My last 24 hours at Everest Base Camp were a blur. After guardedly
muscling my way down the Khumbu icefall for the last time, I
immediately began thinking about what it would take to get back home.
I knew that once I began the trek out, each step I took would finally
be one step closer to home. I had anticipated a three-day,
36 mile walk/limp through springtime valleys, getting progressively
greener as I descended. Everest veterans had described seeing newborn
yaks and beautiful rhododendrons on their prior post-climb descents,
so despite a gait somewhat like Frankenstein’s I was sort of looking
forward to the long way home.
A friend and fellow climber had developed a medical condition
necessitating evacuation, however. As he was unable to make the long
trek out, physicians at the Himalayan Rescue Association (HRA) clinic
at base camp (“Everest ER”) requested a helicopter evacuation for him.
My friend appointed me his “personal physician,” and since there was
an extra seat in the French-built Cheetah helicopter (flown by the
Nepalese Air Force), I was told to finish packing in 15 minutes (!)
and start hiking towards Gorak Shep, where they thought the aircraft
might be able to duck in under the weather. The weather was much less
than ideal, but our ride from The Mountain to Katmandu was one I’ll
skimming treetops by just a few feet, with enormous valleys opening up
beneath us. Most of the Himalayan Giants were shrouded in clouds
during the flight, but looking down at the raging rivers, tiny
villages and tenuous suspension bridges made it seem like we were
airborn for just a few minutes…
If all goes well, my duffel bags will arrive in Katmandu from the
mountains this afternoon — thanks to two very strong porters, who
carried them all the way from base camp to the Lukla airport — and
I’ll be on my way back to Houston tomorrow afternoon (via Bangkok, Los
Angeles and Dallas). I can feel the jet lag setting in already!