It was late September 2012 and I was 44 years old. I think it’s fair to say that over the previous couple of years, I had been more acquainted with curry and red wine than exercise and physical hardship. Apart from the odd leisure walk in the Sussex countryside, I have not done much to get my heart rate going. A couch potato, if you will.
My brother, Dan, was 39 and living in Hong Kong with his family. We meet up 3 or 4 times a year – usually when he’s over in London on business. It was on such a trip that we found ourselves having a few drinks in the City. Before, we got too tipsy, Dan leaned over to me conspiratorially and asked me if I could get 2-3 weeks off in November so that he could take me on a trek to Everest basecamp. He told me not to give him an answer then but to think about it. The evening progressed and it wasn’t until the next day that I remembered the proposition. Being self-employed and with my daughters reaching an age when they didn’t need constant fatherly oversight, I didn’t think getting time away would be too hard. But there was still a lot of thinking to do ….
Over the course of the next few weeks, plans firmed up and I put myself on a training regime of sorts. A decent walk (varying in length from 8 to 18 miles) each weekend and a nod to healthy eating and less beer, formed the basis of this campaign. Not exactly commando training, but the best I could do whilst also juggling my family and my business.
It was an amazing adventure and one I wasn’t sure in the end that I would complete. Here are my recollections of the day we were supposed to reach Everest basecamp, taken straight from a journal that I kept on the trip.
“Dan and I sniffed all night and I don’t think either of us have a brilliant night’s sleep.
I have a tomato omelette for breakfast and we set off for our highest destination – Gorak Shep. Again, we walk along the riverbed, before rising up over two or three hills. Finally, after about three and a half hours walking, we drop down into Gorak Shep.”
I remember that on that stretch, I had a fairly bad headache above my eyes and did feel quite nauseous. I also remember snapping at another guide, Manu, who was wittering away cheerfully to our guide, Prakash, in Nepalese. I remember feeling firstly, that Manu’s cheerfulness was getting on my nerves whilst I was feeling so rough and secondly, I felt at this stage of the walk, all of our guides’ attentions should be on our safety. In retrospect, it was probably a bit unfair, but probably symptomatic of the altitude sickness. We had just crossed the 5,000m mark.
“We have about an hour before our planned walk to Everest basecamp. I can’t really stomach lunch but manage to force down about 1/3 of a plate of noodles. We then set off, up the side of the valley that contains the Khumbu glacier, down towards our right. The terrain is quite rough and I find myself going on auto-pilot – walking along like a zombie.
After about 2 hours, we see basecamp sitting on the glacier. There is a long drop down to the glacier and then up to basecamp – a journey that obviously has to be reversed on the way back. I look at it and simply feel as though I can’t do it. I am so exhausted. So Dan heads over on his own, whilst I sit on a rock with Prakash, watching Dan through a pair of binoculars.
We can see Dan head across the valley and up into basecamp. I sip some water and force down a Snickers bar. After a few minutes, Dan heads back down into the valley and waves. How can I not complete this challenge? Re-invigorated by the rest and the chocolate, I leave my bag with Prakash and head down into the valley. I suddenly feel much better. A few minutes later, Prakash catches me up, with my bag on his back. I can tell he is desperate for me to meet this goal too. We catch Dan up and head up to basecamp.
At this time of year, there is very little to see (April/May is the season for Everest summit attempts) – just a sign and some prayer flags. But we were there. We took a number of photographs and headed back.
It feels brilliant but by the time we get back to the lodge at Gorak Shep, I am spent.”
Read the full account of Nigel’s trek to Everest basecamp here: