Nepal: Trekking the Rooftop of the World
I had just a couple more boulders left to scramble up over in order to reach the summit of Kalapathar. Back home in Britain this terrain would not be so much of an effort without the affects of high altitude. However here in Nepal my head was pounding and my lungs piercing in the rarefied air at 18,000ft. This was the highest I’d ever reached in my entire life and I was to be rewarded with a view that was quite simply entrancing. Kalapathar in any other region of the world would be a mammoth height but here in Nepal it was dwarfed by even more gargantuan lumps of rock soaring towards the stratosphere. And the main purpose of this mission of mine? I’d just spent the best part of two weeks trekking to see the highest mountain in the world, Mount Everest, right up close. I was hereby fulfilling a childhood dream. I finally slumped down on a rock and gazed at the most remarkable vista ever. The dipping sun behind me cast an orange glow onto the veins of snow that streaked up the Southwest face of Everest.
The Everest trek can be done independently or as part of an organised trip over a period of three weeks. You don’t actually have to be super-fit to partake in it either. Just the day-to-day pounding along the trails gets you fitter and towards the end of the trek you are stronger and leaner than you could have ever hoped for. I chose to take on the Everest trek by myself staying in the many teahouses that line the villages. Firstly I endured a bone-shaking twelve-hour bus journey to get to the Everest region. Out of Kathmandu you wind further into the Himalayas, the mid-range of which give an eye-catching view of velvet green layers of rice fields. Then you arrive at quite literally the end of road in Jiri. The next morning you are awoken by the sounding of bus horns blazing and engines revving for one last time before entering a tranquil zone on the trek of a lifetime, leaving pollution and noise all behind you.
I puffed my way up the first hill from Jiri with new-found friends, a mix of individuals from all over the world: Australia, New Zealand, the US and Brazil. Although we originally set out independently of one another we soon intermingled day by day along the trails, enthusing together over the ever-changing panoramic views that opened up before us as we crossed a high passes of which there are several monsters on the way towards Mount Everest.
After ten days I’d reached Namche Bazaar, a town that is the centre of the Khumbu region at an altitude of 12,000ft. Onwards from here the lack of oxygen really starts to have an affect upon you, headaches and restless nights, added to which the temperature plummets well below freezing at night. The hardships become only a minor irritation beyond Namche since you’re attention is focused on the landscape towering ever higher. Then you get your first real sighting of Mount Everest. It’s powerful and evocative and you really get to appreciate the madness of any mountaineer who wants to scale it. Since Tensing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary made the first successful summit in 1953 the mountain has claimed the lives of some one in five people that attempt it. As I watched the mountain from Kalapathar at sundown I was in awe of just how high 29,028ft really was. I felt like I was near the rooftop of the world and yet the Everest summit was still two vertical miles higher. That afternoon as I was perched on a rock gasping for breath I had fulfilled a dream, I got an emotional lump in my throat for achieving what was for me the ultimate: grabbing the view of a lifetime.