Ireland to Everest – Malachy Doyle.
In September 2016, aged 62, I set out to climb Everest. Well, maybe not the whole thing. Maybe just Base Camp (5364m) would do. For now.
I’d been out to Ladakh, in the Himalayan foothills, with Mohan and his trekking outfit, Namaste Nomad the year before, and I’d had such a wonderful time.
Great craic, great people, amazing scenery. And now I wanted more. I wanted harder. I wanted higher. After a wonderful first day in Kathmandu the hair-raising flight to Lukla in the high Himalayas, in a little 12-seater plane, was an unforgettable experience. How amazing to be above the clouds, with the highest mountains in the world all around. How outrageous to land on a tiny almost-vertical landing strip. Talk about an adrenalin rush! And off we go, to the first of 11 days of hard hard walking – and it was wonderful, totally wonderful. There are no roads, no cars, beyond Lukla. Everything has to be carried in by trekkers, porters,
horses or, in our case, yaks.
Old Nepali guys carrying incredible loads – double-glazing, tables, whatever – strapped from their foreheads. Long wobbly suspension bridges over rushing rivers. Past prayer wheels, inscribed stones and the occasional stupa we went. And it turned out that our lead guide, Dawa, an amazingly humble man – always happy to help the back-markers, me included – had actually summited Everest five times! Early morning yoga with Mohan, then some serious climbing – over 1000 metres ascent – but oh so beautiful.
Waterfalls, a double bridge, one above the other, with prayer flags flying. Following the Dudh Kosi river up the mountain, into the Sagarmatha National Park and on to the last town of any real size: the wonderfully buzzy Namche Bazaar (3440m). An acclimatisation walk the next morning to 3800, and then back to Hotel Hill-Ten for a second night (named after Tenzing and Hilary, the first people to summit Everest).
Onwards and upwards the following day. Cloudy and a bit drizzly, so no clear view of the high mountains above and all around us. Arrived, eventually, at Tyangboche guest house and monastery (3860m). Evening meal was dal bhat (lentil curry, the staple trekker diet). As the trekker’s chant goes: ‘Dal bhat power – 24 hour. 17 days – no shower!’ Mohan came rushing into the room at 3.30 in the morning. ‘She is opening! She is opening!’ And she was. The clouds had cleared , the moon was full and you could, at last, see the mind-blowing mountains. Ama Dablam, needle-thin, towering above us. Snow-capped peaks all around. And there
she was in the distance – the mighty Everest! Our very first sighting!
Beautiful views all the next day, up to Dingboche (4400m), where we had another ‘rest day’ – which actually meant a climb up to fully 5000m and back down again. But these guides know what they’re
doing – if you don’t acclimatise, you can so easily get altitude sickness, which can mean the end of the trek – or worse.
Lovely village – our last before base camp. Potato fields, tea rooms, snooker halls (who on earth carried them up here?!). Sleet, then snow, the next morning, and the day was made all the more chilling as we passed
memorials to some of the many who’ve died on Everest over the years.
But we eventually arrived at Lobuche (4900m) for a well-earned meal / rest / sleep. Up at 4.30 a.m. And this is it – the final push. Hard hard hard, cold cold cold, but oh so exhilarating as the sun rose over the mountain tops. Breakfast at Gorak Shep, and then we trudged, ever more breathless, every step a challenge, up the terminal moraine of the Khumbu Glacier. And at 1pm we did it! We made it to Everest! We’d arrived at Base Camp! I was totally out-of-this-world exhausted by the time we got back to Gorak Shep for the night. It had been hard hard work, but oh so worth it. Age is but a number. With the help of an amazing team, with the support of a fabulous group of fellow trekkers, I’d kept up with the young ones. I’d made it to the top of the world.
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