The next of my challenges was a guided trek to Base Camp 1 on Everest, altitude 4600mtrs. This was probably the most difficult in a physical sense, but the most rewarding of all of the challenges I have done so far. I left Australia on the 6th April for Kathmandu in Nepal. I arrived in good shape, but nothing could have prepared me for the "assault on the senses" of Kathmandu.
Once in Kathmandu we had a day and a half to acclimatise, and then off to the airport to catch the daily flight up to the start point of the trek from Lukla: one of the highest airports in the world. The flight was exhilarating… a low level flight through the Himalayas, with fantastic views, only interrupted by the turbulence as we traversed the various intermediate peaks on the way. We landed without incident and again spent a day in Lukla acclimatising.
The next day we were off on what has got to be the greatest trek I have ever done. Up bright and early, we left for Namche Bizarre. The Sherpas, who were a great set of lads aged between 17 and 70, described Namche Bizarre as the New York of Nepal. This first day, though, was a tough Trek: we climbed about 1000mtrs over about 7Km. distance, and we felt the impact of the altitude even though we were still at only 2,500 - 3000mtrs above sea level. It took us about 6 hours, including negotiating two Rope Bridges and what seemed like an endless staircase. Namche Bizarre seems to cling onto the side of the mountain and is indeed the capital of the highlands in Nepal, no roads in or out, just walkways through the mountain passes. It is a small town with probably no more than 5000 residents, but it is the main market town in the Nepalese Himalayas and is the gateway to Everest or Chomolonga, as it is known in Nepal.
A night in Namche Bizarre, and then onwards with the trek, to gain our first sight of Chumolonga. There was an air of excitement and many photographs, though, in hindsight, there was still a very long way to go. That night there had been a significant snow storm and we awoke to three feet of snow, but undeterred we marched on. Another two days of trekking followed as we slowly increased in altitude and as the weather further closed in, with snow building layer upon layer on the track. I found these two days probably the most challenging. We walked about 6 miles per day, however it felt like 20, and it took about 5 to 6 hours per day. The track is well marked, and is resilient to the many Trekkers on the path, as well as the Donkey trains, and the Yaks who all use the same route. It was interesting that whilst we found the track heavy going the Nepalese men and women who were carrying their goods to and from the market at Namche did not seem too troubled by the conditions. It is a real shock to the system when you are walking up hill with nothing but your walking poles and a 10KG day pack on your back, to be passed by an older woman, carrying a basket on her head of about 20 KG, and another basket on her back with a further 20 KG, and then often carrying a young child as well!
We arrived at Tengboche, ready for the push on to Base Camp 1 the next day. However, it snowed overnight again and the next morning our guide informed us we would not be going... there had been news of small avalanches, and increased traffic by helicopter taking people off the mountain due to the conditions. It is hard to describe our disappointment: How could we get him (the guide) to change his mind? etc. I now know how easy it is to get into trouble on these sort of adventures, as I would have happily gone if the guide had said we were on our way!
The compromise was that the guide would take a small group of 4 Trekkers to Base Camp on Aba Dablam, the mountain next to Everest and at the same altitude as Base Camp 1. It was not far but it was steep and perversely the track was not as well walked or defined, making it a little more tricky. It took about 5 hours but the last hour was in driving snow, and it became quite daunting due to the cold, and the disorientation that the "white out" created. Our guide was excellent and worked hard to get us there, but just as we were settling down for a rest he turned us round and marched us straight back down again. The weather was appalling, but interestingly it passed, and by the time we got back to Tengboche it was clear, and a lovely mild night followed.
We had climbed 4600mtrs in altitude to Base Camp, but on Mnt Aba Dablam rather than Everest!
Over the course of the next two days we wound our way back to Namche Bizarre, the memory of the Irish Bar we had seen in Namche spurring us on.(Why are there always Irish bars in the most inaccessible of places?) Needless to say we couldn’t resist going there to celebrate our achievement! We had one night in Namche, then back to Lukla the next day, for more celebrations. The flight out of Lukla was as interesting as the flight in: The weather again was against us. The flights were going, then they were not…then there was a mad rush. I got put on a plane because there was a spare seat, and arrived in Kathmandu after the most turbulent journey I have ever experienced. The rest of the party arrived three hours later with similar tales..
The last part of the story, of course, is of the Earthquake which took place in Nepal on the 25th of April. We left Kathmandu on the 22nd and read, with great sadness, of the devastation and loss of life. We made contact with our Sherpas and they were fine, but all were touched in one way or another by the disaster. Our thoughts were with them as we settled back down to the comforts of home.
In conclusion, the trek was a great experience and something that I will always remember. We did it to raise money for charities in Queensland and for the Good Shepherd School. Thank you to everyone who supported us. Perhaps it was fitting that we should have climbed mountains for a school in the foothills of the Rwenzoris, and for children who have their own mountains to climb every day.