A New Month
It was the 1st of May and 10 days into the climb it was now onto the more precarious part of this journey. But with just a couple of days to go to reach Base Camp, would Steph make it?
With a 6am start, it was a trek to the Cho la Pass. The pass was icy and snow-ridden, and crossing it was dependent on the glacier staying intact while crossing. It almost sounds like a movie scene, right? With the sun beating down on the glacier, the melting clock began and it’s a gruelling three-hour journey to the pass — the heavy breathing starts! The pass was stunning and somewhat dangerous, but the real impact to the body came from spending over 7 hours above 5,000 meters…and yet Steph amazingly felt fine! This hardship was also taking its toll on the rest of the group, as another two guys slipped back. They finally arrived at the next destination after almost 9 hours. At this point Steph was ready to fall into bed and, with the thought of a later start tomorrow, she could sleep well.
The following day it was a 3-hour trek to Lobuche, but there had been another casualty. One of the group had a serious fever and he was rushed to hospital. With two of the group now gone, the remaining trekkers battled through a mirage of rocks and landslides to make it for lunch. At the destination there was no running water at all, as the glacier had stopped feeding this part of the mountain. As they were getting closer to Base Camp this destination was busy and loud. The locals were making the most of it, as they charged 500 rupees to charge a phone for just the 1 hour! As if that wasn't bad enough, it was a 7-hour wait for a bucket shower! But after hearing of the water shortage, Steph thought better of it and cancelled. Biodegradable wet wipes would suffice.
After the make-shift shower and a terrible dinner, it was followed by bad news that the latest casualty in the group had pneumonia. I guess it is expected that some people won’t make it, but in a tight knit group like this, it must have been hard for them, especially as many of them were already struggling with exhaustion not to mention the terrible food.
Today’s the Day
The big day had arrived, and if all went well, the remaining group would reach Everest Base Camp that day. First, they had to trek to Gorak Shep which will come as no surprise given the state of some of the other parts of the trip, that this was the filthiest part of the mountain resulting in many trekkers developing food poisoning. It was very busy but with Base Camp just 2.5hrs away, Steph was very nearly there. The final stint would not be easy though, it was very windy and with the rocky paths and fatal drops off the paths, they had to be extremely careful. With the Khumba Ice fall in the distance, their end goal was finally in close reach…
They made it!! The group were greeted with two man-made piles of rocks that had been amassed by successful trekkers over the years. After a quick picture, it looked like it was time to leave, but was it? It turned out that one of the Guides had an uncle who was a chef in the ‘real Base Camp’! Also turned out that these piles of rocks were just for the tourists. The real base camp where the trekkers who actually summit Everest were was ‘closed’ to the public. By chance the uncle let them in and even served some tea, but they had to be gone within 20 minutes because of the high altitude. Leaving now couldn’t have been a better time, the wind had started to pick up and the snow had started to fall. The view of the summit was also disappearing now, as it became covered with the bad weather and it was the last time Steph would see it until she returned to Everest!
On the descent back, it was not a pretty sight: a group coming up the mountain…on horseback! Now surely that’s got to be completely immoral? To drag a poor horse up such a treacherous and demanding trek and surely completely defeating the object of you climbing?? Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t think that is a place tourists should be taking horses.
Upon arrival back to the teahouse another one of the group appeared to be fading. He seemed very confused and couldn’t even remember where his room was. The altitude was starting to take its toll on yet another guy. And as for Steph….well, she just keeps going doesn’t she, there’s no stopping the girl!
As the descent continues, on the following day it was an early start. With an inspection of the weather at 3.30am, it was decided that they had to wait. It was a complete white-out, so it was back to bed for another 3 hours. Now in most cases, if you were at home and knew you had another 3 hours sleep you would go back to bed with a smile on your face right? I can’t see the same smile on Steph’s face after this gruelling trip so far. Sure enough it was a terrible night’s sleep! Once awake, the icing on the cake at this teahouse is an equally-terrible breakfast and they were off again. After such heavy snowfall the tracks were now becoming very difficult to follow and let’s be honest, I can’t see Google Maps helping them much either.
Even though the snow was still falling, heavier in fact, this wasn’t stopping trekkers coming past en-route to Base Camp. I think they would have been in for a surprise given how hard the snow was falling at that time. Avoiding any food on the way back down, the group decided to wait until they arrived at Dingboche. With an unclear track in front of them, they somehow ended up off-piste. For most of us this would have been a worry, but for Steph “This is brilliant”, she writes. It’s clear that the lack of other trekkers around the group was refreshing. It seemed that the entire trip so far had been oversubscribed and it was taking its toll on the mountain and its resources. I guess that’s why the hygiene and lack of it, is such a problem up there. While alone on some parts of the descent it was time to think about what treats the following day would have in store including a nice shower.
The descent continued back to Namche with a slightly later start of 7.30am but it was still a 18km trek. After yet another dodgy lunch, everything was starting to grind Steph down and yet there were 8km left to go. Somehow after a tough journey, she had made it back to the Hil-Ten Hotel Teashouse. It had taken almost 10 hours to get here and although she was knackered that didn’t stop some of the group exploring the town of Nameche and the opportunity to buy a birthday cake and some other goodies. After a read of some birthday cards, the highlight of the day was Chilli Potatoes and a Mushroom Pizza. Given what you have read over the 3 parts of this story, I hope you can appreciate just how much Steph must have enjoyed that meal, given the journey so far!
The Final Walking Day
It was now Day 15 and the final walking day which was 21km back to Lukla. With an 8am start, it was clear the track was getting quieter as the end of the intensive season was coming to an end. The trekkers had mostly stopped ascending and the only people passing the group were Monks and yaks who were resupplying the tea houses. With energy levels low, Steph fell back behind the group and was now alone suffering with some severe stomach cramps. Could this be the final straw…? You’re kidding, this is THE Stephanie Boxall. She pushed through the pain and followed what looked like the path back to Lukla. She eventually caught up with the group and although they were all shattered, it was a little rice for dinner and some celebrations! They had made it, YES! With the presentation of a certificate, the cheers rung out loudly and it was off to bed with the positive thought of level ground tomorrow.
The Journey Back
Upon arrival to the airport and some long delays, it was a chance to watch planes taking off at a 12% gradient, the precise angle to avoid death, literally! With the plane wreckage from 3 weeks earlier still left at the side of the runway, it was another clear sign that they really do things differently in Nepal. I can’t imagine a crashed 747 at the side of the runway at Heathrow for travellers to see on take-off, can you? I mean, let’s face it, they shut Gatwick because of a drone. Can you imagine the Gatwick management team at this airport in Nepal? They would have a nervous breakdown! Not Steph though, she takes in all in her stride and although it’s yet another turbulent flight, they made it back safely to a VERY hot Ramechapp, and for good measure it was a 6 hour bus ride back to Kathmandu and, yes before you ask, there was NO air conditioning!
Now back in the Hotel, it was time to enjoy some familiar comforts like good food, a spa treatment and a comfortable bed. After a 10-hour sleep (which must have been the best night’s sleep ever) the trip was nearly over. It had been 18 long days, but worth every second.
As many of you know, I have only recently begun to write and these blog posts are normally about our business and the journey we are on. Steph and Nargis are an important part of this journey, so I wanted to spend a bit of time to share Steph’s recent experience climbing Everest. Her trip should be an inspiration to us all. Her grit and determination got her to the end of what was a hugely difficult task. I hope everybody enjoyed reading this 3-part series of climbing Everest, and maybe someday I can write something similar for Nargis. She is a very accomplished baker and Steph and I are desperately trying to get her onto ‘The Great British Bake Off’. That could be a great story too, so Nargis??!!…… No pressure, but I’m waiting!!
Until next time…