As a reporter for Himal Khabarpatrika, I was interviewing Susmita Maskey in July 2007 when she told me about the first Inclusive Women's Sagarmatha Expedition organised by the Climbers Club for the following spring. I didn't think twice about joining.
In the months that followed, the fundraising was more difficult than the training. But we finally flew out to Lukla on 17 April and I couldn't help thinking what our return down the same trail would be like. The closer one gets to Chomolungma, the less one sees of the mountain which is blocked by Nuptse and later Lho La, but we were really impatient to catch a view of the southeast route.
From Base Camp we stared at the chaotic jumble of the Khumbu Icefall. Negotiating it, we had to ford numerous bottomless blue-green crevasses on aluminium ladders. "If you fall into one of these, you get to New York and you don't even need a visa," our guide joked on the way up.
From Camp I to Camp II it's flat and a nice walk, but the route up to Camp III it is on near-vertical blue ice. Before going on the expedition, I had heard a lot about this section. Susmita Maskey had told us the problem was that crampons couldn't grip properly on the hard ice.
The higher we went, the more difficult minor tasks became. We started using bottled oxygen at Camp III and pushed higher to IV. We crossed the crumbling limestone of the Yellow Band, after which I had expected things to get easier. But to my disappointment it was the sheer rock of the Geneva Spur after that and it seemed like we'd never get to the South Col.
At the saddle we were nearly at 8,000m. This is where people turn back, where accidents occur, where there is a thin line and thin air between life and death. I was feeling uneasy about something, but I couldn't figure out what it was.
We slept for a few hours and then, at 10PM, everyone in our team left for the summit. My climbing guide Pasang and I were late to start out. It must have been one in the morning when a falling rock grazed Pasang, tearing his summit suit. We had to turn back.
Along the ridge, we came across a climber trying to revive a fallen team-member. As we got close, I heard someone saying into the walkie-talkie: "He's dead." The Swiss climber was in a fetal position, he had summited without oxygen but died of edema on the way down. We sat with him for more than an hour, and headed down to camp. Witnessing a death made me wonder whether the mountain is a demon or divine. I still had to go for the summit, so forced myself to think it was a god.
It was a cold, unpleasant night at the South Col. I was wondering if this was the end of the climb for me. The next morning I heard that five of my friends-Nawang Phuti Sherpa, Nimdoma Sherpa, Susmita Maskey, Pujan Acharya and Maya Gurung-had made it to the top. That filled me with immense joy and confidence. Now I knew I could do it.
We set off again. Climbing in the dark, I kept wondering when I'd ever reach the famous Balcony. When we finally got there, Nima Kanchha Dai changed my oxygen cylinder. We caught up with Usha, Phurba, Diki and Da Kipa and climbed together.
There was a queue of people on the summit ridge. This was the famous Everest traffic jam. We moved up slowly in the dark, Makalu emerged as a silohuette against the eastern sky. The moon and stars were dazzling above, but the horizon was tinged light blue as dawn broke. The sun was up by the time we got to the South Summit.
Then came the notorious Hillary Step. Without our climbing guides it would have taken forever. After that, I could see the summit and started racing up to it. It was a gentle top with a cornice on the edge, and I was so excited I didn't even look at the view for some time. Then I got out the Himalmedia lion flag and removed my oxygen mask for a picture.
This was the most fulfilling moment of my life. I sang a song and danced with Asha, and looked out across the rest of the world. Soon it was time to head down. It was tiring, but the sense of achievement kept us going. Back at Lukla, I thought: "100 per cent success, best possible result."