A Journey of a Lifetime
By Jasper Blake
Well, that was one heck of a trip!
On day 14 of 21, we made it to Everest Base Camp. It was one of the most epic challenges I think any of us have or will ever do. I will admit that I severely underestimated how tough the trek would be. We spent a great deal of time lifting Pip. So much time, in fact, that we had to modify the trail rider with a yoke at the back and webbing at the front so the weight could be carried on our skeletal frames as opposed to using muscle all of the time.
We had some long and hard days of 6 to 8 hours and climbed from 9,000ft to over 17,000ft. Part of what made the journey tough was our afternoon scrambles. The team would trek in the morning from one small village to the next, take a couple of hours rest, and then a few of us would venture off for a speed hike to see how high we could get. We would take our guide's altitude watch and go up a few hundred meters more, usually at a running pace, and then rip down.
We had incredible weather and saw every peak in the area. Every morning was crisp and clear and we were treated to the most incredible views I've ever seen. We stayed in Sherpa tea huts that are heated by wood stoves that burn mostly yak dung. It was quite hard on our lungs and it definitely resulted in some infections. I'm still recovering.
There were so many highlights that it's hard to mention them all but Pip at Kalapathar and Everest Base Camp are the two that come to mind. Our team goals were to reach Kalapathar and Everest Base Camp and with Pippa (which are both over 5,000m). Kalapathar because it offers the best views of Mount Everest. Everest Base Camp because it is Everest Base Camp! Both are accessed from Gorak Shep, a tiny two building village at 5,100m elevation. The nights were cold and harsh. To give you some perspective, a Thai trekker died the night we were there from altitude sickness.
We had hands-down the best possible team you could have assembled for a trek like this. Three weeks of working together with no major drama or issues...we simply worked stuff out. I think there was an absence of ego and everyone focused on a common goal. That was the key to it all. We had a mission and everyone wanted it to succeed, not for their own gain, but for the gain of the group and for Pip. True teamwork is possible when everyone is in a position to contribute some value. Everyone on the trip had a role to play and did it with enthusiasm. Nobody had to turn back. This was a first for our guide with such a large group. Very cool.
"We live for that stuff" is how I put it to my mom one day when she was rather worried we were overextending ourselves. There were some epic days with a lot of lifting. The Base Camp day was like a mission. We went hard with little rest and no lunch. Combined with the previous day’s ascent of Kalapathar, we were smashed that night. I feel like all of my fitness for this year went into those two days. I wouldn't have made it if I hadn't been fit and I was thankful for that.
It's amazing what we sometimes take for granted here. Meals on the trek were all prepared from scratch from whatever ingredients were available. When meals were ordered you could count on it taking at least 2 hours to get the food to the table. If you ordered veggies, they were literally picked from outside. Bread or pastry was prepared from scratch on the spot. With as many as 20 people ordering food at one time and only a single wood stove to cook it all on, it gives you some idea of the work that goes into supporting this kind of trek. It was a good shot of perspective. Our hosts were superhuman!
The people of Nepal are simply incredible. They are so strong yet so humble. Porters my size and half or twice my age could carry loads of 60kg to 100kg using a single strap across their heads wearing shoes that were falling apart or even sandals. They make so little money, have basically the clothing on their backs and yet are never without a big smile and kind words. We were all humbled by it and I will never forget it.
Kathmandu was nuts! Traffic with no apparent rules, 4 to 6 family members on a motorbike, animals everywhere, extreme poverty...quite the experience. We stayed in an old Palace of the Kings so we were able to escape into our own little world at $25/night for a 3 person room with a shower. It is considered expensive and it is one of the nicer places to stay. Perspective is everything.
The culture in Nepal is so different than ours but the people were very accepting of us. This was especially true of the Sherpa people. The route we followed essentially ran through the ancient "highways" used by the Sherpa people and their yaks to transport goods to and from their villages. Carrying loads is a way of life for these people and little has changed with the onslaught of western culture except perhaps the goods they carry. Everything up there is carried in by someone so when you see a bottle of coke with a 10 day walk-in, it makes you appreciate it a bit more.
I found the best part about the trip was that I was able to strip off all of the nonsense that I deal with at home. There was no background noise, no ego's, no alternate agendas, and no need for material garbage. You rediscover what is at your core...your true nature, which was always there, it just gets loaded up with western society’s expectations. It's no wonder these things are life changing for people. This was the best part for me and I can't wait to do it again.