The second half of this blog comes to you from a hotel room in Kathmandu. After having what felt like the longer shower of my life, I’m just going back through my notes trying to think of a way to sum up to you what has been some of the most challenging yet rewarding few days in my life.
Day 6: Thangnak to Jongla
Trying to sleep the day before taking on something that scares you is futile. With an alarm set for 4am I tossed and turned my way through to the morning of my first pass and a climb to what would be the highest this boy, born at sea level, has ever been. Un-phased as ever, the group were ready and waiting. Torches flashing around outside the lodge, illuminating rustling backpacks and eager faces in short bursts of light that cut through the pitch black that we headed off into. We trundled over rocks and streams toward the big dark mass that was Cho La, all in a line of twinkling headlights and big puffs of warm breath into cold air, resembling a small rickety train.
When day broke it was as if we had been picked up and dropped onto another planet. A savage valley enclosed on both sides by huge snowy slopes cut a path up to the crowning peaks that lay ahead. During our 4-hour climb to ^5420m, at every point, which you thought you had reached the top, the way would only get steeper behind each false summit. I struggled for breath as we gained altitude and every step became a marathon. I looked around to see if others were the same, to make myself feel better, just as a snowball came hurtling down and struck me on the chest. Far be it from these guys to let any challenge bother them, they were relishing the ascent playing around, each writing their names in the soft icy white and trying to target me at every opportunity.
The descent from the pass was a treacherous combination of steep rocky down climbs and a daunting, slippery glacier crossing. This all proved too much for my body. Altitude and lack of sleep took a mental and physical toll on me as I once again had to drop behind exhausted, to stay in a lodge just on the other side of the pass. This time, however, I was not the only one. Another friend of Som’s had joined us and he too was not in a good way. Unfortunately, he would not be joining us to the end as his situation was bad enough to call a helicopter that safely took him back to a hospital in Kathmandu. I have to admit that the whole helicopter situation was rather exciting, but I will add that I only say this safe in the knowledge that he is safe and healthy enjoying festival time with his family, probably a little less knackered than I am. So as the rest of the team out-stripped two grown men, I was told that I could rest up and a guide would return for me the next day to take me on a short walk to where I could intercept the main group.
Day 7: Jongla to Lobouche
My short day to Lobouche through a relatively flat landscape coated in cloud served me well as I felt myself start to acclimatise. I sat and waited with the two guides that had met me in the lodge, drinking tea and feeling a little pang of guilt as I thought of the rest of the team. The unbelievable strength and fitness of these kids is truly remarkable. That day they tackled another tough pass and sketchy glacier crossing, to arrive still smiling and cheerful as ever, joining me for dinner. It was an excited table as tomorrow was base camp day and we all stuffed our faces in anticipation.
Days 8-10: Lobouche to Base Camp and a long walk home
Reaching base camp felt like an awesome achievement for me, but I couldn’t help but feel it was overshadowed by the success of these training guides. They had not only smashed through glaciers and passes, that many could not ever think to attempt, but they had done it in double quick time, confidently and always with a smile. As I posed for photos at base camp with these young heroes, I felt immensely proud of each one of them for reaching the foot of the world’s highest mountain.
The monstrous peaks and dazzling views were mainly hidden on our way to and from base camp, the clouds only revealing a taste of what there was to see, however, I feel that this is the true magic of these mountains. Even though you are stood in the presence of nature’s greatest monument, what you really appreciate is the people and the journey that got you there. Not only this but I am sure that these mountains know that you will be back and that the little taste they give you is enough to cement that desire in you to return to the Himalayas.
The journey home, on any trip, is filled with flashbacks and memories when going over trodden ground. As we hastily made our way down from Everest’s feet there are certain things I was reminded of, that I will keep with me forever.
One thing Som said to me in our day of talking, really made an impact. In our previously mentioned discussion, when asking him whether it bothers him that some of them may not ultimately want to be guides, he replied “it doesn’t matter whether or not they all become guides. What matters is that right now, here, they are doing something good, something constructive. They are safe and not being subjected to trafficking or even just wasting their time…”.
Another moment that sprung back into life as we passed the lodge in which it took place, is the evening before base camp. All sat round stuffing our faces, as I said, a man came to the table and asked Som what all these young looking trekkers were doing here. When Som explained the purpose of our venture and described to him just how much had been achieved, the man, who had been a guide for over 19 years, was so impressed by the story that he handed over a large wad of cash, straight to the girls, for them to buy whatever they wanted on their long trip home. Smiles and giggles burst across the table as he gave advice and recalled his own stories to them. Anyone could see that Som himself was overcome with joy, as this was what it was all about. Showing the world that, given the opportunity, these kids can do anything, that with a little help, they can be the future of Nepal. Whether they become runners, guides or get themselves to university to fulfil personal dreams, what lays in store for these kids is bright and good.
I cannot begin to describe to you just how thankful I am to Take On Nepal and everyone involved. I’ve come to realised that, in life, it is important to grab at opportunities, especially those that are challenging, for they are the most rewarding. Covering in 10 days what would normally be done in 23, this experience will be etched into my memory forever, phenomenal panoramas, unfamiliar fatigue, daunting accomplishments and the realisation of a dream, my trip to base camp has been immense and this is a heartfelt thank-you for the opportunity.
To those reading this who are thinking of coming to Nepal and taking on some trekking… do it. Take On Nepal will help you, like they helped myself, to experience the wonder that this country has to offer… just maybe take it a little slower, for Everest is for anyone and everyone, you just have to have the heart to push on and achieve it in your own time.
As a footnote, I’d like to mention that this has been training for me also. When I return home in November I am taking on my own challenge to raise money for FHC… if you could check it out and share, or even spare a few dollars, pounds cents or pennies, I would be eternally grateful as your money can go a long way towards enabling more children to have opportunities like this one in the future.
~ Toby Faulkner
© Take on Nepal 2021