“We’re nearly there. Look!” I cried out.
Pushing our lethargic bodies forward, everyone looked up. Everest Base Camp lay ahead in all its glory. After years of longing and months of training, we had reached our ultimate destination.
How did a team of nine strangers from diverse backgrounds end up on this epic adventure together? It all began with an article in the adventure section of Star2 (the print edition of Star2.com).
“Dear Selina, I read your article in The Star with great interest. I’ve wanted to do trekking in Nepal for umpteen years but have always put it on hold for various reasons. As it’s on my bucket list, I wish to strike it off soon (I’ve already crossed the mid-century mark),” read an email sent to me.
It was referring to an article I had written entitled “As simple as ABC”, with the alphabet referring to my trek to the Annapurna Base Camp in Nepal.
I am Selina Ng, a regular white-collar office worker with a “one year, one mountain” goal. Each time, upon my return, I have made it a point to submit a story to The Star to share my experiences.
After my ABC story, several readers wrote to me asking about treks in Nepal: When to go, what gear to buy and how to arrange a trip. Having visited the country numerous times for trekking and charity projects, I was more than happy to share my insights and advice.
Little did I know, several of those readers would soon become trek mates. Encouraged by the responses received, I decided to organise a trek to Nepal’s Everest Base Camp (EBC). This would be my second attempt to get there, having come up short during my first trip some years back.
Eventually nine of us formed the team for this epic adventure. We named ourselves “EBC Hiker Nine”, and our ages ranged from 27 right up to to 62!
One might wonder – how do strangers come together for such a long trip? Won’t they be concerned about trusting a total stranger in organising and handling their travels?
“In all honesty, I thought the name ‘Selina’ didn’t seem like a crook to me. And it appeared in The Star, so if it was not real, I would have written in to complain!” joked Ng Teck Num, a retiree who joined us.
We trained together as a team. Monthly training hikes at peaks near Kuala Lumpur, such as Bukit Kutu, Gunung Datuk and Gunung Nuang, were organised to whip ourselves into shape for the big trek.
Most of our training sessions were joined by others who also happened to have read my articles. Together, we formed an unofficial hiking group (that is still expanding to this day).
“When we signed up for the EBC trek, we were strangers,” explained Devaraj Pillai, 62, the most senior member of our team. “But soon we became friends during our training hikes. Despite our age differences, we gelled together due to our common wish to do the EBC trek.”
Aside from our hiking meetups, we discussed trip preparations via email, Facebook and WhatsApp.
“It is not often that we find the time, the budget and the people to go for adventures with,” said team member Loh Siyan. “It was by chance that I found this group of compatible trek mates.”
After months of preparation and anticipation, we flew from Kathmandu to the “world’s most dangerous airport” at Lukla (altitude: 2,860m), so called because of its very tight landing space for planes.
From that point on, the going only got tougher. Stunning scenery accompanied us every step we took, and the lush greenery of the lower valleys slowly turned into more barren, rocky landscapes.
The cold and low-oxygen levels started affecting us in different ways. Throbbing headaches, diarrhoea, breathing difficulties, and loss of appetite revealed the onset of mild altitude sickness as we gradually ascended.
Luckily, our friendly and helpful guides and porters were a reassuring presence. Having trekked with Nepal Azimuth Treks (www.nepalazimuthtreks.com) for the past few years, I was confident we would be in good hands in terms of the supporting arrangements.
On day five, when we arrived at Dingboche village (4,350m), all of us were overcome by a sense of euphoria, and many had even broken personal records.
“On our previous treks, most of us had only climbed as high as the 4,000 metre mark,” said KS Kok with pride.
The joy of pain
On day seven, renewed zest and vigour gave us a spring in our hitherto heavy footsteps – we had set sights on reaching EBC on this very day!
But the trek from Gorakshep (5,150m) to EBC (5,380m) was no piece of cake. Despite it being the “last mile”, the rugged, rocky terrain and seemingly never-ending trail forced us to dig deep into our reserves.
The chilling winds and sub-zero temperatures added an epic, hard-core edge to our struggles. To be frank, there were times when it seemed very tempting to turn back to our lodge and hide inside our warm sleeping bags. But we had not come so far to quit.
Stopping frequently to catch our breath and regulate our heart rates, we put one foot ahead of the other with grim determination. After what seemed like forever, finally, one by one, we set foot on the massive pile of rocks that made up Everest Base Camp.
“I was in awe of the surrounding mountain peaks and the Khumbu glacier. It was a different world altogether,” testified Devaraj.
“I just stood there and imagined how mountaineers (going on up to Mount Everest at 8,848m) would be camping there, preparing for their ultimate climb.”
Our Malaysian flag fluttered majestically in the wind as we posed for a lifetime-marking group photo. I looked at the happy faces on all my teammates. No words could describe my pride and appreciation towards them.
It took us another six days to trek back down. The whole 13 days proved to be a journey of self-discovery and achievement for each team member.
“There were days when we had to make do without showering or even washing our faces,”recalled Loh. “The daily packing and unpacking of our bags became a routine chore. Some of us were not in the best of condition but it was all part and parcel of the experience. As the saying goes ‘no pain, no gain’. We can’t really enjoy the reward without the struggle.”
He added, “Having a great team like ours turned out to be so important. We were there to support one another and to lift each other up in spirit. Even a simple gesture like ‘Are you okay?’ meant so much. I’m glad we had such positive vibes to go around!”
This writer was also thankful to The Star, “The People’s Paper”, for its support of my adventure stories which had brought people together and encouraged readers to practise active lifestyles.
From dusty Kathmandu to scenic trekking trails to oxygen-deficient overnight stops, our team always stuck together in overcoming challenging terrain, the biting cold and our own physical limitations.
I was happy that the past year’s frenzy of putting this epic adventure together had come to fruition, and strangers had now become trekking comrades – with many more adventures to look forward to.
The writer is organising more trekking trips to Nepal and beyond. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org