Cathy on top of the world!

Upon her return from trekking the Himalayas, we caught up with our lovely managing director, Cathy, to hear how she got on…

I waited a long time to get to Everest Base Camp. Sixteen years in fact. Back in 2001, I was making plans to trek in the Himalayas when I found out I was pregnant with my son. Sadly trekking across rope bridges and over glaciers when eight months pregnant didn’t seem like a sensible idea, so I was forced to put my plans on hold. Last month, I finally fulfilled that dream.

After months of planning, I found myself in Kathmandu introducing myself to the 30-odd other members of the expedition team: everyone from soldiers and firemen to accountants, scientists and students. Explorers come in all shapes and sizes. It was then I realised my first mistake. Luggage. While most of the team had brought casual clothes for the couple of days either side of the actual trek, I hadn’t read the instructions properly and only had trekking kit so I constantly looked like I was ready for summiting Everest, even when propping up the bar. Lesson one: always read the instructions carefully.  

After a delayed start, thanks to low cloud in Lukla, one of the world’s highest airports, we strapped on our day sacks and started the 16-day trek. Nothing prepares you for the lushness of the Himalayan foothills. Every type of flora and fauna riotously displayed from every angle. It’s an assault on the senses. The first few days were straightforward as we gradually made our ascent. At Namche Bazar we had our first rest day as we’d risen to 3,440m. We were told to take it easy. Initially I felt great, but after jogging up two flights of stairs, my head started swimming and the headaches really kicked in. At that point one of our group had to descend because the altitude was too much for them – a sad moment for them, and a salutary lesson for all of us.  Lesson two: give your body a break when it’s under pressure and listen to what more experienced people tell you. A rest day, whether it’s during a trek or just a day off work, is for resting if you want to perform at your best in the future.

As we got higher, the sanitary conditions deteriorated markedly. For five to six days there was no running water which means no showers, no sinks and only the most basic of (often outside) loos which is tough when it’s freezing cold and you’re dreaming of a hot soak. I paid £3 in one teahouse for a small bowl of water to wash my hair and £6 in another for a bucket of water to wash with. Lesson three: take wet wipes and dry shampoo. Be prepared for the unexpected and adapt fast. 

The sanitation wasn’t the only thing lacking. After five days’ trekking, my phone signal disappeared and Wifi at the teahouses became considerably more expensive and unreliable. Even if I had planned on keeping in touch with the office, I wouldn’t have been able to. Lesson four: a break is a break. You can only fully recharge if you give your brain a rest.

There were tough times. The 4am wake-up call to climb the 5,357m Gokyo Ri to see the dawn on Everest was unmissable and the highlight of my trip but was the toughest physical thing I’ve ever done. I thought my lungs were being burned alive. Climbing the 5,420m Chola Pass was dangerous but exhilarating and I have the bruises to prove it. Lesson five: nothing worth achieving is ever easy. Don’t moan, crack on with it and make yourself proud.

The food was a highlight for me. As a lifelong curry fan, I was excited at the prospect of curry three times a day. And I managed that most days – although sometimes porridge was the only breakfast option so I had to deviate. Dahlbat, a lentil, rice and veggie curry mix, is eaten by 22m Nepalese every day. I opted for that and found the energy it gave me (about 4,000 calories a day by my reckoning) gave me that edge. Lesson six: carb up – always make sure you have the right resources to get the job done.

Getting to Everest base camp was emotional. Both my parents were keen walkers and I imagined how proud they would have been of me getting that far, and in one piece. I thought of the legends who had trekked through base camp on their way to success, or not, on Everest. Walking in the footsteps of Mallory, Irvine, Hillary and Hall is humbling. I pocketed a small rock from base camp which now sits on my mantelpiece. But while it’s a great talking point, my lasting memory is the silence, calmness and majesty of the Himalayas and it’s that that I took home with me – along with a rucksack of dirty laundry.  

Ben Keeley

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