One Old Man, One Young Man and the Highest Mountain in the World
After a long and painful double knee operation, the young man lay in his bed abandoned, lonely and depressed.
The snowy Annapurna ranges on the old poster on the wall caught his eyes.
That poster had been passed to him by his grandfather who had dreamed of visiting the Mount Everest base camp for most of his life. The young man remembered climbing a New Zealand snowy peak once with his grandfather, when he was barely ten years old. On their flight back to Australia, his grandfather told him that he suddenly feels too old. In a few months, he was gone. The aggressive brain tumor had got the better of him. All that was left was the old poster and a dream. The young man had not stopped to look at the poster for many years. He was too busy with his aspiring cycling career and finishing his university studies in aerodynamics.
One foggy morning on a slippery road, a driver using his mobile phone, had not noticed the young man cycling on the verge. This put an end to his sporting career and his flying aspirations. Suddenly he had time and he needed a purpose. The Annapurna range beckoned from the poster for him to get up and learn to walk again. After a year of gym training and working long hours in the local airport, he had saved enough money for a flight to Kathmandu. His grandfather was not there, but he was there in the young man's heart. Every evening he took notes on his mobile phone about his day.
Day 1: The bus-ride from Kathmandu to the mountains was 9 hours long.
That was one rough journey in the overcrowded rickety old vehicle.
I noticed one old local man barely holding on to the rails. He reminded me of you, Pop. You would not have enjoyed it either.
Day 2: It is such a beautiful country but life is difficult here. The mountains make for great views but cause problems for traffic and transport, with landslides and no flat ground to build on. I can see you here Pop, in my mind.
Day 3: Trekking was really great.
I had some cool nights but I don't think it went below 0.
During the day it was quite warm. I have some really great pics of the Annapurna ranges with peaks that are among the top 10 highest in the world. The views really were spectacular, especially at sunrise and sunset which I got to see nearly everyday as it was early to bed and early to rise. You would love it, Pop. You would truly love it.
Day 4: Only got a little snow at the highest point, under 3000m.
Nice and green in the valleys, sometimes reminding me of the New Zealand peak that we climbed together.
But the peaks here all had snow and were enormous and just seemed to go up forever. It's hard to believe anyone has managed to climb them.
Day 5: Going up was hard of course but coming down was even harder, you had to use your walking poles. It was mostly very steep steps but my knees are doing fine, I'm happy to say. There were plenty of tea houses on the trails that you would certainly have enjoyed Pop.
Day 6: There are quite big, traditional towns nestled in the mountains so lunch was easy to get. It was interesting to see the small school kids on the trails going to and from school. They start at 11am because some have to walk 2hrs up and down each day. I could see you teaching them Pop, you being a retired sport teacher.
I can see you Pop bowing to them in respect, you always admired the local people with the skills that we lacked.
Many tourists that I met were sick with food poisoning and others with colds. I am thinking of the local people who have it so tough and survive it all.
Day 8: Yesterday I passed a group of older women and younger children breaking big hard rocks with hammers. Suddenly my hiking felt ridiculous and aimless. I just stopped and helped them to break the stones for a day. They invited me for dinner with them. I saw you in the corner of the humble hut glowing with pride Pop, because it was the right thing to do.
Day 9: I was lucky and managed to stay healthy to be able to enjoy it. Most of the tourists went on and now it's just me in this village. They need help with the building of their local school so I donated my travel money to help buy building materials that are so precious here. They will bring it on the next lorry once the mud slide is cleared from the road.
Day 10: The next group of tourists passed the village today, leaving tomorrow to start the Everest base camp trek.
Day 11: I didn’t join them, Pop.
I am breaking the stones and waiting for the building materials to reach us from Kathmandu.
Day 12: The weather is cooling off. Where I am staying, it's a max of -10 during the day. They lent me some warm clothes. I'm looking more like a local now Pop.
Day 13: The materials finally arrived. We started to build the school, so that the kids don't need to travel so far over the mountains. The young teacher came by bus from Kathmandu and her English is pretty good. She studied in Australia on scholarship. We get along really well.
Day 17: I missed a few days, Pop. The school is now built. We had a big celebration in the village. I never left it, Pop. I never reached the Everest base camp. But I know you would understand.
Day 18: Time to take the bus back to Kathmandu. When I was leaving, all the women in the village hugged me. The young teacher kissed me on the cheek and said that I have to come back. A man of your age Pop made a beautiful picture from different colored grains of dust. In the middle of it were a few symbols. The teacher translated it to me. It said: “You have already climbed your mountain young man.” I shook my head and said I hadn’t, but they smiled at me, nodding their heads. I guess the mountains mean something else to them than to us, Pop.
Day 19: On the plane flying out, I already missed them Pop.
I miss that young teacher the most.
. I asked her why that old man spent such a long time arranging that beautiful picture when the wind from the mountains blew the grains away so quickly. She just had time to translate it.
Day 20: Landing back home in Australia, I suddenly felt so spoilt, Pop. You know my knee problems, my short cycling days and disappointment of not becoming the pilot that I dreamed to be, are just insignificant. Even not reaching your Everest base camp that I had saved money to do, is suddenly not important. And somehow I feel Pop, that you are just fine with it just as I am.
By the way you know what that young teacher told me? “Those symbols were blown away by the wind because they just needed to stay readable enough to reach my heart.