She’s clinging to a gorge on Mount Everest when family members encircle her.
“Idiot!” they say.
And then the dream ends and Marlene Ford is gasping for air.
The photographer recently traded valley for mountain, sealing her stuff in a Brooksbank Avenue storage locker and heading for higher ground.
“I’d always wanted to go to Nepal,” she says. “Always, always.”
Ford earns a living by snapping stock photos but she was always an “armchair climber” nursing a case of wanderlust.
“The first time I saw Ama Dablam and Everest for real after reading about them for years, I kid you not, I started crying,” she says. “Now I’m in love.”
The pull of the place bordered on overwhelming, and Ford couldn’t resist staying a few weeks longer than the five-month limit before returning to Canada.
“They sort of shook their fingers at me and made me pay a fine,” she remarks with a laugh. While the trip may have started as a bucket list checkmark, it turned into something else when she encountered Pega.
The assistant guide told her about growing up in a town without roads or shops and about scaling Everest and all 8,183 feet of the Turquoise Goddess, Cho Oyu.
Common interests and agreeable temperaments bridged the gap in culture and generation, and they found themselves sharing time when Ford found herself without an expedition.
One of the wrinkles of trekking to the Everest base camp is that you need to be part of a climbing group, even if all you want to do is stay at the basement beneath the world’s rooftop. While looking for a
group to join, Ford met Pega, who she describes as a “sweetheart.”
But while their friendship blossomed, Ford found herself wondering if maybe Pega could be part of a more equitable business model.
. . .
After taking off in Kathmandu, Ford’s adventure began as her plane lurched to a stop in Lukla.
“I think it might be the shortest runway in the world,” she says.
Even while describing a stomach-churning landing on a sawed-off runway, Ford’s good cheer never wavers.
“A terribly interesting airport,” is how she describes Lukla.
In preparation for the trip Ford toted an extra big pack on hikes throughout the North Shore.
“I knew I’d want to take all my camera equipment,” she says.
Still, she was intimidated by the prospect of sharing thin air with a cadre of incredibly fit mountaineers.
“You don’t know if you’re going to be one of the ones to get sick or not,” she says.
Ford enjoyed the rarefied air until she reached about 15,000 feet – at which point she realized she’d left restful sleeps and healthy appetites below.
“It’s a bizarre feeling. … You’re always exhausted, it’s quite the suffer-fest actually, it’s quite fun,” she says, laughing once more.
It was during those days when she’d get peculiar dreams. “You think you’re mentally prepared for it but, I’ve got to tell you, the first time it happens it just freaks you out.”
When asked about the dream of her family, Ford mentions her father gave her strict instructions before she left for the Himalayas.
“My dad told me not to tell my mom,” Ford says.
Asked if the trip changed her outlook, Ford positively gushes.
“Oh my god, yes,” she answers. “I am so much more content now than I’ve ever been in my life.”
Seeing contentment and gentleness amidst poverty in Nepal made her impatient with the excess of life back home.
“We just keep wanting more and more and more over here and we’re still not happy,” she says.
When hiking with Pega, she observed two girls “skipping along the trail” in the Himalayas during a two-hour hike home from school, which struck her as a stark contrast to the North Shore.
“Mommy and daddy drive them to school when it’s three blocks a-freaking-way,” she comments before asking me not to get her started.
. . .
Despite a gulf of nearly 11,000 kilometres, Nepal stayed in her thoughts upon her return, and she soon found herself exchanging Facebook messages with Pega.
In his hometown of Phortse in Nepal’s Khumbu Valley, many farmers take jobs as guides, a decision usually made “out of necessity more than want,” according to Ford.
But Pega seemed an exception.
“Pega loves being in the mountains,” Ford says.
An idea dawned on Ford that it might be nice if, “instead of westerners running the show over there,” Peta was able to get trained and bring an entrepreneur’s credentials back to Nepal.
She’s currently raising money to bring Pega to Canada where he can explore North Shore mountains and get a better sense of the difference between cultures.
“Wouldn’t it be great if I could get Pega that kind of training and the cultural understanding so westerners would be more comfortable hiring him?” she asks.
Ford is currently 10 per cent of the way towards her goal of raising $8,000 through a gofundme.com page.
Ford’s already thinking about getting back to Nepal.
However, there’s just one question in our interview she can’t quite answer. It’s a question she asks herself.
“Am I going to try Everest?”
You can visit Ford’s page at gofundme.com/help-pemba-become-a-mountain-guide/donate/?upsell=cpgn_share.