I was 13 when Into Thin Air was released, Jon Krakauer’s account of the catastrophe on Everest in 1996. When my father got his hands on the book, he devoured it. From that moment on he had mountain fever, which he passed on to me. I am sure we bored all of our family members by talking about different ascent routes, mountaineering and upcoming expeditions, all without ever climbing any mountains ourselves.
Everest seemed to be a distant dream that none of us would ever be able to achieve, but it inspired in me a love of the outdoors that I nourished by touring the Alps and the low mountain ranges in Germany. Fast forward 20 years and I live in Nepal with my nine-year-old daughter. My father and I wanted a chance to live out our dream, so finally, in the spring season, three generations of my family went on the Everest Base Camp Trek together. And what a fantastic time we had!
We started the trek by flying into Lukla, which was the first massive challenge for me. While my daughter fell asleep during the flight and my father enjoyed the views, I was fighting off a panic attack at every little rocking movement of the plane. Of course we landed safely, as most flights do, and after some repacking at the airport, we started our hike.
The first day was short, as we only wanted to reach Phakding, but we were all exhausted after the excitement of the early morning flight. After reaching the guesthouse at around lunchtime, I literally passed out in the dining room. When I woke up, I found my father and my daughter outside, working on their sketchbooks together.
The next day, we started early to make the long and intense climb to Namche Bazaar. After following the river for a while, we had to cross a terrifying suspension bridge before the real climbing started. My father and daughter happily hopped over, while I had to force myself not to look down; it really does not pay to be the only family member with a fear of heights on a trek like this. After an intense two hours of uphill walking and a first glimpse of the mighty Everest, we reached Namche Bazaar, the famous village that we had read so much about. It was such a special feeling to enter the settlement together.
After some excellent food in the guesthouse, we went to bed early, as the altitude was catching up with us. The next day was going to be our first acclimatisation day, on which we would only climb up a couple of hundred metres and then go back down, to give our bodies time to adjust. My daughter did not really understand the concept of going back after having spent so much energy to get up in the first place, but after a couple of days, she also learned the importance of acclimatising well. The view of Namche Bazaar from above was really magical, and finally, we were able to take the picture of the town ourselves that we had seen so many times.
The next day we continued our hike towards Tengboche, but got caught in bad weather. The clouds started to close in on us, and then it even started snowing. My daughter had wanted to see snow for a long time, but that was not how I had imagined it. After lunch, the storm let up and it was much easier to keep walking. When the steep ascent towards Tengboche began, I was actually quite glad that the sun was not out, as it was hot enough as it was.
In Tengboche, we visited the famous monastery, which is the largest in the Khumbu region and the place where would-be Everest summiteers go to be blessed by the head lama before tackling the mountain. While we were walking around I realised how different my life was now compared to how it had been in Germany. While my father took many pictures and was intrigued by the exotic decorations of the monastery, for my daughter and me, it was just another monastery, like the ones that were part of our daily life now.
The evening held a special treat in store for us. While we were enjoying one of the best dal bhats I have ever tasted, we had our first unobstructed view of Everest, tinted in the pink light of the setting sun. Sitting at the table, my father and I just looked at each other, as neither of us could quite believe that we had really made it this far. We were really doing it! We would be standing at Everest Base Camp in a couple of days.
The next day we continued to Dingboche, our next stop for an acclimatisation day. In the afternoon, the clouds closed in on us again, and suddenly the temperatures dropped. It was a small taste of how cold it would get further up. When we reached the village, we could only see a couple of metres ahead of us in the fog. So, you can imagine our surprise and excitement the next morning when we realised we had reached the foot of Ama Dablam, with its beautifully shaped peak right in front of us.
After an acclimatisation day that we spent hiking up the hill behind the village, and one more venture into the side valley towards Chukkung, we continued our hike to Lobuche, where we spent an icy night. Sleeping at this altitude of 4940 metres became increasingly hard for my father and me, although my daughter did not care and slept like a baby. The temperatures dipped well below zero during the night, which not only resulted in a cold nose for me but also in frozen toilets – something that none of us had expected.
The next day led us to Gorak Shep, the last stop before Everest Base Camp. The way there was challenging, and we all took turns complaining as we trudged through a vast scree landscape that didn’t seem to end. Long columns of yaks and dzo (a hybrid between domestic cows and yaks) passed us by, and we were more than happy to let them take the right of way, as it gave us an excuse to have short breaks from walking. When we saw the small settlement of Gorak Shep in the distance I was extremely relieved, as all of us needed a break.
The next morning was the big day. We were going to walk the remaining kilometers towards Base Camp in the morning, before making our way back down. The last hours felt much longer than I thought they would, but after a while, we spotted the small yellow dots of the tents at Base Camp. The closer we got, the more dots we discovered. Finally, we were able to see the different camps. After crossing a section of the rubble the Khumbu Glacier left behind, we made it to the sign that told us we had finally made it.
We climbed a short way down towards the Khumbu Glacier, and there we took in the beauty of this place. Many people say Base Camp itself is not that special, as the view of Everest is obstructed. But for us, this was very special. We had read so much about this place, had talked about it so intensely for so many years, and our passion for this mountain – even from afar – was a big part of our family relationships. Now here we were together, and sharing it with my daughter. For her, Everest will not be a distant dream, but a close memory of a special time with her grandfather. I have seldom felt as accomplished as I did when we started walking back, and an accomplishment has seldom felt so good or whole.
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