I can vividly recall my first view of Everest. It came from the comfort of a scenic flight, flying alongside the majestic peaks of the Himalayas at the climax of an overland trip from Delhi to Kathmandu. I fell in love with Nepal from the very moment that I crossed its border and, as we visited Chitwan National Park, Kathmandu and Lumbini – the birthplace of Buddha – we promised that we would return one day to trek one of the country's many challenging routes.
Three of us followed our dream, signing up for the gruelling journey to Everest Base Camp. Knowing that it was going to be the hardest work we had ever encountered, we spent a long, cold winter training the Welsh hills – although of course, the hills there were only about 400 metres high and we would be tackling altitudes of up to 5,400 metres in a matter of months!
We flew back to Kathmandu in good spirits, looking forward to the challenge ahead. Arriving just in time for Holi, the festival of colour, the streets of Kathmandu were transformed into a huge water fight, with friendly locals covering us in coloured powder. We took this to be a great omen for the journey to come.
We were up early the next day for the famous flight to Lukla. Built by Sir Edmund Hillary in the 1950s, this airport is hewn from the side of a mountain, and the 45-minute flight is truly spectacular… although certainly not for the faint hearted! Upon landing, we met our Sherpa guides and soon took the first footsteps on our journey through the awe-inspiring Himalayas. At a starting altitude of 2,600 metres we initially found the going relatively easy, and we had purposefully designed an itinerary with a couple of initial relaxed trekking days to help us to acclimatise.
Reality soon hit, with the seemingly never-ending climb up to our first stop at Namche Bazaar, an idyllic town, clinging to the slopes of the mountain, and surrounded by towering peaks. Now at 3,400 metres, altitude sickness began to kick in for some of us. Basing ourselves in Namche for a couple of nights allowed us to acclimatise and stock up on essential provisions and gear for the days ahead. A short hike up the hill above Namche rewarded us with breathtaking views of the mountain range, with Everest itself glistening in the distance and calling us on.
Well-fed and rested, we continued up the valley, staying at the hamlets of Thyangboche and Dingboche. Now high above the treeline at 4,400 metres, the scenery was increasingly desolate. We also met the owner of a simple but charming teahouse, a retired Sherpa who had summited Everest several times.
At the head of the Everest valley, we now had the great mountain clearly in our sights, surrounded by the peaks of Lhotse, Amadablam and Island Peak. Hiking along the side of the Khumbu glacier, we had our final overnight stay before Base Camp at the lonely outpost of Lobuche, 4,900 metres above sea level. An overnight snow flurry awarded us a beautiful scene for our final ascent the following day.
With a final push, I'm proud to say that the whole group made it to Base Camp at 5,364 metres. This is testament to the support and expertise of our Sherpa guides, as well as the motivating camaraderie within our group. It seems funny that after all of the effort to reach the camp, we actually only stayed there very briefly – but long enough to capture a few photos and share some emotional hugs and high fives. The sense of achievement was palpable; a few of us wondered where the nearest bar was for a celebratory beer… and the answer was "a long way down"!
Our celebration had to be put on hold for a little longer, as we were still in the high altitude "danger zone" above 5,000 metres, overnighting at the barren outpost of Gorakshep. We put ourselves through one last hardship the following morning, climbing the nearby hill of Kala Pattar for the most breathtaking views of Everest that we had experienced yet.
We then began our descent; we were so happy to be heading back that we pretty much danced our way down the valley, experiencing an incredible surge in energy levels as we descended to lower altitudes and an abundance of oxygen! Reaching Lukla, we finally claimed that well-earned celebratory beer.
Taking seven days up and three days down, this trip added up to ten of the most memorable and rewarding days of my life.
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By Ian Anderson