It’s almost exactly five years since I climbed Everest Base Camp with a group of people I will never forget, and a lot has changed since then, both with us and for the legendary mountain. Nowadays around 600 climbers a year take the route from Kathmandu to attempt the summit, with countless more ordinary tourists making the much easier trek to base camp. A series of high-profile accidents in recent times, and the devastating Earthquake in April, have led officials to begin to rethink how people approach the mountain and who they let attempt the summit. The aim of these changes is simple; to keep Everest glorious. It should feel like a unique and unmatchable achievement to reach the top, in the same way, it was for us – a group of rookie 18-year-olds – to reach Base Camp in 2010.
Driving through Kathmandu at 5 am was when it really hit home that we were about to do this. We were making our way to a small airport where we were to board a tiny propeller plane that was going to charter us out into the mountains. We raced into the morning sky, the Himalayas spread out before us. There didn’t seem to be much time to enjoy the view before the terrifying landing strip at Lukla appeared, complete with a very solid-looking cliff face at the end of it. We closed our eyes and touched down – ready to begin the long walk.
Even five years ago the number of tourists was surprising to us, with lines of rucksacks and porters stretching out along the path. The porters and yaks were simply amazing, carrying massive loads of travel gear, food, drink and building materials. The trek started simply, downhill to Phakding, but the height and thin air still left the uphill bits demanding and short of breath. We plodded along at a very steady pace taking in all the sights, sounds and smells. The porters laughed when we marvel at the 6000 Meter mountains, calling them nothing but hills.
From day two, the upward climb began and never stopped after that. We climbed and climbed and climbed, passing into the National Park’s borders and through the chaotic and colourful Namche Bazaar. After a few days of climbing we stayed put for a few nights at the height we were, to give everyone a chance to acclimatise; altitude can be really dangerous if you don’t respect what it can do to your body. Despite the fact that we were all young and fit, our guides solemnly told us that we would die on the mountain if we went too fast.
The actual climb took us two weeks in total, plus a few days in Kathmandu on either side. It took real commitment from all of us to help each other through and we would have been nowhere without our professional guides. On the final day before we reached our goal, we set off walking at 4 am and were rewarded with the vision of sunrise over the beautiful face of Everest herself. I’ve never seen such a beautiful sunrise and I won’t forget it in the next 5 or 10 or 20 years.
If you’re in the alright physical condition there is no reason why you too can’t make it to the beautiful mountain – but you absolutely have to go as part of an expedition with professional guides. Tours with all operators cost around $1400 including tea-house accommodation, meals, luggage, trekking permit and an experienced English-speaking guide. Flights to Nepal are not included and will cost around $600 (based on a trip from London). Printing 5000 of your photos of the sunrise over Everest is optional and cost me almost as much as the whole trip put together, but I really wanted people to know how good it was!