The smallest aircraft I’ve ever boarded touches down. Tears are barely clinging when I saw the ragged Tenzing-Hillary Airport signage. I almost can’t believe that the scene I am witnessing is real. I used to just see it in National Geographic shows. Then the chilling air kisses me as I step 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, am set to another exciting adventure and that is to witness the beauty of Mount Everest. This is 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 is being shattered into pieces. I am gagging, I can’t eat. Worst, the elevation is just half the height of ABC. Right there and then, I knew that the following days won’t be easy.
The trek to the Sherpa capital Namche Bazaar on our second day isn’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 is 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 hike to Syangboche’s hill for a better view. This is 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 are told that we could enter the main prayer room of the Buddhist monks, but I can no longer move. My whole body was chilling despite the three layers of jacket I am wearing. I urged our team leader to just move on. I knew for sure that the trail to Deboche from Tengboche is like a scene from the epic movie The Lord of the Rings but I can’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 is, 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 are all blocked by a river of fog. I can’t even remember a thing about this day but my wishes for it to finally end. It is like an endless agony of walking. I am one of the firsts to arrive in the teahouse; Rhoda followed shortly, crying. Apparently, she isn’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 is 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 (or so, we hoped) and we’re reaching the base camp. With renewed energy, we happily started our seventh day of trekking to Lobuche. We are now surrounded by towering snow-capped mountains and the views can’t get any better. We are told that the trek from our last stop to the next destination will only take two hours but we did it for more than three hours because we just can’t take our eyes off the amazing scenes we are witnessing.
We knew we are nearing EBC. Each movement has become more and more exhausting for us due to the thinning oxygen. Then we reached the Thukla Pass signifying that Lobuche is 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 will 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 because 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. Whenever we see 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 are 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 is with me asked me to slow down then he points to a group of red and yellow dots that I really couldn’t see. “Trekkers, tents, and that’s the base camp,” he said. I was at my wits end. I now can 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 are 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 is.
Another hour past and we are now approaching 5,380 MASL. The trails are becoming more different, from loose sand and rocks to unstable rock surfaces with ice layer. A few more minutes and we finally see the prayer flags with “Everest Base Camp” written on them. From where we are at, no words could justify the beauty of what we are seeing. The Khumbu glacier and icefall, Nuptse, Lhotse, and Everest are 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.
This story is also published in the December 2014 issue of Outdoor UAE magazine.
Photos by: Rowjie Galang and Edwin Rolian