Let me start by giving this story a little context: a few months ago my friend, lets call her ‘G’ and I decided to go overseas to celebrate the end of our academic years. G was in the thesis year of her degree and I was suffering through my Masters, thus we thought we’d go somewhere warm and sunny to relax and rejuvenate. We picked Tahiti, bought bikinis and cleared our calendars. Upon arriving at the travel agent to book our flights, we noticed a poster for a sale on trips going to Everest Base Camp and subsequently made fun of the masochistic people who would voluntarily spend their hard earned holiday time trekking to such a place.
In an attempt of self preservation, my mind seems to have blacked out the 2 hours we spent at the travel agent. The next thing I remember, I was handing over my credit card to pay for flights to Nepal and a non-refundable 19 day trek to Gokyo Lakes and Everest Base Camp. To this day, G and I are still perplexed at how quickly it all happened.
Now, as the inter-webs are bursting with blogs recounting the day-by-day experiences of the trek, I thought I’d spare my readership of 4 of all the boring details. Instead I’ll just make a few comments about the things I learnt whilst on the trek/ things I should have known if I’d bothered to do any research before actually going on it.
Let’s talk about OH&S:
I’m terrified, mortified, petrified and stupefied of flying. My completely rational fear stems from both not understanding how planes work and from knowing that human beings are not evolutionarily equipped to fly at great speeds in metal containers. I also possess a considerable disdain for airports and struggle to go near one without first drinking a bottle of valium.
So it’s only natural that on the first day of the trek we flew a teeny-tiny plane from Kathmandu to Lukla ‘airport’. I use inverted commas because the Nepalese people seem to be set on calling Lukla a real airport whilst I think a more accurate description would be ‘runway to death’.
Quite literally, Lukla ‘airport’ is comprised of one runway which is inconviently situated at a 30 degree angle on a cliff. Should the plane not stop in time, you fall off the cliff and join the wreckages of the multitude of other planes whose breaks weren’t up to scratch. Lukla is actually the most dangerous ‘airport’ in the world; a fun fact to learn whilst on the plane flying to it.
To make matters worse, getting to Lukla involves flying through small corridors in-between mountains all whilst watching the pilot take their hands off the steering wheel to wipe the windshield with toilet paper every 5 minutes.
I have no doubt though, that if you don’t spend the hour flight screaming and fearing for your life, it would be quite a scenic trip.
Sherpas and Porters are actually super-heros in disguise:
In Lukla we met our Sherpas and Porters who would stay with us for the duration of the trek. The Sherpas job was to guide the group and generally keep us alive whilst the Porters job was to carry our kit bags. On average the Porters carried 30kg each on their backs (two kit bags, first aid kits and their own packs). They always walked ahead of the group and managed to complete each days trek in half the time we did and with a smile on their face. Their sheer athletic ability commands the upmost respect and puts the rest of us to shame.
It’s easy to forget that the only means of transport above Lukla is walking, thus everything from food to bricks needs to be carried up the mountain on foot. Seeing men and women carry up to 60kg of building materials on their backs up the mountain for a livelihood is a humbling experience that puts a leisurely walk with just a daypack into perspective.
Brrrr, it’s cold in here:
Due to both poor planning and sheer stupidity, we undertook our trek in December which is one the coldest months of the year. Everything above the tree line was frozen over which made for some stunning scenery, albeit slippery walks. The nights got to -26 degrees celsius which really put sleeping bags to the test. Rather than having competitions on who could walk the fastest, the group got competitive over who could wear the most layers of clothing or feel their toes for the longest.
The scenery is unbeatable:
The terrain changed everyday and the topography was just incredible. Waking up to snow capped mountains and waterfalls everyday is an experience I’ll never forget. For me, the most beautiful part of the trek was the Gokyo region, which is comprised of the three highest (and bluest) lakes in the world each with snowcapped mountains in the back ground. Walking up to Gokyo peak we were face to face with four 8000-metre giants: Everest, Cho Oyo, Lhotse and Makalu along with the Ngozumpa Glacier and the third lake. It’s one of the most beautiful sights in the world and consequently no photo can do it justice.
Who needs doctors when you can self-medicate:
In any other situation most members of our trekking group would be put in psychiatric wards for the amount of pill popping that went on. Most days included concoctions of at least 5 different medications to counteract aches, pains and the dreadful altitude.
G, who is studying medicine became the resident doctor and spent her days diagnosing and prescribing for everyones ailments. After a nasty slip on ice which caused my hand to develop elephantiasis, she even became a medical MacGyver shovelling ice into a bag to make an ice pack, creating a splint out of cardboard and fastening so many bandages to my arm and body that I felt half mummified.
You actually can get drunk in the cold:
On the way down, the carb-loading stops and the drinking begins. Namche is home to the highest Irish Pub in the world at 3445m; frankly it’s sacrilege not to go in and have a drink (or 12) there. We also experimentally proved that you can indeed get drunk in the cold and that we’re considerably better at walking on ice after a few everest beers.
Wouldn’t have had it any other way:
Despite the physical and (more so) emotional challenge of the trip, I loved every minute of it. Overall, the trek was physically easier than I anticipated it would be, but emotionally it was more challenging. Going into it not knowing exactly what to expect enhanced the experience and ‘curveballs’ such as the weather and broken scaphoids only rendered it more memorable.
Whilst the paths are becoming busy and increasingly more tourist friendly they still have an authentic feel. There is nothing like the Himalayas to make you feel utterly insignificant (in the best way possible) and getting home after 19 days of trekking to feel an unbeatable sense of pride and achievement.
I still have many more tales and memories from the trek, be they the incredible food, pushy yaks, wonderful people, scary suspension bridges, questionable hygiene practices, helicopter rides and fun times. The trip has left me with many incredible memories and is something I would recommend people to do in a heartbeat.
In hindsight, Nepal was just as relaxing, rejuvenating and (probably) more incredible than Tahiti would have been, just with more yaks.