Wendy Hooper: Memoria En Route
Posted: 02 June 2016
I have always been drawn to the Himalayas, and longed to see Everest and the legendary Khumbu glacier, but have been reluctant to travel with a company I did not know, so when Elegant Resorts (ER) teamed up with The Adventure Boutique (AB), the time for me to live my dream seemed right.
I chose a personalised trip for a friend and I. AB will as far as possible organise the trip around your needs. We camped rather than use tea houses which gave our expedition leader Dr Raj Joshi, control over logistics and the food that we had. When I say camping, I mean very comfortable camping. Snug roomy tents with comfy mattresses, pillows, blankets and even hot water bottles to tuck into sleeping bags. I was never cold at night when snuggled into my sleeping bag. We had a mess tent with a heater where we had our meals and could relax. Our own portable toilet came with us too. AB do everything to make the trip as comfortable as possible. No showers for 16 nights, but “wet wipe showers” work very well, and hot water is available for washing when you want it.
Rather than repeat myself throughout the text, I will mention common themes and sights that happened or we saw daily on the trek. The team Raj had assembled were lovely. Our sirdar Nawaraj (Raj’s deputy) was a cheerful man who exuded experience and confidence. The guides were smiling and happy and the whole team could not have done more to help throughout the trek. We had consistently high quality meals, and the cook was inventive giving us plenty of variety.
We were lucky with the weather. Every day started cold, bright and frosty, and as the sun rose, so did the temperatures meaning we trekked each day in warm sunshine. The skies were clear with different shades of blue as we went up, I’ve never seen so many varieties of “blue” in the sky - ice blue, deep blue, cobalt. It meant we had stunning views of the mountains all the way. Clouds tended to come and go in the afternoon, and there was the occasional light splattering of snow. Nights were cold, but despite water freezing in my water bottle one night (I was ridiculously pleased about this for some reason) I was never cold when tucked in my sleeping bag. During acclimatisation and afternoon snoozes, the tent got really warm in the sun..
The possibility of altitude sickness was ever present, but with a trek leader like Raj I felt safe and unworried. He was honest and open about the fact that we may have times where we feel unwell with headaches, nausea and tiredness, but was reassuring about it. I resigned myself to nightly headaches all the way up. I’d sleep for a couple of hours, wake with a headache, take painkillers, sit up for a bit and then sleep again when it eased off. This developed into my “headache routine” and it was manageable. I tended to feel good by day, and trekking was not a problem.
Buddhism is the main religion in the mountains, and evidence of this is everywhere with brightly coloured prayer flags fluttering from trees, poles, houses, and bridges. Hung anywhere to let the prayers and wishes be taken by the winds they often flapped from what looked like totally inaccessible places leaving me to wonder how they had got there.
I was fascinated by the ubiquitous Mani (1) stones, with mantras and prayers intricately carved into the stone. They ranged from huge rocks, their delicate inscriptions meticulously painted white, to stacked piles of smaller carved stones. They were everywhere, in villages and all along the trails. Some looked very old, and as well as inscriptions there were faded pictures of Buddha carved into the stone. Some were so old and weathered I could only just make out his calm face. Many times I ran my hands over the carved stone as we passed, offering a heartfelt plea to Buddha to help me on my way. Prayer wheels were in the middle of villages, in archways and entrances and they made a pleasing clatter when spun. Mani stones, prayer flag poles and prayer wheels are always passed on the right hand side, even if it means going slightly off the track.
The title “Stepping Lightly” came into my head on our first day of trekking. As I clomped my way up steep steps, or tripped my way down rough rocky paths I noticed that Tour Leader, Raj, seemed to “dance” over the trail. Raj is a mountaineer with many impressive summits (including Everest) to his name, and I noticed that his graceful mountaineers “dance” across the trail conserved energy, protected his joints from jolting steps, and enabled him to move across rough and tricky ground with ease. I attempted to emulate it, and at times almost succeeded in “Stepping Lightly” to Everest Base Camp. One thing is for sure. I could not have got there without the leadership and support of the incredible Raj Joshi.
Day 1: Lukla (2,860m) to Chamuwa (2,760m) 7th April 2016
The majority of people start their trek with a flight up to the mountain village of Lukla at 2,860m. The domestic terminal of Kathmandu’s airport is quiet, with trekking numbers down after the earthquake of 2015. It is still “organised chaos” though with climbers, trekkers, porters and sirders hefting packs, equipment and food to check in for the short flight up to the mountains. Lukla airport is famous for its short uphill runway with hair- raising (and incredibly exciting) landing, but Raj somehow manages to organise a “heli hitch” up to Lukla for us as one of his many contacts has some spaces free on a helicopter. What a way to start! Sitting in the bubble of a helicopter as it nudges upwards and forwards across the runway is a close to actual flight as I will get. As the hills, valleys and mountains come into view I feel totally exhilarated, lost in the views and anticipation of the adventure ahead.
Once in Lukla we start the “hydrate, hydrate, hydrate” regime in a tea house before starting the trek. High fluid intake is essential to help reduce the dehydration that occurs at altitude, and after 4 cups of lemon tea, and a breakfast of eggs and chapatis we are ready to start. Despite the lack of trekkers it’s still a mind bending blur of porters carrying impossible loads, trains of mules and Zuptas (2) with their jingling bells and colourful harnesses carrying supplies up and down the trails. Their herders whistles, shouts and calls echo across the valleys. The views are hard to take in. Bushes laden with deep red and pink rhododendron flowers mingle with sweet smelling pine. I watch children dart up and down the trail while I struggle to take in the beauty and variety. It’s tough walking with rocks, and uneven ground and I try to conserve energy as I negotiate my way. Raj sets a pace which initially seems almost impossibly slow, but the sense of it quickly becomes clear. Walk too quickly and you use up energy way too fast.
Our camp site for the night is in a quiet spot with the sound of the river rushing by. The headache I’ve trekked with all day worsens and I start to feel nauseated. Altitude is already making its presence felt and I feel anxious. If I feel like this now, what happens higher up? Raj however is calm and unworried, reassuring me it is normal. Simple painkillers, a tablet to stop the nausea and I am relieved to sleep well and wake headache free the following morning. Early tea is bought to the tent and the routine of “hydrate, hydrate hydrate”, coupled with breakfast starts the day.
Day 2: Chamuwa (2,760m) to Namche Bazaar (3,440m) 8th April 2016
Today’s trek starts with a steep downhill section to enter the Sagamartha National Park. While we wait for Nawaraj to sort out the trekking permits we take on water and snacks. I know today will be tough. There is a section of steep zig zag paths up to Namche and I need all the energy I can get. I’m trying to get the hang of stepping lightly over the rocks, but it’s hard when I’m goggling at the amazing views all the time. We walk along the Dudh Kosi river, its creamy green water foaming and roaring over rocks and stones with pine and flowers all around. It’s not long before I see the impossibly high suspension bridge we must cross to get to the start of the zig zags up to Namche. I watch it nervously as we climb slowly upwards towards it. A long sweeping bridge draped in prayer flags, it looks like something out of an Indiana Jones film. There is a queue to get there as Zuptas slowly jingle their way across it while trekkers and climbers take photos as they wait. I hold Raj’s rucksack straps for moral support and fix my eyes on the logo of his hat as we cross. Looking down is not an option, but I feel a great sense of achievement once it’s done. As we start up the zig zags I look back and see snow topped mountains, pine trees and the magnificent Dudh Khosi river. The beauty and diversity of the scenery makes me gasp and anyone who thinks the trail to base camp is over barren rubbish strewn ground needs to think again. Spotless rubbish free trails and stunning scenery await those who make the trek.
Again Raj sets a slow steady pace for the relentless ascent. This enables us to keep going and set a gentle rhythm, rather than start and stop. At times my mind wanders from the challenge of the ascent and I become lost in my environment. My mountain “dance” goes well at times, and at others I feel clumsy and Earthbound. About half way up there is a view point where I get my first views of Everest. The sky is ice blue and clear, giving us a fantastic view. I stare and stare. Everest. I’ve wanted to see it for so long and here is it. It’s familiar peak standing out from the others with a plume of snow and ice continually blowing from it. Raj tells me the wind speed at the summit could be over 200mph. I stare and stare again. It’s difficult to take it all in. It’s still so far away, yet towers over everything else. We start our ascent again, and slowly come to Namche Bazaar. Raj thankfully warns me that the ascent is far from over as we are camping at the top of Namche. Shops seem to sell everything from food to climbing gear, and the town is busy. Local people are untroubled by the steep steps which seem to go on and on. However we soon reach our camping site where the town is laid out below us. Houses and lodges nestle in what looks like a large shallow bowl. Lunch and a sleep in the tent warmed by the sun followed. I have a contented sense of achievement and am pleased by Raj’s praise. A tough trek but I did it. This feeling of achievement is something I hadn’t expected, and it adds to my contentment.
Day 3: Acclimatisation day at Namche Bazaar (3,440m). 9th April 2016
Today we go nowhere. It’s time to let our bodies acclimatise to the thin air now we are over 3,000m. We take a gentle five minute walk up to the Tenzing Memorial, which gives fantastic views of Everest and the mountains around it. Raj tells me the names, but I am lost in my surroundings. I’ve never seen anything like this. We are surrounded by mountains in a clear blue sky. I stroll round and Raj shows me where we trekked from yesterday, way down in the distant valley. That sense of achievement again. I actually did that. I stare and stare at Everest again. There are only a few people there and I am glad to see they are doing the same as me. Why is this mountain so alluring? There are others which are more beautiful, but as I watch the stream of ice and snow streaking from the summit I am transfixed by it. Raj has stood on the summit which seems an impossibly hostile place. I ask him how he feels when he looks at it, knowing he has been on the top, and in typically self deprecating style he says he doesn’t think about it much. I can’t stop thinking about it. We return to camp and I realise that apart from sorting some clothes I have NOTHING to do. How many times in life can we say that? No mobile phone, no computer, nothing to do but let my body acclimatise to the altitude. I feel calmer and more relaxed than I have for a long time, and snooze the afternoon away in the warm tent. Heading to the mess tent when summoned, then returning to the tent for more snoozing in a blur of contentment.
Day 4. Namche Bazaar (3,440m) to Kenjuma (3,550m). 10th April 2016
I wake not feeling right, and as I dash to the toilet I realise why. I’m only just back in my sleeping bag when I realise I’m going to be sick. I’ve clearly been struck down with a gastrointestinal bug....... “traveler’s tummy”, incredibly common here. Raj is reassuringly unfazed and starts me on a course of antibiotics. He suggests a rest, then trek half our planned route, so we can rest during the afternoon and if necessary the day after. The personalised trek is paying off. There is time built into the itinerary for this sort of thing, and it’s not (so far) jeopardising my goal of reaching Everest Base Camp. Nawaraj tells me that being unwell at this level is nothing to worry about and that I will recover and get stronger as we go up. I nod, but he can tell I don’t really believe it. “You’ll see” he says with a smile. I can’t rest as I’m anxious about trekking when I feel so unwell, and I’m glad when we start. Again Raj’s reassuring quiet confidence helps, as do the amazing views, with Ama Dablam rising in the distance. However as we get close to Kenjuma I see another steep ascent with uneven stone steps. My heart sinks and to my shame I have a good whinge! Raj tells me to look at each step individually, to tell myself that each one is only small and is one step closer to our destination. Something “clicks” in my brain and I discover the power of positive thinking and literally mind over matter. The steps pass easily, and despite feeling weak and nauseated I feel incredibly proud of myself. I did it. I actually did it. It’s an incredibly powerful feeling and my confidence soars. This trek is not just about one foot in front of the other, it’s about finding your inner strength and realising exactly what you can do. The praise from Raj adds to my feeling of achievement and I spend the rest of the day resting in the tent, or in front of the lovely Tea House with astonishing views..
Day 5: Kenjuma. (3,550m) 11th April 2016
We spend the day at Kenjuma. I rest, taking in the views and sipping coca cola. The drink I normally loathe is just what I need and I stock up for the trek up to Deboche tomorrow. It involves a long steep descent followed by a long steep ascent and I’m nervous. Doubts come in. Will I feel awful? Will this bug be gone? I push them out of my mind as best as possible and feel a bit more positive when I manage to eat some of the local (and delicious) Nak (3) cheese, and a handful of Pringles..
Day 6: Kenjuma (3,550m) to Deboche: (3,867m) 12th April 2016
Stocked up with coke and Pringles I start the walk, and realise that I can do it. We take it very slowly and regular sips of coke keep me hydrated and give me some energy. The steep climb to Deboche passes quickly as the views become ever more spectacular. The roaring river way below, dappled sunlight through the sweet smelling pine, and the beautiful Ama Dablam towering in the distance. I try to step lightly as I follow Raj and sometimes achieve it, but that graceful dance over rock still eludes me. I feel a massive sense of achievement when we reach the Buddhist Monastery at Tengboche, knowing we have just a short way to go and I’ve done it. Positive thinking has paid off, and I start to realise just what I’m capable of. One of the most amazing things about this trek is that it is making me look into myself and push myself in a way I never have to do at home. If I feel poorly or tired at home I can drive rather than walk. I can turn the resistance down on the cross trainer in the gym, or choose not to go, but here I must keep going or I won’t reach my goal. My own two feet and a good mental attitude are going to get me there. There are no cars, the only way I can turn the resistance down is by slowing down, but ultimately the only person who can get me there is ME. However the skill of a great expedition leader like Raj is to help me achieve that by showing me the way, helping me get that positive attitude. The monastery is beautiful, with bright colours and prayer flags. I find it a peaceful spiritual place and even though we can’t go in, just being in the courtyard is a moving and calming experience. There is something about Buddha, with his enigmatic and peaceful smile that I find compelling. I sit for a while on a wall with a couple of climbers, both heading for Loboche. We chat about our experiences so far, and compare notes on how we are coping with altitude. Despite still feeling weak I feel pretty good, and go to bed that night at Deboche feeling calm, relaxed and mentally strong..
Day 7 and 8: Deboche (3,867m) to Pangboche (3,985m): 13th April 2016. Panboche (3,985m) to Pheriche ( 4,371) 14th April 2016
For the rest of our ascent to Everest Base Camp we have half day walks, giving us lots of rest and acclimatisation time. The walk to Pangboche is a joy. My strength is returning, I feel good in the increasingly thin air and I’m even stepping lightly which my back appreciates. The views are breathtaking, and I suddenly become clumsy again as I look all around me sucking in the beauty. We trek high above the river, its rushing sound mingling with the Zupta bells and bird song. Even the steady trek up to Upper Pangboche feels easier, and I can feel I’m acclimatising. We visit the tiny monastery which is stunning. I stand and look at the statue of Buddha glinting in the dim light, and with the help of Nawaraj I light a candle. This is a special spiritual place, and I think of my late beloved father, my “Pa”, who I know would be proud. Blinking back tears I head back out into the sun. Back in Lower Pangboche I relax and snooze in the tent after lunch, enjoying the peace of the day. We head to Pheriche and pass the 4,000m level as we get there. Pheriche seems like a staging post for Everest, and has a temporary wild feel to it. Yaks are more prevalent now we are over 4,000m. Their long shaggy coats, and bulky size protecting them against the cold. Trains of them pass, bells jingling and herders whistling..
Day 9. Pheriche (4,371m): 15th April 2016
Today is an acclimatisation day. I am thrilled to be given permission to take a short hike to the river with just my friend. We take it slowly and spend time on the bridge watching the icy waters rush over and around the boulders. Heading a short way up the slope on the other side brings a reminder of the altitude. My heart pounds and I gasp for breath, before realising I’m going way too fast. The rest of the day is for looking around the few shops and stocking up on coke and Pringles (still living on those) and resting in the tent..
Day 10 and 11. Pheriche (4,371m) to Thukla (4,620m): 16th April 2016. Thukla (4,620m) to Loboche (4,940m): 17th April 2016
The trek to Thukla is a stunning morning walk in a valley with hillocks of grass, rock, and bubbling streams. For some reason I am reminded of Dartmoor in Devon.........until I look up and see the mountains around us. I feel well and strong and relish the walk. Nawaraj smiles and reminds me that he told me I would get stronger as I went up. I laugh, I didn’t believe him at the time as I was feeling so poorly. We come to the terminal moraine of the Khumbu Glacier which sends a thrill of excitement through me as it reminds me that we are getting closer to our goal......Everest Base Camp. The walk to Loboche the following day is gorgeous. It’s hard with several steep ascents, but the mountains just seem to be getting bigger. I gaze in wonder at Loboche, a forbidding mountain, the lower two thirds of black rocks and the upper of snow. Tents nestle at the base like orange bubbles. This is base camp for Loboche, and Nawaraj points out climbers, looking like a trail of ants on the snow covered upper third of the mountain. I ask if he has been on Loboche and he shyly tells me he has summitted. I stare and stare as we walk along, reverting from stepping lightly to clomping gracelessly. I can’t take my eyes off it, and am in awe of Nawaraj and anyone who attempts to climb these giants. We spend some time among the memorials for fallen climbers. Some are simply stone cairns, others are more ornate. Most are draped with prayer flags and it is an incredibly moving place. I find it spiritual and calm. I think of my pa and arrange some glittering little stones on a rock as my own memorial to him. As we walk on Raj spots an eagle soaring gracefully on the thermals. Pomori comes into view and I shudder as I think of the avalanche that hurtled down its flanks to wipe out Everest Base Camp after the 2015 Earthquake. It reminds me that these mountains can be deadly, even when they look beautiful and benevolent in the warm sun. Loboche feels like a frontier town, simply there to cater to the needs to climbers and trekkers, but our camp is comfortable and I even manage nak cheese and potatoes for lunch, along with the ever present coke and Pringles..
Day 12. Loboche (4,940m) to Gorak Shep (5,164m): 18th April 2016
Today we trek to the original Everest Base Camp at Gorak Shep. As we walk the magnificent mountain Nuptse comes into view. Suddenly with a BANG these mountains seem huge, dwarfing everything else. I stumble and trip over the rocks as I stare at this giant. It is stunning. Ice blue with white cracked seracs and gleaming snow. Some of the snow looks like icing which has been draped across the mountain. There are lines of rock, snow and ice and its glacier seems to trickle down its flanks. A few lines from a Pink Floyd song keeps echoing round my head.
“There is no sensation to compare with this. Suspended animation, state of bliss”.
Despite the tricky rocky path, which winds along the track I feel in a state of awed bliss, then suddenly we see Gorak Shep. A huge clear bowl of earth amidst the rocks and narrow paths. It is so out of place it looks as if someone put it there specially to be base camp. I wonder if those pioneers looking for a base camp from which to plan their climb on Everest went any further, or did they take one look at this huge flat space after trekking through narrow rocky paths and think “this is it”.I sleep badly thinking of tomorrow and our trek to Base Camp. Will it live up to my expectations? A bored looking climber had told me lower down that he hated the place, it was just a mass of tents and advised me to avoid it and climb the trekking peak Kala Patthar instead for the views. I ignored him. I have no interest in Kala Patthar, this trek is hard enough without climbing a lump of rock. I just want Everest Base Camp..
Day 13. Gorak Shep (5,164m) to Everest Base Camp (5,364m): 19th April 2016
This is it. We head out on a perfect clear, cold, bright blue morning, and almost immediately the “giants” come into view. Nuptse, Lhotse, with Everest towering over the others, the ever present stream of snow and ice whipped up into a plume of cloud as the jet stream hits the summit, pummeling it with 200mph winds. .
Pink Floyd again. “There is no sensation to compare with this. Suspended animation, state of bliss”.
I’ve never seen anything like it. The glacier winds down the valley. Stone with ponds and cracks of ice. Shimmering blue, impossible white and layers of brown so in places it looks like a mint chocolate ice cream. The rocks forced up by the ice form these ponds, lakes, streams and rivers of ice. The glaciers of Nuptse and Everest feed this and at last the Khumbu Icefall comes into view. A tumbled, jumbled mass of ice. Stand still and quiet and you can hear its creaks and groans as it grinds its way down. Finally we walk over the glacier to base camp and here we are. Hugs and praise from Raj and the team and I struggle to take in the fact that I am here. This has been my dream for so long and I am here. The only words I have to describe it are those lines from Pink Floyd. I stand and stare and stare and stare. I have a strong feeling we are not meant to be here. There is only half the amount of oxygen here that there is at sea level, and those of us who pay a short visit, or a longer one for climbing need to take great care. I sit on a rock, and realise that actually I am sitting on ice, just below the rock. I rub my fingers over the ice in disbelief, and the sudden realisation of where I am makes me cry. Raj knows one of the climbing teams at Base Camp. Their camp sirdar and climbing sirdar come to meet us, kindly bringing hot drinks and packed lunches. I stare at the sirdars. I try not to, but I am in awe of them, especially the climbing sirdar. I can’t remember anything about the trek back to Gorak Shep apart from tripping and stumbling as I keep turning round to gaze back at Base Camp. The afternoon passes in a blur of reliving the morning, and an incredible feeling of satisfaction. I have actually done it. Reality kicks in over dinner with a reminder that we are making the return trek to Lukla in only 3 days............3 days!! It has taken 13 days to trek up and now we have to get back in 3 days. Raj reassures me that my energy levels will rise dramatically with the increased oxygen levels as we drop down. I go to bed with mixed emotions. Happiness over the achievement and anxiety over a trek from Gorak Shep to Deboche in the morning..
Days 14, 15, 16. The Way Down. Gorak Shep. (5,164m) to Lukla (2,860m). 20th - 22nd April 2016
Our first day’s descent is to be what feels an impossible distance from Gorak Shep to Deboche. Raj reassures me that by lunchtime I will start to feel the benefits of the increasing oxygen levels and my energy levels will rise. I suspect I just hear the “increasing oxygen levels” bit, and forget the “lunchtime” bit, as an hour into the trek I feel lacking in energy, clumsy and tired. I grumble the morning away and don’t enjoy it at all. I trip and struggle over the rocks, and I am doing everything but stepping lightly. My grumbles are cheerfully and calmly ignored, so eventually I keep them to myself. This is the first day when I feel cross and don’t enjoy myself. Looking back I suspect it’s the knowledge that I have left the mountains and Everest Base Camp behind which has mainly lead to this. I’m still grumpy at lunchtime, but then as we slog on, I suddenly realise I have more energy. I can take deep satisfying breaths, and after going up a steep ascent (we may have been doing down, but there were still plenty of “up’s”) I am not out of breath. Oxygen. As we drop down my energy rises, and I can almost taste the increased oxygen in the air. Once past Pheriche clouds appear, and I feel a bit uneasy. I don’t know why, but I’m glad when the skies brighten again for our last exhausting push into Deboche. A “well done” from Raj and high fives with Nawaraj and our guides lift my spirits. Tonight I sleep deeply with no headache......for the first day on the trek my nightly headaches have gone which feels like such a luxury..
Our second day’s descent starts off with a steep ascent to Tengboche, followed by a steep descent down a zig zag path. We top this off with another long steep ascent up to Kenjuma where we break for lunch. Despite this I love the day. I literally feel bathed in oxygen. I find I can walk up the ascents faster without my heart pounding and gasping for breath. Watching Raj and Nawaraj “dance” over the rocks on the descent, I try to step lightly, but my legs are tired and I clomp again. My positive mental attitude is becoming automatic. I get fed up with a rough, boulder strewn path but look ahead to see a flat section, and tell myself it’s only a short way to that bit. I’m hot in the sun, and tell myself we are coming close to some dappled shade and won’t that be lovely? It’s incredible! It makes me feel confident, in control and incredibly strong. I even manage more than a few Pringles and coke at lunchtime. We stop at the lovely tea house in Kenjuma and have nak cheese toasties and ice cold lemon. The final trek down to Namche is easy, relatively flat with stunning views. I feel I’m cruising and enjoy the oxygen which feels as “thick” as if I can taste it. The afternoon is spent snoozing in the tent. We have a long and strenuous day tomorrow as we will trek all the way back to Lukla.There is a group of trekkers/climbers camping close by who are also on the way down. There is one girl among at least 12 men, and we meet and chat. It’s lovely to have some female company again, but she has had enough of her team mates “laddish” behaviour. She is tough, but worn down by it. She has lost sight of everything she has achieved and is tearful. The “girl talk” helps and we are both laughing by the end. She wishes she could stay with us, and yet again I am reminded of how things can go wrong without the right leadership. I am less than polite to one of the “lads” when I get some juvenile behaviour as I head for the toilet. I put him right in his place and chat to Raj. I know he will talk to their leader to make her life easier for the rest of the trek..
Our final day leads us down through Namche in “rush hour”. A tangle of darting children heading for school, porters heaving loads to the market or up through the town and trail after trail of zuptas and mules. It takes a while to weave our way through this mass of humans and animals, and it is accompanied with a cacophony of bells, shouts, calls, whistles, and music. The trail quietens once we leave Namche and we trek down the shady pine smelling trails. I take one last long stare at Everest at the viewpoint. I won’t see it again, and I don’t know how I feel. The day is long and tiring, but the increasing oxygen levels make a huge difference. I find myself taking deep breaths just because I can. Towards the end of the day my legs ache and feel wobbly, but the oxygen keeps me going. So does the powerful positive thinking. The afternoon is cloudy and still. Really still. There are no trekkers on the trail and everything is calm and quiet. Despite my wobbly legs I don’t want this to end. I trip and stumble again as I try to take all the views and scenery in. I’d like to end the trek stepping lightly but there’s no chance of that. I’m too busy goggling at the views and my wobbly legs won’t cooperate. As we walk up the final slopes to Lukla I feel as if I’m weaving like a drunkard. Raj tells me he is proud. No whinging, no grumbling just trekking on despite the tiredness. I am thrilled with the praise and feel proud of myself. Tears prick in my eyes as we walk through Lukla. I don’t want this to be over. I want a shower and a bed, but I don’t want to leave the mountains. I don’t have to explain this to Raj. He understands. Camping space is scarce in Lukla, so we stay in a lovely lodge right by the airport. Our cook has made a celebration cake for us, and as we all dance happily together after dinner I realise I have done it. I have achieved my dream. I could not have done any of it without Raj and his team, and I dash the tears away again. I sleep badly. I don’t want to go down. It’s weird, I don’t want to get held up in Lukla, but I still don’t want to go down. Sitting in the airport waiting for our flight the next morning everything feels a bit dream like. It’s all gone so quickly. Suddenly our flight from Kathmandu arrives and someone yells the flight number. I look at Raj and say “I don’t want to go down”. He nods. He knows exactly how I feel. Passengers and luggage off, passengers and luggage on, and off we go. All in less than 10 minutes. The little aircraft backs up against the wall, the engines roar held at full power and then we rocket down the sloping runway and are airborne. I grin happily through the whole thing, earning me quizzical looks from more nervous flyers. What a rush! I could do that all day..
Days 17, 18, 19. Kathmandu. 23rd - 25th April 2016
We land at Kathmandu, and within an hour are back at our hotel. I stand in the shower for a long time, then put on clean clothes. I revel in the comfort, but feel in a bit of a blur. Until our flight home I catch-up on sleep and sit in the hotel gardens. It’s lovely not to wear walking boots for the first time in over 2 weeks and I really do feel as if I am stepping lightly, but I’d much rather be stumbling over the rocks in the mountains..
As my flight takes off and I watch Kathmandu disappear behind me I reflect on the trip. I can honestly say it has been the most amazing experience of my life. The benefits are incredible. There are the obvious physical benefits and the stunning surroundings, but it is the mental and emotional benefits that stand out. It’s taught me the astonishing power of positive thinking and shown me just what I’m capable of. I’ve come home with a feeling of achievement and satisfaction and the knowledge that if I put my mind, heart and soul to something I can achieve it. Those benefits translate to all aspects of life, from work to recreation..
It’s also left me wanting more. That can’t be my last trek, so I’m already planning my next one to Patagonia. One thing is for sure I will only every trek with Elegant Resorts and The Adventure Boutique, when you’ve had the best there is no settling for anything else..
(1) Mani stones. These are stone rocks, boulders or tablets inscribed with Buddhist mantras and prayers. They are placed along roadsides and rivers and are sometimes placed together to form long walls.
(2) Zuptas. These are half cow, half yak, bred to get a good pack animal which can function at high and lower altitude.
(3) Nak cheese. A Nak is a female yak, and their milk produces lovely cheese.
Elegant Resorts. Elegant House. Sandpiper Way, Business Park, Chester. CH4 9QE.
The Adventure Boutique. 62 Luminosity Court, 49 Drayton Green Road, W13 0NW.
Pink Floyd. (1987) Learning to Fly - A Momentary Lapse of Reason. EMI Columbia.