I joined Glasgow HF Outdoor Club about 2 ½ years ago. My aim to get out back on the hills in Scotland, get fitter and meet like minded people at the same time.
Fast forward to October 2016 and I was on my way to Nepal!
The day had finally arrived, I was off to the Himalayas to trek to Everest Base Camp and climb Kala Pattar! I actually could not believe it!
We were soon to be known as Steve’s ‘all female expedition team’, our team coming from all corners of the UK to merge in Kathmandu for the start of what proved to be an expedition full of twists and turns. I was here to do EBC and Kala Patthar and then I would say farewell to Saskia, Maxine, Lucy, Jen, Kala, Steve and Anna as they were going to carry on to do Lobuche East. Our 360 Leader was Jo Bradshaw – a feisty 40 something female who had conquered Everest only the year before in 2015.
We get our debriefing by Jo at the Hotel in the bustling Thamel area of Kathmandu. She explains about the expedition, trekking at altitude, trying to alleviate any concerns (and I did have a lot!). Her mantra – life at altitude is very simple – Walk slowly, don’t waste any energy, every 1% counts, eat plenty, rest well and water is apparently the best medicine.
Briefing done, any last minute kit bought, packed and re-packed (a 15kg weight limit can be testing!), it was fair to say that Jo was pretty ruthless with our kit bag and all of the team had to leave bags of kit in the hotel storage room for pick up on the way home! It was time to head to bed before the alarms went off at 4am.
The morning came and we all got organized ensuring we had everything. This was it the early morning journey to the small domestic airport. It was still dark and my tummy was doing somersaults with nerves.
We immersed ourselves into hustle and bustle of Kathmandu domestic airport, it was pretty chaotic but thankfully we were whisked through and onto the plane within minutes, taken off and had landed in Lukla well before 7am. I have to say I did not enjoy the small plane journey and I did not take much of the view in – just tried to stay calm (that is a nervous smile in the picture!)
At Lukla we met our team of Sherpas, absolute legends these guys. Phurba (main leader), Pasang, Deepen, Scoritas, Chamel. Phurba and Pasang have done Everest and Ama Dablam so many times it is insane!
So, it was time to start our trek. Everyone’s nerves were jangling, the fear of the unknown, the concerns of how we were going to do at altitude, had I bought the right kit, was I fit enough?
Before we knew it we were in Phakding, our village for the first night, well before lunchtime. My first stage of trekking through the Himalayas was surreal and just stunning. I was glad that we were on our way and I had started my journey. I felt good.
Our first night over, onwards and upwards we went leaving very early in the morning for our next day of trekking. The sky was so blue and I knew it was going to be another stunning day. Next stop was Namche Bazaar, a buzzing town nestled into the hillside at around 3500m (depending on where you stand!) On our way up Namche Hill we met up with Vernon Tejas (Google him, he’s quite an impressive chap). What a character and amazing to bump into such a legend en route. On arrival at our tea house the headache had started, breathing was getting harder, simply walking up the stairs was a chore. Jo reminded us all, it’s all part of being at altitude and our wee mantra of ‘water is the best medicine’ was bandied about our group. Its funny I laugh now when I think about how much we talked about how much we had drank, did we sleep, what you having for dinner, did you get up for the loo during the night… haha
We were staying 2 nights at Namche as acclimatization training. We took a wander up to the Tenzing Memorial the following day and the sun was shining on us again with amazing views of Ama Dablam, Lhotse, Everest and Nuptse to name but a few of the big ones. As I walked up to the memorial site I said to Jo our leader – “oh my god you have been on the top of that” and pointed to Everest…. Amazing to think our female leader had been on top of this monster mountain! No sooner than had we taken our pics and marveled at the views did the clouds come rolling in and that was it, show over.
Time to head higher, firstly to Debuche with a cake stop, which was so good and visit to the monastery in Tengboche at 3800m en route then higher up to Dingboche at 4300m. A couple of long and slow days of walking, gaining height as we go, really testing our spirits and ability to simply walk more and more slowly, drinking plenty of water and working as a team, everyone trying to keep each others spirits up. The views were stunning and we were walking in the footsteps of the stars of high altitude climbing, the weather perfect and with memories of the last couple of days keeping us going. In the back of my mind however I am still questioning myself am I fit enough – can I do this?
Another acclimatization day followed and one of my team members, Kala was not adjusting to the altitude so she stayed in the comfort of our tea house whilst the rest of us took a wee walk up a hill to gain a few hundred meters and to do some training. A good day with again magnificent views. Our leader Jo was however getting concerned re Kala.
The next morning I headed down to breakfast. I had heard that Kala had decided to head back down, we had lost a member of our team.
So, onwards and upwards we went, with an early lunch of Ra Ra noodle soup (think Super Noodles but better!) in Thukla, we started the climb up to Memorial Pass. A site where memorials have been placed for those who have lost their lives on Everest, it’s a sobering and poignant place to stop and wander around. Onto Lobuche we slowly walked.
We’d had a long chat about our itinerary a few days before and we had asked Jo if we could head to EBC from Lobuche rather than doing Kala Patthar that afternoon. The weather had been pretty predictable, with the clouds rolling in in the afternoon covering up the mountains and we all wanted to have good views of Everest from KP. So the itinerary was amended and off we went. It’s a tough walk from Lobuche at 4900m to Gorak Shep at 5100m. Only a couple of hundred meters of height gain but with many ups and downs, every meter counts at that altitude. We still had another 250m to gain from Gorak Shep to Everest Base Camp and I was getting tired, I had to dig deep at this stage.
With bright sunshine, clear skies and jelly babies on the go, we took the route one step at a time and before we knew it, I was actually stepping on the Khumbu Glacier and touching ‘the’ rock that denotes that you have made it. Emotions were running high and energy levels taking a temporary dip but we had time to wander around, to take in the views, to imagine what it was like in the climbing season. That was a tough day from to EBC but I had made it.
We were all totally shattered when we arrived back at Gorak Shep but I had to keep digging in as tomorrow would be a big day heading up to the summit of Kala Patthar – my final goal!
Morning came and Kala Patthar beckoned and off we all went. It’s a brutal start with a very steep incline to begin with and with breakfast not fully digested, a tough start to the day! KP is 5550m so a 350m-height gain to reach the summit and it’s a tough 350m too. Again the weather was stunning but nerves and fears do set in. Just before midday we were all sat on the summit of this inconspicuous mountain sat next to the Khumbu Glacier with stunning views of Everest and all that surrounds her. I had made it to the top and I felt amazing!
The next day I was leaving the team – my goals had been achieved and I was delighted. I was walking down with Deepen with a smile on my face. I said my goodbyes and hugs to the team and started my descent.
However my delight was short lived; I had only been walking with Deepen for an hour and I took a tumble…badly. As soon as I hit the ground I knew I had down something to my lower right arm, it flopped and the pain hit me. Deepen ran to get help. A helicopter was called, I was dosed up painkillers and Jo carefully strapped up my arm to keep it stable, I was put on oxygen and walked back to Lobuche village. The fall happened around 9.30 am and the first helicopter came around 12.30 and took me to Lukla.
I got dropped in Lukla to wait for another helicopter to take me to Kathmandu. The pain during the journey, well you can imagine…
I arrived in the hospital at Kathmandu at 6pm. I had dislocated my elbow! I was scared and tearful, tired and was annoyed that this had happened to me. The young doctor took my hand and said we are going to give you a general aesthetic – you have been through enough pain. I was too tired and emotional to refuse.
I woke up 2 hours later in a private room with a huge cast on (or stookie as we Scots say!).
I have to say the hospital were amazing, very attentive and kind.
So now I had extra time in Kathmandu until my flight home in 3 days time.
I was taken back to the Guest House at Thamel and tried to relax as much as I could.
My whole experience of Nepal, the people, the smells, the mountains, the views, scenery, children, I just can’t describe it… it was an amazing trip!
Nothing, not even a dislocated elbow could have ruined my whole experience!
I am very glad to have joined Glasgow HF, the club gave me the confidence, the experience, the fitness to sign up for the trek.
A final word on the lovely people of Nepal…. As you can imagine I was struggling without the use of my right arm. I arrived at the airport when I was leaving. It was chaos…. this is a very small airport. There were queues galore and that was before we got in to the actual building! People bashing in to me, I had a trolley with my huge North Face kit bag, plus my 40l day pack and only the use of one arm! I didn’t know where I was going and I was exasperated and tired. I was thinking how the hell I am going to get through here. All of sudden this man appeared from no-where. He took my trolley, my day pack and told me to follow him…waving in and out of all the queues and the mass of people. He asked to see my boarding pass. Again we weaved in and around the airport building. We eventually got to the boarding desk, with the biggest queue. He shouted the girl from behind the counter and they spoke for 5 mins – she looked at my arm. She then weighed my bag and before I knew it I was checked in. I looked at this little man and I just wanted to hug him..I kept saying over and over again thank you, thank you. I put my hand in my pocket and I had a “wad” of Nepalese notes left. I don’t know how much I had, but I didn’t care… I took his hand and gave him all the money. He was my savior that day!