Heavy breathing and the crunch of loose rubble underfoot filled the empty alpine air as we made our last steps before reaching our ultimate destination, Everest Base Camp. It was here, among the rugged mess of debris and ever shifting ice of the Khumbu Glacier that mountaineers from across the Earth converged with the dream of standing on top of the world. As we strode across a rocky ridge that ran parallel with the Glacier, the summit of Everest revealed itself between neighbouring peaks. In our euphoria, the realisation dawned that this moment would likely be the closest view of this mountain, Everest, which we have revered for many years prior, that we will have on this odyssey. Almost like time had slowed down, we could see the gentle stream of snow dispersing from the peak, a silent reminder of how exposed and unforgiving the summit environment was. Ed: Savannah and William are the recipients of the inaugural Osprey Packs Adventure Grant. The spent the summer of ’17-18 travelling around Nepal and other Southeast Asian Countries, including undertaking what has become a rite of passage for many; a trek up the Khumbu Valley to Everest Base Camp. Eleven days had passed since we walked out of Lukla through the Pasang Lhamu Memorial Gate and arrived at base camp. A significant moment of recognition that we too would follow the route taken by the first Nepalese woman to summit Everest and sadly also claim her life. Each step we took down those initial stairs we thought back to months of planning and research, it was finally happening. We had both already completed what we thought was going to be the most daunting part of our trek, the flight into Lukla. Deemed the world’s most dangerous airport, flying to, and more importantly landing, at Tenzing-Hillary Airport requires courage and precision as pilots navigate their way through mountainous terrain, often hidden behind cloud and morning fog. As we reached the bottom of this first set of stairs we snapped out of our daydream. It was time to live and experience what we had imagined and read so much about. It’s hard to discern whether any part of the trek was more beautiful than another, the environment changes notably from lush forest to harsh alpine the further you move up the valley. Our first night in the Khumbu Valley was at the settlement of Phakding. The hike to the settlement is very easy while being an amazing introduction to the Sherpa way of life. As you walk beneath massive cliffs and over the raging glacial fed river several times, you have the privilege of witnessing firsthand the abundance of crops which are grown to support the entire region. Phakding also has the pleasure of hosting the Pema Choling Monastery which our incredible guide, Sonam, took our group to. Despite being at an elevation of 2610m, the lowest we would be on this trek, our group woke to absolutely frigid conditions. It was nearly winter and William thought instead of unpacking his -20 grade sleeping bag the night before from his Osprey duffle, he decided to put on as many layers as he could and just use the thick blanket supplied by the tea house owner. His regret was enormous. Most of the night was spent in a struggle to fall asleep but too cold to get up and do anything about it. Just before dawn, He woke again, this time to something other than the cold. While in his semi-asleep state he heard the crash and reverberating echo of huge boulders that had dislodged from the surrounding cliffs and fallen to the valley floor. The next destination from Phakding is Namche Bazaar, a moderate-sized settlement that sits at an elevation of 3440m and is the main trading centre of the Khumbu Valley. The walk there is much the same as the prior day, with the added feature of a steep uphill at the end. One thing we both noted while we walked aside the raging river was the amazing glacial blue colour of the water. In the afternoon we reached the steep section up to Namche and crossed the highest suspension bridge in the Everest Region, rising hundreds of metres above the river below. Darkness descended quickly upon our group as we made our final approach to Namche. Afternoon clouds swirled around what we thought were huge mountains on the opposite side of the valley only for them to part for a brief moment and leave us in awe at the snow-capped peak of Kongde Ri above. Our group spent two nights in Namche for acclimatisation purposes, and again William made the mistake on the first night of not unpacking his sleeping bag. His lesson had finally been learnt. Namche was very different to how we imagined it to be. Here we were, in the middle of the Himalayas, walking through a thriving town centre, boasting the world’s highest Irish pub and many other small café style establishments. On our acclimatisation day we visited the Sherpa Museum which beautifully depicted Nepal’s mountaineering history. Even more spectacular was the enormous remembrance statue of Tenzing Norgay with the peak of Everest revealing itself behind the ridge of Nuptse. This was to be our first glimpse of the top of the world. Beyond Namche, the landscape adjusts strikingly to a harsh alpine setting where little to no vegetation can be seen among the rocky boulders. Our group continued to awake each morning to the new altitude we accomplished the day prior, and with it came the noticeably worse freezing temperatures. The sun had hardly risen when we departed for Dingboche clothed in several layers and after a few steps, we were left in disbelief as a man only wearing a singlet and shorts dashed passed us. Amazingly, as one runner after another passed wearing clothing that did not match the climate, we discovered that they were a part of the Everest Marathon. Another acclimatisation day was spent climbing the ridge above Dingboche to reach an altitude of approximately 5000m. Standing above the surrounding landscape was absolutely surreal. Each direction we turned offered a spectacle that is hard to put into words. To every side were the breathtaking white peaks of the Himalaya, the most incredible being Ama Dablam, so overwhelming from our position that it was hard to appreciate the rest of the stunning vistas present. Below us stretched the Khumbu Valley and the converging Imja Khola and Lobuche rivers flowing southwards, where we could see the fast approaching afternoon clouds that would soon be upon us. This would mark the beginning of our complications as William began battling the symptoms of altitude sickness and a cold that stuck with him for the rest of the trek. For William, the walk to Lobuche was by far the most difficult. A seemingly easy and near flat path to our lunchtime destination of Thukla came close to defeating him. With each step came a jolt of pain to the head and the feeling of nausea. It was now that the trek really began to test the physical and mental capabilities of us. A rocky and steep path led out from Thukla, with the famous Everest Memorial situated at the top of the ridge. Our groups pace had dropped significantly, the signs of pain evident from William as he struggled with each step. The afternoon clouds had again encircled us, turning our path grey. The pain felt almost symbolic as we took the final steps of the steep uphill to reveal an area covered with pillars and remembrance plaques to those who had fallen while conquering Everest. We entered Lobuche with the ultimate feeling of relief. Normally, one would spend only a night in Lobuche but due to William’s altitude sickness a second night would be needed. Waking to a subsiding collective headache, our group decided to acclimatise further and ascend the hill above Lobuche, while spending the afternoon relaxing and playing cards. Our excited anticipation of reaching Everest Base Camp the next day quickly went downhill overnight. William managed to eat his first full meal in several days at dinner as a symptom of altitude sickness is a loss of appetite. As the morning came, it was very clear that we would not be leaving Lobuche that day. During the night, both of us had thrown up, William due to his altitude sickness and Savannah due to gastro she picked up from her dinner. With the severity of her symptoms, the very real possibility that Savannah could be airlifted back to Lukla dawned upon us. Determined to finish this journey, Savannah faced her own internal battle now to regain her health as fast as possible. The next day, Savannah made the brave decision to continue to Gorak Shep, our final stop before Everest Base Camp. A walk which should have taken two hours, instead took five. Neither of us are sure who struggled more, William to Lobuche, or Savannah to Gorak Shep. What we also aren’t sure of is whether what we did was incredibly valiant or incredibly stupid considering the state of each of us. Nevertheless, we now stood in the shadow of Nuptse, knowing fully well just how close we were to Everest Base Camp. Tomorrow would be the day. The gentle sound of wind chimes could be heard outside as morning light shone through the curtain edges into our tiny room. Up early, we packed our bags for the day ahead. With perfect blue skies and a stunning mountain panorama before us, it could not have been more astonishing. The walk to Base Camp consists nearly entirely of walking upon very loose rubble and occasionally over the Khumbu Glacier itself. After two hours of crossing this terrain we could finally see it, a great bundle of prayer flags strewn around some glacial ice, marking the Everest Base Camp and the end of our upward journey. We would both like to say a huge thank you to Paddy Pallin and Osprey Australia for supporting us on our trip. The gear supplied to us from Osprey was incredibly valuable and after the hard test we put the gear to it is very safe to say that Osprey truly make the best bags for any outdoor adventure. We would also like to say a huge thank you to Sonam from Image Treks for his incredible work as our guide, and to the porters of our group Man, Purna and Pemba for their awesome effort! Anyone looking for an introduction into high altitude environments should definitely consider the trek to Everest Base Camp. The places we stayed and the people we met are memories that will stick with us forever. CAPTIONS FOR PHOTOS: Our group standing in front of Pema Choling Monastery. Our guide, Sonam, walking across the highest suspension bridge in the Everest Region. Savannah with her Osprey Stratos 32L pack before we began the steep ascent to Namche. One of our group members, Maxine, standing on the path with Ama Dablam in the background. A Sherpa child on horseback heading further up the valley. Scene from inside our tea house at Tengboche. Savannah and William standing on the steps of the Tengboche Monastery. William with our guide Sonam (middle) and one of our porters, Purna (left). Taken on the ridge above Dingboche. Portrait of Savannah and William on the ridge above Dingboche. William’s Opsrey Stratos 34L pack. Early morning light rays from behind Ama Dablam. A small yak train we followed on the way to Lobuche. Savannah and William sitting on the ridge above Everest Base Camp. William walking ahead on our way back to Lobuche from Gorak Shep with Nuptse in the background. William’s Osprey Stratos 34L pack with Nuptse in the background. A yak train we passed while on our way back to Dingboche with a magnificent view of the Himalaya in the background. Prayer flags fluttering as we passed through the Everest Memorial. One of our porters, Man, resting as we made our way to Pheriche with the peaks Tabouche and Cholatse in the background. Our group heading back down the valley for Namche. A local Sherpa child trying out William’s camera. The Sherpa child showing us his Kung Fu moves. Leave a Reply Cancel Reply Your email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email.