Lenten Journey-Base Camp on Mount Everest

I am not sure how it all began–this fascination with climbing Mount Everest. I remember a while back that I was introduced to a book called “Into Thin Air,” by Jon Krakaur about a triumphant and deadly expedition to the summit of Mt. Everest. I think I was hooked after that. There is also a movie based on the book.

I have long had the desire to climb Mount Everest. I am not sure why. I have only climbed two small mountains in my life, Mt. Roxy Ann in Medford, OR at 3576 feet tall (my in-laws used to live in Medford at the base of Roxy Ann) and Mt. St. Helen in Washington at 8366 feet in elevation. I have climbed other hills sprinkled in here and there.

In an earlier day at Mt. Saint Helen viewing the north side. I climbed the south side with my son’s boy scout troop. Photo top right is at Mt. Roxy Ann.

Mt. St. Helen was considerably more challenging and I climbed it once to the top and another time to the pumice field. The first time climbing it, we made it to the top. I was with my son’s boy scout troop. The second time was with my family and we were not as well prepared. We started late and the weather was foggy and there was a mishap with a pair of boots. You never know what you will encounter out in nature.

Why Would Someone Climb Mt. Everest?

The Mt. Everest’s south base camp in Nepal, is 17,598 feet above sea level. (The north base camp is in Tibet, China at 16,900 feet.) The air is noticeably thinner. Many climbers begin to acclimatize at base camp and at higher camps for months before making the final ascent to the summit of Mt. Everest. It is not uncommon to experience altitude sickness which, at times, can be acute and quite serious. I know that I experienced oxygen deprivation when climbing Mt. St. Helen. The closer we got to the top the harder it was to breathe and every step was labored. Everything slows down at the top.

Mt. Everest is 29,035 feet. People die climbing Mt. Everest.

Some people may be attracted to the risk of climbing Everest, because, after all, your life is at stake and if you make it, it’s a notch in the old belt loop and a feather in your cap. Many climbers who have died on Mt. Everest remain on the mountain because it is too risky to bring them down. For some people, essentially risking their lives makes them feel more alive, exuberant, or having to do with mastering a situation.  If they can approach it in a methodical enough way they will feel in control. I would have to say that I am in the latter camp of taking a methodical approach to attain a goal as well as the notoriety of it, of mastering the often unattainable for most people.

This looks like a forlorn place with it’s “desert-like” appearance. Photo Credit: emifaulk on Flickr

Placing the Focus on Lent

During Lent, Catholics focus on fasting, almsgiving and penance. For Lent, many of us may give up the usual things like chocolate, alcohol, sweets, etc. Or, we may do something for someone. I thought this Lenten observance could be taken in increments just like climbing Mt. Everest.

We are beginning the journey at base camp now. My husband has decided for us that we will give up the usual sweets and the occasional (or sometimes more frequent) glass of wine after work. Lent is really more than that. Don’t we rend our garments and put on sackcloth and sprinkle ashes on our heads? Rending (tearing) of garments, putting on sackcloth, rough clothing made from goats hair worn for mourning, and sprinkling ashes on the head were Hebrew customs expressing great sorrow over grave evils or as a sign of repentance for sin. I think we got off easy living in the modern era–in terms of the sackcloth. Fasting is a way of shifting the focus on God and not ourselves.

Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the Lord, your God.
For gracious and merciful is he,
slow to anger rich in kindness,
and relenting in punishment.  Joel 2:13  

For Lent, I decided that I would write again. I put it down for a while because I felt that there wasn’t much to write about during the pandemic or at least not that much to look forward to. Ok, I will admit it, I am depressed at times because of pandemic living.

As Catholics, we begin the journey on Ash Wednesday for 40 days. Jesus was tempted and retreated to the desert for 40 days and 40 nights. We, too, set aside time to contemplate our lives and long for Easter Day, the Resurrection of the Lord, where we will renew our baptismal vows. By the time we reach Easter Sunday, we may just have a fuller understanding and experience of God’s faithfulness and his salvation.

Grappling with Our Mortality

When you climb Mt. Everest you are confronted with your mortality. One major slip-up or oversite and it’s curtains. At base camp, you are already deprived of oxygen. Preparing for Mt. Everest, I am sure you are contemplating and planning and making sure all of your t’s are crossed and your i’s are dotted before you attempt reaching the summit.

Do we put that much focus on our Lenten journey? We all carry our life’s baggage with us and Lent is a good time to unload that in the sacrament of Reconciliation. We prepare our hearts by meditating upon Jesus’ Life, Death and Resurrection through attending Stations of the Cross or praying the rosary. We place our focus on others by contributing to the Lenten Rice Bowl Mission. We can read Magnificat’s Lenten Companion.

The thing is, our whole lives are like climbing a mountain.

The mountain of the Lord. Meditating on His sacrifice during Lent.

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