I fancied a holiday with a difference, I booked a trek to Mount Everest Base Camp. This was the biggest unknown I had ever faced in my life
“Ten minutes to landing” came the familiar call, the seatbelt sign illuminated, and I stared out of the window. I'd travelled all the way from London (www.qatarairways.com) and now here I was hypnotised by the snow-covered Himalayas stretching beyond the Kathmandu valley and the enormity of my plan to trek to Everest Base Camp.
Two nights at the hotel Vaishali in the Thamel (tourist) area of Kathmandu allowed us to see the sights, catch up on our sleep, meet our Kumuka (www.kumuka.com) guide Raj and fellow trekkers, stock up on sweets and, most importantly, toilet roll for the journey. We visited the famous Rum Doodle bar (www.therumdoodle.com) for the local delicay of mo mos, strange steamed dumplings a bit like a pastie shaped ravioli. Soon we were back at the airport preparing to board a 14-seater Twin Otter (www.agniair.com), which swooped like a bird so close to the majestic Himalayas that you felt you could reach out and touch them. It took us to our starting point of 2,800m.
Relief did not even come close to my feelings as we veered off the runway at Lukla narrowly avoiding the wall at the end as effortlessly as pulling into your driveway at home. Stepping from the plane into a sea of porters I gulped in the mountain air, so refreshing after days in the smog of Kathmandu.
Despite having religiously taken my altitude sickness medication and only standing at 2,800m, I felt apprehensive about the challenge and unknown that lay ahead.
The following six days I experienced so many contrasting feelings. Sunburn as far as our half way point height wise, Namche Bazaar, to a sleepless night in Lobuche with the ice falling of the inside of the tea house window and soaking my sleeping bag. Admittedly soon forgotten after a 5am alarm call to watch the sunrise over Everest. We ate vast amounts of bland sherpa noodle soup supplemented with tinned tuna and spam. The only thing constant was the hospitality of the Himalayan people, at every restaurant, food stall and tea house we were welcomed like family with cries of “Namaste” and frequently left small villages like the piped piper with children of various ages trailing behind us.
One day ahead of base camp I became the only member of our now close knit group of ten to reach the summit of Kala Patthar. Despite blizzard conditions on the way up I was rewarded by the clouds parting like curtains as I struggled to sit upright in the wind and take the photo of Everest from what is billed as the best place. The following day's goal of Base Camp at 5,600m now seemed achievable and I realised that at no point while planning this trip had I ever considered failing.
Gorak Shep, and more specifically the Snowland Inn, at 5,180m above sea level (www.snowlandhighestinn.com) was our base for two nights. Trekking from Gorak Shep to base camp was the least interesting day in terms of scenery. I felt like we were walking in a channel through the rocks and despite glistening mountains 360 degrees around us there was none of the green scenery that we had enjoyed so far. Morale was mixed today, this was what we had come to do and it was now so close; passing the only sign proclaiming “Base Camp this way” brought a cheer. The going was tough, two nights sleeping at 5,000m was taking its toll and the almost an eerie silence was broken only by the thud of boots pounding the baked ground and the occasional crack of a distant avalanche.
“Stop here” Raj called. Tents of both Korean and US teams preparing for an ascent came into view at almost the same moment as the peak of Everest beyond the Kumbhu ice fall and totally clear from the clouds. Finally, six days from Lukla and over three and a half hours after leaving Gorak Shep we arrived at base camp. Uninspiring doesn’t even come close, while we all felt fantastic we were standing in what was basically a pile of rubble with no area flat enough to pitch a tent on, we even struggled to find somewhere to sit for our impromptu picnic of pomegranates, cheese and crackers.
After toasting each other with bitter purified water, it was time to turn back. I could feel the elation amongst the group, this was what we’d come to do and we’d all made it but no one could even crack a smile at the thought of what lay ahead before we could have a cup of tea. The cold was bitter and the wind was burning my lips and face but finally at around 4pm with darkness falling fast we stumbled into The Snowland Inn, the highest hotel in the world. Several cups of tea and mars bars later as the human feeling began to return, the sense of achievement hit and spirits reached their highest point. I was hoping for a decent nights sleep but my sun blistered and wind burnt face beat my exhaustion as every movement against the otton pillowcases hurt!
The following morning we set out for our four day trek back to Lukla and I reflected every step was closer to my next goal of a toilet I could sit on, my first shower in ten days and clean clothes. In my mind the three star tourist class Vaishali had become the Ritz and all that stood between us was the runway that ended in a sheer drop and a forty minute flight back to civilization.