TRIBHUVAN INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, Nepal — Who can conceive a mountain so large?
It would’ve been an understatement to say I was excited about an early-morning flight out of Kathmandu’s airport to see the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest, at an elevation of 29,029 feet above sea level (8,848 meters).
Known in Nepal as Sagarmāthā and in Tibet as Chomolungma, Earth’s tallest mountain sits amid its giant sisters that comprise the Himalayas, an impossibly spectacular mountain range straddling the border of Nepal and Tibet.
My father had been fascinated with Mount Everest since I was a kid, and I remember him speaking about it in tones of wonderment. His native Peru boasts majestic mountain ranges, as well, of which I have seen only a sampling.
My renewed interest as an adult came later, when I moved to New Mexico, and I happened upon Jon Krakauer’s account of the May 1996 tragedy in which 12 climbers perished due to bad weather and an astounding series of unfortunate circumstances. The article in Outside magazine haunted me for its detailed, first-hand account of the ill-fated expedition.
Later, I literally could not put down his 1999 book, “Into Thin Air,” moving from room to room in my Santa Fe home, paperback in hand, until I had turned the last page.
Though my journey to Nepal would not take me even as far as Everest Base Camp, it was thrilling to see such a sight with my own eyes. Knowing the somber nature of the mountain and the unpredictability of the weather, I was also a bit worried.
When I arrived at the airport, I saw that it was a 29-seat turboprop plane, like the kind I’d taken for short hops across the Midwestern United States. I remember having bumpy rides on small airplanes, but this was really my only option to get the closest to Mount Everest that I would likely ever get, so I crossed my fingers and queued up.