Just Back: A Gruelling Trek in Nepal

mount everestDenis Spencer, The Daily Telegraph, April 26, 2013

Giardia struck on the first night of the trek. After flying from Kathmandu to Lukla, the most dangerous airstrip in the world, all 10 of us gathered in a meadow to be briefed by Jigme, our sirdar, who was to lead our trek to Everest Base Camp and Kala Patthar.

The herder arrived with his four yaks and took our baggage, leaving us only eight to 10 kilos to carry to base camp, our target for day 10 of our 14-day challenge.

The lavatory at Monjo became my world on night one. When morning came, my colleagues headed off on the six-hour slog to Namche. Two hours later I followed, a Nepalese porter carrying my day sack. Punctuated by desperate lavatory breaks, the next 48 hours were joyless and the lack of food debilitating. Could recovery be achieved or was my holiday over?

Well briefed and relatively experienced, we all knew the score: nausea, insomnia, diarrhoea and loss of appetite would come and go and, for some, mild symptoms of acute mountain sickness (AMS).

The acclimatisation process was thorough, with the sacred mantra of “climb high, sleep low” knocked into our consciousness. At 12,700ft (day seven), we were all on song as we toiled to the base camp of Ama Dablam. The most beautiful mountain in the world is known as “Mother’s Necklace” because of its representation of a benign mother- figure with arms extended. The hanging glacier is reminiscent of the traditional necklace-purse worn throughout rural Nepal.

The group had bonded strongly and our professional team were wonderful, especially Jigme. He had perfect English, a wicked sense of humour, a repertoire of John Lennon songs and a quiet, authoritative style.

The food was uninviting but nutritious and essential fuel when we were burning up to 5,000 calories a day. We did our best to consume three litres of liquids a day, to compensate for the high moisture loss associated with the thin air.

Prayer flags blessed by the Lama at Namche were tagged with the names of loved ones and we doggedly bore them up the edge of the Khumbu glacier to set them on the cairn at Everest Base Camp (17,384ft). The emotional highlight was watching as Himalayan winds carried our prayers to the Buddha.

The hardest day followed. Two of our group had mild AMS, three more were debilitated. The five still standing set off at 5am, at a temperature of 10F (-12C) plus wind chill. We laboured to the top of Kala Patthar, at 18,200ft. Halfway up, dawn broke and finally we hit the summit.

By this point, we were totally spent and my 72 years were beginning to show. Why, oh why was I doing this? Then the sun’s rays breached the top of Island Peak and rested upon Nuptse, Lhotse and Everest. In the gin-clear air, I saw the face of God.

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