Twelve months ago, I signed up to volunteer on a THISWORLDEXISTS education project in Sorung Chhabise, Nepal. In doing so, I was also signing up for a hike to Everest Base Camp. Many people have this trek on their bucket list – I was not one of those people. At that point, I had never owned a pair of hiking boots. The number of mountainous hikes completed – zero! The number of friends and family who thought this was a smart decision on my part – also zero!
So with a bit of training under my belt and my world jammed into a 60L pack, I headed to Nepal with my daughter Madie on New Years Day. What a way to start 2017 and to celebrate Madie’s 18th birthday on January 3rd! Descending into Kathmandu, I was admiring the clouds when I realised I was also looking at white mountain peaks. I was in a plane, still at high altitude. What were those mountains doing way up there? The magnitude of what I had signed up for suddenly dawned on me.
Arriving at the Samsara Hotel in Kathmandu, I met my fellow THISWORLDEXISTS adventurers. On Facebook, this group had looked a little scary to this middle-aged, city-dwelling lover of mod cons – all young, fit, bearded, outdoorsy types. I was worried that I wouldn't fit in with these Bear Grylls disciples. I was so very wrong.
As we commenced our trek, this group quickly transformed from scary strangers to my new family. With a shared desire to help improve education in developing countries and embark on a crazy adventure at the same time, our differences melted away. The group bonded over nights spent in tea houses, playing cards, eating pringles, sharing stories, hanging it on each other and the much loved evening ritual of the ‘buff ceremony’ – he or she who did the most stupid thing that day was awarded the buff. The nominations for this prestigious award were always long and distinguished.
Now I won’t lie, it wasn't all pringles and laughter. At times it was tough. Trekking in January at the height of the Himalayan winter, it was damn cold (but with few trekkers at that time of the year, I often felt like we had the mountains to ourselves). Sub-zero temperatures inside saw me sleeping with my water bottles and phone so that they wouldn't freeze. As we climbed higher each day, the Sherpas would frequently say ‘slowly slowly’ – it’s fair to say I brought a whole new meaning to that term as my lungs worked hard to suck in every ounce of O2.
I was fortunate not to experience headaches or nausea (common when at altitude), maybe the result of sleeping in an altitude tent for three weeks leading up to the trip. But the altitude certainly left me short of breath when going uphill and took away my appetite. Everyone on the trek was affected in some way – a headache, nausea, exhaustion. There is a saying in the Himalayas that anyone who says they aren’t affected by altitude is either lying or a Sherpa!
When I reflect back on the trek, there are so many beautiful memories. The breathtaking snow-capped mountains, the bridges suspended high over pristine rivers, the quaint little townships, the incredible fitness and kindness of the Sherpas and the immense satisfaction of reaching Base Camp. The challenges are also hard to forget. The freezing nightly dash out of my clothes and into my sleeping bag that left me breathless, the frozen pipes that would deliver no water and the uphill sections of the trek that, at times, seemed to go on forever. But what I think about the most, above everything else, is the crazy bunch of people I shared this journey with…the people whose humour, stories, kind works and looks of encouragement kept me going for 12 days.
If Everest Base Camp is on your bucket list, if you want to travel in a different way, if you want to volunteer on a education project and create friendships and memories that will last a lifetime, get on the THISWORLDEXISTS bus. Strap in and enjoy the ride.
Written by Joanne Lardner, THISWORLDEXISTS January 2017 team member.
Photos by Ryan Gray @ryangraymedia
For more information on THISWORLDEXISTS Nepal trips, please visit www.thisworldexists.org/nepal