Local veterans embark on journey to Everest Base Camp

|     Aziz Idris     |

TWELVE veterans from Brunei braved the treacherous voyage to reach the Everest Base Camp (EBC) recently in an expedition to show Bruneians, especially youth, to go out for adventures and explore the world.

The group are not “hardcore” trekkers nor are they expert mountaineers. They are a group of friends who love highland trekking and distance running (marathon), as part of their pursuit to a healthy lifestyle.

Going on their own budget and having no sponsors, they engaged a reputable Nepal travel agent to set the expedition’s itinerary and all other admins including guides/ Sherpas and porters.

They were also joined by one Indonesian mountaineer.

One of the group members, Mohammad Vol spoke to the Sunday Bulletin and shared his experience of the expedition. “We believe Bruneians are high-spirited, strong-willed and passionate people. If we, as old timers, succeed in reaching EBC, so can any Bruneians.”

There are many routes to Everest Base Camp, but the team took the elevated trails which have better views of the nearby villages and the mountainous landscape
On average, the team trekked up to six to seven hours a day, roughly 155km. It became challenging the higher the altitude as the air becomes thinner
The expedition members are from varying backgrounds, but the love for highland trekking is the one thing they share in common
During the arduous trek the team would share food and drinks and always checking on each other to ensure everything is alright

A majority of the group are well over their 40’s and 50’s nor do they have the physique of professional climbers but “we believe mental strength and teamwork is the key to this expedition”.

The whole journey from Brunei to EBC and back took 16 days and comprised one day of outbound flight to Kathmandu, one day of admin in Kathmandu, eight days of climbing up to EBC, four days of climbing down from EBC, two more days of admin in Kathmandu and then a flight back to Brunei.

The team engaged a reputable travel agent, Safe Himalayan Travel & Adventure Pte Ltd that provides the best services at an affordable price.

The first day expedition began with a flight to Lukla (2,800m/9,186ft) – the gateway to the Everest region and where the trek starts. The superb flight, took the team above breath-taking forest and mountainous landscape.

From Lukla, they did a slow trekking, meant to assist with acclimatisation, with the beautiful countryside and the wonderful people living in it.

Here, the team made an overnight stop in mountain lodge at Phakding.

From Phakding heading to Namche, the trek was surrounded by picturesque pine forest, which the group followed the Dudh Koshi River crossing over many suspension bridges, including the famous and one of the highest suspension bridge in the world, the Hillary Suspension Bridge.

They made their way through several villagers heading to Sagarmatha National Park, prior upon reaching Namche Bazaar.

The group climbed further for another two hours through forests before they got the first glimpse of Mt. Everest as it peered over the ridges.

This is where the team needed to acclimatised before continuing the expedition.

“At altitude like EBC, it is important to allow our body to acclimatize beforehand. Rather than resting, it is best to remain active to help speed up this acclimatizing process,” explained Mohd Vol.

Now at 3,870 meters (12,694ft) above sea level, the group started trekking towards Tengboche which has the biggest Buddhist Monastery in the region.

“There are many routes to EBC, here we took the elevated trails which have better views of the nearby villages and the mountainous landscape,” he recalls.

The trekking was fairly moderate as the group entered the Imja Valley that gradually unfolds its beauty as they approached the Lobuche River. After descending into the river, they began the last and steepest climb of the day up to Dingboche which stands at 4940m or 16,207ft.

After spending a night a Dingboche, the group had their second acclimatisation by climbing the northern ridge. After acclimatization, the group made an overnight rest before continuing their journey the next day to Lobuche.

“Climbing to Dugla through the Khumbu Khola valley is how we started our day. We walked along the arid terrace as mountain views flank our trek on all sides. The valley begins to narrow as we continued through Phulung Karpo (the campsite of the first successful Everest Expedition in 1953) and crossing thundering rivers,” explained Mohd Vol.

After crossing a small wooden bridge, the group finally ascended to Dugla before continuing on to climbed up the steep Khumbu Glacier. At this point, the team started to feel the effect of high altitudes as the land was already 5,000m or 17,500ft.

The next day, after more climbing, the group went through Thangma Riju and finally approached Gorak Shep, where snow-capped mountains loom all around them including the biggest of them all, the majestic Mt Everest.

Shortly after lunch, feeling absolutely drained out, the group took the trail to EBC through the once vast Gorak Shep Lake where mountaineer’s tents stand out in bright colours against the monotony of the gray surroundings.

“The feeling of finally reaching EBC got us very victoriously emotional,” he said before adding, “We could not afford so much time at EBC, we headed back to Gorak Shep, this being one of the longest trek of about 20km.”

The next day, the team head out very early in the morning (4:30AM) with a steep climb to the peak of Kala Patthar (5643m), to witness the first light hitting Mount Everest and the surrounding peaks. The predawn temperatures was icy cold (-20 C) plus the biting cold winds to increase the chill factor.

They started the journey down the trails the next day, taking their time, in order to acclimatise with the altitude.

One the longest distance covered going down, explained Mohd Vol was when they going back from Pheriche to Namche covering 22km.

The descending part from EBC back to Lukla was not easy as it sound. Everybody was tired and sore, and it is not actually downhill all the way, there were places where the team still had to negotiate long steep hills.

“Every step is something of a labour, so the whole journey and the effort you put on to get there, makes this trip very special. On reaching EBC we were overjoyed and filled with tears. Tears of triumph, as we cannot believe what we have achieved.

“It was quest so well rewarded; the overall experienced had been beyond amazing, almost magical. It’s a dream fulfilled, Alhamdulillah. At every steps the sceneries were truly amazing, reminded us of the greatness of Allah the Almighty,” said Mohd Vol.

Asked what did the team learned from the expedition, Mohd Vol replied, “The trekking experience has given us an enormous exposure especially to appreciate the life revolving around Everest, and her natural beauty.

“We, in turn, now appreciate our natural beauty in Brunei, and urge Bruneians to take care for it. Please we advocate everyone to be more appreciative towards our flora and fauna, and to manage our wastes properly.”