I would like to take this opportunity to thank my University of South Wales (formerly Glamorgan) colleagues for sponsoring me on my recent trek in Nepal (22 April-11 May 2012). At the last count, £23,572.34 has been raised by Welsh Women Walking for Marie Curie Cancer Care and Tŷ Hafan – http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/WelshWomenWalkingEBC.
Welsh Women Walking at Everest Base Camp with Richard Parks and our fantastic Sherpa team (L-R: Pasang, Jacquie, Jayne, Pemba, Mandy, Angie, Barb, Izzy, Gwenda, Debbie, Lakpa, Jasmin, Siân, Sally, Emma, Mingma & Richard)
How it started
Just after Christmas, the founder of Welsh Women Walking heard Richard Parks of 737 Challenge fame speak at an event at the Institute of Directors in Cardiff. She was so inspired by his achievements (Richard is a former international rugby player, turned adventurer due to injury) that she pledged to help him raise £20,000 for charity. Richard immediately offered to take a small group of us to Everest Base Camp and we had just 4 months to prepare; not only with fundraising, but also with increasing our fitness levels. We set out a plan that involved getting out into the hills as often as possible, and some of us even dared to join a gym. We also set up visits to the surprisingly joyful Marie Curie and Tŷ Hafan hospices in Penarth and Sully to see where all money raised would be going.
The heartland of Nepal is far from any roads. The only way to get there is by walking up and down endless hills. Many of the trails have been used for centuries, and they offer some of the most spectacular and beautiful scenery I have ever seen. As Lonely Planet (2006, p.323) suggests “…there is absolutely nothing like waking up on a crystal-clear Himalayan day and seeing an 8000m peak towering over you”. The trails are busy with trekkers, yak teams and their herders, and local people passing by, including porters carrying incredibly heavy loads of unexpected items. There are many villages where trekkers can pause for lemon or ginger tea, light meals such as dal bhat, or find lodgings for the night. The Nepali highlanders, with their warm and outgoing nature, and devotion to Buddhism, made our trek even more interesting and enjoyable. We walked clockwise around every single ‘Stupa’, prayer stone and prayer flag we passed, span every prayer wheel three times for luck, and listened solemnly whenever our Sherpa guides prayed or chanted. As we progressed, the air got thinner, vegetation became sparser, and it inevitably got colder and more uncomfortable.
Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)
We took great care to acclimatise by slowing our rate of ascent. We started the trek from the Tenzing-Hillary airport at Lukla (2,860m) so we were already at a high elevation. At Everest Base Camp (5,364m), we would be at an altitude where the oxygen content of the air is about half that at sea level. Lack of oxygen at altitudes above 2,500m affects most people to some extent. Effects can be mild or severe, and occur because of less oxygen reaching muscles and the brain. The heart and lungs then compensate by working harder. On Day 1, I was the first in our group to display symptoms, in my case a lack of coordination (a ‘drunken walk’) and dizziness. After being confined to a complete rest day in Namche Bazaar (3,440m), I made a full recovery and luckily had no further problems. During my rest day, I had the misfortune to experience a phenomenon known as Cheyne-Stokes breathing. I awoke to find that I was unable to breathe for maybe 5-15 seconds… but it seemed much longer! A few of the others experienced different symptoms later on in the trek. Mostly headaches, loss of appetite, nausea and breathlessness, but there were a lucky few who remained completely unaffected.
Everest Base Camp
It is impossible to put into words how we felt about reaching our destination, and sadly three of our group didn’t make it. For those that did, it was an almost spiritual experience. We had a rendevouz with the Jagged Globe Everest summit team, and a slap-up lunch to look forward to, so that gave me the strength to get there although I was exhausted. And the setting was beautiful! Colourful tents perched on the glacial moraine of the Khumbu Glacier, stunning ice formations, abundant prayer flags, and the sight of climbers as small as ants making their way down the notorious Khumbu Icefall. Both Eastern and Western climbing teams rested themselves in their tent areas, and we had the privilege to meet a young Bangladeshi who was hoping to be the first woman from her country to climb the 7 summits.
Sadly the trek had to come to an end, but we were glad to experience the rich air again on our descent, and a couple of days of R&R to recover. Katmandhu is exhilarating – the sights, sounds and smells overload your senses. I enjoyed joining the crazy traffic albeit from the back of a taxi, wandering down the narrow winding streets of the medieval old town, eating stone baked pizza at the world famous Rum Doodle’s Bar, and doing my Michael Palin impression by sidling up to Saddhus at the Hindhu Pashupatinath Temple and visiting the Buddhist temple at Swayambhunath.
My photographs of the trek are available at http://flic.kr/s/aHsjziRn43.
Mayhew, B., Bindloss, J. and Armington, S. (2006) Nepal. 7th edn. Footscray: Lonely Planet Publications.