Be yourself, but braver

An inspiring woman once gave me the advice to “be yourself, but braver”.

To me, that means staying true to your authentic self but also being willing to push yourself beyond your boundaries. Because sometimes the only person standing in your way of achieving something, is yourself.

Finn and myself fundraising throughout the past academic year

Finn and myself fundraising throughout the past academic year

This past year I have been fundraising for The Children’s Society as part of a trip to Everest Base Camp. I wanted to do something incredible to end my final year at university and get back into volunteering because I hadn’t been as involved as I’d have liked to.

I had never done anything like this before, but I never say no to a challenge. Even if I get winded from walking up a flight of stairs.

I thought fundraising to reach my huge target was the hardest part. Until I landed in Nepal.

Nepal was an entirely different ballpark. From the moment my group landed we were surrounded by an incredible heat. It was sticky and uncomfortable in the winter jacket I had donned to save weight on my hold luggage. And I stuck out more so than the average tourist. It wasn’t often Nepalese people saw a tall black girl with bright orange hair.

Kathmandu was a busy up-and-coming city, but despite its busyness everyone was welcoming. Our guide, Rishi greeted us with fresh Marigold garlands that smelled sweet and distracted from the confusion and crazy that was the arrivals street of the airport.

Most of our trek group at Kathmandu Airport

Most of our trek group at Kathmandu Airport

It didn’t sink in that I was going to be trekking to Everest Base Camp until we landed in Lukla the following day. We had spent a night in a hotel in Thamel, the tourist district in the city. It was an early start that left us disorientated but excited nonetheless. It was the first time for all of us on a Twin Otter air plane. To paint you a picture, it was a small plane that could fit only 19 passengers, an air hostess and the pilot. We had all heard horror stories of rocky flights, and someone in the group had proudly informed us that there was a guaranteed accident every 18 months with this flight to Lukla. I hadn’t done any intensive research on this flight prior to arriving so this was all news to me and as you guessed, it did not sit great with me as I sat waiting with the others for our flight to arrive.

On the tarmac at Lukla Airport, elated at a safe journey

On the tarmac at Lukla Airport, elated at a safe journey

The flight took 27 minutes and it could have been the sheer exhaustion of having to get up early and the 14 hour journey the day before… but I had a little nap whilst on board. This was after taking in the views around us (I had managed to nab a window seat with a view). It was surreal seeing the clouds and mountains around us so close.

We landed at 2,860m above sea level and would only be going higher from then on.

The mountains were so different to Kathmandu, it felt as if we weren’t in the same country. The air was cleaner, there we no cars and as a Londoner that was a surreal experience.

We had lunch at the Buddha Lodge before setting off to Phakding where we would be staying the night. This journey was fairly downhill and that was perhaps my downfall. It was an easy ascent that lulled me into a false sense of security that this trek would be fairly easy if it was all going to be like that. What I didn’t quite realise was that to climb a mountain… you had to go up.

The journey from Phakding to Namche Bazar was the longest day of our trek because of the distance. It was a lot of up and downs and winding paths, mud and stones. It was the first time I cried on the trip. I was being dramatic I am fully aware now, but at the time I felt like my world was crashing down all around me. I seriously questioned my mental state at thinking that I could climb a mountain with very little preparation, I threatened to turn back and wait in Lukla for my group - even though I didn’t know the way back and I was half-way to Namche. I was very certain I wouldn’t make it to base camp and I wish I hadn’t stepped foot on that damn mountain.

Despite this mental breakdown I did make it to Namche with my group.

Namche is described as a prosperous market town at 3,440m above sea level and boasts the world’s highest Irish bar. We would spend two days in this town, the second day would be an acclimatisation day to get used to the higher altitude.

My head aches from the high altitude would start that day and last until our descent from base camp. A common theme might slowly be occurring to you, in that I did very little research about this trip. I had known about altitude sickness but I didn’t know the symptoms, so naturally I assumed the constant headaches meant I was slowly dying and wouldn’t make it. Luckily, our guide was very well informed and I was made aware that it was common, and I would indeed be fine. The headaches would come and go, so long as I rested and stay hydrated. Altitude sickness is very real and I was very fortunate that I didn’t have it as bad as others who had to get a helicopter back to Lukla.

On the third day we trekked up to Everest View Hotel, the highest hotel in the world at 3,962m above sea level. I will be very candid about my experience up, it was difficult. I was at the back of my group, and this would be the same all the way up to base camp. It seemed never ending, always walking. During moments like these, I always reminded myself to keep a positive mindset. If I told myself I couldn’t do it, I wouldn’t. And I knew I would be more disappointed in myself for not trying.

I’m glad I kept persevering because the views we saw on that day and the others, were incredible. We were literally in the clouds, it was surreal.

We carried on to Tengboche (3,867m) which is home to an important Buddhist monastery in the Khumbu region. Whilst there, we were able to experience a ceremony held by the resident monks. After a long day of walking, it was a welcome opportunity to be able to sit and take in the meditations… it was so transportive, we hadn’t realised more than a hour had passed before we left!

Base camp day was getting closer and closer the higher up we went. After Tengboche, we spent two days in Pheriche (4,371m), one of which were to acclimatise and go higher.

The walk to Lobuche (4,940m) was after, and this was the second time I cried during the trip. This time was more out of frustration. I still had the headaches, and throughout the day I felt sporadically nauseous. I was so close which only added to my frustration. I wanted to make it to base camp so much, but I felt like everything was against me. This really was a mind over matter moment, I had to drum up every ounce of determination that was left in me to keep going and pushing through the discomfort. If I could just make it to Lobuche and rest, then I could make it the next day to base camp.

Base camp day arrived, and I was feeling better. I still wasn’t 100% but I knew that I was okay enough to make it all the way. We started walking early that day and reached the 5,364m mark at around 2pm. I was so happy that we had all made it, because I wasn’t the only one finding it difficult. It’s a true test of perseverance, that we were all able to keep going despite all the challenges and obstacles that came our way. I am so incredibly proud of everyone in our group who pushed through and surpassed their expectations of themselves. We did it.

Our group at base camp!

Our group at base camp!

This trek was the hardest thing I have done in my life so far. It was both physically and mentally challenging, there were times I wanted to give up and I felt as if I had taken on more than I was capable of. I want to take you back to the first line of this blog. Be yourself, but braver.

I have always been someone who is open to new experiences, but this trek was definitely a first for me. But I knew deep down that I could do it, if I put my mind to it. I most definitely should have prepared more for the cardio workout, but our guide on the trip told me that if you can put one foot in front of the other, then you can make it base camp. You could be the most physically fit and still get thrown by altitude sickness. The trek is about mental endurance too, because there will be other challenges thrown your way. Which is very much like life.

Swayambhunath Stupa (Monkey Temple, Kathmandu)

Swayambhunath Stupa (Monkey Temple, Kathmandu)

I am so grateful for the support of my group members who helped me get through the roughest patches, who were there to keep me company when I was struggling to walk. The team members who made me laugh when all I wanted to do was go home, to the team members who inspired me to keep going. Thank you. Like most challenges in life, having amazing people around you to share the burden can make things so much easier to deal with.

This experience will be unforgettable for me as so much happened in the short space of two weeks. From the squat potties, altitude sickness, breakdowns and far too much uphill. I am really glad I pushed myself to do it and I am so happy I made it all the way. I have met amazing people and seen incredible things. Trekking to base camp is a once in a lifetime experience and my thighs still desperately hurt, but having overcome this mountain I feel ready for just about anything life throws my way this year.

Check out the video below that I put together of my time in Nepal.