It has been a while, 3 weeks to be exact.
The reason for my brief hiatus. Well, for the first time in years I took a complete break from work.
To take some time to myself (which is rare these days).
So I put myself in an environment where I was well and truly ‘off the grid’.
I did this as I realised that on previous holidays I’d find myself working.
My family would be by the pool or on the beach and I’d sneak off back to the hotel room to check emails or messages.
Not conducive to relaxation and by doing so misses the point of the holiday.
But on this break working was out of the question. No room for a laptop and the Wi-Fi in the Himalayas is sketchy to non existent!
So this was a proper holiday.
Although on reflection calling it a holiday would be far fetched.
Because when you’re away for several weeks in a place where there’s:
*No hot water (sometimes no water)
*Sporadic electricity availability
*Little sleep allowance
*-20 degree nights
*No toilets (well, a bucket inside a small tent/a hole in the ground).
*And the average day of hiking circa 15km across varied terrain. That ranged from uphill to very steep (‘Nepali flat’ as our guides called it).
You can’t call it a holiday.
I’d call it a break.
Another challenge to put me out of my comfort zone.
And this was by far the most punishing of all my challenges to date.
What I did find was, because this challenge took place in an inhospitable environment,
where everyday I’d wake up with a mind bending headache.
Knowing I was over 500miles away from my family.
Fully aware that everyday was going to be a slog and that I had to rely on myself to get through it.
You become more resilient, and your resolve is strengthened.
Problems and stresses that were all encompassing at home now seemed trivial.
Normal holiday concerns like;
Which restaurant will we dine at tomorrow.
Do I spend a day by the pool or at the beach?
Were replaced by:
Do I have enough water?
Why is my heart racing?
Am I having an asthma attack? (most nights)
When is my next meal coming?
There were no luxuries, no room service, no comforts.
You’re taken right down to the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.
A real test of discipline and resilience. That took me to my physical and mental limits.
The physical limits were battling against altitude. Which pushes you down as you try and climb higher.
And the mental challenges were things like:
Unzipping myself from a frost covered sleeping bag in the middle of the night. Putting on a head torch then clothing and boots. Leaving the tent to walk 100meters over rocky terrain to the toilet. All the while knowing that, although rare, Snow leopards operated in the area!
And also making my peace with a freezing cold shower knowing that it might be the last for some days.
This was the status quo for 2 weeks whilst we trekked higher and higher. A slow and steady ascent to give us the best possible chance to adjust to the altitude.
The effects of which nothing could prepare you for!
I’m telling you now – I was as prepared as I could have been with my health and fitness. Although the altitude still bent me in half!
And although I was able to overcome the altitude sickness. The same couldn’t be said for everyone in the group.
It was devastating for those who’d succumb to it and had to be evacuated by rescue helicopter.
Knowing that was the end of their expedition and their goal of reaching the Summit.
Yet this pales in significance to what I’m about to tell you.
On the Sunday after returning to camp after our summit of Lobuche. We sat down in our dining tent for our celebratory dinner.
Everyone was in good spirits. We were elated. After all we had all Summited the Mountain.
Drinks were flowing, music was playing it was a great atmosphere.
But half way through the festivities one of the members of the 2nd expedition team came into the tent.
He apologised for his interruption and said that he didn’t want to ruin the celebrations.
But he thought it best we knew..
…one of their group had passed away a few hours ago!
He told us that shortly after leaving camp on their push for the summit the guy had complained of chest pain.
The guide with the group told him to return to camp and rest in his tent.
That was the last time anyone would see him alive.
Several hours later, on returning from the summit. The person sharing his tent made the harrowing discovery. He alerted everyone and efforts were made to revive him
Although it was too late.
He had passed several hours before.
The mood in the dining tent went from jubilation to sorrow.
The news hit us all hard.
It brought home the stark reality; that we were all very fortunate.
And we’d been spared by this cruel and unforgiving environment.
In light of the news we delayed our plans to leave high camp that afternoon and stayed for one more night at high camp.
We were told that the Sherpa’s would carry the deceased to the helipad in the morning. And after that we would make our descent to Pheriche.
I remember walking out of high camp feeling very emotional. Taking one last look at the mountain. Feeling very fortunate to be leaving high camp and on my way home.
With objective 1 achieved (Summit Lobuche East) objective 2 (Make it home) was now in play.
One of the members of the group quoted to me on the trek:
‘until you make it down to the bottom, you belong to the mountain.‘
That reverberated in my head all the while we were climbing down from high camp.
I became more cautious with my footing. More vigilant about the surroundings.
All my focus was on getting home.
The tragedy had definitely made me more attentive and respectful to the environment.
A few days later we arrived in Lukla and The Tenzing-Hillary Airport. This was the last part of the expedition.
Flying out of the World’s most dangerous airport.
This airport has its runway laid out on a cliffside between mountains. When I say runway we’re talking only 1,729 feet of it. Dropping straight into an abyss at the end.
Although this is nothing you can worry about. The responsibility is out of your hands and in those of the pilot’s and the plane.
All you can do is enjoy the ride.
I found the safety talk from the air hostess particularly amusing.
She stood hunched over in the tiny fuselage and informed the 10 of us where the emergency exits were.
All the while I was thinking to myself that any impact at all would see this toy plane disintegrate. And emergency exits wouldn’t be an issue.
Thankfully the plane held together and we landed safely at Rammechap airport. Ready for the next ordeal. A minibus transfer through the hills that made you feel like you were on one of those virtual reality rides.
Sheer drops, questionable overtaking manoeuvres, animals in the road. And potholes that could be mistaken for meteor strikes. All added to the excitement of this white knuckle ride.
Thankfully the blessing I received in Dingbouche from a Lama a few days before our climb was holding. And we made it to Kathmandu.
Kathmandu aka the place the Health & Safety daren’t step foot. Was the final destination of the expedition. Our arrival there marked the end of our travels.
Finally I could relax in this chaotic and stunning location. Knowing that tomorrow I’d be on a plane home having achieved my objectives.