Feeling: TOP OF THE WORLD (Well, only a few 1000m off)
Right. EBC Take Two, all portrayed in points. And apologies: it’s long.
1. First off, the group. What a fucking fantastic bunch of beings. Myself (of course), the cousin-sister Sarah, Cambridge matey Jack Wallis (or “Snow Leopard”; honestly, the origin of so many laughs, usually involving knobs and nudity), his absolute chivalrous ship companion Craig (words cannot describe just how so), Craig’s military mate Marv (an absolute human replica of Gerald off Hey Arnold; the teller of so many swell tales – Marv, not Gerald), Marv’s bestie Carla (the South England version of my best friend Abbey, from personality to laugh to smile) and Craig and Jacko’s ship friend Gemma (truly an absolute gem). A really long rope of interconnectedness.
Aside from the links all there we also had Cassandra (Melbourne faring lass with whom I felt very on par with in a fair few respects), Craig from Sydney (having with him a remarkable story of surrogacy to have his little boy, on a Nepalese trip for a second sibling; the brunette version of Mr Gee from Summer Heights High – Craig 2, not the child – hereafter referred to as Mr Gee so as to avoid bafflement) and Philip (Northern Ireland hailing lad, set to have his 65th birthday the day of reaching Base Camp).
The love I feel for these people and some of the connections made are just beyond belief. As does happen in challenging and close knit situations, relationships forge at a far faster rate than that of normal life; of course, that means soul mates by the second day, or a slight irritation being a full blown “can’t-be-fucked-with” by the third. (In such instances, I managed to keep a more zen-like demeanour and quash all urges to go at a certain member of the group with a Nepali spork).
So much laughter, insane amounts of banter, late night (well, 7pm) games of ultra competitive Uno and complete, genuine caring about one another; some serious bonds have been made.
Not to mention our incredible tour guides: main man Prem (pronounced “Prim”, and whom I nicknamed “Prop” – account of the old adage “prim and proper” and also as his build resembled that of a rugby prop); second-in-command Balram (which I have switched around to “RamBull” in in effect “Rumble”, as in “ready to”); and rearing out the trio, Santosh (I’ve christened him “Macintosh” as in the toffee lollie, as he’s so sweet). Absolute champions, all three, and all up with the banter. (And I love how in writing I am “Papi”).
2. Of course being my second time heading to EBC, I have been questioned many a time as to whether I prefer the first or this. The truth is they just don’t compare; the people are different, the time of year is different, I’m different.
I have to say, the landscape is just as staggering as when I first saw it. Others asked if it was slightly dulled or not as impressive, but the truth is I was just as absolutely awestruck. I found myself enraptured by the mountains, breathless at the beauty (apologies for how insanely maizey that sounds) (get it? Corny?). I just find nature so phenomenal, and what the Himalayas displayed as the backdrop to my daily activities was beyond 10-point-oh. The remoteness and verdantness and wildness; who needs teetering twelve-storey skyscrapers?
An aspect that didn’t enthral me quite so much was the Nepalese people. Not at all because they were any less beautiful – the old woman picking me up and dancing me about for no reason at all, my friend at the shop in Namche Bazaar who I promised I would go back to buy another crotchet headband last time I was here, the little boy with a yellow balloon sitting on a stone wall and waving at us as we passed through his village – but because this time I knew their gentle and humble ways, I was expecting the delight I felt around them.
And how beautiful are they? The most gentle and amazing souls I have ever come across. With their perfectly symmetrical smiling faces, cinnamon complexions, clan culture and “namaste”-ing our arrivals, they just warmed me all over.
One area that greatly heartened me was to see just how thriving the Khumbu region is again. Last time, the boarded up windows in many of the villages, the dwindled number of trekkers passing through them and the crumbled wreckages that were once homes before the earthquake glummed me greatly. So to see myriads of multicoloured people (I’m talking attire, but ethnicity also) clambering through and cashing up the towns was gloriously gladdening.
3. Do you know how incredible it has been with no data nor wifi? No FB, no Insta, no messenger or even email? So fucking peaceful, so seriously serene. Craig and I were the only ones not to suss a sim or hustle on the wifi wagon, and towards the end whenever I heard someone shrieking that they had four bars of reception it just made me shudder. It’s been so nice to have a break from being connected and to find so much extra time to have conversations or play cards or just be.
Also, a break from blogging. Last time I wrote one, sometimes two or even three blog posts per day, furiously noting every teabreak and afternoon. This time I didn’t, purely just relaxedly noting a moment or observance here and there for later, and it was such a joy; I felt so free and plentiful with my time, not keeping in restraints of my self-imposed, inviolable set of rules. (You just have to put up with a lengthy read-up now as a result).
4. You may remember I talked of my awful day on my last EBC trek where I hit the wall with some altitude sickness and almost decided to turn back. Where my stomach went, my determination went, my will went. Well, the week leading up to this trek I found myself getting antsy about retrekking that point and having the same thing happen all over again. So when I reached Orsho (village where it all started occurring) I found myself shaking. (And my stomach going).
Frissons of angst attacked me all along the afternoon, and when I walked past the point where I had my wee turn (in both senses of the word; it was as I had a piddle that I went dizzy up) I had an internal freak. As I had informed Craig of the aforementioned occurrence of last time, he could see I was somewhat nervy – so when I reached Dingboche collected and tops, he matched my joy in me overcoming my hurdle, my point of panic.
It felt fucking great.
5. Many a dumb things have been said and done on part of most of us, all blaming altitude and diamox for our moments. I had one at a teabreak, where Gem ordered a “hot chocolate with coffee”. “It’s kind of like a hoffee, isn’t it?” I said. “Or a mocha,” I got in response.
6. It’s things like this that make me realise how I need to prize my “me-ness”. I am quite different from others, and at times I prefer if I could just be “normal”. But when I talk to people I just meet and we discuss our beings, I realise my difference is more often than not quite intriguing. Rather than sometimes wish it wasn’t the way, I need to own my weirdness more.
7. It’s funny; in my memory the trek seemed so much more arduous. The first eight days to get to Base Camp had hills that absolutely killed, mounds that sucked all the air out of my lungs. So to find them almost even easy was a real shock – and quite joyous, I must admit. It seems my memory served me wrongly in those respects, building up to be far more than it was.
In fact – dare I say it – I’ve almost found the whole thing quite easy (minus Kala Patthar, which is a’coming).
Plus, I was extremely glad to find that at 4620m, Prop did my finger thing (you pop your index into a little blue contraption and it gives certain readings) and it showed my oxygen level to be at 97 and heart rate (resting) as 54 (though Jack Off was at 117, so it could’ve been a little dicky).
Though my memory served me insanely rightly in the way of route taken, layout of villages and details of all the teahouses; all I had encapsulated in my mind was exact upon revisiting.
8. How incredible is my cousin-sister Sarah. I mean for a 19-year-old girl to get to Base Camp is massive. And we’ve just gone beyond the line of being close cousins; I mean, when you communally wet wipe wash in your sleeping bags each afternoon, you move into a whole new territory of bonding.
9. I had to laugh each morning as I clothed up in my many, many layers (honestly, it is SO fucking freezing, I’ve been wearing a singlet, a compression top, a merino, a thermal and two jackets on my torso alone); High Rider Papa Henio would be proud, with my tucking myself in with my tights right up waist high.
10. And Base camp itself? Just as monumental as the first visit. A rock strewn, moon-like wasteland of immense significance. We had the standard group and single shots (as in photos, though much whiskey was taken by the boys too), JackOff and Craig had their cigars, we had a few reflective moments on our own and then we headed back to Gorak Shep (closest little village at a two-hour hike away) to debrief and play Uno.
The following morning was the optional hill up of Kala Patthar. At 5545m (isn’t that insane – that’s 5.545km higher than Hahei or Cook’s Beach), the mound offers the very best views of Mt Everest. Last trip I set out, got about a fifth of the way in and turned back; it was snowing and slushy, I was headachy and tired, plus there was a packet of sugar-free biscuits in my room wanting eating by the fire. So it was a point of pride – encouraged on by the boys – to make it an accomplishment this time.
So when the 4.24am alarm went off, seven of us arose. (Cousin-sister Sarah, Carla and Cassandra had opted for a lie-in). At the halfway point, Philip and Gem turned back (Gemma ended up being super sick with a stomach bug and had to be helicoptered out later in the day) and it was just Jack, Marv, Craig, Mr Gee and myself on the incline.
Fuck it was steep, hard and had me out of breath. Probably one of the very hardest things I’ve ever done.
But mate, how euphoric did it feel to be at the very tip top, especially as the only girl of the group.
Last time EBC was much more about introspection and stirring then resettling long deep-buried emotions and hard stuff. This time, it was much more fun; eons of laughter and bantering and yarns with others, both surface, silly and deep. Jack with “calling his mum” (a code phrase for a much more sinister activity), hiding the egg (what began when a boiled egg randomly appeared in Sarah and I’s room; best spot ever was it being bundled into Craig’s camel pack), morning and afternoon yoga with Craig and sleepovers where no one except me managed to sleep. A brilliant near two weeks, of which I am going to be very saddened to say goodbye to all at the end of (currently en route down back to Lukla).
It’s interesting too; heading the the summit of Mt Everest has never really held appeal to me. Maybe it’s the air of irresponsibility I see surrounding it, or the death statistics, but it’s never enticed. However, talking to some of the boys, having a read up and researching into more recent stats (1 in 750 chance of death now, based on 2016 figures) and the idea somewhat allures. Imagine – me, an Everester!
I got to Second Base. On top of the world mate.
(Yes. That is me slam dunking Everest).