My Top 10 Most Spectacular Places I have visited: #1
I realize some may not be as impressed with my number 1 most spectacular place I have visited as I, but I think many will identify with my quest to achieve this encounter.
It probably started when a speaker referred in his talk to the 1996 Mt. Everest climbing disaster, as chronicled in Jon Krakauer’s best-seller Into Thin Air.
I grabbed the book, devoured it and, like millions of others around the world, became instantly enamoured with everything Everest. Each climbing season I would re-read the compelling, if troubling, story. Every climbing season, my juices would flow for an Everest experience, but I knew I could never actually climb the mountain: not athletic enough, not enough money, and maybe too old to get started on such a colossal quest now. Sure, I loved hiking. I loved conquering mountain peaks, and had done more than a few in my native British Columbia, and neighbouring provinces and states. But Everest was something of a completely different sort, not only in magnitude but also in kind.
Some years later I did what I expected would be “my closest thing to climbing Mt. Everest.” Mt. Baker, a snow-capped volcanic peak lies just 40 km (25 mi.) from my home. I studied it, and decided it had all the characteristics of an Everest climb, except at lower elevation: you need to be guided; you first need to trek in to “base camp;” you’re on dangerous glaciers, roped together; you then leave at midnight, hoping to summit around sunrise, then get off the mountain before the afternoon suns make it too dangerous. And you have a substantial summit at an elevation that is somewhat oxygen depleted, to test your mettle.
Friends and I eventually accomplished that goal. One later presented me with a small trophy, inscribed “My Everest.”
But, when I made a firm decision five years later to take up my childhood dream of seeing the world, a visit to Mt. Everest was still Number 1 on my bucket list! So I organized a group, engaged a tour provider—Peregrine in this case (you want people who know the area best)—and planned a 17-day Everest Base Camp trek to coincide with the April/May climbing season. No, I wouldn’t ever climb the world’s tallest peak, but I would see it, stand on its flanks and engage in conversation with people who had, and would soon, stand on its summit.
In the intervening years, though, I’d discovered that I had a compromised oxygen-carrying capacity. Despite intensive training, I’d found that first summit of Mt. Baker extremely difficult. At 3286 m. (10,780 ft.), the summit is only a little above most people’s oxygen deprivation threshold, but about 1700 m (5500 ft.) above mine. Now I would be attempting to get at least to base camp 5330 m (17,500 ft) elevation. The trek itself would start far above my threshold.
That meant lots of training, some at elevation. I worked very hard to be prepared. And one reason I’d chosen Peregrine was because of their more cautious approach and slower acclimatization routine.
Although we trekked downward the first day from our Lukla Airport arrival at 2845 m. (9334 ft) A.S.L. (an accomplishment in itself, as this is reputed to be the world’s most dangerous airport, with the runway on a 11.7% slope), I was still far above my threshold that night in Phakding. I immediately became ill, missed the afternoon acclimatization routine and dinner, and lay in bed pondering whether, after all this preparation, my dream of seeing Mt. Everest and standing on its flanks might already be over. But feeling somewhat improved the next morning, and with the strong support of our guide, I carried on.
As we rounded a bend in the switch-backs leading up to Namche Bazaar two days later, our guide pointed out a small opening in the trees. “That distant mountain,” he said, “is Mt. Everest.” I grabbed my camera and got the selfie—just in case this would be my only sighting, It wasn’t. Twelve days later—April 16, 2007–we arrived at Base Camp, had tea with the Canadian team preparing for their climb, witnessed climbers traversing the dangerous Khumbu Icefall, and celebrated our accomplishment at the “Base Camp Bakery.”
Next morning, in time for sunrise, we climbed another 330m (1000 ft) higher, to the summit of Kala Patar, to get the best photos of Everest’s summit.
Mt. Everest is not necessarily stunningly beautiful. My criteria for making this “most spectacular” list, though, includes ultimacy: highest, deepest, rarest, driest, etc. That alone would put “seeing the world’s tallest mountain” onto my list. The anticipation that built up to achieving that goal, and the challenges I had to overcome to do so, make it number 1.
What’s number 1 on your “Most spectacular list?” Reply and let us know.