Some of you already know the story of Carl. Somehow he’s been on my mind a lot these past few weeks as I roamed the Norwegian high plateaus in the company of no one but my dogs and the occasional herd of wild reindeer. PJ and I have been talking about him on numerous occasions too. I figured I never really went into it while we were in Nepal, when I was trying to write down overly eventful weeks in rather chaotic blog posts. So here it is, the story of Carl: Carl the Yeti.
The Yeti, or the Abominable Snowman, is a creature of legend, belief and fear throughout the Himalaya. Tales of Yeti sightings are reported from desolate villages all across the mountain chain, as are tales of Yeti attacks. A killing in western Nepal was officially reported by the police as a ‘yeti attack’. Survivors describe a frightful, enormous creature, terribly moody and aggressive, in a grey hairy coat. Most inhabitants of the high valleys believe the Yeti is real.
It’s been the source of fascination throughout the West, too. Even Reinhold Messner, the most legendary mountaineer alive, spent 12 years roaming the Himalaya after seeing what he thought was a yeti in Tibet in 1986. At last he concluded that the Abominable Snowman was nothing more than a Himalayan bear, a conclusion supported by scientific research.
But this story is not about whether or not the yeti is real. Neither PJ, I or Marylene have seen a yeti in Nepal. This story is about a Yeti visiting PJ in a recurrent dream that lasted for 34 days during the first stage of our crossing of Nepal. This first stage was the most brutal one. We nearly got washed off the Milky Danda during a torrential downpour. It took over two weeks before we saw a ray of sunshine and mountains outlined against a blue sky on the horizon. For most of that time we were wet, hungry and, yes, scared. We got lost and sick and abandonded by our guides. I fell on my head descending Sherpani Col and nearly didn’t make it down. We were ambushed by an army of leeches. We lost each other. Really, the mountains threw at us everything and anything they got. And in the middle of that Carl appeared.
Carl didn’t appear in my dreams, but I remember the night PJ had his first dream. It was the first night we could see the stars. We were at Yangla Kharka, a grassy oasis in the midst of the forbidding and inaccessible slopes of Makalu national park. It was day 15. No other place in Nepal has the same vertical rise as the mountains do in Makalu NP, the same narrow and locked-in valleys. All four of us stood outside at this green enclosure, Marie-Caroline was still with us at the time, staring up at the stars and the faint peaks outlined against them. It was beautiful. The Milky way stretched between the dark outlines of rock formations too high to reach for most humans alive. It was a serene and beautiful moment.
But there was something eerie about the place. Sure, we’d come across multiple eerie places in Nepal, but this one had something particular to it. I remember I kept looking towards the other side of the kharka and the jungle bordering it, having an uneasy feeling that something was out there, watching us. PJ felt it too. Neither of us could tell what it was, but we didn’t stay out for too long. We quickly finished our toilet visits and other hygienic chores and dove into the safety of our sleeping bags.
Midway through the night PJ dreamt that he had to go to the toilet. Everything in the dream looked exactly like our real-life surroundings. He left the room and the teahouse, walking on a boardwalk below a little roof on the front side of the teahouse that led to the toilet. Below the roof was an open-air hallway, closed up with woodwork until halfway an average persons’ height. As he came outside he saw several large figures roaming on the other side of the kharka. They were larger than anything he had seen before. Terrified he hid behind the woodwork, hoping for them to pass and not notice him. But suddenly the thing would be right behind him. It was the Yeti and it was darn angry. The Yeti took hold of him and they teleported to the top of a mountain, where he was then smashed to death. Interestingly, he didn’t wake up as one usually does in a nightmare just before he died. He actually died in the dream.
After he died he woke up, terrified, having to go to the toilet, exactly like he dreamed.
I know, it’s curious, right? A teleporting Yeti? But that was the dream. And it continued every single night, with the setting changing to an exact copy of where we were staying for the night. PJ woke up, had to pee, met the Yeti, got smashed to death on top of a mountain, woke up and actually had to pee.
The night before I fell on Sherpani Col I had a dream too. It wasn’t about Carl: I dreamed that I fell on my head on the pass. I told PJ about it when our alarm went off at 3.30. He tried to comfort me and said that nothing happened, that I was OK, and that everything would be alright. That dream turned into a reality just a few hours later. That night PJ did not have his dream.
I fell, banged my head, couldn’t see clear nor speak but was forced to keep moving to get down again. Luckily, we had otherworldly conditions on the passes. It was cold but not bitterly. There was not a sigh of wind. The sun stood in the sky all day long. I cannot imagine what it would have been like being up there in a blizzard with a concussion. We met two people at Makalu Base Camp who had to return because of heavy snow just two days before we set out. The morning we left the clouds lifted and did not return until we were down from the passes. The day we turned our backs on them a fog settled over it all again.
I hobbled on with my concussion until we reached Lukla. Things were rough at this time. I was in pain. The group was unsure about how to proceed and what to do next. We lay low in Lukla for a while, then moved on to Namche. I figured that the only way for me to keep moving would be to hire a porter, so we took the goodhearted Sondesz with us throughout the Everest region. The weather was still changeable, with sunshine and blizzards alternating one another. We were grateful for every hour of good weather we got and for Sondesz who came to carry my pack at really short notice. He was an amazing companion.
The Yeti came back to haunt PJ for several nights in the Solokhumbu. It became a morning routine to ask about it. Then one morning, on day 40 in Dragnag, a little outpost before Gokyo, the story took an unexpected turn.
[PJ] “I dreamt about him again last night. In my dream I woke up, I had to pee and I went outside. I was scared I would meet him again and sure as heck, there he was, right behind that big rock there. I scream and I know that running doesn’t do me any good as he will catch me anyway. I look straight at him, still screaming, but suddenly he just goes ‘wow wow wow wow [makes calming hand gentures] I don’t mean to harm you. I’m really sorry, but I’ve been keeping an eye on you these past few weeks. I wanted to make sure that you and the gang were respectful, that you would treat the mountains with the respect that they deserve. I’m sorry that I scared you. [short pause, puts one hand on his chest and has one arm stretched out to PJ to introduce himself. He looks him straight into the eyes.] I’m Carl and I’m going to protect you. From now I’m going to make sure that you will be alright’.”
Marylène and I laughed when he told us. “Carl?! Really?? The Yeti of your dreams is called Carl?!” We didn’t really know what to make of it. It was too surreal.
After that Carl disappeared from PJ’s dreams for eight days. At the same time we really started to get the impression that the mountains were taking care of us. From there on it was only sunshine and good times, as much as it can be during a Himalayan winter. When we were waiting in Thame for the approach of Tashi Labsta, dark and ominous looking clouds hung over the pass. Once we started heading up the clouds disappeared and there was not a breeze of wind. We were abandoned by our guides and had to find our own way across the Trakarding glacier. It worked, because we could see where we were going and could plot a route over the glacier. We could see the mountainsides and watch out for falling rocks.
Carl came back one more time. It was the night our guides abandoned us. We had a camp on the Trakarding glacier, amidst the desert of dust, rock and ice. Again, I had an eerie feeling, very much like the one I had at Yangla Kharka all those weeks back. Something was watching us. But who the heck could be out here, amidst the nothingness of this lifeless sea of stone and ice? PJ and Marylène felt it too. We actually talked about Carl for most of that afternoon. We even left him a little food on a rock nearby our camp. Just in case you know, a hungry Yeti would really come by, and went to bed at 17:00, feeling uneasy.
PJ woke up briefly in the night, feeling that something was in the camp. He fell asleep again and Carl approached him once more in his dream. He told PJ that he was watching over us, taking care of us, and making sure that everyone would be OK. That was the last time he saw Carl.
We got off the glacier and into the closest village. The day after ominous clouds hung over the pass again and a vile wind blew down from the glacier. This pattern would continue all throughout the remainder of our time in Nepal. We were not hit by a single snowstorm all winter long. Sometimes we even saw them coming, to then have the clouds change direction and go sideways with us. When it snowed it snowed on the mountains all around us, but never exactly on the pass where we had to be. We played the game according to the rules of the mountains, we detoured and rerouted where we had to, and they granted us passage. Every single time.
Call it coincidence if you like. I don’t believe in that kind of coincidence. No one is that astronomically lucky.
Upon return to Kathmandu we visited the stupa’s of Swayambunath and Bouddhanath, walked our rounds and said our words of thanks. I will visit them again when I return to Nepal, before heading out into those mountains. I still tread with extreme respect, even here, thousands of miles from the Himalaya. Romantic as we tend to be about the mountains, they deserve our uttermost respect at all times. Carl is still here and always will be.