I remember, as a boy, rubbing my fingers over Mt. Everest on our family’s raised-relief globe of the Earth, and wondering what the spiky peak might look like up-close. More than a half century later, we embarked on a twelve-day hiking trek to Everest Base Camp to finally see for myself.
In this part of the world there are no roads. To reach the trailhead, we boarded a short take-off and landing aircraft for a 20-minute flight to the mountain town of Lukla. Ominously known as the “most dangerous airport in the world”, Lukla’s undersized runway was constructed with a twelve-percent slope!
Joining our quest to reach Everest Base Camp were three Swedish hikers, two guides Prakash and Basu, and porters to carry our extra gear. Regrettably, half-way into the trek, Prakash contracted dengue fever, and had to be airlifted back to the hospital in Kathmandu.
On the second day of the trek, we reached Namche Bazaar, the largest settlement along the Everest Base Camp trail. The narrow streets of Namche were jammed with guesthouses, bars, and retail shops catering to trekkers and tourists from around the world. In our guesthouse, we enjoyed comfortable accommodations and the last hot shower until our return the following week.
Just above Namche Bazaar, we admired our first view of Mt. Everest. At the aptly named Everest View Hotel, we lingered over a cup of coffee on their sun-splashed terrace, and stared incredulously at the world’s highest mountain.
For me, seeing Mt. Everest and trekking in the Himalayas was a spiritual experience. Under perfectly clear skies and a backdrop of soaring jagged peaks, we passed Buddhist monasteries and Hindu temples, festooned with colorful prayer flags flapping in the wind.
Up the trail above Namche Bazaar, the temperatures dropped, the guesthouses grew more primitive, and hot running water became unavailable. Warmth could only be found radiating from the stoves in the middle of the guesthouse common rooms. In the freezing bedrooms, sleeping attire consisted of our entire wardrobe of warm layers.
This cold mountainous country is home to the Sherpa people, a Tibetan ethnic group native to the Himalayas. Sherpa people are famous for their elite mountaineering skills, and carry a “super-athlete” gene that enables them to thrive in high altitude and low oxygen conditions.
In these higher elevations, Sherpa men can carry up to twice their body weight on their backs. Since there are no motor vehicles to transport freight, the Sherpa people also herd long-haired yaks. Domesticated yaks not only help share the load, but their dung also fuels the Sherpa’s fires above the timberline.
In the pre-dawn darkness on the eighth day of the trek, we started our final ascent to Everest Base Camp. At 5,364 meters (17,598 feet), and surrounded by the highest mountains on earth, we jubilantly celebrated our accomplishment. Since the only marker at the unoccupied base camp site was a large spray-painted rock, we climbed on top for the photo documenting our triumph.
After reaching Everest Base Camp, my Swedish trekking friend Andreas and I continued our climb along the Kala Patthar Ridge for a closer view of Mt. Everest. At the highest altitude most will reach without a climbing permit, I felt like Everest was almost close enough to touch.
That same afternoon, our Swedish companions boarded a transport helicopter and flew back to the Lukla airport. Esther and I misguidedly opted instead to stay the night in the highest, coldest, most spartan, and hygienically challenging guesthouse, and then hike for three more days back to the airport and our trekking end point.
From the window of the airborne aircraft, I enjoyed one final glimpse of the world’s greatest mountain range and reflected on our twelve-day trek to Everest Base Camp. If I could somehow warp time, I would tell my boyhood self that I finally saw Mt. Everest, and it was even greater than he could imagine. His curt reply would probably be, “hey old man, what took you so long?”
Feature Photo: First view of Mt. Everest (above my pointed finger) alongside statue of Tenzing Norgay Sherpa, the first to climb Everest in 1953 with Sir Edmund Hillary. Note the irony on the sign posted on the Tenzing statue.
Blogger’s Note: We will be leaving Nepal this week to return to our home in Arizona USA to celebrate the holidays with our family and friends. Thank you for taking the time to read our blog and for your kind and generous comments. We have not determined our next trip destinations, but hope to travel for two months in the spring and two months in the fall of 2023. In the meantime, we hope you have a cheerful holiday and a healthy and happy new year.