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With ‘Everest’ the movie hitting cinemas next month, a film which chronicles the final, fateful 1996 Everest summit in which both New Zealand mountaineer, Rob Hall and American guide, Scott Fischer - along with six other climbers - tragically perished, the age-old Everest question is re-opened; what is it about the world’s highest mountain that humans find so inexplicably irresistible?
Everest for hardened climbers
At the peak of Everest, a mantle which is barely a few metres wide, the undefeated stand at such a formidable height, it’s on par with the cruising altitude of a Boeing 747, or to put it another way, ten times higher than that of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. A height that is commonly referred to as the Death Zone, because at 8,848 metres humans are no longer physically expected to function; no longer considered alive. At 8,848 metres, your organs shut down and you're effectively dying.
And you still have to climb down.
On the flipside, a successful Everest summit sends dopamine levels through the roof; it’s the unachievable made achievable; a battle with Mother Nature where the odds are stacked against humans and yet Man still emerges the winner.
But again, you still have to climb down.
Everest for everyday folk
So what about the everyday Joe Smoe who answers to the magnetism of the mountain, but has little or no mountaineering experience and a bad knee that gets stiff in damp weather? Well, unfortunately for Joe, there’s probably no Everest summit in the pipeline – not the foreseeable one anyway - there is however, plenty of opportunity to embark on an Everest Base Camp trek.
One year on from the Nepal earthquake which destroyed the region and claimed countless lives, the trails that weave in, out and through the Everest landscape have officially been deemed safe to trek again. Buildings that have been damaged are structurally sound and easily repairable, the majority of foundations have not been hindered by post-earthquake landslides and all potential hazard areas – of which there are few, are already being rebuilt.
Most tours begin in the city of Kathmandu, with a day or so to acclimatise to the already heady height of 1400 metres. From there you’ll embark on a high-energy itinerary of tramping and trekking, making your way each day to the next lodging, past lakes, traditional Sherpa villages, Buddhist monasteries and Tibetan trade routes. All the while, shadowed by the imposing dagger-like peaks of the Himalayan mountain range.
Typically, treks pass the astounding Gyoko Lakes and snake through the Khumbu Valley. Classic itineraries, such as those booked through House of Travel in partnership with Peregrine Travel, will take you from Dudh Kosi Valley to Namche Bazaar, by which time you’ll be skimming heights of 3420 metres. There’s the short but steep (and thigh gruelling – we’d be lying if we said this doesn’t hurt) climb to Kala Patar, which is worth the pain for its 360-degree panorama views across the snow-capped terrain, as well as cultural landmarks such as the Thyangboche Monastery and a penultimate, as well as exhausting, arrival into Everest Base Camp.
Everest Base Camp
At 5,545 metres, reaching Everest Base Camp is never going to feel like a leisurely stroll around the park. With light altitude sickness pecking at your head like a dull, tedious thud and the crunch of every snow-pounding footstep reminding you of your incessant fatigue, the gales are strong, the air is grey and the only sound louder than the wind is your raspy, depleted breath.
Sounds good aye?
On the plus side, from between the gaps in the low, moist fog, the first glimpse of Everest will start to poke through the mist – like a giant god cloaked in cloud. On a good day, its staggeringly white facade sits in stark contrast to an ice-blue sky. You’ll have seen it at intermittent times previously, but not like this – not as close as this. All dressed up and ready to greet guests.
Embark on a Base Camp trip from March through to April and you’ll cross paths with mountaineering teams, already preparing for their May ascent. If the allure of Everest hasn’t already implanted its roots within your own thoughts, perhaps ask them why she appeals so much. What is it about a single mountain that men and women risk their lives to conquer?
The fitness required
The good news is, none of the Nepal trips are as punishing as an actual Everest climb (phew!) but a decent level of fitness is required to get you from A to B. Days involve between 2 and 7 hours of trekking with much of the terrain being craggy, steep, uneven and sheer.
Unfortunately the one thing you can’t control, regardless of fitness, skill or know-how, is altitude sickness. The unpredictability is as such that no two trips are the same; you may have been fine in Peru, at 4000 metres observing Lake Titicaca – but that means diddly squat in Nepal. Altitude sickness can strike anyone at any time, or not at all and never again.
Fortunately, on tour, you’ll have leaders and guides, Sherpa and a team of experts to take care of the entire group. Undoubtedly you will spend the duration catching your breath and enduring a constant, irritating head ache. But hey, that’s all part of the experience! No pain… no lifelong, goal-achieving, memory-making adventure.
You can’t have been put off then! When it comes to knocking off a few BIG boxes on your bucket list, this is really up there.
Not one for the faint hearted or those shy of physical exertion, but if you’re game, you can bet your bottom dollar Everest is. Go and say hello – she’s waiting!
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