The Everest Trek
By Ruth Watson
NO ALC crossed out. NO ALCO crossed out. Then NO GROG written in large letters and underlined. We were at the briefing for our Everest trek given by a young Aussie and attended by us two and our assigned Sherpa. The next item was headaches also underlined. If either of us got one we should turn round and go back down the mountain, no ifs or buts. We heeded neither of these warnings and carried a litre of cherry brandy and a good supply of paracetamols which hence forth became known as “ships biscuits” to mislead the English speaking Sherpa. Our meeting concluded with us hiring sleeping bags and down jackets which smelt of a mixture of stale sweat and wood smoke and were none too clean. In a matter of days we smelt exactly the same.
The next day at Kathmandu airport we hit a problem which was to have even worse ramifications down the line. Our Sherpa had enough funds for us to fly as foreign nationals and a cheaper ticket for himself seeing as he was a local. The airline didn’t see it that way and insisted that he pay the same fare as us. This had the effect of eating into the expedition’s funds for food and the hiring of porters etc. We had decided not to take much money either, after all, what was there to spend it on in the mountains?
Our aircraft arrived at Lukla which is no small feat. Anyone who has ever flown into that short runway half way up a sheer edged mountain will understand. Those highly skilled pilots in their Twin Otters deserve great credit. There is still the remains of a crashed aircraft in which Sir Edmund Hillary’s wife and daughter died many years before.
After recruiting two porters our great adventure began. The scenery was stunning and we enjoyed temperatures warm enough for shirt sleeves. Camping that first night was interesting. Firstly we were given tea in the Nepali fashion, boiled tea leaves in milk with lashings of sugar. Then hot water to wash and a meal of noodles and a stock cube. Maybe we had an egg or some cheese but as the money ran out the meals became more and more meagre. Sleeping was a problem as we were surrounded by other trekking groups and when they went quiet the dogs started barking and when they stopped the wretched cockerels got crowing. Even a carefully measured slug of cherry brandy didn’t help much. Toileting in the great outdoors was difficult too. Behind every rock there was a pile of loo roll, and worse, also after you squat half a dozen kids might turn up and watch.
Never mind, we were young and fit and ready for the challenge. It’s a shame our Sherpa had other ideas as we found out over the coming days. We would set off good and early only to find after a couple of hours walking our porters had settled down to have lunch ready for us. After a lengthy rest we would do another couple of hours and then they would set the camp up for the night. We had a map and quickly realised that we would never make it to Kala Patar in time at this rate. So we got into the habit of walking straight past our guys setting up the camps and they had to hurriedly pack everything up and catch us up and only stop when we decided it was time.
When we reached the monastery at Tengbushe we were invited to view the skull of a yeti and at the same time make a donation to the resident monks. The skull looked more like the top half of a coconut but if it was, how did it get there? Perhaps a yeti skull was the more likely option.
When we reached Perishe, soon dubbed perishing Perishe, we found we could purchase a shower. A big vat of water was heated on the fire and then transferred to a stone cubicle with an upside down watering can contraption with a tap next to the sprinkler. We took it in turns to strip off, the first time in days, and soap and rinse off really quickly not knowing how long the water would last.
“Agatha” joined us at Perishe, a beautiful black and white yak with a mind of her own. She was supposed to carry some of our gear but preferred to wander away from camp just when it was loading up time.
Then things got tough. I started suffering from headaches and breathlessness. We were only one day away from our target and that night the cold was intense. By midnight it froze our drinking water from boiling hot as well as my moisturiser cream. The next day as we approached the summit of Kala Patar we saw that a group of Germans had beaten us to the top, pinching all the “deckchairs” that is the best viewing points of Everest itself. While my husband leapt around enthusiastically taking photos by the dozen, I was huddled up feeling dreadful. I needed to get down the mountain and quickly too but with each metre of descent I began to feel better.
In double quick time we were back in Lukla where we blew all our remaining rupees on one bottle of beer and then had to endure another night of sleeplessness. We were up bright and early at the airfield the next day and first in the queue for our flight and dreaming about our hot bath and extra special meal we would have in Kathmandu. The flight never came, bad weather. So our celebration had to be put off for a further twenty four hours. No time to rest on laurels as I flew back to London that same evening.