No regrets, but 2012 was the hardest year of my life. And the first half of 2013.
I start off strong. How strong?
Our team of six climbers and eighteen crew are in the Everest region attempting three technical summits, each over 6,000m. In immediate succession. And some glaciers. What could possibly go wrong?
Things go a bit pear shaped for me at high camp on our second peak, up on an icy piece of remote remote wilderness. My body starts shutting down as my brain swells.
I start my descent after a very difficult, scary, painful night. I’m in bad shape – I can’t put on my own crampons, I certainly can’t abseil unassisted. It takes days and days to get to the runway: mercifully, I can’t remember much of it. Too vulnerable to infection I’m advised to stay away from the Patan Hospital, so I convalesce in a monastery until I am strong enough to come home. There are health implications.
It’s not good. In fact, it is very, very bad. And I’m scared.
Back in Melbourne, much time passes, passes in bed without the energy to read. Over a year passes. Saving strength for the endless meetings with specialists, professors, surgeons, doctors.
I lose all agency. My new identity is that of the sick person. That person who used to climb mountains. But now she’s just sick.
It takes takes many months for me to accept that I’ll never climb a mountain again. I sell my beloved mountaineering gear. Everything but my ice axe. I need the money to pay rent – I’m too unwell to work.
All the intrusive medical tests. Oh my god the endless tests.
A significant piece of my self, my soul, got left on a hospital floor. I’m broken.
I carry titanium staples in my abdomen now.
Would I do it again if I knew what would happen?
Yes, in a heartbeat, yes I would.
Life is to be lived. And that’s what I try to do.
‘Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”‘
― The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967
Anyway, more time passes. I get stronger. I get better
I am well. Rebuilt. Different from before.
I am strong again, but strong in a new way. I will never regain the physical strength of my previous athlete self – and slowly I accept that.
I learn humility. I learn to be kind to myself. This is a long journey.
Years later, A Girl Who Climbed a Mountain is immortalised on a gallery wall. Strangely, this gives me closure. My experience is shared with anonymity: interpreted, and hung for public inspection and consideration.
This takes me full circle – back to being the strong and fearless, and far away from being the sick and weak version of myself.
I’m grateful to the artist who showed me myself through his eyes.
Thank you Rehgan, now I think I can recognise her as you see her. xx
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