Hiking the Himalayas
Walking, Weaving - Trekking Around the Highest Mountains on Earth
To paint a picture of what I remember?
First, a joy that there are always blue skies above the clouds; windswept cheeks around smiling teeth; brilliant sunshine and glacial lakes; the simple structures of walking, eating, sleeping, and repeating.
Of being the most far away I have ever been. Of life distilled and remote.
And sounds—so many sounds!—for what I used to think of as a quiet activity: our whirring propeller plane into the mountains; xylophonic rocks scattering down a landslide; the constant and continually uplifting Namaste’s to and from passersby. My breath rumbling loud in the thin air and heartbeat in my ears, as I tighten the straps of my backpack and turn the corner of a pass alone.
I was on an eighteen day trek in Khumbu region of Nepal that culminated in watching the sun set over Everest itself. As I walked (sometimes all day, sometimes just for a couple of hours before settling down with playing cards and tea), I listened, and as I listened, I thought.
All along the backdrop of icy peaks and moon-ish landslides, these sentences formed long before my fingers hit these keys. Pushed out by the steadiness of steps or a lack of oxygen in the brain, perhaps, thoughts tucked deep into the folds of my brain burst forth. Bubbles shaken loose by scrambling down scree.
Some blew up and popped like forgotten memories: when a friend’s sister took her first steps in front of me, a secret glee; the children’s book series Junie B. Jones, a flashlight and me; a man in a blue party hat walking through the glow from an orange streetlight slowly.
Some bubbles drifted, dreaming of faraway places. I thought of Oaxaca and Lampedusa and Timbuktu, the Atlas Mountains and the Caspian Sea. Overly mystical and trystical to be true, even in my always-traveling mind, but real, too, if only I could see.
Other bubbles filtered through as little phrases I found amusing: words rolled around and weighed for worth as rescue helicopters (a gentle reminder not to stumble downhill) went humming by.
Images, sounds, memories, phrases.
Is it a failure to be in the present moment, even in the mountains, to focus your life so crucially on words? Or my way of remembering the mist-cut rock faces, the prayer flags fluttering against pure sky?
On those velvety silent high altitude nights, my thoughts would start to spark like star anise. Like pop rocks on my palate. There were miniature universes blooming inside my head—because I thought, because I listened, because I walked—I simply had to write.
After grasping at (a wisp of, or the gist of) the thoughts ricocheting in my brain like runaway trains, I could slide with ease into a suspended sleeping bag state. Wake up to clarity and freshness: frozen water bottles and foggy breath in the room. Lemon ginger honey to soothe our throat, and later, the simple joy of coconut cookies next to a stream, steady yak clambering by.
Now, I can revisit the thoughts that came alongside high passes and ice-strewn fields. A mental trail of breadcrumbs. Bubbles, big and small, silly and starkly sad. The shape of my own consciousness as I saw the sun set over the highest mountain in the world.
There, perched on top of a pile of rocks. There, no sight as spectacular as the one you have slogged for. No sunset as soul soothing as the one climbed breathlessly for. There, three layers of gloves and wind-chapped cheeks.
Life-affirming moment, to see all the land blanketed in duskiness, all color seeping away except for the mountain across.
Everest, holding onto its fluorescence.
I stayed with lone orangey peak—above a mountain range, a country, a world, in shadow—until I was too cold to bear it. Then began the rapid, dusty descent from five and a half thousand meters.
The next time I looked back, it was as if a painter had regretfully covered the peak’s orange, like the inside of your eyeballs, over with a bluish granite hue. Unaffecting, still, the mountain’s majesty. The rooftop of the world. A gravitas dug deep. Stable, steadfast, and defiant in the face of temporality—or at least, more so than me.
I am reminded of the parting words from one of my oldest and dearest friends: be good, be grand. Remember.
Even now, in the Himalayan distance, my mind beats with those bubbles formed on a scrambled rock peak. Of thoughts and words walked out. Golden threads piecing my life together, as they weave soundlessly and endlessly so.
Jasmine Hanley is a former NYU student turned University of Melbourne creative writing student. She likes to write and think about spicy food, yoga, and healing. Jasmine enjoys traveling off the beaten path, and sometimes dances, too.