‘My’ altitude is around 4,000 meters. And everything above.*
Where you have passed the tree line. Where the landscape is rough, bare and overwhelming.
Where you bump into a lost yak or into a mosquito which is not only in search of blood but also of oxygen.
Where rain is transformed into snow. And glaciers under your feet are the dirt roads of the lowlands.
Where your heart beats faster, not only by seeing all that beauty but by the lack of oxygen in the air.
Nepal, the land of the giants of the Earth with Mount Everest as lord and master. Its 8,848 meters makes its foot-soldiers disappear into nothing. Those little ones, there in the South, where rhinos live instead of yaks and where tigers reside instead of snow leopards. Those ones, I had left behind to go to the land of the giants and to look up to the kings and the queens and to the one and only emperor named Everest. Established values that I wanted to see, feel, inhale; briefly, that I wanted to be surrounded with. I was ready to go to the country with that magical name H I M A L A Y A.
For 18 days, I exchanged my bicycle for a backpack. A backpack full of enthusiasm, thick mittens and woollen panties. A walk to Everest base camp (5,364 m) was a dream of years. Last minute I added three mountain passes and a summit: Kongma La pass (5,535 m), Cho La pass (5,420 m), Gokyo Ri pass (4,766 m) and Kala Pattar (5,550 m).
There it was, a never seen beauty, a string of wild and untouched natural force. Easy on the eyes, a challenge for the heart.
Heart and fitness were good, only the guide did not fit very well in that picture. He was the stain on that beautiful painting, the thorn in the flesh. I tried rose-coloured glasses but his sometimes very painful remarks or quirky behaviour clouded my field of vision.
Luckily I bumped into the British Aimée, an energetic, cheerful girl who led my thoughts from a cold, moody guide to the warmth of a smile or spontaneously given hug. Some days we walked together, most of them we did not.
A headache that had never been felt before arose. Hammers became master of my head and with their violence beat a pause in the trekking. The pain prevented me from turning my head or functioning normally. As an obedient pupil, I kept to my bed. Aimée and her guide continued their path.
After two days the carpenter inside me was working at a slower pace. I could resume the journey, one more pass to cross. I stepped slower than before and took more breaks. My footsteps creaked in the fresh snow, the pass came closer. It was cold. It was icy cold. Without blushing a sharp wind changed the -19°C into a very chilly -29°C. I went to a high altitude one last time. The following days were, to the great joy of my head, under the banner of descent.
‘My’ altitude is around 4,000 meters. And everything above.
It is that height that attracts me with the power of a magnet.
It is that height that knocks my socks off and sizzles in my whole body.
It is that height that makes my blood run faster and proclaims that it’s just amazingly cool.
* ‘Everyone has ‘his’ height’ is inspired by the beautiful book ‘The eight mountains’ by Paolo Cognetti.
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Many thanks to Jan Schelstraete, who did some last minute editing.