Trek to Everest Base Camp

(This article originally appeared in the December 06/January 07 Edition of the RAF Shawbury Channel 19 Magazine)

I’ve always had a keenness for ‘alternative holidays’, from trekking in the Andes to exploring the jungles of Borneo; lying on a beach has never really appealed to me. It was around about this time last year though that I decided I was in need of a real challenge. The decision to trek to Everest Base Camp was an easy one to make, but it wasn’t until the deposit was paid that it really sunk in what we would be actually attempting. I say ‘we’ because the other member of the team was my dad. He didn’t take much convincing; I could tell by his voice during that initial phone call that he was more than up for the challenge.

We chose to raise money for the Round Table Children’s Wish, a charity close to my dad’s heart. We were both fairly physically fit at the time, but we knew we had to be prepared for the high altitude so we were keen to start our training in earnest. The summer flew by; Dad could be found on most mornings walking on the South Downs, whereas I unexpectedly found myself in the Falklands for 4 months!

September arrived quickly and we first met the rest of the 27 strong ‘Charity Challenge’ group on the day of departure. From Heathrow, we flew to Kathmandu, and stayed there for one night before getting an internal flight to Lukla. From here, we were on our way to the Himalayas.

The trek from Lukla to Everest Base Camp was going to take 8 days. The journey in all was a 100 mile round trip; on a typical day we were covering between 8 and 10 miles and sometimes walking for up to 9 hours depending on the terrain and altitude. I don’t think any of us initially realised how much the altitude was going to impact on us. There were several acclimatisation days built into the expedition and, without these, it was safe to say most people would not have made it to Base Camp.

The aim of most days was to ‘climb high, sleep low’; in doing this we would aid our acclimatisation and, more importantly, not feel the effects during the night. Although we were generally asleep in our tents by 2030 every night, it was fairly normal to wake up 4 times a night to relieve ourselves of the 6-8 litres of water we had been drinking during the day. At temperatures as low as minus 15 C, the last thing we wanted to do was climb out of a warm sleeping bag! As we climbed higher the thin air also became more noticeable; a lot of the group were waking up suddenly during the night gasping for breath.

The day we were due to trek to Base Camp was a difficult one. Many of us were feeling the effects of altitude sickness, the main symptoms being headaches, loss of appetite, stomach cramps, and nausea. It didn’t help that during the night one of our group had been evacuated to a lower altitude with High Altitude Cerebral Oedema, an abrupt increase in cerebral blood flow. Had she not descended and been given medical treatment so quickly she would have certainly died. At this point it had really started to sink in what we were doing, so the day’s trek was taken at a very slow pace.

After a 0700 start we reached Base Camp at around 1400, in the middle of a blizzard. The storm reinforced what a harsh environment this was; the beautiful panoramic scenes we had been used to seeing from a distance were now bleak and unforgiving surroundings. Once we were there we had time for a quick photo before turning back for camp, 3 hours away. On reaching camp the smell of steaming hot yak’s milk and dinner being cooked gave us an overwhelming sense of comfort.

The next morning saw another early start. A few of us were keen to climb Mount Kalapatthar (18,300 feet) in time to see the sun rise over Mount Everest and I can safely say this was the hardest climb so far. Although most of us had taken Diamox the day before to ease the altitude sickness, the thin air really affected us again. After 3 hours, a lot of stopping and some serious teamwork, we made it to the top. The view was more than worth it: the whole of the Khumba glacier came into sight; far below us was Base Camp; and towering above us was Everest. The views from here were beyond imagination; Everest looked a stone’s throw away between the summits of Lhotse, Lho-la and Nuptse. We were literally on top of the world, an experience we will never forget.

The money that Dad and I raised will be helping towards sending a group of seriously ill children to Lapland this Christmas. Thank-you to all our friends, family and work colleagues who supported us.

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