How should I mark my 60th birthday? Maybe a spa day? Perhaps a city-break or shopping spree? Of course not - I’ll trek to Everest Base Camp!
With family and work there hadn’t been the opportunity to even identify my real passions so when my last child left for university in 2015 I planned a climb to Kilimanjaro with a like-minded mad friend as a distraction from the empty nest. We started serious trek training in the beautiful UK national parks and the outdoor bug got hold of me, so when the children became young adults and safely on their way, I decided to go for it. In 2016 I travelled around India and this included some white-water rafting in the upper Ganges. So, approaching my 60th I felt prepared to tackle the ultimate trek, for me anyway.
My increased motivation comes from the realisation that I’m in the last 15 minutes of my life cycle and if that doesn’t focus the mind, nothing will. So, I want to do as much as possible whilst my body allows me to and having a serious goal also motivates me to maintain a good level of fitness.
I signed up with an adventure company originally for November 2017 but unforeseen plans resulted in a change to the February 2018 trip. I was told it might be colder in that month and the question I now regret asking is ‘How cold is colder?’ Having spent a few glacial nights in a tent towards the summit of Kilimanjaro I thought I would be fine, but nothing prepared me for the relentless daily trekking at sub-zero temperatures (-20) in an unforgiving environment.
My group of nine were all ages - from late 20s to 60 - and most of us suffered from the Khumbu cough, constantly streaming and bloody noses, lack of sleep or just exhaustion. I took consolation from observing other young people on the trail who appeared to be struggling so it wasn’t an age thing at all. High altitude can affect anyone no matter how fit you you are.
In a change to the schedule, we left Gorakshep on the edge of Everest at 4 am on Valentine’s Day for the final trek to base camp – I hadn’t been able to eat much for about three days so this called for much mental and physical effort. A few hours later, we reached base camp (5364m). During our brief celebration I noticed my fingertips were blue and my nose was starting to freeze. I was very proud of my achievement – but to be honest, it was a blessed relief to leave after a few minutes and start a full day’s descent to our next stop at Pheriche (4240m). Home was calling me!
What have I learned about myself? Even though there were tears and exhaustion, my journal entry states that I’m a tough cookie. Base camp was maximum endurance for me and I pulled on inner strength I didn’t know was there. I love nature and our beautiful planet, so to push my boundaries in these formidable environments is just so rewarding on all levels. I’ve been home a week and just about recovering from the whole experience including a bout of cystitis and the never-ending Khumbu cough.
But don’t let any of that put you off. It was the toughest yet most incredible experience and a privilege to trek in the Everest region. My 15 minutes on the clock is pushing me forward to my next goal and after a corporate career and self-employment, I am volunteering at a veterinary hospital and starting my Veterinary Care Assistant qualification. Animals and their welfare is a lifelong passion and after qualifying, I am planning to assist a British veterinary charity in Sri Lanka.
So, if you have a passion start planning it right now before your clock runs out! It will change you forever.