MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – A Myrtle Beach woman with a thirst to explore, was faced with a number of challenges to stop her from fulfilling a dream. Instead of focusing on what could go wrong, she took the attitude of ‘what could go right.’ What started as a goal, turned into a deeper appreciation of life that she hopes everyone can share.
Laura Woodward had never climbed a mountain before, but was inspired by her father and the movie ‘Seven Years in Tibet’ to take a leap of faith. That leap of faith was to climb two mountains in the Himalayas, Island Peak and Lobuche East. “That’s why everyone kind of looked at me like, what’s wrong with you? You’ve never done this before. How are you going to be able to do this?” Laura said.
“They’re two six thousand meter mountains and they shadow mount Everest…that’s why I chose them I wanted to get as close as possible to mount Everest without actually climbing,” she explained.
Instead of focusing on what could go wrong, she looked at what could go right. Living at zero sea level made her training even more difficult. “That made the challenge of this that much more important to me to accomplish,” she said.
In January 2017 she began her training. Two hours of strength training and up to four hours of cardio training, four days a week. She trained most at Crossfit Myrtle Beach. To practice carrying heavy things while trekking to each mountain, she said she got on the stair master with a heavy backpack. But she focused on pushing through, knowing if she wasn’t physically ready, it would be dangerous.
“Being in the Himalayas changed everything about me. You’re surrounded by a community of people that you’ve never been with, that you’ve seen or talked to, an environment that’s harsh…things could go wrong at any moment…and you have to be prepared for that. Knowing that you may not come back.”
On October 10 she was off to Kathmandu, Nepal. She had three days there. She said there were animals, especially dogs, everywhere. However, she found the gems while visiting temples, and said the temple monkeys are not friendly! Laura said there were also a lot of shops selling Patagonia-like gear, and little restaurants. After her short trip there, she left for Lukla to start her trek.
Lukla is known for it’s ‘most dangerous’ airport. Nestled in the side of a mountain, Laura opted for the safer arrival, in a helicopter. “You just hope that the pilots know what they’re doing,” Laura said. She met her climbing team for the first time there.
Laura said she and her team gained about 500 meters of altitude each day. They were advised not to eat the meat, so depended on a high carbohydrate diet for energy. “Very basic. Soups, you’ll have rice, fried rice, you’ll have noodles,” she said.
Two days before her first climb at Island Peak, Laura said she was suffering from flu-like symptoms. She didn’t eat anything for days, but settled on a plate of spaghetti the night before the climb at Island Peak Base Camp. Then at 1 a.m. the next day, she and the team began their seven hour hike to the summit.
“So you don’t see the surroundings. You just see literally your hands and your feet in front of you. What you’re climbing and stepping on. You don’t see what’s to the side…you don’t see that you’re on a cliff…which is probably a good thing!”
When the sun rose hours later, Laura said the view was worth it. “I saw pictures but to see it in real life, it just took your breathe away,” she said.
“What’s popular in Island Peak is you have lots of crevices. So you have to cross these crevices by ladders literally held together by ropes,” she explained. Laura said people on either side of the crevice had the climber strapped in with ropes, ready to pull if he or she fell. But everyone made is safely. The crevices, she said, had a 50 foot or more drop underneath.
After hour of climbing, the team reached their final obstacle: a vertical ice wall. The pictures explain it best, but the wall is described as a beast. Laura said some will turn back at the wall, but she and her team climbed it with ice axes and ropes. An hour and a half later of climbing, the made it.
“It’s hard ot breathe. You’re at 47% oxygen of what you’d have at sea level. Every step, every pull, is a major, major effort,” she said.
Ironically, the peak is so small, only a few people at a time could be up there. They took about ten minute turns. Then another seven hours back down to base camp. Laura described that part as the most dangerous, where most mistakes can be made.
The next day, Laura parted ways with their team. Most of the team used Island Peak as ‘training’ for bigger climbs. Laura trekked with porters, yaks and horses to Everest Base Camp.
At Everest Base Camp, Laura got a good look at Mount Everest. Then she left for Lobuche Base Camp, to climb Lobuche East. But during the trek, Laura made an unlikely friend.
“This little black dog started following me, and I like to think that was my friend’s spirit,” she said. Laura said the dog followed and slept with her for several days, possibly giving her strength to get to the next climb.
Unlike the first climb, it was only her and another mountain guide for this climb. But just like the first, they made it safely to the summit.
A woman who had never climbed one mountain before, living at sea level, dedicated herself to a dream. She accomplished it twice.
“You realize what a gift life is…and it’s truly precious,” Laura said.