It’s almost impossible to define when a hill becomes a mountain. I’ll not go into the differing opinions (you’ve got Google for that) but in my opinion any peak that stands over 5000 metres above sea level is definitely a mountain. And when that peak is in the middle of the Himalayas I think *mountain* is the only way to describe it.
So, having established that, I consider that I climbed a mountain.
By that point I’d already trekked from Lukla at 2,800 metres up to Gokyo at 4,750 metres, so, in my mind at least, that adds a certain credence to my claim.
Gokyo is a small village in the Solokhumbu district of Nepal, it sits quietly on the edge of a serene and sacred lake and is one of the highest settlements in the world. Rising in front of the village is Gokyo Ri and this is where my definition of a mountain comes in. When you stand on the top of this peak you’re at around 5,400 metres above sea level.
So – I climbed a mountain! And I had to trudge through a load of snow to get to it.
It was an early start that morning with a 5.30am wake up call, and we were on the track by 6.15am. The lower part of the climb was on gravel which, at times, made it difficult to maintain our footing but the unseasonal amount of snow that the area had been subjected to in the previous weeks meant that the top two thirds of the climb were a struggle through that snow.
The view on the way up, back down to the settlement of Gokyo and the sacred lake that it sits on, was spectacular. The lake was frozen – the iconic, striking, turquoise blue water that that we were expecting had been transformed into an icy white – while the Ngozumpa Glacier, the largest in Nepal, stretched through the valley behind Gokyo, overlooked by some of the highest mountains on the planet.
It was a hard slog, as I’d expected it to be, but determination, perseverance and encouragement from the rest of our tight knit group eventually got me there. The whole group made it and there was a sense of elation in the air – the thin air – as we took in the spectacular 360 degree view of some of the 8000 metre peaks (Everest, Cho Oyu, Lhotse & Makalu) and several more of the highest peaks in the Himalayas.
There was fun and frivolity on the summit as we captured the scene on more than a dozen cameras but eventually it was time to make our way back down.
This part was definitely not fun. Even with crampons we were slipping and sliding. To start with it was funny, one of our team couldn’t stay on his feet and needed two guides to hold him upright, another toppled over quite spectacularly and I landed on my bum a few times. After a while though the novelty wore off and it became a chore to negotiate our way back down to the lodge.
In all it took five and a half hours to get to the top and back and, exhausted, is the only way to describe how I felt that afternoon. But that exhaustion was definitely tempered by the feeling of elation and pride in myself that I’d accomplished this goal that I’d set myself.
I was still in Kathmandu at the end of the trek when the major earthquake struck on April 25th. I was lucky and came through relatively unscathed, so many more did not. Sadly that earthquake took many lives, it destroyed buildings and ancient monuments and even entire villages were wiped off the map. But what Mother Nature couldn’t do was destroy the beauty of the country and its people.
The people of Nepal are some of the nicest and most genuine people I’ve ever met on my travels and their resilience will see them through.