Trekking to Base Camp is like trekking to the edge of the earth. Being so far away from home, from warmth, from civilisation. From showers and good coffee and flushing toilets…
It’s just you and the mountain (and a group of like-minded adventurers); you’re breathing the same thin air, experiencing the same pounding headaches, and marvelling at the same incredible outlook.
It’s walking, yes, but not as you know it. We spoke with our Commercial Finance Manager Lauren Smith about her recent hike to Everest Base Camp in Nepal.
‘Base Camp has always been on my bucket list, and my visit came at a good time. It was just after the earthquake in 2015 and there was a lot of conversation in the office about how we could get back into Nepal and help. I had time off, and I just thought “Why not?”. We left mid-November and summited at the end of the month.
We flew from Kathmandu into Lukla. The first night was freezing. Because you’re in a valley, it was even colder than certain points further up the mountain. I was in all my clothes in my sleeping bag and barely slept the whole night.
In the morning, we made our way to Namche Bazaar where there are heaps of shops for you to stock up on whatever you need – warm clothes, snacks, medicine – so it’s not like you start the trek and then you’re stuck with what you’ve got.
We didn’t see Everest for a few days because it was quite foggy. I don’t know what the feeling was when it first came into view… disbelief, perhaps? You’ve read and watched movies about it for years, and then suddenly there you are, and there it is. This enormous mountain – almost 9,000 metres high – is just there! It takes you 12 days to trek there and back.
The path is almost always up and down; there’s only about three hours of flat trail on the whole trek, so you don’t get much relief. There were definitely times I felt I wouldn’t be able to take another step up, but you just have to keep going.
A couple of days into the trek I got a bad case of altitude sickness: vomiting, terrible headache, no appetite. We had an acclimatisation day (climbing to a significant altitude, then returning to a lower altitude for the night to sleep) the first day I was unwell. I went up the trail and it took me a long time to get back down; but I felt much better the next day. Even though my symptoms persisted throughout the trek, the leader managed it really well. Without him and the guides, I wouldn’t have made it.
You trek for hours through strange moonscape-like scenery, being really careful about where you step due to the risk of avalanche and rock falls. And then suddenly you’re at the glacier and at Base Camp – you’ve made it! You have lunch, take a lot of photos. It’s a pretty incredible place; you can see the glacier running all the way down the side of the mountain. It’s cold, but the sun’s out, so it’s not freezing. You’re very short of breath, your head’s pounding, but you feel an amazing sense of achievement, elation and unity.
Before the descent, you’ve got the option to climb Kala Patar, the mountain next to the camp, for an amazing view of Base Camp, Everest and the surrounding mountains. It’s an incredibly emotional experience, and definitely worth doing.
As you make your way back down through the mountains, the pressure in your head releases, you start getting your appetite back, and you just feel better. It’s such a huge relief.
Looking back, the biggest highlight for me was the scenery. Everywhere you look are soaring mountains, fast-flowing rivers, suspension bridges and fluttering prayer flags. When you go to sleep at night, you look out the window to an astonishing view of the Himalayas, and it’s so much nicer than being in the concrete jungle of Melbourne. When I got back I actually felt homesick for the Himalayas, even though I’d never been there before.
Apart from that first freezing night, the accommodation was fine – it’s not 5-star, but it’s comfortable enough. I think anyone considering doing a trek like this knows that it’s all pretty basic and you’re not going to have 5-star facilities or creature comforts… or regular showers!
The food for the entire trek was absolutely delicious: dhal bhat (lentil soup with rice), hot bread and tea. It’s amazing that they can actually provide you with meals that good, that far up the mountain. You’re eating the same food every day, but at the end of a long day of walking, you’re just grateful for something hot and nourishing.
Our leaders and guides were also just amazing. They made me feel incredibly proud to work for this company.
I prepared by doing LOTS of reading on Google. I spoke to a couple of people in the office who had done it, including the Peregrine Product Manager. Then I spent some time researching and putting together a packing list: clothing I could layer, trekking socks, lots of fleece, blister plasters, Diamox (for the altitude) and painkillers.
In terms of physical preparation, if you’re not used to exercising it’s a good idea to start factoring in some cardio, like running or cycling, a few months before you leave. You’re walking for long periods of time and it’s definitely challenging, but if you’re reasonably fit and can walk, you should be able to do it without any problems.’
Keen to test your limits on a trekking adventure? Explore Nepal on a Peregrine small group tour.