07 March 2019 by Nella Scurfield
I went to Everest Base Camp for the first time over 20 years ago. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done, and it felt like it nearly killed me, but I completely fell in love with the place and always thought that one day I would go back. I was feeling pretty low after my divorce and eventually decided that I needed a new challenge to give me the boost I needed – so I signed up for a 19-day trip. Joining the Portsmouth Ramblers not only turned out to be the perfect way to get into shape, with their long Sunday walks, I also gained lots of new friends who gave me support and motivation along the way.
I always loved walking, but somehow for many years it just didn’t fit into my life – I was commuting up and down to London, and my husband wasn’t interested, so walking took a back seat. But I realised that I really wanted something for myself, so decided to take up walking again. Walking on your own is alright, but it can be a bit boring and you always have to be thinking about where you’re going. So, I decided to try a Ramblers group; someone has it all planned out for you and you can have a chat along the way.
Going out with the Portsmouth Ramblers has been brilliant. I’ve definitely found the right group for me. Their Sunday walks are 12 or 13 miles and they go at quite a pace, so they were great for my training. And they were all so supportive too, asking questions about the trip and offering to lend me bits of kit to take along.
After nearly a year of preparation and regular hikes with the Portsmouth group, I headed to Nepal and the challenge became a reality.
The Everest Base Camp trek is graded as extreme for good reason – while the walking is tough, it’s the emotional strain that’s a surprise, and just as exhausting. Because of the ups and downs of the trek, the actual height gain walked is over 10,000m, all done very slowly, as it’s really hard to breathe. I had been incredibly anxious about the trip – I had visions of being at the back, struggling to walk uphill, exhausted and frustrated, and holding everyone up. Thankfully I didn’t need to worry too much about that as the group weren’t super-duper fit, and everyone had to go slowly.
There were certainly times that I questioned my sanity at being in a tent when it was minus 20 degrees outside, with ice inside the tent and on my sleeping bag. We had no shower for two weeks, and even my wet wipes had frozen!
The final walk up to Base Camp was amazing, like walking up a lunar landscape - over three hours of walking over massive rocks, very slowly due to a lack of breath at 50% oxygen. Finally reaching Base Camp was quite surreal – it was just a pile of rocks and prayer flags, with no expeditions there at that time of year. But then the realisation dawned of what we’d achieved and most of us burst into tears of exhaustion, and relief. It wasn’t until we were coming down again, and the breath and warmth returned, that any of it really set in.
There's a gateway at Lukla (the start and end point of the trek) where the rest of the group waited for everyone to come through - the relief on everyone's faces was priceless! We were all SO happy not to have to walk uphill any more, and that it was finally over. But sad as well, as the experi-ence was fantastic - the group, the Nepali team, the UK guide and doctor, were all amazing. For me, this was the start of a new era - one which left behind the trauma of divorce and a feeling of helplessness. This is my time, and it starts now.
I’m hoping there will be more exciting treks to come.
Joining and training with a Ramblers group has been great for me. There are so many different groups out there, with a great mix of people, you can find the right one for you – and who knows where it will lead you? If you’re thinking about taking up walking, just go for it – the more people that go out walking the better! It’s a fantastic way to get exercise without even thinking about it - you can just chat along the way and enjoy a hearty roast at the end without feeling guilty. I’m a fully paid up lifetime member!
Find a Ramblers group near you.