The drive from the airport to our hotel allowed for only a brief glimpse of Kathmandu as we sped past, but luckily we’d have time to explore the city on our return. Arriving at our hotel late in the afternoon, there was barely time for a quick kit check before it was time to head out for dinner. Team bonding commenced among the ten members of our group by working out what should and shouldn’t be ordered from the menu. We all fared well in the end, even if choosing was a bit like pot luck.
After dinner, the sensible ones among us headed for bed, while the rest of us decided to go to the kitsch-sounding ‘Tom and Jerry’s’, a local bar famous for being frequented by climbers.
The previous night’s entertainment took the edge off the prospect of the dreaded flight to Lukla Airport, widely accepted as the most dangerous airport in the world. Lucky for us, the flight was uneventful and we started our first day of trekking soon after landing.
The team was made of three sub-groups: four people trekking to Kala Patthar and Everest Base camp to raise money for the charity Operation Smile; four were adding on the mountain Island Peak to the trip; while Rolfe and Simon were going even further to climb Ama Dablam.
On our second day, we were faced with a gigantic hill in order to reach Namche Bazaar, where we would stay the night. It was worth it though, as we were rewarded with our first glimpse of Everest through the trees.
Namche is a bustling hub of shops, bars, trekkers, locals and porters, not forgetting the yaks, dogs and other animals. Being the last opportunity to purchase any equipment, those climbing Island Peak went in search of the rest of the supplies they would need for the journey ahead. Chris managed to buy some gloves straight from the 1920s, that furthermore looked like they were last owned by the yeti. Picture that if you can: much amusement was had at his expense, although I’m sure he had the last laugh with his toasty digits…
As we continued onwards and upwards, the temperature dropped, the vegetation became scarcer, and strangely, the food became better. The meals the tea house employees managed to rustle up were nothing short of amazing. The only challenge was ordering our next meal straight after consuming the current one: it’s hard to guess what you’re going to fancy for dinner with a belly full of lunch.
It was around this time the team began to realise that many of our Sherpas were extraordinary mountaineers and that the chap serving us our lemon tea in the morning had summited Everest four times. Humbled doesn’t come close to covering it.
We went on to spend two nights in Dingboche, completing an acclimatisation walk on the second day. This day was sold as a ‘rest day’ but I think all would agree the climb was one of the hardest of the trip. This was the first time the effects of the altitude became obviously apparent and everyone (except Rolfe) was huffing and puffing. The panoramic views of the surrounding mountains once at the top were, however, definitely worth the arduous slog.
Gorek Shep was the base from which we would attempt to climb Kala Patthar and Everest Base Camp. After arriving around midday we had two hours’ rest before setting off. After a superhuman effort by all involved, we all stood atop our goal, marvelling at the scenery which was laid out before us. Sunset over the Himalayan Mountains from 5,550 metres is a sight that not many people get to experience: it will certainly take some beating.
That night, Simon recorded the temperature in his room at -9 degrees and Alex’s urine froze in her bottle. This presented a problem in the morning as she contemplated how to deal with the frozen urine…something none of us had thought to prepare for in advance of the trip!
The next day saw us trek to our ultimate goal – Everest Base Camp. The relief and elation at reaching the base of the tallest mountain in the world was almost palpable. The kumbu icefall that stretched before us was beautiful and gave a glimpse of what the teams attempting to reach the summit have to overcome. There were a few emotional calls home as people shared the moment with their loved ones. We all took photos to record our achievement as we tried to fully appreciate and absorb where we were.
After the elation of reaching our goal, we had to say goodbye to half of the team and wish them well in their attempt to climb Island Peak. We hot-footed it back to Lukla and after a heart-felt goodbye to our Sherpas and porters, caught an early morning flight back to Kathmandu. Everyone was relieved when the plane took off before ‘falling’ off the end of the runway, as we had been told sometimes happens. The 12-course celebratory meal at the seven star resort in Kathmandu was the perfect way to mark our achievement, while allowing any weight that had been lost to be gloriously regained.