An Irishman in Nepal: Reflections from Tengboche

This post was written by our very own Ken O’Halloran, professor of physiology from University College Cork Ireland.

Friendships form quickly in the mountains, that shared common purpose I suppose. And time, and space: open trails and open minds. Our group of 23–scientists and non-scientists–have bonded like old friends, familiarity forged no doubt by the extraordinary experience Nepal has to offer. We are here for many reasons: journeys and destinations.

I’ve been a scientist for 25 years (arguably more), but this is my first exposure to a research expedition. Science in the field and on the fly! I am supporting the studies of Professor Trevor Day’s group as we meander, ever upward, in these savagely beautiful, proud, holy mountains. Physiological adjustments by our bodies are patiently plotted each day as we climb for the clouds. The Mount Royal University undergraduates performing the tests are able ambassadors and a credit to Prof. Day’s tutelage. I am hugely impressed by their competency and ambition.

I am a volunteer too for studies of cognitive function performed by an undergraduate from the University of British Columbia–Victoria, whose cheerful smile, each day, captures the collective mood of the group. Keep smiling Breezy!

Beyond the science, there have been wonderful moments shared along the trail, and in the peaceful lodges of this special place. The resilience of the Sherpa in this arduous land. Pride in their work, accomplished by their unique physiology. But beyond that which we might measure, their symbiosis with the mountains, their astute sense of community, reveals how the insurmountable can be overcome; graciously overcome. For this is the land of humble warriors. As a group, we have learnt much about them, and in doing so much about ourselves along the way.

Here in Tengboche, in this holy contemplative  place, one is reminded why an adventure such as ours is a common metaphor for life. We are learning much more than the physiological changes at play in the high Himalayan mountains. We are learning–as a group and individually–that each journey is as important as the destination.

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