For centuries, Mount Everest has been a fascination for adventures and mountaineers who flock to the region each year with the goal of reaching the summit or base camp. One of our very own, Bill, is among these dedicated adventurers. This past October he a five others - strangers who became good friends - ascended this mighty mountain.
The mystique of Mount Everest is indelible in the minds of all thrill-seekers. It is the world’s pinnacle and the highest mountain in the world, standing tall at an elevation of 8,848 meters (29,029 feet) above sea level. Located in the Himalayan mountain range, the behemoth straddles the border between Nepal and Tibet, with the highest point being located in Nepal. But if the crew and I agree on one thing, it’s this: the journey to get to the Himalayas is almost as arduous as trekking through them.
Nepal is halfway around the globe from us here in North America, and there was 40 hours of total flight time to get to Kathmandu, Nepal’s Capital. Kathmandu is an incredible city that was a pleasure to de-jetlag in and get a feel for. This step was absolutely necessary, not only for our bodies but also so that we could understand the culture we were immersing ourselves in before commencing climbing. We dined well, explored, and rested while staying at the Yak and Yeti hotel, an iconic resting place for hikers just like us.
Becoming One With the Trail
After Kathmandu, we took a helicopter to Lukla, and specifically the Tenzing-Hillary airport. This airport was something else; built right into the mountainside, its tiny landing strip was unlike anything we’ve seen!
In Lukla, we met our Sherpa staff, and began the ascent to Base Camp. Our sherpa consisted of seven young men. Some of them spoke better English than others, but they were all extremely helpful and well-educated on their task of guiding newcomers like us. They carried our bags for us, checked our equipment before setting out, and gave us tricks of the trade. The most important…stay out of the way of Yaks!
We followed the Dudh Kosi, ascending 2,300 ft./700 m through Himalayan pine and Doedar cedar forests, to the celebrated village of Namche Bazaar (11,300ft./3,444 m). The village of Namche is an historic trading post where Nepalese and Tibetan traders exchange salt, dried meat, gold, and textiles. Besides being a fantastic place to shop for traditional crafts, Namche remains the central trading post in the Khumbu, attracting Himalayan and lowland merchants. Our group spent two days in Namche, affording us the opportunity to acclimate, visit local markets, and spend time in town. On the hike, we’ll capture our first glimpses of Everest and neighboring peaks.
As we continued to make our way through the trail, we were struck by the depth of the social and cultural exploration that was afforded to us. When we needed to rest, we stopped at the many tea houses on the trail; since there were so many people from all walks of life who were taking similar journeys as us, they also stopped at these same tea houses. Oftentimes hikers leave behind flags of their home countries at these rest stops as a symbol of their native pride.
The High Himalayas
On days 7, 8, and 9 we continued to climb, making room for moments of reflection both during the climb and in resting periods. We reached Tengboche (12,683 ft./3,865 m), the cultural and religious center of the Khumbu region. At the monastery we attended Buddhist ceremonies and rituals performed by local monks. The Vistas from Tengboche were spectacular. The jagged peaks of Thamserku and Kangtega stood to our south, as Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse, and Ama Dablam were visible to the north. The Monastery at Tengboche is one of the most well-known in the world, as the Rinpoche is revered throughout the Buddhist community, and has authored a number of books and essays.
When we got higher and higher in altitude, we realized what causes people to not make the trip, and tragically, sometimes lose their lives along the way. We encountered a memorial for hikers who passed away on the trail, a somber moment for all of us.
Contrary to what many might believe, it is not the walking itself that is particularly arduous. It is the altitude. It causes you to become weaker than expected, and in some cases become sick as well. Training and having the right gear before coming to a place like this is so important.
The Base Camp
On day ten we arrived at base camp. The views of Everest and other mountains were magnificent, and a sense of accomplishment and pride filled all of us. Nepal is such a mystifying and unique part of the world, and I along with the rest of the group felt extremely thankful that we got the chance to experience it firsthand and at length. We often refer to the United States as a cultural melting pot, and that is certainly not a mistruth, however Nepal and the Khumbu region were a different kind of melting pot. The Nepali culture was welcoming and kind, and when you combine that with the beauty of the landscape, the only way to describe it is you’re just in her [Moth’r Nature’s] world. It’s breathtaking.