The Supernatural and the Sublime – witnessing Mount Everest

May 16, 2012 4:23 pm

Travel is my number one pleasure – I absolutely live for it.  I had just returned from a wonderful two weeks in India over New Year, as well as being faced with two upcoming exams that I had done little work for, when my great friend rang me late one Sunday evening.  Before long, he demanded what I was doing in April, to which I responded very little, and it was then decided – we were trekking to Everest Base Camp.  I was more in shock than anything else, but excitement soon took over, and I quickly rang my parents to tell them the news…to which they responded very differently!  My mother thought it far too much and out of the question, but my father soon quashed that by stating that I could go, on the condition that he could join me – so that was that!

The little amount of trekking I had done previously was to my great advantage.  I had completed the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru, which gains a height of 4250m, as well as the occasional Munro in Scotland, but I trained in the gym during the winter months and before long, it was time to depart.  We were going, my father, my friend Max and myself, with the Adventure Company – a British company – and there were eighteen of us in the group.  To describe us as a mixed bunch would be an understatement – not least of all in that the age range was from twenty one to seventy (myself being the youngster!)  Having arrived in Kathmandu, we all met up in the evening to hear each others personal reasons for considering the trek – ranging from personal pleasure, to raising money for charity.  Having had a couple of days to get to know each other while in Kathmandu, we were ready to depart to Lukla – the infamous airport and the gateway to climbing Mount Everest, or any other peak in that region.

This was an adventure in itself and one that I was glad to accomplish – the plane was similar to something out of World War One, with a capacity for sixteen people, a pilot that looked about fourteen in a leather jacket and aviators, duck tape on the roof of the plane, and sick bags being passed around by the solo air hostess, we thought we might have underestimated what we were in for!  Once we managed to gain height, our nerves were soon eradicated by the extensive scenery – even from the blurry window, the scale and magnitude of the mountains around us were breathtaking.  Having looked on Dad’s altimeter, it said 2700m – now I felt high at this point! But we not only had to land at 2800m, we had to climb to 5500m – so a long way to go!  Before long, turbulence arrived and we were bouncing around quite ferociously, and suddenly, out of nowhere, a short, narrow runway appears before us, mysteriously through the sunbeams, and that is where we have to land.  Somehow our teenage pilot handled it with ease and we were up the ramp and parked in our slot like a taxi rank.

Now we were really there – out of civilisation and entering the realms of nature, but if I thought this was extreme, it was going to get so much harder.  Our first day of walking was a gentle break in, from 2800m to 2600m – a steady walk downhill – the perfect warmup.  That evening, however, we were warned that day 2 was one of the hardest days – a long walk with a big incline up to a village called Namche Bazar, which lies at 3450m.  This was going to be the first real test for all of us – and some found it much harder than others.  Unfortunately it was a little cloudy so we were unable to get our first glimpse at the beauty herself, but the wait made it all the more outstanding when we finally did see her.

Namche Bazar is a truly extraordinary place – a town nestled in a horseshoe of the himalayas, that is a hype of activity and charm.  We all fell in love with it immediately, although on arrival at our tea house, there was a group that had just returned from Base Camp that were hitting the beer hard, which we all thought rather strange at the time – how we changed that opinion once leaving Namche!  Day 3 was also spent in Namche for our first acclimatisation day, but only after we had done a little excursion to Mount Everest Viewpoint – and what an experience that was.  We walked up, out of the village, gaining about 300m, and to the Hilary Musem, but after walking through past the gateposts to the viewpoint I turned round to face her – and was just utterly mesmerised with the sight.  Nothing can describe the scenery except the term supernatural.  It is nature at her most raw and untamed, but also at her most beautiful.  The mountains that surrounded us seemed vast, colossal giants climbing out of the sky, and even more monstrous when they would peer out above the clouds – they truly were castles in the sky, but these near ones were only about 6000m – Everest stands at 8848m – so nearly 3km higher.  The scale just does not make sense to a mere mortal – we all sat there drinking in the magnitude of these indescribable peaks.

Day 4 was, I believe, my favourite day.  The walk was just stunning, with scenery that is above and beyond the sublime.  It is something out of the supernatural world.  From Namche we were walking to Tengboche, at 3875m but with a 700m drop down for lunch and, therefore, a 700m climb back up afterwards!  Tengboche was not a particularly spectacular place at all – the tea house was one of the worse on the trek, with some really horrendous toilets and pretty horrendous food.  Therefore, it is no surprise that we were all glad to leave that place and move on to Dingboche where we were to stay 2 nights and have another acclimatisation day.  This was a difficult walk – not in the way that it was hard or arduous – that goes without saying.  This is where it began to get demanding in the mental way – we still had an enormous way to go, but now it was getting cold, we were getting tired, the weather was getting worse, and it was still seven hours of walking every day, uphill.  Worst of all – the altitude was starting to hit us.  Dingboche stands at 4410m, and I found that once we got above 4000m, breathing was noticeably harder.  On arrival at Dingboche, it was unbearably cold.  Even after warming up after supper and sitting by the fire in the main room, you have to go outside to your bedroom, where you immediately use up all your body heat in trying to warm up again.

After our second acclimatisation day, we all felt rejuvenated. For now, it was motoring all the way – no more stops, no more rests.  It was up and then all the way back again – but all we wanted to do was get back to Namche for a beer!  From Dingboche we went to Lobuche at 4910m – this was a good days walking with some wonderful views when the sun managed to shine through, but also some incredibly demanding hills.

Day 8 was our big day that we had all been waiting for – Base Camp!  It had finally arrived but it was going to be a challenge.  From Lobuche, we had to walk three hours to Gorak Shep at 5140m, where we would have a short break, and then from there it would be another three hours of difficult walking to Base camp, at 5365m, followed by three hours back to Gorak Shep for the night.  However, everyone took it on with enormous gusto and drive – this was what we had prepared for.  Gorak Shep is surprisingly luxurious with a wonderful tea house as well as being extremely lively and animated because all sorts of expeditions were about to make their first trepid attempts up the biggest peak in the world.  Walking to Base camp was the most exhilarating part of all – soon after leaving Gorak Shep we could just work out some orange spots in the background along the horizon, and that was where we were headed.  When I finally reached that stone, surrounded by all those tents, and amongst what I now called family because we had got so close over the last week and a half, it was one of the most emotional moments of my life.  I flung my bag down and hugged anyone and everyone – with tears running down my face – it was fantastic.  I had done it, but not only had I done it, everyone had done it – and the statistics were against us because the company had never achieved a 100% success rate with a group over sixteen people.  It felt like we had conquered the world – and on top of that a couple proposed – everyone was beside themselves.  I think from that, the walk back made it easier – everyone had adrenaline rushing through them and we had done what we had all set out to do.

It was, and is, an achievement which I am extraordinary proud of, but it has given me the opportunity to see parts of the world that very few people get the chance to witness.  The Himalayas are a miracle of nature, Everest in particular, but all of them, surrounding Everest, make such an impact that one cannot fail but be drawn in by it.  I certainly hope to make a return trek, but for now all I can say is: Get to the Himalayas and witness Mount Everest, the supernatural and the sublime, for yourself.

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