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Reaching New Heights: Hiking in the Himalayas

November, 2012
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shelley1Every so often, there is an experience in your life that leaves you with a brand new perspective. It leaves you with clarity, with renewed energy and with new determination. Climbing to Everest Base Camp and Kala Pathar was one of these experiences.

We were climbing with a group called the Global Volunteer Network (GVN) and Himalayan Quests, and the aim of our hike was to raise funds for the Brighter Future Children’s Home (BFCH) in Nepal, which supports 14 orphaned children, providing them with shelter, food, a caring environment and support in everything they need to lead a successful life. Our group was made up of 20 people, from 10 different countries in total. Five of these were friends of mine from previous hikes, first Kilimanjaro in Kenya and then Machu Picchu in Peru. It is a truly unique experience to share adventures of this caliber with a person once, let alone to do it three times. It creates a bond that could rival those friendships built on years of knowing each other. Each member of the hike had the aim to raise US$2000 over and above their trek fee, to go towards the running costs of BFCH. I raised my portion with the support of the WISS community, and all in all, we raised enough to support the running of the program for 2 years. This, before we even set out on our hike, was an awesome achievement.

shelley2There are two phrases which fast became common within the hike. The first was from our guides: “This is one of the hardest days of the trek” – there was so many of these that which were actually the hardest was difficult to tell. The second was: “If you’re not living on the edge, you are taking up too much space” - we had moments to remind us, that while up in the mountains, we were placing ourselves at the whim of Mother Nature. The weather was unpredictable, the yaks were unpredictable, logistics required patience and snow, avalanches, and rock slides were a reality. Then there we were the unnatural concerns, like flying into Lukla airport, reported as one of the most dangerous airports in the world on account of their angled and short runway. An experience in itself, it left many silent and shaking, and others excited and full of adrenalin. From Lukla, the hike began…

From the first day of the hike, the terrain of the Himalayas became evident. The landscape soon began to change, with the trees becoming sparser, the habitats becoming fewer, the rocks becoming bigger and the tips of the mountains getting closer and closer. By the twelfth day, it felt like we could just reach out and touch the snowy peaks. However, as we got higher, the altitude began to play a factor. Reaching to well over 4000m a few days into the hike, we started to notice that it was more difficult to breathe and we noticed how much more energy was required to complete simple tasks. I started to watch the group closely, trying to make sure everyone was OK, that no one was suffering from the severe symptoms of altitude sickness.

shelley3Each night, we would stay in a local teahouse, enjoy a staple diet of potatoes and more potatoes and sip tea to keep us hydrated and filled with energy. We would sleep restlessly as the lack of oxygen toyed with our bodies and our minds. We would spend our free hours recounting the experiences of the day, playing games, reading and preparing ourselves for the next route of walking.

shelley4As we grew closer to the penultimate climax of our adventure, the world around us started to change considerably. We started hiking through and over massive boulders, some iron stained red, some faded wash-white. An ice glacier had pushed these boulders over the years into the wide valley that we trekked through. Trickling streams ran between the great rocks and the air started to chill as the clouds shifted over and past. This affect of the glacier became even more apparent as we climbed the last stretch to reach the much anticipated Everest Base Camp. The group had slowed and some members were feeling the effects of being over 5000m altitude. We walked in smaller groups, keeping close to those with similar energy levels. We trudged along as it snowed slightly and we looked out at the amazing natural structures that we found ourselves surrounded by. We had 8000m peaks all around us: Everest, Nupste, Lhotse and down below the path that we walked on, was the evidence of the icy glacier. Giant turquoise pools with steep ice walls, rock and dust around their mouths. Rocks falling into them with a crash that echoed through the valley. Ice mounds made up the sides of the mountains and lead all the way to the massive glacier that sits right behind base camp.

shelley5We reached base camp with much excitement, albeit not much energy or air. We hugged and smiled and reveled in our success. We had made it; after 9 days of hiking, we had reached Base Camp. We spent some time there, taking photographs, taking videos for our sponsors, me bringing out the WISS Tiger to capture at 5300m and then we began to make our way down the 3-hour path back. The following morning, at 4am, we departed for our ascent of Kala Pathar. It was grueling. A two-hour ascent from 5100m to 5545m in the dark, with the moon the only natural light helping us on our way. The mountains watched mystically as we took one step at a time up the steep pass. Slowly, slowly, we walked, rested, walked, inhaled deeply, walked, rested. We got higher and higher, with the summit seeming to get further and further away. Eventually, we made it, and again we were as overjoyed as our energy levels would allow. We looked over the mountain range, a few mountain steps lower than the “roof of the world.” We sat in the crisp, cold air, with numb hands and feet, and watched as the sun touched the peak of Everest, and then opened up the others one by one. We sat with the revelation that this was a scene that could never be matched, and we had made it, we were there.

shelley6The descent brought about its own mental and physical processes, as your muscles sigh with relief, knowing that they have gotten through the worst while still reminding you of the feats you have achieved through the small aches and pains that remain. Your thought processes also shift, from motivations of reaching the summit, to the realization that you have succeeded and that the amazing adventure was coming to an end. There was a four-day hike out of the mountain, back to the infamous Lukla. The ups and downs remained, and a fog that hugged the mountain passes moved in. We peered into the deep grey abyss and walked ourselves back to reality.

Each moment of the hike was one that I wanted to hold onto, to keep fresh in my mind. They were all notable, moving and unique. However, by far the most moving was the time we spent at the BFCH, to meet the children that we had climbed for. They welcomed us to their center, shared their home and put on a special performance for us. They sang, danced, acted, laughed and they reminded us why our hike, our adventure, was such a worthwhile one. Not only because we endeavored to take on this cause, but because of all the wonderful people that supported and sponsored us.

 

By Shelley Bragg

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