For two weeks we had been steadily gaining altitude. The lush green pastures and forests of silver fir, birch, rhododendrons and juniper were replaced by a much bleaker landscape of silver glaciers and black rocks. It took all my concentration to stay well balanced and sure-footed as we scrambled up slippery, rock-strewn trails on a steady uphill climb. I could feel my heart hammering in my chest as we made the final push…and it wasn’t just from the exertion and the altitude.
We were finally approaching Everest basecamp, my home for the next month. The profound stillness was broken only by the flapping and fluttering of hundreds of colorful Tibetan prayer flags strung impossibly high on ropes, so their prayers of good fortune and long life could be carried by the strong winds. The whole team paused for a rest. I finally had my first glimpse of the sprawling city of tents of every size and color, but my gaze became transfixed by the sight of the massive Khumbu Icefall that dwarfed everything below making the tent city appear Lilliputian—a chaotic jumble of immense blocks of ice carried ever so slowly over two thousand feet down the mountain from the Western Cwm. A shudder rippled through my body. My mind couldn’t comprehend what it would be like the very first time I clipped onto the fixed ropes and began to navigate my way over crevasses on steel ladders and by monstrous towers of ice known as seracs that could tumble over without warning. I decided to push those thoughts to the back of my mind for now and focus on finding a tent and finally being able to rest.