'Fancy coming along for a walk?', sounds innocent enough doesn't it! Colin jumped at the chance and so the pair of us went on bended knee before She Who Must Be Obeyed to beg for his leave pass to be stamped. Permission (disturbingly easily) granted, the booking was made and there was no way out for us. It was time to break the news that the walk in question was in Nepal and is a 14 day trek to the Base Camp on Mount Everest. Then take into account that the two 'Trekkers' are both fat gits in their 40s and whose idea of exercise is staggering back from the pub! What a way to have a mid-life crisis. Still, the prospect of 18 days away from the Gaol was too good to resist, so it was time to hit the gym to try and shift some pounds. Three months later I met up with Colin 'Hairy' McK in Kathmandu prior to the trek. For Kathmandu think constant noise, traffic jams, heat and hawkers. Organised chaos; they turn the traffic lights off at the weekends to save power but nobody takes any notice of them anyway. Acclimatisation training was mainly confined to the infamous Rum Doodle Bar drinking Everest beer. Trekkers can leave a signed cardboard footprint on the wall to show they were there, and there is now a Scots DG 11B nailed to the ceiling, amongst all the other footprints from previous treks.
The flight to Lukla was a spectacular, buttock-clenching affair because the 'plane' doesn't have the instrumentation to fly in cloud and barely manages to reach the altitude over the mountains en route, clearing them by a few feet. Then the landing on what appeared to be little more than a ski slope was an experience not to be forgotten. A quick turn, and then we were hurriedly thrown out and the plane re-loaded before it began hurtling back down the slope to get the necessary speed before running out of runway. Taking off from here was going to be something to look forward to. It was at this point that the reality of the situation began to set in. These weren't just hills, these were bl**dy great steep things with no roads, lifts or cable cars, and the only way to the top was on foot. I started to look for an excuse note from my mom but there was no escaping my fate. Our porters selected, who incidentally were the size of hobbits and humped our bags with disgusting ease, we set off. The porters positively scampering up the near vertical incline while the Hairy one and myself were blowing like stranded whales. And this was just to get out of the airport! The Yeti Tour 2008 was off!
Two days later (and aching in places long forgotten) we trudged into Namche Bazaar. The town is carved out of the hillside and is last place to buy necessaries, like a horse! The following day it was time to go for an acclimatisation walk. For an idea of walking at this altitude: it took two hours to ascend 200m along a track which took us to a height greater than Mt Fuji. Taking baby steps and stopping every few paces it just didn't seem possible to get the necessary oxygen into your lungs. But the pay off is the scenery. Whenever you think you've seen the most amazing sight, you turn and see an even more breath-taking view. It was here that we also got our first views of Mt Everest in the far distance, peering over the shoulders of its smaller brothers, Nuptse and Lohtse; the snow streaming from its peak into a perfect blue sky. This is the lands of the gods alright.
'It now starts to get hard, and by the way, open the window because your room STINKS!', were the comforting words from our guide Raj, backing away from a nest of socks as they began crawling toward him. His people skills were in need of work. The little slave-driver would shatter the mornings with a shout of, 'Jam Jam!' (Chop Chop) which would herald the start of the day's footslogging. Rest breaks became a thing to dread, as the vindictive swine always seemed to call a halt prior to a particularly steep section of track: 'You sit here, drink tea, get breath'; and then you look up and up and up at the mountain which seemed to taunt you as you scoffed your Mars bar. 'Jam Jam', I'll give him a Jam Jam in a minute, right where he wouldn't want to show his mother!
The trail now led over several long days to Tangyboche where we were all blessed by the Monks on the ear hole for a handout. Through rhododendron country to Pangboche, across countless ropey looking footbridges to Dingboche, avoiding laden Yaks and even heavier laden sherpas; to Dhukla and onto Lobouche (where for the first time it becomes difficult to sleep due to thinning air) before finally reaching Gorak Shep. A quick lemon tea and then head off for Everest Base Camp. This was the hardest day of the trek due to the majority of it being along the Khumbu Glacier where the going is interesting, to say the least. Lots of cover though, as by now the diet and hygiene problems had resulted in plenty of bare bums on display along the trail. Some of the more hirsute posteriors on show and accompanying sound effects prompted several reports of yeti sightings, and panic among the porters.
The big moment at last, we were there, at the foot of Chomolongma (Mother Goddess of the Earth) - Mt Everest to the rest of us. Only to be checked and searched by security police checking for Tibetan paraphernalia. The Chinese were in a panic over any bad publicity for the summit attempt of the Olympic Torch. Formalities over and having received a distinct fondle by an over friendly policeman, we were free to enter, to be greeted by an avalanche off one of the surrounding peaks.
The camp itself sits at the base of the Khumbu Ice Fall, a collection of tented groups all awaiting their summit attempts, and looking like a traveller's encampment, there is even a bakery where you can get apple pie. We tried to find ex Grey Sir Ranulph Fiennes but to no avail, probably counting his fingers and toes someplace; just exactly how does he manage to pick his nose now? Time for photos. It was a fantastic feeling to stand and look out at the roof of the world. Then you realise you've got to walk all the way back: where's that bloody excuse note?
At least on the route back down through the valleys it gets easier to breathe and by now we're Old Sweats, handing out pearls of wisdom and encouragement: If you think this bit's steep just wait till you get round the corner! to those on the way up. You now have the time to be able to fully take in the beauty of the country, and be humbled by a people who have nothing but smiles and good humour. Always ready with a 'Namaste Brother', and a friendly grin the Nepalese are a delightful people and a credit to their country.
Six days later and our intrepid heroes arrive back in Kathmandu, looking wind-swept and interesting, with dodgy suntans, but otherwise in good order. Time enough to visit the barber's to shave off the beard (locating the nose the barber just worked outwards from there and shaved the whole of Colin's head), a hot soak in something other than a bucket, do the dhobi, oh, and contract dysentery (no kidding, I spent a week in an isolation ward when I got back) prior to flying home. It was hard work but great fun. The scenery stunning. An old friendship strengthened and new ones made. Three stone lighter and I can't wait to go back. Yaks for the memories Nepal. Jam Jam.