Tim Gunderson’s Trek to Everest Basecamp
Many of us have bucket list items, but what prompts a person to follow through with those dreams? When Marilyn and I married in 1995, in our early 30s, we discovered that we both had a dream of trekking in the Himalaya Mountains of Nepal. Her dream was to see the Khumbu Icefall, mine was to see the tallest mountain. We decided that a trek to Everest Base Camp would satisfy both of our dreams.
We spent years reading adventure stories about the Himalayas, watching documentaries, and talking about the possibility of a trek. In October of 2021 I was reading Sir Edmund Hillary’s autobiography about his expeditions and all the work his foundation did in the region after his 1953 summit of Mt. Everest. I woke up one morning and said to Marilyn, I think it’s time to pull the trigger on our trek. Her response? I’m in.
On December 15 we booked a 15-day trek with Adventure Great Himalaya (AGH) in Kathmandu beginning September 24, 2022. We considered just the two of us going but then thought we might have friends and family that have the same dream. In the end “The Idaho
Contingent” was 7 people, one being our nephew and professional videographer, Jonathan Conti. AGH made all of the necessary arrangements. They provided a guide and four porters so we just carried a day pack. Each night we stayed in teahouses, 2 people per room, and all meals were provided along the trail.
We considered a DIY trip, but after 33 years of guiding on rivers I felt more comfortable being guided. Our lead guide, Nanda, has 15 years guiding in the Himalayas and his knowledge and connections with the locals proved to be invaluable. Our 4 porters carried the bulk of our gear carrying 60 pounds each. Despite their loads they walked much faster than we did and each day our bags were waiting for us when we arrived at the teahouse. Porters are often erroneously called “sherpas”, but Sherpas are a people from the Khumbu Valley. Although the Sherpa people often work as porters, not all porters are Sherpas.
Upon arrival in Kathmandu, we spent three days touring the city and trying to resolve the jet lag after a 29+ hour, 4 airport trip. On September 24th we helicoptered into Lukla at 9813 feet and began our 38-mile trek. The goal; Everest Base Camp at 17,598 feet in 8 days. We covered 4-7 miles a day, averaging about 1 mile per hour hiking. That may sound slow but it is necessary to go slow to acclimatize to the altitude. People that hike too quickly often suffer from altitude sickness.
You can imagine that the scenery is stunning. Our first few days hiking in a lush forest were a bit wet as it was the end of monsoon season, but the rivers and waterfalls were absolutely gushing. As we gained altitude the vegetation thinned and snow-capped peaks soared above the valley floor to over 20,000 feet. You gain a lot of altitude in the Himalayas. It seems most every stride you take is up, up, up including thousands of rock steps. On the morning of Day 5 the clouds thinned and we got our first view of Mt. Everest. It is awe-inspiring to be looking at a mountain knowing that there is no point taller on earth.
We were just ahead of the busy tourist season so the trail was fairly empty but for the yaks, mules, donkeys, and Nepalese carrying loads up to the villages and teahouses higher in the mountains. Everything beyond Lukla is carried up by an animal or human. It’s astounding what some of the Nepalese carry. We saw one man carrying 3 sheets of 3/4“ plywood on his back.
Once above tree line at 14,000 feet, the air is noticeably thinner and altitude sickness is a concern as statistics show that 50% of trekkers will feel some effects of altitude sickness. Marilyn did great but I experienced a bit of lightheadedness and loss of appetite for about 4 days. Porridge and Snickers bars were the only things that sounded good to me. It makes for a great weight loss system as I lost about 15 pounds! Luckily, Snickers and other western snacks are available at virtually every teahouse and shop along the trail. Want a pizza at 16,000 feet? You can have it and it’s pretty good! The next several days were a trudge through the rocky moraine of the Khumbu Glacier including passing through a memorial site when people pay homage to those that have lost their lives in the Himalaya. Eventually our entire group arrived at Everest Base Camp, which we found out is not a given. Many people fall short of the goal due to altitude and fitness. From base camp we could see the tents of an expedition on the mountain and stood before the Khumbu Icefall, a very dangerous area of shifting ice blocks, many stories tall, that every Everest climber must pass through.
When you turn your back on Everest Base Camp you begin a 4 day hike out to Lukla, there to catch a hair-raising flight out of one of the most dangerous airstrips in the world. As mentioned, our nephew Jonathan is a professional videographer from Boise and put together this 28-minute video entitled Sagarmatha, the Nepalese name for Everest.
For Marilyn and I, this trip was the culmination of a dream that spanned 25 years. Our advice to anyone who has a bucket list item, if the time is right for you, pull the trigger. If it’s not the right time, make a commitment to finding the right time and do it. We think you won’t regret it.