And just like that, I’m standing at Everest Base Camp. The joy I feel when I arrive, you would have thought that there was some red carpet rolled out adorned with gold petals and an all you can eat chocolate buffet at the end of it! In fact, it’s simply a platform of graffitied rocks, some trampled on prayer flags, the odd can of Everest Beer and a little bit of ice to give you that last challenge to negotiate as you step up for your obligatory photo!
Despite it being aesthetically underwhelming, I, alongside many other trekkers don’t really care. It’s not about that, it’s not about this one moment, it’s not even just about the 8 long days it’s taken to get here. It’s about the whole journey since we signed up all those months ago and as we arrive one by one, you can’t help but feel overwhelmed with mixed emotions. I feel overjoyed to be here, I’m tired, I want to call my friends and family, I want to hug everyone, I want a hot shower and then I feel that pang of sadness that it’s almost over. As soon as I turn around and step back off, I’m heading back to reality and I don’t want this to end. This ‘Year of Challenges’ that I set myself has been the most incredible journey and now that it’s done I can’t help but feel a little lost.
The funny thing is, when people back home look at me with expectant eyes and ask “So…..how was it?!”, I simply don’t know how to answer that. How do I summarise everything in just a few mediocre sentences?
I could talk about the sheer beauty of the Himalayas, about the ever-changing landscape that really does take your breath away with each corner you turn. From the snow-capped mountains, rich green forests with that milky blue river dancing through the centre to make each photo look like a postcard. I could recall the moments higher up where the air is thin and the headaches constant that seemed to resemble some forgotten part of the world where very little seems to grow or survive and for a second you can lose yourself in this overwhelming sense of being such a small part in this gigantic world.
I could talk about a culture so rich in history, in values, in community and kindness but so poor in all the material things I head home to and debate which I’d rather. Maybe talk about the food which was hard to stomach some days but you forced down through fear of not fuelling your body enough to make it to the end goal. Those bitter cabbage momo’s will forever haunt me but not as much as witnessing local porters carrying back breaking amounts of food over miles of terrain just to earn a modest living. Maybe the moment you went from being ultra vigilant to avoid stepping in Yak shit at all costs to walking right through it and letting it trail off the back of your shoe without a care in the world! Or how I will forever gag at the thought of those compost toilets but laugh at the memories of desperately trying to work out how to squat perfectly so that you could hold your tissues, block your nose and still balance on the icy edges trying not to piss on your own foot!
Everest Base Camp was the last adventure in my ‘Year of Challenges’ and although physically I didn’t find it as tough as some of the other things I have done, I think it taught me the most about the power of people. I had the privilege of meeting some pretty incredible humans, both those on the trek and the relentlessly hard working Sherpas who looked after us every step of the way. Every other event this year has been incredibly isolated, in ‘City to Summit’ I barely saw another living soul over the 150 miles of running and cycling apart from the few pit stops I huddled in for just enough time to cram some more sugar in my belly! For 18hours, I put my head down and I raced as hard and as fast I could. I didn’t look up to admire the view, all I remember of Scotland is rain, headwind, potholes and wanting to cry/pass out when I crossed that finish line. That’s not to say I didn’t love it, I’d do it again in a heart beat but Base Camp taught me the value of slowing down and appreciating the view. It taught me to listen to other people’s stories and to be inspired again by more than stats or a PB. No one just wakes up one day and goes for a casual stroll to Base Camp, everyone has a reason no matter how big or small and getting to hear about those reasons was both humbling and inspiring. For most of the year I’ve been stuck in my own head building up a resilience to pain, a resilience to exhaustion and fighting that feeling of my lungs wanting to explode. It’s what I love doing and it’s what I’ll continue to do for as long as my body lets me but during those days in Nepal I remembered what it’s like to be a part of a team with a united goal and how powerful that can be. When morale is low it doesn’t have to be a battle in your head, it can be a hug from someone you’ve only known a few days. It can be a joke or game of cards over a lemon tea. By myself, I can stay driven in a race for hours but sharing the adventure meant being motivated for weeks! There’s a quote that says “If you want to go fast, go alone but if you want to go far, go together”, never has that felt more true.
I could ramble some profound nonsense about how the trip has forever changed me, that I no longer place value on any of the luxury items I have back at home but that would be a lie. As I head back to my London home on a cold December night, I’m already dreaming of putting the heating on, jumping into the largest bath of hot water. I’m thinking of all the food I’m going to devour. The plane is still rolling back in to the airport as my 4G connects and I immediately start catching up on work emails and googling Christmas gifts. All I can hope is that these memories will stay with me for a lifetime and when I look at all I have, I won’t want anything more. I will instead be humbled by how truly happy you can be when you look no further than the beauty in everything and everyone around you.
My footprints will be long gone on that trail by now and the mountains will never remember I was there. But for me, I’ll never forget. x