Tea Time on Top of the World Steam rose from my tea as I took one final break before pushing on to the summit. Hours of climbing in the dark by the dim glow of my headlamp had led to this moment. I stood up, shouldered my backpack, and checked my ropes. To the East the thin orange line of a growing sunrise began to form. This could have been any number of mountains around the world, but it wasn’t. This time was different. Ahead of me lay the final hour of climbing to the summit of Mount Everest.
It had been almost six months since I returned from the Himalaya. My fall expedition to Cho Oyu (8201m) was a huge success. I was in the middle of my winter ski season, focusing more on powder skiing then on high altitude climbing. The final days leading up to my departure went by in a blur. Gear flew in and out of piles. And there was more than one last minute trip to the store. Eventually, my bags were packed and I kissed my wife goodbye as I departed for a two-month expedition to the world’s tallest mountain.
Returning to the Himalaya was a dream come true. Not only was this a chance to climb again in one of the world’s great ranges, it was a chance to reunite with friends I made during my fall expedition. I enjoyed working alongside my Sherpa teammates on Cho Oyu. Many of them had become lifelong friends and I was looking forward to seeing them again.
My cell phone buzzed with another message from Pemba. “Dallas, you in town?” We were almost a week into our trek up the famous Khumbu valley. After passing the village of Namche Bazaar, we detoured off the normal route to visit the picturesque village of Phortse. International Mountain Guides (my employer) has been working with many of the Sherpa from Phortse for decades. We were welcomed into their homes where we enjoyed the finest Sherpa hospitality, sharing meals and stories.
The next morning, I joined Pemba and his mother for tea at their home. Pemba and I sat in the dimly lit kitchen on a small bench by the room’s sole window. He eagerly asked questions about my wife, work, and home. He shared stories of his winter studies at the university and of a few recent adventures he had undertaken. With each sip of tea his mother would quickly refill my cup. She graciously offered me food, drinks, and souvenirs. I attempted to politely decline. “You must take something,” Pemba humbly informed me. “She will be insulted if you don’t.” I graciously accepted a bottle of coke for my trek that day, trying to convey my extreme appreciation to my generous host.
Sadly, my visit was limited as my team of climbers soon departed Phortse for the next village up valley. Prior to leaving, Pemba’s mother escorted me through a small red door in the back of the kitchen. I was immediately greeted by a brilliant display of red, gold and white colors, starkly contrasted against the otherwise dark and dimly lit home. I was in their family Buddhist prayer room, the most sacred room in their home. His mother turned me to face her, chanted several lines of Buddhist prayers, and touched me on the forehead before placing a silk scarf around my neck. The silk scarf is known as a Khata, which she bestowed on me as a blessing for safety and fortune on my journey. I responded the only way I knew how—with a big hug.
As I walked away from Pemba’s home, my brilliantly white Khata fluttered in the wind. I weaved my way through the stone walls of Phortse’s fields and homes. My team was already shouldering their packs for the day’s hike. I glanced over my shoulder, looking back across the village at my friend’s house. Somehow, I knew without a doubt this would be the most meaningful moment of my expedition.
The thin red rope leading off my harness trailed away along the ridge leading to the top. I stared headlong at the some of the most famous land marks in mountaineering-- the Cornice Traverse, the Hillary Step, and the Summit Snow Slopes. I stepped out of the relative safety of Everest’s South Summit and onto the Cornice Traverse. The sunrise in the East grew with intensity as I crested the final steps towards the summit. The surrounding Himalaya turned shades of blue, purple, and pink. Suddenly, the sun pierced the horizon exploding light all around me. I rounded one last bulge in the ridge… in front of me was the summit of Everest. A small group of climbers stood atop snapping photos and celebrating, bathed in the fresh morning light. Two months of trekking and climbing led me to this place. Decades of dreams had been focused here. A life time in the mountains had prepared me for this moment. I stood atop the summit seemingly taking in the whole world in one turn. Prayer flags fluttered in the gentle breeze. I sat my pack down on the snow, and there tied to its back was the white silk Khata from Pemba’s mother. I stood, faced down the Khumbu valley towards Phortse, and smiled.
Special thanks to FITS Socks for keeping my feet warm during all my expeditions. Fits Pro and Light Ski OTC socks were responsible for keeping my feet warm during all of my climbing. While trekking up the Khumbu I relied on FITS Light Runner Low socks for day in day out comfort. Relaxing around Basecamp I enjoyed Fits Medium Rugged Crew for warmth and durability.
Pic 1: The thin red rope running along the summit ridge of Everest at sunrise. Lhotse (8516m, 27940dt), the four highest peak in the world, appears small from this vantage point."
Pic 2: The village of Phortse nestled in the Khumbu Valley. Phortse is off the normal trekking route to Everest Base Camp, but worth the side trip. Of Phortse’s estimated 200 men over 90% have summited Everest.
Pic 3: Pemba seated by the window in his family’s kitchen. Pemba will graduate from his university studies this summer in Kathmandu.
Pic 4: Everest’s summit shadow extending far beyond the horizon.
Pic 5: The summit of Mount Everest. Prayer flags and a few mementos mark this sacred summit. Pic 7: My Khata tied to my pack on the summit of Everest. Makalu (8485m, 27838ft), the fifth hieghest peak in the world, in the distance. This special Khata is still on my pack…
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