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Part 1 - Under Giants

NEPAL | Monday, 19 May 2014 | Views [272]

Nepal has a population of 26 million, the currency is the Nepalese rupee, and the capital is Kathmandu and it is where we start a journey of which takes us in a horse shoe shaped adventure that starts in the Nepalese capital and goes around to china, through Mongolia and into Russia.

We meet our company in the lobby of the hotel – Australians from up and down the east cost and a New Zealander and together we will get to base camp and see the top of the world. Our guide, Devon, gives us the run down. Sherpas will carry our gear, the porters will guide us and he, Devon, will be our leader. From the way he talks and jokes – he knows mountains. They are his life and the mountains the heart of his country.

From Kathmandu our company gets on a plane – a twin propeller job that buffets in the wind and it flies us to Lukla; often regarded as one of the most dangerous airports in the world. After 15mins we see through the grey atmosphere into the distance; mountains. Snow capped masses of rock imposing into the large sky.

Inside the noisy cabin, we joke to ease the tension as we get closer. I see through the front windscreen of the plane, a first for me and I’m sitting all the way at the back, just how short the runway is. It’s at an angle so that planes coming in stop sooner and planes going out speed up quicker. We are getting closer and closer and the wheels touch down and the brakes come on and when the roughness of the landing eases and it feels like the pilot is in control of the plane again we all yell and cheer. We made it and have breakfast at 2,800 metres.

Along the trail, Devons earlier briefing makes sense now – there is a right of way we need to adhere to. The yaks first, for your safety; then the Sherpa’s out of respect and then us. We step to the side as yaks pass by, large sharp horns sway left to right as they pass us. Behind the yaks, Sherpa’s and my eyes go wide – there is a man carrying a section of tree as large and wide as he is and it is suspended from a strap that goes around his head. We joke that in the distance there is another man carrying a fridge in a large cardboard box on his back. He gets closer and the large box on his back reveals itself to say this side up. It is a fridge. While we are stopped I chat with one of our Sherpa’s and have a go at carrying one of the large packs of gear ,strapping it to my own head and it feels like my neck is being crushed down to my feet. Our guide explains Sherpas are paid by lots of 12 kg - up to 124 kilos.

Over the first two days of hiking we pass over swaying bridges where below a river runs glacier white, carving its story of a million years. At our first over night rest spot I dip my feet in. It’s freezing cold and rushing past ceaselessly on.

On the afternoon of the second day we reach Namche Bazaar at 3,440 metres where we will have our first acclimatisation day. Devon explains – we will need these days to prevent altitude sickness. When we reach a designated height we will go up higher – enjoy the views – often late in the afternoon after an already long day and then come back down to sleep so our bodies can adjust. The acclimatisation for Namche takes us 400 metres higher to come back down again. Numbers like this may be hard to visualise but in my journal for that day, for our first sighting of Everest, of Sagamartha as the Nepalese call it, the title says it all “Under Giants”.

On the fifth day, I remember seeing our first set of proper looking mountaineers.

There are three of them, they are sunburnt or frost bitten or both. They are speaking a Slavic language and amongst ourselves we try to figure out where they are from. We finally ask and they say the Czech Republic and they tell us they tried to conquer Lhotse – an 8300 metre peak. “But that was where there was five of us” they say. One will never return, the other broke his leg but was rescued. They raise their beers in a toast.

The dangers of summiting these mountains becomes even more clear when we are told 20 people were blown off the mountain – just like that, gone. There is a euphoria and intoxication to climbing these mountains I may never understand. I ask Devon about this and he tells us the locals aren’t happy. They want to introduce new laws to prevent people from dying. The locals and the guides don’t want these mountains to become a grand cemetery. It’s a bad tradition and a bad reputation but somehow it isn’t bad for business. $60,000 minimum and a few months spare will get you to the top of Mt Everest.

Here in the Himalayas – its not distance travelled across but up which matters and for nine days the trail gets steeper and higher and it gets harder to breathe but its all worth it when on the ninth day we reach base camp at 5364m. From this point people there is a sign which reads, Mt Everest this way, as if it was just another town along the trail and not the highest point on earth. Base camp is on a large glacier and when everyone is quiet you can hear it crack and move underneath and in the distance avalanches fall.

The nine days have seen us waking early and finishing late, through fog and cloud and for one last time we wake early, 3am, and hike up Kala Patthar to an altitude of 5,550 metres. We hike through the night. With less than 50 meters to go I feel like I could collapse, I had exerted more than I should have to achieve a false peak. Every step now needs two breaths, one to move and one to recover but I’m at the top sitting on a rock with prayer flags fluttering in the wind around me I watch the sun rise over the top of the world.

 

Back in Kathmandu there is a sense of accomplishment and pride which I think each member of our group takes with them for the rest of their lives, and all of a sudden the intoxication of climbing up these mountains makes sense.

 

Tags: everest, himalayas, trekking

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