Now, before I start, following my last blog, a number of people have asked if I am planning to go to the summit. Now, maybe you were joking and I'm just a bit hypersensitive at the moment but just to set the record straight:
- Have you any idea what I've just done and how hard it was?
- You need to train for 5 years to prepare for the summit.
- You need to be a technical climber.
- People die every year attempting it. If they don't die, they lose their hands, feet and noses through frostbite! There are still bodies up there from years ago that have never been found.
- It costs between $50-100k.
- There is barely any oxygen so you might as well be climbing a ladder into space.
- Aside from anything else, we have just witnessed the worst disaster in the history of Everest attempts and as a result, most expeditions have pulled out.
So no, I am not going to the top, nor have I ever any desire or intention to do anything like this ever again!!!! A relaxing beach holiday might be next on the agenda.
Right, back to the trip:
Trek Day 10 - Tengboche Monastery
We set off to continue our descent and immediately had an uphill climb. Yoon was shouting, "I want my money back! I didn't pay for this!" It was another long and tough day......seeing a theme yet?! We were up and down all day and had to cross the river a few times. At one point we were really hurried along as there were a lot of loose rocks and there had evidently been a landslide and it looked like another could happen any minute. We saw a bridge that was hanging off the cliff. Until recently that had been the trail but the bridge had collapsed. Great! There was a lot of traffic on the trail again, including a number of female Sherpas, a first for us. They hardly had a set of teeth between them!
Our night stop was at Tengboche Monastery that sits at 3840m. To get there, as with any religious pilgrimage site, we had to huff and puff up some very steep steps. I was done in. Going up hill really affects my cough and I can barely breathe. It's horrible. Our tea house was next door to the monastery and was possibly the best one we've stayed in. Not that the competition is that high. The lunch menu was fabulous and we all ordered pizzas and burgers. I had what seemed to be the best pizza I've ever had - oven baked, fresh tomatoes and oregano. Yoon ordered a chicken burger and the entire time he was eating he was shouting, "I can taste chicken! I can taste chicken!" We have, after all, been vegetarians for over a week.
As we were all getting over excited about our food, someone went to investigate the facilities. Oh my god! Mosaic floor, spotless and, best of all, a proper flush. How bloody marvellous!!
At 3pm we went to the monastery. We had to take our boots off and one of our guides, Nima, got chucked out because his socks were too smelly. I'm surprised we all didn't get thrown out. None of us exactly smell like roses! We had to sit on the freezing cold floor - a fairly challenging feat when you've been walking uphill all morning. Luckily some guys we've seen along the route were sitting behind us so they scrunched their legs in so I could at least get one bum cheek on the carpet! There weren't many monks around as a lot of them, including the lama, have gone to Namche Bazaar to perform blessings and ceremonies for the families of the Sherpas killed in the avalanche. The ones that were there came in and started chanting. It's a shame there weren't more as I think the sound would have been amazing but it was good to hear. I started to wonder if we would end up being sat there for hours and get piles but luckily it only went on for 15 minutes. We escaped from the monastery, found a bakery and then headed back to the tea house for a hot shower; 2 words that I will now cherish forever. It was fabulous. The water was just a trickle but it was running and hot (as opposed to freezing and in a bucket, and that's if we were lucky). My hair was clean, I was clean, I almost felt human again. I could run my fingers through my hair without either getting stuck or feeling sick from the grease and dust. Heaven!!
It was soon dinner time and we were greeted with hot towels. Could this place get any better?! The only problem was, we were so desperate to get to the heat that we all almost suffered third degree burns! Karen and I shared a mini bottle of Blue Riband gin (it was Saturday night after all) and we thought we'd give yak steak a try. Calling it steak was a bit generous methinks. It was more like bad quality mince that had been moulded into the shape of a steak so the serrated steak knives weren't really necessary. Still, glad to have tried it but I won't be having it again!
While at Tengboche we saw signs for a helicopter service back to Lukla for about $100. How tempting was that? But no, we were good and decided to complete the trek properly.
Trek Day 11 - Benkar
We set off for the journey back to Namche Bazaar. There were loads of rhododendrons blossoming but I stupidly didn't take any photos as I thought there would more further down in the lowlands. Nope! They obviously only flower at certain altitudes at certain times. Never mind. I wore my knee supports today but seemed to spend most of my time stumbling. My brain wouldn't communicate with my feet. It was supposed to be about a 5 hour walk today. It took me over 7 hours. I'm done in!! I became very light headed about an hour before our night stop and thought I was going to faint. I don't think I've been drinking enough water on the way down. I couldn't even face a beer when I got to the tea house and I had to go and lie down. Then, horror of all horrors, I couldn't face dinner. I had no appetite. I managed to force down a bit of Sherpa stew and half a chapatti but this was serious stuff. I did, however, manage half a little bottle of rum!
Trek Day 12 - Lukla
This morning started with a bad taste in everyone's mouths. David and Katrina had been robbed. David had around $450 and he went to the shower and left it the room, unlocked. There was only us staying there so you assume things are safe. I'm certain it was not one of the locals. Why would they? It's not worth the risk or their reputation plus if they were going to steal the money, they would also have taken the iPhones and cameras that were nearby. The Sherpas were called back and Bhim went through the bags to make sure the money hadn't been tucked in a pocket by mistake or David and Katrina just hadn't seen it. Nothing. So, attention turned to the group and there was (and still is) a lot of speculation as to who took the money. Any solid proof? No. Circumstantial evidence? Absolutely. Anyway, I'm not going to point any fingers on his public forum but it's very disappointing to think that someone in a close knit group that had been through so much in the previous 12 days would have the audacity to steal from that group.
So, day 12. The final push. Our last day of trekking as we made our way down to Lukla for the night. This is the most uphill descent I've ever heard of. Considering we were descending from the best part of 5,500m down to 2,800m, all we seemed to do was walk up steep hills. Again, another tough day, mainly because we knew it was the last day and everyone just wanted it to be over. It becomes a chore when you have no exciting goal at the end. It was a hard going and every step seemed so heavy, coupled with my ever present cough that was relentless and made it continually difficult to breathe. Finding energy and motivation at this stage was a challenge but, I didn't cry today!! Result.
Lukla was finally in sight and there was just one more hill to climb. I gave it everything and finally made it. I joined the 35,000 people who make this trek annually (which is not a lot when you break it down) and 114km was done. Boom!!
We said farewell to our Sherpas in the afternoon and gave them their tips. They had worked damn hard. Some of them were only 45-50kg and they were carrying 20-30kg, often running; always rushing ahead of us. We went to the Scottish pub where it was 3 for 2 drinks and we wrote our names on the wall so if you ever get there, look for my name next to the bar! I forgot to take a picture. Back to the 'hotel' for dinner and a formal farewell to our assistant guides: Jambo, Nima, Shantaman and Tika who also worked damn hard, always spread out across the group, making sure we were all ok and accounted for, keeping our spirits up and making sure we didn't fall off the side of the trail! Whilst I didn't need it, they also carried a number of day packs when people were tired.
Now, at this point, I want to mention a few names as I got some stick over dinner as a few of the boys read one of my blogs and were most perturbed that they had only been described as 'one of the guys' or hadn't been mentioned at all! Keegan was the guy who was found in his room, white as a sheet and violently shivering. Mark was the hero of the day and is responsible for Keegan's rescue and subsequent survival. Chris is the guy who wore the same fleece, whether hot or cold, for 12 days in a row and without a shower (sorry Chris, but you did demand a mention!). However, he also kept us entertained every time he had his earphones in and was spotted pulling some very dodgy dance moves (seated, of course!).
The next morning was an early start as we headed to the most dangerous airport in the world (you must YouTube it if you haven't seen the TV programme). It was chaos. Our guides had helped us get there, assisting with our bags but when we got to the airport building, the security guards treated them like animals, physically pushing them out of the door. I was so upset. Checking in bags was an experience. They were loaded onto the scales in batches and we then had to push our way through the throngs of people (in the dark as there were no lights on) to get them checked. Then it was day packs. All the while, porters were trying to grab our bags as if they carry them even 1m they expect a tip so they pick up random bags. Made it though in one piece and we went down to the 'departure lounge' to wait for our magic number, flight 4. We watched the planes landing and within 5 minutes they were reloaded and set off again. Watching them take off was incredible. They taxied to the top of the runway, which is on an incline, and then set off. The last we would see would be them looking as though they'd just fallen off the edge of the mountain. I videoed one so if it's any good I'll upload it. The planes can only take 15 people for safety reasons, so Bhim was on a different flight and his was called first. We were leaderless; stranded in our group and left to our own devices. All I could think of was what would we do if they cancelled our flight (happens every day as weather conditions have to be 100% perfect to take off due to the dangers involved). Anyway, all good and suddenly our number was called. I was first out and as a result got the front seat, just behind the pilots. Within a few minutes we were taxiing to the top of the runway and you could sense the nerves in the plane. Now, I did video this through the front window so hopefully you'll get some sort of idea. I'm not scared of flying at all but this was pretty nail biting. The engines roared, and the pilots started to push the throttle. Here we go!! The time between picking up speed, plummeting headfirst down the runway and taking off was seconds and as we took off like a skateboarder takes off a ramp, everyone screamed. 45 minutes late we were back in Kathmandu. Civilisation of sorts.
I still have a few days in Kathmandu as I fly out on Saturday. My original plan was to go elsewhere in Nepal but the very thought of exerting myself or taking a very bumpy 8 hour bus ride just fills me with dread so I plan to do a bit of sightseeing, have a massage or two, eat, drink and just generally try and feel human again.
Anyway, here are some of the highs and lows of the last 12 days:
- The euphoric feeling of finally making it to our goal of Everest Base Camp
- The vast, imposing, incredible mountain scenery we witnessed that can never be captured on camera.
- The indescribable delight of discovering that we had access (albeit at a cost) to a hot shower, a flushing toilet or a bowl of hot washing water.
- The 4-season sleeping bag I hired, without which I am convinced I would have got hyperthermia.
- The joy of not experiencing any muscle pain or blisters. My boots rock! It was like walking in my slippers.
- That first sip of alcohol on the descent.
- The general demeanour of our group, which could have been so so different.
- The blueberry cheesecake we discovered in the French bakery in the middle of the mountains.
- The constant cold.
- The inability to wash our hands with water and the ingrained dirt in our fingernails.
- The dirt and smells of not showering for at least a week.
- The lack of oxygen!
- The prison cell like rooms in the tea houses with bricks for pillows and paper thin mattresses.
- The toilets. 'Nuff said.
- All of the uphills on our descent.
- The out of date produce - we got used to buying chocolate, soft drinks and beer that was at least a year out of date.
- The fact that I had the Khumbu cough all the way up and all the way down plus a cold so I was just one big walking germ.
- Yak attacks - having to glue ourselves to the cliff side as herds of yaks passed us on the narrow trails. Great animals to watch but they hold you up and they poo at the most inopportune moments, usually as they were passing me.
- The death of my camera. Gutted.
- My leaky bladder. No, not that one. The one carrying my water. I had a constant stream of cold water running down my front and would have floods every time we stopped somewhere.
- My attempted climb up Kala Pattar. I will never forget that dreadful morning and the cold I experienced.
So, as I sit here over a leisurely breakfast, knowing I have nowhere to be and don't have to walk up any hills or carry 4 litres of water anywhere, I wanted to say that despite the pain, sweat and tears, the physical, mental and emotional challenges and the dirt and smells, I'm so glad I made this trip. Another thing to tick off the bucket list. I'm sure I haven't really processed the enormity of it all yet and it will suddenly hit me when I get home. But, I am immensely proud of my achievement and the fact that I made it in one piece, when so many others fail. That said, I would never, ever do it again!!
Without the following people, this trip would have been a very different experience so thanks to you all for making it what it was: our smiley, caring and confident leader Bhim, our assistant guides Jambo, Nima, Shantaman and Tika, our 7 Sherpas, my fabulous roomie Karen with whom I had many broad Geordie conversations with (Eeeeee, howa man pet), David and Katrina (the thieving Irish who stole Mr Annable's place on this trip! Potato!), the ever funny Yoon (aka Gok Wan) who only lost his mojo once and was otherwise hilarious, our Swedish beauties Frida and Susanna, ever the gentleman Mark, Keegan who let me finish his dinner for him when he had no appetite and I was still starving, Ben, the man with every gadget known to man, Di, always chirpy and caring, even when she was sick as a dog, father and son Craig and Chris, the other Chris, Alexis and poor Danielle, who didn't quite make it to Base Camp but was an absolute trouper and got a chopper ride down the mountain!!
More from Kathmandu later.....