By Selga Berzins
If you were told that your holiday destination required landing in one of the world’s most dangerous airports, you’d probably give it a miss or at least reconsider your holiday location. Nine out of 10 times I’d do exactly the same. The one time I didn’t was in September when I flew into the notoriously dangerous airstrip in the small village of Lukla, in Nepal’s north eastern reaches.
My fiancé Sam had picked this holiday and naively I said yes, thinking, how hard can a trek to Mt Everest Base Camp really be?
Well, the flight was the first obstacle – we landed in the middle of a spectacular mountain range, on a 50 metre long airstrip that was on a 20 degree INCLINE Weather conditions are paramount and if there are too many clouds, planes simply won’t fly because the pilots can’t see the rugged mountains towering over the flight path. Fortunately, on the day we flew, luck was on our side and we landed rather smoothly with no complications. By that stage our veins were pumping with adrenalin and we carried that with us all the way to base camp.
For 12 days we trekked through some of the most scenic and breathtaking passages in the Himalayas. Our assent was slow and gradual in the oxygen-depleted environment.
At the start, the air is quite thick and breathing isn’t an issue. But after day four, the air becomes notably thinner and each breath becomes slower and heavier. The highest point we got to was 5500 meters above sea level on Mount Kala Patthar. On a clear day, this is where you get the best view of Mount Everest. Instead, we got snow. And while we may have missed the million dollar shot, the beauty and peace created by the snow flakes was just as special.
The day we caught our first glimpse of Mount Everest was in fact on my 30th birthday. It was a pretty inspiring way to enter a new decade and a day I’ll never forget.
I’ll also never forget the ‘showers’ we had during our 12 day adventure. No running water, just buckets and bowls the whole way. By the end I’d learnt how to make the very most of every drop, including washing my dirty clothes in the left over soapy bucket water. Drying the clothes was its own challenge. What ever didn’t dry in time on the tea house roof would be tied to our back packs and air-dried on our daily climb.
Sam and I were both very lucky not to suffer any acute altitude sickness, but we did suffer from insomnia on the two nights nearest base camp. The thin air makes it extremely difficult to sleep. We also fell victim to the onset of heavy rain as we descended back to Lukla.
Our rainproof gear worked a treat but sadly the same couldn’t be said for our leader’s backpack. Everything we had was in that backpack – our clothes, our sleeping bags, our thermals – and everything got wet! We had trekked for seven hours in the rain on no more than four hours sleep.
It’s fair to say, I had a major breakdown when I discovered we had no dry clothes or sleeping bags. There were no heaters and no hot running showers. It was getting cold and I was starting to lose my cool. It was moments like this that proved far more challenging than climbing base camp itself. We had to learn how to make do with nothing but the bare essentials. We had to light a fire and dry our clothes one by one as we stood by the flames. All those episodes I’d watched of Bear Grills started to make perfect sense!
We were met by many physical and mental barriers on our journey to base camp, but all of that was momentarily forgotten when we set foot on base of the world’s highest mountain. Words can’t describe the overwhelming feelings of joy, relief and accomplishment. This was a holiday like no other, and with just four months until our wedding day, we knew if we could survive base camp, we can survive anything!
Selga Berzins is an award winning journalist who spent several years working in rural South Australia as a television reporter and presenter before moving to Adelaide. Here she took on the challenging roles of police and court reporter for Channel Nine News, covering some of the most significant stories for the state. Selga has also lived in London where she worked for BBC World News. She now works for Adelaide’s Liberal Leader, Steven Marshall, after returning to her home country for love.