Mountaineering can be a punishing, albeit a rewarding adventure for many. Few, however, have had the fortune of documenting in words such singular exploits. Writing in first person, contributor Lilly Garcia’s non-linear narrative takes Resurgent’s readers to an arduous climb to Central Nepal’s most stunning summit, and ponders the meaning of conquering new, formidable heights.
I wasn’t 100 percent sure if I could actually make it all the way to the top, Annapurna Base Camp intimidatingly sitting at 4,310 masl. I couldn’t take the incline anymore so I unstrapped my backpack, placed it on the dirt, and sat on it.
My thoughts rattled back and forth. I just made it to Poon Hill that morning, after two days of hiking. It was already a dream come true to be near the striking Himalayan mountains so why bother hiking four more days to get to the base camp? Why bother with all that trouble? My muscles are already sore. Could I really reach base camp?
Three months prior, standing in front of Saigon’s airport terminal entrance at 11pm with a sign greeting me, “Open 4am,” I contemplated the same thing. Why did I want to put myself through this again?
I was just fresh off my flight from the Philippines and didn’t think that the local terminal would be closed for the night. I mistakenly thought leaving would be the hardest part, and that I’d become the living cliché in no time: the fearless solo traveler.
But it was never the case; I was always scared and it was my daily routine on the road: What if I miss my stop? What if there isn’t any ATM in town? Do I trust the people around me? Won’t this make my stomach sick? Can my body really take on this hike? How the hell am I going to manage alone?
Each time fear whispered to my ear, my mind raced back to my 22-year-old self who suddenly realized she wanted to be part of the banana pancake trail, to experience it firsthand—the pull of Asia being unshakeable she would regret it for the rest of her life if she didn’t at least try.
I had to face anxiety and keep going, not to prove anything but to just do it for her, my “younger self.” It was always on my shoulder whispering, but after dealing with it a couple of times, I soon realized it was just a tiny part of the routine. Well, this is the part that I get so scared that I want to puke. But I hope it gets to be tomorrow when I arrive. All I need to focus on tomorrow is finding an ATM and locating the bus that will pass by my hostel.
By the time I return to the same airport to leave, I find myself in tears, my heart overflowing with immense gratitude and love. I had just wanted to tick off things that I’ve dreamt to do, but I left with more friends close to my heart and moments that never fail to paint a smile on my face. I could imagine arriving in yet another country with the same amount of apprehension but with a little bit more comfort that everything will work out in the end.
Fast forward. Let’s just find out if we can. I placed another pair of pain relief patches on my ankles, dusted off my backpack, and drank one last gulp of water. All you need to do right now is follow the trail and reach the next town. That’s it. Take your time.
At that moment, the only goal was to make it to base camp. But yet again, what made the trip memorable wasn’t solely the triumph of reaching the top after five days. It was the accumulation of the tiny moments in between that I will cherish for a lifetime.
It was throwing out all my excuses when I met a Korean named Kim, who later on revealed that she, too, was hiking alone and was actually 69 years old.
It was the bliss when I finally reached each town, sharing my celebratory cookies to fellow hikers who were also dead tired from the uphill trek. In higher altitudes, I looked up and was in awe as eagles flew just a few meters above my head.
It was the brief moments of solitude that brought me to tears, especially when I realized I was only a few days away from making my dream come true.
It was chancing upon a dozen porters and guides who offered that we hike together just to make sure I would be safe from harm.
It was being doubted by my roommate who told me I couldn’t possibly take on the altitude because I hadn’t been to Tibet like him, only to find him at the top three days later with a big grin on my face.
It was the laughs and stories over dinner and late-night card games with people hailing from different parts of the world.
It was meeting a Frenchman named Joe, who was ecstatic to share his love of the Philippines when he realized I was a Filipino, and who even corrected me when I said karaoke. “Excuse me, it’s videoke!”
It was celebrating Nepali New Year with locals turned friends, bonding over friendly games of chess at 3,700 masl and eventually hiking together back to Pokhara, sealing our friendship with a celebratory dinner and a few trips around their lovely town.
It was all because I didn’t let fear cheat me out of pursuing my dream.
After hiking for nine days straight, I lost one toe nail and was sick for a week. But what a small price to pay for the friends, lessons and experiences I’ve gained throughout the trail.
As I lay in bed recovering, I remembered my 22-year-old self, and how her jaw would drop in disbelief if I would go back in time and tell her that in three years’ time, she would be scared to travel alone but will manage somehow and even have the guts to hike solo for nine days straight. We made it to THE Annapurna Region buddy, congrats!!
(Lilly, based in Manila, is a CPA by profession and, in her own words, "a wanderer by heart." She writes that she "has always felt happiest in the wilderness. It could be a forest, a mountain, or even a beach," adding that "a well spent weekend should always involve nature, good food, new friends, and extra rice." Photos below show the author, left, with her fellow-trekkers; and at the Annapurna base camp.)