DHL Everest Expedition 2011

May 16

Dispatch #14

Published at 18:00
Dispatch created from email
I've been home from Nepal a week now. It's still all very surreal. I keep getting this odd sensation that I shouldn't be here, that I don't belong. I know I should be on the slopes of the highest mountain in the world beginning my summit push today along with the rest of my team.

It's been difficult to adapt back to the developed world. Basecamp is home to about 350 people for the few months which make up the climbing season on Everest; there are climbers, Sherpas, cooks and doctors. It becomes a small village this time each year, but there are no buildings, no sewage systems and only the odd opportunity for a shower. We live under canvas, shower once every few weeks and go to the toilet in crevasses, bottles or barrels.

Everybody lives a relatively basic lifestyle very happily. Although there are a fair amount of people, you never see a crowd of people. Watching basecamp disappear away beneath me in the helicopter then landing in Kathmandu not much more than an hour later was overwhelming. On exiting the airport, there was a large crowd of bustling locals which I had to walk through to get to the car park: I found I was actually scared. To be whisked from the serenity of basecamp to a different world full of people and cars was frightening.

We drove straight to the clinic; I warned the nurse I may smell as I took off my jacket for them to take some blood! Apparently it was fine, but she's probably told to say that when they get people coming directly from the mountains. Hey, I had had a shower about 3 days ago (my second in 4 weeks)- that's fresh in mountaineering terms!
I decided to stay a few days in one of the nicest hotels in Kathmandu, the Yak & Yeti, a favourite with Everest climbers. My climbing partners and I had planned to come here to relax by the pool for a few days hopefully after the summit. Now I was here, all alone, 3 weeks early. I felt lost. What should I do first? Have a shower? Order apple crumble by room service? Go swimming? I just sat on the carpeted floor with my knees to my chest, and cried.
After half an hour, I called my friend Bonita who climbed Everest last year. As someone who had some comprehension of what Everest meant to me, she was a great person to talk to. I pulled myself together a bit, ordered some food and jumped in the shower as I had to go out for some more tests at the hospital.
Returning to the hotel, I got another call from Rob. Rob had phoned me every morning and evening since I'd found out I had to end the Everest expedition. As a 7 times Everest summiter and doctor, he always knows exactly the right things to say to make you feel better and his calls helped immensely. Taking his advice, I made a very difficult call to DHL. I was so disappointed to have to deliver bad news to them; I'd been hoping so much to show them they were right to believe in me and fly their flag on the summit. I owe them so much for making the expedition happen but also now for being so understanding when it didn't work out.

Then, also on Rob's advice, I got a cocktail, went into the beautiful hotel gardens and just let myself go a bit. I couldn't say how I felt that night. I sat in those gardens for an immeasurable amount of time, feeling totally alone and just numb. How did it all come to this? What had I done wrong? Could I have done something differently to change the outcome?
There were so many unanswered questions, I was so confused but ultimately, the feeling which I really recall was just utter loneliness. I'd lived in constant close contact with several people for the past month, and now I was here, in a totally alien environment with no one. I had some really good friends back home with whom I'd spoken a lot, but talking on the phone can only do so much. I just didn't know what to do with myself.
Realising I was getting cold sat in just a t-shirt, I went back up to my room for the second shower of the day, what a novelty(!), and then went to bed.
The following day, after a daunting experience at breakfast with too many people and too much choice, I had a few more hospital appointments before I was given the all clear to fly home. Somehow I managed to get a flight home the next day despite being told there was none for another week due to the end of the Easter holidays. I went shopping for some souvenirs and chocolate in Thamel, but didn't last long before I went back to the hotel, thoroughly uncomfortable with all the crowds and traffic.
Back at the hotel, I met New Zealanders Jenny, Joy and Arthur who had visited and stayed a few night with us at basecamp and now were on their way home having attempted Island Peak. I was so glad to see some familiar faces and I think they were glad to see I was a lot better having heard a perhaps overly horrific account of what had happened to me that fateful night at camp 2.
I got my long awaited swim and made a call to the guys at basecamp to let them know I was sunbathing and relaxing by the pool!
The following morning I shared breakfast and a lovely chat, complete with videos of shocking ladder crossings on Everest, with the Island Peak team and then went to pack before checking out. My flight wasn't until the evening so I sat by the pool all afternoon. Every inch of my skin had been either covered with clothing or factor 50+ for the whole month on Everest as I'd been extra vigilant due to the huge UV radiation up there, so sitting in a bikini all afternoon was probably not the best idea. I got embarrassingly sunburnt and looked like a first time tourist for the flight home.
Having to pay $145 for excess baggage, I was told to remove my "slippers" (flip flops) and put on some "real shoes" so I could be upgraded to business class. I didn't question them but did feel like getting out my huge high altitude boots to make a point. Despite severe turbulence when trying to land in Bahrain, followed by a diversion to Doha and a 3 hour wait on the runway there, the flight was very pleasant. After one of those humiliating runs through the entire length of Bahrain airport, I just managed to catch my connecting flight to London Heathrow. It was finally beginning to dawn on me there was no going back. The dream, for now, was over.

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