Back in the fall of 2013, when my older brother, Gerard, announced his plan to hike up to Everest base camp in honor of his 40th birthday, I thought about it for a second and then said "count me out." The long distances, the extreme elevation, the freezing temperatures- that did not sound like very much fun to me. "I am perfectly happy with who I am," I explained, "and I don't need to accomplish feats of strength to feel good about myself." As fate would have it, Gerard's friend Zach, who was originally going on this trek with Gerard, tore his Achilles' tendon while training way too hard for the hike. His dream of Everest base camp was over before it had even begun and now there was an open spot on the trek that needed to be filled. Nobody was stepping up and I wanted to support my brother so I cautiously mentioned that I might possibly be able to take his place. I was currently in no kind of shape at the time and, having agreed to come along on this adventure, I finally had a reason to get in shape and build up my cardiovascular capabilities.
Today, all those months of training finally paid off. We reached our goal of Everest base camp in the early afternoon and, let me tell you, it felt amazing. The official elevation of base camp is 5365 meters which roughly translates to 17,704 feet. A big part of my initial resistance to doing this trek was that I simply did not think I was physically capable of going that high. Today I proved to myself that, in fact, I can do anything if I put my mind to it.
The hike started at 7:30am in Lobuche. We walked for three hours steadily uphill along the boulder strewn tundra. It was another picture perfect day full of amazing scenery. Towards the end of our hike, the gradual uphill slope turned into a serious uphill slog. After overcoming that hill, we began boulder hopping until we arrived at the lodge in Gorek Shep. Normally when we arrive at our next lodge it is time to unpack and take it easy. This time we had just enough time for a quick refuel before hitting the trail again, this time bound for Everest base camp.
We were told by our guide that there would be an ice-cold wind blowing and that we should bundle up with everything we've got. I wore my merino wool base layer with a fleece on top of that with my puffy jacket on top of that and my waterproof jacket on top of that. About an hour into the hike over extreme rocky terrain, with the Khumbu Glacier to our right, I came to realize that, far from being too cold, my problem was that I was way too hot. Although the wind was indeed blowing and it was snowing intermittently, the only relief from my warmth was to remove my beanie and gloves. My core stayed sweaty but at least I was no longer over-heating. For over two hours, we scrambled over boulders, gradually climbing up above the glacier until base camp finally came into view. Located at the foot of the Khumbu icefall, this is the place where Everest climbers spend up to three months acclimatizing, awaiting the break in the weather which allows their summit bid.
Everest Base Camp. Elevation 17,704 '
By the time we reached the famous cluster of rocks covered in prayer flags we were all absolutely exhausted. With the final goal in sight, I got a little over-zealous on the last uphill and powered up it much too quickly. My chest was heaving by the time I reached the top. It is important not to move too quickly at this high an altitude or you end up exhausting yourself. Back at home, you can easily jog up a small hill. But, at 17,500 feet, that same hill must be taken slowly and methodically or else your breath simply cannot keep up with your actions. Still, I didn't care, we had made it to base camp!
Tears of joy mixed with tears of exhaustion as we shook hands and hugged and then took obligatory photos in front of the base camp rock pile which is covered in prayer flags. We realized too late that we didn't bring a sharpie to immortalize our accomplishment as hundreds of others had done before us. There was talk of turning back, but I lobbied the group to venture further into base camp to be amongst the actual climbers and tents. I am really glad we did this, even though we were all running on empty by that point. I feel like we actually visited Everest base camp, not just some decorated rock pile, 200 yards from base camp.
Of course, whenever you reach your final destination there is always the sinking realization that you are only half way- you still have to hike all the way back. We all gathered up our strength and made the long journey back to the lodge in Gorek Shep.
Now, get this: I thought that getting to Everest base camp was our ultimate goal, but it turns out that I was wrong. Tomorrow morning we get up at 4am to hike up to the summit Kala Patthar- elevation 18,365 feet. The real ultimate goal.
Nick Hughes is a massage therapist, yoga instructor and co-owner of Well Being.