Welshman Walking Blog: Returns Part 10
Welshman Walking Blog : Returns
When Bucket List was in its infancy, Co Founder Andy, created a blog called Welshman Walking. This was about his first journey to Nepal where he was heading to Mt Everest for the first time. The writing took him from the busy Airport at London Heathrow, all the way to the foot of the tallest mountain on earth, Mt Everest, and back to Kathmandu.
As with any journey his was so much more than just reaching the destination. The realisation of a lifetime ambition, the friends he made on the trails, the hospitality he enjoyed from the Nepalese people and the life experiences he went through all added to the story. I hope you enjoy reading about this journey as much as Andy enjoyed living it. We will be posting each blog throughout the next few weeks in the build up to some of our planned expeditions in spring & Autumn 2017! Keep a sharp eye on the horizon for more news.
Prayer Flags, cold noses and Base Camp!
It was time to leave after another acclimatisation day where we had made it to 4700 meters and then slept again at 4300 meters. Whilst making our way to the target height of that day, we passed prayer flag after prayer flag blowing in the wind. I had seen these throughout my journey. According to some lamas(eg Dalai Lama) prayer flags date back thousands of years to the Bon tradition of pre Buddhist Tibet. Shamanistic Bonpo priests used primary colored plain cloth flags in healing ceremonies. Each color corresponded to a different primary element – earth, water, fire, air and space – the fundamental building blocks of both our physical bodies and of our environment. By placing these prayer flags outdoors and placing them in certain ways their sacred mantras are imprinted on the wind, generating peace and good wishes.
I was therefore happy to be passing by these flags whilst also hoping that they were passing on their peace and best wishes to me in some form, at least that’s what i was hoping.
Leaving Dingboche i was in good spirits and wished an Australian couple farewell who had decided to use the spare day to acclimatise. They had been suffering a little with the altitude and their guide thought it was a good idea to adjust for another day. Wise decision i thought.
We once again followed the river whilst the biting wind gnawed at my nose as it felt as though it could fall off at any stage. I used a technique where i wrapped my head band/buff leaving it just covering my nose with my mouth free to breath. Looks ridiculous but works a treat. Well I’ve still my nose so sweet as.
We reached a spot just along from Dingboche and next to the river where my guide was recalling when he was in almost the exact same spot when the earthquake had struck. He recalled that the visibility was almost zero but that the ground started shaking and he could hear the sound of rockfalls and avalanches coming down on both sides and not knowing if they were going it hit. That must have been super scary for sure and although i felt safe, it still made me a little more aware of the surroundings and where to go if a quake did strike.
Reaching the top of the ridge, we had made it to memory hill where cairns were built as memorials for people who had lost their lives on Everest and the surrounding mountains. I recognised a few names who were lost in the 1996 disaster on Everest and it was certainly a somber moment. The one thing that shocked me was the sheer number of memorial cairns on the hill and it reminded me that although they can beautiful and majestic at times, the mountains can also be some of the most dangerous places on earth.
One quote from a mountaineer who lost his life on Mt Annapurna but was regarded by many as the hero of the 1996 disaster in Everest was Anatoli Boukreev. His quote – ‘Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion’.
To some people although the danger is apparent and real, they cannot let go of the mountains and the urge to climb or walk, for many reasons. I for one can understand the magic of this place that’s for sure but memory hill definitely left its mark on me.
We eventually reached our target for the night, Leboche which lies just at the mouth of the Khumbu glacier where at the other end lies Everest Base Camp. The weather was starting to come in and we therefore couldn’t see base camp but Mt Nuptse which lies just to the left of Everest, this great peak was still standing tall and visible at 7861 meters. I thought my hiking was done for the day but my guide recommended that we hike up a little more to ‘Hike tall, sleep low’ strategy which we had followed on the previous days of the trek. Taking in breath after breath was really difficult at this stage as Lobuche was 4900 meters and although still no headaches, my lungs were working hard. On this little hike we made it to the magic number of 5000 meters and it gave me huge confidence for the following day.
Although the journey had been an amazing one, with many moments of fun and laughter, it was almost time to get down to business and reach my destination of Everest Base Camp. When i was typing this snow was falling heavily outside. This certainly made me feel the next days trek would be a toughie to say the least.
Lets hope those prayer flags worked ehh
I woke up around 6am with a nervous twinge in my stomach. I looked outside to see a blanket of white covering the hills and mountains around Lobuche. The views were out of this world and i just stood and looked out of my window taking in the amazing mountainous views for what seemed like ages and it was as if time stood still as i gazed outside. I have seen some amazing mountain views over the last couple of weeks but this was one of the best for sure.
After finally taking my eyes away from the views outside i put on my hiking clothes and went into the dining room for my daily omelette and toast. I couldnt wait to get on the trail and almost
inhaled my brekkie. We left around 7:15am and headed into the snow and up and up. It was going to be a long day as we had a 2 hour hike uphill to Gorekshep then another 2 hour uphill hike to base camp. It would then be another 2 hours back to Gorekshep where we would we would be spending the night.
After an hour of lung busting hiking my guts were in tatters. I had managed to steer clear of the Delhi belly for almost all of my trip but typically on the hardest day of all it hit me with a vengeance. I managed to find a really lovely spot next to a large boulder to squat over and it was absolute bliss. I wont go into too much detail but will say even that episode was a journey in its own right. Apologies if you’re eating whilst reading this.
After a letting nature take its course, i caught up with my guide and porter. I felt so lethargic at this stage and took to eating a mars bar for some energy and drunk lots of water to wash it down. We had to keep moving as time was ticking with the weather holding for now but likely to turn on us later in the afternoon.
We pressed on and climbed up and up then descended and again ascended for what seemed like ages. The land between lobuche and Gorekshep seemed like really hard work as it went up and down alot. After 8 days of hiking my legs were starting to feel it too. We eventually made it to Gorekshep just over 2 hours after leaving Lobuche. We took this time to take on some grub before making our attempt on Everest Base Camp and once our bellies were full we made our way towards the Khumbu Glacier and towards Everest.
This was my first time at this sort of altitude and its unbelievable how difficult it is to complete what would be the easiest of tasks lower down. Every step was a real effort and i understand now the challenge of high altitude trekking.
We reached a ridge overlooking the glacier with the huge presence of Pumori overlooking our every step. It was this mountain that unleashed a huge avalanche on Everest Base Camp when the earthquake struck resulting in the loss of many lives and as i got closer to base camp this was certainly playing on my mind, especially as snow covered the entire mountain and avalanches always a constant risk.
I could finally see Everest Base Camp getting closer and closer. At this stage my walking turned into more of a crawling speed as my lungs were asking for more air. I checked my altimeter and i was actually above base camp altitude wise and hit the 5400 meter mark. I could see the Khumbu ice fall which is the first and normally challenging part of the Everest summit attempt. I didn’t realise it went so high. That was just the start of the journey for many and seemed an unbelievable obstacle to overcome and had a reputation as one of the most dangerous parts of the summit attempt, especially once the sun hits the ice.
Eventually after another hour of crawling speed i made my way onto the glacier watching every step. I could see Base camp in the center of the glacier with Nuptse and Everest towering above me.
After 8 days of hiking, climbing more than 3000 meters in elevation and freezing my nuts off i reached Everest Base Camp. I couldnt help but feel emotional at this stage and smiled with a tear in my eye as i high fived my guide and my porter. It had been one heck of a journey for me and i was just happy to have made it and more important that i had not had any bad altitude sickness.
I had wanted to come to this place ever since i was an young child and always felt that my body and lungs couldn’t handle it. I was glad to prove myself wrong and realised that i could actually function at altitude in the depths of winter in one of the coldest parts of the planet. I felt immensely proud.
As i gathered my thoughts and took in the moment, the dutch guy from my flight at the beginning of my trek also made it. He was very emotional as i congratulated him. He told me he had been ill for 3 days with altitude issues and was just glad to make it. Again this reminded me how lucky i had been in relation to being ill.
I soon got out my hipflask and took a gulp of ice cold jack daniels and it felt amazing. I shared it around as we all soaked up the moment. Not long after my Welsh flag came out as well as my Welsh boy t shirt which i had had since my dad handed it to me when i was 17. I felt proud to be Welsh in that moment and felt emotional when raising the flag high above me. I knew many Welsh people had been at this same spot but it still felt amazing and again was a massively life changing moment for me.
I soon began to feel the cold however as it had been -25 in the morning so i soon put the flag away and threw my down jacket back on. I took a few moments thinking about who had been at this spot, people like Sir Edmund Hilary and also the people who had lost their lives on this amazing mountain and departed not long after.
My thoughts were that this would not be the last time i would see this place but at that stage i was shattered and couldnt wait to get warm.
Making the journey back to Gorekshep was one of the hardest things i have ever done. I was close to collapsing a few times with a serious lack of energy. The adrenaline had kept me going before but all i wanted now was to get warm. After about 2 hours of agonizing walking i had made it back in one piece. My tired body slumped into one of the seats at my lodge and i thought about what i had done.
I would never be the same again. Although an amazing moment in my life it was also one of the most difficult and challenging and that’s what made it for me. I had never pushed myself like that but knew that i could do it again. The journey in these amazing mountains would soon come to an end but i couldn’t wait to see what other journeys life had in store for me.