All treks to Everest Base Camp in Nepal start from Lukla – a STOL (short take-off and landing) airport, where only small 16-seater planes can land – an exciting experience!
The track was rough and ankle-twistingly stony, heading northwards following the course of the Dhudh Kosi river, but walking on the sides of the valley. The river had to be crossed at regular intervals on swinging, swaying bridges – scary enough even without the possibility of meeting yaks coming the other way.
The route was undulating, but inevitably there were more ‘ups’ than ‘downs’, and the effects of altitude were increasingly felt – breathlessness, a ‘thin’ headache and occasional nausea. (Lukla is 2860m above sea level and altitude sickness begins to be felt at 2000m).
We had several acclimatisation days on the way up, where we climbed higher, then came down for the night. We stayed in ‘lodges’ where accommodation was very basic – and got more basic as we trekked onwards. The first ‘luxury’ to disappear was running water, and the final one was electricity.
The forests disappeared as we got higher, the scenery more barren, the views more breath-taking.
The day dawned as on the previous few days – but on this day we were up before dawn, preparing to make the final effort to get to Everest Base Camp. We set off at 06.15, and crossing the partially frozen stream, we pushed on up the valley in the shadow of the Himalayas. When I reached for some water, it was frozen in my drinking tube, so I had to thaw it with my gloved hand, while still panting up the hill. (The lack of oxygen in the air at 5000m means that everything except walking downhill causes extreme breathlessness)
We stopped for an early lunch at Gorak Shep, the last outpost of civilisation before Everest Base Camp, then walked on, first of all across a sandy ‘beach’, then up on the moraine wall of the Khumbu Glacier, and finally on the glacier itself. The ice was loosely covered with grit and we had to be careful for fear of slipping.
At about 14.00 we reached Everest Base Camp, at a height of 5364m. I had been told that there would be a lot of rubbish around, but someone must have been tidying up.
It was too late in the year for any expeditions to the summit of Everest, and it was difficult to imagine where on the rough surface of the glacier people would find it easy to camp.
Photos were taken, and then it was time to head back. One of the Sherpa guides offered to carry my rucksack – and I was tired enough to accept his offer.
We got back to Gorak Shep just before dark and after hugging my rucksack-carrying Sherpa, I sat down and fell asleep for an hour before our evening meal. The 12 hours of walking that day had completely exhausted me: I am getting too old for such things!