Chapter 15: Climbing Everest - Part 1

Author: 

Demos Demetriou

Chapter 15: Climbing Everest - Part 1

A Legend

Our character is built while going through hard and good times in our lives, it’s then strengthened by the decisions and choices we make. What kind of character do you have then, if you want to climb Mount Everest?

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Steph for almost 4 years. In that time, I can say that she has been honest, committed, determined, funny and a great person to work with. Doing what she has done to conquer Everest Base Camp (Summit to come) has made me admire and respect her even more. We have always got on well, but I am truly honoured that she has lent me her travel journal so that we can all get an insight into what it’s like climbing in the Himalayas. I hope you all enjoy this insight as much as I did.

I’m sure you’ll agree once you read this, she is a legend for overcoming such an adventure. People with her qualities are hard to find. Nargis and I are just glad she is on our team!

Preparation

For months leading up to the climb, Steph made various purchases from sleeping bags, boots and all of the things you would need to undertake such an adventure with one serious thing in mind… weight! It’s all well and good buying things, but you have to carry the damn stuff for a long time - 15 days to be precise! With that in mind, Steph has spent months training to build up her resistance to the challenge ahead. After all the preparations she was ready to start her adventure in April 2019.

Getting to the start

Landing in Kathmandu on Easter Sunday is probably not what most people would have been doing. Most, I suspect would have been at home indulging in Easter eggs with their families. Not Steph, she had just landed via a connecting flight with Etihad which was OK, except the food or more particularly the orange juice, which sadly broke Steph’s impeccable record for travel sickness. Not the start that I was happy to read and I’m sure many of us would have rested a bit before the next stint…not Steph!

With 17kg of luggage between the legs of a scooter driver and Steph as the passenger with no helmet (health and safety are not a priority in Nepal), it’s a quick ride to the right Hotel, after the taxi driver initially dropped her at the wrong place! Kathmandu is chaos “but the best kind - full of life and living”.

Calm before the storm

With a 30-minute briefing and an introduction to the team of eight guys, it was off to get the final packing done. Steph will be taking just 15kg on this climb carrying 8kg on her own back. Do you know how heavy that is? It would be the same as carrying 8 bags of sugar on your back climbing up and down some slippery stairs for hours on end. Think about that the next time you make a cup of tea with sugar and walking up some stairs.

The Start

You know the saying: “The early bird catches the worm”. In this case, the worms were still asleep, it was 2am, and a gruelling 4-hour bus ride through dark and bumpy roads without a very clear path is ahead. Everyone is on alert, focused on the road ahead, but they can’t do much from where they are sitting other than hope they can at least get to Ramechhap Airport. The group finally arrive at 6am. They are definitely at the right place because lots of dirty, tired trekkers have arrived into the airport and are on their way back home.

Once aboard the connecting flight on a light aircraft, after a stomach-churning take-off, the weather is awful in Lukla and the pilot needs to make an emergency landing after 15 minutes of flying time. With several warning sounds coming from the cockpit due to being too close to land but unable to see anything through the cloud, the pilot made an unexpected landing in the middle of nowhere! Once safely on the ground the pilots advise the passengers to get some lunch in a nearby village and come back later to try again. A bewildered group (still in good spirits) head off in search of food and upon returning the pilot tries once again to get to the destination of Lukla. Just 10 minutes later they arrive — though 12 hours since they set off that morning! The view on landing is, err, interesting… It’s the sight of an aircraft that crashed only a few days earlier and is sitting on the side of the runway covered very badly! Not exactly what you really want to see on landing.

They have officially arrived at the trek starting point, now just a 3-hour trek to the first teahouse, Steph writes “I’m tired already and we haven’t even started yet”. As you would expect given the first part of this journey this was not a walk in the park, it’s a pathway of uneven ground full of bulging rocks, but Steph says it was “fun”. Just as well because with an international group of men, one of which doesn’t like walking, I’m glad to see she was this positive at the start given the frankly treacherous journey already undertaken to get to the start line. With a final walk across a swaying metal suspension bridge, the group arrive at the first destination — the sunrise teahouse. After 23 hours of travel it’s time for the first meal, consisting of a traditional dish of Nepal known as the “Dhal Bhat”, a lentil and rice dish which is perfect for a cold day. After a quick health check Steph’s oxygen levels are at 96% and a racing pulse of 116 which eventually calms down to 91 but she is now cold and shivering.

The day is finally over, and it is off to get some rest to be ready for a 7am start the following day.

The next destination is Namche which will be home for a couple of days. For those of you who know about acclimatisation, you’ll understand the process. For those who don’t, like I didn’t, this climb to Base Camp is also about the body being able to resist the low oxygen at such heights, not just the gruelling climb through bad weather. This means climbing up and then back down and also staying in areas for a certain period of time to get used to the altitude. I almost sound like I know what I’m talking about right? I don’t!

The teahouse in Namche is 3,400m above sea level and unfortunately the rooms are cold and dirty. I must say I expected the cold but not the dirty. Given what some of these trips cost you and the fact they charge $5 a day for Wi-Fi (yes you read right, bloody Wi-Fi!) up there, you would have thought they would have been able to keep these places clean, but who am I to say. A further check on the pulse and it is once again at 114 with an increased oxygen level. Steph is now “acclimatising”.

A break

Given the number of notes I have taken to give a true report on this trip, I will have to split this over a couple of posts. So, until next time…