7:25pm GMT, Thursday 3rd November, 2016
The time is 7:25 pm GMT. This blog has been published to just as the wheels of an Airbus 330-200 leave the tarmac at Manchester Airport, England. Onboard the aircraft are 262 passengers everyone of whom has survived the airport’s human processing machine and, apart from the odd pair of Tommy Hilfiger trousers, resisted the temptations of the brightly coloured, scandalously priced, duty free shops.
7:20pm GMT, Thursday 3rd November, 2016 + 15 hours
If you stumble on this blog in the 15 hours after its publication, the time it will take the Airbus to reach its destination, it’s highly likely that our 262 are sealed in an airtight, lightweight, aluminium tube, traveling at a speed of 630 mph, 41,100 ft above the Earth’s surface, separated from the stratosphere by the thickness of a rubber seal. Suspended in mid-air by a perfect differential in air pressure between the shorter lower surface and longer upper surface of those sticky out things we call wings, and largely oblivious to the truly remarkable and unnatural situation they find themselves in, our 262 are likely to be feeling bored, restless, dehydrated and slightly grumpy; eating, sleeping, monitoring the engaged sign on the toilet, toying with their smart phones, and wondering when the stewardess will finally notice them. They will have already ignored the safety briefing and quickly exhausted the entertainment offered by the in-flight magazine. Though cacooned in their metal bubble, isolated from the rest of humanity, they’re not alone. Buzzing around the globe at this moment are perhaps 10,000 similarly shaped, sealed, metal tubes; perhaps 2 million fellow human beings in transit, waiting to set foot back on terra ferma.
But there’s one of our 2 million that’s not sleeping, or bored, or grumpy, but instead feeling exhilarated and slightly apprehensive. This is because the plane he’s on, that Airbus 330-200 from Manchester, is filled with enough fuel to reach Abu Dhabi and from there onto Katmandu, a distance of 4,603 miles. That person is about to realise the dream of a lifetime. That person is me. Travelling with me, tucked up somewhere safe in the darkness of the aircraft’s hold is my bright red Mountain Kingdom kitbag, filled with 15kg of everything I need for a 15 day trek to Everest Base Camp (and back) except for all the things I’ve forgotten or never thought to take. But 1kg per day feels like plenty, especially as most of it is flapjack and chocolate. Though looking calm and composed on the outside, inwardly I’ll be: (a) wincing at the money I’ve spent on kit – single handedly staving off the UK’s post Brexit recession: a new rucksack, trekking trousers, wiking base layers, socks, a head torch, running tights, trekking poles – the list goes ever on, (b) fretting over my levels of fitness (low) and levels of fatness (high) compared to my fellow trekkers, (c) checking and re-checking the symptoms of altitude sickness, or worrying about my propensity to suffer from the craps in foreign climes and the lack of toilet facilities on the trail, or (d) practicing the Nepalese for “thank you” knowing that with a brain the size of a goldfish I’ll have forgotten the words ten seconds after I mutter them. I will already be (e) missing Polly, and Sam and Harry, back home in good old Blighty, but above all I’ll be (f) highly excited for what me is the adventure ahead, to visit the people of Nepal, and to see the World’s highest mountain.
7:20pm GMT, Thursday 3rd November, 2016 + 30 hours
If you’re reading this blogpost 30 hours after publication, if the weather is kind in the Kingdom of Nepal there’s a good chance that at at this very second 15 human beings, and their 275kg of kit, are squashed into a Twin Otter aircraft as it makes its one and only attempt to land on an airstrip perched on the ridge of a mountain 9,383 ft tall. Ahead a plane has only just touched down and behind there’s another on our tail; given its remote location this is a busy place! In good weather, at the height of the season, 60 flights per day touch down each one packed with trekkers and climbers decked out in the latest in outdoor active ware by fashion labels such as: North Face, Berghaus, Montane, Mountain Equipment and Mammut. It my not be London, Paris, New York or Munich, but we’re all looking pretty good in our cool gear and wrap around sunglasses.
Lukla, reputedly the most dangerous airport in the world, the aircraft, operated by reputedly the most dangerous air operators in the world, but flying in removes five days of trekking; five days those fifteen people can’t spare from their busy (mostly) western lives so they take the risk. There are no hire cars at Lukla, no taxis or curtesy buses, no first class lounge to sip cheap wine and scoff peanuts. There’s one way out and one way in and that’s on two feet, and so, having squeezed ourselves out of the Twin Otter and collected our kitbags, that’s what we do.
7:20pm GMT, Thursday 3rd November, 2016 + 13 days
Wind on to 13 days after publication, a small party of trekkers, tired, aching, and headachy, after 10 days of walking, reach a height of 5300 metres and make their way into Everest Base Camp. Barring avalanche, earthquake, injury and sickness, I hope and aim to be among them. Having reached our goal, the group won’t stay long. We’ll take a look around, take some photos, and head back down the hill. As I look around my thoughts will be of those for whom the trek is just the starting point, those folks for whom the real business begins here. Over 11 days we’ve climbed 2500 metres; to summit Everest there’s another 3,500 metres of serious climbing to go. Whatever your thoughts about organised climbing parties, and tourist climbers, you need to have balls to take on the pointy end of journey. My thoughts will also be of those for who the real business ended here, on this mountain. It’s a dangerous place!
6:40 am + 30 minutes GMT, Wednesday 23rd November
A slightly dishevelled person heads out of customs and into the arrival hall at Manchester Airport, a stone lighter, more tanned and slightly fitter than when he last was here, adventure completed. Around him the good folk of Manchester will be absolutely indifferent to this one arrivee (they have their hopes, dreams, worries and stories to tell) accept perhaps one. That one will be be Polly, my fiancé and partner for the last 5 and bit years. I’ll have missed her massively in the days I’ve been away, and when I’m back it will be time to begin another adventure together; to find our perfect home somewhere in a village (with pub) in the Yorkshire countryside, where we can chill and walk, find true contentment, and plan our next trek together.