My alarm frantically started buzzing at 3:30 am. Naturally, I turned it off and burrowed deeper into my warm sleeping bag. Eventually I heard my tent mate Mel whisper, “Are we going Fran?” from the sleeping bag next to me. I laid there for a moment, my morning brain foggy and disoriented until finally we both said, “Let’s do it”.
I pulled my pink knitted hat firmly over my head and started trudging through the snow from our tent to the lodge, where our guide, Passang, two instructors, and a few other students would be waiting. Mel and I were greeted with quiet good mornings and steaming porridge with milk tea. Despite this comforting setting, dread and self-doubt started to creep into the back of my mind. I was just starting to recover from bronchitis and bacterial diarrhea. “Am I crazy for doing this 4 am hike when we still have a whole day of downhill trekking to get through?” I debated with myself. I knew that most of the hike would be in the dark with only headlamps to guide us and I didn’t know if my body was ready for the change in altitude from High Camp to the viewpoint.
After breakfast, our second guide and close friend from Patan, Krishna daai, made an appearance along with his son and Mingma daai, one of the friendly porters who always took up the rear to assist us while trekking. They grinned at us and asked “Jaam, jaam?”- the signal to get going. Without another thought, I strapped on my pack and joined the line of my fellow students heading up the hill. The first part of the hike was a blur of slipping in snow, trying to catch my breath, and closely watching the steps of the person in front of me. The only jarring part was falling into a mini crevasse as I tried to leap from one rock to another. To everyone’s relief, I was pulled out by the straps of my backpack and broke into a fit of embarrassed laughter.
Once I finally got my bearings enough to break my eyes away from the circle of light coming from my headlamp, I noticed the orange glow peering out from behind the mountains. The higher we climbed, the lighter it became until finally we could see a tall prayer flag blowing from atop a peak of snow. “Is that viewpoint?” I asked Passang, praying that we had made it before the fog rolled in and blocked the mountains from view. From behind his camouflage buff, I could tell he was smiling and he responded, “Yes, Ful Maya”.
Mud and tufts of grass soon gave way to snow and as each of our heads popped up over the top of the clearing, the Himalayas revealed themselves. The sun glinted off the tips of Fishtail, Machhapuchhre, and the Annapurna range; it was as if they were waiting for us to witness their beauty. A quiet, calm awe settled over the group.
After briefly taking in the circle of mountains, my instructor, Kripa, made her way over to me. To my surprise, she pulled me into a tight hug and whispered, “I’m so proud of you”. Tears started streaming down my face, but I have never felt stronger in my life. To have come from a place where I could barely walk between the bathroom and my bed for multiple days at a time, looking out over the viewpoint with people who I now consider family, helped restore my belief that I am capable of just about anything.