Words by: Kaiz Galang
Photos by: Rowjie Galang and Edwin Rolian
The smallest aircraft I’ve ever boarded touched down. Tears were barely clinging when I saw the ragged Tenzing-Hillary Airport signage. I almost couldn’t believe that the scene I was witnessing is real. I used to just see it in National Geographic shows. Then the chilling air kissed me as I stepped down the aircraft as if saying, “Welcome to Lukla. Sagarmatha has long been waiting for you.”
I consider trekking to the base camp of the world’s tenth highest mountain, Annapurna, as one of the most memorable moments in my life. Who would’ve thought that just a year later, I, along with my husband Rowjie and friends Agot, Migs, Dwine, and Rhoda, was set to another exciting adventure and that is to witness the beauty of Mount Everest. This was just the first of fourteen days of our trekking.
EIGHT DAYS OF AGONY AND BEAUTY
Walking for just four hours from Lukla to Phakding, I felt that same pain I experienced when we reached the Annapurna base camp (ABC) at 4,130 meters above sea level (MASL). My head ached like it was being shattered into pieces. I was gagging, I couldn’t eat. Worst, the elevation was just half the height of ABC. Right there and then, I knew that the following days wouldn’t be easy.
The trek to the Sherpa capital Namche Bazaar on our second day wasn’t any better. If not for the amazing views along the trails, refreshing suspension bridges, the several encounters with yaks and zopkios, I may have already gone mad. Luckily, the third day was not as taxing as the first two and we used it for acclimatization so our body could adapt to the conditions of the elevation and for us to lessen the risk of acquiring the fatal altitude mountain sickness (AMS). Here, we got to visit the Sherpa Museum and hiked to Syangboche’s hill for a better view. This was also the day when we first had a glimpse of Mount Everest.
On our fourth day of trekking to Deboche, we experienced our first unfavorable weather. We were on our way to Tengboche to visit the largest gompa in the Khumbu Region of Nepal when it started drizzling followed by a thick blanket of fog. We went inside the monastery as we were told that we could enter the main prayer room of the Buddhist monks but I could no longer move. My whole body was chilling despite the three layers of jacket I was wearing. I urged our team leader to just move on. I knew for sure that the trail to Deboche from Tengboche was like a scene from the epic movie The Lord of the Rings but I couldn’t appreciate it because of my weakening condition. At dinner, I only had a cup of hot soup.
Trekking to Dingboche on our fifth day was, for me, the worst part of our activities. It was drizzling all day. The majestic views of snow-capped mountains and lush scenery we could’ve had were all blocked by a river of fog. I couldn’t even remember a thing about this day but my wishes for it to finally end. It was like an endless agony of walking. I was one of the firsts to arrive in the teahouse; Rhoda shortly followed us, crying. Apparently, she wasn’t at her best condition since day two and just wanted to stay there, wait for us till we get back from the Everest base camp (EBC).
The next day, we had to hike to Nagarjun Hill for acclimatization. As expected, it was another day of chilling temperature with views of nothing but fog. When we descended back to the teahouse, I had my last hot bath (which cost me 600 Nepali Rupees) until after we reach the base camp.
We woke up to an amazing weather the following day which got us all excited. One more day and we’re reaching the base camp, or so we hoped. With renewed energy, we happily started our seventh day of trekking to Lobuche. We were now surrounded by towering snow-capped mountains and the views couldn’t get any better. We were told that the trek from our last stop to the next destination would only take two hours but we did it for more than three hours because we just couldn’t take our eyes off the amazing scenes we were witnessing.
We knew we were nearing EBC. Each movement has become more and more exhausting for us due to the thinning oxygen. Then we reached Thukla Pass signifying that Lobuche was just less than an hour away. Little did I know that an hour meant forever. I again felt drowsy and sick. It’s 2 PM yet the temperature has already dropped to 9° and I couldn’t hold on any longer. Thankfully, as if my prayers were heard, I saw the teahouse where we would be spending our night.
EBC AND STAYING ALIVE
It was day eight and the temperature is at freezing 13°. The small streams surrounding the village of Lobuche had frozen. Despite being sick the night before, I got up early as we needed to start at first light as we were about to face the most challenging part of our trekking. We started walking but real slow. Every little step and breath counted. However, whenever we saw puddles of water turned into ice we couldn’t help but poke them and make fun of them like we were children playing. It’s not every day we get to see this kind of setting in the tropical Philippines. This went on for quite a while until we felt tired and numbed from cold signalling our arrival in the last village before EBC, Gorak Shep.
Upon arriving in the village, two of our friends were at their worst conditions. Migs had succumbed to AMS and decided to no longer continue with the trek; Rhoda rented a pony just so she could get going. The village is three hours away from the base camp, which made it a total of another six hours of walking. It’s already 1 PM and we had to move quickly. The Himalayas can be unforgiving in the afternoon.
I was leading the pack. I don’t know if fear of arriving late was winning over me that I am walking so fast. After two hours of hiking, the guide who was with me asked me to slow down then he pointed to a group of red and yellow dots which I couldn’t see. “Trekkers, tents, and that’s the base camp,” he said. I was at my wits end. I could now see the foot of the highest mountain but it still seemed so far. I sat down, waiting and pondering. I honestly considered not going on.
Experience snow, stay alive, and capture that perfect shot I can show my future children. These were the three goals I had in mind before I boarded the plane that brought us to Lukla. If I head back, I have a higher chance of staying alive. If I push through, I definitely would be sick or worse but I would go home proud. Then Dwine arrived and just went straight to where the trail led. Continue it was.
Another hour past and we were now approaching 5,380 MASL. The trails were becoming more different, from loose sand and rocks to unstable rock surfaces with ice layer. A few more minutes and we finally saw the prayer flags with “Everest Base Camp” written on them. From where we were at, no words could justify the beauty of what we were seeing. The Khumbu glacier and icefall, Nuptse, Lhotse, and Everest were all right in front of me, far greater than how they look from above.
You wouldn’t have any idea how happy I was to have finally set foot on natural ice, to have remembered that there’s joy in every pain, to have decided to push myself to do things I first thought I couldn’t.
I looked for Rowjie, held his hand, and hugged him. We made it! I may not have experienced snow but I was more than satisfied with just standing on an ice layer. I am alive and now it’s time to take that “photo.” Euphoric, me, Rowjie, Agot, and Dwine, held our team’s banner as we posed for that photo which we will forever be proud of.
The rest, as they say it, is history.
Kaiz is a stay-at-home mom and currently works as an Operations Specialist for a software engineering company based in the US.