My Everest Base Camp Journey

The Everest Base Camp trek was one of the best experiences of my life. It was not an easy challenge; personally as an amateur trekker, trekking to Everest Base Camp was one of the toughest physical and mental challenges I have completed. But nothing worthwhile is easy and it really was an adventure of a lifetime. Read some REVIEWS from Ian Taylor Trekking Trips.

Trekking for Charity

I signed up to trek to Everest Base Camp for the Irish Heart Foundation in April 2013. The trip was scheduled for September 2013. I was fit but I was not a hill walker and had no experience of climbing mountains, so I had set myself a challenge! I trained hard over the next few months. The key to my training was building my endurance. I love running,  and do circuits weekly, these all contributed to my general fitness but nothing compared to hill walking at the weekends. I climbed a few mountains in Ireland over the summer, Croagh Patrick, Lugnaquilla, Carrauntouhill and spent time in Glendalough. Looking back now, these really helped me, a good level of general fitness is helpful but walking for hours on end will stand to you on the trek. I tried to train as much as possible with a pack on my back, it was good to get used to having weight on my back. I did Pilates prior to the trip, this improved my core stability, my ability to carry the pack and to maintain good muscle strength while training so much prior to going. Coming up to the trip I was mostly worried about the actual trail, how steep it would be. I was also concerned how altitude would affect me. It was great knowing I could email Ian Taylor’s trekking team at any stage if I had any worries; they would get straight back to me and were very reassuring.

Arriving in Kathmandu

I met the other seven individuals who were also taking on the challenge at the airport, these guys became my team for the trip. You become very close to the group, there is no ringing home. Arriving in Kathmandu was an experience in itself, we traveled from the airport to the hotel and I found it fascinating, it is such a busy city. The poverty in Kathmandu and on the mountain, is eye opening, we have so much at home and forget how other people must live. The Nepalese are very friendly people.

Flying to Lukla

From Kathmandu you fly into Lukla to start the trek. Lukla airport is listed as the
most dangerous and extreme airport in the world and it wasn’t hard to see why!
We set off nervously, in a very small plane. It was an adventure in itself, as
we wondered how the pilots were avoiding the mountains.  The airstrip was the size of a long driveway and we were all very happy to land safely. We were met by our Sherpa’s and started walking. Our Sherpa’s were fantastic throughout the trip, I have no
doubt in my mind that we couldn’t have done it without them. We had waited
months to start this, I was so excited to set off, although the prospect of the
entire trek and what lay ahead was nerve wrecking.

The Start of the Trail

We trekked to Phakding for our first night. We stayed in tea houses every night, they were basic but nobody was expecting luxury. The higher we traveled the more basic
the tea houses. Most tea houses were run by families.
Life is not easy on the mountain.  All supplies, food and equipment need to be carried up the mountain by foot in harsh conditions.  Porters carry huge heavy loads on their backs; children and women also carry loads up steep hills.  The locals show the mountain respect.I have read so many books and articles on the mountain and it really is a place that grips you.  The views, scenery and landscape is unbelievably spectacular throughout the entire trail.

The Namche Hill

The second day on the trail was a definite increase in level of difficulty, this
was the day of steps and they were steep!! It was warm on the first few days of
the trek, so the sweat was dripping off us. We met other groups, continuously
along the trek, but the trail was not that busy in September. There were about
three other big groups like us and then groups of twos/ threes and even solo
trekkers sometimes. It was a great experience t
o meet the other trekkers from around the world. We arrived in Namche Bazzaar (3,440m), there were lots of markets and
general busyness as it is a popular trading town. We had an acclimatization day the next day, which we had all classed in our heads as a rest day, we were very wrong!! The acclimatization days were the most beneficial and hardest days of the trip, we climbed up Shangbouche Hill (3,900m), it was well worth it, the views were great and we got to visit the village of Kumjung, where we visited a school which Sir Edmund Hillary had founded. I really enjoyed Namche Bazzaar and visiting Kumjung, as we got to soak up the
culture and meet the locals.

The Famous Tengbouche Monastery

The next day we trekked to Tengbouche( 3,867 m), we crossed numerous suspension bridges on the trail and got our first views of Everest, Lothse, Nuptse and Ama Dablam. The trail isn’t that wide and most of the time you are walking along cliff edges, there is a steep drop down the side of the trail. As we were walking along the trail, we heard screams ahead of us, suddenly we were all crouching in the ditch, our survival instinct had kicked in. A yak was thundering towards us on the narrow trail. We had been warned about yaks, heavily built animals similar to highland cattle. Our sherpa was brilliant and stopped the yak by grabbing his huge horns. A gas cylinder which the yak was carrying had tumbled off his back. Two yaks had stampeded down the hill towards us all, unfortunately another lady in a different group had injured her ankle jumping out of the way. We all got a shock and were more wary of yaks from here on in. We arrived at Tengbouche and visited the monastery there, the monks were chanting, it was a unique experience.

Reaching Dingbouche

The following day we set off for Dingbouche 4,350m, there was a definite change
in the air up there, the environment had become more sparse and the landscape
reflected this. It was colder, especially at night, I was glad I had lots of layers of clothing. People in the group were loosing their appetites. Our Sherpa had warned us not to eat dairy and meat, we were very grateful for this advice as we realized it was not fresh the higher we trekked. Meals were mostly made up of pasta, rice, stews, potatoes, spaghetti and eggs, these provided us with vital energy for the day. I definitely relied on a good dose of chocolate every day which you could buy along the way. Along with this it was very important to drink water and stay hydrated. On average we were on the trail for 6 hours every day, apart from the final day to get to Base Camp which was eight hours,
so you needed this hydration badly.

More Acclimatization

The acclimatization day at Dingbouche was a physically tough day, we climbed a peak to 5,000m. I collapsed at the top, it was the first day I thought I wasn’t going to be able
to complete the entire trip, I was nervous and scared. I also experienced my first altitude headache, it was a pounding pain and no matter what way I moved my head it hurt. Although it was really hard, it really benefited me, as the next day seemed easy in comparison. After a good night’s sleep my headache had gone, we set off to Lobouche. I got other headaches on the trip but none were as bad as that one thankfully. We visited a memorial on the way to Lobouche, honoring climbers and Sherpa’s who had lost their
lives, it reminded us of the risks people take to climb Everest. We arrived in Lobouche   4,940m, my least favorite place, it was cold and very basic, and we knew the hardest day lay ahead.

The Risk of Evacuation

At this stage of the trip we were all acutely aware of altitude sickness and looking out for each other.  Helicopters passed over us, carrying sufferers down the mountain. No matter what your fitness/ health level – altitude sickness can strike. Most of us experienced some symptoms such as shortness of breath and mild headaches, but the more serious symptoms like severe headaches, nausea, vomiting need to be treated. When altitude sickness is severe, one needs to go lower and further acclimatize. Altitude sickness can lead to death.

The Final Push Upward

We got up early the next day for the final push. I was excited setting off, today was
going to be the longest day but we hoped it would be the day we made it to Base
Camp. We set off togged out with our head torches as it was so early and still
dark. It was a really peaceful walk, nobody passed us. We arrived at the original base camp from Hillary’s 1953 expedition, Gorak Shep 5,180m and had our breakfast there. I was excited but also tired at this stage, every step felt like ten steps, but we were so close, the trail was up and down but not too steep. We arrived at the signpost for Everest Base Camp, it lifted our spirits. It felt like walking on the moon and I was exhausted. I needed a lot of encouragement from the group at this stage. Over the next few hours, I thought a lot about all the people who had sponsored and supported me. To get to Base Camp we crossed a slippery path over the Khumbu glacier. There were lots of crevasses, deep holes in the ice. We were all alarmed at this final obstacle, slipping in to one of these crevasses was a scary prospect. Our Sherpa was amazing, and stood between us and the crevasses to ensure none of us slipped in.

Shortly after that we made it to Everest Base Camp 5,364m at the base of the Khumbu
ice fall, I was so relieved when we made it;
we were standing on top of the world (or as close as I have been to it). All the toughness of the situation was replaced with pure elation. It was an unbelievable feeling, hard to describe. In the grand scheme of things,
it was a small achievement, but we had done it. We all hugged and took photos.  Feelings of relief and pride pulsed through me; it was an emotional time for everyone in the group. I am in awe of the climbers who continue the journey from base camp to the summit; they deserve a huge amount of respect. We headed back to Gorak Shep for the night, I was delighted I had made it and couldn’t wait to talk to people at home. My heart rate had definitely doubled at this stage, I could feel it beating loudly in my sleeping bag that night as I went asleep as if I was running a race rather then going asleep, it was a bizarre feeling. 

Returning Back Down to Kathmandu

The trek back down the mountain was quick as it was easier to breathe. Overall the trek
took 13 days, roughly six hours a day trekking. We were all looking forward to getting back to Lukla and contacting home, we were also looking forward to washing our hair! I enjoyed looking around on the way down; I could appreciate the scenery more now. As you walk down, it is the same route you came up, you wonder how you managed to get up some parts, it seemed bizarre that I got up some parts of the trail on the way up but at the time pure motivation made it possible. I was so much less stressed about achieving my goal on the way down.
The last day of trekking is mostly uphill to Lukla. It rained and was difficult to the finish line, it was poignant, a final reminder of what we went through to reach our goal. We arrived at our final lodge for one more night as we would fly back to Kathmandu the next morning. We definitely left our mark, partying as only the Irish could, Everest beer fittingly marked the occasion as we danced ecstatically.

The challenge & the Irish Heart Foundation

This challenge has meant the world to me. Having worked in stroke rehabilitation, I
have seen first hand how people who have had a stroke and their families are
affected. To me stroke is a preventable disease but more than that, if people
can access adequate rehabilitation, disability can be prevented and help should
be provided to people. I have been struck by the number of young adults who
have had a stroke, working with some people in their twenties. I wanted to help
raise money for the Irish Heart Foundation- F.A.S.T campaign as I believe it is
an excellent campaign. Aside from that I want all my family and friends to
recognize the signs and symptoms of stroke. I wanted a challenge that would draw attention to the cause and raise lots of money. I have been overwhelmed by the support given to me. Personally it was a difficult challenge, raising awareness, fundraising, training and actually completing the challenge, I could not have done it without so many
people. It has been an incredible journey from when I first signed up. I would
highly recommend the Everest Base Camp trek to everyone. It has been one of the
most memorable experiences of my life, I am so proud to have been part of the
Irish Heart Foundation team, Ian Taylor Trekking and such a wonderful community
of friends and family who supported me and the charity every step of the way.

Stuart Gray – Everest Base Camp 2014

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