Written by Margaret Deacon
When Phil Gordon, ex-Personal Trainer at the Sports Centre first raised an expression of interest in November 2016 to take a group to Everest Base Camp it seemed an unattainable fantasy to me. A session get-together with photos of the landscape ignited my interest and, by the following February 2017 I had made a decision to go. The Group, including Phil, Ela, Ross (Boonah) Tony and Jeannie, Sarah, Andrew, and myself came together on numerous occasions for walks/climbs and we soon developed a good rapport thus consolidating our friendships. By the end of our trek there was wonderful camaraderie among the 8 of us and we have bonded for life.
Nepal is a country of wide open expanses of high snow-capped mountains, small villages nestled on the side of steep hills and a culture of happy and generous people who have existed in the same peaceful way for hundreds and thousands of years. Their life is simple. Since the earthquakes in 2015 the country is gradually being rebuilt and tourists are returning. The tourist dollar is an essential element of that reconstruction process.
A couple of days in Kathmandu allowed the group to collect their necessary gear. We flew to Lukla in a 13 seater plane taking in the amazing sights of Mt Everest and nearby peaks. We began the trek here and for the next 11 days got used to the rhythm of walking up and down hills for 6 to 9 hours each day. Two of these 11 days included acclimatisation days which involved spending up to five hours climbing to higher levels for the body to adapt to altitude gradually, and then returning to the lower elevation. Altitude at Base Camp is 5,200metres (17,000 ft). The summit of Everest is 29,028 ft.
Weather was fantastic – sunshine most days. The first day it rained and snowed lightly and thereafter snow falls during the night on a couple of occasions. Mist would close in about 2 or 3 in the afternoons. The temperatures may have dropped to -20 as we neared Base Camp but could not confirm due to electronic failures in the cold weather.
Altitude By the 2nd day of walking to Namche Bazaar at 3400 metres (ascending 800m altitude) some of us were feeling the effects of the thinner air. Ten kms took us from 7.30am to 4.30pm with an hour for lunch so it was quite steep, often stopping to let yak trains pass on the narrow tracks. Our guide, Chabbi suggested taking garlic to minimise the potential for altitude sickness as this had worked for his previous clients. The medication called Diamox is often taken when at high altitude but this was not his recommendation. When ascending steep slopes the best advice given was to take small steps and concentrate on slow deep breaths rather than panting. Two of our party of 7 succumbed to altitude sickness and had to be airlifted out on the day before reaching EBC.
Guide, Sherpa and porters. We could not fault our Guide, Chabbi and Sherpa, Tende who were there to support us at every turn. Our amazing four porters carried a duffel bag weighing 30kg which consisted of the belongings and sleeping bags of two persons. We had little more than two changes of clothing and required our own extensive medical kit.
The good servings of food included momo’s (fried or steamed veg dumplings), noodle soup, noodles, omelettes, and of course dhal bhat (lentils) and was fairly nourishing.
Water. We were encouraged to drink 4-5 litres per day especially as this can limit the potential for altitude sickness. One litre was consumed prior to setting out from the tea house each morning. This daily quantity would include drinks at meal times. Many of us had a camelback (water bladder) as well as separate bottles containing hydralyte. A couple of days before reaching EBC the water provided in the tea houses was frozen. The water came from melting snows above and we always used Aquatabs to purify it. When frozen we had to rely on bottled water. To prevent water from freezing at nights all our water containers were placed in the sleeping bag. Along with the water was the camera, mobile phone and headlights to prevent seizure in the cold temperatures. Wet wipes were used in place of water for cleansing the body.
The accommodation was in lodges at villages. When arriving at the lodge during the afternoon the central fireplace was lit about 5pm and everyone was eager to warm up as we stood around in a circle with hands and arms outstretched. There were two bunk beds to a room. There was no heating outside of the communal area so when the fire burnt out about 7.30 it was off to a very cold room. For the first couple of days the lodges were allowed to feed wood into the fire but when wood became scarce (and illegal) it was replaced by dried dung.
The local people as well as yaks, horses and mules carry huge loads over long distances and across suspension bridges over fast-flowing rivers, as they have done for hundreds of years. There’s quite a bit of building construction along the trek route with more accommodation houses being built.
The landscape changed each day as we climbed higher and the snow-capped peaks closed in – an awesome sight. The countryside then became quite barren with little grass and higher still, rocky paths with large boulders as we approached the ‘gravel pit’ of Base Camp.
It was a memorable trip and the seven in the group will be forever grateful to Phil Gordon for planning this journey, for his support and guidance and for enabling us to reach our destination. Even for our two fellow-trekkers who did not quite make it, it was a huge achievement, and thanks to Phil for his support of them.