An unplanned adventure

Audrey Lee

Sometimes great adventures are unplanned. Such was the case six years ago in August, when I found myself trekking towards the South Base of Mount Everest.

I was in Brunei to visit a friend, Moichan, and to celebrate her birthday, we decided to travel somewhere that neither of us had been.

Thus, after purchasing a budget flight online, we flew to Kathmandu with little forethought.

Upon arrival at the family-run hostel in Kathmandu, we asked the proprietor where we could see Mount Everest. Naively, I thought I could just walk outside and see the highest mountain in the world. Instead, we were told the best way was a 10-14 day trek to the Base Camp. Moichan and I both agreed we could not leave Nepal without seeing Mount Everest.

Our proprietor quickly contacted his friends, and the next day, we were at the airport, boarding a helicopter. The flight over the Himalayas was breath-taking. We actually spotted Mount Everest surrounded by rugged sister peaks.

Mount Everest surrounded by rugged sister peaks. PHOTOS: AUDREY LEE
Locals in Lukla carry heavy items on their backs

On the helicopter was a local engineer, whose last name was Sherpa. He earned his Engineering Degree in the United States (US) and is back in Nepal to develop the infrastructure and building hotels. Landing on a helipad in the town of Lukla, we spent the night. The next morning at breakfast, we met our guide/porter Bijay. We set out on our trek before lunch. Bijay carried both our bags and I was glad we had left most of our stuff in Kathmandu! Even so, Bijay dashed back home to retrieve a larger backpack!

At this point, I must remind readers I had not planned to be trekking in Nepal, especially not during the monsoon season. Fortunately, I had worn my sturdy water-resistant shoes, a waterproof jacket, and light-weight thermal underwear. Recalling a brutal trekking experience 10 years earlier, I bought an inexpensive Korean-made adjustable hiking pole – a knee saver on rocky slopes!

Trekking five to 10 hours a day through tiny mountain villages, past colourful flag-draped temples, musical bell wheels and waterfalls, we shared the rocky dirt paths with yaks and locals carrying tremendous burdens on their heads and backs.

At the many rope bridges swaying over deep ravines with wild waters, we paused to let others cross first.

Each night we stayed in hostels and ate belly-warming meals of Tibetan pancakes, dal with rice, vegetable soups and delicious momos (vegetable dumplings).

When we arrived in the large town of Namche, we were required by trekking regulations to stay over at least two nights to adjust to the altitude. I learnt that many trekkers could not acclimatise and either turned back or had to be helicopter-lifted out. We spent the two-day hiking the local trails, wandering the bazaar, and visiting the Sherpa Culture Museum.

This small but worthwhile museum inside a traditional house honours the many brave Sherpas and the very famous Tenzing Norgay, the first person to reach the summit in 1953; however, the early accolades went to Edmund Hillary who was knighted for this feat.

Our first and only sighting of Mount Everest’s peak occurred part way. Our porter excitedly woke us up around 4am to hike up a trail to view the sunrise on the Himalayas. When the first sun rays struck the peaks, we just stood in appreciative silence.

Unlike other famous mountains, Mount Everest does not stand out among the surrounding peaks, and can be clearly spotted only from certain angles. Of course, that was our last sighting because as we trekked closer to the South Base Camp, there was no possible viewing angle. All things considered, we were most fortunate.

Our trek with a local porter was not with an organised expensive tour operation that would keep us to a tightly managed schedule. We get to enjoy the scenery and rest whenever we wanted.

We also stayed overnight at Sherpa’s inn run by his wife on our return trek. Sherpa’s wife cooked a tasty meal for us in a traditional kitchen with ingredients gathered from her garden.

Most times we had the path to ourselves. I later learnt this was a rarity because the path is usually overcrowded with trekkers and strewn with litter. Nepal has addressed the litter problem with an interesting plastic bottle trash receptacle. The return trek went faster along more familiar stretches and without the mandatory layover in Namche. As we approached the outskirts of Lukla, the monsoon rains that had held off during our entire trek returned in full force. Drenched, we ran the last miles while ducking for shelter along the way. We were forced to stay in Lukla for two days while the monsoon raged in its final days of the season. On the third day, a lull allowed us to catch the first helicopter back to Kathmandu.

Indeed, an unplanned trip to Mount Everest during monsoon season resulted in a great adventure.