An off-season trek in Nepal demands a new perspective amid swirls of clouds, Sherpas in traditional garb, Buddhist prayer wheels — and a possible peek at Everest.
Above Namche Bazaar, Nepal – Atop a mountain outcropping in the thin air of the Himalaya, I begged the clouds to clear. Somewhere behind that white mist, right in front of me, was Mount Everest. I’d come halfway around the world to see it and here I stood, thwarted by the weather.
“Come on, clouds,” I coaxed as they swirled but didn’t lift. “Keep moving.”
Trekking among the highest mountains in the world had long been at the top of my travel list, but a golden opportunity to go meant making the journey out of season — during the summer monsoons — and risking that clouds might not lift for days at a time.
With occasional patches of blue sky during my first few days of walking, I was hopeful — optimistic, even — that I would be just lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the big one. On our fifth day, I rose before dawn with my trekking companions for an hour or two of steep hiking that would give us the best chance at a clear view.
At the Everest viewpoint, we gasped when a giant, jagged, snow-covered peak appeared across the valley to our right. We were already at almost 13,000 feet, but we had to stretch our necks upward to take it in. Then, we spun around when we spotted a sunlit, snow-covered set of peaks appearing tall behind us.
The clouds kept moving — clearing, then filling in — as we stood for more than an hour, waiting for one more view: Straight ahead, behind a stubborn wall of white, was Everest.
“Let’s go, clouds,” I tried to will them away. “Move just a little more.”
Ever since reading Jon Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air” more than a dozen years ago, I’d dreamed of trekking in the Everest region of the Himalayas.
I wanted to meet a Sherpa porter, the tough, heroic locals who carry equipment for climbers. I wanted to spin a Buddhist prayer wheel. I wanted to explore the paths where climbers trekked on their way to the top of the world.
My nephew, Nate Louwagie, spent the summer in Nepal, volunteering to teach young monks English at a Buddhist monastery. When my sister-in-law suggested I travel with her and Nate’s girlfriend to visit him with less than a month’s notice, I wanted to jump at the chance. But I was conflicted.
Should I travel halfway around the globe and spend nearly $2,000 on a plane ticket with the risk of spending all my time fighting the monsoon?
After a few days of debate, I decided opportunity was knocking. I booked the flight.
For four days before we landed in the Kathmandu Valley, flights from the crowded capital city to the tiny mountain town of Lukla, where we would start our trek, had been canceled because of cloudy, rainy weather. We went to sleep in a Kathmandu hotel hoping the weather would change in time for our early morning flight.
When our plane took off with 13 passengers as scheduled that morning and climbed up, up, up, over rolling foothills, then steep mountains, we felt extremely lucky.
Lukla’s tiny airport is considered one of the world’s most dangerous, with a single short, sloped runway leading straight into the mountainside.
Just as I was getting nervous about landing, the plane turned around.