Everest Base Camp, Cho La Pass

Everest Base Camp Trek; Elevate your life

My father took my brothers and me camping as often as possible as a child. Nothing fancy, nothing too challenging. It was just enough for me to appreciate the trails, the natural beauty of the mountains, and the diverse ecosystems found as you move up and along a mountain chain. He would point out trees, flowers, ferns and grasses. He is a horticulturalists, so a trip to the woods was never just an adventure; it was a teaching moment – usually in more ways than one. Everest Base Camp, Cho La Pass, offers a magnificent picturesque view of Everest's top of the world.

As I grew older, the camping got more intense, as did my father's passion for backpacking – becoming more ultralight, more minimalist. Wintertime, below freezing, snow falling lightly to the ground; he would be begging us to go out for a night in the woods. I caved a few times, and I thank him for that.

But why should you care?

Well, in all my life, I thought I had seen beauty and the intensity that the mountains can bring. I thought I had experienced extremes and knew what ecological diversity indeed was.

I was wrong. But this is one of the best lessons I have ever learned.

For nearly two weeks, I was blessed with the fortune of trekking to Everest Base Camp, up and over Cho La Pass, and back down to Lukla.  The moment I got off the plane from Kathmandu, my jaw was on the floor in amazement at the beauty that was unfolding before my eyes.  I saw vibrant green landscapes, agricultural fields, and rushing mountain rivers on day one. Yaks were carrying supplies up the mountains—locals playing snooker.

We trekked further up. I saw the iconic Namche Bazaar, a frenzy in full swing. Namche Bazaar is a trading post for the entire Khumbu Region, where merchants come and sell goods to locals far and wide. It's an unforgettable, energetic spectacle.

Soon, the vegetation started to disappear, a clear sign that we had reached an altitude where the air was thin, the soils were sparse of nutrients, and the weather was harsh. Mornings were frigid, but the daytime sun was intense and bright.

We kept inching higher. I struggled at points to catch my breath, but when I took that time to stop and rest, I was able to look up, down, and all-around at the 360-degree panorama straight out of a National Geographic photo spread. It was beautiful, and the energy spent getting my tired body to keep moving was worth it.

The river valleys were now far below us. Mt. Everest can be seen in the distance, not too far as to overwhelm us with space. But far enough that we remained eager to keep trekking, to get closer.

Arriving in Gorakshep, the town just below Everest Base Camp, we stared out over the Khumbu Glacier, gazed up at Mt. Everest, and soaked in the vast world that remained above us still. We saw a small avalanche calve off of one of the distant mountain faces, a reminder that the mountain was in charge up here. We were merely visitors soaking in her beauty.

Cho La Pass added a layer of complexity to the trip. The two days trekking to, crossing over, and coming down from the high mountain pass are days I will long remember. Though manageable, this was the most technical of our days in the mountains. Starting the day climbing up and over boulders, we reached the ice field. Crampons strapped on, we shuffled over the snow and ice, cresting the ridge and emerging onto the other side.

The wind was strong. The views were intense. My emotions overwhelmed me, and I had never in my life seen such beauty. Nothing before could compare to this trip.

Furthermore, as an environmentalist, my time in Nepal and my trek in the mountains was much more than just an adventure, more than a cultural experience. Similarly, it was a chance to see an environment at the front lines of climate change and meet the people who are faced with this reality every day. Nepal, with its highly varied climate ranging from the southern lowland Terai to the world's highest peaks, is facing a steep uphill challenge as climate patterns shift.  Similarly, from melting glaciers, changing river conditions, shifting agricultural production, and more, Nepal has real concerns.

And it's not only about the environment, but human health, food security, the economy and more.

A trek in the mountains turned into a much more profound experience.  I continuously feel a tug to go back if not to experience the beauty firsthand again.

It was an excellent opportunity to see this country, trek in the highest elevations, stand on some of the most iconic glaciers, and meet the people who call this place home.  Hence, if you do it right, a trek in the Himalayas is more than just a trek, and it is a whole-body experience that changes you for the better.

Katherine Morgan | USA | Duke Nepal

Photo by Mari Partyka on Unsplash