From Polluted Air to Thin Air: Thorong La Pass Nepal

by Ananda Vardhana

Traveling from Portland, we landed at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, Nepal on September 24, 2018. Ten of our group headed off to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC), but the remaining three of us had set our sights on Everest Base Camp (EBC) at 17,598 ft. Our team was comprised of Deepa, an ultra-marathon runner, Anil, an intermediate hiker, and me, Ananda, a 62-year old veteran hiker and Mazama member.

Stepping off the plane in Kathmandu, we were engulfed in the pollution, dust, and chaos of a typical Nepali traffic jam. Only the promise of thin, clean, Himalayan air kept our spirits high. When our flight out of Lukla was canceled due to bad weather, forcing us to abandon our goal of reaching Everest Base Camp, our consolation was to hike even higher than EBC over Thorong La Pass (17,769 ft. ) along the Annapurna Circuit.

Our guide, Mr. Khim Raj (KC), proposed a new trekking plan that started in the town of Besisahar at 2,493 ft. and slowly wound its way up to the pass. Starting at a lower elevation would allow us to acclimatize as we passed through other villages along the route, including Chame at 8,694 ft., and Manang at 11,545 ft. However, we were familiar with hiking at lower elevations in Oregon, and insisted on starting in Manang.

Once we’d determined our starting point, we took off on the 12-hour, 107-mile drive to Besisahar. Kathmandu is famous for its traffic jams, which dwarf those in LA, and these roads were bad! The following day, we had to take multiple 4-wheelers and drive another 12 hours between Besisahar and Manang along some of the world’s most dangerous highways. Due to frequent landslides, our two porters had to carry our luggage across the debris and hire another jeep on the far side before we could continue. I would not recommend going without a guide—they know these roads and allow for safe passage.

From what I saw, Nepal is very community-oriented. The people are friendly and help each other survive. Since the three of us know Hindi, we made good friends during our multiple jeep rides. The jokes, bantering, and singing inside the vehicle combined with the astounding views and narrow roads outside helped us forget the dust that enveloped us.

Thus, after multiple landslides we reached the thin and pristine air of Manang. This meant we’d essentially gone from Beaverton at 120 ft. to Manang at 11,500 ft. in one go. We’d been swallowing Diamox (altitude pills) since arriving in Nepal, 125mg twice a day. At Manang we could feel the effect of the thin air, but this was what we wanted. Just walking 10 steps let us know we were at high altitude. Our appetites shrunk greatly, but we nonetheless pushed ourselves to have a grand dinner followed by a fitful sleep.

A long time ago, when trekking was not a fad, people lived their lives in all parts of Nepal and the surrounding region. As trekking became popular, the local people realized the potential tourism could have and converted their homes to teahouses. Now villages, including Manang, have 2-3 star hotels with hot showers and comfortable beds. You order from a menu and can even get pizza at 16,000 feet! And Wi-Fi is available all over Nepal.

The next day, KC advised us to roam round Manang and get acclimatized. Manang valley is like a dreamland. In Nepal, many of the mountaintops have a Buddhist shrine. It is amazing what faith can do. People have built massive structures on the tops of mountains where every stone and beam had to be carried up manually or by horse. Our hotel in the valley looked up at the Annapurna Massif on one side followed by Gangapurna. In the distance towered Manaslu, Chandragiri, Dhaulgiri, and Chluha. We saw these titanic mountains for the next ten days; they astounded us with their unbelievable massiveness. In Oregon, looking down from Mt. Hood or Mt. Defiance, the rolling mountains fascinate us—so just imagine mountains twice the size of Mt. Hood! All of them over 20,000 feet, with live avalanches happening as you watch... such was the grand spellbound beauty that beheld us daily.

Early in the morning with high spirits, we took off from Manang. Our plan was to hike to Ice Lake at 15,256 ft. the first day, followed by a hike to Tilicho Lake at 16,138 ft. the second day, then continuing on to Thorong La Pass. The route to Ice Lake has no designated switchback trail, so we simply had to climb straight up a crumbling mountainside. Being the oldest, the altitude and strain from hiking hit me fast. Deepa and Anil encouraged me, slowing to my pace so we could crawl up together. Deepa and I were going steady, but Anil, who had a slight residual cough when we left Portland, began to slow down. Anil’s occasional cough became persistent and much stronger as his lungs tried to keep up in the thin, high altitude air. We were three-quarters of the way to the lake, at around 14,800 ft., when Anil started getting breathless and feeling slight lung pain. He decided not to push it any further, fearing AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) or worse, HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema). I decided to escort Anil back down to the hotel along with a porter. Deepa continued to Ice Lake with the guide, and joined us back in Manang a few hours later.

That night, Anil could not sleep well due to breathlessness and coughing. I intently kept an eye on him, hoping the night would be uneventful. We consulted a couple of doctors by phone, spent some time researching on the Internet, and finally decided that he needed to head back to lower altitudes. That broke our spirits—it was sad to see our partner off, but we would meet him at the end of the trip.
Deepa and I re-strategized, deciding to abandon our hike to Tilicho Lake and instead just do Thorong La Pass. The pass was three days away and should give us ample time to acclimatize. The next day, we trekked from Manang to the village of Thorong Phedi at 14,895 ft. No one measures the distance of a trek in Nepal. If you ask, they will look at you, then make a judgment and give you an estimate in hours. This trail was gradually uphill and took us 5-6 hours. It was quite busy with people from all parts of the world. Germans by large dominated, followed by Australia, China, New Zealand, and the UK. Much to our disappointment, we didn’t encounter a single hiker from the US, our adopted country, or from India, our country of origin.

Hundreds of yaks dotted the mountainsides. Nomad yak herders live at these great heights sleeping out in the open. They drink yak milk, eat yak meat, and warm themselves with coats made of yak hair. Right in the middle of the trail, we were surprised to see a roadside trinket trader. The old man claimed all his goods were authentic Tibetan. The yak herders, trinket traders, and brave people who tend the tea houses make it possible for us from the polluted air to survive up in the thin air.
By the time we reached Thorong Phedi, Deepa had lost her appetite, and we both had splitting headaches. However, we had increased our Diamox dosage to 250mg twice a day. We didn’t want to take any pain medication because our stomachs were empty, so we just applied a strong topical ointment called Tiger Balm onto our foreheads and bore the pain. I am a strong advocate for fewer pills and more will to fight altitude sickness.

The next day, we made the grueling climb from Thorong Phedi to Thorong High Camp at 16,010 ft. Deepa, who had little appetite, started to feel weak and nauseated. At Thorong High Camp, we realized the real scarcity of oxygen. We had hiked in India at 15-16,000 ft. without much trouble, because the forest abounds everywhere. Manang valley is totally arid, a dry high-altitude desert with no trees for generating oxygen.

The moment Deepa entered the dining hall she began to feel nauseated. Two hundred or so lungs and five open-flame kitchen stoves all competed for the oxygen. So our choice was to stay warm and suffocate, or go outside and freeze! Sitting here in Beaverton, these things cannot even be imagined. Our guide said we had three options; head back to the city, stay where we were at Thorong High Camp, or continue on but take a horse as insurance. We went for the third option without even considering the first two, and hired a horse for $150. At that point, we didn’t know who would need the horse—Deepa or me.

Since the winds pick up by noon and can practically pluck you off the mountain, we had to leave before 5am to cross Thorong La Pass by noon. Thorong High Camp has minimal accommodations—five common toilets for two hundred or more people. So, with splitting headaches and anxiety about using the toilets, we hardly slept, got up at 3am, and were ready by 4am. With the horse following dutifully behind, we put our heads down and started the final phase of our climb. Every 100 feet KC would ask “Deepa-ji, would you like to take the horse?” to which she would answer “no.” He was afraid she would fall off and increase his responsibility. At 60+, I go very slowly but steadily, and kept up a steady stream of encouraging accolades. Deepa’s only job was not to lose the sight of my heels.

Neither the words I’m writing nor the camera on my phone can capture the dry beauty that surrounded us. The trail disappearing into thin air was what we had hoped to conquer. On any hike, there are always people well ahead of you and others far below. The people ahead represent the goal yet to be achieved, and those below are the challenges conquered. In the end, it all depends on the mind to push the mechanical devices we call legs to move one step up at a time, up and up.
Finally, in the distance, we could see the colorful streamers that decorate the pass. With a fresh surge of energy and enthusiasm, we chugged on. Deepa, the ultra-marathon runner, crossed the finish line at a full sprint, as I slowly crawled up to the top of the pass. From there, it was a rollover hike, down and more down, to Muktinath Temple at 12,171 ft.

We stayed in Muktinath that night, and drove the next day to TatoPani (6,010 ft.), which is famous for its hot springs. After an overnight at TatoPani and a refreshing bath in the hot springs, we trekked up to the village of Chitre at 6,988 ft., were we stayed one night before making it up to the village of Ghorepani at 9,429 ft. the next day. The Ghorepani Poon Hill overlook is a famous scenic spot, and is flooded with trekkers. Since we’d been immersed in Annapurna I, II, III, Dhaulgiri, and many other mountains, we skipped Poon Hill. The final day, we trekked to Naipaul, where the ten Annapurna Base Camp folks joined us. We all drove back to Pokhara, met up with Anil, and flew back to Kathmandu—back into the polluted air! We ended our trip by flying back to Portland on October 8.


Flora Huber, Native Oregonian and Lifelong Mazama

by Rick Craycraft

The family roots of Flora Bertrand Huber in this area go back to before there was an Oregon. In 1809, just a few years after Lewis and Clark had explored the land, Flora’s great-great uncle, Etienne Lucier, moved north from California to a territory occupied by French and English settlers and the various First Nation tribes of the area.

This same man was present in 1843 at the Champoeg Meetings in the French Prairie area of the Willamette Valley. There a group of settlers voted to align themselves with the United States (instead of Canada) and formed a provisional government that a few years later would become the state of Oregon.

Two generations later Flora’s father was born in Portland to a family whose business was building sternwheelers to navigate the local waterways. On a trip to Washington state in 1930, he met his future wife and Flora’s mother-to-be on the Quinault reservation on the Olympic peninsula. She describes her father as French, Chinook and Cowlitz and her mother as English, French, Cree, Quinault, and Sioux. The couple returned to Portland and settled on the Willamette River, on the west bank across from what is now Swan Island. Flora was born there in 1935.
She grew up in a Portland far different than we know today. Bordered by the river in front and Forest Park out her back door, the natural world was Flora’s playground from an early age. She hiked the trails of the park, took the family rowboat out on the river to explore, hunted, dug clams, and picked “hundreds” of trilliums.

She entered Lincoln High School (according to her, the only high school on the west side of the Willamette at that time) in 1949 and came under the influence of iconic Mazama member Margaret Obertueffer, who was her English teacher. At that time Lincoln had a ski program and students would go to Mt. Hood en masse to enjoy the slopes. Flora was part of that group for the duration of her high school stay. Eventually though, she got to looking up at the upper reaches of Mt. Hood and wondered, “What would it be like to climb up to the top?” Already under the tutelage of “Miss Obie,” and now friends with the Obertueffer family, Flora had that question easily answered. On July 18, 1954, Flora joined a Mazama Acquaintance Climb (67 people!) led by Harold Scharback. Later she also attempted Mt. St. Helens (“when it had a top”) but was forced to turn back when her kapok sleeping bag proved to be inadequate for bivying.

Flora enrolled in the Portland State Extension Center (now Portland State) with an interest in chemistry and enjoyed strolling downtown to the Mazama clubrooms, then in the Pacific Building at 5th and Yamhill.

Her future husband was the best man at her sister’s wedding and they married in 1958. Thus began a long hiatus in Flora’s hiking and climbing career with the Mazamas. She and her husband had five sons and Flora introduced all of them to the outdoors and especially to skiing. She was a Cub Scout leader for 16 years and received an award from the state for her efforts. She drove both the school bus and the ski bus for a living for a while, introducing hundreds of young people to recreation on Mt. Hood.

Flora finally returned to climbing in 1992, making it up Mount Adams on a Ray Sheldon-led climb. From then on it has been gung-ho. Flora estimates that she has participated in at least 40 successful Mazama climbs and received her Guardian Peaks award in 1992. She became a hike leader in 1996 and is on the schedule several times a month to this day. One of the benefits of joining Flora on a hike is that she draws from a lifetime of experience in the woods and has extensive knowledge of the plants and trees of our bio-region.

In the Mazamas Flora has served on the Trail Trips committee, First Aid Committee and currently leads the Classics in their many activities. She is also a proud recipient of a 50-year membership pin.
But Flora does not just rest on her climbing and hiking laurels. She has volunteered at the information center at Multnomah Falls Lodge for twenty years, and knows more about ice hockey than any 83 year old woman you’ll ever meet, having had season tickets to various local teams since the 1960s.
And Flora is very proud of her Native American background. She is considered an Elder (“that just means you’re old” she says) in the Quinault tribe and travels to the reservation with regularity to attend events there.

Climber, hiker, skier, native Oregonian, mother, nurse, naturalist and adventurer, Flora Bertrand Huber has led a rich life in the Northwest.


Daring to Be Lydia

by Lisa Kostova

Photo: Lydia navigating in a white-out on the Tasman Glacier

Thirty years ago this October, something extraordinary happened. A lone 27-year-old girl set off in the middle of the night from Camp 4 to climb the world’s highest peak. It was dark and she had never been there before. Unlike today, there were no fixed ropes to guide the way and since she was climbing without oxygen, the only other party that set off at the same time as her, a group of Catalan climbers, quickly surged ahead, leaving her alone with the darkness and her thoughts.

As she describes in her book Going up is Easy, Lydia Bradey got to the South Summit and had to make a life-and-death decision. She knew she had enough energy to make it back down to camp. She also knew she had enough energy to reach the summit. But what she didn’t know is if she had enough energy to do both. At that moment, she recalls flipping her thinking from “If I climb Everest, I can survive” to “If I survive, I can climb Everest.” She told me that she was in effect reasoning with herself, convincing herself that she was capable of climbing her mountain. Less than 24 hours later, Lydia became the first woman to climb Everest without oxygen. This would be the first of five Everest ascents so far and according to Lydia, she’s still got at least one more Everest in her.
As I quickly came to find out, most of the world and certainly New Zealand knows Lydia as much for the controversy that surrounded her first Everest ascent as for the achievement that was a major landmark for women and mountaineering. Which I find incredibly frustrating. Long story short, the two male Kiwi mountaineers that Lydia was climbing with at the time, Rob Hall (portrayed by Jason Clarke in the movie “Everest”) and Gary Ball accused Lydia of lying about making it to the top. According to them, she hallucinated the whole thing. In short she was “confused.” But more on that later.

The She’s On Ski’s group in the helicopter (author is on the left).
Photo by Lydia Bradey.
I’ve come to New Zealand for the winter with my partner Brent and his daughter Inez. Brent somehow learned that Lydia is leading a women-only ski touring group in the glaciers of the Southern Alps with Elke Braun-Elwert, the talented guide who taught us mountaineering. The trip is aptly named “She’s on Skis”. In typical fashion, Brent becomes my biggest cheerleader, “You HAVE to do this!” he says emphatically in the spring as me make our way to Alaska to climb Mt Fairweather. “We have to come back to New Zealand and spend the (Southern Hemisphere) winter climbing and ski touring. And you get to tour with Lydia!!!” His enthusiasm is infectious.

As a Kiwi, Brent tries to impress me with how much of a badass Lydia is, even by New Zealand standards, and I take note. I’m also excited to try ski touring. I’ve already watched the trailer of Symphony on Skis, a movie about a ski touring journey made by Elke and her sister. I’m entranced by the idea of putting my skis on glaciers, exploring some of the world’s most breathtaking scenery and being in the company of tough women, including of course Lydia, whose story fascinates me.
So here I am, in August of 2018, with my trusty downhill skis hastily configured with touring bindings. I’ve got a few days under my belt of touring experience in the The Two Thumbs range, where I’ve learnt avalanche prevention and avalanche rescue with Pete Ozich of Alpine Recreation. But this is the first time I’m ski touring on glaciers. And for the first time in my climbing and skiing experience, I’m surrounded by women.

Lisa Kostova and Lydia at Aylmer Col above
the Tasman Glacier.
The cast of characters includes, Jade, an Aussie with a quiet determination; Carla, a bubbly Brit who is a hardcore ultra marathoner and is smoking all of us up the hill; Anna, a gentle but strong Kiwi mother of two whose husband, a helicopter pilot, has gifted her this trip as a birthday present. And of course, there’s Lydia herself. Wearing a pink hat with a canary yellow jacket and a purple undershirt, she has mischief in her eyes. Those eyes have seen the glory of untold mountain peaks. They have scanned vistas that few humans have experienced, but have also seen tragedy and loss. Her voice is strong, commanding, and unapologetic in taking up the space around her. Her laughter is infectious. She’s bubbly and chatty and will talk endlessly about beautiful clothes and mountain fashion. And yet she exudes the authority and discipline that only comes from years of breaking trail and pushing herself to the extreme. I quietly marvel at the enigma that is Lydia.

There’s so much I want to know. I somehow score the bunk right next to Lydia in the leaky attic section of the unheated Kelman Hut, the second highest structure in New Zealand, perched above the Tasman and Murchison Glaciers. In the evenings, after the exhaustion of a full day of touring, making dinner and cleaning up, we have a precious few minutes to relax on our bunks. I’m conscious of not bothering Lydia who has the rare moment to read and focus on herself, not the group. But as I lie there, next to her, reading her biography, reliving her emotions and her achievements from long ago, my mind is swirling with questions. Was she afraid up there? Did she think she was going to die? How did she feel when her Kiwi teammates abandoned her? How did she feel when they and the media turned around and attacked her viciously, calling her a liar and a “confused” woman who had hallucinated her life’s crowning achievement?

 Lydia in front of Kelman Hut. 
Confused—a word used to describe women who are brave enough to live their dreams, speak their truth, and who dare to break out of the social norms of what a young girl should be able to do. With the stroke of eight measly letters, a woman’s life is reduced to a hallucination, to something not tangible, not able to be proven, measured, or verified. Confused. Not loud, and established, and endowed with society’s automatic and blind trust that is conferred to male climbers and Supreme Court nominees who throw around that word easily and freely at anyone who threatens their comfortable perch. Confused. Why would it be that the word of men carries so much weight that not even the preponderance of evidence in her favor could shield a woman from the maelstrom unleashed by this dismissive term?

I read Lydia’s account of how she was practically left to die by her male Kiwi teammates. But she was stronger than that. “As soon as I reframed my thinking, I knew I wasn’t going to die.” She says that while she was very much afraid of dying, her experience helped her “manage her way away from it.” But there’s no way her Kiwi partners could have known that. Instead, the day she was having her life-and-death mental moment on the South Summit, Rob Hall and Gary Ball packed up all the expedition’s gear and left Base Camp. They didn’t know if she was dead or alive. They weren’t manning the radios, leaning in and straining to hear her voice, waiting for confirmation that their partner was among the living, up there somewhere near the top of the world, still clinging to life in the “death zone.” They weren’t ready to send help for her if the radio went silent or she sounded sick or hurt. They simply left.

Having read the chapter on her first Everest journey, I sit with Lydia over steaming pasta with veggies, our breath visible in the frozen air of the hut. I share with her that what struck me about her Everest climb is that she spent most of the chapter, multiple pages, describing the relationships that she formed on the mountain and the experiences she shared with the Slovaks and other climbers. And the actual summit took only a paragraph and was over within two sentences—short and to the point, much like her communication style on the glacier where, she is all about safety and survival. She seems to appreciate that observation and her eyes grow heavy with sadness as she says of the Slovaks: “I lost all of them. None of them made it back.”

There is pain and heartfelt love in Lydia whenever she talks about the Slovaks. They were a team of young men who climbed without oxygen, attempting a new technical on Everest. None of them came back from their summit climb and nobody knows what happened to them. I realize suddenly that at the heart of Lydia’s climb was not the “Lydiagate” scandal that surrounded her upon her return, courtesy of the self-assured men she was climbing with. The defining experience for her was her friendship and love of the Slovak climbers and her subsequent loss of that intimate connection with people who saw her for who she was. That’s the part that is raw and powerful and meaningful for Lydia in her Everest journey. Not the noise and resentment of her Kiwi teammates.

Lydia summarizes the whole scandal succinctly: “I set myself up to be bullied.” She tells me as we watch over melting pots of snow that the deepening relationship with the Slovak team was the reason for her being ostracized by Rob and Gary (who were climbing with oxygen, and did not manage to gain the summit during that trip). I open the book to a place where a pretty, bright-eyed girl stares back at me from the page. It’s easy to imagine her shifting sympathies causing intense feelings of jealousy in the young males on the mountain. It’s primal and it is ugly. The female chimp gets punished by the alpha males for daring to stray from the tribe. Especially if she dared to outshine them.

Despite all of this, Lydia doesn’t climb with fear. She lets out a rip-roaring laugh as she recalls being described by one of her book reviewers as an “eternal optimist despite her series of failures.” Lydia knows a thing or two about failure. There is the time where she survived no fewer than SIX (!!!) subsequent avalanches in the same day and the time when she had to turn around on K2, the “savage mountain” that claims the lives of a third of the people who attempt it. Lydia loves talking about failure as a necessary ingredient for success. In fact, until the rise of guided Himalayan climbing, failure rates of 50-60 percent were common and were considered standard for mountaineers. So while they reached their objectives “only” 40 percent of the time, they spent the rest of their climbing careers getting stronger and more experienced, gaining that survival mechanism, so they could live to climb another mountain.

As an experienced high-altitude mountaineer, Lydia talks a lot about mindset. During an impromptu prusik self-rescue demonstration, I ask her what type of mind-frame she thinks is necessary to climb Everest. I ask her to think about what makes her best clients successful and what makes it difficult for other people to adjust. It all comes back to the personalities of people putting Everest on their bucket lists. Lydia prides herself on creating strong connections with her clients and I can see that. Nowadays, in addition to guiding groups on Everest, most of her time seems to be spent with repeat clients who book her on private climbing adventures around the world.

Having said that, Lydia also describes a type of Everest bucket-list climber. “Insecure overachievers,” Lydia calls them. She knows, she considers her younger self to have been an insecure overachiever too. And she adds that true preparation matters. The type of preparation that comes from doing non-glamorous climbing trips like the one we’re on. Remembering to dry your inner boots and dry your socks. Prepare, pack, unpack, rinse, repeat.

She has lost count of how many times she has been expected to take care of people, especially clients who are used to other people running their lives. “They’ve got armies of nannies, housekeepers and personal assistants. They outsource their lives.” Taking care of your needs yourself, including simple things like packing your socks and gloves and paying attention to the essentials is a habit you develop when you climb often, you climb for many years and you climb for the joy of climbing. There are many valuable resources and support that money can buy on the mountain. But a climber’s common sense cannot be bought, it can only be developed.

On our ski-touring trip, Lydia teaches us what to pack for all kinds of emergencies—from prusiks and slings, to spare parts for our ski poles, skins and skis, including tape, and a tool set with different sets of tool bits. I’m feverishly taking notes—up on the mountain, a climber has to be her own repair shop and rescue resource. Lydia gets everyone to practice crevasse self-rescue on the rope in the hut and drills people through transceiver search - quickly locating a buried avalanche transceiver. She is relentless when it comes to getting the details right - whether it’s the technical turns when you ski down, the efficiency of your skinning technique and how to improve it, your transition times and how to cut them down. She’s also a perfectionist when it comes to housekeeping. She delegates tasks around the hut that keep the whole place sparkling clean and running smoothly during meal prep and clean-up. I swear we left the public hut in a much better shape than we found it.

Ski touring with Lydia is the ultimate ego-buster. Watching Lydia plow up the slope in a relentless pace, I get used to the feeling of trying to keep up and failing. My only solace is that everyone else seems to be in the same boat (with the exception of Carla, who’s a true energizer bunny). Nonetheless, I grit my teeth and forge on. My heart pounds and I focus intensely on the sequence of movements anytime we stop for a transition. Yet, I always seem to be the last one and I’m told to “transition faster next time, please.” I talk to my fear while perched on a hill, feeling the heft of my backpack. Lydia coaches us on how to ski the stickiest snow cement I’ve ever experienced. Turning would be difficult, “a knee buster,” so “watch out and don’t fall.”

After the mental check of making sure none of my boots are in walk mode, I brace myself for the leg burn of executing the turns as smoothly and in control as is possible, working my willpower and concentration more than my muscles. Lydia seems to have evaluated my technical skiing skills and found them lacking. The cold matter-of-factness of her assessment is non-partial—she also extends it to her own skiing, which she deems “competent” but far from great. After years of resort skiing where I’ve skied double blacks, chutes and trees, I find myself a beginner in the art and craft of backcountry skiing. I have to pick myself up over and over again, playing the mental game of just getting by to the best of my ability.

As soon as I let go of my identification as an “expert skier,” I am free to move about the mountain and enjoy the whole experience. I also notice that on the last day everyone, including Lydia and the more technical skiers—Carla and Jade—are survival skiing. Lydia deems the snow to be “the worst she’s seen on the Tasman” and is proud to have delivered the whole group back to base without any knee injuries.

Once everyone is out of the danger zone, Lydia somehow manages to miraculously turn a difficult time into a funny moment, lightening the situation with her ability to laugh at herself and whatever it is that may have seemed scary. With a glint of mischief in her eyes and wise crack of a joke, she infects everyone with her laughter, releasing all stress and tension like an escape valve. That smile, that laugh, that ability to surmount any obstacle and find joy and share it with others is the memory of Lydia that will stay with me forever. And as much as my confidence in my skiing has taken a hit after the trip, I know that touring with Lydia has cracked me open and elevated my game as a climber, skier and human being.

Check out Lydia’s book Going up is Easy and keep an eye out for a movie about her life coming out soon. The She’s on Skis trip was organized by Alpine Recreation —a family-owned guiding and climbing company out of Tekapo, New Zealand.

About the Author: Lisa Kostova is an entrepreneur. She blogs about her mountaineering, skiing and outdoor adventures at www.dispatchesfromthe45.com.