Forget mountain climbing – Everest is the ultimate high for hikers (with gallery)

ARIELA FRIEDMANN
FOR POSTMEDIA NEWS

Mount Everest

Trekkers follow a trail as Mount Everest, the world’s tallest peak, is seen with other peaks from Syangboche on Dec. 3, 2009. Prakash Mathema/AFP/Getty Images

Standing on the mass of moraine and ice surrounded by frozen tundra and glaciers, I looked around and felt so blessed – this was it; this was the Base Camp of books and movies and dreams lived or shattered. Mount Everest Base Camp, 5,356 metres high in the Himalayan Mountains of Nepal. I was filled with awe. I was standing on hallowed ground where so many had come before.

Myself, and two others, Sandy Turner and Lorena Townsend, had planned a trip of a lifetime to visit Nepal and trek through the mountains. None of us are climbers or mountaineers, but we love to hike and explore.

Our journey to Base Camp had begun thousands of feet below in Kathmandu, where we had organized our gear and supplies and hired our guide before taking the spine-tingling flight to Lukla (2,850 metres), the traditional starting point for trekkers.

We spent 21 days in the Khumbu Himal Valley trekking a circuit that would take us from the lowlands up into Gokyo Ri (5,380 metres) and then over to Gorak Shep, the last village at 5,140 metres up in the mountains, where people tend to stay to do the long day hike to Base Camp.

Our journey to Everest Base Camp began in the wee hours of the morning. Leaving our “lodge” – an unheated plywood building where the temperature inside in our room read -12 C (yes, that’s a minus!) – we trekked for two hours before descending into the plateau that has been made so famous for its cast of characters and annual seekers of the world’s highest high. There is no sign that says “Welcome to Everest Base Camp,” but you know where you are because of the Tibetan prayer flags and the massive Khumbu Glacier that marks the spot.

We spent an hour at Base Camp taking photos, walking where a few months later expedition tents will claim their territory, taking in the icefall and glacier, and seeing the memorials to the many sherpas and climbers who have perished. Professional climbers tend to take over Base Camp around April. But we were there in November, when the days are mostly sunny though the nights are cold. The payoff is spectacular views of the Himalayan range without clouds.

I’m not a climber and have no interest in climbing Everest. But to hike there? Yes, yes, yes – and anyone can do it as long as you’re fit and give yourself time to acclimatize to the altitude.

The night before trekking to Base Camp, we had hiked to the top of nearby Khala Pattar (5,545 metres) to watch the sun set over Everest’s peak. We saw a spectacular view under a full moon as Everest turned from snow and rock, to fire orange, then pink as the sun set. Then, it seemed the moon became a giant light bulb bathing Everest in a spectacular moonbeam. As dark set, we trekked down, guided by the soft beams of our headlamps.

While we could argue that the hiking trails of B.C. and Alberta are far more technically challenging, what makes the Himalayans so challenging are the elements you constantly battle: numbing cold, air, and dusty and rock-filled trails shared by trekkers, porters, guides, locals and trains of yaks and their handlers. We have much respect for these mountains, the elements, the views and mostly for the people that call this place home.


Mount Everest


Picture 1 of 13

Mount Everest, the world's tallest peak, is seen from Syangboche, Nepal on Dec. 3, 2009. Prakash Mathema/AFP/Getty Images

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