This summer marks 60 years since the first successful ascent of Mount Everest. Andy Turner follows in the footsteps of Sir Edmund Hillary (well, at least as far as Base Camp).
The road to Everest starts with a 5am wake-up call in the Kathmandu Guesthouse. I heave myself off the thin mattress and try to shrug off the jetlag. The streets of Thamel pass by in the dawn half light and we are soon on the tarmac climbing the steps of a small Twin Otter propeller plane. Our destination: Lukla “the scariest airport in the world™”. I spend the flight with my ears stuffed with cotton wool against the whine of the engines, trying to forget about Nepal’s patchy aviation record. Eventually a miniscule mountain runway appears through the cockpit window. I close my eyes and don’t open them until we’ve come to a juddering halt.
Lukla, a chilly one-street town with a fake Starbucks and an airport the size of a Tesco Metro, is now the main gateway to the roof of the world. Back in the days of Hillary, Tenzing and co you’d need to trek your way up here from Kathmandu, a week-long marathon of logistics now covered in a 35min flight. The thin mountain air (we’ve already gained 1400m in altitude) is noticeable as I pull on a down jacket and start out on the twelve-day journey I’ve been anticipating for months.
The first myth to puncture is that the Everest trek is some kind of remote wilderness adventure. The path to Base Camp is the main artery for dozens of mountain villages. Apart from your fellow trekkers – a snake-like mass of Gore-Tex and walking poles – you share the trail with heavily laden porters and waddling convoys of dzopkio (half-yak, half-cow and usually half awake) heaving everything from bags of rice to solar panels. There’s no camping under the stars either. Each village provides at least one “teahouse”, a hostel-cum-restaurant providing basic rooms, carb-heavy sustenance and even the occasional hot shower.