I wasn’t sure if the snowstorm would clear and the rescue helicopter would arrive before he died. Either way, I had made my decision. The two of us would remain alone in this solitary stone hut whilst the rest of the group forged on, over the snow-covered pass.
We were on our way down from Mera Peak, the 6,476m trekking peak at the top of the Hinku Valley in Nepal. Dave, one of my clients and a cheerful man in his early 60s, started vomiting blood, non-stop. The situation was bleak. At 3,300m, in the jungle-covered foothills, an unseasonable snowstorm raged. The nearest road was 2 weeks walk away and the nearest radio to call for rescue was 3 days away. The trip doctor diagnosed Dave with a suspected swollen aorta which he advised could explode anytime and kill him instantly. The doctor said there was nothing he could do; the patient was a ticking time bomb and continuing on over the pass would just shorten the fuse. He suggested we find somewhere to hole up and wait for the storm to pass until a helicopter could rescue Dave and take him for urgent treatment in hospital in Kathmandu.
As the rest of the group had to forge on to make their homeward flight. I, as a trip leader, had a hard choice to make. Either I stay with the rest of the group over the snowy pass and leave Dave on his own with a Sherpa guide, or I stay with Dave and trust the Sherpa guides with the group over the pass. At 24 years old, I was on average at least 10 years younger than everyone in my group, I felt the heavy burden of a human life in my hands. Despite grumblings from members of my group suggesting I should put the needs of the majority first, I decided to stay with Dave. My thinking was that the Sherpa guides were way more capable of getting the group across the snowy pass, and I would be better suited to remain and keep Dave calm whilst we waited, praying for a break in the weather for the helicopter to come. So the group left and the two of us settled into the stone hut and waited for the storm to pass.
Despite Dave knowing that any breath could be his last, he was relaxed and comfortable with his situation. His calmness was actually reassuring for me. We talked about his family, his life, and he told me about his previous near-death experience as a young man sailing in the Atlantic. We became close friends very quickly.
That day, in 1 foot of fresh snow in the subtropical jungle of the Himalayan foothills I learned:
Everyone is capable of way more than they think
I learned that I was capable of making decisions in stressful situations where really there is no solution. By going out into the world you find interesting things about nature and about yourself, more than you ever learn just by browsing the web and thinking.
It naturally followed for me to think that everyone must be in the same position - they really don't know what they are capable of.
“We know ourselves only as far as we’ve been tested.”
I pondered, if everyone has so much potential, way more than they see themselves, how can we help them see it too?
A break in the clouds
Dave and I sat in the stone hut looking outside hoping for a break in the snowstorm and listening intently for the distant hum of a helicopter. Time passed quickly as we shared stories, laughed and felt alive.
15 hours later somehow the clouds parted and as they did a helicopter descended and landed in the 50m square of jungle clearing in front of the hut. The Sherpa we had sent for help was sitting in the passenger seat beaming a huge smile and waving like crazy. The feeling of relief and adrenaline enhanced my senses and I still remember the helicopter arriving as if it was yesterday. We crouched under the spinning blades and carefully threw ourselves into the helicopter. Immediately, to save fuel, we took off, and hugged the treetops, gliding effortlessly over the wooded ridges.
With Dave safe in the helicopter and no more than an hour from Kathmandu hospital, I decided to get dropped off on the other side of the pass, so I could meet the group and help at the top tricky section. They were very surprised to see me sitting on a rock at the top - hugs all around! We descended down to a village with a radio that evening and discovered that Dave was doing well in hospital. He luckily did not have a heart problem but a twisted intestine had been treated successfully.
A few days later back at base in Kathmandu it was time for the obligatory celebration dinner. I sat down at the table and a quiet army officer from the group sat down next to me. We haven't talked much on the climb as he seemed very happy and comfortable in his own thoughts.
Over dinner, the officer went on to explain that he was a high-ranking commander in the British Army responsible for 1000’s of soldiers. We talked through the tough decisions I had made throughout the trip. He leaned over to me, patted me on the back and gave me his card and invited me to come and work for him, and told me that he really believed in me.
Now, I really did believe too.
“It's amazing how far you're willing to go when someone believes in you.”
That’s when the answer to my question about helping others see their potential became obvious.
If you truly believe in someone, you just have to tell them.
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