DAY 1: Ascending the Mighty Mountain – 15th May 2018 (@05:00hrs)
It is early morning, but we are all set for the climb. The weather is still the same—cloudy with an indication of more hail. Will I allow that to stop me? No way.
“The choices we make lead up to actual experiences. It is one thing to decide to climb a mountain. It is quite another to be on top of it.” – Herbert A. Simon
I had to drop my plans of taking a flight as it kept getting delayed. The Triple H (a.k.a Helicopter Hitch-Hike) was an alternative and seemed dangerous. I was eager to start my journey and took my chances. The helicopter carried me to the base camp where the trek began.
Our first day of climbing towards Mount Everest was filled with fresh and chilled air, something that is unheard of in the bustling city of Mumbai. For someone who had been slogging at work for days and nights, the change in sight received a warm welcome. Although I was enjoying the journey so far, a fellow trekker warned me that this was just the honeymoon period. He added that the cold would soon get on my nerves. I found it hard to believe him because everything about the journey seemed pleasant and beautiful. There is no sight of Mount Everest yet. I had a long way to go.
DAY 2: “Ekla Cholo Re’’ – Namche Bazaar; 16th May, 2018 (@8:30hrs)
“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.” – Edmund Hillary
After resting and recharging at our first campsite, we began the second day of the climb. I knew that conquering Mount Everest wouldn’t be easy but I had underestimated the level of difficulty. The biggest challenge I faced was in adapting to the decreasing temperatures. Listening to fellow trekkers narrate stories of those who have died in pursuit of the peak did not help either. It made me realise that mountain climbing wasn’t child’s play.
I decided to brush off the travails and become optimistic. I sang a song by Rabindranath Tagore called “Ekla Cholo”, which in Bengali means “walk alone”. The song made me believe that I could climb the mountain even if I was alone.
I wanted to thank the Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore for the song that helped me make my way closer to the clouds. It took 40,000 odd steps to climb 11 km to the second camp. My fellow travellers and I did it without making any stops. It was far beyond our comfort zone, but I am glad we were able to make it.
DAY 3: Everest Warmed Up My Heart; 17th May, 2018 (@18:30hrs)
I had a headache and slept until 4AM. I think meditation did the trick. I’m generally fit as a fiddle but the cold climate was bearing down on me. My team and I took to our feet and embarked upon a 3-hour trek to the third campsite. I was excited to reach the next point because Mount Everest would be visible from there. However, the skies were cloudy at Sagarmatha National Park. In ideal weather, this point is a beautiful one because all the peaks are visible from it. I managed a glimpse of Mount Everest, but it was enough to warm my heart and keep me going.
We ascended 4000m to acclimatise. The experience to climb up and above the clouds was intense and exhilarating. Later, we descended to the location of the camp.
In the evening, we visited a nearby village and even watched a documentary called Sherpa – The True Heroes of Mt. Everest. A Sherpa is a member of a Himalayan tribe living on the borders of Nepal and Tibet. The tribe is well-known for their excellent mountaineering skills. While wandering in the village, we ran into Andrea Zimmerman and her 70-year old grandmother. They too were here to climb the glorious mountain. Andrea is a filmmaker, artist and activist. I was impressed to learn that her grandmother is married to a Sherpa and has already climbed the mountain twice.
DAY 4: Ascent Up and Above; 18th May, 2018 (@17:58hrs)
The real struggle began today. We spent the previous day resting and recharging ourselves in preparation for the next trek. We started our trek with the rising sun. Our schedule was well-planned and enabled us to cross three mountains. The trail was incredibly beautiful and breathtaking. Despite our tight schedule, we couldn’t help but stop to take photographs of the scenic view. Most of the trail kept us at an altitude of 4000m above sea level.
Before completing the day’s trail, we descended to 2859m above sea level to enjoy lunch by the river. According to a gutsy bunch who decided to swim, the water was cold beyond imagination. I didn’t dare to join them as I wished to stay warm and healthy for the rest of the journey. The view was amazing and reminded me of paintings we had done as children, two mountains with a river that flows in between, and the sun rising in the background. The water sparkled like diamonds under the sunlight.
We returned to climbing after lunch and trekked up to 4000m above sea level. This would be the most memorable day of my journey so far because I could see Mount Everest (8848m) and Lhotse Peak (8520m) from a distance. It was an incredible sight to behold. The might of the mountains made me realise how small my existence, my problems and my achievements were.
We ended the trek with a powerful session of meditation at the highest Tibetan monastery. In the morning, we will be crossing the tree line (i.e. an area where there is no growth of flora and fauna because of the inability to survive in sub-zero temperatures). Snowfall was predicted. We would be climbing to a height of 4500m above sea level, and the trek would become a greater challenge for both the mind and body.
DAY 5: Beyond The Tree Line – 19th May, 2018 (@21:45hrs)
Day 5 dawned, bringing with it a breathtaking view of the glorious Mount Everest peak from my room window. We started the climb from 3900m and had to cross over a small suspension bridge, which was swinging quite violently due to strong winds. We had to cross it one at a time so that it wouldn’t collapse.
We continued to make our way up to an altitude of almost 4150m. Beyond this point, the weather was rough. We were far beyond the tree line and the harshness of the altitude started to kick in. The breathlessness set in sooner than I had expected and was accompanied by body ache. Many trekkers experience back pain due to the weight of their backpacks. Despite sub-zero temperatures, I felt quite healthy. The following day we were scheduled to climb to 5000m above sea level but return to 4500m to sleep. Only three days of climbing were left.
DAY 6: Adaptation and Adjustments – 20th May, 2018 (@17:23hrs)
Day 6 was less strenuous one because we only ascended 500m in the first half of the day before we came down again. I thanked God for the clear skies that allowed us to see some of the world’s mighty peaks towering over us. I spotted Ama Dablam (6500m), Lhotse (8520m) and Makalu (8300m).
We spent time sightseeing and clicking pictures. It took us a while to get acclimatized to the weather and keep anxiety at bay. The extreme cold in the morning was replaced by a warm noon. The night was harsh with the temperatures dipping to -3 degrees. I met with trekkers from over 25 countries and some of them had amazing stories to share.
We planned to trek for 6 hours to Lobuche Peak and the final day of trekking would take us to Everest base camp. We were stressed beyond a point, and our mental strength was tested. But I think we were managing well with only 50% oxygen.
Day 7: Almost There – 21st May, 2018 (@16:00hrs)
The penultimate day, we trekked from Dingboche to Lobuche peak, and crossed four low mountains along the way. Rescue helicopters are a common sight because it was summit season so accidents, injuries and health issues could not be taken lightly at these altitudes.
Although the trek before lunch wasn’t that difficult, the climbing that followed was a challenging task that took us almost two hours. At the next post, we took time out to pay our respects to the memorials of mountaineers who lost their lives in pursuit of the Peak of Heaven.
I learned a valuable lesson from the visit to the memorials. I understood that the only way to live in harmony with nature was by being a part of it instead of trying to conquer it. During the final part of our trek, we made our way across a valley to reach Lobuche. One more wonderful day to go!
Day 8 – Everest Base Camp: The Finish Line
The final countdown was today. The day when I finally reached my goal, the finish line. I had witnessed my dream transform into a reality. The emotions I experienced were akin to appearing for final board exams. There was a feeling of anxiety and anticipation that one has after appearing for his/her last exam, and I was going through something similar at that moment.
We started early at 6:30 am and trekked non- stop for an exhausting 4 and ½ hours to Gorak Shep, our destination for lunch, prior to reaching the base camp at 5300m. I stopped to admire the mountains which usually appear closer than you think, even though it may be 2 hours away. After 1 hour and 50 minutes of climbing, we finally got a glimpse of the Everest Base camp where tents were set up for climbers who wished to join and finish the Everest summit. It took us a good 3 hours of endless walking on tricky glaciers, rocks, narrow paths and dangerous turns to reach the base camp. The scenery was incredibly beautiful, but the weather was freezing cold. The phenomenal climb gave me a feeling of accomplishment and was indeed exhilarating. We tied prayer flags, took a few snaps and headed back. That day, I learnt an important lesson of my life, enjoy the moment. Everything seamed impermanent in the vastness surrounding me. Standing there with the INDIAN flag made me feel very proud and boosted my self- esteem immensely.
From thereon we were headed back. We reached the base location at Gorak Shep. We rested there for some time and started our journey back to the starting point. Next three days were all about descent. We had covered the ascent journey in 8 days but within three days we were down. I might have lost a few kilos but had undoubtedly gained valuable insights and experiences that I shall cherish throughout my life. We were at Lukla soon after, ready to fly off to Kathmandu (capital of Nepal).
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