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The for­got­ten trail to Everest


In 1953, over 350 port­ers car­ry­ing sup­plies for the Brit­ish exped­i­tion that would con­quer Mt Everest passed through the tiny Nepalese town of Jiri.

In 2014, we were also car­ry­ing sup­plies but in a dif­fer­ent style: a run-down bus chocked full with bags of rice and rain-sod­den farm­ers.

Luck­ily the cigar­ette-smoking man behind the wheel was a mas­ter of slid­ing over­loaded 50-seat­er buses down muddy tracks, and after an hour on numer­ous edges we arrived at the end of the road in a town called Shiv­alaya; happy to be walk­ing for the next three weeks.

After a night’s rest in a loc­al tea­house, we applied our over-sup­plied packs, got our per­mits stamped by an incon­spicu­ous woman on the neigh­bour’s porch and joined the hand­ful of for­eign­ers chis­elling their way up the first of many stag­ger­ing ridge lines.


Early into the seem­ingly-retired trail to Everest we real­ised that the stor­ies we had heard about a trail ‘all but for­got­ten’ were true.

Thanks to the air­port in the moun­tain town of Lukla 50 kilo­metres away, a main artery for hikers in and out of Kath­mandu had been estab­lished.

Now one of the most dan­ger­ous air­ports in the world: the Ten­z­ing-Hil­lary Air­port — con­sist­ing of a one-dir­ec­tion­al down­hill run­way that dropped off a cliff at one end and had a cliff-face at the oth­er — meant two weeks hik­ing on the ori­gin­al trail had been sliced off.

The tra­di­tion­al route from Jiri (or Shiv­alaya for bus enthu­si­asts) was now vacant of the sounds of trudging hikers plough­ing through, and instead the chat­ter of loc­als liv­ing amongst the moun­tain tops could be heard.

The Ten­z­ing-Hil­lary Air­port in the moun­tain town of Lukla.

With the new­found envir­on­ment of quiet­ness and the low sup­ply of for­eign­ers on the trail a camarader­ie with fel­low hikers quickly formed.

From the hands of daily suf­fer­ing and the unknow­ing of what lay ahead, people from all over the world star­ted to get to know one anoth­er, from a retired US Mar­ine look­ing for a new chal­lenge in life, to an Aus­trali­an couple retra­cing their back­pack­ing foot­steps with the new addi­tion of two teen­age kids.

The jour­ney to Everest showed that it is some­thing that does not attract a cer­tain type of per­son for a a cer­tain type of reas­on; some people came for the chal­lenge oth­ers to see the moun­tains and the people.

Soon the daily grind of get­ting there quickly became cel­eb­rated at the end of the day by the group, camped up at the chosen tea­house for the night we would sit out­side drink­ing tea or that well-deserved beer and applaud the last strag­gler of the group; much to the enter­tain­ment of the loc­al Nepalese.

A port­er tak­ing a rest from the daily climb high into the moun­tains.

On the porch of their stone houses drink­ing warm cups of sweet tea or out in the fields gath­er­ing fresh veget­ables, the loc­al Nepalese people always caught your atten­tion with an hon­est smile and no frantic rush to sell you goods you more than likely did not want.

Small vil­lages that pro­duced most of the resources they needed to sur­vive seemed con­tent on their way of life, and even had the cheek to poke fun at the strug­gling for­eign­er try­ing to make it to the next tea­house for the night.

The numer­ous smiles of port­ers car­ry­ing ovens or kit­chen sinks on their backs as they effort­lessly glided past you filled you with a sense of being wel­comed into their land, although being a little laughed at at the same time.

After five days of con­stant assents and des­cents the morn­ing ritu­al of groan­ing in pain whilst get­ting out of bed had began to fade.

By lunch time with the first sight­ing of Everest and a fresh sliv­er of recently pur­chased yak cheese in our hands, the know­ing of what lay ahead of us was evid­ent.

But instead of ques­tion­ing our abil­ity to get there we all joined in at laugh­ing with the loc­al shop­keep­er at his wife perched on the cliff­side peer­ing though a pair of bin­ocu­lars at the com­pet­i­tion 500 metres below, whilst rant­ing in a lan­guage we did not under­stand, but a tone we all under­stood.

As we closed in on Lukla, the dron­ing of planes began to greet us in the morn­ings as the loc­al air­lines took advant­age of the calm winds.

The line of planes rolled through the val­ley and nervously swooped onto their perch beside the moun­tain town of Lukla. The tracks widened and the peace of the trail crumbled with the arrival of hikers fresh from Kath­mandu.

Equipped with daypacks, port­ers and guides they merged onto the trail and our newly formed fam­ily of strangers became diluted in the crowds, and the feel­ing of being one of the 350 port­ers in a con­voy to Everest for the Brit­ish Empire of 1953 had a flash of rein­carn­a­tion.

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