Feeling: I DON’T KNOW
Everest Base Camp day. The aim. The ultimate goal. The crux. How was I feeling?
Like a little kid on Christmas morning.
I leapt out of bed before first light and launched into sun salutations with gusto. I was burbling over with bliss and bubbliness.
It was a big day ahead; three hours undulated trekking to our night’s lodgings where we’d stop for an early light lunch, then a further three hours to our destination. (And then three hours return).
Off we set. The first stretch was insanity. There had been a coating of snow during the night, so all the flora and terrains were dusted with a light powdering and some icicle ornamentation. It was like a magical wonderland. I’d have to say the scenery was the most breath taking of the trip so far, and that’s certainly saying something.
It was like someone had spilt a massive vat of cookies’n’cream frozen goodness and it had settled all around us. We were all torn between wanting to languish in the landscape, or to snap it up to hurtle on to reach our destination as soon as we could. We settled for the golden mean.
It was further special because the Aussie Galore Group, whom we’ve been slightly ahead of the whole trek, were ten minutes behind us and staying at the same tea house on arrival in Gorak Shep. It was going to be a communal achievement for us all.
We arrived at our lunch station. After dumping our bags and refuelling our tanks we were amped to get to EBC. Aside from 21-year-old Marissa, the majority of those busting to Base Camp on the numerous tours are around 27, 29, 32. This intrigued me quite a bit on first observation, as I would’ve expected far more in their early 20s. Far too busy on Contikis partying and such, the others said.
This was the first time my age was really highlighted (or perhaps just my immaturity). I was literally leaping around, dancing and prancing, while the others merely sat excitedly in their seats. I just wanted to go. I wanted to get there. EBC baby! Hut hut hut.
Finally wise Uncle Ram gave the nod and Sanajay sung out, “Jam jam!” We were on the road again. I was fizzing.
Great excitement rained down when twenty minutes in we reached the “Way to EBC” sign. Lots of flurried photos and selfies, then up the ridge we went.
Midway along the track, I suddenly had a bought of the whole “I’m going to die” ridiculousness. Rather than let it get me into a terrified tizz, I just kept repeating a mantra: I’m going to return home to my family absolutely alive, happy, healthy (?!?), safe and sound. And repeat. And repeat again. Until it drummed in so fiercely that positive Pop was on point.
Josh was mapping on his phone and made the call when we were 1.6km out from target. 1.6km!!! Insanity. The enormity of what Base Camp represented started to set in.
It was quite poignant; the track was so barren and I’d probably even go so far as to say bleak, yet every here and there sprouted bunches of vivid purple flowers. Josh remarked on their randomness and I replied, “They’re like a little bit of hope.” They were. And they gave me some for myself. On first leaving for my Solo Sojourn, my “road” was rather rocky and dismal too. But now I like to think I’ve cultivated a thriving little fuschia flora.
Enough drippy analogies; back to Base. Stopping for a swig of H20, Ram cautioned, “The next 15 minutes of track is where lots of landslides happen. So no stopping to take a sip of water or take photos. And if anything happens just keep going.” Right-o Rammy. (I later found out that at this point, we were actually crossing a massive glacier. Crystal the Aussie told me later that she was beside herself when she was cutting across, as her guide had shared this pearler with her beforehand. So she was in tune with every crack and crink and shitting herself). Instead of being scared, I just adopted this serenely numb persona and hop skipped along the danger zone. Nothing was keeping me from EBC now.
Concentrating on avoiding slushy ice and searching for steady rocks, I was intently involved with my footwork when Ram suddenly cried out, “Congratulations!” Well cheers Rammy boy, sensational we got out of landslideville, but wasn’t that a bit premature before our final destination? Then everyone was hugging. Sanjay wrapped me up in a big congratulatory cuddle. “We are at Base Camp!” He cried. My heart honestly swelled (though that could have been the altitude).
Bloody hell. I’d fucking well done it.
What’s Base Camp like I hear you ask? Well, being at the tailend of monsoon season before the truly gelid temperatures set in, there was no snow. It was barren, a rocky, stony space that I’d imagine what being on the moon would be like. I certainly felt like I was in a different atmosphere. But the power of the place was immense. You could just feel its inspirational pull, its eons of tales of triumph and tragedy.
Cue selfies. Group pics. Pringles (on part of Daniel and “Chuck”). Laughter. Tears. Absolute and pure joy.
Ever the journalist, I got a bit of interview on. When I asked Ram how he felt being back, he looked at me with a gigantic grin and positively beamed. “We had a 100 per cent success rate,” he said. “Usually it’s only 80 to 90. We all made it. I feel very well.” Josh ripped out his hip flask and shotted back his Glen Fiddich.
After we’d all settled down a bit, we sort of drifted off to our own chosen perches; Josh reclining on a big boulder, Sarah sitting on a significant stone, myself on my knees in rocky rubble.
I thought of special people in my life, one by one. I thanked whoever it was guiding me along for getting me there. I suddenly had an overwhelming urge to speak to my “second Dad” Rick’s father, an engineer who tragically passed in the Mount Erebus disaster back in 1979 (maybe Erebus/Everest word sounding similarity? I don’t know). Then I sat and thought of myself and Ed.
I was going to leave a large portion of the bastard behind. This was the pinnacle.
I roamed around until I selected the biggest, ugliest rock I could find (actually the second; the first choice was a bit too bouldery for my limited strength). I went and stood at the back and held the rock, feeding (oh so great) all the negativity simmering inside myself to this lump of lard.
I thought of all the pain Ed had caused me. The shame. The humiliation. The wasted days where I didn’t want to get up. The anguish. The despair. The heartache. Not just on my part, but for all those around me affected directly, indirectly, unknowingly, completely aware. The rock symbolised a large chunk of him and of myself, that I was adamant was not coming back with me.
(Can you take a moment here to picture the above scene; I was in my “Pippi Little Stocking” getup, i.e striped thermals pants, ersatz looking hair, with snow googles clamped to my forehead. I was crying, snot dribbling down my lips, and I was holding this massive fuck off rock. I looked like a right pillock. I’m glad Sarah had come to know my wacky ways before I asked her to take a piccy for the purposes of this post).
Give over. I felt like I’d just done shotput. But it felt good.
I got a pearly, pretty rock and wrote “Poppy” on it with an ever-present flower and placed it near the EBC marking. A positive piece of me to leave behind too.
We lingered awhile longer, then saw the AGG gracing the glacier (although I was still blissfully unaware of its true label at this point still). We thought we’d (literally) make tracks to give them EBC to themselves so hustled together all out belongings and were on our way. (As we passed them I was so joyous I threw my hands up in a big welcome wave and arsed over on a massive rock. Bloody bruised tailbone to end the trip? Indeed).
We were all pretty quiet throughout the three hours back. Lost in our own little worlds. I don’t even know what I was thinking about. Everything? Some things? Nothing? Couldn’t tell ya.
Just before the tea house Tegan called out, “Look Pop!”
Up on the highest hill was a massive white horse. Silhouetted in the shadowy sunshine, it stood staunch and still, like Mufasa contemplating his kingdom. Significant? Symbolic? Simply standing there by chance? Who knew. But to me it was like a sign. (Ahem. The next morning the horse was there again. It took the specialness away slightly. But I’m still owning it as a mane – yes yes yes – part of the day).
We all went back and had a lovely afternoon lazing around, just chilling (literally) out and chatting. It was so festive, such an after-Christmas-lunch feel I wouldn’t have been surprised should Ram have donned a Santa suit.
And to make the day even more monumental? Crystal the Aussie ran in all flushed and flurried; Kerry, her boyfriend of ten years, had proposed at Base Camp.
Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?
This one time, at Base Camp; I fucking well made it to the top (well 5364m).