I have just returned from this magical journey which has pushed me and tested me but most of all has made me feel on top of the world!
I signed up for this Gulf For Good, extreme challenge back in May and had 5 months to prepare myself for this high altitude trek. First I needed to raise some funds which were going towards building a children's orphanage in Panauti. This was a big task but my burden was eased when my daughter's school, The English School in Kuwait agreed to help me. I did an assembly for the children (which was a complete delight- having so many children eager to ask me questions..) and with the help of the Parents association arranged an 'Olympics Day' for the children to raise funds.
Having paid my own costs, I was happy that all the funds raised would be for the orphanage. I then set about getting my 'kit list'. This was also a challenge in the 50 degree heat of Kuwait - looking for thermals and fleece pants! Fortunately the annual holiday in the UK (and some last minute purchases in Kathmandu) sorted me out and there was only my body left to prepare.
As a reformed fitness junkie, I focused on walking in my boots - up and down tower block stairs and along the Corniche, which in the heat and at sea level- was the exact opposite of what I would be facing, but nonetheless was good practise for the old calves...
It was daunting saying goodbye to my daughter and husband but off I went to Kathmandu to meet 20 other (slightly mad) people wishing to undertake this challenge... I was so relieved to find that these guys weren't actually mad at all but genuine, lovely people whose company and banter after two weeks, I am now missing .
The first day was full of excitement, we were due to fly to Lukla (it is an idea not to watch 'youtube' footage of this airport if you are ever thinking of using it..) to start our trek. Unfortunately our hopes were dashed due to bad weather at Lukla and as the airport was full of trekkers like ourselves, we didn't much fancy our chances the following day.
Thankfully Gulf For Good came up with another plan- to drive us out to Jiri and then hire a chopper to take us close to Namche Bazaar- so that we wouldn't fall behind on our schedule. A red helicopter taxied us in groups of 5 and we prayed for good weather. The journey was amazing, my first ever helicopter ride- and to be surrounded by the Himalayas, it was beautiful. Everest came to view- the highest mountain in the world seemed to have an eerie air about it- a lonely cloud behind its grey towering mass marked it out as something special.
Then the trekking started and we reached higher and higher altitudes and the air became cooler and cooler and then icy. At our acclimitisation day in Pheriche (4,220m) we were all already feeling the effects of altitude but we went to a talk given by a doctor from the Himalayan Rescue Association for more information. The information was a little scary and the point was to descend if the AMS (Altitude Mountain Sickness) progressed upwards from 'mild'. We met many trekkers on our journey, on the trek and at the 'Tea Houses' which are very basic but fantastic when you are cold and hungry(!), and heard many tales of people 'not making it..' We didn't dwell on the negative but on the beautiful sightings of Ama Dablam, Nuptse, Lhotse and of course the mighty Everest.
In Pheriche, the weather changed. We were staying at the 'Snow Land lodge' and I remember thinking that the snow would belong to another season - the next morning it was white. We all donned our best waterproofs and kept our heads down for the day in which we encountered frozen streams, blizzards and obscured mountains. We also lingered at the memorial site for mountaineers who never came back from the mountains; it was such a beautiful spot for them to be remembered.
Thankfully this was the only day without our 360 degree views of the most amazing scenery. Everywhere you looked and at varying times of the day, you could almost hear yourself gasping- the views don't sink in, it is hard to believe that you are really seeing such splendour! Even in the evenings, with cloud cover and failing light, you would still catch a glimpse of glory above the clouds- with no beginning- just a sunlit peak- it was magical!
We continued onwards and upwards to Gorak Shep, the place we had been dreading (according to tales we had heard from trekkers coming down). Sleeping, however at 5,100m with ice on the inside of the window and outside temperatures sinking to -25 degrees was not impossible and the location was perfect fot the glacial trek to Everest Base Camp and back with a super long trek back down to Pheriche (around 13 hours in total!)
The big day had arrived and we had all come so far- literally but also mentally and our determination as a group and individually was stronger than ever. It was an early start and we all powered onwards, with tired aching muscles, shortness of breath, freezing cold but with wills of steel. We walked along the Khumbu glacial ridge- it was stunning! We saw two avalanches, bluish white snowy outcrops, frozen lakes, icicles, snow partridges and then the distant sighting of small yellow tents, where the real climbers base themselves before risking their lives scaling the highest mountain on Earth. Respect.
We spent a full hour at the Base Camp, 5364m high. It was surreal, awesome and beautiful all roled into one. We all congratulated each other with hugs, high fives and smiles ; we had come so far and we all wanted to record the moment with each other and of course with the Gulf For Good banner!
The journey back down was a more sombre one for me, tinged with flu and later sickness and diarrhoea. I was also desperately missing my family by this stage. (It is amazing how you can put some things to the back of your mind for only so long..) The trekking back down was awesome and we crossed the rivers many many times on an array of beautiful bridges but my vision was not as vivid as before. I was so pleased to have such a fantastic group, they kept me going with their banter and jokes and I didn't give up, not for one minute in my mind and my body hung on in there too.
The trip to the orphanage came next. The building work is progressing very well, the location is green, clean and pleasant and the orphans who will be living there will be treated so well. There are fruit trees, vegetables, green areas to play in and nearby schools. I look forward to seeing the orphanage in all its splendour in the near future.
My flight home was good, I had time to reflect on what was truly the best challenge ever and time to come back down to reality- dreaming of a hot bath, fresh fruit and vegetables and the smile on my daughter's face. Sometimes we take these important things for granted- I'm still savouring them as well as being clean and having flushing toilets and hot running water!
If you would like to know about Gulf for Good, they have a great website at www.gulf4good.org
- it was a real pleasure to challenge myself with them- do you want to challenge yourself?!