Yes, I know, I’ve been going on and on about my trip to Nepal. Yes, it was spiritual, yes, it was life affirming and yes, I know exactly how I sound when I say that. I didn’t go there to ‘find myself’ or anything, but I had a pretty revelatory moment whilst I was there. I didn’t expect to experience anything close to that lightning moment on the side of a mountain but even now, I think about it at least once a day. We all know that travelling stokes the mind, develops our characters and helps us to gain a clearer, fuller understanding of the world, but on this particular trip, I felt as though I really got to know myself better.
So, when you roll with anxiety and depression, your own wins don’t often strike you as the least bit impressive. Despite how much you might be acknowledged or loved by others, almost all your feats, remarkable or unremarkable, tend to disappoint your inner self. It’s tough to admit, but this has always been sort of a problem for me. I don’t know when the need to set myself impossibly high standards kicked in but I feel like I’ve always carried it around with me.
I also don’t remember what drew me to Nepal in the first place. I think it must have been how mystic, secret and unattainable it seemed. It was a place that was so far removed from the UK’s south-easterly towns with their grey pebble beaches, concrete skate parks, awkward wine-smelling house parties and shrieking gulls.
When arranging my trip, I’d booked a two-week trek through the Himalayan mountains. I’d barely hiked since I was a child when I’d stomp through Sussex woodland for a couple of hours at a time. I was never really a sporty kid. In fact, I used to skip most of my PE classes in favour of standing by the school gates, smoking and listening to Kate Bush on my MP3 player; side note, Kate Bush released a track called Wild Man describing the very same mountain trails that I walked and when I discovered the song years later I celebrated the fated connection by listening to the track on repeat for weeks.
The trek would take me through the Annapurna trail, walking for seven hours daily through forests and gorges, up the mountain face to Annapurna Basecamp at 4130 metres above sea level. I was not in the least bit prepared for this, but all the same, I was up for it.
There were times when the beauty of the ghostly rhododendron forests and stone lodges was so visceral or the air so quiet and vast that I was overwhelmed. My legs ached and I felt the pang of cool air filling my lungs the higher I climbed. There was no denying how far I had come, how physically and mentally challenged and uncommonly proud I felt, because the proof was always in the wild descending trail just behind me. The rocky gorges and stacked green hills gave way to gloomy woodlands and soon, great rafts of white snow.
No one had told me to bring sunglasses so I squinted my way through the final leg of the adventure, the fresh and wet powder covering me the steeper I climbed. My guide was a pro but also a patient man, often walking behind me so that I might set my own pace, which at times was closer to a crawl than a serious hike. He’d collect me from my cabin before sunrise so that we could watch it together and eat breakfast in silence, hot coals warming our feet beneath the breakfast table.
Finally, when I stood at basecamp, knee-deep in snow at the roof of the world watching strings of colourful prayer flags ticker in the wind, it occurred to me that to simply acknowledge my power, my will and my worth, I’d had to do this; scale one of the earth’s tallest mountains, just to look back down. I often think of that moment, of ice banked by rock and the path cutting away behind me.
I think about my mountain with its sheer cliffs and ragged peaks and it’s much easier to feel good about every tiny achievement. I guess having to climb a literal mountain just to be convinced of my own ability and volition makes me a little intense. But I’m just that kind of person. Now I can say I climbed a mountain and sometimes, it just feels so good to say it.