Tag Archives: Christen

Busking for Karma – Thank You for Being a Friend ~ Performed by Christen



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Christen ~ Gratitude in Letters

Bit from the letters ~

“Crouch LOW when you pee outside… getting a little hoo-hoo chill is better than sleeping with pee on your pajamas!”

~

“It is not a portrait, in the classical sense. No airbrushing. No photoshopping. In Nepal, I tried to see people how they were. Just you, as the person you are. This is the thinly veiled smile you gave to the doubters before we left. After four demanding days into the trek, that little curl of the lips turned into a full-fleged mischievous grin. It was clear to me then that, while you hiked for the cause, this smile meant more….”
© Luke Mislinski

~

I often come back to a sign my brother saw in Berlin that said, “When was the last time you did something for the first time?”

This trek has been chockfull of firsts for me. My first pair of hiking boots. My first foray into talking openly on social media about what I am doing in my life. (As a generally private person [understatement], that is still weird for me.) My first time eating yak. My first time in Asia. And, yes, my first time heeding nature’s call in nature.

With unhappy digestive systems abounding, bathroom breaks were freely discussed in detail by necessity. (One man’s illness affects the group’s itinerary choices.)

So, as I returned to the lunch table from my first wilderness meditation, so to speak, Luke asked, “How was it?”

I gave him a look. “Um, awkward…? But, I guess I am getting the hang of it.”

Luke responded, “I meant the consistency…”

“Okay, well, still awkward, but, fine, I guess.”

And, it was. And, it remained fine. Whoever is in charge of these things must have decided that this was hard enough on me without laying on that extra stress of getting travelers’ sickness on top of it. One of many things for which I am grateful.

~

©Christen Babb
©Christen Babb

~

Gratitude…

When I asked for letters that I could read on the mountains, a beautiful thing happened. Letters arrived.

Letters from strangers. Letters from family. Letters from people I get to love in person in my life, and letters from people I no longer get to see but love still. Letters from people I know well, and letters from people I wish I knew better.

The letters were thoughtful and personal and inspiring. They took all forms. Some shared personal struggles. Some shared personal triumphs. Some shared memories we had made together. Some shared hopes for their own future adventures, slices of wisdom, moments of humor, or kind admiration for what we are doing.

I have been sharing bits of the letters with these entries because they mean so much to me. I wish I could post all of them here, but that would violate the trust I feel I was given in receiving them, though I have not been instructed once that this is so. I have left off all of the names because some of the letters shared such intimate vulnerabilities that I preferred to leave them well protected in the mountains where they were first read.

©Christen Babb
©Christen Babb

One told the story of a recent assault on a dark walk home alone. Others were stories of the difficulties of daily life in the attempts to be a good grownup and stories of the hardships of parenthood and all that entails. Stories of the sacrifices made for others and how those sacrifices can sometimes make you feel like you are drowning. Things that cannot be admitted anywhere but a letter sent to mountains far away where the words will not echo back. Stories of finally finding love, stories of still seeking love, and stories of love attempting to be maintained.

There were quotes, poetry, and lyrics to songs. One story-laden song in particular made me smile and sing it out loud when I read it. (“That’s the sound of sunshine, coming down…”) Love you, Mama.

Some fantastic awkward family photos that made me grin. (I am going to go right ahead and credit my sister for this gift, so you know I am not grinning at your awkward family photos.)

©Christen Babb
©Christen Babb

One line from the letters has continued to play in my head. I imagine it will continue to do so for a very long time. It is this, “…and there was you…treating me like I was normal, like I was valuable.”

Like I was valuable…

That sums up, so well, the reasoning that has been behind so many of the choices I have made in my life. I want people to know they are valuable.

I want to say, Thank you, to all of you for your generosity of time put into words. It is such a rare gift to have people in your life that take that kind of time. Thank you for letting me take that gift with me on this journey.

[Mio caro bello vecchio uomo, HKM, CLF, MDB, and JLT, I want you to know that your letters are getting worn at the edges from the rereading. You own real estate in my heart.]

People are asking me if I am glad I went. The easy answer is, Yes.

Someday, when I look back on my life, I want my list of Things I Have Done to be much longer than the Things I Have Not.

The complexity of that Yes is that I know I am just trading in the literal mountains for the much more arduous figurative mountains of working towards doing justice to the stories we have so far, and the more we have yet to experience. That is a much longer climb we will be beginning.

At this moment, at the end of this Himalayan hike, that idea is overwhelming. Instead, I am focusing on how lucky and blessed I am, and I am just going to look forward to this next week we will spend in the little village above Kathmandu called Changunarayan.

https://karmadocumentary.com/invest-in-karma/

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Christen ~ Rabbit Trap

Bit from the letters ~

“Flamingo legs are an asset, right?”

“Good quote- “Get on your knees and thank God you are still on your feet.” I hope you are still on your feet.”

“Be you. Be safe. Be nothing else.”

~
Pasang 2

The last two days was going down to 11,000 feet and then up over a difficult pass that exceeded 15,000 feet and finally down to 9800 feet into Lukla, where we had begun the trek.

Prayer flag sky

I have learned that the ascents take physical strength, which is harder on me, but they make you pay attention. It makes it less likely you will fall on the inclines.

Descents are different. The descents are mental. You must keep your mind focused on the steps you are taking because you find your mind wandering much more easily on the declines, which makes you more vulnerable to slipping or tripping. For someone who is prone to daydreaming, this can be tough for me, but I will take the mental over the physical any day.

However, the real challenge for someone as clumsy as I am, it turns out, is when you get to the bottom and you stop paying attention altogether.

I made it through the trek without slipping and falling, without injury, and without getting sick, neither traveler’s sickness nor altitude. (Luke was kind enough to do all of those well enough for the both of us.) That alone was cause for celebration, and we did just that. The staff and the trekkers sat down to a celebratory dinner, followed by some impromptu dancing.

Being in Lukla again meant a return to internet access, as well, which let me call people to let them know I was not dead, (a bigger worry for some people than one might have guessed.).

I finished these calls in the pitch black of night (for the almost 13 hour time difference). With little to no electricity, pitch black has a different meaning. Your eyes do not adjust and all you can see is what is lit by the pinhole of light from your headlamp in front of your feet.

After taking this pinhole of light to the outhouse, I made my way back to my room by way of a narrow flight of uneven, and sometimes loose, stone stairs. In my attempt to not stumble on them, I did not notice that the left side of the stairs was lined with twirling barbed wire. (For what purpose, I still do not know.)

Forward and downward motion does not combine well with catching your left leg in barbed wire in the dark. As the rest of me went forward, my left leg pulled up behind me, which effectively hung me upside-down by my left ankle. As I did not know yet that it was barbed wire, my first coherent thought was something roughly akin to, “Did I seriously just get caught in a rabbit trap?!” I started laughing because, well, what else can one do when one is hung upside-down in the middle of the night.

Being rather lanky, it makes my ankle a long ways away, as I tried to do upside down sit-ups in an attempt to free myself from whatever briar patch in which I had found myself. Every time I tried to reach for it, it pulled tighter around my ankle.

Realizing I would not be getting myself out of this, I attempted yelling for help, to no avail. As I sat staring at the sky, hanging off the side of a stone wall, dangling above a flight of stone stairs, I realized that I was stuck here until the sun would come up in a few hours and people would start waking.

I did the only thing that seemed logical. I went to sleep.

I cannot decide if it is fortunate or unfortunate that there is no photographic evidence of this. It is likely much more hilarious in my mind, as I picture the first people who came around the corner that morning and came upon a girl, bundled in a black parka, hanging upside-down, sleeping like a bat.

I hope my rescuers found it as funny as I do, before they woke me up to help me down.

As a friend lovingly said before I left, “I can see why they want you to come on this trip. You are absurd.”

Thank God for getting that tetanus shot before I left.

Bits from the letters ~

“…what might you need, right now, at some unknown yet moment…perhaps 2am Himalayan time, under a starry and frozen sky…”

“Love was real.
‘Love is bigger than whatever you have experienced, so far’
Someone told me that once.
So, you go and look at the sky…”

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Christen ~ While they summit

Bit from the letters ~

“Remember that the “summit” is merely the halfway point and that there is plenty more adventure to be had on the “return” portion of the trip.”

~

Before this trek, if you had asked me for a definition of a crampon, I would have guessed it had something to do with a menstrual cycle, and self-arrest may have been a citizen’s arrest you perform on yourself.

[Maybe there should be a mountaineering version of Balderdash for those of us not in the know.]

This, among many other reasons, pretty much disqualifies me from making the summit climb, as I would be roped to other climbers who would need me to respond like a functionally trained climber while crossing glaciers, avoiding crevasses, and repelling down mountain faces. (I think all of that is lingo-ly correct?)

As the rest of our team attempted the summit on Mera Peak, Luke and I descended roughly 5,000 feet to counter Luke’s altitude sickness, which meant I got to take my first hot shower in about ten days.

[By ‘hot shower’, I mean standing in a shed with an old, large, plastic paint bucket affixed with a plastic spigot and filled with boiling water sitting on a shelf above my head, with another paint bucket on the floor, filled with ice cold glacier creek water and a small pitcher, to temper the boiling water.]

Then, on to having some clean clothes, because we got to do our laundry.

[By ‘do our laundry’, I mean taking a large basin, filling it with cold creek water, scrubbing down our clothes with bar soap, and then hanging them out to dry.]

With the waterfalls in the background and the playlist Ange made me for this trip playing on Luke’s phone while we scrub, it is not a bad way to pass a relaxing, sunny afternoon in Khote, a mountain village at roughly 12,000 feet.

Khote - boy in waterfalls

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Christen ~ 16,500 feet

Bits from letters ~

“It took me a while to digest this news. My first thoughts were are you out of your mind.”

“this is not about you dying, because you are not going to and that is really going to [censored] up the rest of my letter if you think you are”

“Hiking the Himalayas…Are you nuts? :)”

“You make incredibly bad choices, but have incredibly good stories!
I know you will survive! It’s what you do!
GO – Bring joy to the world!”

~

If my grandma had been around for me to tell her about this trip, she would have casually said, “Give ’em hell, babe.” That thought made me smile at Khare Lodge at about 16,500 feet.

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[Side note: 16,500 feet is higher than anything in the continental U.S. and the trek up here is more difficult than that to Everest base camp. Yeah…these were not things I knew before coming up here. Also, had I read the suggested training information packets, I would, apparently, have been informed that trekkers should be in “marathon plus” shape, as in, you should be able to run a marathon and still have something left in the reserve tank. Since running a block about does me in, we can add that to the list of advice not taken…]

It is the morning after we arrived here. I am walking around to take it in and feeling good. Surprisingly good. Better than I deserve to feel good. And, as you can imagine, I am feeling a little bit tough at this point. Okay, maybe a little more than a little.

Then, I look over and see one of the Russians, shirtless, standing in the snow, casually using handfuls of it to scrub himself down.

Ahh, yes, I am still soft…

Reality Check, I tip my hat to you.

What can you do, but laugh?

Oh, and recruit the Russians and a Ukrainian to help build a human-sized snow demon with the new snow we got last night. Building snowmen is a great equalizer, because it wears everyone out. However, I wore gloves and a hat for some of it, and they did not. I am okay with being a little soft.

Photo credit: Yuriy Taranovych
Photo credit: Yuriy Taranovych

Bits from the letters ~

“It is your compassion that brought you on this journey, and it is your determination that will see you through to the end.

“Hold your chin high, we are all so proud of you, base camp or not.”

“Of course it’s hard. It’s supposed to be hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great. – A League of Their Own”

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82513

Christen ~ Onward and upward…and downward and upward again

The Everest avalanche did not belong to me. It belongs to the people in front of me. But, then, part of why I am here is because what happens to any of us is happening to all of us so, it is not mine, but it is ours…if that makes any sense.

No matter. We still have mountains to climb, and death happens, more often in some places than others, and we cannot help from here, unless the story we are trying to tell here, somehow, in some way, helps someone in the future. So, we focus on that and the next steps in front of us and we keep working our way up.

But, it is not just up. It is up and down and up again. Then, repeat. Sometimes, the ups and downs end with you higher than you started. Sometimes, they end with you lower. Sometimes, you feel like you did not get anywhere at all.

Nepali Flats - descending to go higher

Nepali Flats - inclines

As it is with trying to get through anything, I suppose. Whether it is grieving a loss, or trying to create something that did not exist before, or raising people, or hiking the Himalayas, or just trying to get through the day-to-day, in whatever way that looks right now.

Sometimes, you spend a day hiking here, where you go up and down thousands of feet, but you do not gain any elevation. They call these the Nepali flats.

In anything we are trying to do, it takes a lot of Nepali flats days to get to where we are going.

Nepali Flats - View 1

Bits from letters ~

“recently i ran the nyc half marathon with friends all in the name of cancer. i didn’t do all that much to prep and train. not nearly as much as most running sites encouraged me to do. i drank a lot and still had the occasional cigarette (bad). but i did it–i ran 13.1 miles, which is probably 10 miles more than i’ve ever run in my entire life. it’s a different story, but similar in many regards. the feeling i had upon completion was totally overwhelming and fantastic. i did something i didn’t think i could do. and i did it all for a really good cause. and more importantly, now i know what i can do when pushed to the limits. it’s made me want more challenges and adventures.”

“Thought of you during my spin class…When I thought I couldn’t go any longer I told myself, ‘Christen is hiking the Himalayas, I can do THIS.'”

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Christen ~ On a mountain near Everest

Sibuje 5

On the second night in Sibuje, some of us opted for sleeping on the lawn, under the clear sky, far from any light pollution. It meant a gentle awakening as the sun began the day from behind the mountains. Breakfast was served picnic style on a tarp on the lawn. So far from everything and 8,000 feet above the sea, it felt like a morning just for us.

Then, a phone call for Karma came. The day changed. That feeling stopped.

As the information came, in spurts and through language barriers, all feelings stopped.

An avalanche on Everest. Only Sherpas on the mountain there. Not Sherpas. Porters. Guides. Staff. Not all staff are Sherpas. Only staff on the mountain there. No tourists. No clients. Clients were lower down the mountain waiting to summit later. Probably 100 local staff up there during the avalanche. Seven of those are from here in Sibuje. Not sure of the death count. 12? 20? 16? No names yet. Biggest mountaineering disaster in history. Worst case math done in the head. Seven less incomes in this village would be devastating.

This morning has now become-

What we were doing when Everest fell…

Entering Sibuje - hiker silhouette

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Christen ~ Sibuje and a school day

After a few days of hiking, Luke says to me (referring to our porters), “I think you are earning their respect.” As I am out of breath constantly and stop us often to catch it, I cannot see how this can possibly be true, but Luke says, “Yes, but they can see how hard this is for you and I have not once heard you complain and these have been full days of hard hiking. You just stop to catch your breath and, with a determined look on your face, you keep going. It’s impressive.”

I thought back through the last few days. He is right. I am not complaining, not even quietly inside my own head. It seems that my mind has dismissed the usefulness of complaining in lieu of just concentrating on the doing. A much more efficient use of brain power than before the trip when it would fill moments of silence with, “I have to hike a mountain.”

That does not make this easy, but I am still smiling. Laughing, actually, because I get silly when I am tired, and hiking makes me tired. I was very grateful to arrive in Karma’s home village of Sibuje where we were stopping for a couple days. (Although, “rest day” in the hiking world has little to do with rest, I have found. You still hike. You just return to sleep in the same place. Feeling a little tricked on that misnomer. Harrumph.)

We stayed in the home of Karma’s parents and attended a ceremony at the little, one teacher, through 3rd grade, school that they have, to celebrate the donation of school uniforms. This meant an all day affair, including endless cups of tea, being adorned repeatedly with scarves, and ending with an impromptu dance party. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. The day was getting a little long for me.) Luckily, I got to spend the day behind one of Luke’s fancy fancy cameras, so I was completely content.

It is always the people who have the least that seem to give the most, and they just gave and gave to us. Warm, welcoming, affectionate people, who easily partake in my silly side. My kind of people.

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Bits from the letters ~

“I’m a bit jealous of all the adventure – I can’t even get away to go to the grocery store by myself, and when I do, I have the guilt to hurry up and get home (guilt I put on myself of course).”

“Christen, enjoy it.
Keep smiling.
Be resilient.
I can’t say it enough,
Appreciate the journey,
because you make an impact.”

“Frequently people think compassion and love are merely sentimental. No! They are very demanding. If you are going to be compassionate, be prepared for action.
-Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Nobel Peace Prize winner

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82513

Christen ~ Figuring it out, slowly, slowly, slowly

I cannot climb a mountain all at once. I can only climb what is in front of me.

This has been clear to me from the beginning, but that clarity is crystalized as I look up at the steep inclines or long declines in front of me. So, I just pull down the brim of the hat and just keep my eyes on the next few steps. It is surprising how much easier this all seems, how much faster I get where I am going, and how manageable it is when I keep it that simple. I am not sure why I find it surprising. That is how I approach everything else in my life and it makes sense there, so I am not sure why it had not occurred to me that it would be the best approach to this, as well.

It has, also, come to my attention that I cannot have the rest of the group in my eyesight. With the rest being avid mountaineers, the natural inclination to ‘keep up’ is not wise. That is how I will make mistakes. I am much better served if I drift back a bit and just focus on my own pace. ‘Slowly, slowly, slowly’ is the mantra our personal porters, Pasang and Chongsba, keep chanting beside me, whenever I start to go too fast for my own good.

The slower pace, also, gives us the feeling of more freedom to stop and film as we go, without the visual pressure of seeing people wait for us.

Trekking 6

[Sidenote: When I say avid mountaineers…we each brought one book with us to read on the hike, with the idea that we could pass them around as we finished each. When I asked which book each of them brought, every single one was a mountaineering book.]

It meant that when we met people along the way, we could stop and have conversations, learn new words in Sherpa or Nepali, or have tea with the locals (as long as the water was boiled properly).

When we met a fun-sized, stylish woman in her eighties, I asked her (with Karma translating) if she had any unfulfilled wants or any regrets in her years. She chuckled and said, “No.” Then, she paused and amended her, No, with, “Well, maybe a couple more pretty things to wear.”

May we all be so lucky.

%22A couple more pretty things...%22 2

%22A couple more pretty things...%22 1

Bits from the letters ~

“I pray that you are able to use your talents and gifts to serve the people you meet along the way.”

“You chose this because your heart is huge and your care for the world is infinite. You chose this because love makes us courageous as much as it makes us kind, makes us humble as much as it makes us limitless. You chose to do this because you love, and that is your strength, your clarity, your comfort, and your sustenance.”

“Friend, you are a divine mingle-mangle of guts and stardust.
-Frank Capra”

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Luke Mislinski Photography

3563 US Highway 26
Dubois, WY
82513

Christen ~ From Zero to the Himalayas

After some weeks of transitioning my position at work into the next hands, trying to organize for this trip, and putting my physical home, once again, into storage, I was grateful when my normal inner calm returned as I sank into my seat on our flight out of Seattle.

Ooosah…

Seattle to Vancouver to Guangzhou to Kathmandu to…Nope, wait, the flight from Guangzhou, China to Kathmandu, Nepal is cancelled. There goes our one buffer day to pick up need supplies for the trek. (Thank you, Glen, for handling that for us.) A night in a hotel in Guangzhou with our fellow waylaid passengers meant we met a great group of people who were excited for their upcoming adventures. One of many great things about meeting other travelers-by-choice.

One of these was a fellow who is guiding a Discovery Channel film crew up Everest to film some dude base jumping off the summit in a squirrel suit…as you do.

We finally get to Kathmandu on Monday evening (having left Seattle on Saturday morning), in the middle of the Hindu new year celebration, hauling suitcases, backpacks, and gigantic duffel bags full of donation clothing, through the packed streets.

We get to our rooms, start organizing what needs to go where, and having Glen pare down our trekking items into necessities-only. By the time we are done with this (and a quick glance out on the streets at the tail end of the new year celebration), we have three hours left to sleep.

No, wait, scratch that. Luke and I are still a little wired from traveling. After giggling like 8 year olds at a sleep-away camp when we should be sleeping, we get about an hour and a half of sleep, before getting up at 5am to catch our flight from Kathmandu to Lukla, and begin our first day of hiking.

We would not want to make any of this easier on me, would we.

 

Lukla plane

Lukla: “The most treacherous airstrip in the world”

I had been looking forward to this flight all week, since I had learned of its reputation. I was pretty disappointed by the uneventful flight and the gentle gliding into the landing. (The flight from San Francisco to Medford to visit my brother, John, in Ashland, OR, was by far more exciting.) I resigned myself to the idea that not exciting was ultimately better than too exciting, and moved on to the rest of the day.

Lukla airport first day 1

As porters were being organized, Luke and I opted to add two personal porters for our packs. This was a decision for which we were grateful every single day for the rest of the trek, not only because of the weight of his camera gear and my inexperience, but because it meant we provided two more people with an income for those few weeks. $250 well spent.

16,500 feet, here I come

For the rest of our group, all avid trekkers/outdoorsy people, the attitude was, “What? It is just walking.” As we started hiking up the inclines soon after we began, I would have to disagree. It is more like endurance Tetris with your feet, stepping on or around rocks, that may or may not be stable, with each step. I am not the most graceful person on flat ground, so my “training” may have been improved by that dancing video game that lights up dance steps on the floor for you to follow. No matter.

I was pleased by the muscle memory of breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. Less pleasing was the overpowering sound of my breathing seeming to have my eardrums in a wind tunnel.

The several hours of hiking on this first day (on an hour and a half of sleep, and two days of travel from the other side of the world) became a repetitive cycle of sucking wind until I could no longer listen to the sound of it, stopping to slow and recalibrate my breathing, and starting again, along with a fairly steady passing by people with hands pressed together in front of them, “Namaste.”

Biggest lesson learned on the first day of hiking: You cannot climb a mountain the way you climb a long flight of stairs, taking it two or three steps at a time, even if you are built, as my mom would say, “like a flamingo”. Hiking, it turns out, is much more of a trudging thing than a sprinting thing.

Trekking 2

Trekking 4

Trekking 1

Trekking 10

Trekking 7

Trekking 8

Namaste (You knew I would have to talk about it, didn’t you.)

Not having been a participant in yoga, Namaste is not a part of my vernacular, nor am I certain of the definition. Not having access to the inter webs here on the mountain, I am going with my vague recollection that it means, ‘The divinity within me greets the divinity within you’.  In a ‘God is in everything and everything is God’, Spinoza, sort of way. I can dig it.

It is an interesting perspective of respect in a culture that operates openly on a caste system. As I find my way up these mountains, I am met at every turn by someone greeting my inner divinity, most often by children who are too young to understand the implications of where they might stand or my being considered casteless.

Worn out, in need of sleep, and with several more hours of hiking scheduled for tomorrow (and the day after, and the day after, and the day after…), my inner divinity bids your inner divinity, Goodnight.

[Sidenote: So many wonderful people were kind enough to send along letters for me to read on the mountain, so I thought I would include bits from them with these entries…]

Bits from the letters ~

“In the army we had a tradition. When we rolled out of our bunks in the morning, we would say “X, and a wake up!” “X” being the number of full days we had left before that final wake up and getting the hell out of there.

Let this be your mantra when you wake up, and you feel you can’t go on, which will probably be days 2 through 20.”

[…]

“Remember, pain is weakness leaving the body. Next time I see you, you will be the strongest person I know.”

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