Mt. Everest

A letter to Taras Genet in 2014.

Hello Taras, son of Ray Genet.  My warmest regards to you, and to the memory of your father.

Nearly thirty-five years ago, on December 1st, 1979, Karen and I awoke in the hut at Gorak Shep in Nepal, the last rock shelter before reaching the basecamp at Everest.  Your father had been at Gorak Shep in September, about two months before, when you were just over a year old, so I was about the same age as you are now when I was there.  Karen recorded impressions of that walk to Khumbu in her journal, so I know that eight of us – three Swiss, three Nepalis and we two Americans – had huddled three days and two nights in the rock hut awaiting a snowstorm to lull, and that morning we enjoyed a calm before a duty.  Karen’s tell is included in what I am sending you – read it in her own handwriting expressing her soaring emotions.

You will read about the innkeeper “Duche,” as Karen spells him.  The Pied Piper.  Duche had seen your father before his ascent in September.  Duche’s harmonica was likely the last mortal music your father enjoyed.  On the back of my notes that had guided our walk from Lukla to Gorak Shep, I found this in my handwriting: “Taught us by Deutche-Ek in Gorak Shep.  Nepali “Git” (song).”  Then my writing of Nepali words and my translation of the git.  “Mountain sunlight is beautiful; The man is big the woman is small.  Grass I don’t smoke, tobacco I do.  After sleeping I will go, I will go.”  His Nepali word for mountain was himalama.

You will read about the storm at Gorak Shep, and about two Sherpas in the rock hut.  Karen writes of their “stone carvings.”  The Sherpas had arrived to memorialize your father.  Throughout the snowstorm, the Sherpa climbers chipped letters into a black slate slab, creating a plaque bearing the name of a brother, a departed climber from America.  The tap, tap, tapping of chisels on slate.  The Sherpa flintstones tapping through the storm.  The memory of your father etched in stone to be placed on the mountain inside the cirquel of giants.

Karen writes that on December 1st I helped the Sherpas enshrine that plaque, and from lucid memory I tell you now.  I followed the two Sherpas through the snow and boulders into the Khumbu cirque.  The brisk wind pushed against our backs, the sky busy with clouds racing by, hiding the towering peaks surrounding us.  Above, a troupe of ravens, soaring, weaving, following us into Earth’s highest cathedral to a jagged black ridge facing storm-covered Everest. 

The Sherpas selected a boulder, and we formed a rock brigade, passing stones from one to the other, placing them atop the granite pedestal.  Under the rising shrine, in wind-blown bare spots in the snow, pecked a pair of snowcocks, ignoring the three pilgrims silently stacking rocks.  A miniature Mt. Everest arose.  Finally, on the summit of the stone shrine, a Sherpa placed the black plaque bearing your father’s name.

With awe and honor I stood with those strong bronze Sherpas in tribute to your father.  With Everest behind the shrine, the two native climbers pressed their palms together, and together they nodded toward the finished memorial above us.  One began to speak.  With a nod to the black slate, his first word was namaste, the traditional Nepali acknowledgement of respect, and thereafter he ended every pause in his homage to your father with himalama namaste.  Although I could not understand the Sherpa language, I heard two English words spoken over and over, each time accompanied by a climber’s nod toward the black slate your father – Strong Man, Strong Man, Strong Man.

Your father was there with us – the mountain gave him back for a brief moment, and the Sherpa climbers joined in fraternal Oneness with him while I watched in wonder, and cried. 

As we left the shrine, the Sherpas made me understand that all eight of us should leave Gorak Shep soon.  Should the snow return we might not be able to get out at all.  Since I was already wet, I started down the Khumbu Glacier, following escaping deer tracks through the snow because the cairns were covered and hidden, the others following my trail through the moraine, the wind and storm returning in fury, cloaking us with snow.  Karen tells that we two Americans and Duche sheltered at the yak hut at Lobuche, but the Swiss, without ever viewing Everest, sadly descended, led downslope to safety by the Sherpas.  Two days later, our twelfth day on the Khumbu trail, the Pied Piper, Karen and I, we three together, enjoying Duche’s harmonica, returned to a Gorak Shep aglow in sunshine, into a place we Americans had never seen under blue skies.  That night, at 18,500 feet, perched atop Kala Patthar, an enormous black boulder facing Everest, under twinkling stars we watched the glowing snowfield sparkle as the full moon rose through the South Col, and Karen sketched that special moment.

Karen sketched that special moment

Back in Kathmandu I attempted to get information about the American climber, to tell the family what had happened and to send a photo, but I left unsuccessful.  We had been traveling overland for eight years when we arrived at Gorak Shep, and still more years traveled by, and new walks seized my attention.  But then came the 2014 avalanche at Everest to remind me again of Khumbu.  I searched the InterNet and easily found the name of the climber I sought, along with the names of his two sons.  I located this address for Taras, and I trust that I have reached him.

Karen dug out her journal from the walk and I made images of her very personal pages that no one but you should ever see.  I found the slide of that raw moment captured at Khumbu and sent it to a photographer who converted the transparency to a digital format.  All these images are attached.

Now suddenly and without notice you receive this gift.  The picture, taken as we built the shrine, is the sole photograph of the memorial service to your father at Mt. Everest.  For you and me, I am smiling to at last deliver it to you.  Please accept these treasures in the good spirit with which they were gifted.  Namaste, Taras.

Sherpas on way to build shrine
Sherpas building shrine
Everest on left and Nuptse on right. View from Kala Patthar
Nuptse. View from Kala Patthar
Gorak Shep 1979
Karen Leaving Khumbu
Days and months are the travelers of eternity. So are the years that pass by… I myself have been tempted for a long time by the cloud-moving wind-filled with a strong desire to wander…I walked through mists and clouds breathing the thin air of high altitudes and stepping on slippery ice and snow, ’till at last through a gateway of clouds, as it seemed, to the very paths of the sun and moon I reached the summit, completely out of breath and nearly frozen to death. Presently, the sun went down and the moon rose glistening in the sky. BASHO. The Narrow Road to the Deep North. And it was Quality!

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