Nepal: the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step

60 million years BC the Indo-Australasian tectonic plate crashed into the Eurasian plate and gave birth to the Himalaya.  The Tethys Sea was pushed up which is why you can find sea shells on top of Mt Everest and fossilised ammonites in the Kali Gandaki Valley.

563BC (give or take) Siddhartha Gautama was born into royalty in Lumbini and lived as a Prince before gaining enlightenment as the Buddha – and gave birth to Buddhism, a philosophy centred, not on a god, but on a system of thought and a code of morality which is as relevant today as it was then.

1856 – Peak XV was declared the world’s highest peak and was later named Everest after the head of Trigonometric Survey who actually pronounced his name Eve-rest.

1914-18 – Around 100,000 Nepalis fought in World War I.  Over 10,000 lost their lives.  Thirty years later over 200,000 Gurkha served in WWII.

1934 – a huge earthquake killed over 8,000 Nepali in under a minute and destroyed a quarter of all homes.

1953 – Everest was summited for the first time by Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay on the eve of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

MOUNT EVEREST HEROES
credit: National Geographic

1996 – May – eight climbers perished descending Everest’s peak on a single day, including two summit tour leaders.

2001 – A Prince from the Nepali Royal Family indiscriminately opened fire at a family gathering murdering his parents and eight others before shooting himself.  His brother was crowned King.

2008 – Parliament abolished the Nepali monarchy, ending 240 years of royal rule.

2015 – April: a massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck central Nepal, killing nearly 9,000 people, injuring over 22,000 and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless.  Rebuilding continues to this day.

Nepal’s culture and history is rich and its people, made up of over 60 ethnic and caste groups speaking over 120 languages, are extremely diverse.  I have always, always wanted to go there.

Sandwiched between the disputed lands of Tibet and the steamy plains of India, Nepal is the hallowed ground of Sherpa, Gurkha, monasteries, prayer wheels and yetis; a spiritual sanctuary of towering mountains, glacial lakes and, of course, home to the highest mountain on earth.  And finally I get to go there this weekend, embarking on what will surely be the adventure of a lifetime in the Annapurna and the Himalaya mountain ranges.

I can’t believe this time has come around so quickly; I’m chomping at the bit to lace up my boots, put on my puffa, breathe in the mountain air and absorb, wonder and marvel at some of the most spectacular views I will ever get to experience in my life.

Part of me is also a little bit nervous; thanks to thrice-weekly Crossfit sessions along with kite surfing, swimming and walking Tiggy, I’m really fit. Yet…the average altitude for my high pass Himalaya trek is 4,300m where the air is 50% less than most of us are used to in our everyday existence.

gokyo 2
credit: Exodus

So I’m also prepared for it to be tough, everyone suffers at that altitude; sleep is elusive, headaches are to be expected, and the mere act of walking is physically draining. At night, sleeping in tea-houses and tents, the temperatures go as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius, which is a bit of a worry for someone who hates the cold as much as I do.

It’s not just a physical challenge either, it’s a packing one too as I can only take 7kg of luggage with me. Once you’ve considered a five season sleeping bag, a first aid kit, walking poles and a pair of crampons, this basically boils down to three pairs of knickers, two pairs of trousers, two t-shirts, a midlayer, a fleece, a Gore-Tex jacket and a very, very warm puffa…I doubt I’ll be hugging many people by the end.

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I also have a whistle (in case I fall down a crevasse) a new fancy watch that boasts an altimeter, pedometer, compass and a storm alarm along with a very clever water bottle with a filter that means I could drink water out of a puddle and not fall foul of traveller’s tummy.

And all of these will be lugged around in my snazzy new red Osprey Transporter bag, which Tiggy has sussed means adventure is on the horizon, although sadly, she can’t come with me this time.

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My first trek is the full 21 day tour of the entire Annapurna circuit; as well as views of the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri this offers an amazing variety of five different types of climates ranging from sub-tropical through alpine peaks to an arid semi-desert. The climax of the tour is crossing the iconic Thorong La Pass glacier at 5,416m.

I then have five days to rest, recuperate and wallow in plenty of bubble baths in Kathmandu before flying to the Himalaya to take on a quieter and more challenging, high pass 19-day Everest Base Camp trek; from the heart of the Sherpa homeland via the less trodden trails of the Goyko Lakes valley, traversing the icy glacier of the Cho La Pass and on to Basecamp where I hope to stand on the Khumbu glacier – the highest glacier in the world – at the foot of mighty mount Everest on November 14th.

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Then plan is to then summit the Kala Patthar (The Black Rock) whose jagged peak stands at 5,643m and, clear skies permitting, offers spectacular close-up views of Everest.

By the end of the two treks I will have walked over 514 kilometers and, as I understand it, eaten a lot of dahl baat (rice and lentils).

The luxury of free time on my eternity leave means I’ve been able to read so much about the region.  First I devoured Jon Krakauer’s harrowing and moving Into Thin Air, his account of the 1996 Everest disaster which cost eight climbers their lives along with the lower leg, both hands and nose of fellow climber Beck Weathers.

I moved on to Chamonix native Maurice Herzog’s Annapurna – which he dictated from his recovery bed as the brave and heroic leader of the first team to ever successfully summit an 8,000 meter peak in 1951; in the book he eulogises over their new, advanced “nylon” coats and casually describes having his toes amputated in the carriage of a Nepalese train.

Finally, I’m just finishing native Yorkshire-man Joe Simpson’s gripping and engrossing The Beckoning Silence  in which he faces up to the dangers of extreme climbing and mountaineering and the quiet acceptance of the loss of the lives of many friends.

Should I have harboured any desire to summit an 8,000 metre peak (I didn’t) then these books would most certainly have dissuaded me.

I feel a raft of strong emotions writing this.  I feel grateful to have such an incredible opportunity to visit this magical land.  I feel humble at the path that stands before me, knowing there will be moments that will test me to my limits.  And, of course, I feel wretched at leaving Tiggy behind – adventures without her are never quite the same.

I do know I’m as ready as I can be for the adventure that awaits.  And if there’s one thing my gap year has taught me, it’s that the biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams.  It’s the most liberating, exhilarating and wondrous feeling – I feel that I finally know what it means to be ‘me’.

Updates to follow, wifi permitting.

Choose happy, never stop exploring and remember travel is the only thing you spend money on that will make you richer.

Love, Sophie sans Tiggy and The Beast XXX

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