Everest. The mother of mountains has been on my mind for as long as I can remember. Actually, I know exactly when my fixation began. It was grade two. My family and I visited Science North in Sudbury, and decided to stop and see the latest IMAX release. One guess as to what that film was about.
After that, I became obsessed with all things Everest. That winter, my best friend Andrea and I spent every recess and lunch hour scaling the rock face behind the old Macleod Public School. It’s icy face shone in the sun, and I pretended it was the Khumbu Glacier. When we slipped, we pushed ourselves further. Just a few more feet to the summit of our mini Everest.
After a few years of letter writing back and forth with the Bluecoats at Science North, I was a certified Everest super-fan. I had posters, an autograph from the IMAX director, and a library card to withdraw a small screen copy of the film whenever I wanted.
It all culminated in my grade five speech. In elementary school in Ontario, all students were required to develop their public speaking skills in the form of a three to four minute stand up. Speech competitions were serious business: a time to organize back-up cue cards should memorization fail, and practice your time with a microwave countdown. It was also a time for sharing your passions. So I wrote a speech about Everest, using my words to bring my classmates on a journey to the top of the world.
ANYWAYS, that childhood obsession, and the fact that I share part of my name with Edmund Hillary , one of the first people to summit Everest in 1953, has meant that visiting Nepal and somehow getting near Everest has been a dream for a long time.
So, snap back to present day. I’ve come to realize reaching the summit of Everest is a feat that alludes me physically, financially and mentally. But…there is Everest Base Camp. At 5,360 metres, base camp is more than halfway to the 8,850 metre summit, and far more manageable of a trek.
On Monday, November 11 at 5 a.m., my 16-day hornet began. Making our way (I signed up to be part of an organized trek for safety and peace of mind) to Tribhuvan International Airport at the edge of Kathmandu, we were met by the organized chaos (a common theme in Nepal, methinks) of the airport, with a pile of people waiting to take the 35-minute, 12-person plane ride to Lukla, deep in the Himalayas where the Everest Base Camp trek begins. Just as my new Canadian friend and fellow trekker, Donny, and I were sitting down to order a morning airport breakfast, our trek company guy, Raj, came bursting into the room. “Come quick! We got you a spot on a helicopter!” It was 7 a.m. and our scheduled plane flight wasn’t due to leave until 10:30 a.m. But what’s both slightly concerning and charming about Nepal is the informal arrangements that are made through a bartering system of networks. Raj, apparently, has some
So that’s how Donny, myself and two Nepalese men (including one sweet guy named Sunan, who quizzes us about Justin Bieber, Avril Lavigne, and Sum 41), found ourselves piled into the backseat of a 6-sweater helicopter. Our large backpacks were promptly stacked on our laps, which was good, because there sure as heck weren’t seatbelts!
I knew flying through the mountains was going to be an incredible experience. Flying in a helicopter, though, was beyond anything I could have dreamed. Helicopters are like toys – giant bubbles of metal and gas levitating off the ground.
Just like that, we’re off, floating out of the smoggy haze of Kathmandu into the blue sky of the morning.
If I thought the terracing of the Mahabaret Range was impressive, I had no idea what to expect on this flight. The terrain of Nepal is otherworldly. Cotton balls of clouds settle into mountain valleys, a basin of the earth filled with vaporized moisture.
At some points the terracing is so dramatic it looks as though stepped fungus crawling up a tree. That, or chipped pieces of sponge toffee that has melted onto the surface of the earth.
Watching the jagged mountaintops, I’m baffled by the scale of things. These magnificent heights are the bumps on a globe, the geographic raisins that pulled in fingertips with a mysterious gravity. It’s all just so beautiful, and feels like a spiritual encounter, being so close to parts of the planet I’ve only ever seen in photographs.
Sunan taps me on the shoulder and gestures out the cockpit window. Lukla sits a the slope in the near distance. A few moments later, Sunan leans over to me and whispers “this is the most dangerous airport in the world.” If I wasn’t so excited from our flight, I may almost be worried.
But Sunan has a point. At 580 metres in length, the Lukla runway is one of the shortest in the world. It starts at the end of a cliff, and inclines up in order to both slow income aircraft and give departing plans the ground speed they need to take off, before plunging off the runway drop.
In our helicopter, we land to the left of the runway, the force of the wind being produced by our blades scattering plastic, empty fuel canisters around the strip. The blades do not stop or slow as we climb out of the aircraft. Despite them being well overhead and it not being windy, I hunch over and scurry away.
It’s only 8 a.m., and already my day has been filled with absolute excitement, joy, and wonder. We head off on the first leg of the trek later in the day, but in the meantime, let’s just leave this post off with a “to be continued.”
(PS: I initially wrote this post in my notebook by a wildfire in a tea house in a Himalayan village called Phakding. Life is good)
Also: I’m posting this after day two of our trek. Internet won’t be accessible after this village, so I’ll likely have to do a posting spree when I get back into wifi range. Plus typing out hundreds of words on an iPhone keyboard is tough!