Snowy peaks came into view. Beneath them, layers of terraced mountains blurred. I could do nothing to prevent the tear that filled my eye nor the next one that pushed itself out.
I could not see the rice stalks in the fields. I knew from walking among them that only last year’s stalks remained, trimmed to within a fist-length of the now-parched ground. A fresh round of tears stood in line as I thought about how I was supposed to spend my anniversary high in those glacier-strewn peaks, months from now. That wouldn’t happen anymore.
My desire to do this trek had varied over the past two years. It was only at this moment with the reality of it being yanked away that I realized what it had meant to me. I was not ready to let go. We were supposed to cross the entire country of Nepal over five months - trekking 1,700 kilometers along the spine of the Himalaya, the Great Himalaya Trail’s high route.
I should have been down there among the trees, walking along muddy roads and narrow tracks. I should have been making my way north, rising back towards five-thousand metre passes like those my group had acclimatized to nearly two weeks earlier. Unfortunately, heavy snow had made Lumbha Sumbha La impassable and had triggered our diversion south.
After trekking well off our original plan for over ten days, we were within three days of getting back on track. Our detour was almost complete.
Then everything changed. We reached the town of Barhabise in eastern Nepal. It was around ten in the morning and we expected a brief break to register at the local check point. Instead, we were not allowed to leave. We camped in the town’s soccer field. The local police were enforcing a national lockdown and restricted movement order. Locals peered at us, curious to see who had wandered into their town. We could not leave the field, besides walking a few metres away to cool off in the river that flowed parallel to the length of the soccer pitch. Four days later we were still there, doing nothing but waiting to start trekking again. We had well over one hundred days to go. Then in the early evening, our guide informed us the trek had been cancelled and a helicopter was coming the next morning to take us back to Kathmandu.
We had been safe, isolated with our trekking crew, far from dense populations and farther from global news.
Never had I imagined a pandemic was brewing when we left, never had I imagined a world like the one we returned to five weeks later.
For now, all I could hear was the whirring sound from the helicopter’s blades. Ironically, the logo plastered to the outer door invited us to ‘Visit Nepal’.
It had been over two years ago when my husband had called out to me from the comfort of our home, “Nance, I found the perfect trek for us.” Our quest had begun. We stopped drinking. We trained. We trekked all over the world, from Tajikistan to India. We took mountaineering courses and tested our gear. In February 2020, we arrived in Kathmandu to start what we thought would be the hardest challenge of our lives.
That challenge instead crumpled into a faded dream.
Nancy O'Hare has lived and worked across five continents and travelled to over eighty countries. Her writing shares insights from her travels and musings about the world around us.