Treking to Everest Base camp April 7th – 21st 2017
The idea to travel 7700km by plane, and then trek for seven days for long hours in below freezing conditions, was not my idea. It was thought up by a very close friend of mine, Pat Hughes, and as is the case with all great ideas, came to fruition on a night out. The original plan was that we would travel to the Himalayas in Nepal during the school break of Easter 2017 (as we are both teachers and would have the time off), and climb to the Base Camp of the world’s highest mountain. Somewhere along the line of preparation, we decided to ask our respective Father’s to join us in the adventure. It took a little convincing and “playing down” of the challenge at hand but we got an agreement in the end. However, due to an injury to Pat’s father John, he was unable to come. Pat then also decided to stay behind in the hope that he and John could attempt the journey next year instead, and so our quartet became a duo.
My father Seamus and I left Dublin airport on Friday, April 7th and arrived in Kathmandu after a short stop-over in Dubai. From Kathmandu, trekkers and would-be climbers must take another small plane to the picturesque Himalayan airport of Lukla (2800m), where our trek begins. Our target is approximately 70km away and a further 2600m in altitude.
It’s now Sunday. If all goes to plan, we’ll be standing in Base Camp seven mornings from now. We are walking as part of a group of nineteen, thirteen of whom are attempting to summit Everest. They come from every corner of the globe and bring with them their own exciting stories and backgrounds. Jabbar Bhatti and Sa’ad Mohammed are aiming to be the fourth and fifth men from Pakistan to conquer Everest. They have been planning since 2011. Vivi from Norway is in the army and has already climbed Everest. She is now targeting the summit of Everest (8848m) and its neighbour Lhotse (8516m) in a single ascent.
A group of three English men living in Thailand are also with us. One of them, Richard has also been here before, though he explains that his attempt was unsuccessful and almost killed him. This time he has brought two friends for support. Their aim is like ours, get to Base Camp and get back. Then there’s Larry. Larry is a 61-year old American. He is retired and now plays golf off a high handicap. Larry is also attempting to stand on the roof of the world. After a day or two walking together, we become very sceptical of Larry’s chances.
Our first few days on the trail are bliss. The sun is high in the sky and the temperature is mild as we walk through forests and over rivers which roar down from snow-capped giants in the distance. The climbing is very gradual and there are plenty of stops. In the evenings when we reach our accommodation, the Sherpas take over and ensure every member of the group is looked after. After dinner, everyone remains in the heat of the common room. No TV’s or radio. The WiFi is poor and costs about $6 an hour. All of this becomes a welcome inconvenience as people share stories from their various walks of life.
As the altitude increases and the air thins, the exciting and vibrant landscape fades and quickly becomes barren and quiet. On the evening of our sixth day, the weather turns. We are walking back to our hostel in Dingboche (4350m) as it begins to snow. Dad smiles as he can finally justify the huge jacket he bought, albeit for the type of money one might spend on a small car. The following morning after breakfast, we step out into a complete whiteout. Two feet of snow has fallen. At first it’s almost some form of novelty, as we are now faced with the elements that one might associate with Everest.
The next ten hours of trekking are the most difficult. The constant trudging through snow makes climbing harder than before and some of the terrain across the sloping ground makes it slippery. We hear that one of the English men in our group who was also aiming for Base Camp couldn’t go on and had to be airlifted back to Lukla. There are no roads in the Khumbu region of the Himalayas. Transport comes via air, foot, or Yak! The last two hours of our trek for the day take us along a huge glacier making its way down the valley from the foot of Everest.
At around 4:45am, following a cold and broken sleep (at 5164m) in Gorak Shep, we are woken by Sonam, our Sherpa. We have 4km to go until Base Camp, where we aim to reach by 7am. Because we are surrounded by Everest and her impressive neighbours, sunlight does not reach Base Camp until later in the morning. Therefore, we walk for two hours in the pitch dark, ice and snow, straight into the teeth of the most bitter, harsh gale I have ever experienced.
We battle on through the elements, knowing that we are within touching distance of our goal. We finally reach the cluster of tents which marks the Base of Everest for all climbers. Its 7am on Easter Sunday, 5364 metres above Sea Level. I take out my phone and Sonam takes a quick picture of Dad and I before my phone shuts down from the cold. Its -20 degrees and the sun finally begins to peer out from behind the silhouette of the mountain. Job done!
Our trek back to Lukla takes half the time. This is mainly due to the fact that our bodies are so cold. The promise of warmer air further down the trail supersedes the appeal of rest at the next place of accommodation, and so we keep walking. We walk for thirteen hours that Sunday and twelve the following Monday. The trail home is also tough, probably due to the fact that the goal is now in our rear-view, yet we must still pound the dusty trail for 70km before we can properly rest.
On the evening before our final trek, our 22-year old porter Pemba receives heart-breaking news, and with it all the pride we held for our achievement is thrown brutally into perspective. His young wife has taken her own life. Pemba is inconsolable. Dad, Sonam and I find him in the garden in front of our hostel slumped over a white garden chair in floods of tears. I don’t have a clue what to say to him, or even how to act.
In the days that follow, I realise that there isn’t anything you can say in a time like that. He takes off for Lukla in the dark, alone. Its three hours away. From there he must wait for a helicopter to take him to another town in the region, from where he must walk another two days to reach his home village and his three children. Sonam tells us that, often, an arranged marriage such as Pemba’s produces enormous strain, and in extreme cases can result in what we have just witnessed.
Our final trek into Lukla is a quiet one. When we arrive there, we bump into one of the English men accompanying Richard to Base Camp for his summit bid. Their other companion was the one airlifted out 2 days from Base Camp. It’s great to chat to him again and hear that he, at least made it to Base Camp. A first hot shower in a week also helps to revive our Spirit.
We fly back to Kathmandu the next morning, and two days later we are on a flight to Dublin. Only when we touch down back in the comfort of Ireland do we really appreciate the experience. I would highly recommend anyone to do the Everest Base Camp trek. It is extremely manageable for anyone who is relatively active and willing to prepare for it for a few months. Sometimes we make the mistake of never visiting places because we assume they are simply too far away. Or perhaps we haven’t heard of anyone else who has gone there. Transport and technology have made the world a very small place, and nowhere should be written off as inaccessible. In terms of Base Camp, it is an experience I can guarantee you will never forget, and perhaps may even prompt you to one day return, and maybe climb a little further.
From the 2018 Edition By Michael Cannon