In January 2016, Jackie, a former colleague of my wife visited us for lunch. Four years earlier, she retired from full time work, and with her husband, David, they spent a year living in Nepal. While there, they had the idea of establishing a school for street children. The school has been successful and it is running well. Now, the main task for Jackie and David is to raise the money to keep it running.
Over lunch, Jackie explained her idea to have a sponsored trek to the Base Camp of Mount Everest. Was I up for it? Yes! We were going in October, the safest and most comfortable time of the year for the trek.
Come October, a group of four of us set off from Lambourn for Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. Over the next few days, a further eight arrived. A few days later, we took a short flight on a flying van operated by the improbably named Yeti Airlines to Lukla, which has the distinction of having the world’s most dangerous airport. At Lukla Airport, we met our two guides, and six porters. Gosh, we were quite a little army on the march. The trekkers ranged in age from 25 to 75; four ladies and eight men.
From Lukla, the trek to the Base Camp is 60 kilometres long, and 3 kilometres up. We set off downwards to walk along the valley of the River Imja, an alpine torrent of glacial melt which comes rushing down from the huge mountains to the north. The track was busy with trekkers from all over the world. About 20 groups like ours set off each day. We shared the route with trains of yaks, donkeys and oxen carrying all manner of goods.
The first night we slept in a trekkers’ hotel after a walk of 10 kilometres. It was surprisingly comfortable. We had twin rooms, a hot shower down the hallway, wifi and mains electricity. The food was also surprisingly good. There was Nepalese food, dahl baht, a sort of vegetarian curry. However most of the trekkers ate western food such as burgers, chips and baked beans. The Nepalese drank tea, the westerners, coke.
The second day was a bit more challenging. We walked along the valley floor then started the first uphill stage which took us upwards by 800 metres to arrive in the town of Namche, sometimes called the last town before Everest. Along the way, we passed through little hamlets where the children greeted the trekkers with high-fives, hoping for a reward! They make a good living!
Most trekkers spend two nights in Namche on the way to the Base Camp and one on the way down. There are 1500 people living in Namche, and in October, there are 1500 trekkers. At an altitude of 3400m, Namche is one of the highest towns in the world with a population of over 1000 people. There are no motor vehicles. Everything in Namche arrives on the back of beast or man. There is a helicopter pad for emergencies. There are dozens of shops. Almost anything you might need or want can be bought in Namche. I bought an additional clothes bag for the same price as I had paid in Newbury for the other one, a couple of weeks earlier!
After Namche, we had five more days of walking for six hours each day, covering 10 kilometres and rising another 400m. Each day, the vegetation changed as we rose above the trees to arrive at a high-altitude desert. The number of trekkers reduced, as did the trains of donkeys and oxen. The temperature dropped too. It was very cold at night and cold during the day. When we got to the Base Camp, we were all suffering from altitude sickness to some extent. However, we now know how Edmund Hillary felt in 1953. Elated!
In October, there was no one living at Base Camp. During the climbing season in the spring, there are 1000 people living in tents. After Base Camp, the route to the top of Everest crosses a glacier, before climbing the mountain. This is a dangerous place. No place for tourists. We took photographs of one another, then started the downward journey, which was much easier than the ascent. A week later we were back in Kathmandu. Everyone had a cough and a cold.
It was a very enjoyable and memorable trip. We are now planning another sponsored trek in 2018. Jackie is delighted with the result, as the £10,000 will keep the school running for another year. Anyone who is reasonably fit can do it. It is similar in both length and difficulty to walking the Ridgeway. However, the ascents and the altitude are more challenging. Adventure is guaranteed and the views are stunning. I recommend it!