Don's Diary: Everest trek

September 14, 2001

January

I blame Kerry. If I had not visited my daughter during her gap year teaching in Nepal I would not, at 56, be jogging along in the dark, stepping miles on gym machines and walking the Brecons at weekends. I am getting fit for a trek to Everest with friend Jim after an impulsive decision on a 19th hole. In the outdoor shop I enjoy answering "Everest" when asked what my new boots are needed for, but the look of incredulity on the assistant's face is a bit worrying.

Lukla airstrip closure and Maoist guerrilla activity complicate things but should reduce the number of trekkers. The plan is to travel on foot, without porters or guides, carrying everything in backpacks, and stay in Sherpa lodges. If in doubt about the trail, we intend to obey the guidebook and follow the yak dung.

Friday, April 13

I wonder again about our choice of date for the start of this trek. We take Yeti Airlines from Kathmandu to Lamidanda, then a helicopter to Lukla. Our pilot appears to have seen Top Gun , showing off by buzzing ridges. We walk to Benkar, passing a dying yak in a stream by the trail. Decide against yak steak in the lodge but greatly appreciate the dung-powered stove.

Tuesday, April 17

Tengboche Monastery. We wake at 5am praying for a clear day and are rewarded by a magnificent first view of Everest behind Nuptse-Lhotse ridge.

We trek to Dingboche at 4,400m, conscious now of the altitude and begin to meet trekkers with problems, some serious, heading down. But a slow ascent, gallons of water and the odd Diamox tablet means we handle it well. It is mainly young trekkers in trouble: too fit, too fast.

Saturday, April 21

Up at 5am again. We eat a meagre breakfast on the trail, but have had no appetite for days anyway. It is a hard climb over rough moraine to Gorak Shep then up to the summit of Kala Pattar at 5,600m - a deadly slow plod, gasping for breath, at only 50 per cent oxygen level.

Done it! Euphoria. It is awesome to see Everest so close and the tents of Base Camp so far below. I feel a sense of history. Right there are Hillary and Tenzing's southeast ridge route, Mallory and Irvine's northeast ridge route and the place where Mallory's body was found. Of course he made the summit. He would never ever have turned back from where he was last seen. An expedition searching for Irvine's body is on the mountain.

The next day a Sherpa is killed. It puts our trek into perspective.

What next?

I must get son Duncan to spend a gap year in Tanzania so I can have a crack at Kilimanjaro, and surely it would be educational for our other daughter, Stephanie, to have her gap year in the Andes?

Selby Knox is professor of chemistry and head of inorganic and materials chemistry at the University of Bristol.

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