ADVENTURE FOR GOOD: A Fundraiser Inspired by Trekking
Two huge things I am passionate about: Humanitarian efforts and outdoor adventures!
These two areas I wouldn’t imagine mix too well… although some humanitarian assignments can be quite an adventure in their own right, they rarely involve a two-week battle with your lungs.
So for my 30th birthday I decided to fundraise towards girls’ education, in partnership with an organization I had worked with in the past called Covenant Children’s Home.
I called my personal conquest “Trek for Girls” and honestly I fell in love with it. A talented friend of mine put together a logo, and I started telling people about this little idea. Over the six months preparing for the trek I was blown away with the kindness, support and new and old friends that joined in on this “little” idea. Soon we had people trekking in Los Angeles, Lake Tahoe, Utah, Kansas City, Netherlands and Nepal.
We ended up bringing additional awareness to girls’ education in India and raising enough for FIVE girls’ to go to college; that’s five girls being set on a completely new path!
You can read more about Trek for Girl’s here.
FRIENDS IN NEPAL
The introvert in me had always imagined I would explore Nepal in a solo, self-discovery sort of way, but instead I found myself joined by the most amazing group of friends and friends of friends. Some of them had also fundraised for the Trek for Girls cause and others were joining simply for the BIG adventure..
No matter the reason, the love for adventure brought us together in Kathmandu and we soon became “the loud American group” all the way to Everest Basecamp.
A city I instantly fell in love with. It was bustling with cute shops and counterfeit outdoor gear everywhere. Before heading home I filled every inch of my bag with scarves, jewelry and hand woven bags.
We spent the first jet-lagged day visiting a temple overlooking Kathmandu that was filled with monks, monkeys and what felt like an endless amount of prayer flags.
We then walked around different cultural areas in Kathmandu and witnessed interesting construction and history.
Holy men sit around the city and you can pay them a few dollars for a photo. My friend and I tipped him and he let us both take some photos.
LUKLA AIRPORT: Let the adventure begin
If you know anything about Everest, you have heard about Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Lukla. The infamous short runway is placed on a cliff and makes for quick take offs and jolting landings, coins it the “most adventurous” airport in the world.
During our time on the trail we actually were informed by our guide that there had been a crash and a few people had died. The crashed plane was still on the runway partially covered with a blue tarp for our departing flight…
ON THE TRAIL
After our thankfully uneventful flight to Lukla we gathered in our very first teahouse for some morning tea. We watched planes take off as we waited for water and our guides--we were all so eager to get going
Little did we know the trail was going to be a lot like a queue for a Disney ride and as muddy as a pig pen. I didn’t expect the famous Everest Base Camp Trek to be a journey filled with solidarity, especially during peak season, but I would be lying if the crowds didn’t take me a bit by surprise.
The trail at times was a traffic jam and trekking at my preferred pace was a struggle. There were people of all fitness levels, ages and group sizes. I hated the crowds, but I was contributing to the chaos as much as the person next to me, so it was either embrace it or be miserable.
More than a handful of trekkers had headphones in their ears or speakers hanging from their packs, drowning out the yak bells and nature. I wanted to shake them awake or tell them they didn’t deserve this experience, but we are fooled into believing Everest is for everyone, even for the most disconnected trekkers.
So I trekked past the selfie lovers, obnoxious Chav’s and large tourist groups questioning why I also choose to hike Everest.
With each day that question answered itself, as the most jaw dropping landscape unfolded before us every day.
PHAKDING: A small Sherpa village at 8,700 ft
Most treks stop here for their first night on the trail. It’s a charming little Sherpa village that I really enjoyed exploring with my camera. We even had a local bakery make our group a homemade carrot cake and it was actually REALLY good!
Window view of the mountains from my teahouse room.
NAMCHE BAZAAR: Gateway to the Himalayas - 11,283 ft
This day was another long uphill battle. After making our way across the famous Hillary Bridge, we then made a constant climb to Namche, “The gateway to the Himalayas”. One of the best parts early in the trek is passing through so many villages for hot tea, snacks and portraits.
Entering Namche felt so magical and I was so sad we didn’t get to stay longer. The mountain streets are filled with any type of outdoor gear you could need and unique gifts. I bought a yak bell…because, why not?
That night we slept just above 11,000 feet in a tea house overlooking the famous mountain city, watching as the sunset fell across the epic Himalayan landscape I was again reminded why I chose this trek.
FIRST VIEW OF EVEREST
This was our first acclimatisation day, which means we trek higher in elevation and then return back that night to a lower elevation. This was also our first view of Everest!
TENGBOCHE: 12,684 ft
Another long day of brutal uphill switchbacks lead us to Tengboche. There is a monastery you can visit and a little bakery, where the carrot-cake is NOT as good.
The kitchen of the teahouse we stayed in.
DINGBOCHE: 14,300 ft
The path has completely left the tree line behind and the landscape changes dramatically. It was also the highest elevation a lot of us had been to, so in one of the open valleys our amazing head guide Podam talked to us about symptoms to be aware of. Surprisingly most of us felt pretty good…for now.
The town of Dingboche nestled at the foot of the mountains.
SUMMIT DAY: Trek for Girls
This was our final acclimation day and the “summit day” for Trek for Girls, which meant anybody wanting to help raise awareness for girls’ education could join!
It was such an awesome day as our group wore our shirts all the way to 16,500 ft and people asked us questions along the trail.
GROUP MORALE: Life above 16,000 ft
Each person dealt with different struggles throughout our time on the trail but somehow our mashup group managed to stick together and remain positive.
I experienced my first serious feeling of altitude with a “pressure” headache once we passed 16,000 feet. I had never experienced anything like it before. It scared me and felt crippling that entire day. Reaching memorial hill where famous climbers like Rob Hall and Scott Fisher are remembered I could hardly open my eyes.
I remember reaching the god-awful tea house in Lobuche and seeing a few solo trekkers that looked completely debilitated and I was so thankful for our trek saving group morale.
I really could not imagine the experience any other way.
It was sunny the morning we left Tengboche, but freezing cold. I couldn’t believe how many people were still on the trail, but it wasn’t as crowded because of the wider valleys.
A NIGHT AT BASE CAMP: 17,575ft
Icy tents were set up all across the rocky terrain and I felt like I was walking into a movie set.
We had left the mainstream trekkers back at the basecamp sign and for one of the few moments I could actually hear my feet on the ground. The ice moving beneath the loose rocks made for a more interesting trek for a set of tired legs. Finally, after an hour of walking through base camp, we made it to our tents.
It was the worst and best night of the trip. We all felt rather drunk from exhaustion and a few members threw up. It was freezing cold and quite miserable. The toilet was a two-gallon bucket with a tent over it and it was a good idea to bring a headlamp with you…
We had dinner in a common tent and I don’t remember much other than a few base camp doctors joining the tent and talking about their work with the climbers on the mountain. After dinner we then went to our assigned tents and attempted sleep. I didn’t feel as bad as I had at 16,000 feet but was exhausted from the long day and little rest. But at base camp, you start to wish you were back in the tea houses, as awful as they were.
I put all my layers on and slipped into my bag with my Camelbak filled with hot water which helped me drift to sleep pretty quickly, despite the large rock I was sleeping on. I think I only slept for about two hours when I jolted awake with the irrational fear of my Camelbak bursting in my sleeping bag and me freezing to death. I was suddenly frantic, completely sealed up in my sleeping bag trying to push the water bag through the small opening I had almost completely zipped shut.
During the process I let most of my warm heat out of my bag and sleep became impossible.
I drifted in and out forgetting where I was at times, when the sound of somebody being sick threw me wide awake again at 4am. I then clearly remembered where I was and decided to step out of the tent for a starlit view of Everest. I crawled out of the tent to see a stream of headlamps moving across the Khumbu icefall and the stars lighting up the mountain. It was one of the most marvellous sights I have ever experienced. The night sky felt so calm and still. The wind had died down and I realized I didn’t even have my gloves on as I tried to balance my camera on rocks and ice for a long exposure.
I would say my regret is not getting an epic shot the way it deserved...but taking this moment in was one of the exact reasons I chose this trek.
GOAL IN SIGHT: 18,514 ft
The morning after our sleepless night at base camp we woke up to the coldest morning. I felt a bit altitude drunk as I slowly moved through camp. I couldn’t believe I missed sunrise...I couldn’t believe how cold my fingers were...I couldn’t believe how tired I felt and I knew we still had the longest day ahead of us.
My personal goal had always been to trek as high as I could. This trek included the opportunity to reach Kala Pattar at 18,514 feet. I’d had people sponsor that goal in order to raise money for girls’ education, so now I had to do it. The idea of climbing higher than basecamp seemed so exhausting; even putting my boots on was exhausting.
For the first time our group moved silently back through basecamp. I pulled my fingers from my gloves only a few times to snap some morning photos and eventually they were numb. I wondered where the calm night had gone when I sat without gloves watching climbers at 4am.
We made the three hour trek back to Gorak Shep, which is when I realized the idea of “going down” will never be truly “going down”. You’re going down in elevation, but the hills continue to take you up and down.
As soon as our group gathered at Gorak Shep we started debating Kala Pattar. I knew we still had a full day of trekking ahead and our guide said adding Kala Pattar was going to add three hours. Half of our group decided to wait at a teahouse as three others and myself decided to tackle the horrible uphill battle to 18,514 feet.
I will spare you all my internal battles, but let’s just say there were tears multiple times as I sat down and said I was done. My legs had never felt so weak and my breath so short. I would take five steps and then stop and wonder why my legs felt like they’d run a marathon. Halfway up I could see the summit and tried to convince myself that was basically the same as reaching it. I sat down on a rock staring at Everest in the distance and came to peace with my defeat.
When suddenly a tall man wearing the coolest boots slowly walked past me. Without thinking twice I moved behind him and synced up with his stride and followed him all the way to the top. I literally think he was a Canadian angel.
Collin and I joined the power duo who had out hiked their Sherpa and we all sat in our glory for a few moments before heading back down. I had done it; I had reached the goal I questioned being able to accomplish and nothing else mattered in that moment.
THE TRUE TEST: The Long Journey Back
The final days of making our way back to Lukla were more exhausting than I could have ever imagined and most of our group came down with a horrible cold. Later we read a swine flu epidemic had been going around on the trail and I don’t believe our symptoms were far off. The other group that was trekking near us most of the trail had to life flight several of their members off throughout the trek. They said they ended with half of the trekkers they started with.
Maybe this was a true testament that altitude doesn’t judge, and although trekking companies say Everest is for all fitness levels I believe knowing your limits is important.
A FULL LOVE TANK
One by one our group said good-bye and I found myself laying half dressed and alone in my Kathmandu hotel. I was getting ready to move onto a new photo assignment and I was trying to process everything; from the past two weeks in the mountains to the last six months raising money for a cause I was passionate about. I still think it’s hard to wrap my head around the entire experience.
Almost a year ago I was terrified of attempting fundraising and on the mountain I was afraid of failing to reach my elevation goal of 18,514 feet. Yet, here I was laying in Kathmandu reflecting on where fear had taken me. I thought, the fundraising could have raised more and the mountains could have been higher, but my love tank is overflowing.
I was proud of myself and the amazing friends that stepped out of their comfort zone and joined the cause. For those who tried something new, risked failure and opened their hearts to the world, and for everybody that gave selflessly and helped spread the word--you’re the true heros!
For anybody that lets the whispers of doubt and fear take hold of your best self: step out, take a risk and don’t forget to love the world as you go. When it’s needed, put your head down and follow the slow and steady footsteps, because nothing worth chasing comes in only a few easy steps.
Thank you for taking the time to read this personal photo story from my time trekking to Everest Base Camp in Nepal.
Thank you again for everybody that gave to Trek for Girls and for believing in a little idea with the hope of making a big difference.
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- Tara Shupe
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Tara Shupe is a humanitarian & outdoor photographer, storyteller and positive influencer. Or at least tries to be!
She believes through global awareness we can all be inspired to make a difference!