|9 Aug 2023|
|United Kingdom | Nepal|
It has been fantastic to reconnect with Old Girl Vicki who in March this year embarked on a charity trek to Everest Base Camp. Learn more about Vicki’s adventures here…
In 2020 my work, Bolton at Home, asked for volunteers to trek to Everest Base Camp for a charity we support, named Reuben’s Retreat. After asking “what the toilets and food would be like?” which constituted me 'expressing an interest', my name was picked out of a hat on a live broadcast at work. I was gobsmacked and a little bit terrified, but I will always rise to the challenge. Next, began the preparations, which ended up being over 3 years due to several postponements because of the pandemic. During that time, I built up my endurance by training for a marathon, which also got cancelled, but I finally completed it in November 2021 after seeking advice from a physio for my wonky knees (I actually did the exercises I was given - which was a first!). I became well acquainted with outdoor shops and spent 3 hours in Ellis Brigham with a poor sales assistant who was VERY patient. I started to meet up with some of my fellow trekkers doing some hiking and booked in for all my jabs.
The day finally came round and off we went. The next 14 days were a blur that I'm still processing. I'm a bit of an aviation geek so was excited for the flight into Lukla, commonly known as the most dangerous airport in the world, in a small plane and it did not disappoint. From there we covered 160km over rocky terrain in pretty much every sort of weather you can imagine. Altitude sickness manifested itself in panic attacks with me so that was a fun experience, but I quickly learnt the power of teamwork can get you through when my roommate was calming me down at 1am.
I don't think I was prepared for the wonder of the Himalayas. Some of the scenery was stunning and I had plenty of time to take it in as the altitude took its toll and we all slowed down. No amount of fitness can prepare you for how hard it is to even get upstairs once you get above 4000m. I've got a phobia of bridges and it turns out there's plenty of them in Nepal! The Hillary Suspension Bridge is 150m above the crashing might of the White River and I was filled with dread at the thought of it. The love and support I had from the people I was physically with and all those back home was what got me over that hurdle, along with two people guiding me and repeated cries from the guide of 'keep looking up'. There were tears of fear and relief.
We stopped each night in local tea houses which provided food and very basic shelter. I got used to drinking my 4 litres of water each day supplemented with a lot of fresh mint tea and excitement of reaching our digs and finding 'western' toilets at every place we stayed. A lot of my trekkers hated the food, but I loved the spicy carbohydrates on offer everywhere. I'm still missing my daily fix of momos.
Our group was made up of 20 trekkers, 5 guides and 10 porters. All the trekkers were united in a goal of raising money for the wonderful Reuben's Retreat, a charity based in Glossop that provide support for children with life-limiting illnesses and their families. They're a truly inspiring bunch of people and several of my group were staff, who either had children who go to the retreat or had sadly lost children and had bereavement support from them. At Thukla there is a memorial site for people lost on Everest and we decided to make a memorial cairn for Reuben, the little boy in whose memory the charity was established as well as for those we have lost personally. The guides helped us, and we built a huge cairn in about 5 minutes. Again, the power of teamwork came through. I'm filling up a little bit just writing about that moment.
After 8 days of trekking the big day came. We were all quite tired (I went to bed early rather than playing Uno that night!) but excited to reach our goal. I had no blisters thanks to the very well-researched boots and had been sleeping better than most thanks to my extreme weather sleeping bag and the 'hack' of filling my water bottle with hot water at night but that last slog to base camp felt like forever. We could see the tents at the camp and were regularly passed by porters and yaks carrying expedition equipment and all sorts including mattresses and an oven. All 20 of our group made it to Base Camp which was no mean feat as there's usually some that are too ill to continue. We put it down to our excellent guides and our team motivation, though I think Clif bars and the tablets I took to combat the symptoms of the altitude sickness played a part as well. I look back at the photos from there and it's like a dream. My roommate and I shared a hug on the top of the famous rock and for a moment I felt like I could achieve anything in life with determination and the right support.
What goes up must come down though, so we began our descent. We were tired and you cover twice the distance per day on the way down as the altitude sickness symptoms subside as soon as you descend, so it was four tough days of hiking, but we all felt much more relaxed and even got in a game of football. As our adventure neared its end, we all had a mix of emotions. I was looking forward to getting home to family and friends but knew I would miss the friends I made as well as the freedom of being cut off from the real world in such a beautiful landscape. I was also looking forward to a rest though didn't realise how much until I got home!
We saw incredible sights - I'll never forget our first glimpse of the impressive Everest (photo in Sagarmatha National Park) - and the local people, many of them Sherpa and from climbing families, were so incredibly kind and hospitable. We had a truly special team as well and our guides and porters were just the kindest, most supportive people. Our lead guide has come to visit us in the UK this week, so much was he taken by the charity and our efforts. We did it for Reuben's Retreat, but I got a lot more out of it than I ever expected too. It was the hardest challenge I've ever undertaken (and not to be repeated) but we raised over £120,000 and have friends and memories for life.