It was 40 years ago that I finally hit the trail to Everest.
And over 20 years before that the seed for a trip to Nepal was planted. At eight years old, I won a prize for being the best-behaved boy in the class. The prize was a book – The first book of HEROES – that set me on the outdoor trail. Tales of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Captain Scott, Sir Henry Stanley, Sir Francis Drake and Marco Polo set my imagination racing through time. But it was Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay that set my pulse racing. I had to go to Nepal!
Life got in the way of that ambition until I met somebody who knew Nepal well. His name was Gordon Blackie and I quizzed him as we ambled through the mountains of the Pyrenees. “When’s the best time to go?” “Now!” was his reply. A few weeks later I was in Kathmandu.
I had underestimated not only the culture shock but also the emotional journey and I slept for over 20 hours on arrival. My plan, such as it was, was to spent time trekking to get fit before tackling the route to Everest Base Camp.
Three months later, I boarded a flight to Lukla and the start of my big adventure. And it really felt like an adventure as we raced towards a rock wall with engines screaming in reverse, before turning sharply and stopping suddenly. As I swung my rucksack on my back, emotion flooded through me and I set off along the trail to Namche Bazaar with a light heart and springy legs.
Avoiding guide books and research, I had no time frame in mind but was determined to acclimatise so had no problem stopping in Namche for a couple of days before heading off for another stop at Tyangboche Monastery. As the miles unfolded so the years fell away and it was easy to reconnect with my ‘inner child’ and savour the freedom of being unknown and with no responsibilities other than the respect due to the people I met.
Eventually, with a fellow-trekker met on the trail, we reached Gorak Shep and set up home in a rock shelter. We planned to bivvy one night and head up Kala Patar for a great view of the world’s highest mountain. It was bitterly cold that night and my companion hardly slept as he felt so unwell. It made sense to lose altitude so we retraced our steps to a teahouse in Pheriche.
The next day, he still felt weak so I went for a walk up to the ridge above. It was a crisp, clear, magical day. Yaks grazed on a hidden plateau and a bird ate from my hand when I paused for a snack. Reaching the ridgeline, I looked across to Ama Dablam. It was the high point of my trip and the mountain looked close enough to touch.
As I returned to the valley floor, it dawned on me that my trip was over. The childhood dream had been realised but it wasn’t seeing Everest but just being in the mountains.