First Trek to EBC - Peaks and Souls
The mountains, the mountains, the mountains, the mountains.. The Mountains! Through the echoing crevasses between them many a soul will walk, gazing up at their heights in awe and down at the rocks underfoot in exhaustion. The forgotten tale of the mountains is the time those souls spend together and the lasting friendships they create. Forged in lodges around the fire. Strengthened through stories shared. Solidified by overzealous card games. Immortalised on the track, step by step.
Day one, plane trip. A clear view through the hills of the foothills of the Himalaya - we shall call them mounds - streaking around us as the plane nears Lukla. The two cheery Americans sitting at the front having more fun than anyone on the plane, and Anuj, my trekking buddy, trying not to give away his fear of flying.
Day one, lodge reached. Cue fire-heated tea, mugs of hot chocolate and hotly contested card games. I spied a couple getting into the thick of it and jumped in on their game - a thriller of a game, it turns out. Within the hour, Anuj was in on it and the volume rose significantly as competition fired up. Australian, Nepali, Canadian and Colombian. Unbeknownst to all, we would spend the next 13 days religiously walking side by side, bar a short detour for each party to tackle personal ambitions. Before night ceased, our American comrades had rejoined us, and thus two had become six.
Night in the mountains: long and lonely,
the peace and quiet will please the calm and serene.
To have descent of the West though, a brain will cry out
For the chit and the chat,
words spoken amongst friends keep the lone at bay.
For the tit for the tat,
game for game, aces and jacks,
release and relieve with merely
52 cards and a room of bright hearts.
Day four, waking in Namche after a cosy, comfortable acclimatisation day. “Whyyyy did I sign up for this?”, I remarked to Anuj, looking meekly at the long day’s walk ahead. He looks at me, I look at him, and we erupt in laughter.
Left to Right: Paul, Mike, Becky, Colleen, Andres and Anuj. The OG Base4 Crew.
Day five. Wandering the streets of a snowing Dingboche and happening upon a cosy teahouse, I wander inside to the sound of a fresh, familiar accent. Aussie, I wonder? Nope - New Zealand. Two Kiwis, and two more Canadians. The KC combo. You beauty. Five minutes pass and some small talk later, we say goodbye, only to meet up the next day in the next village, to make plans to tackle the Chola Pass together. In the mean-time, a raging battle has broken out for supremacy in the now aptly called Base 4 card game. The only way to solve it? A three day long tournament, culminating with the grand final at Everest Base Camp.
Days in the mountains can be longer.
A morning downhill, treading and trudging,
deflates the mind as the body descends.
What goes down in the mountains must come back up - and then some.
With a helping hand and a smile, a friend,
a genuine friend - the only type found around here.
Can keep your legs moving and your mind sharp.
By the look on their faces, admiring a few mountains
Day seven. We’re here. Base Camp. Splitting headache, freezing cold, snowing and zero visibility. Getting here by myself would have been an achievement, but it wouldn’t have been fun. It takes a few tight hugs from the crew to remind me to savour the moment through the altitude sickness. The KC combo are here too, sharing their beers with us. It feels nice, this real connection in the mountain. I wonder to myself how these friendships manifest in the space of a week, meaning more than so many at home. We hunker down in the snow for the finale of Base 4. If you must know, Anuj clean swept Andres, the Colombian, 5-0.
Old meets new: We traded two Canadians (well, I prefer to call Andres a Columbian) for another two.
Day nine, the Kiwi/Canadian combo have joined us (as the Canadian/Colombian leave) and we’re making our way up the spine-tingling Chola Pass. Leaving the path behind, looking up at the rocks and snow ahead. Time for some real hiking. Mitch, the group’s speedster, donates his trekking poles to me for the most arduous day of the trek. It’s slow going, and by the time we’ve crossed the pass, the Canadians and I are out of water. Surely, not far to lunch, right? I’ve run out of water an hour and a half ago, I’m not feeling so great. My drink bottle is full of snow, though it’s not melting quickly. A quick glance at Arth and Como, the Canadians, tells me they’re running low too.
After a brief discussion the Kiwis decide to take off towards the next town to fetch water for the increasingly dehydrated of us at the back. Each hill torched the body, as parched mouths lost their voice and deluded minds began to hallucinate. The sun beat down on us, our sloth-like pace reduced to a snail’s. Eventually, one of the Kiwis, Tom, returned with a holy stranger, and three bottles of water they’d found at a stream further down the mountain. Mitch had literally ran down to the village and was on his way back up, sprinting uphill towards us when he got word we had water.
Another four hours of tough walking saw all of our minds and bodies begin to wane to a degree, a graveyard glacier the last of our tribulations before we made it to Gokyo. The highlight of the trip, sitting around a table enjoying a meal (and one quite suspect chicken stroganoff) came in watching Mitch and Tom’s enlightened faces as they realised they had a gas stove, with which we could have melted snow at the top of the Chola Pass to refill our drink bottles. The howling laughter released the pressure valve, as we all realised this would be a day fondly remembered for years to come.
The accidentally-dehydrated-and-chicken-stroganoff crew: Como, Tom, Mike, Biswa, Mitch, Anuj and Arth down below.
Day twelve; Namche. We’d pushed our final day back to help me recover from a now serious bout of mountain-hating and the Khumbu cough, and word reached us Andres and Colleen, our Colombian and Canadian friends, had summitted Island peak, their first peak, and were en-route to Namche that day. The KC combo were also making haste to Namche from Gokyo, having taken a rest day there to help Mitch deal with his suspect stroganoff and subsequent poisoning. Our American friends had pushed ahead and left for Kathmandu that day, but remained front of mind.
And so it was there our trip ended in spirit, in Danphe’s pub, owned by yet another friend of a friend I’d met through my love of these paths. Michael, the Aussie. Anuj, the Nepali. Mitch and Tom, the Kiwis. Como, Arth and Colleen, the Canadians. Andres, the Colombian (okay, he’s also Canadian). Paul and Becky, the Americans. Names I will soon not forget. Forged in lodges around the fire. Strengthened through stories shared. Solidified over overzealous card games. Immortalised on the track, step by step.
Day 13 - Lukla. The Old and the New, together at the end.
As the journey came to a close, I reflected on my experience. The connections I was so lucky to have made have stayed fresh in my mind. It is incredible that of the photo above, I knew nobody before the trek began. It doesn’t even include each person we connected with along the way. Now, we turn to the final part of the feature: an educational piece on altitude.
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