"There is a massive mountain looming over me, calling my name." (Photo: Emily Harrington)

Skiing Makalu: The Puja Ceremony

As the team attempting the first ski descent of Makalu prepares to ascend, they first perform an ancient ritual

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Sunday was our Puja ceremony for our Makalu climb. We did it early in the morning with the whole of Makulu as our backdrop, as the sun rose slowly over the peak’s West shoulder. For me, it was like stepping through a doorway.  

I can think of a million metaphors to describe what it's like when the time comes for me to compartmentalize my life as a mom and put on my climbing face. Normally I would have done this weeks ago, as soon as I stepped out the door of my home and headed for the airport. This trip is different. This time my husband and kids came to Nepal with me and trekked all the way up the Makalu valley to base camp.  

(Courtesy of the O'Neill family)

It was a crazy, stressful, amazing experience that I had dreamt of for years.  Of course, dreams and reality are rarely the same thing. In order to arrive at base camp for prime fall climbing, we had to start our trek during full-blown monsoon season. Alas, much of our hiking was in the fog and rain. The leeches were….intense is a nice way to put it. The trail was oftentimes more of a river than a path but, miraculously, my family was amazing. I think, with some distance, they may even say they enjoyed their time scrapping 12,000 feet up the Arun and Barun valleys to see the Himalaya for the first time. I know I was questioning my sanity in forcing this undertaking upon my six and eight-year-old boys, but already, only two days since they departed, I think it was totally amazing. 

(Emily Harrington)

Now my transformation has to happen incredibly quickly. While my family is landing in the U.S. and driving home, I am sitting cross-legged in front of the traditional puja juniper fire at 18,700 feet, watching hundreds of prayer flags being strung up around me, throwing rice on the chorten altar, and drinking Red Bull. There is a massive mountain looming over me, calling my name and I need to honor the side of me that dreams of thin air and glaciers and suffering that I only find when I push myself beyond my limits. That's why I am here. This is the beauty I wanted my kids to see.  

(Adrian Ballinger)

On Tuesday, our team will start our first rotation and spend three-to-four nights moving between Camp 1 and Camp 2, climbing as high as 22,000 feet. The snow, so far, looks amazing and we will use our skis to descend back to advanced base camp. I'm both excited and crazy nervous but my mind is ticking and my body is thrumming and I am happy.


Lead Photo: Emily Harrington

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