There was a time in Jack Kelly’s life were he was stripped of everything. There were no creature comforts, no bed to sleep in and only a crippling heroin addiction that left him homeless.
“When I first got sober back when I was 22 years old, I was living in a homeless shelter for about eight months,” said Kelly, who worked for years helping addicts in Charlestown. “I had nothing. I couldn’t even afford a coffee. Whenever I look back at the period in my life there was a moment of clarity when I was stripped of everything.”
Kelly, now 37, said for the past year or so he’s been looking for a challenge–something that would again strip him of all the creature comforts of society so once again to find purpose.
“I stumbled upon an ad about trekking to Mount Everest Base Camp,” said Kelly, who has been running marathons and triathlons for a few years now. “As long as I can remember, pretty much my whole life, I’ve been fascinated by Mount Everest. I’ve read all the books, seen all the documentaries, watched all the films about the people who have climbed and the disasters. I’m in the best shape of my life so I thought, “It’s now or never”, so I answered the ad and booked the trip.”
With Mount Everest Base Camp at an elevation of 17,600 ft., roughly three times the elevation of Mount Washington’s summit, Kelly knew it would be no easy task.
“I was looking for a rebirth,” said Kelly. “I knew it was going to be a spiritual journey and I wanted to leave all the negativity behind me. I felt I was in a crossroads and life and I wasn’t really sure about what I wanted to do or who I wanted to be career wise so I felt that if I went to Everest and pushed myself I’d find some answers. I knew it was going to be very hard but I needed to do something hard.”
So Kelly set off for Paris where he stayed for a few days before taking off to Kathmandu.
“So you arrive in Kathmandu and it’s crazy, just a wild city with shops and tons of people buzzing around,” said Kelly. “You stay there for a few days before taking a plane to the village of Lukla to begin the hike to Base Camp.”
However, Kelly’s adventure was almost over before it began.
“In Kathmandu I ate a salad or something and got food poising really bad,” said Kelly. “The next morning we take a small plane to Lukla and I’ve got my head on my lap and I’m in bad shape.”
Once the hiking party arrived in Lukla, Kelly was hospitalized with dehydration and food poising.
“All I could think was that I’m not going to be able to do this,” he said. “I spent a whole day and night in the hospital. The tour guides left without me and left me with a porter that would help me catch up if I felt better. I thought ‘you have to be kidding me’. I was sort of laughing to my self because it was surreal. I’m sick. I have no phone or internet. I can’t get in touch with anyone. I’m basically just sick in a little hospital in a village on the side of a mountain in the Himalayas.”
Kelly said there was no heat and no creature comforts.
“I got exactly what I came for but I started to regret it because I was so sick and all I wanted was heat, cold water, my own bed,” said Kelly. “It was awful.”
The next morning Kelly said he went outside and caught his second wind.
“It was this beautiful, clear morning and, I don’t know how to describe it, but I could hear the mountains,” he said. “It was the first time I got a clear look at Everest. It was like standing at the foot of heaven.”
So Kelly grabbed his gear and headed with the porter that was left behind to guide him on the eight hour hike to the Sherpa capital of Namche Bazaar at over 11,000 ft.
“I had to keep going forward,” he said. “I wan’t going to give in to my most negative cynical traits.”
After Namche Bazaar, Kelly hiked through three more villages, each one higher in altitude than the last.
Then, after hiking for nearly a week and over a 18,192 ft. peak that leads into Mount Everest’s Base Camp below, Kelly was at the foot of the world’s tallest mountain.
“All I know is when I was up there it exceeded my expectations,” said Kelly. “I can’t articulate the beauty and what it means to be up there but it does something to you. I felt like I was that 22-year-old kid back in the homeless shelter recovering from heroin addiction. I got a second chance in life when I was 22 and I felt that I got another chance at life standing there at the bottom of Everest. I came to find purpose and at that moment in Base Camp I felt life was going to start again like it did 15 years ago in a homeless shelter. That’s what I needed at this point in my life.”
Then as he stood close to the top of the world Kelly’s accomplishment finally sunk in.
“Not to sound cheesy or anything but it was a state of Nirvana,” said Kelly. “Here I was a kid from Charlestown and an ex-junkie tying a Himalayan prayer flag to a rock at the base of Mount Everest, It was crazy. I didn’t find any specific answer but what I found was a sensation.
“The sensation was the ability to just let go and be in the moment–a sensation of being present. In our lives our minds live mostly in the past or in the future and not really in the present. But the hour or so I was at Base Camp I felt present, in the moment and that’s a felling you can’t get from a drink or a shot of heroin. The feeling I had you only get that feeling from letting go and learning to enjoy a moment knowing you can’t posses the moment forever. That’s the strange thing about addiction–it’s a selfish thing because you are greedy and are trying to possess a feeling or sensation forever. I think what I learned up there is it’s the journey in life that counts because the accomplishments are just a moment.”
Jack Kelly at Mount Everest Base Camp.
Jack Kelly celebrates after a week-long hike through the Himalayas to Mount Everest’s Base Camp.
Jack Kelly during his hike to the foot of the world’s tallest mountain.