This has been a long time coming.
There was a moment in a little place called Chengdu, where I wasn’t feeling well. Neither was my friend, Alex. So we stayed close to the bathroom an entire day and watched this movie called Everest. You may have heard of it, and if you watched it you may have cried your ever-loving eyes out, because…
All the people you want to live die, and the one guy you think will die, lives.
That was the day I decided I don’t actually want to climb Everest. It was a good idea, until that moment. I don’t want to be hard-core, just recreational. Perhaps attempt some trail runs, entertain hikes with friends and family, go on backpacking excursions, but all of that is safely away from the ominous death zones that lurk atop some of the beastly peaks in this world. Shockingly, I came to find out through the film that Everest is not even considered the most deadly mountain to hike. It’s a terrifying thought.
Fast forward just a bit.
There was another moment in a little place near Shangri-la (formerly Riwa), which sits at a comfortable elevation of about 3,000m/9,800ft. It was in this town we were kindly taken in, as I wrote about previously in Shangri-la at Last. We weren’t feeling that great at that time either…
However, rather than watching a movie about climbing a mountain we pushed through and climbed one, or rather to one.
We woke early to be greeted by the impenetrable darkness of night. There was no goodbye to our hosts, no send-off, only the stars were awake to see us slip out and begin down the hill back toward the main entrance of Yading Nature Reserve.
That was the first time I felt scared in China. Walking in the darkness armed with no more than the flashlight on my quickly dying phone was an incredibly vulnerable experience. I was not familiar with the area, and thus had no idea what could be waiting out there. Alas, my fears were all for naught. I focused instead on the stars twinkling above us, perhaps closer than I had ever seen them. Every experience I had had up to that point told me that I should not be afraid.
With each step the light of dawn began to creep out of
hiding until it began silhouetting the mountains and casting my remaining fears aside.
Upon reaching the main office, which could not have been more than 20 minutes away, we had expected to wait for a little while, but not three hours. We were told the bus would leave at 8 or 8:30. Again, off season threw a curve ball as we didn’t enter the reserve until well after 10:00. I would be lying if I said I was not disappointed because we lost valuable time, but it was definitely worth the wait.
An hour’s drive took us into the heart of the park, where we saw the three holy peaks of Jampelyang, Chana Dorje, and Chenresig rise up before us.
I had waited for this for so long. Once again, to my disappointment the bus driver said we only had four hours in the park unless we were staying overnight, which we were not equipped to do. That said, we intended to make good use of our time.
A few things we quickly discovered after walking around: 1) Alex has Buddha’s blessing, 2) when you haven’t eaten well for a couple of days, climbing around at 4,000m/13,000ft makes every step feel like taking a cinderblock up a small cliff, and 3) this was undoubtedly the most amazing place I had ever seen. Sorry, Colorado.
Unfortunately, it came to our attention that the clouds were rolling in and we wouldn’t be able to see it all, so we had to carefully consider what our weary bodies could handle. Of course, by “carefully consider” I mean wing it entirely.
Slowly, our feet found their way to Chong Gu Monastery.
It was unlike any temple we had yet seen. Purely Tibetan, and lovingly cared for. In fact you could tell that the entire reserve was tended in a way that we had not yet witnessed. There was love and sincerity in everything the monks did, and it was reflected in their paintings, carvings, and even the placement of the prayer flags.
Even the animals’ behaviour hinted that the monks were just as natural a thing as the trees, because they were far from shy.
Now, all of this leads me up to one thing. I am not going to beat around the bush and say that I was having a hyper spiritual experience. In all honesty I was battling with the lingering nausea, my dull appetite, and the lack of oxygen that I was not quite accustomed to. It was with difficulty that I forced myself to eat from our bizarre collection of peanuts, oranges, and dried sweet potatoes. Fortunately, I found a protein bar my mom had mailed.
Then came a second wind.
Cinderblock by cinderblock we drug our feet up the metal-grate steps until we saw this.
In retrospect, it is difficult to believe I was actually there.
The boardwalk led us close to the base of the mountain, but not quite close enough. Usually there is a lake there, but as it was winter all of the water sources were frozen leaving a space that beckoned us to veer off the beaten path.
Safely tucked in my pack was a roll of prayer flags that I had decided I was going to hang in this place, and as a result leave a small part of myself forever at the base of the Mountain of Wisdom. It could not have been more perfect had we planned it.
I remember struggling in my eagerness to unroll the flags, then struggling to climb that tree, and once more struggling to get them hung. It seemed everything up to that point had been a struggle.
However, as I climbed down out of the tree, photo session over, I turned around and looked at the wind sending my flags into a perfect arc. Inexplicably, I felt that was what I had gone to China to do.
That one, simple act.
Five months had passed, and I had experienced a lot, but in that one moment it was completed. I imagined that’s what people who summit Everest feel.
It is a satisfaction I’m not sure I can fully articulate, but even as I type these words it moves me to tears. Surprisingly, it did not come with any grandiose revelations about life. It just was what it was…and that was enough.
The connection may not seem obvious to anyone other than myself, but Yading was my own little Everest. I did not summit anything more than an old tree, but I imagine the feeling is the same. That magnetic presence emanating from the colossal mountain before me, and the giddy sense that I that was experiencing something witnessed by few was a reward in and of itself. That, if nothing else is what I imagine my experience has in common with those who summit some of the world’s highest places.
Without another word, we walked away, the wind dying with each step, only to be replaced by the sound of silence as snow began to fall all around us.
I may yet experience another Everest in my life, however should Yading be my first and last I can confidently say that I have no regrets. There is an Everest waiting out there for everyone, if only you’re willing to tackle it. It’s worth it.
Thank you for reading.
Until next time!