Essay: Peak Experience

Feb 16, 2018

We climbed steadily for four days and set up camp at 10,000 feet to rest before our descent. Deep valleys fell away into shadow while the white peaks of the Himalayas stood out along the horizon.

At a distance from our tents stood a tiny stone hut—a Buddhist place of worship—with a single prayer flag fluttering from a tall pole. I stepped through the low door and laid marigolds on the rough altar.

While most of our group of seven women wanted to relax, a few of us decided to hike to 13,000 feet the next day. Surely, we could see more if we stood higher!

Up the steep trail overhung with rhododendron, we passed a farm house where two men were building a roof with thin boards and pieces of slate. “It will take forever,” I thought.  

Three hours later we reached the summit and were enveloped in a cold white fog. We had climbed into a cloud. A slim boy stood before us with a dozen water buffalo. Our guide spoke with him and learned that he lived alone on the mountain with his herd. Fifteen years old. We gave him crackers and gum, and he let us take his picture.

“Not what we hoped for,” one woman said. But I knew it was the unhoped-for, unexpected things that cranked open my mind, pierced my heart. During our return trip, I brooded about the solitary boy—his loneliness. Mine.

I picked my way carefully along the rocky path. Strange how it was always harder, going down.

When we passed the farm house, the roof was finished.