For Those Interested in Detail…
What I have endeavoured to accomplish in Part 1 is a description of how it felt to trek the Himalayas. My focus was on the experience.
I should pause to describe some of the detail.
We flew into Lukla on 18 December 2011 at around 9.45 am. We had arisen from bed at 4.30am in order to be at Kathmandu Airport in advance of the scheduled 6.30am departure. However, dubious weather delayed our flight – which Chet had stressed was `weather dependent’ – by over 2 hours. As detailed earlier, the experience of landing at Lukla was somewhat harrowing, but we survived it!
After a break for coffee (and acclimatisation), we set out at around 10.30 am on our first day’s trekking to Monjo. Whilst mostly downhill to begin with, the final stages were uphill. Both Lukla and Monjo are 2,800 metres above sea level.
It was during the afternoon of this first day that Huckleberry B injured her right groin. When darkness fell at around 5.30pm, we were still over half an hour from our destination. Kercha produced some lamps which could be strapped around one’s head. Others had hand held torches. Somehow we staggered, mostly across rock strewn ground and predominantly uphill, through the darkness for 45 minutes until we finally reached the Everest Summit Lodge at Monjo.
Kercha told us that the walk from Lukla to Monjo extended over a distance of 16 kilometres. Including rest breaks and lunch, the journey took us around 7.5 hours.
At this stage, I seriously contemplated whether the trek would continue and was apprehensive about our immediate future.
Despite her injury, however, and notwithstanding a poor night’s sleep, Huckleberry decided to continue.
The second day saw us walk from Monjo to Namche Bazaar. The latter village is 3,445 metres above sea level. As such, our second day of walking required us to climb a further 645 vertical metres above sea level.
Whilst 645 metres does not sound very far, consider that it’s a measure of height, not distance. If you imagine climbing the stairwell of a building 645 metres tall, you will have a better idea how gruelling our ascent was.
For the first couple of hours, we traversed the rocky bank of a river before our climb commenced. One of the highlights was crossing the Hillary Bridge; a suspension bridge perched several hundred metres above the river below. After crossing the Hillary Bridge, we headed down before finally commencing the true ascent to Namche. About half way up, we paused for our first photographs with Everest in the background.
After walking – slowly but steadily – uphill for over two hours, we finally reached Namche Bazaar at around 3pm. We had been slogging away for around 5.5 hours and covered over 10 kilometres.
After lunch Huck B and I retired to a warm bed for an afternoon nap. However, we ultimately slept through until morning; Huck B because her right groin was causing unremitting pain and me because I was dead beat from our laborious climb.
Whilst B and I both skipped dinner, it was not that much of a sacrifice. One of the strange peculiarities of walking at altitude is that you lose your appetite. I do not know why this is so, however, we each had a similar experience.
Day three saw us walk from Namche to Tashinga.
This proved to be the easiest day of walking. Not only was it the shortest walk – occupying some 4 hours – but it was also notable for the absence of any steep climbs.
Namche sits at 3,445 metres above sea level, whereas Tashinga is just 5 metres higher at 3,450 metres.
Most of the journey involved traversing a track which meandered around the side of a mountain with occasional rises and falls. Everest was in view for much of our journey, as were several other majestic mountain peaks, including Lhotse and Amadablam.
At one point in our journey, we looked down to the Hillary Bridge a vast distance below; so far that it was a mere speck above the distant river. We marvelled at how far we had climbed.
In order to give her groin a rest, Hucklberry B opted to ride a horse for this leg. However, whilst it assisted her to avoid walking, the use of the horse resulted in a harrowing experience as it walked perilously close to the edge of the dusty, narrow trail. One false step and both horse and Huck B would have tumbled down the cliff face into the ravine far below.
“Given the choice of carrying me or committing suicide, this horse may opt for suicide”, B remarked at an early break in our journey, with a nervous laugh.
I could tell that Huck B wasn’t kidding. She would later tell me how petrified she was as her left knee brushed the cliff face and the horse’s right hoof stepped within centimetres of the edge of the path. It scared me just to close my eyes and picture B’s terrifying journey.
Ultimately, the owner of the horse decided to take Huckleberry B to Tashinga without stopping so she arrived long before us.
This prompted me to do something foolish.
Without any conscious decision, I began walking ahead of Kercha, C and MC. Before long I rounded a corner in the path and could see a lodge which was built in similar design to the Everest Summit Lodge at Monjo. Whilst some distance away, it was obvious that it was where we were staying for the night. This only encouraged me to stride further ahead of my group until, when looking back, I could no longer see them.
Sometime later I caught up with our two porters who were enjoying a break in their journey. They confirmed that the red-roofed lodge I could see in the distance was where we were heading. I walked briskly on; determined to be reunited with my wife as soon as possible.
It was during this solitary journey that I paused to roar with joy at the majestic beauty of my surrounds. It was one of the moments in our epic trek which I will always remember. I was exhilarated.
After several hours walking I arrived at the Everest Summit Lodge at Tashinga and found Huckleberry B enjoying a mug of tea in the sun. She told me that Laksman had just left in a hurry after receiving a satellite phone call.
Little did we know that the call which caused Laksman to abandon his tea and scurry away was from Kercha. As it transpired, Kercha thought I had gone the wrong way and was heading away from our destination. He had called Laksman to ask him to go and find me!
Upon reflection, whilst I was always confident I knew where I was heading – and had the assistance of our porters – it should have occurred to me that Kercha did not know whether I was heading in the right direction. It was irresponsible of me and I apologised to both Kercha and Laksman when I had an opportunity. In my defence, I was keen to catch up with my beloved and make sure she was okay.
The fourth day of our trek involved an optional tour to Tangboche and back to Tashinga.
The walk was probably the most difficult of our journey. Tangboche sits 3,870 metres above sea level and, therefore, 430 vertical metres above our starting point at Tashinga. However, before climbing to Tashinga, we had to walk downhill for 45 minutes to river level. The climb was, therefore, well over 500 metres in altitude.
At one point, on the way up, I looked down on the red roof of the Everest Summit Lodge at Tashinga and saw that it appeared tiny, in the vast distance below us. I held up my hand and observed that I could hide the entire lodge behind one quarter of my pinkie finger.
It took us over 2.5 hours to climb from the river to the monastery at Tangboche. It was a very difficult ascent, first zig-zagging up the side of the mountain before a straight, steep climb to the top. To make it more difficult, the path was alternatively dusty or rock strewn and often in direct sunlight.
Whilst it took over 2.5 hours to climb the mountain to Tangboche, it only took 65 minutes to descend, albeit with thighs of jelly by the time we reached the bottom.
The monastery at Tangboche presented a majestic sight. Nestled at the top of the mountain, with commanding views of Everest, Nuptse and Lhotse, with Amadablam towering directly above, the monastery of white and burnt red sat in harmony with its surrounds. The only thing which spoiled the perfection of the moment was when a Monk engaged in ritual chanting suffered a spontaneous coughing fit!
The final day of trekking took us from Tashinga to Mende.
This is the day when Huckleberry B’s selfless courage truly shined. We could have stayed in Tashinga and waited for the helicopter. Alternatively, we could have taken a relatively easy route to Mende with only limited uphill heart-thumping climbs and downhill, knee-aching and thigh-trembling descents. Instead, B insisted on taking the more difficult route along the high road to Mende.
The journey involved walking some 15 kilometres and a `net climb’ from Tashinga at 3,450 above sea level to Mende at 3,700; an ascent of a further 250 vertical metres.
We left Tashinga at 8.30 am and did not arrive at Mende until around 4.30 pm. The final stages were the most demanding. The Everest Summit Lodge essentially sat at the top of a very steep incline and involved us trudging, clambering and scaling the steepest ascent of our trek.
At times, I looked up and wondered how we would ever make it. Notwithstanding our previous laborious climbs, I was seriously daunted by the steep climb to Mende.
Yet B, to my amazement – and despite her injury – kept on scampering up and up and up until she made it to the top. I told her she was amazing and she responded that she was determined to reach the top before night fall. I pointed out that she had achieved this goal with an hour to spare.
The Flight of Angels
The 23rd of December saw the arrival of a helicopter to take us to Lukla and then to Kathmandu.
I was surprised at the emotion welling up inside me as the helicopter rose from Mende and traversed, in minutes, the path which had taken us days to cover. I looked down and saw Namche Bazarre, the Hillary Bridge and the river which ran all the way to Lukla.
As we flew across the mountain range, I reflected upon the emotional roller-coaster I had ridden over the previous five days.
For far too often I was daunted by the journey ahead of us. I was driven into apprehensive silence early in our trek, a mindset not helped by Huckleberry B’s injury on the first day. I was frequently worried about whether she could continue, not to mention saddened by her obvious suffering. I worried about the options available to us if she – or any of us – could not proceed any further. I suspect it was the sense of isolation which promoted these negative emotions.
However, I also experienced long periods of profound joy. I was most happy when we were walking at a good pace and making progress to our daily destination. Frequently, my joy was elevated to a feeling of genuine elation. When my mind was uncluttered, I was overwhelmed by the majestic beauty of our surrounds and my spirits simply soared.
My scrambled emotions continued as the helicopter landed in Lukla. Whilst relieved that we were now safe, I simultaneously felt deep regret that our adventure was over and that, in all likelihood, we would never again return to the extraordinary place which we had just experienced over five remarkable days.
I am sure none of us will forget our trek through the Himalayas. Both the anguish and the delight we experienced along the way will long live in our memories. Doubtless, the bond which has developed between the four of us, forged by the extraordinary nature of our shared experience, shall also prevail.