A few months ago, former National Geographic maps intern Tala Katner finished her gig and set off to explore the world for a while. Here, she shares her trials hiking up to an Everest Base Camp.
This was it. I was finally a college graduate and I was ready to enter the real world… by way of Asia. From Nepal to the Philippines, my eight-month journey was to start 17,000 feet up in the Himalayas, at the Everest Base Camp. Wanting to choose a local trekking company, I forgave the misspelled words and communication struggles of our correspondences and put my trust in Inventive Panorama Treks Nepal.
About one week before my departure, a Yeti Airlines plane crashed killing 18 people at Lukla, Nepal, the launching pad for Everest hikes used by thousands of trekkers every year and the very place I would be flying to so soon. I emailed my guide, Gelu Sherpa, inquiring about the safety of these small planes. In his reply he assured me that “it was no problem because Yeti airlines has five airplanes, one is crash but there is still four more.” Ten days later I was nervously strapping into a small twin otter propeller plane. But as we rose in the air, and the Kathmandu Valley gave way to snow-clad giants, I soon forgot my worries and was enjoying my first breathtaking views of the Himalayas.
The trek started as soon as I stepped out of the plane at the Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Lukla at the altitude of 8,000 feet. I was met by my light-hearted and playful hiking guide, Shiba, and a very sturdy porter, Lakpa. These two men would become my closest friends for the next 15 days.
The altitude hit me right away.
Lightheadedness, nausea, and weakness made me begin to regret having signed up for the whole thing. I began having fantasies that my hiking partner and boyfriend would become violently sick, forcing us to turn around. I pressed on. Each glimpse of Everest in the distance kept me going.
There was something intoxicating about arriving at each small town and tiny community that could only be reached by foot.
Every now and then, however, the charm of this thought would give way to a feeling of isolation and the realization that the only way back was also by foot.
The Everest trail is incredibly rocky and dusty and the constant clinking of yak bells warning you to move aside becomes a very familiar sound. Colorful Nepali and Tibetan prayer flags strung along mountain ridges are blown in the wind spreading their prayers across the land. The assumed sternness of the sherpas who are hauling enormous loads by a strap across their foreheads is softened by their friendly smiles and affable demeanor.
The small towns became more and more sparse and the accommodations more and more basic as we came closer to our destination. After a few days on the trail, we had learned what every trekker learns about base camp: there are no views of Everest from there. A few miles away and a few hundred feet higher, however, lies a peak called Kala Pattar which boasts some of the best views of Everest. So early on we decided to abandon base camp and instead make the extra day climb to Kala Pattar.
You could now see the wind blowing snow off the mountain tops and could only imagine the weather up at the summit. We began our hike to Kala Pattar at 4 a.m. to catch the sunrise over Mount Everest. With this amazing vista we sat to contemplate our accomplishment as well as what the days ahead would bring.
Photo: Tala Katner
- Nat Geo Expeditions