In March 2017 I headed off to the Himalayas again - this was now becoming my second home as I had operated out there for the past 15 years on various treks throughout the Khumbu region.
This year was different which made it exciting - I never get tired of the mountains or the people but if the treks have meanings to them then it makes it a little bit more interesting and challenging for me.
Before meeting my teams I needed to get match fit and to try and get my head out of City mode! Basically, I needed time alone to re-focus.
So I decided to head to an area that I hadn’t been to before which was the Annapurna circuit. It’s unbelievable that this would be my first time after the years flying into this country.
For 20 days I trekked with my friend and liaison in Nepal - Devendra Rai. I was taken back by the contrast of terrain from raw mountain tracks to thick / dense woods through open valley areas and then into peaks of snow ridges. It was a test of endurance with nearly every day being very different from the last. I relaxed and enjoyed the solitude as Devendra kindly let me walk on ahead. This first walk was perfect preparation for the two hard guiding treks ahead of me - I needed to be in the zone physically and mentally to cope with what ever was going to happen.
Cho La pass
A mixed team of 35 everyday people headed out to trek from airport of Lukla through the trail to Mount Everest base Camp and then across the chola pass and back through Namche Bazzar to Lukla again. This is a tough trail whether your a seasoned trekker or if this is the first time you have attempted anything in the Himalayan region.
How you guide mixed teams like this is by allowing freedom on the trail. Making sure each section of teams that split are still guided but allowing them to walk at their own pace. We all ended up at the same place at night and the distances were enough to allow for slow movers. Slow movers were generally the ones that feel better further up as they adjust to the climate height and keep their heart rates low.
Expect the unexpected is always something I try and highlight in a talk before any teams head out - as a guide you see the measure of people when they react to something which is out of your hands and isn’t in the brochure. Treks / expeditions are unpredictable - the focus is safety and then enjoyment.
We straight away experienced delays heading out from the airport so in a short amount of time we managed to get the teams to Lukla via helicopters rather than the scheduled planes. This was after a 15 hour jeep drive that made sure your heart was in your mouth all of the way and also included an over night impromptu stop in a place called Sunshine Lodge. More the darkness of hell rather than sunshine this over night stay (2 hour sleep) wouldn’t of looked out of place in the horror movie Hostel.
Battered and bruised before they had even put their walking boots they all set off from Lukla just happy to be eventually walking. With monasteries, remote villages, friendly local faces and incredible white peaked mountains the thought of the Sunshine lodge became a distant memory / nightmare.
What I get out of this type of trek is seeing how people step away from their own lives for a short moment in time to immerse themselves into a real adventure.
After team photographs at Mount Everest base camp they then took a detour back to Lukla via the Cho-La-pass (5420 metres). This was a test of strength and endurance for a team that had already been further than most teams had gone in this part of the mountains.
On reflection I was so impressed by the team as a whole - these adventures on paper look pretty straight forward but the reality is sometimes very different - my hope is people do take more than just photographs away from moments like these.
With one days rest in Kathmandu I was then joined by my expedition partner from the North Pole 2016 - Paul Vicary along with a few other friends who were guiding with me on this final trip.
6 months earlier Vic had asked whether it would be feasible to guide 30 ladies to base camp. If successful this would be the biggest team of ladies to EBC. I was interested but the main thing that got me hooked was the fact that they wanted to take the biggest poppy ever made with them. What an incredible honour for me to play part in facilitating this venture.
They reached Base Camp and lay the poppy on the glacier just under the Khumbu icefall. Many of the ladies had connections with the military - either they had served in the armed forces themselves or they had friends or relatives who had. Amongst the snow and ice it was an incredible sight to see all 30 of them standing proud around a symbol of sacrifice and peace. This was one of the most memorable moments I have had in the area.
I have guided over 600 people at different stages through the Himalayas over the years - the treks in 2017 were very different and exciting with really purpose. I never get tired of the mountains.