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Trekking to Everest: Part III

This is a three part series about Linda Sanders’ trek to the Everest base camp, and is accompanied by an interview about the journey. See Part III of the interview here:


Reflections on the Journey

There is something wonderful about waking up and having the day’s goals be as basic as dressing warmly, finding clean water, and walking for miles. The path to Everest is well trodden. It is a route shared by yaks, Sherpas, fellow trekkers, and summit groups. All of whom I found to be friendly and respectful, except for the occasional rude yak.

In the Khumbu region of the Himalayas, there are no paved roads for vehicle transport of goods and furniture. Humans and yaks are the only mode of transport for most items. Each day we walked among Nepalese people carrying couches, mattresses, and foodstuffs on their backs. The trek is not easy, even with a 5 kilogram daypack. I was of course humbled by the ease with which the Nepalese cruised along steady uphill switchbacks at altitudes over 12,000 feet with up to 80 kilograms on their backs. It’s an image that will forever stick with me.

Certainly the 80-mile round-trip trek is worthwhile for the world’s tallest mountains alone. But there are sites and sounds of the EBC trek that are unique and make this hike a more spiritual experience, such as the suspension bridges lined with colorful prayer flags, the monasteries filled with prayer, the peace and calm brought by spinning a prayer wheel, and the warning chime of yak bells on the trail.

Medical Care along the Trek

When we reached the world’s highest ER, I can only say that the environment in which those physicians practice is awe-inspiring. The Everest Base Camp (EBC) ER is a medium sized tent housing IVs, blood pressure cuffs and pulse oximeters. And yet it is the primary source of care for the hundreds of climbers making summit attempts who spend up to 8 weeks at base camp, along with the hundreds more who are trekkers making their way to EBC for day visits.

Just 3,000 feet below EBC, the Pheriche Aid Post at 14,340 ft. cares for locals, patients transferred from EBC for more definitive care as well as trekkers descending the mountain, often suffering from altitude illness. In Pheriche, the medical staff cares for critical patients without the aid of blood products, labs, or x-rays. And yet these physicians and nurses manage to stabilize and care for some of the sickest people at altitude, along with the everyday illnesses affecting the local population.

The Earthquake

When I arrived in Kathmandu and later EBC in early April, both the Sherpas and the physicians were very hopeful for this year’s climbing season. Mount Everest is only open to climbing for a couple of months in the spring each year. The year prior, an Avalanche on Everest killed sixteen Sherpas, closing down the season. And an even more deadly event resulting in the deaths of 43 people on nearby Annapurna that same year, was likely the result of severe weather and avalanche.

As a group, we consider ourselves extremely lucky to have experienced the trek to Everest without any major hang-ups. We were forewarned about the possibility of an earthquake near Kathmandu just prior to our trek. It seemed that much of Nepal was actually aware of an impending earthquake since they were long overdue for this event. Still, our hearts sank when just 7 days after leaving Nepal we heard news of the massive earthquake near Kathmandu and ensuing avalanche that leveled Everest Base Camp. It seems that disaster struck at the most inopportune time again, right at the height of climbing season when the most people were on the mountain. Since then I have had conversations with my fellow travelers who have all expressed feelings of guilt, nostalgia, luck, and sorrow.

I am sure there are individuals that I passed on the trek who were hurt by the Avalanche. Some of them may have stayed in the same teahouses as me. And then there are the people of Kathmandu. My kind cab driver, my tour guide, what are the chances that they are okay? It is bittersweet to be safely at home while the people that helped me carry my bags for 80 miles, cooked for me, and kept me safe have suffered such incredible losses.

Now that most of the cameras and reporters have left, it becomes more difficult to remember that there are still thousands suffering in Nepal. The recovery and rebuilding of Kathmandu is an ongoing issue. Let’s not forget about the people of Nepal.