An expedition to Base Camp

By Alex Bicknell-Cummins

Deciding to join DUCK’s Everest Base Camp expedition was an easy decision. It seemed the perfect way to end my summer, and I expected to return to uni a ‘changed’ person; triumphant with the feeling I had overcome a great challenge. Nevertheless, I returned to Durham feeling at a loss and dissatisfied. Whilst the experience was wonderful, it didn’t quite make me feel the way I thought it would.

Our first night in Nepal was spent in Thamel, Kathmandu; a region lit up with fake North Face’s, trekkers and hippy ex-pats. It was here that we met our wonderful guides, Bhumi and Ramesh, and the reality of the weeks ahead started to sink in. The night before our flight to the Himalayas was a restless one, horror stories of the dire consequences of altitude sickness, avalanches and a lack of working toilets keeping us awake. Bright and early on Friday the 13th, we flew to Lukla (the most dangerous airport in the world) to begin our expedition.

A speckle of orange amongst the grey rocks was our first view of Base Camp

A speckle of orange amongst the grey rocks was our first view of Base Camp, and as we walked down to it, the rocks became boulders and the distant orange became tents.

The trek was eight days up and three days down, and each was peaceful and wholesome. Our guides and porters were incredibly friendly and quite possibly superhuman; running up the mountain carrying two bags on their heads.

Their positivity was infectious, and with every metre we climbed, the more enthusiastic we became. Whether it was a photoshoot with a Malaysian actor, guilt free carb-loading or a high five from a local child, we all found joy in the little things. Whilst the accommodation, food and even the scenery was repetitive, there was an air of content; we felt like we had been given guilt free time – no stress or worries. It’s just you, the path and the mountain ahead of you.

At 4000m the problems started. We had caught a glimpse of the snow-peaked mountains through the clouds, and suddenly realised what we had been missing due to the ever-present mist. We’d been teased by a view of Everest, knowing we were unlikely to see it again with each passing day, the guides pointing into grey sky to show us where Mount Everest ‘should’ be. The mood became worse; evening card games replaced with oxygen level readings and early nights.

By the time we reached Gorak Shep, our last stop before base camp, altitude sickness was taking its toll on half of the group. For the last three hours of walking up to base camp, the mood was one of frustration and discontent; those who were ill required regular stops and a slower pace, whilst those of us lucky enough to evade the effects of altitude would be restless and cold.

We stepped away from Base Camp when we had to ask, “Is this it?”. A spray-painted boulder was before us; the tents no longer visible, the tallest mountains in the world vanished. Just us, and a rock. We were underwhelmed. We took our pictures thinking, what now? Three of us walked up a crest of boulders to look at the tents beyond; these were the proper explorers, headed to the summit of Mount Everest.

Stood watching them, it hit home how little we had done compared to them, how there was so much more that people were achieving. They had science equipment and ice picks, whereas we had celebratory chocolate. A few of the explorers spotted us watching them, and whether they pitied us or were missing female company, they waved us down to their site. Despite being told we couldn’t go to main camp for security reasons, we scrambled down the rocks into their main tent where we were greeted with cups of tea, shots of vodka and a Polish Ski team who were aiming to ski down from the summit. Whether it was the booze or the bizarreness, it made reaching base camp all the more exciting.

Just us, and a rock. We were underwhelmed. We took our pictures thinking, what now?

I think my disappointment is rooted in the fact that I could’ve done more. This trek was sold to me as the ultimate challenge, the hardest thing I would ever do. And yet it wasn’t. I didn’t return home feeling like I had pushed myself to the max, that I had conquered something, that I had made myself a stronger and more resilient person.

Photograph by Alex Bicknell-Cummins

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