Where Did Margo..
A bit of this and a bit of that, because thats what i do – lots of this and lots of that!
– – – Margo Rhys-Jones
Ok so, we know by now that I like to move, travel and get cool cooking jobs – a few years back I decided that Id like to cook at Everest base camp whatever that actually meant, it was a subject I knew very little about, aside from our heroic Sir Edmund Hillary having been the first to scale Mount Everest alongside his trusty sherpa Tenzing Norgay. Base Camp was going to be a different kettle of fish for me.
So how to get a job at Everest Base Camp? The usual way I get all my jobs, use the internet! Anyone remotely familiar with documentaries about Everest will have heard of Russell Brice, another hardy New Zealander with many group Everest expeditions under his belt, (along with loads of other missions and adventures!) no loss of life in said expeditions (that counts in the Everest world), his own two summits of Mount Everest (and many other peaks). He was my natural choice, who I googled and the sole operator that I contacted. I wanted to go straight to my apex for all things Everest.
This was in December, fast forward to March and Id kept in touch with Russell via email, and though he hadn’t said yes, he hadn’t said no either. The decision came down to the wire, let me tell you! I was booked to go back to Turkey where Id been living for 3 years, from northern India, where I currently was, and things started to look more likely for Everest.. to the extent I took the extra step here in India to visit a dentist and get a root canal finished. As I was in the dentists office, trying to decide with her how best to get the root canal finished in the time I had left before my flight to Turkey, I got an email from Russel advising me it was all go! He was taking me as his western chef to Everest with the 2019 expedition- holler! I was beyond excited, so so happy. Boom! Done! That meant an extra day in India too, so my root canal could be completed and ready for altitude by the eve of my departure. (Russell had warned me that problematic teeth can be agony at altitude, hence I scrambled to get it seen to)
Because of my Indian visa expiry, I had to leave India in early March, so I flew Delhi to Kathmandu and spent 3 weeks in Thamel, the hub of Kathmandu. Now this is somewhere Iv never been before (and Nepal was my 59th country) and all I can ever find on the internet, or in books, is about how hectic, crazy, full on etc Kathmandu is, especially Thamel. I can safely say you can ignore all of this. It was no different than many other parts of Asian or Middle Eastern cities – noise, power lines clumped and bunched, people, traffic, exhaust. Nothing to see here, it’s fine.
Kathmandu sits at 1800m, and here I had my first taste of altitude, weight loss! What an exciting side effect! I wandered the streets, took in some sights and attended a great yoga studio for classes. Kathmandu has a plethora of amazing coffee shops too, with great coffee. I slipped easily into an old habit of a block of chocolate for breakfast with 1 or 2 lattes – and the weight was falling off me! Next to my hotel was a great little restaurant and their ‘mixed thukpa’ quickly became my staple there – a thick noodle soup with a mixture of proteins. I tried momos too, of course, but the thukpa was amazing, I couldn’t pass it up.
You can still see plenty of places in Kathmandu where the big earthquake of 2015 left its mark, the narrow, winding lanes and flimsy looking buildings, especially in many parts of Thamel, made me wonder what Id do if a big one struck while I was staying. Locals told me that many of them ran, ran to open spaces or spaces that were more open than where they were when it hit, whereas the tourists stopped to video and photograph the event. Personally, I hate earthquakes and find them terrifying, so I know I would have panicked and run too, anywhere!
I had pretty cruisy days in Kathmandu, and also spent some time scribbling out recipes for high altitude cooking specifically. There’s very little thats EBC height specific, but what the heck, I wanted to be armed. Finally the date rolled around when big boss (Russell) arrived, and we were ready to meet! I moved from my hotel in Thamel to the Hyatt on the outskirts of town, near the airport – with views from my room of the very famous Buddhist site ‘Boudhanath’ – one of the largest stupas in Nepal.
The Hyatt was where all the clients would stay pre-departure, and was definitely our last taste of luxury before heading into the hills.
My first night I had dinner with Russell, Woody and Woodys partner Rochelle. Woody is another Kiwi legend, already 9 summits under his belt, and his partner has one too. That is how they met, which I think is fantastic! It was so nice to sit and chat with kiwis! We’re all fluent in the same things!
That first evening we met two clients, a couple from America, who were coming for the trek to base camp with a few days stay before returning back to Kathmandu. Over the next two days, clients kept arriving. This included a small group from England – all associated with an injured army veterans society, another english man on his second attempt, and a couple also from the UK in which the husband was summiting and the wife was along for the trek and pre summit stay at base camp. The final couple were from Australia, he for the summit and she for the trek to base camp, a few nights there and then the trek back out.
On the first day of 3 pre departure, myself, and the two western guides – kiwi Mark ‘Woody’ Woodward and Austrian Stephan Keck, went to head office to get our gear. I was completely kitted out from head to toe, which a great selection of clothing from Chinese company Toread. Even our sleeping bags, packs, tents.. everything was designed by Toread, with input from Russell – couldn’t fault any of it.
The final night in Kathmandu included a staff / client meet to determine helicopter passenger order of departure for the next morning, 27th March – I would be with the female trekking client and the male nepalese doctor, in the 3rd heli trip. Our destination? Namche Bazaar. Most people fly by fixed wing to the regular starting village of Lukla, that boasts the second most dangerous airport in the world, because of the perilous landing strip, and start their trek from there. By us flying directly to Namche Bazaar we cut off two days already. This made our starting altitude 3,440m. My room buddy for the trek in was a base camp trek client from the UK – Sam – best roomie ever, and we formed a bond for life.
The flight to Namche was nothing short of breath-taking. With plenty of greenery and villages below and amazing mountains as far as the eye could see on our left hand side. We also got a birds eye view of Lukla on our right as we neared Namche, and landing on the heli pad was just amazing. To boot you get the clearest, most amazing days, never need to edit photos or videos, thats for sure!
The walk to our accommodation from the helicopter pad was treacherous in places, with snow melt and ice, but we made it to our lodge in one piece. It was probably typical of any lodge, basic accomodation, no electricity, but for phone charging etc you can pay ex amount per charge (and the prices rise steeply the higher you go, as is the case with snacks, clothing, any sundry items..) After lunch, a typical lodge style meal of soup starter, a protein, chips and salad for mains and more sherpa tea (incredibly sweet milk tea) or coffee, Sam and i went for a walk. Such an amazing, beautiful place with breath taking surrounds, but it was when we got back to our accommodation that I wondered if I was now feeling the effects of altitude. I was. I cant describe it but I decided to lie low for a little, rest up. That is part of a standard recommendation for altitude – rest after your walks, plenty of fluid and eating well. How would i describe it.. a feeling of lethargy, bit of tiredness, maybe a tad lack-lustre. Theres no real true definition, for me, although as the trip went on, I would start to recognise exactly how altitude was affecting me, no doubt about it.
The next day we were set for an early afternoon departure onwards to Khumjung village, a distance of 15.7km. In the morning I went for a slow wander (altitude is all about taking your own sweet time) with the American trekking couple and guide Stephan to the local museum. I felt like the walk there took forever, I was only in flip flops too as I’d assumed it was really close. It took longer than ‘just up there’ about a 30minute walk, slowly cos.. altitude up rough stone stairs, and when we eventually got there I decided against paying the entry fee to go in as the description didn’t really move me. However, there was a lovely stupa outside, a common sight on the walk in, and a massive yak lying down next to it, and he was very photogenic, so we all got great photos!
After lunch, another a-typical lodge meal of a soup starter, followed by plenty of carbohydrates, a protein and salad of some description, we set off. I tucked in behind Russell who was leading the way. We’d barely walked up out of the village when we stopped at the local monastery so Russell could give us the history. It was then I realised I was grateful to be able to stop and rest, and I decided to walk onwards at a slower pace at the back of the group. I also took some headache medication from the expedition doctor as that walk up out of town, as low key as it was, had brought on a headache – and hereby came the trend for the next week on the walk in, every 100m or so of ascent bought with it a booming headache, with the same pattern as the migraines I can get, stemming from my neck. One of the trekking clients had the same thing happen to her also.
I wandered along with Stephan, at a really comfortable pace, and we were both getting amazing photos on the way. He’s one of the most chilled dudes ever, it was really great to walk with him. I wouldn’t say I’m unfit, but the thing with altitude is, no one knows how it will affect them until they’re in it, theres no preparation that will guarantee anything, you’ll find out the extent to which you can cope with it, when you’re right amongst it. I realised, I wasn’t going to get off scott-free.. it was also interesting to note on the walk in, and for the first few days at base camp, the doctor was monitoring our oxygen saturation levels, and mine remained up in the high 90s for the whole walk in, whereas others’ were dropping down into the 70s – which at sea level would make anyone a desperate case for a hospital visit, but not at altitude. However, a few days in at EBC and mine also started to drop noticeably and was in the low 70s when I was feeling my worst.
Khumjung was a beautiful village that we descended a long stair way into. We entered a narrow gate way and then walked alongside a buddhist way of the rock piles they make, past a stupa and then turned left into Sherpa Lama Phurba Tashi’s guest lodge. Yes, that Phurba Tashi, most ascents over 8000m in the world, total legend and one of Russell’s closest friends. We spent two nights here at 3780m ( similar height to New Zealand’s highest mountain, Mount Cook) so the next day was going to be an easy time spent adjusting to altitude. That day, everyone went for a walk but I stayed to have my first bucket bath, sit in the sun and relax – which in retrospect was a bad decision. Always push on a bit more in altitude, it doesn’t have to be fast or furious, but you need to move, whereas my flawed theory was that the less I moved, the fewer headaches Id suffer.
I did go for a wander through the village later that day though, with most of the group, to see the famous ‘yeti skull’ in a Buddhist temple that doubles as a museum. Hmm, it was disappointing, this ‘skull’ looked like part of a coconut shell on display in a glass cabinet. Who knows what it really is. It was nice to wander the dirt paths in amongst the village though, and see local aspects of village life.
Next day we were to set off for Phortse, at 3810m, a walk of 5.7km according to google, but I beg to differ. Id guess it more like 12km, it certainly felt longer than 5.7km. We started with a slow uphill haul from Khumjung, stopped for a cup of tea at the top, where there was a tiny village with amazing views, then dropped steeply down to the valley floor over a small bridge and steeply ascended up the other side and into Phortse. We had one night at Phortse and it was here my roommate Sam started to feel ill, but she powered on and made it through the night to feel better the next day, when we’d walk 9km on to Pheriche at 4240m. Now it was really starting to get cold and the air noticeably thinner.
The walk was amazing with absolutely breath-taking views. We’d had glimpses of Everest on day 3, and today we saw his mighty peak again, wow! The valleys and mountains are so stunning, with views interrupted only by the flow of helicopters going up and down the valley – from Lukla or Kathmandu, to Everest Base camp and/or servicing the villages in between. We stayed in Pheriche for two nights and we all liked this lodge, it bordered on luxurious in comparison to everywhere else, I even paid for a hot shower here and that felt good. We were surrounded by big peaks, we had a beautiful sunny day for altitude adjusting – the summit group went for a hike that day – and I was able to enjoy a favourite pastime, ‘real’ coffee, albeit slightly average and very expensive. Beggars cant be choosers in this situation. At least it was from a coffee machine.
We set off again after breakfast the next morning for Lobouche at 4,910m, where we would again have two nights before the final push into base camp. By now most people seemed to be going ok, except for one of the guys who had come hoping to summit. He seemed to be getting symptoms of high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), although I never investigated that too much, we had an expedition doctor so that was his jurisdiction, however, this chap laid very low while we were at Lobouche. And me, I was well into using pain medication now for headaches, as well as taking small daily doses of ‘Diamox’ medication specifically for altitude. Actually the doctor started me on it on day two, and I wasn’t alone in taking it. Even at small doses, the higher we got and the longer I took it, there was no denying the common side-effect of tingling in the fingers and toes. It was a strange feeling, but you put up with anything to reduce the effects of altitude.
During the walk from Pheriche to Lobouche I dry- heaved like I would with a migraine, and had to take more headache pain medication. We stopped for lemon tea (cloyingly sweet at this place, impossible for me to drink) and sherpa tea before moving on up and climbing what felt like a never-ending wall made of rocks, up to where the ground flattened out again on another valley floor. At the top of this climb was Chukla Lare – a memorial for climbers who have lost their lives on Everest. It’s awash with cairns, buddhist prayer flags, plaques and monuments, a stark reminder of how nature dominates man. The walk on to Lobouche was fairly straight forward from here but I was out the back of the group again with Stephan. I had discovered that if I set off into our walks pushing myself too much by even the slightest, then I would really suffer as the day progressed. And today had been hard, but I made it, and here, we weren’t far below of what our final base camp altitude would be.
I felt ok at Lobouche and with not much doing we lazed around on the day off, or wandered through the village. There was a cafe there but we were advised to watch getting drinks or food from ‘outside’, we were also only eating vegetarian food at this point, such is the risk for illness. (Im happy to report on the walk out, two months later, Stephan and I did stop at the cafe in Lobuche and while he had a cold beer, I fell in love with a cappuccino that tasted heavenly after two months of filter coffee! Luckily, I had no nasty side-effects either)
And then we woke up to D-Day! We were setting off for Everest Base camp, finally! The walk, yet again, offered picturesque and amazing views, and our terrain changed as we neared base camp getting dryer and rockier. The temperature was comfortable, but I felt myself lagging the closer we got to EBC. I tucked in behind one of our trekking clients who was also struggling, her pace was perfect, and we stayed together, with Russell and her partner just in front of us. We came face to face with a group of yaks at one point, spread out in single file, so we stepped up off the path to wait for them to pass, and by some miracle, that took a long time – perfect to catch your breath! I have to hand it to Russell, he’s spry, wiry and so fit, and its really frustrating to struggle like I was at altitude, but I also have to remember my call up to go came very last minute, and though I could have done more fitness oriented activities during 3 weeks in Kathmandu, if I go again to EBC, I will definitely do more aerobic preparation, at altitude!
We had a tea stop at Gorakshep village, 5164 meters and around 2 hours from EBC. There’s lodges here to accommodate trekkers as it’s the last stop before EBC and trekkers cannot get permits to sleep at EBC. And yes, the toilets I used here were as disgusting as Id been warned about. There’s also a lot of storage here for companies that set up at base camp, including Himalayan Experience, making the to and fro trips between here and EBC, especially at the start and finish of the summit season with the bulk of their camp set up – tents, furniture, kitchen set ups etc.
We walked on from Gorakshep through a dry lake bed and then kept on rocky paths to EBC – and I’ll never forget my first view of camp! Lots of tiny tents in the distance scattered amongst the rocks below us, the Khumbu Icefall rising up on the right hand side, the beautiful peaks in the surrounds and, when you’re in the right place, Everests amazing peak.
As we got closer Russell took off to reconnect with his team of sherpa, and I rolled in with the last of the clients. Wow, I was at EBC! Another dream to tick off the list, and this was to be home for the next 2 months. We were told to select the tent we wanted, drop off our bags and then go to the large igloo shaped tent for refreshments. Most of the tents were taken by the time I chose one, but I was very happy with the one I got, it was a great home away from home while there and when the spring melt starts, tents can start to move as the plywood floor adjusts to the melting ice and snow – I was lucky in how little my tent moved, especially when I saw how much some of the crew had to rearrange their melting, moving, temporary abodes!
We dropped our bags at claimed tents, and then entered the famous ‘white pod’ for refreshments and a sit down. The white pod is a large domed tent, the epicentre of the expedition life – where we ate all our meals with clients, where there were books, movies at night, refreshments and standing room. A lot has gone on behind those curved walls, fact! There was all sorts available inside different teas, coffee, the standard powdered milk, chocolate, chips, biscuits and, what would become the never ending supply of hot water in large thermos’s – a staple throughout the valley.
After a quick rest Russell showed us around camp. The white pod had a large storage tent next to it, dry goods and fruit and vegetables, next to that was a smaller storage tent for climbing and camp equipment, and then the large kitchen tent. One of the only kitchens at EBC boasting a stainless-steel interior! Very much like a commercial kitchen, I was impressed! Next to the kitchen was Russells tent – a large one that had two rooms, one for him and one for Sherpa Phurba, and their living space which doubled as the office, while the large room at the front was the sherpa dining tent. I think we had 8 climbing sherpa, with five clients for the summit, plus two western guides – you soon start to get a clear picture of why Russell’s expeditions are ‘so expensive’ – they’re not, when you consider your life is on the line and that you need all the professional help you can get to summit a beast like Everest!
The climbing sherpa shared a large, dorm style tent a short walk up from the kitchen, the kitchen staff and porters were in individual tents outside the kitchen, the main toilets for western staff and clients were downhill from camp, with a shower tent on the other side of camp (which I never used, I stuck solely to bird baths in my own tent) and our client / staff tents were on the other side of the white pod, further from all those other tents. A right little village set up, albeit very temporary.
The first night there Russell called me, the doc, Woody and Stephan into his office for a meeting – which meant a couple of shots of whiskey each with hot water and honey (I don’t like whiskey but decided to join the moment) and we ‘cheersed’ each other to reaching EBC and to having a good and successful season ahead. I was told to take it easy for the next couple of days and start slowly when I did go into the kitchen because I was at 5300m. And boy did I know it when I woke up during that first night with an absolute blinding headache and intense nausea, like a migraine from hell.. I remember whimpering as I reluctantly moved to make it out of my tent and over to the toilet tent.. I stopped halfway out of my tent, on the stony ground, moaning and feeling quite sorry for myself. Most people would assume it was the whiskey, but I didn’t have that much! And Id had dinner etc, apparently this was typical of a night at such high altitude, nothing more, nothing less. I staggered over to the womens toilet tent and proceeded to power vomit into the toilet bucket. I had such little control over the aim that I knew I couldn’t leave the toilet in that state, but the tank holding the water for hand washing was frozen solid, the liquid pump hand soaps were also frozen solid, so I used the next best thing – hand sanitiser on toilet paper, and it worked perfectly, thankfully.
I think the next couple of days were uneventful, I just kept medicating for the horrendous headaches I was getting daily, and to try and counter the bad neck and shoulder pain also – really feeling as if I was falling apart at this stage. You’re advised to eat well at altitude – throw out any ideas of no bread, low carb, no sugar etc, eat what you can and eat well, and also, drink continuously, all to assist the body with coping at altitude. I will admit, its advice I heeded but I still suffered (and I wasn’t alone) drinking up to 4 litres of water a day. So it starts to seem a bit of an old wives tail at points, when you follow the script but still feel horrendous.
I think it was day 3 when my wheels fell off and the doc came to my tent to check on me with Russell. I could barely make it out to breakfast, so Russell insisted I keep taking it easy, and spend the day lying low – this is where his years of experience comes in so handy. I did that and slept a lot of the day, which was great and clearly needed. During that first week, there was definitely more than one occasion when I was close to telling Russ I wanted out, I was sick of feeling so crappy… but I hung in there!
When I did start to come around I was still having daily headaches, they lasted around two weeks, and feeling pretty crappy by mid morning every day – low in energy, head achey etc, but then one day, at the two week mark, it all passed and I was able to start seeing hope and feel ok with being at base camp for two months – progress! My first day back on my feet, and first full day in the kitchen, Russell included a mention of me in his nightly talk, not only welcoming me back on board, but thanking me for the graft I was doing. Nice.
Our trekkers were due to have 4-5 nights at base camp, but this turned into just over a week (I cant remember exactly) due to different scenarios popping up – much to their joy! We also lost one of our climbers and his partner on day one from base camp – they helicoptered to Lukla so that he could help his lungs adjusting to the altitude, and then made their way slowly back to base camp – a mix of helicopter and walking. They were gone for around ten days or so, and he definitely looked better when he arrived back!
Part of any sherpas pre-departure for their summit bid is a Puja, or prayer ceremony. Not only did we get to watch ours, but it was led by Phurba Tashi, who is also a lama. Theres a small pyre of rocks with items to be prayed over laid at the base around it, and from here there is a pole rising up into the sky, with buddhist prayer flags connecting to that from 4 directions. Apparently its auspicious and good luck if a bird lands on the top of that pole during the puja – there were black, crow type birds there and one did land on our pole. We all received a blessed red string too, tied around our necks. For the summit hopefuls, their red string had a decorative piece of string work hanging off it. I didn’t find out the significance of that, but being involved in that Puja was amazing, simply amazing.
As I settled into camp life, I found things better not only when i felt better, but with having some routine. My tent was well set up and very homely inside, and I started to work out meal times, meal types, folks’ likes and dislikes, so I was able to work easily within that frame-work. The days started rolling into one long piece of time at base camp. We had predominantly fine, clear days, with light, afternoon snow showers not uncommon – something Russ had told me about pre departure. I remember the day the trekkers left and how it was a bit emotional to say goodbye to them, such lovely people, but then we were down to the summit club, plus one, who was aiming to summit Pumori with the Everest summit hopefuls, as part of their altitude training. However, he left as he earlier as he was constantly having a terrible time with bad headaches that showed no improvement. He made his own decision – nothing is worth risking your health or life for, especially with family waiting for you at home. He was my tent neighbour and it was quieter without our tent-to-tent banter, I definitely missed Dave when he left.
What was meant to be a Pumori summit attempt within a couple of weeks of arrival at EBC, came almost a month later, due to weather. 3 didn’t make the summit, two did. Apparently it’s a very technical climb.
As part of my day I started an early morning yoga routine using the white pod to set up my mat and practice. Each morning when I woke, I’d moisturise my face, apply sunscreen, lie back down to get dressed – yoga pants and suitable upper body layers, socks and leg warmers, and then go to the white pod to practice. The average temperatures were around -8 to -6, and I’m not going to lie, some days it was very hard to feel motivated, plus, I’d have to stop and catch my breath during sun salutations because of the altitude.
Some days I walked. It was advised to me to walk to help adjust to the altitude, and I think it really did help, more-so than yoga, even if it was only a short walk for ten minutes or so. The official marker ‘point’ of base camp, indicated by a stone pile and buddhist prayer flags, was only a few minutes walk from us and the options then were either to turn right and go into base camp, or left and head back up out of the valley, towards Gorekshap village (the way we came in). I used to mix up what I did when I did go walking, and I always felt better after being outside moving in the fresh mountain air.
Phurba Tashi had some of his yaks at camp. They would stay up, out of the base camp valley, where there was grass on the hillsides, albeit sparse, and then make their way to the kitchen tent when they were hungry, where we’d feed them all our food scraps. When they’d finished eating, they’d mosey on back out of camp again to the mountainside. It was all very peaceful and timely, a nice procession to watch.
I don’t feel like Iv eaten as much or as often as I did at EBC. It was nothing but fun! I couldn’t just pop out to a shop to get my favourite dark chocolate either, so found myself eating the supplied chocolate like mars bars and Bounty’s – something I’d never usually do because I find them way too sweet. Id eat 3 meals a day, something else I don’t usually do, and that’s including dessert. Eat what you like, the food goes nowhere! On average, each of us lost 8-10kg, I lost most of mine during the 3 weeks I had in Kathmandu. If I could package this experience as a weight loss regime and sell it, I’d be uncomfortably rich! Exercising or not, the weight will fall off and its so much fun! However, the flip side is you also lose muscle tone too, noticeably, and it took me about 3 weeks back at sea level to start to regain that back again.
Our meals were all very delicious, with an experienced Nepalese cook – lamb chops, pizza, steak nights etc. My role wasn’t to cook per se, but to keep the Nepalese cook onside with western standards and taste. Ganu was his name, and we worked well together. One morning I surprised everyone by making eggs benedict – this was after their Pumori summit – eggs bene was something Ganu knew nothing of and so we had fun doing it together. We had woken up to thick snow that day, and I found out breakfast was going to be half an hour later, great, even more time! I can confirm, hollandaise sauce loves to be cooked at altitude! I make it just fine at sea level too, but at altitude, there’s no risk of over heating it – good to know! And eggs poach so well too.
Our supplies came by either helicopter, yak or porter. Our freezer was two plastic drums buried in snow, ice and rocks below camp. These worked well, and could easily hold enough proteins for our camp, plus the sherpa, who had their own cook, for around two weeks. The sherpa meals consisted of things like thick, chunky meat stews, breads, curries etc and lots of potatoes! They love potatoes! Our potatoes were sourced from Khumjung village, and the sherpa would sit and eat potfuls of them with butter and chilli. Not going to lie, those potatoes were amazing! I was told that they’re grown traditionally by using animal and human ‘waste’ as fertiliser.. not sure about the extent of that, but we saw fields of potatoes being tended to lovingly on our walk in to base camp, and the end product was divine.
Like everyone else, the summit date seemed to drag its arrival, more and more so by the day. Until we were suddenly at the day before the attempt, with the weather God’s coming through at last. Russ warned the clients to prepare, that they’d be heading up the the next day, and it was all go! It takes an average of 5-7 days to leave EBC, summit and then return to EBC. I heard the group leave at around midnight to 1am, I don’t remember exactly. . I would have gotten up to wish them farewell but Russell advised against it, saying they needed to focus and would have enough on their minds – fair enough. So, we had a week of no sherpa and no clients at base camp – and started dismantling the camp in preparation for departure. We had lost another summit hopeful the week before, due to health reasons, and during the summit attempt, two more came down and flew out – which left two, and both summited successfully, along with both western guides and the necessary sherpa. It was amazing to watch climbers reaching the summit from Russ’s telescope – more so when they started coming from the Tibetan side as well. And to hear the radio calls as they made it. Our lead western guide, Woody, was set to do his tenth summit, which he did – and his partner was staying in camp with us. He proposed to her by two way radio, from the summit of Everest! So cool to be a part of. She has also summited Everest, which is how they met. Oh the romance!
After everyone had returned, before we knew it, it was time to head out – leaving a handful of sherpa and porters behind for final clean up.
We walked out to Khumjung in two days, an average of 22 km a day, and then helicoptered (via Lukla) back to Kathmandu. Back to the Hyatt hotel – shower, bath, big bed, being able to stand up to get dressed etc! Oh and coffee (Nepal has great coffee!)
I spent another week in Kathmandu before heading back to Rishikesh in India – which is at 300 meters – and I paid a price too. I swelled up, I had to adjust to eating normally again, my sleep was a bit hit and miss and the heat was something else, especially with no air con and frequent power cuts that killed the ceiling fan.. But then I came good again. Id been missing warm weather but wasnt quite prepared for the mass of humidity that awaited me back in India.