Nima and his family lived in Banepa, Nepal, at the base of the Himalayas, the highest mountains in the world. His people, the Sherpas, call the highest peak, Mount Everest, Sagarmatha (House of Snow).
Men and women come from all over the world to Mount Everest. They come to take pictures of it. They come to climb it and to place their nation’s flag on its summit. Climbing this mountain is a test of human strength against the rigor of the mountain.
Because Nima’s father, Mingma, was a strong and experienced porter, he was sought after as a porter and a guide. That was what Nima wanted to become too.
Other boys of twelve had already begun carrying supplies for short distances to the base camps near the bottoms of the mountains. But because Nima had been born with a twisted foot, his parents thought that he would surely be hurt or killed if he lost his balance on the mountain trail.
A week ago a party of climbers had come from the capital city of Katmandu to hire porters. How Nima hoped they would hire him! But it was no use. Even though his own father was hired as head porter and would choose the men he needed to help him, he would not take Nima.
In this expedition there were doctors and scientists who would study the terrain and ice formations, the weather, and the effect of the thin air on the climbers.
The expedition moved out of town in a long, long line. Most of the men of Banepa were needed to carry all of the supplies and equipment. Nima was left with the women and young children.
The evening after the expedition’s departure, a rumor ran through the streets that a child was sick with smallpox!
Nima’s mother went to the house of the sick child to learn if the frightening report was true. She came home looking grave. “I’m sure that the child has smallpox,” she said. “If only the expedition had been delayed! There were doctors among the men.”
After everyone else was asleep, Nima sat staring at the red coals of the fire. He saw a chance to prove his strength, but doubt haunted him. Surely his parents would have more confidence in him if he proved that he could climb the mountain trails. Suddenly Nima stood up and shook the doubts from his mind. He would not be controlled by doubts!
Just before the roosters woke the town, Nima set out with a bundle on his shoulders. He was going to find the foreign doctors and ask for help for the sick child. In one hand he held firmly a T-bar staff, the staff of the porters. And inside his bundle he had everything he would need for a long hike: a blanket, food for two days, and a container of water.
The first part of the hike was pleasant, and Nima moved along at a steady pace. Then, little by little, his left leg began to ache, and he had to stop often to rest. Finally, as the long day wore itself out, his leg and foot both began throbbing with pain. At every step, he used the staff to take the weight off his body. The temptation to make camp and lie down was strong, but he would not forget his mission. With the coming of darkness he saw the fires of the camp. He’d made it—but without the fifty-pound load he would have been carrying if he’d been working as a porter! Nima was dizzy with pain.
He found his father eating the evening rice with his friends. Quickly he told them about the sick child.
“But Nima, why did your mother so foolishly send you for the doctor?” asked his father.
“She does not even know I came,” answered Nima.
“I see.” Mingma put a hand on Nima’s shoulder. They went together to the tent of Dr. Kelly, who showed his concern as he heard about the trouble in town.
“Wait, please,” the doctor said. He went to talk with others of his party. When he returned, he said he would go back with Nima to Banepa the next morning.
Nima did not want to think about going down the same path he’d just come up. I must do it somehow, he decided, massaging his foot and leg underneath his blanket. He would not admit his agony to anyone.
Morning came too soon. But Nima got up, ate his rice, and waited for Dr. Kelly. How will I ever make it? he wondered. Truly Ihave been foolish. Not having tried shorter hikes first, this distance is unbearable.
The doctor arrived, and the two of them started down the path. As the sun rose higher and higher and the path’s descent became steeper, the doctor took off his jacket. “I need a rest stop,” he said.
Nima sank onto a stone gratefully. He was not sure he could get up again.
Dr. Kelly took some chocolate from his pack and gave Nima a piece. “You are a strong-willed boy, Nima,” he said. “I think you are in great pain.”
“I like to hike,” said Nima.
“I’m sure you do,” the doctor replied, “but I am not speaking of that. I am concerned about the pain you are trying to hide.”
“I will be a porter like my father,” said Nima.
“That is a fine plan,” the doctor said, “but if you are serious about it, you must do something about your handicap.”
Nima looked away. He did not like this talk about his handicap.
“One of the doctors with us is a bone specialist,” Dr. Kelly went on. “Perhaps I could ask him to look at your foot to see if it might be straightened with surgery.”
“No,” answered Nima. “I don’t need help. Thank you.”
But after they started again, Nima’s mind seethed with the ideas the doctor had planted. Is it possible? Can something be done to make walking easier for me, to make the pain go away forever?
A short time later Nima admitted that he needed to rest again. While they rested, Nima asked hesitantly, “Have you seen others with a foot like mine?”
The doctor nodded.
“And these others you have seen—have they been helped so that they can walk more easily?”
Nima felt tears welling up in his eyes. He turned away. It was a sweet hope. But it was also a bitter thing to admit his imperfection.
Nima and the doctor had to take many rests because of Nima’s foot, and it was dark when they reached the town. “I have delayed you,” said Nima. “It is something a porter would never do.”
“But today we have walked as friends,” said Dr. Kelly. “I think, with help, that you will climb to the tops of many mountains.”
Nima’s face brightened.
“This is not my first experience with mountains,” continued Dr. Kelly. “I have climbed many. It takes physical strength, but it also takes determination and self-confidence.”
Nima nodded. He understood these things from his father.
“I think you have the necessary inner strength,” said the doctor. “Otherwise you would not have made it to our camp yesterday or back home again today.”
Nima smiled. “What is the name of the doctor who is your friend?” he asked.
“Dr. Holland,” answered the doctor. “Would you like to meet him?”
Nima looked up at the House of Snow gleaming in the pale moonlight. “Yes, please,” he said. “I truly would.”