Everest Base Camp Trek: The Final Hurdle

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe river of mud, yak poo and urine beneath my feet had become a blur some kilometres back, all that mattered now was that my feet were taking me forward, not what they were stepping in.

I began chanting to myself, one … two … three ….

One, two, three, counting my footsteps, counting the steps getting me closer to the end. Every turn on the track spat out more steps upwards, never ending, one, two, three.

One … two … three … Yangjing’s encouraging ‘not far now,’ urging me forward, washed over me as the mud ran under my feet. I’d long since stopped looking for the end point. The late afternoon dampness enveloped me, so far removed from the morning crispness we had set off in some 10 hours ago.

Yangjing, one of our guides - I owe her a huge debt of thanks.

Yangjing, one of our guides – I owe her a huge debt of thanks.

At what point had enthusiasm for the day’s challenge turned into a struggle and then into a determination that blotted out all else? There was no option, I had to keep going, I would reach the end.

Ironic, that as we headed theoretically down the mountain, the track took us upwards to our destination. This was our starting point just over two weeks ago, obviously we set off in a downwards direction but who realised or remembered that this is what we would face at the end. I certainly never thought that one of my biggest struggles would face me on this last day.

The entrance to the Sagamartha National Park, the gate that we’d originally passed through enthusiastically and with a verve that had gone missing in me in recent hours came into view, but still more steps.

Upwards.

One … two … three …

Finally, after what seemed like forever, I walked under that arch, through that entrance way and back into Lukla. That main street didn’t seem so long the last time I walked it. One … two … three ….

One … two … three. The slippery rocks that paved the way needed a watchful eye and careful footwork, the open ditch needed to be crossed, I almost stumbled and needed Yangjing’s steadying hand.

More steps up to the lodge, I grabbed the handrail needing all the help I could get. It was no longer one, two, three but one … one … one …

And then it was over.

I’d done it.

I’d trekked from Lukla to Everest Base Camp and returned. The tears held determinably in check for the last couple of hours erupted, there was no stopping them. The seat that I collapsed onto was so welcome, my legs no longer capable of supporting me.

Others in the group who’d arrived half an hour in front of me shouted their congratulations and high fived me, but all I could do was sob. Anande put a warming cup of hot mango juice in front of me, at least I think it was mango, he accepted my gulp of thanks and refilled the cup as I emptied it.

From my sitting position I unloaded my pack from my back, leant my hiking pole against the wall, leaned back and breathed.

Yep, I’d done it and despite my tears I was grinning inside.

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One Hell of a Walk – Base Camp Day

The wonderful guys who got us there.

The wonderful guys who got us there.

I know I’m jumping all over the place with my posts on my trek to Everest Base Camp and this one is totally out of sequence, but I’m writing them as they come to me, if I had to do it in order it may never happen. So today, maybe, is the one you’ve been waiting for.

Today was the day we had all been anticipating for months, the day that all thirteen of us  had been training for and the day that we expected great things from. Did it deliver? Overwhelmingly, yes.

Everest Base Camp had been my focus for the last eleven months, the planning and training had taken over my life for almost a year, every step I’d climbed, every track I’d walked, every kilo I’d carried in my backpack, were all aimed squarely at this day. I’d spent hours researching the clothing and the gear that I’d need, talking to others who had done the trek and sales people who knew the technical stuff about boots and hiking poles and water bottles. I’d agonized over how many t-shirts I should take and whether I’d be able to cope with the toilet facilities (or lack thereof) and I’d worried that my training wouldn’t be enough. I probably knew more than was good for me about Lukla airport and altitude sickness and those who had died on the mountain and  now here I was, only a couple of hours away from my goal.

The altitude had made me restless during the night, actually I had lain awake worrying about the lack of oxygen at nearly five and a half thousand metres and the possibility of breathing problems and the fact that I was alone with no one to keep an eye on me – not good thoughts in the middle of the night, and then I was awake before dawn listening to the sounds of other trekkers setting off early so I was a touch tired this morning. But then, this was nothing new. I was tired most mornings.

It was a glorious Sunday morning as we set off with the sun reflecting off the high peaks above Gorak Shep.

It was one hell of a walk along the ridge from Gorak Shep to Everest Base Camp but this day gave us some of the most stunning scenery and views of the most majestic mountains that we had experienced. It was difficult to watch where our feet were going when our heads were continually veering to the right to gaze at the continuous panorama.

How did I feel when I finally achieved my goal?

Overwhelmed.

Arriving at Base Camp was a very emotional moment for me and inevitably the tears flowed. It had been hard, at times more than hard. I’d struggled, I’d cried and I’d laughed but I’d also been determined. Determined to achieve the goal I set myself almost a year ago. I wasn’t going to give in.

Here’s just a part of what we saw that day and what I think probably had a deep effect on all of us.

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The Trainings Done!

FlagMountainThe training’s done, if I’m not fit enough now I never will be.

The next hill I climb will be 7,353 kms away in the Himalayan mountain range.

THE. HIMALAYAN. MOUNTAINS!!

When I booked the trip last June it all seemed so far away, it was easy to talk about the preparations I’d need to do, the training, buying the gear and making sure I was organized with injections and paperwork etc. The trek was almost a year away.

Now, the trek is 14 days away. I can’t get any fitter than I am, this is it, if I haven’t done enough training it’s too late to worry about it. I’ve bought all the gear and the incidentals, if I’ve forgotten anything, too bad. What will be, will be.

Now for the next hurdle – packing!

My Week That Was!

The last week certainly had its ups and downs – literally.

I hiked 35kms with my pack on, put a 3cm gash in my head that required 3 stitches and had a diagnosis of optical hypertension – beat that.

The early morning sun appears over the hills.

The early morning sun appears over the hills.

The hiking was a real high, 3 afternoons in a row after work I did a 9.5km hike with my pack on and then on the weekend a 6.2km hike that involved some quite steep inclines. It’s all about endurance. On one of the afternoons half of the 9.5kms involved the steps, going up them 10 times with the pack on, that was hard, but I keep chanting to myself – train hard, fight easy. Put in the hard work now and it will pay off later.

I was really pleased about the way I felt after those 3 days in a row – yes, it was tiring but I felt I coped well and am getting used to walking longer distances with the pack on. The altitude will be another matter though and there’s really nothing I can do to train for that.

The gash to the head could definitely be considered the low point of the week.  I slipped on something that had dripped onto the kitchen floor, my legs went from under me, I landed on my backside and my head flipped back and ricocheted off the corner of the wall. I sat there for a while with my hand on my head thinking gosh (or words to that effect) I’m going to have a serious bump there. It was when I took my hand away and found it covered in blood that I realized it was more than a bump.

Trip to the Emergency Department, 3 stitches, one sore head and 2 days off work.

The trip to the Opthamologist – I think I’ll consider that a positive seeing as it started out as a definite negative. On a recent visit to the optician he picked up that the pressure in my eyes was higher than it should be – a sure sign of Glaucoma – and referred me on to the Opthamologist. With a family history of Glaucoma it was highly likely that’s where I was headed. Damn!

The good news – it’s not Glaucoma, yet, but optical hypertension. Yes, the pressure is up slightly but there is no damage to the nerve and my peripheral vision is still fine. Just need to have regular checks at this point to keep an eye on things (pun really not intended).

Anyway, the point of all this is that with less than seven weeks to go before the trek I’m very mindful of how things can happen unexpectedly and interrupt plans. Natasha from Tiny Indian Girl Up a Mountain was supposed to be trekking to Base Camp as we speak but when last heard from she hadn’t even left the UK. She did get to the airport at Belfast on time but the horrendous weather that they have been experiencing meant that the airport was snowed in and flights cancelled. She went back home. She finally made it to Heathrow about 3 days late and hopefully she’s now winging her way towards Kathmandu.

After months of planning and training, to have plans disrupted like this, I can only imagine the feeling – I certainly don’t want to experience it.

Remember, you can support me and my efforts by donating to the ‘Because I’m a Girl Campaign.’ Just go to the Donate page up there on my header or read all about it on the Challenge for the girls page.

Countdown to Kathmandu: 59 days!

kathmandu-city-bOnce again I must comment on the propensity of time to take flight and disappear, leaving in its wake a confused population wondering where it’s gone. With barely any warning, except the fact that it happens every year, the first three months of 2013 are almost at an end.

And you know what that means don’t you?

Kathmandu and Everest Base Camp are now only two months away! That’s 8 weeks on Monday!! That’s 59 days!!! I’m down to counting the days.

I’ve made the final payment, I’ve got the E tickets, I’ve got the accommodation vouchers, I’ve got most of the gear, I’ve even got bright orange bag tags from World Expeditions making it easier for their representative to spot me at Kathmandu airport.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFriends ask if I’m getting excited and I am. The thought of the amazing scenery that I’m going to be seeing, the iconic Himalayan mountain range with its snow capped peaks, the exciting but ever so scary flight into Lukla and my ultimate destination, Everest Base Camp where sixty years ago Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay prepared for their ascent on the summit. Yes, I’m excited.

But I’m also heading into the unknown, an unknown culture, and that worries me a little. Will I be able to cope?  Until last year the Indian sub continent had always been on my list of places I didn’t want to visit. The thought of the less than sanitary conditions, the strange food and the chaos and the confusion, the ‘foreignness’, all so alien to my western upbringing and sensibilities, had always sent me in the totally opposite travel direction.

But there Mt Everest sits, with one foot in Nepal and one in Tibet, daring me to approach and that approach takes me through Kathmandu.

Kathmandu is going to throw the lot at me – the sights, the sounds, the smells, the dirt, the dust, the lack of western sanitation. It’s going to challenge me like I’ve never been challenged before. I know this so I guess I’m going in forearmed and, as I’ve just been reminded by Steve over at Around The World With Steve, all of those things may be out of my control but I have total control over my attitude. Let’s see if I can utilize that control.

Countdown to Kathmandu – getting closer!

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Where on earth did the second half of 2012 go?

All of you loyal followers who’ve been with me since I made my madcap decision, think back to my original Countdown to Kathmandu post. For those of you who may have inadvertantly stumbled upon my blog more recently (maybe even today) have a look and acquaint yourself with my upcoming trek to Everest Base Camp in May.

When I did that post there was 10 months and 1 week to go.

Cliche or not, time has flown, in a matter of hours we’ll be in 2013!

I was under the assumption that once Christmas and the New Year were out of the way I’d have just over 5 months to knuckle down, increase the training and get all the necessaries organised. You know, stuff like buying thermals, checking out the need for innoculations, trying to get my head around packing as little as possible while still taking everything I’ll need.

Somewhere between the accountancy course I took several years ago and now though my maths seems to have become a little unstable. If New Year is in January and the trek is in May it would seem that I only have 4 months not the 5 I was relying on.

So, that’s the thing, 4 months to go before I leap out of my comfort zone and where am I at?

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Training – going well. I’m at the point that I can go up those steps 20 times, a couple of times a week and do a hike with pack on the weekend. I’m feeling pretty happy with myself and the intention is to pick up the pace in the final few months.

The training is on temporary hold this week though as the temperature is hovering around 40 – 42 degrees for most of the week. Would be a form of suicide to attempt anything out there at the moment.

Bells Rapids Trail waterfall

Gear – Of the main stuff I’ll need I’ve got the boots, the pack and the waterproof/windproof jacket and I’ve picked up a few bits when they were on sale during the last few months.

This week I’m hoping to buy the hiking poles at the sales and then I need to make a list of everything I still need to buy to make sure I’ve got all bases covered.

Thyangboche Monastery

Thyangboche Monastery

Research – When I do anything or go anywhere I like to get all the information I can. To this end I’ve been reading anything I can get my hands on about Everest and trekking to Base Camp. If anyone’s got any suggestions please let me know.

I’ve read some excellent biographies of mountaineers, including Sir Edmund Hillary and accounts from people who’ve spent time in Nepal and the Everest region.

Blogs have also been an great source of valuable information from people who have recently done the trek and are able to give me tips on what to take, what not to take, what to do and what not to do.

Because I am a Girl

Fund Raising – Raising money for the Because I’m a Girl Campaign is proving to be a very rewarding enterprise. People have been very generous and there have been donations from friends and family and from total strangers. This is a very worthwhile cause and you can read about it here.

There is still plenty of time to donate and help me reach my target before I leave for Nepal.

SO ….

4 months and 13 days to go!

Taking a hike… and getting lost!

This weekend it was time to go one step further with the training. It’s all very well that I can climb lots of steps but I now needed to make sure I could last for more than an hour at a time out on a track so it was time to find a bush track to practice a bit of endurance.

When I looked into the options for bushwalking there were plenty, there’s stretches of the Bibbulmum Track I could do, there are several walks in the John Forest National Park and a number of tracks around Mundaring Weir. I chose what I considered was a relatively easy walk but if I’ve learned anything this weekend it’s not to believe what you read or at least not read into it what you want to see.

After much deliberation I decided to do a 9km trek starting from Bells Rapids in the Swan Valley. I printed off directions and instructions and even bought a compass. Not that I’m generally directionally challenged but the directions included compass headings so I figured a compass would come in handy. Let’s put it this way, I would have been lost (pun intended) without it.

I spent Friday evening packing a small backpack (working my way up to the PROPER daypack), making sure I had water, snacks, bandaids, flyspray, camera etc. etc.

Saturday morning I was awake with the birds at the crack of dawn – nothing like a new adventure to get you motivated – and I was at the starting point of the trail by 8.15am.

The walk started at the long bridge over the rapids. There was a clear blue sky but the wind had a certain chill to it. I took a breath and set off over the bridge.

A minute or two later and the idyllic morning turned difficult. To be precise, the terrain turned difficult. I rounded a bend and the track rose vertically in front of me. Well, maybe vertically is a bit of an exaggeration but I think you get the picture. It was a fair incline.

As my legs, used as they are to the steps we normally train on, adjusted to the uneven ground, I must admit that my mind was thinking ‘this is good, I’m likely to encounter this sort of think on THE TREK, I need to be able to cope with it.’ So cope with it I did.

The views on the way up the track and from the top were certainly worth the trouble. Despite the gusting winds on the top of Mt Mambup, I took a seat on a rock, had a swig of water, ate a protein bar and appreciated where I was, literally and figuratively.

Unfortunately though, it was after this relaxing moment that I came unstuck. The aforementioned purchase of the compass had been a godsend up to now and I had navigated my way up the track and across the grassland without too much trouble. Now though I had trouble.

The directions I had printed off from the website gave detailed directional instructions but no distances, just the likes of ‘head initially NNE to cross the grassy summit area and then continue NE-ward down the initial gentle hillside.’ Ok, how far before I go from NNE to NE? ‘Find the gap in the rocks to head eastward more steeply downhill then veer north,’ aaaargh!!!!

It did give GPS points but it also said at the beginning that  a GPS wasn’t essential. Needless to say I don’t have a GPS.

I tried various routes off the top of the hill but when it says things like ‘follow the track back up the hillside,’ and you haven’t actually found the track in the first place, life becomes a little worrying.

After a while I gave up and decided to go back down the way I had come. Not so easy, that didn’t seem to work either. Do you think I could actually find the track I came up on?

Anyway, I set off in the general direction of down, hit a few hurdles, in the way of impassable routes and fences that needed climbing over, but eventually chanced upon a track that looked familiar and was heading in the right direction. I had survived my own little drama.

It was on the way down that I was really able to appreciate the views and the wildflowers. It’s the perfect time of the year to see the wildflowers at their best here in Western Australia. I’m no expert and I haven’t got a clue what they’re called but these looked lovely.

I finally made it back down to the river, none the worse for the experience and quite proud of the fact that I had done it by myself and not panicked. Let’s face it, panic gets us nowhere.

Anatomical differences Do make a difference!

Namche Bazaar – photo coutesy of Cameron McNeish

It’s not often (well, never really) that I’ve let a male shop assistant get his hands anywhere near my boobs, but last weekend I let the very helpful Greg do just that. At least I think his name was Greg, it definitely began with G.

Now, before you all start thinking I’m getting desperate or something, let me point out that it was all in the name of research. Research of the trekking variety – this time I was checking out day packs for my upcoming trek in the Himalayas. I’m not sure whether it was the excitement of being in the midst of all this wonderful gear, that up to a few weeks ago I had been completely unaware of, the suitability of the particular day pack in question or the excellent salesman, but I walked out of the shop with my very own Deuter SL daypack. It did help that there was an impressive reduced sale price attached to the purchase.

Having never been in the market for such stuff before I’ve had to rely on advice about what I’m going to need. The lovely Learna from World Expeditions has given me a few pointers about what to look for and the aforementioned Greg (?) at Mountain Design in Joondalup was an absolute fount of knowledge.

This is not something you can go into blind. Let’s face it, if you get an ill fitting pack you could end up with chaffed nipples – and you wouldn’t want that, would you? My day pack is designed specifically for women, we have shorter backs you know, and the sternum strap (which is where Greg came in, needing to fasten this said strap across the boob area) is designed to help reduce pressure points in the chest area. The info that came with it states that ‘A team of female outdoor sports specialists has taken a long hard look at the anatomical differences between men and women rucksack users.’ Wonder where I can apply for that job.

Ok, moving right along, away from what could happen if I got the wrong one to the fact that, apart from fitting well, the Deuter SL has lots of lovely compartments designed for storing all the necessary bits n pieces, a bottom compartment and an extendable lid. I could go on but I’m thinking you’re probably starting to lose interest.

Now, I just need to put some weight in it and practice walking with it. Do you think it’ll look odd if I start hiking through the streets with it on?

When is a boot not just a boot?

When it’s a trekking boot of course.

I never actually realised how many shops there are selling trekking/outdoor gear. Never having needed the services of this type of shop before, I had never really taken a great deal of notice. I knew of a couple in the suburbs but was unprepared for the choice of outlets, let alone the choice in gear, when I actually went to buy something.

A couple of serious trekking outlets had been recommended when I booked the trek through World Expeditions and I thought them the best place to start. On the one stretch of Hay St though I found, not only those two, but a further two. Add these to the ones I had ventured into in my local suburb in the last couple of weeks and you could say I was rather overwhelmed.

Not for long though. It soon became crystal clear that just as there is a great array of gear available there is also a huge difference in the service available at these outlets.

The staff at Paddy Pallin, the first place I went into, was by far the most knowledgeable, the most helpful and the most professional. As for the others, well, even once the staff had stopped chatting amongst themselves and noticed I was there, they really didn’t seem terribly forthcoming with help or advice.

Anyway, this is what I bought – from Paddy Pallin!

Aren’t they lovely? My first pair of trekking boots, in fact my first bit of trekking gear, and they are the Scarpa Kailish GTX, impressive or what? These boots and I are going to become very close over the next few months.

But here are 10 things I learnt about buying trekking boots:

  1. One trekking boot is not just like the next.
  2. You need to be able to fit trekking socks in them (and these are a whole different story in themselves).
  3. The type of trek you’re going on and the altitude, matter.
  4. Width matters just as much as length – really, it does. In a women’s boot if the length is right but they are too tight, try a men’s in the same size.
  5. They have a ramp in the shop so you can try the boots going uphill and downhill – who would have thought it?
  6. Trekking boots shouldn’t bend.
  7. Your heel shouldn’t move up and down – self explanatory really, you don’t want blisters.
  8. There are so many ways to lace a boot – and each way makes it feel differently.
  9. A Gore-Tex lining is good (see, I’m even getting the terminology now).
  10. And one last thing – my boots have a wedge in the heel for stability!

So now my boots and I intend to begin the journey, think we might take our first tentative steps together next weekend. Wish us luck.

Mountains, Mist and …. ooh, one little plane

Remind me again why I’m doing this.

I think I’ve just made my first mistake in planning this trip. I read the Wikipedia site on the airport at Lukla. Not a good idea as it turns out. Sometimes I just don’t know when to stop, because then I made my second mistake, I watched U Tube footage of a plane taking off from the airport. Google maps showing the terrain really didn’t help either. Lukla is the starting point of the trek and to get there requires a short flight from Kathmandu in a Twin Otter aircraft. World Expeditions, in their blurb, describe it as ‘a memorable flight with amazing views’.

I don’t doubt it for one minute.

Notice the mountains in the picture? Well the pilot, of a tiny aircraft, needs to navigate his way around those mountains, banking and descending through several layers of cloud and mist, apparently without the help of landing aids, using just his own keen sense of sight (one would hope that it’s keen anyway). Then he has to pull the aircraft to a halt within 460 metres – hopefully with a bit of room to spare. And then, to get out of there he has to gun his engines and race back down the 12 degree gradient hoping like hell to take off before reaching the 700 metre drop at the end of the runway.

Does it help that only the most experienced pilots in Nepal fly to Lukla? Probably, just a bit.

Lukla is the highest airport with scheduled flights in the world and acknowledged as one of the most dangerous, and I’m going visiting.

But, on a positive note, considering there are around 50 flights a day in and out of Lukla in the high season and accidents are rare, it’s probably no more dangerous than driving to work.

Enough said! Let’s move on!