I knew my legs would be sore, that my back would ache from my heavy pack, and- by the end of the 18 days- I would stink from a lack of shower. I knew all of this; I expected for my physical capabilities to be tested. Maybe it’s because I was already prepared for the physical difficulties that by the end of the trek I was surprised at how strong I still felt. Even though my body was tired I probably could have kept walking a few more days. It was easy for me to ignore the soreness, the pain. What I couldn’t ignore during the trek was the stubbornness of my own determination, and the patience I was lacking with myself, how frustrated I felt when all I wanted to do was keep going but I knew I had to rest for a few minutes. So, when we walked into Chokati after 18 long, grueling days, it wasn’t my legs and feet that were tested the most, rather my mental and emotional state.
The biggest learning lesson came in Na, the final campsite before our highest point of Tso-ronpa (a glacial lake). We had reached Na early in the day and stopped to have lunch. Tso-ronpa was about a two hour hike further up the valley and we collectively decided we would just go that afternoon instead of waiting until the next morning. I was ignoring the first signs of altitude sickness and decided that I just needed some extra water and I would be fine to keep going. As we continued the hike, a pounding in my head told me to turn around. I was struggling but didn’t want to admit to myself that I couldn’t keep going. Soon, nausea added to my discomfort. We still had about halfway to go and clouds were starting to roll up the valley when the decision of whether to keep going or not was put to a group vote. I knew that I probably should’ve turned around and gone back to camp long before this, but admitting that to myself and others took more of my strength than putting one leg in front of the other. I was reluctant but the tears running down my face pushed my hand in the air. A little piece of me was crushed. Even though I knew we had another chance to go to the lake again the next day, I wanted to be able to get there then. I knew I could, it was just a matter of being patient with myself. My voice cracked as I whispered, “Me, I want to go back.” Without hesitation, the group turned around and walked down the mountain. Everyone ended up being very grateful that we did turn around, as a storm rolled in shortly after we got back to our tents. Even so, I still had this feeling of defeat.
The next morning I woke up feeling a little better. My headache had subsided and resting for the night was exactly what I needed. Just like the day before, we gathered our things and started the hike to the lake. We slowly climbed higher and higher until we reached a clearing and there the lake sat, frozen over from the night before. I was ecstatic and overwhelmed to be there. I sat down by the lake, feeling minuscule surrounded by the tall himalayan mountains. At 15,970 ft in the air, it’s the closest I’ve felt to heaven.
I didn’t mind anymore that we had to take a few steps back in order to reach our goal. It no longer mattered that it took an extra day; it could’ve take another week and I still would’ve been happy to be there. What matters is that we had gotten there. In order to make it there successfully I had to be patient with myself and realize that it’s not always going to be easy. It’s okay to take a step back, as long as you get back up and take two forward.