Saturday, November 20, 2010

Idyllwild in the Himalayas

Idyllwild resident Christina Nordella (sunglasses) trekked through the Himalayan Mountains last month. Here are some photos and a day from her journal:

October 12th, day 3 of 8-day trek.

It is 3:15 a.m. and my water bottle is frozen in my tent. I am cold and exhausted but I am wide awake due to the twelve hour time change from Idyllwild to the top of a ridge about 12,500 feet altitude range , high in the Himalayas, India.

I started this trek only a day and a half ago but am already wondering, "who am I doing this?". It was thirty-two degrees when I got to bed and is well below that now. I had eagerly signed on to do an adventurous, moderate hike in India with a group of seven people that has ended up being a group of three outside our guide and porters I did not know either of the men who arrived for the journey.

The trek itself has already proved to be anything but "moderate". When I arrived three days ago in Delhi with no luggage due to a missed connection I didn't worry that I might actually have to start the trek without my gear. But that's exactly what happened.

Fortunately I had carried on my sleeping bag and one change of clothes. I was left without shoes, poles, long underwear, hat, gloves etc..along with all my medications for Malaria, headache, upset stomach and antibiotics. Most people would have turned around, but turning around is not my nature. I decided to continue on and gather up what I could borrow from my fellow trekkers and guide who were willing to still take me along.

I bought my hiking boots from the very best store in McCloud. "These are my very best boots lady. They will last you seven days," is exactly what the Hindu owner stated. I bought them for $45 and traveled on to the small village of Lohardi, a shanty town that would be our starting point for the trek.The children in Lohardi swarmed us and we were met with eyes of curiosity and amazement by the villagers. We discovered from our guide that we were the first white people (not just westerners) to ever do this trek and that our guide Ankit had been waiting seven years to do what he termed, "the Sheppard's Trail".

Hours after we arrived in Lohardi a local man, named Krishna appeared and Ankit stated he would be the one who would lead the way. He was actually the only one who knew the way. When Krishna saw I had no poles, he quickly took a small ax and fashioned me a stick from a local tree, confirming the namesake of the trail.

The first day was relatively easy and we were all fairly comfortable as we camped overnight at a river after a slow uphill five-hour hike. There were lots of sheep and picturesque hillsides and everyone was still cheery even though we were all still battling jet lag.

In the morning, Krishna pointed to the hillside behind us, a 2,500 foot ascent — straight up. Daunting as it was, we were in good spirits and the sun was shining. Three hours later, the thin trail became a literal ladder that nervously delivered you onto a narrow ledge no wider than eight inches. Each step took careful focus, one foot directly in front of the other.

To miss your step would mean absolute peril down a razor's edge rocky cliff. It was like walking a tight rope with no safety net or rope. To make matters worse, a snow drift had blown in and we were now all engulfed on a nerve's edge with a radically new challenge. It would take another grueling two hours on that tight rope to reach base camp.

Physically and emotionally exhausted from all of it, but we made it! I was out of breath and dizzy from my heart racing due to the altitude change and danger.

At one point on the ledge I had lost my group. I could see no one infront of me and no one behind me. I realized if I slipped I would be lost forever, no one would know where to look. I told myself,"This is no time to panic," and then the voice of Dora (Ellen Degeneres from the Walt Disney movie “Nemo”) came into my head. "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming". So that's what I did, left without choice against the pressure of snow accumulating and the trail fading away.

I took some comfort later while waiting at base camp in awe of the majesty and stark beauty of the snow capped mountain range, that I would be the first white woman to do this trek. However, it was never my intention to place myself in such danger or be an explorer.

I have held witness many times to pain and suffering and death and have lived in a Buddhist monastery for seven years idealizing the higher consciousness of enlightenment but spirituality is difficult to truly embody when your mind is busy letting go.

We had visited the Golden Temple in Delhi and offered prayers in Dharamsala, home to the Dalai Lama, before our trek began. Yet, it is Mother Nature herself who has the power, should you try and meet her, to demand your respect, strength, courage, surrender and, ultimately, faith. She alone is the only one who physically can put prayer in your heart and effortlessly weave soul and source together allowing for the possibility to definitively answer the question within the physical wholeness of your "self".....,

"Who am I?" I can only hope the next five days will be much easier....