Because it’s there
In 1923, when George Mallory was asked why he was trying to climb Mount Everest, he replied “because it’s there”.
For me, becoming fit enough to climb mountains initially was something to put my focus on after my accident. A goal to aim towards and something to keep me driven to help with my recovery. To prove to myself that I’m still me, strong and capable.
Now, I couldn’t imagine not having the ability to climb a mountain. It’s my passion, ambition, love and helps me to put “life’s ups, downs, rights, wrongs” into perspective.
I’ve mentioned before, there is a reason that I met Martin Hewitt, the founder of the Adaptive Grand Slam just 2 days before my accident. There is a reason that this is the life path that was open to me and I decided to take and now I’m a registered disabled civilian funded to hike to Everest base camp. I know for certain that this will lead to much much more.
Sunday 24th March 2019 we flew to Kathmandu to start this epic adventure. That morning I woke in London at 3:30am (when I didn’t have to leave mine till 11:00) like a child at Christmas, I was so excited. Meeting the guys from the AGS in Heathrow made it all very real. I was going to be on Everest.
Arriving in Kathmandu was such a culture shock. Hustle and bustle is nice term that seems to fit the description but in other words, complete carnage but a kind of organised carnage that appears to work for Nepal.
We then got to the hotel and it was like we had just flown to another much more westernised country. Serenity and calmness, just what you need before and after being on a mountain.
I woke super early, I’m an early riser but 1am then 3:30am is ridiculous. I left the hotel room at 4am and went to the lobby to watch the epic lightning storm that was taking place. It was quite serene.
After breakfast, we headed into town as some of the guys wanted to get some equipment they were needing as they were attempting the summit! Taking mental notes as one day that will be me.
Walking down the streets, taking in everything I could. Observing the crazy electrical systems that look like a bunch of spaghetti that’s been chucked onto a wall. How the scaffolding systems are lots of bendy bamboo but just seem to work.
It was time. Time to head to the mountain. Met the rest of the guys and we were driven to the helicopter pad.
I was grinning like a Cheshire Cat. I couldn’t believe it. I turned falling off a mountain 3 years prior to now climbing them and I loved it.
The flight in the helicopter to Namche, a village on the Everest approach was incredible. Seeing the Himalaya mountain range from inside a helicopter was like something out of a dream or movie.
Namche, 3440m, a beautiful village surrounded by snow was the setting for the rest of the day and we all stayed in a hut to recuperate for hiking the next day. Remembering fluids, fluids, fluids.
After a restful morning in Namche, we set off for Khumjung 3780, the village that was developed heavily by Edmund Hillary who was the 1st mountaineer to summit Everest. He asked the Nepalese people what he could do to help. He was able to help develop a school and hospital for the village.
The route to Khmujung from Namche was quite steep in places. This put my training to the test. I could feel, because of the altitude, that my heart rate was raising quite a bit, like I was in the gym but then able to recover quite quickly.
We passed the air strip that had been developed and put in place by Hillary years previous to get in supplies for the villagers and climbers but was not being used anymore.
Then Everest appeared in the distance. The first sight during this trip and it was magnificent. Not only that but it was surrounded by other incredible 7 and 8000m mountains. You can get a real sense of the spiritual nature of the Himalayas. Such a magical place.
We got to Khumjung. Staying at the Tashi friendship lodge that is owned by Phurba Tashi who is an incredible Sherpa and holds the record for the most total ascents of eight-thousanders and summited Everest 21 times. How lucky of us to stay here.
Last night I slept probably for about 2 hours because 2 people in the group had very bad D&V and it turns out it was from kissing the animals.....
Today is going to be a relaxed day. Most of the group had talked about going for a walk to the Everest view hotel. As we were walking there, I came over all emotional and I felt extremely lucky to be where I am. Both location and regards to my recovery and the support I had received from the guys. I little tear was shed.
We got to the hotel which was beautiful. Had some hot chocolate and headed back to the village.
After lunch, some of us headed to the monastery because we had been told a yeti skull was displayed there.
The monastery was beautiful. Very spiritual and had been built so beautifully but the yeti skull looked like someone has cut a coconut in half and put it in a glass box. Who knows.
Today was an earlier start. We were hiking over from Khumjung to Phorse.
Today was very hard for me. It seemed as though for every 20 steps forward I had to stop and rest for about 5 minutes. It was as if all the energy I could find was being zapped from me and I had nothing but I still kept going.
I ended up at the back of the group walking with Stephan Keck who is an amazing adventurer and photographer so chatting with him made it all seem bearable.
As we got towards the village it started to snow. Just beautiful. Got to the huts and time to resting.
The doctor that was with us wanted to make sure that we were all as healthy as we could be. I knew I didn’t feel great and when he checked my sats (blood oxygen level) they were 77% which was ok but not great. Off to bed I went.
That night I had extreme sickness and diarrhoea. All through the night. There was nothing I could do about it but let it pass. Every time I fell asleep, the need to go to toilet woke me so was an extremely broken night. Even got to the point where I wasn’t able to make it out of my sleeping bag in time!
This morning I felt like death. The dr came in and tested my sats and listened to my lungs. My sats were hovering around 50-60% and he thought he could hear the start of crackles on my lungs. He was worried that I could be having the start of HAPE, high altitude pulmonary oedema.
Mid day came and my sats hadn’t improved. The dr put me on 2l of oxygen and left me on it for 2 hours. I was also given some other medication.
That night I felt like a different person. Everyone said the sparkle had come back in my eyes, my sats returned to 88% and my appetite had also. I was a different person.
The only thing was I ate was too much and that night I suffered for a different reason. Lesson learned.
Today was the day we set off to lobuche, a settlement at 4910, the last stop before base camp.
As soon as we left the village the incline was steep. It felt never ending and the only thing that made it all worth it was the views. Being immersed in the Himalayas was amazing. It felt so magical. One foot in front of the other. Keep going.
We then got to a monument area that had been created for all the people that had lost their lives on not just Everest but the mountains in the Himalayas. It really gave you a sense of the power of Mother Nature and to respect and learn from the mountains and people that lost their lives.
After walking for what felt like days where it was just half a day, we got to louche.
Today was another needed rest and acclimatisation day.
Some of the group went to visit the The Pyramid which is an Italian research centre that is in the shape of a pyramid. There is no funding for research there anymore but is still standing.
Kit sorted, packed and ready for the hike to base camp tomorrow.
You can see that everyone is so eager to get to base camp except one guy who was on the summit team. He was suffering really badly with altitude sickness.
8:30 came and off we went. I had to remind myself to keep a steady, slow pace.
This route, in parts, was quite busy as this was the main trekking path into base camp. It was tough. The terrain was very undulating. You would think you had done the hard part then it was flat till base camp but no. You would get another incline but you were rewarded with views of base camp and the amazing glacier it sits on.
Eventually I was in Everest base camp 5267m and standing next to the tent I was sleeping in for the next few nights. The emotion that washed over me was strong. The feeling of relief, the incredible belief that I am capable and strong and how proud I am of how I have been able to adapt my mindset and use it to achieve what I want.
The next few hours were a-washed with emotion, sorting kit and tent out, recovering and eating.
After dinner I took to my tent and my god, how cold it was. I couldn’t stop shivering. Took me so long to fall asleep then I woke at 9, 12, 2:30 and 4. 5:30 I decided to get up and the views were incredible. It then hit me. Even though I has a restless night with freezing temperatures, it was all ok because I was at Everest base camp!
Another rest day and time to acclimatise which I was very happy about because of the lack of sleep last night.
We walked to trekkers rock, which is where the prayer flags are located but dangerously close to the heli pad. Because of this, a few of the guys moved trekkers rock away from the heli pad to a much better location.
If you aren’t staying at base camp with a summit team, you aren’t allowed to stay. You hike up to trackers rock, take a picture and have to hike back down so we were very lucky to be here.
Later on that morning, one of the guys was taken by helicopter to hospital as was suffering badly with HAPE, high altitude pulmonary oedema. Hopefully he gets treated then can work his was through altitude again and attempt the summit as he had planned.
Again after dinner and heading to my tent, my ability to get warm was improving and so was the use of the she wee during the night.
Being an early riser in this environment is not great but I am learning to stay in my tent till sun hits camp and the snow and condensation in the tent disappears. This morning, the roof inside my tent was covered in ice, pretty cold!
After breakfast, we walked to the ice wall where the climbers start there ascent to the summit. It was incredible. We walked quite a way in which was very lucky. Trekkers aren’t allowed inside base camp let alone the ice wall.
It had been snowing all day today which made it even more beautiful but difficult to walk over the varied terrain. Another thing that was making it difficult was the amount of yaks that we’re bringing in equipment and supplies to the different teams as it was the beginning of the climbing season and camps from different companies were being set up.
Another amazing dinner and this time chocolate cake for seconds. Who knew that you could make a chocolate cake at the base of Everest.
After another awe inspiring story from Russel about one of his expeditions, I took myself to my tent as I knew it would take me a while to get warm and fall asleep.
Whoever invented the she wee.....thank you, thank you, thank you! Saves you getting out of the tent during the night into the freezing cold.
Lying in my sleeping bag, waiting for the Sherpas to come around with a hot flannel and tea, which is what they did every morning, I heard the sound of an avalanche from all the fresh snow that fell during the night.
After breakfast we headed to a area by camp with prayer flags for a Puja which is a blessing that takes place for the climbers and Sherpas to have safe passage on the mountain. The climbers each put in a piece of equipment that will be with them on the mountain to be blessed.
This was done by Pubra Tashi, a Sherpa that has 36 summits of mountains including 21 times on Everest. What an incredible guy and what a humbling experience to be involved in. We were all given a red thread that was tied around our necks to symbolise that we were all blessed.
The rest of the day involved resting, reading, eating, drinking and preparing for the hike to kalapattar 5555m tomorrow.
From 2:30 onwards I was awake. The wind was so strong it felt as though my tent was going to fly away with me in it. It probably sounded worse on the tent material than it actually was. Every so often you could also hear an avalanche happening in the distance.
After breakfast we set off to hike Kalapattar, a 5555m point by our camp. This was a massive challenge for me. Not because of the altitude but because of the terrain. There were points of extremely narrow sections where the rocks would move from under your feet. This was terrifying. All I could do was picture tumbling off the side and my legs became jelly from fright.
That night the rest of the guys watched a film on the projector but I took myself to bed with my tired, cry eyes.
Me being me I was already packed. It was time to leave base camp and head back to Kathmandu. It was going to take us 2 days.
After breakfast, a lot of tears and goodbyes we headed off. 5 hours of hiking later, a lunch stop and extreme cold snowy weather we got to Pheriche.
Having a bed to sleep in was a dream!
Time to hike the last leg of the trip. We left Pheriche at 8:30 and was aiming for Namche, the village by the heli pad to fly back to Kathmandu.
It was beautiful! The view we had heading in the other direction was incredible and the day was perfect. So sunny but with a nice breeze.
There were sections of the hike that were so steep and felt that they went on forever. You think that heading back down from base camp you hike downwards but oh no!
We got to Tangboche for lunch. It had a beautiful, big monastery. This section of hike was getting busier. It was the main Everest base camp trail and there were a lot of groups hiking to base camp.
There were times during the hike where there was so a-lot of people traffic which made walking so slow.
8 hour later we got to Namche. I felt like it was never ending. I ended up being a bit of a robot. Just automatically one foot in front of the other. Then we got the news, no helicopters tomorrow so we have to stay in Namche one more night. When your heart is set on a shower and a bed and it’s not happening, your heart feels broken.
At least where we were staying is lovely.
So what to do when you’ve spent 2+ weeks trekking and you can’t get back to Kathmand? Rest.
On the way into the village yesterday we saw a hairdresser and on the side was ‘hair wash and blow dry’. That was it. Hair was going to be clean and brushed. First time since leaving London. Excitement!
Had to book so they could fill up the jugs of water as there was no running taps. So booked mid day.
In the hours before the awesome hair wash I bought some cheap, clean clothes as had nothing that didn’t smell of yak and had a rinse in the hostel we were staying. After this I felt a little more human again.
Today was the day! A Heli back to Kathmandu from Namche and the weather was perfect so no excuses.
A range of feelings were present. Happy that I was going to be sleeping in a hotel bed and using a shower and getting my clean clothes. Sadness’s that the adventure was over. Proud that I was able to complete this task. Tired, sore and knowing I’ve lost weight.
We walked up to the heli pad from Namche. We didn’t have to wait too long and we were off.
We didn’t know that we were landing in Lukla. The heli was needed for a medical evacuation higher up so we got off and had to wait. During the wait we were right next to one of the most dangerous runways in the world. Seeing planes having to fly off such a short runway in bertween mountains was incredible and so lucky we didn’t have to use it.
The heli returned and took us to Kathmandu airport and back to the craziness of their culture.
This adventure was nearly over. After we got to he airport we got to the hotel, showered and rested.
I cannot fault this experience. The highs, of how emotional I was stepping foot in base camp, the lows, being really ill with the start of HAPE, all the in between.
Again, I hope I’ve proven that no matter what happens, how to progress, how you recover from anything, it’s all in your mindset and how you visualise your life but not just seeing how you want it to pan out, you have to do it with feeling.
There is always away. You just have to find it. Don’t give up.
A video I have made of the adventure.