Seeing Mount Everest

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When I first took plane trips several decades ago, it was a pretty rare thing, not just for me, but for just about everyone. A sense of wonder accompanied each take-off, and then the unearthly cloudscape would empty out underneath us  once we reached cruising altitude – a  pillowy white movie-set version of some fresh blizzard in the countryside, patches of ground showing through some of the melted bits.

Occasionally that sense of wonder returns, as it did yesterday when I flew from Victoria to Toronto (and later to Moncton, to see my ailing father). Dawn had not broken, but about 20 minutes and 37,000 feet later it had, the grey cloud oddly pinked from the inside by the creeping sunlight – this time suggesting beds of scooped grey ash glowing with the embers of the previous night’s fire.

My mind had still not shaken off its usual early morning stream of consciousness, which had me recalling our flight out of Kathmandu, Nepal nearly exactly a year ago. It was a brilliant day, as you will see from the photograph below, and to the north the jagged teeth of the Himalayas spread out from one end of the horizon to the other. A couple of the other passengers said we could see Mount Everest, which surprised me, but I had no way of verifying the truth of the statement (perhaps a reader can let me know).

About a week earlier, we had sat in the domestic section of the Kathmandu Airport. While this holding area has a public address system and three monitors that are relics from the days of black and white television, the only way passengers really know that their plane is boarding is to listen to the aiport agent who wanders through the crowded waiting room shouting out which flights are available for boarding. I remember seeing the destinations on the list on the monitor. One of the destinations, Lukla, had about a dozen flights scheduled, but they were all cancelled. In conversation with another waiting passenger, I learned that this was often the case – this airport was the gateway to Mt. Everest and was often snowed in, or fogged in, and hopeful trekkers just had to wait for a break in the weather. Fortunately we were headed to the Annapurna region, several hundred miles to the west of Everest, to the airport at Pokhara, which enjoys much more dependable weather.

It must be hard to stem the stream of consciousness. When I finally finished my flights yesterday, I had time to buy a couple of books for my Kindle that I had been savoring, and while doing so came across one called The I Love Lukla Club, about the trials of some mountaineers who were stranded at that weather-deprived airport. Et voilà.

I know I am not alone in this particular exercise, of sustaining a sense of wonder. Of course, it’s easier when you spend your entire day, week and life around young people, whose tap of wonder is never turned off.

The Himalayas north of Kathmandu
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Bob Snowden
Bob Snowden was Head of School at St. Michaels University School for 22 years, from 1995-2017.

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