It seems to have become traditional to leave base camp by helicopter at the end of an expedition. In fact, of the 28 climbers who started our expedition, myself and Sharon (plus Jonny, one of the guides) were the only ones to trek back rather than fly. For me it wasn’t about the money (although the chopper is staggering pricy), but about processing what we had just achieved and slowly descending into civilization. I think the shock of being in the chaos of Kathmandu an hour after leaving Base Camp would be unpleasant at best.
We left at mid morning the day after arriving and walked back down the glacier. The clouds were beginning to gather, and as Everest slowly disappeared from view I put in my headphones and played a couple of songs to remind me of the moment. It felt like closure, a final reminder which will always make me smile in the future.
I’d got a slightly later start as I said my goodbyes to Greg, and managed to lose the other two before I started! I wasn’t worried though, and a cup of sweet milk tea in each village while I looked for them in the tea houses was fine by me. I knew where they were probably going anyway. Probably. Around 4pm I finally arrived at the Himalayan Hotel in Pheriche, my favorite guesthouse on the trek, and sure enough there they were, sitting in the window and drinking tea. Success! The guesthouse was deserted apart from us, which was a surprise. We were right at the end of the trekking season, but a total absence of trekkers was still a shock.
Oh it was wonderful to sleep in a proper bed again! To be sure, the beds there are basic to say the least, but I didn’t care. I slept like a baby. Breakfast the next morning was Tibetan bread and jam, and it was a thrill to have something DIFFERENT for breakfast. The food in base camp was very good, but the ability to actually choose breakfast, well, that was a treat!
It was a fairly long walk – about 18 miles – from Pheriche to Namche Bazar. It was so joyous to descend the valley and watch as the mountain sides turned from grey to green. The strong scent of pine and juniper filled the air, and filled me with happiness. THIS was why I waked down, and I admit I hugged the first tree I walked past. We crossed the raging river at the base of the valley and ascended back up to the monastery at Tengboche. Love that place.
The last few miles dragged but eventually we rounded a small hill and there was Namche Bazar laid out below. I had left with the town covered in snow, and now it was covered in green. I have always liked it there, and to return was special. We descended the carefully carved steps and soon arrived at the Khumbu Lodge. Home sweet home!
There were some trekkers in the lodge and they soon discovered we had just returned from the summit of Everest. That makes you a minor celebrity and I must say I didn’t mind the attention. They were good people and it was frankly nice to talk to some different people for the first time in 10 weeks! We had a good meal and more importantly, my first beer for 75 days! I think that’s a record for me, and one I’m unlikely to break for a while. 😄
The next day was the last one to Lukla. Jonny was on a mission and we soon lost him ahead, but I was in no rush. We would certainly miss that day’s flights and I was happy to savor my last day in the Khumbu. I drank it all in – the intense green, the rumble of the river, the warm air of lower altitudes, the smell of the flowers and the call of the songbirds. I had my final view of Mt Everest, a peak of the now-distant summit through the monsoon clouds, and I said my goodbyes and a thank you. The mountain had been merciful to me, and I was deeply grateful.
After lunch the final hill before Lukla appeared. We were here! The archway at the top of that rise marked the end of the trek, and I was both happy and sad. I’d become quite attached to the place, and wondered if I’d ever return. Right then I understood why some people come back and climb the mountain again. It’s not about the summit any more, it’s about the overall experience and to be connected to this place once more. Will I be back? Perhaps, although not for Everest. In any case I’d like to think that wasn’t my last time standing underneath that arch.
We checked in, and to my pleasant surprise I met Terez, the Himalayan Rescue Association doctor who I’d met in Pheriche! She had been working as a doctor for the helicopter rescues and was leaving the next day. It was time for a few more beers!
The next day I awoke to a beautiful morning. Sharon was hung over, but as I never get them I was full of bounce. We shortly went over to the chaotic airport and waited for our flight. In the departure room (‘lounge’ would be an overstatement) the TV was playing a film about a plane crash. Given there had been a fatal plane crash the week before at this airport I thought that was about the most ill-timed thing I’ve ever seen. Like ‘Airplane’ as an in-flight movie. Twisted genius.
Soon it was our turn and we boarded the last flight of the day. The plane accelerated and in the nick of time we dived off the runway and launched into the valley below. Civilization beckoned, and I was ready.
We arrived in warm, sunny and smog-filled Kathmandu without incident. Once in the Hotel Tibet in Kathmandu I looked in a full length mirror for the first time in 76 days. Ouch. I imagine some people leave Everest looking like mountain men. I looked like I had been adrift in the ocean for those 76 days! I was indistinguishable from a shipwreck victim, which was a shock. All the modest muscles I had laborious built in the gym over many months – gone. Much work to do when I get home, that much was apparent.
And yet I didn’t care.
“Wear it with pride.” was Jonny’s advice when I noted my sunburn and scarred lips. And he was right. Nothing a few weeks and a shave couldn’t fix! Or a spa! Terez knew of an infinity pool on the roof of a hotel in Kathmandu, so later that day I found myself drinking a blue lagoon cocktail in the sun. It was a lovely end to a wonderful trip.
My dad once told me “There are no holidays of a lifetime, just a holiday for this year.” In this case, however, I will make an exception. Truly the trip of a lifetime.
Until the next one….. 😋
Thank you for following my blog, I sincerely hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed bringing you with me.