ABREAST in the EVEREST REGION
Leader: Gail Konantz
ABREAST IN NEPAL
Morning dawns clear and cold, and after a hearty breakfast, we hike up
through stunted Rhododendron forests on a steep stony path. The air is thin
and a dusting of snow makes the trail challenging.
This is the big day. We're climbing Peekay, a 4000-meter mountain in Nepal,
half way around the world. On the summit, we will be higher than the tops of
most of Canada's mountains.
We've come here from Winnipeg, Portland, Victoria and Vancouver. Our
average age is 54: what we have in common is breast cancer -- and paddling.
We're all members of Dragon Boat teams raising awareness that there is life
and adventure after breast cancer.
The night before, as yaks grazed near our tents, the clouds rolled in. We'd
warmed our hands on hot soup cups at dinner as the wind whipped the loose
flaps on the sides of our dining tent making the lantern swing perilously.
Rain formed rivulets in the canvas roof and dripped on our table. Our
apprehension was palpable.
"If the weather is bad in the morning, we can always descend" I ventured.
Sandi mumbled "This isn't trekking, its mountain climbing!" "This is not
my agenda", Laurie grumbled. "I don't have to get to the top."
All of us are -- in paddling terms-- reaching and digging deep.
Slowly apprehension dissolves into determination. This is familiar ground.
We've drawn on inner resources to overcome self-doubts before. Having dealt
with breast cancer we know we can handle the challenges.
Empowered by these thoughts, and armed with elegant determination, we all
make it to the top of the mountain this glorious day. The scenery is
breathtaking. We can see the snowy peaks of the Himalaya from Kanchenjunga
to Annapurna. Set like a jewel in the centre is Everest. There are hugs
and congratulations all round. We unfurl our Abreast In A Boat flag to
display before the world's highest mountain in exuberant appreciation for
our paddling sponsors. The Sherpas string prayer flags on poles. Found in
a local market, the flags have been blessed by the high Lama at Chewong
Monastery and are now offered to the winds, fluttering their mantra Om Mani
The Lama also blessed a lock of hair from Jane, one of our teammates back
home, so we tuck it into the cairn at the summit to bring her good health
and good luck. We are practically levitating with euphoria and the
Sherpas, infected by this spirit of delight, smile and laugh to be there
Munching on granola bars and resting in blissful harmony with ourselves on
top of the world, we recall the events of the past two weeks.
Each day was action packed. The October full moon was the occasion for a
three day Mani Rimdu Festival at Chiwong Monastery. We joined the villagers
who packed the two-tiered galleries surrounding the stone courtyard and
watched while costumed monks in masks danced to dispel evil spirits and make
the world safer for all of us.
We visited the Ringmo school and saw the new teachers' residence build with
donations from Canadian slide shows and Everest Trekking trekkers like us.
We were served tea, and presented with ceremonial white scarves. School
children offered garlands of marigolds, and shy smiles. Speeches of
gratitude from the school committee completed the ceremony.
We walked through medieval villages, forests, along ridges and down valleys.
We crossed rivers and camped in apple orchards. One evening, Ang Nuri, our
sirdar ( head Sherpa), invited us to his stone farmhouse. Dinner was served
seated on low benches covered in Tibetan carpets: at one end of the room was
the family Buddhist shrine. Later, two of his eight children danced and sang
for us in an impromptu concert. By the glow of the lantern light, their
charming movements, ingenuous smiles and gentle grace captured our hearts.
Almost at the end of our adventure, we reluctantly begin the long descent
with these images lingering fresh in our minds. We pass the saddle where
porters are loading our tents and bags, and continue down the Loding valley.
The landscape is alive with the sounds of autumn harvest. A villager passes
by, silently counting mantras on his wooden prayer beads. He greets us with
a hands-together gesture: Namaste-- I salute the god within you.
Pausing to look back at our mountain, we marvel at the opportunity we have
created for ourselves.