People are always telling me I have the best job in the world. And when that job involves taking a group of 32 people to Nepal to trek to one of the world’s most iconic mountaineering destinations it’s hard to argue. For me, knowing that in doing so, those people are raising hundreds of thousands of pounds for a cancer charity in the UK tips it over the edge as the greatest job there is.
On the 14th of March I stood at Heathrow airport where I was met by 32 smiling, slightly apprehensive faces, each with their bags packed, boots on and passports in hand ready to take on the adventure of a lifetime. They were headed for Kathmandu where their journey to Everest Base Camp would begin. Over the course of the next few weeks they would each face some of the highest highs and lowest lows, of their lives, both physically and mentally. They would come face to face with extreme temperatures, harsh sleeping conditions, endless hours of trekking and the constant battle with altitude.
The group was a diverse range of people each of whom works for retail giant, Tesco and each of whom was raising money for Tesco’s charity of the year, Cancer Research UK. We had former Royal Marines, professional rugby players and engineers who had all come to find themselves working for the same company and whose roles ranged from managing superstores to the teams who are responsible for running the entire logistics of the distribution process. I was impressed to see that one company had successfully managed to bring together such a variety of their employees to take on such a huge challenge and for such a great cause.
For each of these people the mountains would test them however. Some of them would find themselves tucked up in bed in the middle of the day fighting illness, some of them would be in severe pain as knees began to give up after weeks of effort and some would find that, particularly early in the mornings, they would be nursing sore heads, nausea and dehydration. I’d put the latter down to altitude but it seemed to happen more frequently on the descent!
It was during the hours of illness and pain that the groups’ true colours started to shine. Their sympathy, support and determination to help each other was incredible and it wasn’t uncommon to see someone take soup to his room mate’s bed or to carry a friend’s rucksack during moments of difficulty. It was because of this exceptional team spirit that each of these people passed the mountains’ harsh tests and I was privileged enough to stand with them all as they celebrated their success at Everest Base Camp.
The world of an expedition leader is an interesting one. Not just the variety of destinations but even more so the variety of people you find yourself getting to know on a weekly basis. It was the human nature aspect of this group which culminated in the trip highlight for me. It came early on during the ascent of a steep climb to Thyangboche. It was hot and dusty and we were steadily creeping towards the 4000m mark so people were sweaty, out of breath and generally struggling. I walked behind 5 or 6 men in our group, ranging from their 20s to their 50s, store managers to distribution teams, they sweated and gasped for air as they climbed. I glanced 100m ahead of us and making their way down was a small group of young women, smiling and chatting as they effortlessly descended. I watched as the men in my group noticed the women and immediately their backs straightened, the panting stopped and each of them took a huge breath in preparation to say “Namaste” as the women walked by. The ladies looked suitably impressed although if they had happened to glance back a second or two later they would have seen 5 or 6 men each doubled-over catching their breath from all that exertion. Even in the mountains it would seem, it’s all about keeping up appearances.