Trekking to Everest on a budget during the monsoon necessitates a map, a rucksack full of Mars Bars and a sense of humour. We started with all three and took a bus from Kathmandu as far as the road travelled, to the damp little village of Jiri - traditional entry point into Sagarmatha National Park for the Mallorys, Hillarys and Wilsons of this world. As the bus departed I observed the absence of both people and our compass (last seen attached to us), and felt a sense of abandonment.
The next morning we ventured into a valley green with juniper, pine and birch, scented by newly wet earth. The hopeful aquamarine sky spurred us on, but it wasn’t long before we accepted that our map was cheap and inaccurate - more like a rough guess at the terrain, based on hearsay. A tinny and excitable female voice approached from round a bend, and we soon met our first Sherpa who turned down his portable radio, took a stick from somewhere about his cumbersome burden of whisky, and fashioned a seat of sorts.
The question “Everest?” accompanied by a stage shrug and some random pointing was answered with a knowing nod and a toothy beam, as he indicated we follow him up what he proudly named “Everest highway”. Our hiking boots followed his worn flip flops for twenty minutes up a narrow waterfall – our 20kg rucksacks feeling lighter in view of his 80kg. At the summit we shared some cashews and waved goodbye. As bottled water is expensive in these parts and is responsible for a lot of waste, we took the opportunity to fill our as yet uncrinkled water bottles with stream water, adding a delicate drop of tangy iodine, to taste.
The next seventeen days saw us face leeches, yaks and landslides, and although we had only one waterproof and one woolly hat between us, we had thoroughly prepared our calorific intake and so had porridge to spare. This was duly exchanged for some much craved “Dhal Bhatt power, twenty-four hour”, that hot and wholesome Nepalese dish that has been providing sustenance forever. Our woefully inadequate map made our adventure a little more authentic, and though both the Mars Bars and my sense of humour gradually depleted, we reach the last bastion of warmth, Gorek Shep, with wet socks, a mouldy passport and a real sense of achievement.