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Magical, challenging, and life-changing all in one
I completed the 10 day Everest Base Camp trek in March of 2023. After taking some time to really digest what I experienced, now I’m here to give you all the nitty-gritty details. My whole trip I was of the mind set that my struggle was simply down to the altitude, how wrong I was!!!!!
"Now, the difficulty of the Everest Base Camp trek is entirely dependent on you, your personal fitness, and how your body copes at high altitude (and in the generally exhausting environment)."
For me personally, I didn’t find the hike itself overly difficult... What made it VERY HARD for me, was coming down with a campylobacter on Day 3 of the trek. From then on (and for a few weeks that followed even on my return to the UK), I could not keep any food in my system and I had hardly any energy as a result. Let me tell you, some days of this trek were a serious struggle; battling feelings of extreme nausea and light-headedness while having to walk 10-20km was haaaard... There were many moments where I threw down my pack and slumped to the ground in a heap. I also had the worst bout of diarrhoea you could imagine. But with that being said, I made it. And although I had some help from my mates and guides, at the time, there was never a point where I felt like I had to call it quits. I am of average fitness (maybe slightly above average) and found that the walk itself was definitely doable. It wasn’t “easy” by any means; walking 10-20km for around 6-8 hours most days, and many of those hours will be spent walking at a very steep incline. But hey, you’re in the mountains... That’s what you should expect.
This is the journal of Chris Bentley and the trip to Nepal and reaching Everest base camp. In memory of my Dad, Phillip Bentley who died on the 25th July 2021. I am not sure if my travelling companions Fid, Alan and Joe are, or we’re aware of my current mental status and the suffering I have gone through with the loss of my father but my determination is born from my Dads strength that he left me when he died. I trek and hike with his strength in me and determined that I will pass on his legacy through generation after generation with the memories I make.
Woke up with a hell of a lump on the roof of my mouth, similar to toothache, who knows how that will go. I will not deny it; I did wake up feeling nervous and anxious, I can’t work out if that’s nerves of doing the base camp trek or just my standard nerves of flying/traveling: Day one basically consisted of us getting to Manchester airport I picked Fid up at 9:45am and met Alan and Joe in the airport lounge.
Flight to Doha delayed by nearly an hour. Watched Alan and Joe go off into their business class seats as me and Fid took to our economy seats, I am somewhat jealous of this, but it is only a flight, I kept telling myself. The flight was reasonable to Doha. 7 hours, just short of.
The flight from Doha to Kathmandu was a 4-hour flight and amazing views of the Himalayas coming into Kathmandu airport.
Landed in Kathmandu at 9am. Got our visas sorted £27 each for 15 days.
Passport control and security pretty much none existent. Met with Sonam at the airport, our 'Follow Alice' tour manager. He bought us all a coffee in a coffee shop just outside the airport. This is the first we met one of our trekking colleagues, Judy.
First impressions of Kathmandu are amazing Hustle and bustle, with traffic literally everywhere and in any direction. Checked in the Arushi Hotel and it's pretty nice. We decided to have a walk around Thamel and change some money. Fid went first with exchanging some money, £700 was the amount we had said and as I’m taking to Alan and Joe, Fid turns around with a double block of money that looks like he’s robbed a bank, following this, I decide to exchange £400 and still got a right wad of notes. Followed by seeing a tearful young child, probably only around the age of 5. Me being me could not refuse and stupidly got the wad of money out of my bag and proudly gave him 100 rupees. Within a few steps I was surrounded by him and two young girls also begging. I gave them 100 rupees each and what followed really put me about; they would not leave me alone for ages.
Now sat in a bar and having my first Dal Bhat. Well Dal Bhat was brilliant and shopping around Thamel what an experience to be walking around the tiny narrow streets full to bursting with people and walking alongside a Cow in the middle of people, scooters, and motorbikes amazing. First purchase of the trip is a Yak Wool hat and a pair of fake Arcterix shorts that have never seen Arcterix. On goes the amazing journey. Evening meal at a place called Rosemary kitchen and was very nice. Two glasses of red wine when I promised myself just one. We decided that have we have not really slept since Sunday night, it would be a good idea to have an early night. So bed it was at 9:30pm. Decent night’s sleep considering an unfamiliar bed. Woke up a couple of times in the night, once for a toilet visit and the other at around 5am, thinking it was nearly time for breakfast at 8.
Up for breakfast at 8am as planned with all four of us. Not the best hotel offerings for breakfast, but I thought a couple of slices of toast and a banana that would be a good start to the day with a nice cup of coffee.
We had agreed the night before that this day would consist of seeing some sights and taking in the culture, and decided first on the Monkey Temple. Half hour walk and then up some massive steps (great to check and see if the legs were working) steps not a killer but in the Kathmandu heat it wasn’t easy.
The Temple was amazing, it was actually destroyed by the earthquake in 2015 with the exception of two buildings, a Buddha temple and what is called a Mother Temple, this is where the Nepalese people come to pray and light candles for their ill children. A very sacred place. I bought a couple of oil painting on canvas (pretty standard Chris purchases for holidays) we then moved on by taxi to Durbar Temple, half hour in a taxi on these roads is an experience in itself.
Arriving at Durbar 30 minutes later, we were confronted by sales people asking us to pay to go inside the oldest Buddhist temple in Nepal. Built in the 12th Century. We had a guide and learned quite a bit about the Buddhist way of life, a somewhat confusion religion but interesting all the same. Our guide then took us to a medical place where therapeutic historical methods of medicine are used. The use of healing bowls are used to cure all sorts of ailments: to a demonstration where Fid was the guinea pig having his bad knee. Anyway, this ended up with Alan and myself buying a healing bowl. (No surprise there then) a good day of sightseeing and had a lovely meal on a rooftop café looking over Durbar. At 17:30 we have our trekking meeting with our guides.
We have just been informed that we need crampons. My anxiety levels seem quite high as the need for crampons would surely mean it’s not going to be easy going and also potentially a lot colder than average for March. Let’s see how the meeting goes. Meeting done in a rather short period. Great to meet the other trekkers and the decision was made that crampons are packed for “just in case” The sleeping bag does though not seem to be the best of quality and that will need to be judged was my initial thoughts. A couple of drinks in the hotel bar. (Water for me, well done Chris) we went out for a meal this evening and Judy and Nicole came with us. Judy is from Canada and lives in Austria, Nicole Is from Canada, they both seem like nice people. Chicken Biryani and an Everest beer was just the ticket. I had a glass of red wine for medicinal purposes and off to bed at 10. Well, back to the room to weigh my gear AGAIN. Duffel bag 10.7kg and day pack 5.7kg so not too bad (hopefully). My train of thought had now turned to getting some sleep for the long trek ahead. Who knows what the next 9 days will bring. I say a little 'good luck' to myself and hope the weather is good for the small flight to Lukla.
It’s morning at last, well it’s 4:45am in Kathmandu, hard to imagine Rachel and the kids still tucked up in bed at home.
The day of the flight to Lukla and the potential last day, I get a proper wash before the 24th. 8 days away seems like forever (enjoy the trek and remember to look up) away. Thoughts in my head immediately focus on the trek and the potential cold, rain and SNOW. Ffs, did I really sign up for this?
Arrived at Kathmandu airport and all checked in; the weight limits on bags were all a load of rubbish really, one of our traveller’s duffel bags weighs in at 14.7kg. The time I have spent getting mine down to 10kg was all a waste of time. Sitting around in the airport is all as reported, nothing much seems to happen and the flight screen has been on 6.15am since we arrived. Not being nervous about the flight seems a bit weird considering I am normally having eggs for flights to Majorca? Who knows what goes on in the mind. We eventually get the call to go to the airplane, we have to get a small mini bus out onto the tarmac, army folks training and jogging all around the airport, all seems a bit strange.
We get on the plane, and I’m sat with Fid on row 2 on the right-hand side of the plane, it’s a bit of a squash and without hesitancy the plane starts its propellers and the stewardess gives us our health and safety brief in Nepalese, she could have said anything. The sights along the way of the Himalayas is amazing, the landing weird, as you approach the runway you’re thinking 'he’s missed it, he’s missed it' and then boom, you are on the runway and more or less stopping straight away. Well what an amazing experience that was, absolutely great flight to Lukla. So special. Looking back at the landing strip and seeing other planes coming in is a remarkable sight.
We meet our guide, and he takes us all to the tea house where we will have breakfast. The start of the trek is actually a downhill walk from 2800m at Lukla finishing at 2600m at Phakding: nice steady walk but I did feel the pinch of the thin air. Stopped off for dinner at 11:00am and I had a cool cheese sandwich and chips. Not a local cuisine, but thought something simple today. The first suspension bridge was a bit of a tense moment and yes, they do bounce quite a bit. Managed it though and was not too bad. Onward and upward. I think now I know the trekking team it’s a good time to introduce them all. The team on the trek are as follows.
Me (obviously) Alan Tolan a good friend of mine and his son Joe, a really nice pleasant kid. Fid, need I say more. Amar a really nice guy from New Zealand, Nazeema from Uzbekistan living in New Zealand, Judy a Canadian woman living in Austria very serious hiker, Karina from Brazil currently living in Dubai, Marna from Ireland currently living in Dubai, Nicole a Canadian who lives for Everest and follows loads of current mountaineers on Instagram Nirmal Purja been one (the Sherpa that did all 14 peaks above 8000m in less than 6 months). So we finished our lunch and proceeded with the walk to Phakding, trying to take in the views with a mixture of cloud, haze and the odd break of sun. Unfortunately Karina wasn’t feeling too well on this leg and dropped behind slightly, our guide, whose name I am still trying to learn held back with her, and they caught up around twenty minutes after us and she seemed ok.
We reach Phakding at around 3:00pm and are given our rooms. Room 301 is mine and Fids room for the night, and it’s an en-suite room with 3 single beds. Forecast to be cold tonight, so sleeping bag out and all night wear at the ready. Briefing by our guide tonight consisted of informing us that tomorrow is a big hike and going above 3000m above sea level is when the altitude starts to affect most. A quiet evening in the tea house communal area and a cold one. Prepping for bed was somewhat strange, I was not thinking it was to be this cold on day one.
Slept quite well, went to bed at 9pm and woke to my alarm at 6am feeling quite refreshed and positive. Bloody weather could start to play its part, though. Raining like the Lake District this morning and cloudy like we’re on Hellvelyn not The Khumbu valley of the Himalayas.
Started walking at 8:00am. On the long path to Namche Bazaar, I have my mind on the Hillary Suspension bridge. (One of the highest suspension bridges in the world) stands at 125m above the Khumbu river. I do worry, but I know I will conquer it. So we all get our water proofs on as if we’re about to go up Skafell Pike in December. Rain is relentless, and the skies are thick with cloud, looks very bleak and my hopes of seeing the sights of the big boy’s mountains are dashed.
We set out and follows the Khumbu river, it’s a nice walk, the dogs from our tea house follow us as we meander up the river, crossing a couple of suspension bridges along the way, I can’t stop focusing on the Hillary Bridge and it’s magnitude. As we keep on, our Sherpa tells us that he is going to head off in front to sort the permits out for the Sagamara national park entrance. He has jeans on by the way and an umbrella in his hand as he sets off into the low-lying cloud. We keep on going for approx. another 2 mile and the clouds seem to be breaking a bit, slight positivity creeps in that we may get to see some sights. As we keep on trekking, the sun appears through the cloud and I take down my waterproof hood and pray that this is the last of the rain.
On we go, and I get talking to Amar, he’s the guy from New Zealand, we get talking about his life down under, he runs a small family business there doing house rentals and mortgages. We talk a bit more about his family and home life, I get the impression life down under is the same rat race we westerners have embroiled our lives in, in order to keep our heads above the parapet of life.
Further up the track, the weather seems to be taking a turn for the good. Clear spells of sun, our assistant guide tells us to take a rest, so we can take off a few layers. I take off my waterproof jacket and also my mid-layer leaving on just my base layer top. My waterproof trousers also get thrown into my day pack and off we go again. Conscious that the weather could turn at any moment, I have left my water proofs open in the top of my pack hoping the weather stays as it is. As we keep moving it is getting warmer and warmer, the sun beating down on my back feels really, really good. Now seeing some snow peaked mountains with each step. I walk up alongside Naseema, she’s the lady also from New Zealand originating from Uzbekistan, she seems nice, but I straight away laugh to myself as I realise that her voice sounds like Speak and Spell, obviously there’s a joke in there somewhere, and I use it later on the lads. Her name “Speak and Spell” is now created. I slow down to get away from her, awful I know, but I just could not be bothered, not her fault, totally mine.
As we keep on trekking up the paths, I have a deep smile in my heart, I am actually doing the EBC trek and the weather is nice. Soon Kanthar our assistant guide tells us that our lunch stop is only 20 minutes away. Not hungry but ready for a toilet break, I keep one foot in front of the other until we are there. Our Sherpa had decided that on yesterday’s trek we took too long to order food, so he had ordered it for us. Anticipating that we would all be getting Dal Bhat, we all sit and behave like school kids on an outing to the pictures and order our drinks. Lemon Tea with ginger and honey now seems to be the favourite choice. Sat beside the river with sun on our backs, Alan makes comment on what most people must be thinking “This is the life” he sighs with a great smile on his face. Our food is then presented we have Momo’s (a Nepalese delicacy which is like large ravioli with veg inside) small potatoes, veg and side salad with a spicy sauce dip. It was actually very, very nice. Swilled down with our lemon tea. Beautiful. Onward we must go, Sherpa Ang Gelu tells us that we will now be going uphill for the rest of the trek, we will cross another suspension bridge and see the HILLARY bridge, (it’s here, the moment, the big one, the scary moment) we all walk steady up to a viewing platform to the bridge swaying up there in the breeze, yes 125m in the air, it’s massive from the ground up. Sherpa lines us all up; and we have a 'Follow Alice' team photo. As we slowly walk up the hill towards the bridge, I can see the YouTube videos of people walking across and wondering how I am going to be. All of a sudden, it is there, no pauses our guide walks straight onto the bridge, off we go. A quick photo and I am on it. Keeping my head facing forward, it’s strange, I can’t stop myself from looking down. It's HIGH. Scary high. Halfway across and Fid decides to stop to take in the views, well who could blame him. Well, me for one. I now have to get round him while the bridge slowly sways from side to side in the wind. So I keep my cool and get around him in a huff and head for the end, "GO GO" I’m saying in my head, eventually I make it, I’m there I’ve conquered the Hillary suspension bridge.
We do not wait long at the end, and I cannot see why we are not all high-fiving each other. Must just be me. The serious part of the trek begins. 900m uphill all the way to Namche, plodding on we graft our way up, stopping a couple of times for a rest. Much needed in some cases. As I’m climbing I speak with Nicole - she’s struggling with the tempo and quickly drops behind. A nice guy asks me where I am from, “England” I proudly say. I ask him where he’s from, and he’s from India, doing the EBC trek with his 62 year old father. We discuss India’s mountains and K2. He had not summited K2 but had been up to 6400m summiting one of India's big mountains. I tell him about the ones we have, not much of an answer to which we always seem to get, the difference is, when we summit in the UK we do it in one day and also summit various peaks in the same day, I know this isn’t the same as going over even heights of 2000m but the Alps and Himalayas are not summited in one day; this I keep telling myself. Helvellyn, Dollywagon Pike, Great End in one day is a big 15-mile hike and one for example not to be shown dismay.
Anyway, moving on, we eventually reach Namche Bazaar at 3pm. So overall 7 hours out and around 6 hours trekking. We checked into our room and decided not to do the acclimatisation hike and go for a walk around Namche as it is raining quite a bit the sky is bleak and cloudy. Joe needed some joggers for sleeping in and anything I could get would also be a bonus, that’s me, buy owt to do with hiking. While out shopping, Alan says he feels sick. I do a bit too, but Alan skirts off out from the shop and straight away goes hell for leather on the street, been sick. We decide to walk back down in the rain back to the tea house. Alan takes a turn for the worse and keeps being sick. Off to bed he goes. This night is the start of the testing for altitude sickness, blood oxygen levels and listing out any symptoms. I do quite well today reading 91/93 so pleased with that. The group average is between 86/87 and mine been highest. Knowing this could change day by day. I’m not overconfident going forward, just be happy if I don’t get lower than what it should be. Alan brings himself around and comes down for a lemon tea, our new Nepal tipple. Off to bed at 9:00pm and tomorrow is another day.
Oh dear awake at 4:30am with phlegm in my throat feeling a little worse for wear. The usual trying to get rid of the phlegm is not my favourite thing, and I am conscious that the walls in the tea house are paper-thin. I give it a go and immediately get the sick feeling I get when it won’t go. SHIT. Rush to the toilet and the obvious sick comes up. I trot off back to bed freezing cold and Fid says "You ok Arth?", to which I reply “I feel like shit” I try to get some sleep before our wake-up time of 6:30 and not a chance. 6:30am is a long time coming. I do feel tired but wait until 6:50 before shaking Fid, he is awake anyway. I quickly look through the window and see that there are clear blue skies. AT LAST. I get dressed quick smart and get outside to check the views. Amazed, we have got it. Views at last. All around Namche is surrounded with massive snow covered Himalaya Mountains, it looks like a picture card.
We mess around for a bit and set off on our acclimatisation walk, I feel a bit queasy and not at all on form. Belly rumbles and the like, anyway we set off out of Namche up the steep steps, bloody hell I can feel it already, knackered before we walk 100m. Never right this. We push on slowly but surely every step a killer on the breath WOW, we’re only at 3400m and I am towing. We reach a viewing point I am one of the last there, blowing and shattered I off load the daypack (which feels like a lead weight today for some reason) look around and WOW. Lhotse. Amadablam the lot. Just one behind the cloud and you guessed is yes EVEREST. We spend a good half hour up there taking photos and looking at the Tenzing Norgay memorial statue. Our Sherpa suggests we go look at the Sherpa Museum, well he would wouldn’t he, he’s in it, having summited Everest 4 times and been the first person to summit wearing cycling clothes. Hhhhmmm Why ?
The Sherpa museum is quite interesting, but I’m not feeling too good so lost the will to care really. So the acclimatisation walk took us up to 3900m which felt pretty high. Our walk back down was a killer on the knees, the young ones flying down, Alan, Fid and me at the back struggling big time. Ang Gelu casually walking down with his hands in his jeans pockets haha.
We get into Namche and stop at the place where we will eat. What a joke really, I feel awful anyway but to order a cheese sandwich and chips I though get something hot inside. After waiting about 6 hours (only joking but long enough) my cheese sandwich was the first out, chips freezing. Nightmare. I now cannot wait to get back to the tea house and get my head down. Fid and Joe decide to go to the Irish bar, me and Alan go get our heads down, I’ve popped more paracetamol than ever in my life at this stage and still feel like crap. I get a good nap, waking up after about an hour and half, we end up going back up to the Irish bar to check it out. Strangely enough, it is a great little pub and the thought of having a few pints of Guinness would be perfect if we did not have the obvious challenge ahead. We all have a hot chocolate and a game of darts. I feel rubbish, get straight off to the tea house, and get back in bed until it is time to go down for lunch. Not looking forward to it at all. But I do feel slightly better.
The diarrhoea has come now, and that is exactly what I do not need. Early to bed would be the key, but we have lunch and do our health checks. Mine this day is 89/99. He says that is fine. Ang Gelu explains that if anyone feels poorly it is normal it does not mean it's altitude sickness and to stop worrying about it. Where we are, it is normal for people to feel ill. The smell in the toilets is unbearable, both Alan and Joe comment the same, what on Earth are they using as cleaner for the urinal, no one can go near the toilet without gipping, it’s such a sickly smell, the sudden aroma instantly makes you feel sick. Off to bed we trot at around 9:45, and I have a great night’s sleep. Up tomorrow for the long trek to Tengboche.
Wake up feeling awful again, had a great night’s sleep too. Having gone to bed at 10:00 and woken up at 6:30: 8 and half hours sleep. Have to face breakfast and pack up my kit ready for the Porter to take, and packing my duffel bag was a task in itself. Took all my effort and energy, belly feels like there is a circus going on inside. I can still smell the toilets. Manage to eat half an egg and drink some water.
The walk to Tengboche begins, the walk out of Namche is a tough uphill fight, it’s snowing, so everyone has to get their waterproofs on. Wearing these makes for a sweaty start to the trek. Hard work, and it took all I could muster up to get out of Namche. The walk consists of an 8-mile trek going down approx 400m in altitude and then from the river a 2-3 hour hike uphill for 800m. I wasn’t looking forward to it, having lost all my insides to diarrhoea. I feel weak and drained to say the least. The down hill section was a nice walk, unfortunately we should have been able to see Everest and Lhotse today along with all the other big boys. The weather proved otherwise.
We reach Tengboche at around 3 pm and I get unpacked and straight into bed for a snooze. Wake up red-hot and feverish, try to have something to eat, and again it’s not happening. I do not spend much time in the tea house that evening and get an early night. The health check at this stage was again ok, my bloody oxygen and pulse reading 84/99.
Well, waking up on your 51st birthday at around 4000m above sea level is not really what many people can say. The walk today to Dengboche is supposed to be a tough one, both with the height and also the obvious altitude, I am still feeling like crap and wish it would just go away.
The trek is nice to start with but again not many views, we do get a few hours of clearing but nothing massive, our first view of Everest though so that’s a start. Arriving at Dengboche Ang Gelu says we need to do the acclimatisation walk; I go to bed, I don’t have the energy and my mind says doing it could only make me worse. The rest set off out except Karina and Marna, I sleep for what feels like 10mins and Fid walks into the bedroom. I have had well over an hour.
The tea house is quite warm in the communal area; facing lunchtime again is my new worst part of the day. Anyway I ordered something simple tomato soup, I scoff as much of it down as possible, but I know it’s not enough, the next thing the lights go out and Ang Gelu Sherpa comes out with a cake and candles lit to now everyone singing “happy birthday” to me. Kantar the assistant guide comes over and places a large white scarf with all patterns over it, over my head, praying has he does, then Ang Gelu does the same, leaving me to blow out the candles and make a wish (I bet anyone reading this can guess what my wish is) as soon as I do the lights come back on, and I cut up the cake to share it out. I manage a small slice and think that is not bad really, I know I have not eaten much but at least it’s something. Internet goes off due to the snow and then bed I guess not feeling the best I’ve felt on my birthday but hey ho, keep on going. The health check today showed my blood oxygen at 75/ and my pulse is not readable. Again, Ang Gelu says all is fine.
Wake up around 6:30 not had the best nights sleep but did get some sleep. Here we go again packing the duffel bag for the Porter at 6:45am, if anyone never experienced this they have no idea how hard it is to even fold away a sleeping bag or to take off your bed socks and get dressed to go at altitude, it is unbelievably hard, imagine the trekking !!!!!
Ang Gelu says the walk from Dengboche is a tough start and a tough middle section, he was not wrong. Trekking at this altitude is something else. Snow had fallen in the night a good 6-inch covering and was snowing as we set off trekking, so having to get the water proofs on again, I am rather fed up with the weather we have had, I know there is nothing at all that can be done, but it’s just so frustrating.
Off we set, twenty or so steps and straight away you feel every one. Today we’re going to the weather station pyramid which is just past Labouche, altitude 5040m. WOW, that’s high. The walk is around 6 hours long so going from 4400m must mean, hard graft. As we go along the sky does seem to be clearing very slightly in places, the sun is poking through, and the temperature does rise quite fast. Sweating along the way, we have to stop to take some layers off, it is simply too hot. The terrain is not good, taking consideration of the snow. Hard work continues and all I keep telling myself is one step in front of the other, I can tell my tolerance of others is lowering (Alan and Fid say my tolerance isn’t that high to start with) I am watching Speak and Spell’s movements when we stop to make sure she doesn’t get in front of me, I’m also trying to keep as far away from Judy too, her voice is beginning to grind on me. Within a couple of hours we reach a tea house beside the river and have lunch, I ask if I can have apples and fruit, he brings two plates of chopped up apples and dragon fruit. I eat as much apple as possible, knowing I am not going to eat the cheese on toast I have ordered. It is quite warm, so we sit outside and wait for the food. We are asked to go sit inside to eat, it is full of other trekkers and all seem to be smiling, are they coming back down or going through the same pain as me.
Leaving there, Kanthar tells us we have an hour to the memorial area, where there are monuments for the hundreds of people that have died trying to summit Mt Everest. The climb on this trek is at times unbearable: each step takes a deeper breath from your withered body, the energy sapped out with each forward motion; the mind is a wonderful thing as you drive forward, and your body keeps on moving. We approach the sacred area, where we all stop to take pictures; it feels very surreal that, so many have died on that mountain. You ask yourself why, why do people go through the extreme for one mountain. When you look up at Everest and memorise this place, it feels somewhat of a pleasure to even be a tiny part of it all.
Leaving the memorial is a long hike in snow uphill, we go through Labouche which was our original place to stay that night and I can’t help but think the pyramid will be something special. We keep going, turning slightly right past Labouche there’s a sign saying “Everest base camp 6 hours walk” WOW. We’re getting close, although a Nepal 6 hours I have learned is more like a 9. Arriving at the pyramid trudging through the snow were finally in, my immediate reaction is this is nothing special, IT ISNT. We are told that tonight we will have a 4-bed bunk, snug to say the least, and it was snug. 6 inch separated the beds. Alan speaks with Ang Gelu without me knowing and asks if I could have a room to myself due to feeling poorly. Ang Gelu says he might be able to sort it. Anyway, we all gather in the tearoom area. Have a drink of coffee, I am absolutely sick to death at this point of seeing food and drink, although I’ve consumed hardly anything. It’s cold too, I mean bloody freezing. Alan sees Ang Gelu and asks him about my room, oh yes he says, “Chris come with me, I will show you” we go outside upstairs onto the roof, climb two little walls in the snow and then walk around the roof to a triangle section at the top, where there is a room with 3 beds in. “This is the room, the problem is to go to the toilet you have to go back outside and onto the roof to get back into the main building”. For God’s sake I think, I am the one struggling with diarrhoea, and it’s me having to fuck about. Gratefully, I tell Ang Gelu yes I will have the room, and thank him for sorting it.
What have I done, I can imagine doing that three to four times a night to go to the toilet. Right get a grip and sort it I say to myself. In the bedroom is an annex, there is a door that is locked, I can see a commode through the glass door. Yes, I did it, I broke the lock and set up a toilet of my own. Do not believe me, I have pictures to prove my night’s toilet set up and was very proud of it. I didn’t spend much time in the tea house room that night, feeling all a bit sorry for myself and wondering if Alan actually got me kicked out of their room for my snoring, and me been up all night going to the toilet. Either way, I do not blame him, what are friends for.
The next morning was the big one, 9 hour trek to Gorakshep, and Then Everest base camp. That evening we fill out our health forms and my blood oxygen is at 73, not too bad and average, Alan’s is 66, but Ang Gelu tells us this is normal. Can’t Believe we’re functioning on less than 30% oxygen, well you can when you can’t even breath and run out of energy even setting up your bed. Get to bloody bed and get some sleep, you are going to need every ounce of energy. I go outside to have a cigar in the night sky, the sky is clear as a bell, stars shining brighter than I’ve ever seen, as I look up there’s a shooting star straight in front of me, I don’t tell anyone about it, I’m just not in the mood, but I do get the feeling someone is watching over me.
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It’s here, the BIG day, it also happens to be my 9th wedding anniversary with Rachel, who I am missing so much and the kids. Waking up after not the best night’s sleep but also not the worst, I feel energised but in my mind purely due to the adrenaline I have, knowing what could be achieved today. I climb out of bed and look through the windows, clear blue skies; you can see the White Mountains surrounding us from every angle. What a view.
Ang Gelu briefs us at breakfast and explains the first section of the trek is mostly uphill to Gorakshep, which will take around 3 hours. Now this on a normal day and at normal altitude not 4900m above sea level wouldn’t be a problem, but it is the HIMALAYAS and yes we’re already more tired and drained than we think, well I am, and I don’t mind admitting it either. Not looking forward to getting my boots on and day pack thrown over my back. I drag every effort in me to say "Come on Chris, this is it, and this is exactly what you signed up for." I feel at this stage looking back and think I have been a bit of a party pooper, but I can’t help it, I’m not myself and I have used every effort in me, yes ME, to gain MY achievement, if that means me having a nap when I can and going for a lay down out of the way to gain that extra little energy then so be it. Anyway, off we set to Gorakshep, it is not actually a bad walk, I do believe the fantastic views take some of the effort required out a little, it somehow helps.
Not sure how I got to Gorakshep pretty easy, puffing and blowing a lot, but that has become standard now haha. The views of Amadablam, Lhotse and Everest - just pure natural outstanding beauty. Arriving at Gorakshep we see the little tea house we will be staying in, dropping slightly downhill to it, we throw off our bags and take a well-deserved break. Cannot explain what I had to eat, cos it was not even worth it. I have become a non-eater, I must have lost a stone by now 😢. Sitting in the tea house there are always other people but in this one there is an Australian family, three kids, two daughters a son and the parents. One kid tapping her foot on the floor loud and annoying, the tolerance levels are very stretched at altitude to say the least. Who actually brings their kids to places like this?
After lunch (well an hour of me drinking as much water as I can) Ang Gelu briefs us for the next leg of the trip, it's the final leg to EBC. He tells us it’s a 5-6 hour round trip walking over the glaciers up and down (Nepalese flat) we should take our time and savour the views. Off we set, I get in front directly behind Patang, his pace always seems quicker than Kantars. We walk up through a small valley with rocks glistening in the distance, you can make out the elevations in front, and we soon stand at the bottom of our first uphill, it’s rocky and slippery, time needed to negotiate the footholds and on we pressed. A lot of Nepalese flat spots with quite a lot of people coming the other way, they’ve just been to EBC I think, will we make it, of course we will, I now know we will be there very soon, an emotion comes over me, I can’t really explain how I feel other than excited teary and very weary.
As we keep plodding along the views of the glacier are something else, not something that can be explained in photos or video, it’s almost as though they are fake, massive blueish coloured ice formations rising out of the floor appearing like icicles facing the sky and massive blocks of ice 30m into the air with beds of snow looking like little ponds scattered all around us, Joe throws a brick down into the glacier, and it just bounces around like a ball, so strange and eerie feeling. Crossing a few more Nepalese flat spots we finally see the base camp in the distance, yellow tents and a small gathering of people, Patang tells us we have an hour to go. An hour ? It’s there how’s that an hour I think. The next hour tells me why, clambering around the rocks and glacier it’s not an easy walk, it is getting closer and closer, then as we climb over a final ridge, we can see the base camp stone, people stood around it having pictures and celebrating their achievements. Beside me is a deep cravat it looks very deep, like an endless pit, it’s right beside the path, I think one slip and it's trouble.
Arriving there was something I cannot really explain, an emotion came over me that was pure elation, I hugged Fid, Alan and Joe and said well-done lads, we’re here at last. As I turn around Nicole and Judy also hugging, we all have a bit of a well done and hug off and then proceed to wait our turns for the pictures beside the rock, it’s a bit of a free for all, and eventually it’s our turn, Fid the first from our group to have his picture, followed by some Indian bloke who decided he fancied having another one sat on top of it, then Joe climbs on top too and dons his flag, it’s a pair of his mates boxer shorts on the end of a stick, quality mate ! I grab the small painting me and Amelia did for my trip and turn around to the camera, it’s a good job I’ve got my sunglasses on cos tears were streaming from my eyes. My proudest personal moment ever, I think.
We all have a few pictures and Me, Alan, Fid and Joe have one taken with our BFC flag and Me and Fid one of our own. Such a nice, proud feeling and three great people to have shared that moment with. I take a few steps back and wonder around the base camp area, across to the Khumbu icefall, it is amazing, indescribable in words or pictures, it is in my opinion something you have to see with your own eyes to get what it actually looks like. A solid river of blue ice that moves constantly yet ever, so slowly it is not visible to the human eye. After around 30 minutes up there you do start to feel the cold, I do not know this for sure, but I would guess the temperature to be around -8 ish. Patang says we need to start heading back, if we get our legs going we could be back in less than 2 hours. At this stage I do not feel tired or fatigued, I just feel happy and proud. Cannot wait to tell Rachel that is all I can think of. The walk back was as to be expected a dreary one, can I make this leg without the need to use a toilet, it’s become standard now but each time I hope and pray I can hold off the inevitable. Reaching Gorakshep I am totally drained of energy, my mouth again feels like I have had nothing to drink, yet again I have had easily 3 litres of water. The temperature up here is freezing, stand around for anything like ten minutes, and it sets in, hands always seem ok though for some reason. Our room is basic and
The bathroom is a walk to the other end of the tea house, not what I was hoping for. A hole in the floor with a large tub of freezing water awaits any wanting user. Setting up the bed for the last time feels liberating knowing luxury and a hot shower is merely a day away, I get set up freezing and get out my BIG Orange L6 coat. I can smell the food from the bedroom and automatically I feel sick. Ah well, one more night.
In the communal area, it is quiet, very, very cold and even though there is a fire going, it’s surrounded by other travelers trying to warm and dry their clothes. Ang Gelu comes over to sit with us and says well done on reaching base camp. As he gets out the health check forms, my heart sinks a bit knowing I feel like crap, even at this stage you don’t want to be the one that is suffering from altitude sickness. Off he goes around the table, finally coming to me. I score a 1 for pretty much each item which basically means I have mild symptoms of headache, nausea, fatigue and dizziness, my oxygen level is 65 WOW. That is low, I think. Heart rate reaches 113, but he says it is fine. He now proceeds to tell us about the group that came in the night before to Gorakshep, saying he did not tell us this prior to us going to base camp, as he did not want to worry us. A man in a large group of around 23 trekkers basically had been very ill the night before and complained of serious head aches, his guide according to Ang Gelu checked the guy over and gave him treatment for AMS, he didn’t respond very well, so they called for an emergency helicopter to rescue him back down the mountains. They waited on the helipad at Gorakshep, but the weather was too bad for the chopper to fly. The guy actually died on the helipad, the same helipad we would be flying from in the morning. Just shows the severity of what we had done and the environment in which we had all placed ourselves is a very serious one.
Sitting around chatting amongst ourselves for an hour or so, having the odd nip outside for a cigar is pretty much all you can do. It’s freezing outside and there is an Indian guy washing his face in ice-cold water. I ask him what he’s doing and that must be cold. He says “I have burnt my eyes by not wearing sunglasses and got snow blind, so only way is to clean the eyes with water." Wow. What an idiot and how bad that must feel. Bedtime now and the dreaded bedroom to bathroom choices. For the first time me and Fid set up a wee bottle, be no good for my toilet habits of late should the other toilet option be needed, but it’s that cold in the bedroom you do not want to leave the sleeping bag is you don’t have to. Not a terrible night’s sleep and all I can think of is Amelia’s face looking at her dad at Base camp with the painting we did and hoping she’s looking with pride. I was up a couple of times in the night - and - yes both trips to the bathroom (hole in the floor) frozen solid water on the floor trying to stand up and hover over the hole with diarrhoea isn’t the best look or the easiest thing to achieve considering it’s -19 and my legs are bare, shaking with both the deep cold and the tension needed to stay upright.
Back to reality day. Today’s plan is to fly by helicopter from Gorakshep to Periche. Then from Periche to Lukla. The reason for this is the first flight consists of using a helicopter that is small and is designed to fly the short distance to Periche. The second helicopter is bigger and can do the distance down to Lukla, but not go up high enough to Gorakshep. The 'Follow Alice' plan is for all to fly to Lukla and then spend the night there waking up the following day to fly to Kathmandu by airplane, we had other ideas; we’re having a third helicopter to take us to Kathmandu, that’s Me, Alan, Fid and Joe. It seems Ang Gelu has sorted it too. Ang Gelu decides on the people that will take the small helicopter due to weight. I end up with him, and Marna, split up again from Fid, Alan and Joe who coincidentally end up together. Ah well, just enjoy it Chris and take it all in.
We have a small breakfast and gather outside the tea house, this morning is the time to give our tips to the porters and guides, the night before we had deliberated and calculated (Alan did) what we should be paying in tips. Having gone over it and over it collectively we agreed to have come to the right solution, I didn’t offer much up in the way of debate I was happy to go along with the flow, Judy had bought small envelopes for the tips (how did she even think of that) so it was decided Judy would gather the money and hand it out. The porters all stood outside the tea house knowing this process was about to happen, we hadn’t really seen them up until this point over a 9-day period but tip time they were a little more open-faced, it’s not about the money though 😏.
Judy announces and call each Porter forward each handed an envelope with a handshake of thanks, we all give the Porters a Nepalese hug and say thank you. Judy now has three more envelopes, one for each guide, Patang she says, you have been a brilliant guide, but your feet are too quick, she nails him, he was quick but to look at him, he didn’t seem to be running, she hands him the envelope, and we all have a hug with Patang, Kantar she says, what can I say, such a nice guy that always has a smile on his face, the same thing envelope and Nepalese hugs.
Now Ang Gelu the main Sherpa, Judy raises her hand and says speaking on behalf of all of us, this would all not be possible without you and your attention to the finer details of the trek. It really has been a pleasure to know you all. I feel a bit emotional as Ang Gelu is such a nice guy, you can almost tell he cares so much without him even having to say a word.
So, the tip ceremony is over, and it’s time to get the hell out of here. We’re told to walk up to the helipad which is only 2 or 300m away uphill, walking up I am absolutely shattered, each step taking my breath, I look to the right of me and there is Kalapathar the mountain we were supposed to summit this morning at 4:00am, all I can think of is I’m glad I didn’t attempt that bloody thing.
After an hour or so of standing around the first chopper is here, like a big wasp it comes in blowing us all off our feet, we’re obviously stood too close, but this is Nepal, there’s no rules' haha. It lands and Ang Gelu says come on, Chris and Marna get in. Never been in a chopper all I can remember is Keep low under the propellers, I’ve no idea, but I bet I looked a right muppet getting on board.
So I’m in, sat in the back behind the pilot, I put my headphones on as if to look like I know what I’m doing. Look to the right and see the others watching up, never having been in a helicopter I thought I would be nervous but not at all. The noise is not as loud as I assumed, either. Take off, very steady it lifts, and before I know it we're off down The Valley.
Over the Khumbu, ice glacier. What a way to see the views. It is only a few seconds before we start to gain height enough to see The Valley ahead. It is breathtaking and such a great feeling to know where heading back down. The flight was only about 5 minutes down to Periche but wow what an experience for the first time in a helicopter. As soon as it lands, the doors are opened by a guy on the ground, and we jump out to let it set off to pick up the next group. As I stand there waiting I look around, the views of Amadablam prominent in the clear blue skies. The next helicopter had Alan, Fid and Joe in, they also seemed to have enjoyed the helicopter.
We wait around for the larger 5-seat helicopter to take us back to Lukla. All that way back to our starting point of the trek. When it arrives five of us will be taking this one, so a good probability that I won’t be shoved out alone on this one. All four of us fly the way down to Lukla in the helicopter, joining us on this flight was Karina it takes pretty much the same route we took going up, and you can see the suspension bridges and the river meandering down The Valley. People like little specs hiking up and down. What a view, the helicopter approaches Lukla airport and flies up the runway like an airplane would, not sure if for effect, but it looked cool. Takes a left off the runway and into a helicopter landing section of the tiny airport.
We all get out and grab our bags, get away from the helicopter, so it can get off and go bring the rest down. We seem to be waiting ages before the others come, but one helicopter comes into land quite near to where we are standing and Alan’s coat is sat on the fence in front of us, well it was until the helicopter skimmed past and Alan’s coat goes shooting off into the nearby farm ha ha! Joe goes and rescues it while a dumpy looking Nepalese security man (a bloke that probably locks up and opens up) comes overt to have a go at us. As we are waiting, flight had to abort it's landing, all of us what’s happened there etc, and the locals all come out with their phone cameras. It turns out there was a dog on the runway. Now as funny as that seems, I’ve flown into that runway and if my plane had to abort I would have been bricking it on the second attempt.
Anyway now we’re here our attention turns to getting a helicopter from Lukla to Kathmandu, it’s currently around 12:00 noon and if we get out soon we could be in the shower for 2. How wrong were we? haha! Standing around, the mist had started to roll in, the visibility was getting worse. 1:00pm and the guard on the helipad says you may as well nip off for some lunch and I will let you know when it is ready. Sceptical to say the least, we walk up the hills in Lukla to the tea house where the others will be staying the night. I am thinking they are going to laugh at us here, haha! Tell you one thing, the walk from Lukla Airport up to the teahouse would have been a killer this morning at altitude but straight away, you can feel the air is easier to breath. We sit down and have a drink, Joe probably grabbed something to eat, I cannot remember. An hour or so passes and Ang Gelu says come on guys, it's ready, the copter is on its way from Kathmandu. We grab our bits and walk back down to the airport, you have to consider all we are doing here is going in and out of a back gate that’s jarred open not one single person asks a question. In we go and the most official looking bloke just because he has a viz vest on looks at us and walks off. Haha.
The weather is bleak, and we can’t hear much action in the sky, the mist rolls up the runway, and I’m thinking this ain’t happening today. After around another hour or so of sitting around waiting, Ang Gelu says there is another option, you can walk down to my hotel and fly from there, it’s an hour and half walk all downhill, we chat for about 6 seconds and agree let’s do it. Now we haven’t just got our day packs now, we’ve also got to consider our 15kg duffel bags, Ang Gelu says leave it with me, and within 3 minutes flat he’s found 2 Nepalese young lads to carry 2 duffel bags each, down to his house/hotel. I do not have to go on about my thoughts on trying to find someone to do that for you in England.
Right, so we set off at a right pace, it’s like a race, what we're going so fast for? Alan’s saying why we're waking so fast, yet he’s in the front, I’m thinking has he gone mental? He's the one taking the lead. We follow the newly employed porters down and down through a little hamlet after little tin shed house. One family killing a pig right in front of us on the roadside in their garden, images I will never forget. As we get lower up pops Ang Gelu - he did say he would catch us up. The pace increases he’s like a man possessed and yet keeps saying there’s no rush, the helicopter won’t set off without you.
Joe is off his heels and I’m at the back with Alan and Fid in between keeping up as fast as possible, it’s a proper thigh burner. As we approach Ang Gelu’s house/hotel he points out Kanters and Patangs house, unbeknown they all live together in the same little hamlet. Finally, we’re in Ang Gelu’s house, and he’s given us a can of San Miguel, now I’ve not had a drink for weeks other than a couple of glasses of wine in Kathmandu and one beer, I’m thinking I drink this I’m going to be pissed for the copter flight. I have half and then a man stands up and says right come on, let’s go. He is our pilot! Haha! Ang Gelu helps scramble our things together and get them all on the helicopter.
As I say goodbye to Ang Gelu there is a sadness in me and also a great pleasure to have known and met such a wise and experienced Sherpa. The helicopter flight back to Kathmandu was around 50 minutes and a sobering one, a very calming experience in my opinion flying by helicopter. I have the headphones on and as we approach the airport, you can hear all other traffic control and flights talking gobbledygook to each other.
Once landed we have to wait for a mini bus to take us to the terminal (hate that word for an airport building) we get through security like walking past the bloke stood outside Morrison’s asking Betty how much her potatoes were this week and there’s Sonam, a familiar face waiting for us with his car to take us to the Arushi Hotel, I can already smell the shower and shower cream. Driving through Kathmandu it's total madness, people just choose their direction and go for it. We are back, I am in the shower, and it is hot, clean and, well, fantastic. I spend ages in the shower. Cleaning between my toes EVEYWHERE,. We are all spruce up and go out for a well-deserved pint and some food.
The days back in Kathmandu were pretty much spent chilling out and preparing for the flights home on Sunday. I’m still not 100% and the diarrhoea just keeps on giving.
I went to the local barber and had my hair shaved and beard off, what a nice feeling, but it did automatically show how much weight I had lost. Turns out I had lost a full stone in weight. I look thin, and I mean THIN. We do socialise more with the others on the evenings and 'Follow Alice' did put together a Nepalese leaving party for us all but Del Bhat and Momo’s etc..... all exactly what I didn’t want. Alan got drunk got up dancing with the locals on stage, Fid had another giggle and whispering session about my man made commode and been banished from their bedroom. Idiot haha.
All in all a great experience, a tough expedition and a good mental test of positivity.
No one found it easy, I do not care what they say. It has its difficulties in all different ways. During the trek, I was overcome by a sense of humility and respect towards these mountains. I just sat there and thanked them for allowing us amidst their territory and letting us step into their magical world, at least for a few days.
There are several things in our life that we take for granted. We tend to complain about trivial discomforts like a bus coming late, traffic jams, power cuts, and inadequate TV channels, no phone signal! But we conveniently assume that we have a fundamental right over creature comforts, and so easily take for granted what is made available to us, mostly due to the fact that we were born in a certain place at a certain time.
In the mountains, I saw people smilingly endure such harsh conditions of living – extreme cold, freezing water to wash clothes, no electricity, firewood stoves that take time to light up, unavailability of fresh vegetables, and unavailability of a variety of food items.
It was so cold that it took great effort even to have a shower, (I did not shower for 10 days), which we so often forego in the city due to laziness, even with hot water readily flowing from the taps. Back in the mountains, getting a shower was a nightmare; the thought of slipping out of the comfort of the thermals was intimidating. After I came back, I made it a point to never say no to a nice hot long shower!
People go to the Himalayas seeking a spiritual experience. What is spiritual? Is it spreading a mat in front of the mountain and meditating? Is it visiting an ancient monastery and praying to the lamas? Is it thinking of God in every step of our journey? Is it standing at the foothills of a huge mountain and experiencing humbleness? This is how the Sherpas live day to day. I was not sure. While we were walking, we had to exert our bodies to great limits. We had to push it beyond our normal physical abilities and cajole it to move at great altitudes.
With all my senses concentrated towards trekking, I had little chance for serious, complex thoughts like “what is the meaning of life?” or “What is the purpose of our existence?” My mind was clear of any deep thoughts. It had the tranquility of a five-year old. This childlike state of mind in which I went about walking, tripping on small stones, astonished at huge boulders and Ice within the Khumbu ice glacier, trotting alongside our guide without worrying about the route, the weather or place to stay, was what gave me peace of mind. This banished any traces of doubt or fear in my mind, and retrenched the mind to way back into my childhood, where I was carefree and fearless. And to me, this was spiritual.
This was an inexplicable state of mind that I longed to be in, even after I returned home from our trek. The feeling that made me leave behind all thoughts of family, work, environment, the world behind, and pulled me from all the human flavours of envy, jealousy, sorrow, and joy to a state of stillness and calm – this was what I missed the most once I was back to civilization.
We leave our footprints, sounds, and smell in a place we visit that changes it in a certain way; But what the place leaves us with, the way it touches us can sometimes change us completely, like we have never imagined before.
I had changed from the day I set foot in Kathmandu, I changed further as I trekked the hard walks up the Khumbu valley. My life will never go back to what it was because I had experienced how hard life can be to ones that accept it so gracefully and have lived through the hell of earthquakes and avalanches, such as the ones in 2015 that wrecked the lives of so many people. Yet they live life as if no one owes them a favour, they love the short life we all have in front of us.
My motto in life will from now always be, be kind to others, accept life for what it is, a short period of time in which to experience as much as you can.
To conclude, there are three things that I would wish for in all of the above and that would be to be able to share the experience with three people in my life that I know I could have shared certain moments, those moments will remain in my head and are not for writing down on here. The love of my life Rachel as we have shared many things on this earth my dad who I know would relish in his younger years a trek like this and the other Is Geoff Waller, my business partner who’s more or less my brother. The three people of which I know would have loved the experience.