Everest Base Camp and Island Peak – this is how it starts

Expedition: Island Peak via Everest Base Camp

Marco Barcella

I left a note at reception, “I will be at the bar at 7pm wearing a 360 jacket. See you there.” It wasn’t until I was walking away that I realised it sounded more like a note from a blind date than from an expedition guide. Oddly enough, as I stood by the bar at 6:55pm with Rolfe (my good friend and one of the 360 directors), it felt exactly like a blind date. I was waiting on three people – Aggi, Cressida and Tim. All I knew about them was their names, ages and passport numbers. I had no idea what they looked like so the moments leading up to our initial meeting were very tense as Rolfe and I smiled awkwardly at almost everyone who was of a similar age to the details I had in my hand. In retrospect, we must have looked like a couple of desperate men standing at the bar with a beer trying to make eye contact with any woman who walked by.

The awkwardness came to a halt as a table of three waved at us from across the outdoor bar at the Kathmandu Guest House. We sat down, introduced ourselves and began getting to know one another. Having led an uncountable number of trips over the years I find these initial meetings really interesting. From that moment on I know that, Aggi, Tim, Cress and myself will be together almost every moment of every day for the next three weeks. We will trek, climb, sleep, eat and drink together from now until we return home.

They had travelled from Geneva to Nepal to take on the huge challenge of trekking to Everest Base Camp, climbing Kala Pattar and then, finally, making a summit attempt on the incredible Island Peak (6189m). It wasn’t going to be easy but it was easy to tell from that initial introduction that they all had what it takes to complete their challenge; the right combination of experience, ability and most importantly, the correct mental attitude towards high altitude expeditions. However, even these three things don’t guarantee success in the mountains and I knew we had some big days ahead.Looks like the blind date’s going well!

We took the early morning flight to Lukla (our starting point) with Rolfe and his Mera Peak team, had a bit of breakfast and waved them goodbye as we made our way into the Khumbu Valley. You don’t have to get far out of Lukla before you start to feel the enormity of what is around you. The valley is deep and a raging river cutting its way through the middle creating the perfect soundtrack for a Himalayan trek. And this is how it starts. As you take your first step from Lukla that’s it, you are committed. There are no vehicles here, no shortcuts. The only way is up and only your legs can take you there.

The days are filled with trekking, the evenings spent playing cards, drinking hot lemon tea and discussing what is coming the following day as we all huddle around the stove which furiously burns dried yak dung. In normal circumstances this probably wouldn’t smell too great but when it is surrounded by people who haven’t washed for a week (and more specifically my shoes, as the group will confirm), the value of the heat far outweighs the smell of smouldering poo!Aggi, Cress and Marco in front of Ama Dablam

Aggi, Cress and Tim made a great start to their journey, coping well with the terrain, the relative heat in the lower part of the valley and the ever-increasing altitude. As we made our way further, into the valley, the mighty Ama Dablam, Lhotse, Nuptse, Tawoche and Chalotse provided the perfect back drop but the effects of altitude and exposure began to take their toll and the reality of the challenge began to set in. The group fought day after day and despite some extremely testing illness they all made it to Everest Base Camp. Views of the infamous Khumbu Icefall and the collection of yellow tents housing the teams of international climbers was enough to bring silence upon us for a while.  This was only the first milestone however and perhaps the easiest of the three – we still had a long way to go…

Find out how they got on with the rest of the journey on the second part of the blog ‘Everest Base Camp and Island Peak – it’s all in your head

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