I look to the left and can just see the tip of Mount Everest peering over the frozen ridge, the familiar plumes of powdered snow escaping like smoke signals from her summit.
From this direction she looks much more innocent than she really is. She’s just another mountain, but her intimidating allure draws hundreds of climbers worldwide every year.
The upside-down rainbow above fascinates me and I stand here for almost too long until I need to leave it behind and move on. I'm not there yet.
My booted feet move surely over the maze of boulders by the edge of the track; these flat feet that caused me no end of problems over the last sixty years have taken to hiking boots surprisingly well.
We are walking very slowly, the altitude and exhaustion taking their toll but none of us are going to be stopped on this day.
Every day I’ve been up here I’ve asked myself the same question: how the hell did I get here? When I would peer out of my little orange tent each morning and see the backdrop of mountains sparkling in the crisp morning air, when I looked down - admittedly rarely - from the swinging suspension bridges as we crossed deep river gorges, when I struggled to hold my breath and keep my trousers out of the quagmire that I've had to use as toilets, when I lay face down with my bloodied nose planted in the Himalayan dust, and when I congratulated myself each evening on making it through yet another day, I ask myself the same thing: how the hell did I get here?
Only a few minutes short of Base Camp I catch up with Meryl, one of the trekkers in my group who has been walking a little way in front of me all morning.
"Are you okay?" I ask, she was sitting on a rock. There are tears in her eyes and exhaustion on her face, her body is crumbling.
"Not really," she answers, "I can’t go any further. I just can’t." There isn’t much I can do for her. I am having enough trouble keeping my own spirits up.
Yangjin, our guide, comes up to us, she takes Meryl’s water bottle from her pack and hands it to her. Meryl is in good hands now, so I move on.
It is just after 11.00am when I reach the end of the ridge, it simply doesn’t go any further, and I follow the track as it veers to the right. My footsteps crunch across the last few metres, and to my left I hear another chunk of ice crack from its anchoring and hit the freezing water, its fate sealed. The mountains are silent around me, a few wispy clouds slide across their summits and pyramids of ice at their base stand sentinel.
I walk slowly into the small clearing, its rough cairn of rocks indicating I can go no further. What little breath I have left is held, then slowly released; my mind empties and just for an instant I am sure there is nothing in there to impede this sensory concoction and feeling of elation.
I made it. I have walked where Edmund Hillary walked sixty years ago on his way to the top of the world.
The pile of prayer flags on the cairn, some rather tattered, others put there recently, mark the end of the line for us. In the distance, by the edge of the icefall, we can see a few remaining brightly coloured tents belonging to this season’s climbers. It's the end of the season and many have already left, the few remaining are in the process of packing up.
We’ve been watching helicopters constantly flying backwards and forwards today ferrying those prepared to pay the money back to Lukla. There are many though who can’t afford the luxury and we’d been passing them on the track for the last few days, stopping them to ask how they’d gone.
Most of them had made it to the top. Their sunken eyes told the story, they were weary, they wore the marks of the struggle they’d gone through, but their sense of achievement was evident. Without exception they were humble and, unless we asked, they weren’t about to shout about what they’d achieved.
Our major hurdle today are the yaks, loaded with gas canisters, tents, refrigerators, and climbing equipment, taking the dismantled camp back down the mountains. We constantly stop and press ourselves into the rocks on the inside of the track to allow them to pass.
Our ears are now attuned to the distant clang of the bells they wear around their necks and our eyes search for safe passing spots long before we meet them.
From our vantage point here at Base Camp you can’t see Mount Everest, she’s hiding behind her neighbours, but there's the Khumbu Glacier that I’d come to know from watching many a documentary about Everest and those who attempt her daunting challenge.
I'm sitting on a rock at Everest Base Camp thinking about where I am and what I’ve just achieved, and tears start to prickle behind my eyes.
In two months’ time I turn sixty, no doubt there will be celebrations with family and friends and there will be food and drink and general merry making, because that’s what my family does for birthdays. And I’d have a great time.
But this moment encapsulates for me my journey through those sixty years. It shows me that whatever I’ve done and wherever I’ve been throughout my life has given me the desire, the strength, and the perseverance to succeed.
Prasant, my trek leader, walks over, bends down and gives me a hug, he realises what this means to me.
I look up from the hug and grin at Meryl who is just crossing the ridge to join the rest of us. She’s found something extra within herself, she’s grabbed onto that extra bit of strength and she’s made it.
Time to leave my rock. The solitary bit is over, there are hugs and high fives all round as we celebrate.
Jenny, my fellow trekker, clutches her mobile phone in her hand and dials the number that will connect her to her seriously ill father thousands of miles away in Scotland. She did this trek for both of them.
Photographs in their dozens will remind us all in the years to come.
We’ll close our eyes and we’ll be back here, on this sunny May morning standing here at Everest Base Camp in awe of what we’ve done.
This is an edited extract from How The Hell Did I Get Here? by Pamela Lynch. Pamela’s memoir recounts her two treks through the green foothills of the Himalayas to the grey monotone moonscape of Everest Base Camp and the time when the major earthquake hit Nepal on April 25, 2015. Purchase a copy at www.pamlynch.com.au.
About the author
From her journeys in Nepal, Pamela Lynch transformed from the shy, young mother of years gone by, to the confident trekker, author and motivational speaker of today. Pamela trekked to Everest Base Camp with World Expeditions in 2013 to celebrate her 60th birthday, a journey which became an impetus for change within herself and her outlook on life. Two years later she returned to take on a more challenging trek, heading over the Cho La Pass to Everest Base Camp.
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