Bob Marley Freedom Cafe. It was too much. Free love signs and tye dye splattered the walls and portraits of Bob himself were on every wall as well. The inside was decorated like a jungle with wild branches and leaves and fireplaces. The further into the lodge you got the more wall space opened up and murals of wild tye dyed jungle creatures were painted in every direction. Our rooms were bright pink with checkered curtains and fuzzy purple bed covers. It was very plush. The showers were lined with rocks on the floors and walls as if you were showering outside. It was a little wild for being in the holy city of the Annapurna Circuit. But it was fun and had good music and who doesn't want to sleep on a furry pink blanket after a day long trek up and down the mountains. Our next door neighbors were Aaron and Lidia from the previous night at basecamp. It was good to see they had made it over the pass safely and strong too.

That night I went out into the city to walk amongst the many other visitors. The skies were bright gold and the mountains were a solid shade of grey. The sun was setting and the landscape looked like a canvas painting. It was beautiful. The views are more then beautiful and I've tried to find a different word but nothing will do! I watched the women of the town sew scarves and socks together out of yak fur while the men stood around and talked shop. When the sun finally rested for the day the stars took their position to provide light and beauty to all those who were awake. I sat on our lodge's rooftop admiring the twinkling specs and enjoying the cool air. We had reached our goal and so much more. I was completely satisfied.

June 5, 2011 - Today we went to Jomson which I told you about a few posts ago so to refresh your memory scroll down and read that post! But we arrived late in the afternoon hoping to proceed on down the trail to a few more villages before calling it done on the trek. However our trip was cut short because plane seats were filling up fast. We had to fly back to Pokhara early and so Jomson was our last village on the circuit. But it wasn't a real disappointment. We had traveled far, seen so much, and enjoyed every minute of it. Now we would be heading back to our beloved Pokhara. The plane left early the next morning. It was a small aircraft packed with visitors from Pokhara just sightseeing in the Jomson for a few days. It flew over all the green pastures, lakes, and villages of Pokhara. It was really lovely to see from so high up. We got in early in the morning and decided to 'trek' back to Lakeside where we were staying instead of taking a taxi. The thought of riding in a car after trekking 150 miles just seemed silly. Of course we would walk! But wow did we forget what humidity felt like. Yuck! We stopped in the stores as we got into town to stock up on soap and shampoo... two things we hadn't had for 15 days.. and went to our guest house. We were greeted by the same warm and friendly faces we had spent time with just a few weeks prior. It was wonderful to see everyone. But first things first, we cleaned ourselves up and washed all of our gear. It was time to unwind from the trek, but we still had a week to have more adventures in Pokhara and I for one took full advantage of that opportunity.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Trekking Day Ten, Eleven, & Twelve: May 31 - June 2

We made it through the night and woke early the next morning, maybe around 5:00 a.m. or so.. At no point in our travels of trekking or resting did we have a watch. We just allowed our bodies to tell us when it was good to start and when it was good to stop. We put on the old faithful hiking boots, yak wool hats, and grabbed our cameras and water bottles.

Outside the air was so crisp and cool. It had snowed all night and low clouds swarmed the mountains. We filled up on hot coffee and Tsampa porridge before beginning the steep uphill climb to the lake. The friends we met were just waking as we were ready to begin our climb. We agreed to meet at the lake and Elise and I headed out.

The trail went straight up for miles on the mountain. There was a thick fog that only allowed for you to see about ten or so feet in front of you. It was nice to be in the cold weather though, and to be climbing with very little gear. I felt free! And so I started off quite fast. I looked behind a couple of times but the fog was so thick that I would loose Elise and have to wait until I could catch a glimpse of her blue jacket before continuing on. Every so often the fog would begin to move and new glimpses of the mountains and the freshly covered pastures would show. I'd stop and try to snap as many pictures as I could before the fog covered the views up again. We were the first to be on the trail that day and with all the snow there was no clear path. Being in front I had to blaze the way for the trekkers who would be coming up after me. The lake was up so up I went.

In the distance, way up the mountain tops, when the fog would move you could see the outlines of the big blue horned sheep. Oh how wonderful, wild animals! If you know me at all you know I have very bad luck with wild animals, especially big goats on mountains. I was hiking alone ahead quite a bit and the fog was so thick, all I could see were clouds. Well I ended up hiking right into a pack of these big blue horned sheep, about 50 or so, of all sizes. Smacked right into their herd and totally disrupted breakfast. There's a saying my favorite history teacher in high school always always said... "Learn from history or be doomed to repeat it" I've been attacked by these things before and so I said my quick apologies and booked it back down the bend with two or three quickly following me. AH! So I ran back into the clouds until the sound of their hooves grew faint. Phew! I waited for some time until Elise caught up. We took a rest hoping the herd would move on. Then it was attempt number two to get past ol' billy goat gruff and his family. By this time thankfully the clouds began to clear as we walked and we could see the herd moving down the mountain. The males were wrestling like boys do and the babies and mamas were finding more food. We took pictures and then walked fast past them.

It was about a three hour ascent to the lake. Again there was no clear path, but I knew we had to go up. I should earn a scout's badge or something for my trail finding ability on this day. The snow was actually quite deep and again the fog was so thick. We were gaining a lot of elevation as well, this lake is the highest lake in the world.

As soon as we reached the flat areas at the top the fog began to clear and the sun reflected off all the snow. Instant burn, felt it right away. It was SO BRIGHT I couldn't open my eyes. I covered my face quickly although I know with the few minutes it was exposed it was fried. I had to walk with my head down because my eyes couldn't take the intensity of the light.

When trekking, prayer flags are the indicator that you have reached your destination. The light mellowed out and you could see the piles of blues, yellow, and green material. I ran up to the stakes with the flying material and there she was, Tilicho Lake! A gorgeous blue and white body of water surrounded by edgy glaciers and massive mountains. Wow! Crystal blue ice covered the water. The sun was shining and the clouds cleared so you could see the mountains surrounding her. Pictures! Elise and I were excited. We were over 16,000 ft in altitude. The world is so wonderful up here!

At the top of the lake is an old hut, probably for expedition teams. The hut was locked up but you could see into the windows. I probably shouldn't have, but I did.. I pulled out a window and crawled into the hut to peek around. Snow and ice had packed itself in and covered the floors and walls. Pictures of Buddha hung on the ceilings and old food packages, prayer flags, and some gear was scattered about. From inside the hut I turned to look out the window and see what the view would be like if this was my home. Yes I think this will do :)

As we were being nosy we heard some voices and within seconds our friends from Spain and Finland peaked their head into my new home. So we crawled back out the window to celebrate our great find with them. They instantly thanked me for all the footprints they were able to follow to the lake. As with any good celebration, we pulled out a flask of whiskey, took a shot, took some pictures as a group, and then headed back to base camp. The clouds were becoming thick again and we had to pass back over the scree fields before the storms rolled in. I was so excited to have been at the lake, and just to be on this journey all together. My body felt so free and my heart was full of delight. I ran the snowy trail back to base camp and it felt good to run again!

We packed our gear up and headed back across the steep and unsturdy scree fields on our way back to Manang. When we got off the dangerous landslide zone we ran into the English girls we shared tea with a few days ago and a couple of Americans. They were hesitant about going across the fields and I had to talk them into it and give them tips on their safety. I never saw them after that but I do hope they made it safely and were able to experience the glorious lake!

We hiked back to Manang because we needed to restock on some supplies and money before our few day journey to Thorlong Pass. It was a long and hard day, going up and down in altitude and going from extreme snow and cold weather to extreme sun and hot weather down in the valleys. We were wiped out. We reached Manang in the early evening and quickly ate and went to sleep.

June 1, 2011 - Wow it's June already! Time flies! Unfortunately today Elise had some altitude sickness and so we needed to spend a day in town for her body to settle. We would be climbing up to around 18,000 ft within the next few days and it is a really bad idea to try to push it when you have symptoms already from the high altitude. So we chilled out. I went out and did some day hiking and site seeing again around the area. I bumped into our lake friends from Spain in a small cafe. Because of the intensity of the sun, their eyes were all blood shot and swollen. They had to wear sunglasses inside and they were in a lot of pain. It was awful for them. Elise and I were fine in the eyes, but our faces were leather and red! That was all for the day, just some time to catch our breath and prepare for the exciting journey to the pass!

June 2, 2011 - Elise was feeling a little better but still pretty ill. She wanted to press on however and so we did. We were going to Yak Karka, a yak farming village. The day was clear and bright and the trail head straight up, as it would from here on out as we approach the pass. We took our time to respect Elise's health. We were clear of trees and most bushes and the views were astonishing. In every direction it was rising blue peaks and snow. Amazing. We were getting so close. Our journey took us past one small village with two little guest houses. For those of you reading from the MILL, one of the guest houses had a MILL sticker on the window.. I couldn't believe it. The MILL is even at 14,000ft in the Himalaya!

Everyday the hiking got easier, more routine. And everyday the views continued to amaze me as they got bigger and more beautiful. I couldn't get use to seeing the mountains, I would scream and laugh and cry with every ten feet. So great!

The village of Yak Karka was one of my favorites. The people all lived in tents and spent the days herding yaks and working as porters. The community had about maybe 50 or so members. The women were in the tents cooking and the men would return to the village around 6 or so in the evening. When we arrived Elise went to lay down for a bit and I went off in search of some good picture opportunities (and to see the yaks!) There were many small children in the community and they were full of life. I ended up being chased around the villages by them, at one point walking with three or four of them hanging onto my legs. They would just shout NAMASTE, laugh, and then run into me. So much fun. I peaked around the tents of the locals and shared some small conversation with them in Nepali. It was very cool in the evening but the stars were so bright and the community stayed up late to talk around the fires and enjoy hot tea. It was peaceful and you could feel the love and energy of the people. I was really enjoying this village. Tomorrow we will press on to Thorong Phedi, to the base camp of the pass!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Trekking Day Seven, Eight, Nine: May 28 - 30, 2011

After six full days of trekking we decided to spend our seventh day hanging out in Manang to relax a bit. Besides it was Saturday and that is the day of rest in Nepal instead of Sunday. So we went to a little bakery to for breakfast to have some toast and coffee. By the time our meal was over, I was already bored. As most of you know, I don't do well sitting still. So I convinced Elise that we should at least do a small day hike around the area we were in. My body doesn't get tired.. I'm not bragging, it's a curse actually. So we decided that we'd like to hike up to the Gangapurna Glacier across the river from Manang. From a distance the trail seemed pretty obvious to follow so we headed out. In the midst of hiking and site seeing Elise and I somehow separated. After about an hour of climbing up a some steep scree field and big boulders, in and out of the forest, I spotted her blue jacket.

TThe glacier was enormous and you could hear avalanches in all directions. It was crystal blue and when the clouds cleared, the snow would shine. It was surely worth the hike up to see. But you can only gaze at a glacier for so long, so we decided to head back. Sometimes when you're hiking you get off trail and sometimes when you get off trail to find yourself at a dead end on the side of a long cliff that only goes down for miles to the lake at the bottom of the glacier. Oh and the storms were moving in so the winds were very strong. The only way out of the situation was to climb up the side of the cliff, which was all very loose scree. So Elise went first putting into use her climbing techniques. After about two or three graceful moves the rocks began to slide and I ran to avoid being trampled the boulders and loose gravel. She caught her breath, waited for the ground to settle and scurried on up the face. Ok now it's my turn, only all the good rock holds were now at my feet from the landslide. So steady as she goes I began to climb. When I reached the middle of the face the winds picked up strong and tried to pull my body off the cliff. I reached for a hand hold to brace myself but the rock came loose and so I had nothing. Falling I reached out and somehow grabbed the only steady boulder on the face. I pulled myself as close into the wall as I could and clung on for life. Literally I thought I was surely falling to my death. Why on earth we thought this was a good idea I still am trying to figure out. So I stayed put for a few minutes, catching my breath and my focus. I had to continue up or I was going to fall. God is my steady rock I kept telling myself and reached for a higher foot placement. Two or three more long and graceful moves and I was close to the top. There was nothing to really grab onto, a little finger pocket to steady myself. A push with my feet I reached for the finger pocket, had a good hold, and just jumped as best as I could to the higher rock to find steady ground. Landed it! Oh.. my .. word.. what did we just do! My heart was racing and when I reached Elise I was so relieved. But we weren't in the clear just yet. With strong winds we had to scurry down a narrow and steep path on top of the cliff. We could see the pleasantly paved trails below and we worked our way towards them. When we reached the bottom, my heart began to beat a little bit more steadily but my head was still spinning. I went and sat a few minutes by the river, thanking the mighty Lord for his protection! Sometimes my sense of adventure outweighs my common sense. This was one of those times.

We hurried back to our village across the river, pumped up on adrenaline. In town we ran in Max and Felix, our German friends, and with excitement tried to explain our epic journey. I do believe they thought we were crazy! We decided after that to actually give our bodies a rest and went to have lunch and tea. But again after our meal, I was ready to do something else. The day was bright and the views were clear so I pursued another hike to the higher grounds of the village that overlook all of Manang and the farm fields. From the top I took some amazing shots of the Ganggapurna mountain and the glacier. The sun light was working in my favor and the peaks were all dressed and ready for their close ups. Oh how I love shooting good pictures and video. I was having so much fun. And this time I took a nice layout trail from top to bottom.

The next day, May 29, we started our side trip to Tilicho Lake, the world's highest and biggest lake. We would be spending the night in a guest house between Manang and Tilicho Basecamp so we had no need to rush. We started our day with our usual breakfast and reading, then stopped to stock up on fresh water, and began to pass through the villages. It was a fairly simple day and we reached our guest house in the early afternoon. We were the only visitors there and nothing was in site for miles. The views however were picture perfect so we sat outside for a bit admiring the creation and wondering what the heck the guest house manager does all day up here.. so lonely he has to be. The guest house also had a nice sun room so around four the temperature began to drop rapidly and the only warm room was the sun room so we went and sat in on the pillows on the floor and read. After about an hour or two a friendly young woman from Spain came and flopped down on the floor next to us. She had just returned from hiking to the lake and was going to stay the night at the guest house. Shortly after her arrival two more trekkers came in and flopped down. One was a man from Nepal and the other was his girlfriend, a very sweet and very exhausted French girl. I never caught the woman from Spain's name, but we sat on the floor and shared dinner and conversation for a couple of hours. Se was just a delight, so full of life and so eager to share stories. The poor girl from France was too exhausted from the hike she went straight to bed, but her boyfriend use to be a guide on the circuit and knew all the local guest houses so he served us all the food we could eat and was our translator with our guest house manager who spoke no English (and my Nepali isn't that far along but I was able to get a few things across) And our new friend from Spain was giving us tips on how to get to the lake. It wasn't an easy task actually. You had to cross an enormous scree field that frequently has land slides. The field is long, extremely steep, and extremely loose. After the incident at the glacier, Elise and I were a little nervous. The advice to basically lean your body towards the rocks, put one foot in front of the other, and go very slowly. Well here goes nothing I thought! It was getting late and we had a big day ahead of us to get to the base camp. So we wished our new friends goodnight and headed to sleep.

May 30, 2011. Today is our 15th day in Nepal! Wow time has flown by and yet so many adventures had already happened! The morning was cool and refreshing as we started off to the base camp. Along the route, which climbed up high, we met a handful of men who spoke very little to no English but we all hiked in a row towards the scree field trails. The trail descended down a rocky hill crossing over a broke wooden bridge and then ascended back up a very narrow and very loose trail. This was already looking sketchy. We climbed to the top of the other side of the mountain and proceeded onto the crazy trail we've heard so much about. When you reached it there was a sign that cautioned you about the high landslide danger. I just hoped no goats or yaks were above us to send rocks crashing down on us. Lined up in a row we started to make our way across the rocks. The gravel was deep and yes very very loose. The trail went up and down, breaking in the middle with some solid dirt, and then picking back up with the loose gravel and long cliffs to make about an hour or so worth of steady well thought out moves. The views around us though were incredible! and above us were sporadically placed boulders and rock formations that just caught my eye. So of course I would stop in the most awkward and unsteady areas to take pictures and then hurry along before my feet would slip. But as you can see we made it safely across and from a distance you could see the very high trail to the lake and at the bottom the base camp we'd be staying at.

Elise and I parted from the men and sat down to enjoy the beautiful canyon and mountain scene we were a part of. It was gorgeous, vast, and strong. After about two hours of laying in the sun we went and put our packs inside the very old guest house. A rather grumpy man managed the place and didn't seem very thrilled to see us. As soon we arrived however the storms moved in and the rain started pouring. Not only that but the temperatures dropped dramatically and our room had no heat and no electricity. We were in the heart of the mountains. So we put on everything we owned and went into a small hut to seek out some hot tea and shelter. Inside were all the men we met on the trail, laying on the floor gambling over card games, eating food prepared by their wives for their travels, and drinking raksi (Nepali homemade spirits - I hear it is STRONG) They had blankets so Elise and I pulled some blankets over us, acquired some hot tea, and sat for probably a good four hours watching the men gamble, smoke, drink, and eat. They laughed and shouted and no one spoke any English. We really didn't know what to make of it and the whole time I just wanted to join in on the fun!

The winds outside howled and the rain was falling hard. All of a sudden the door flew open and a man walked in. He was a trekker from Finland who was headed to the lake as well. He came and sat with Elise and I and told us he had gotten split up from his friends, a couple of young people from Spain, and he didn't know which way they went. If they were on the scree fields in the storms, they were in a lot of danger. So he would leave to check on them and then would come back worried with no good news of seeing them. We discussed options with him and I tried to give him some comfort that they were probably at the other lodge we had stayed at the previous night.

After about an hour or two, the door flew open again and his friends had arrived. They were stuck out in the storm but were off the scree fields in times and just had to scurry to the hut at the base camp. Relieved with their arrival, we all sat huddled together freezing, wet, and hungry. The pack of Nepali men started noticing us staring at them and got up to cook us some rice. The warm food felt so good! We all ate some rice, hot water, and swapped life stories. This group had all met in Nepal and decided to hike together. The young people from Spain had been traveling all over the world and their travels included studying for some time in Ohio and Pittsburgh - small world! So that was exciting to talk about them visiting my home town.

The setting of this evening was very strange from any other moment in my life yet it was probably one of my favorite memories of the trek. Being at the base camp with very little of anything and just enjoying the company of others while the weather went nuts outside was so appealing to me. The men there really loved each other and really enjoyed their game and the company (I'm sure the alcohol had something to do with it too) But there was a lot of good positive energy in the hut and I was just soaking it up. Again I was excited to meet new friends with new wonderful stories to share. We were all eager to get to the lake the next day too, so off to bed we went. The night wasn't too cold, though I had ditched my sleeping bag, I stole the blanket from the hut and thought warm thoughts the whole night to get me through. Tomorrow's hike to the lake would be a great adventure.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Trekking Day Four, Five, & Six: May 25 - 27

We have been told that in the regular trekking season, our autumn months, the circuit has 150 new visitors every day. So hundreds of foreign trekking enthusiasts plus porters plus guides plus the regular circuit local travelers.. it must be like being in New York City with all the traffic. However, we were the only three who started on our first day and we rarely ran into other trekkers on the trail. It was nice to have the open space, the trail to yourself, and the ability to gaze around at all of the creation.
On May 25 we woke early from Tal and headed out very early for it was a long and high ascent to Chimbe. Our route today led us out of the jungles and (deep breathe) into the cool open pine forests . Ahh (exhale) In mid morning we stopped at a police checkpoint to check in, have some buchwheat bread for breakfast, and then continued on to climb. This was the last time we saw Vesa. Again he needed a coca-cola, and the rest is history. Elise and I started to walk ahead to keep up the momentum and try to punch out the heavier part of the day before the noon sun hit us.

The forest reminded me much of Colorado. All the greens and browns and the rivers. It was beautiful and totally different then the days in the jungles we just had. Around noon we stopped for lunch in a small town. There was a lot of music and drums because of a wedding celebration that was taking place. I wanted to throw off my pack and dance with them, but instead I watched and enjoyed the energy going on around me. We threw back some veggie curry and hot tea and checked our faithful guide, the Lonely Planet, on what we to expect next. UP HILL. Oh good. So up we went, up this long winding cliff again sharing the little bit of trail with men and porter horses. My pack at this time felt very heavy and boy I was tired and sticky from the long day. The Lonely Planet warned us about the long steep uphill battle.. but I didn't expect to actually be climbing while being under attack. As we proceeded up this hill, thousands, literally, thousands of gnats swarmed our faces and our bodies.
Do you remember the dirty kid from Charlie Brown, the one where the dust storm always followed him around? That's what we looked like. I had dozen of gnats in my ears, in my eyes, in my clothes, in my mouth. I had to a bandana over my mouth. Unfortunately had lost my sunglasses in so I was experiencing how a cow or a horse feels when flies just sit in their eyes. It was awful. I couldn't see. This went on for quite some time. Once or twice I had to stop and bury my face in my shirt just to find some relief before pressing on. Everyday it was some different and some quite unexpected. Next time I'm bringing my cousin's bee keeping hat with the face net.

When we finally cleared the dark forest of the attacking gnats, we had about an hour of a straight shot to Chimbe. So we continued on and joined a crowd of school children on their way home for the day. We passed many stone villages, temples, and farms today. All really beautiful. When I finally have time to sort through them all, I will post some pictures. Prayer flags could be seen in every direction for miles on end. The forests and homes were decorated so brightly with them. As we were in the midst of the school crowd I heard a familiar voice and it was our German friends Max and Felix. Namaste! It was great to have run into them again. We entered the town together and as always headed towards the outsides of the towns for a guest house. Chimbe was very charming. It was a stone village with some shops and lots of little restaurants. It also had a beautiful river with a bridge that gave a spectacular view of the mountains. Volleyball is very popular in Nepal so we passed a few teams playing, and if I hadn't been exhausted from the days trek and the battle of the gnats, I would've asked to play. But I'm not very good as it is, and so I assumed they would've laughed at me.

So I decided to save my dignity and just go to the guest house. We cleaned up for dinner and headed into the dining room where we introduced Max and Felix to their first dinner of momos. This was a fairly newer lodge and the family managing it was very big and very nice. As we waited for our meal.. side note.. in these little guest houses they have one small wood burning stove where they cook everyone's meal. So you order and wait about an hour or more for your food especially if everyone orders something different so as we went on in the days we found it was easier and quicker to agree on the same food so we didn't have to wait until late evening to eat. Anyways as we waited for our meal we watched some Bollywood soap operas with the men of the house. They were very much into the dramatic affair unfolding before our eyes. They all sat, eyes glued to the televisions, mouths open.. and we sat behind them trying to figure out who the man really loved. Anything to pass the time. I was just relieved to be able to see again without bugs in my eyes. So we ate dinner and proceeded onto bed. No big spiders surprises this evening. A good night's sleep was sounding so sweet.

On May 26 we woke up to the sound of a heavy rain storm. It was pouring. We ran out of our rooms and met Max and Felix in the dining hall. After ordering breakfast we took a look at the route for the day. It was a fairly simple day, only about a four hour day to our next point and the ascent wasn't very high. So Elise and I decided to wait out the rain and take our time today. I went back to my room to take a nap which would be the last time I ever slept in my sleeping bag. Although I thought I packed really light, after a few days of those hills I decided I needed to go even a little lighter. So I left behind my sleeping bag and some articles of clothing. The guest house family could probably use them more then me anyways.

Late morning the rain continued but not as heavily. We packed up, threw on our rain gear, and decided to get a move on. Our path was a straight shot at the beginning leading us deep into the pine forests. We were surrounded by deep green pine trees and ferns. After about two hour of trekking we came out of the forest and into a small village. We stopped at a local tea house to get our of the wet weather for a bit. We ordered some tea and rice (24 hour power is their slogan for rice) and sat down to read. Inside the tea house we met two other young women trekkers from London. We chatted with them for a bit about trip details. As we were finishing our lunch the rain stopped and the scenery outside began to light up as the sun started to shine. We started back on the trail hoping to finish the remainder of the day's trek before more rain came. This was probably one of the best afternoons we had trekking. The lighting in the forests after the rain was absolutely stunning. The weather was cool and the water glistened off all the greens and browns. We approached a steep cliff side after some time which would circle us around the mountain. I cannot begin to describe the views. The mountains and valleys were covered in huge pine trees and you could see the blue river way below. Above was blue skies, brown peaks, and just above those brown peaks were bright white and blue white peaks of the ranges. We were finally in high enough to start to see and understand just how enormous and vast these ranges were. I had to walk backwards because I couldn't take my eyes off the scenery. It just went on forever and I wanted it to. So we surely took our time on this part of the route.

As we entered back into the forests we walked through a section that was decorated with all kinds of memorials and prayer flags. There was something to breathtaking, peaceful, and magical about this site. I just felt the need to walk slowly, breath deeply, and appreciate the moment. It was really spiritual as were a lot of moments along the trek. We approached another small town where we met a young man from India. He said he had been sitting in the town for an hour now.. an hour for what I asked.. and he pointed up towards the sky. There she was! The peak of Annapurna II in all her glory. He had been waiting for the clouds to clear so he could see the jagged cone shaped peak. We all sat in amazement and excitement. It was captivating! After about an hour of just talking and admiring beautiful mother nature, Elise and I pressed on to finish the day's route. We ended in Lower Pisang, a wonderful old stone village almost untouched by western civilization. The Tibetan community here was so friendly and greeted you with the biggest smiles. We stayed in a log cabin guest house along with one other French couple.

I forgot to mention we had passed this huge rock face, a great barrier they call it. They say it is the gateway to heaven. Everyone who dies, their souls go into this wide and tall rock slab. It was mighty, smooth, and the further up we climbed the higher it rose. You felt so small next to it. All of nature seemed to bow to its glory. Again I need to post pictures and you will (hopefully) understand the magnificence I am trying to describe. Well tonight we ended in Lower Pisang. It was a beautiful day and we were feeling great.

The next morning, May 27, we woke up and enjoyed our favorite Tibetian breakfast, Tsampa Porridge and instant coffee. We decided to take a longer higher route together because it offered more remote villages and better views. We started off climbing up to Upper Pisang which is the extension of the first village, just a steeper climb up the hill. On our way out of all village we would pass prayer wheels which were columns that spun and was a practice of the Buddhist faith. You were suppose to spin the wheels as you prayed and walked around them. They were about 10 to 12 feet long. I stopped to listen to the songs and prayers of some of the older women in town. I just enjoy the passion and peace of their faith. We left Pisang, one of my favorite villages, and headed north. After some time we crossed another high bridge and found our trail. It was leading around and around straight up this steep hill. Talk about false summits. Every time I looked up I thought for sure, one more traverse and we're there.. I was mistaken. It went on for miles and just kept getting steeper. However I think I function much better at high altitudes because I was much stronger and faster at this steeper climb then I was at the climbs lower in the jungles. When I reached the top I found some rock stairs that led me into this medieval stone Tibetan village, only a few small houses and a guest house. I was instantly swarmed by four or five old Tibetan villagers all grabbing at me and shouting and smiling. I didn't know what to do! I was surrounded and I couldn't understand a word of what they were saying.. I think it had been a while since they had seen white skin. Elise was still far back on the trail climbing so she wasn't helpful at the moment. Another older woman came running out of her home shouting and pushing them off of me. Thank goodness for her rescue! She was so beautiful and so sweet. She invited me up to sit and brought me some green tea as I waited for Elise. She ran the guest house, which was certainly one of the oldest ones I had seen along the trip. It even showcased a furry large yak head. From her home you could see mountains for miles! We sat and watched them, trying to study and store to memory all the details of the ever rising rocks before we began to trek on again. At this point we were about 11,000 ft or more, so we had gained about 9,000 ft in six days. We descended from the high villages to pick up the remainder of the route heading to Manang. We stopped at a wooden bridge to acquire some water from the river when I met a new friend. He was carrying a dead rabbit in his mouth and he was a weasel of sorts. He dropped the rabbit when he spotted me and began to run a muck around and around, circling me in every direction. It was hilarious. In and out of bushes, following me over the bridge and up the trail. I don't think he had seen white skin in a while either, he wasn't sure what to make of us but he followed us to be sure we left town so he could feast on his victory rabbit without judgement.

We had to travel through two or three small yak farming villages before reaching Manang. They were wide open field, surrounded by the mountains and buckwheat pastures. Manang was a half way point in which you could decided to go off to other side trips or just press on up to the pass. It was also a place to restock on supplies and gear. The town offered many guest houses, bakeries, shops, and even a "movie theater" that showed movies like Into Thin Air, Touching the Void, 27 Years in Tibet. Very unique place indeed. So this marked day six of our journey. From Manang we will take a side trip before pressing on to the pass. The weather was much colder up here at night but the stars were so bright and clear. I put on my yak hat and ended my day star gazing and dreaming about what has been and what is yet to come.

Special Note: As I'm writing these blogs, I'm also spending my days enjoying much the life and people of Pokhara. I have met some new wonderful friends who live here in Pokhara and I was able to spend a day with them at a local university practicing English. We also have spent some time and meals together since hanging out in town, exchanging life stories, and enjoying good friendship. One young beautiful woman, Neelam, told me she's been reading my blog so I want to say to her, you are a brilliant woman and a great new friend! Our time together has been so precious and fun and I am excited for your future opportunities. Thank you so much for your kindness and for your help in my Nepali language :) See you in New York!