Happiness Moments: Following Bigfoot
Every man can transform the world from one of drabness and monotony to one of excitement and adventure. ~ Irving Wallace
So a new little writing experiment for the blog. I’ve been wanting to find a way to do some free writing as practice. And I’ve been wanting to capture the moments in my life that have brought me true happiness. I need that little pick me up right now with everything going on in the world and no real chance to travel. So, some writing about happy moments in my life, hope they bring you a little happiness too.
About ten years ago I went after a major bucket list item for me, and that was to hike on Mount Everest. Not to summit, but to at least hike to base camp on the mountain at over 17,000 feet. The fact is, the real draw for me was not even the mountain, it was the Khumbu Icefall. I’d been enamored forever by all of this climbing movies where you see hikers scrambling over ladders laid across crevasses in the icefall. One of the greatest thing about this trip was being able to step onto the icefall. I’ve written a set of posts about my 30 days in Nepal in the Himalayas but tonight I want to write about one particular morning on the trail when I was following Bigfoot.
Part of this trip revolved around my interest for the Yeti, or as we call it in the US, Bigfoot. At the Khumjung Gompa, there is a purported Yeti scalp that I had the privilege of getting to see up close. I don’t believe it to be real, but it was fascinating to see. I also was able to make it to the village of Machermo, a site of an incredibly famous encounter that a Sherpa woman had with a Yeti in that village back in 1974, that I had read about as a child.
My encounter with Bigfoot in Nepal was of a different nature. If you’ve never done any long-distance group hiking let me tell you a little bit about how it works. I think the popular image is that people walk all bunched up in a group, walking at the same pace and taking breaks at the same time. In fact, you often find yourself hiking alone. Everyone hikes at a different pace, so unless you are matching pace with someone you can sometimes spend large swaths of the day alone. I actually like this aspect of long-distance hiking, it gives you a chance to be alone in nature when you want, and to have company when that is what your mood desires.
Snow isn’t common in November on Everest and so we really didn’t expect any, or if it came we didn’t expect more than a dusting. One of the beautiful things about nature is that you often get the unexpected. So it was a shock when we woke up one day to over seven inches at 17,000 feet, when we were only two miles from Base Camp on Everest. This unprecedented and unexpected event caused a change in our plans and we needed to do a very ambitions swing 3,000 feet down the mountain, around, and back up 3,000 feet into the Gokyo Valley, instead of crossing over an 18,000 foot pass that the snow had now made impassable.
Although a very hard hike, it was a beautiful day, the combination of the snow and the sun in the mountains was magnificent. We started out together but eventually, as happens, the group spread out across the trail and I found myself walking alone across snow covered trails in the Himalayan Mountains. The only true way to follow the trail was to follow the footsteps in the snow. And given we’d been the first group out in the morning, you could be confident in those steps leading you the right way. This is important in an area where going off trail can lead to thousand foot drop offs into stone or river valleys below. But it was sunny, clear and beautiful and the walking was good. That is until the clouds came in and it started to snow again.
Now I grew up in the Northeast, so I’m wasn’t new to winter, to hiking in the snow or even to the whiteout conditions that were quickly taking shape. However I’d be lying if I say I wasn’t a little nervous. It wasn’t just a whiteout, but a whiteout in the Himalayas at 15,000 feet, with 1,000 foot drop offs. So losing the trail could have some really significant consequences. Luckily, being in an organized group, if need be I could just sit tight. The group always had a guide up front and one trailing the group as a sweeper. So eventually, someone in my group should come down the trail to where I was. But we had a time crunch to make our ambitious hike that day, and sitting tight in a whiteout, not knowing how much snow was coming is not a comfortable thing to do. So I decided to keep walking, besides, I had the footsteps in the snow to follow, at least until the snow and wind erased them.
Visibility got really bad, but I could still follow the footsteps. Then, the trail of footsteps did exactly what I didn’t need them to do, they split into two different directions. This is when Bigfoot became important. Not the Yeti, but my friend Mark who was on the trip with me. You see, I’d taken to calling him Bigfoot because of his size 14 shoes. So here, in the middle of a whiteout, in the Himalayan Mountains, with diverging trails, there, on one of the trails was a footprint significantly larger than all of the others, Bigfoot. So I followed Bigfoot’s steps and within an hour the snow had diminished, the winds dropped off, eventually even the clouds would blow through and the sun would re-appear. About two hours after the whiteout I found myself in Sherpa Teahouse, a cup of hot lemon tea in my hand and large piece of warm Tibetan bread with peanut butter and honey in front of me. That little meal was absolute bliss and even better, later that day on the same hike I would find my favorite place on earth, a little spot just above the second sacred lake in the Gokyo valley.