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A Yearning to Return

(Is a retrospective condition!)

Peter Hillary

Peter Hillary guided a small group of clients up Mera Peak (6500 meters) in the Everest Himalaya and then on over two 6000 meter passes to the foot of Mt Makalu, the world’s fifth highest mountain. It’s a tough journey, painful even, and expensive too. Why then do they do it?

“The charm of mountain climbing lies not in the climbing, in success, nor in failure, but in the great range of emotions provoked through these physical experiences.”

The Mountain Top,  Frank Smythe.

My group laboured across the upper nevé of the Lower Barun Glacier at 6100 meters. Up here beyond the West Col the altitude knocks the stuffing out of you, and when the sun sits high in the sky, the reflected heat saps what little energy that remains. Many of my aspiring climber-cum-high-altitude trekkers were visibly wilting. In fact they were moving so slowly that even our heavily laden porters - (with their bamboo baskets slung on head bands and woollen socks pulled over their shoes for purchase on the frozen snow) - were overtaking them as if they were studies in timeless motion.

“I can’t go on,” some groaned, leaning on their iceaxes with a force that sent the shaft violently and suddenly into the snow, rendering more than one of them prostrate upon the glacier.

We all looked up at the impressive form of Makalu’s 8,462 meter western wall, with the striking line of its west pillar plummeting from the summit into a valley we couldn’t see.  

“I think I have bitten off more than I can chew,” said one. This wasn’t the place for such revelations. It would be dark in three more hours and we had another pass to cross.

But that is part of the challenge.  Pushing through that invisible barrier and later, much later, the retrospective pleasure of having gone the distance.  Nearly all of my group, including one with disabilities, made it to the top of Mera Peak and they all crossed the two tall passes from the valleys of Mt Everest to Mt Makalu.  Already they’re talking about their next adventure.

“  … and he will have within him the yearning to return, weak or insistent, according to his nature. For this cruel land can cast a spell which no temperate clime can match.”

Arabian Sands,  Wilfred Thesiger

So what is it about, these journeys and the restless souls who choose to weather the fatigue and the discomfort?

You challenge yourself and you uplift the spirit in the process. The mountains are just the dramatic stage where we, the punters, go to experience the wide-ranging emotions and travails of the mission. And it is that sense of mission that draws these people. They want to go somewhere that extends their experience and their vision and to gain insight into their own multilayered beings.

            “I contain multitudes.”

Walt Whitman

Interestingly, I think most have a ‘big picture’ vision of life. Despite immediate discomforts, or even exhaustion and fear, they know that this is not forever. Eventually, they will go home to other lives. It is up to each of us to encourage our sense of wonder and to assuage the desire to look across the next ridgeline; to see what you have not seen before.

The journey goes beyond self and the environment you find yourself in. It is the galaxy of relationships among the group – good, bad and mediocre – that is the frontier. A group of people is a conglomeration of personalities with infinite permutations. So the mission contrasts our other lives and breathes fresh air on to stale emotions.

For me these journeys open your eyes to what you have at home and often take for granted - the luxury of a hot shower, the pleasure of clean sheets, the taste of fresh vegetables and the company of family and friends.

The expeditioner is an ‘inverted sensualist.’ “He denies pleasure, not to negate it, but to increase its power when he finally gives in to it.” Roger Clarke

I know fear and I confess to carrying it around in saddlebags. (In fact, I don’t leave home without it.)  It is perhaps my greatest asset; for acknowledging your own fear, your own frailty, prevents delusion. Gravity doesn’t care for deception!

But I am not a pessimist. I love to dream and when I do I always see a way through. A way to yearn to return.

Peter Hillary

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