An Unknown Pilgrimage, Marisa Heidt

My journey begins from a small village in Nepal. Lukla is the start of many-a-mission for folks embarking on their dream of seeing the Himalayas, in whatever facet that may be. Upon approaching Lukla with its short and narrow runway teetering on the side of a cliff, amid the looming snowy peaks, I have no idea what to expect. But what I do know for certain is that from my early 20s (I am now 40), I was meant to find my way to this place. Our small group wastes no time as we grab our duffel bags and carry our backpacks up to a tea house where we fill up our water vessels, arrange our gear, meet our porters, and begin the 15 day journey up to Everest Base Camp.

With every single step, I am in complete awe; the natives are kind, patient, and generous, the villages and culture are even more colorful and spiritual than I could ever imagine, and the scenery leaves me at a loss for words. Each “Namaste” spoken, each vibrantly-painted prayer wheel spun, and each bite of a Momo (or Tibetan Bread), captures my heart, I am in love. But it is not until we catch our first glimpse of the mother herself, Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest), the keeper watching over all of us; this is when I start gasping for air and the tears begin to stream down my face; this place literally and figuratively takes my breath away. How does this happen to someone like me? How do I get to experience this with my own senses? Do I ever need to know the answer to these questions, or can I just be in it and be grateful? I choose to feel blessed.

As we spend our days hiking and acclimating, and our “paths” become clearer, I become more impacted, and my journey becomes more profound. It becomes more apparent how massive these peaks are as helicopters carrying patients stricken with altitude sickness, are just a speck amongst the backdrop of these gigantic mountains. Ama Dablam “Mother’s Jewelbox” watches over us the entire trek, while Sagarmatha remains elusive and in and out of view. As we immerse ourselves further and further into the arms of the Khumbu Region, my appetite diminishes, I choke down 2 hard boil eggs and a piece of toast each morning, headaches are more common, and sleep more deprived, the laughter fades, and is replaced with focus and self-preservation. What will this journey bring?

After crossing numerous suspension bridges, passing several Stupas, chorten memorials, the Tengboche monastery, porters and Yaks, endless numbers of prayer wheels, prayer flags, bustling villages such as Namche, a Yeti skull (yes, I said it, a “yeti” skull), and handmade jewelry and wares, we find ourselves on another planet. Sitting at 17,500’, I’ve made it to Everest Base Camp. Tears come and I can’t speak, here I am, on a pile of rocks, on a total high, surrounded by the tallest mountains in the world. I thought I had finally arrived, I thought this was my destination, but I was wrong, this isn’t where this story ends.

The next morning we anticipate our highest ascent of Kala Patthar, peaking at 18,200’. Setting out at 3:00 AM, hoping to arrive at the summit by sunrise. The temperatures are colder than anything I’ve experienced before. Slowly, with 50% of the oxygen in the air than at sea level, and step by step, I arrive at the peak.

My husband; the love of my life and best friend, is waiting for me. My frozen and somewhat crippled fingers pull out a small rolled up strand of prayer flags, my husband helps me attach them as my hands barely function from the cold: “Dad, I tie these prayer flags in honor of, and in memory of you. Thank you for keeping us safe on this journey and I ask that you continue to keep us safe for the remainder of our time here. I am grateful for you watching over us. My broken heart loves and misses you tremendously everyday.”

My patient husband holds me as I cry, and then we move on to celebrate our successful summit bid, this awe-inspiring planet, and our lives. I then continue on my path.