Reflections from Everest – lessons learnt from following a dream

December 2016

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It’s been almost two months since I left the UK to travel to Nepal to trek to Everest Base Camp and Kala Patthar. Since returning safely, many of my family, friends and colleagues have asked me about the adventure. What had I learnt? Was it a life changing experience? Was it as I had expected it to be? When I first returned, I struggled to answer their questions as I was still absorbing the experience and was quite emotional about what I had achieved. With a little bit more time to reflect, I have started to be able to put in to words how I found the experience and the lessons I took from it and so thought I would try and share this with you.

To give you some background, every year I like to do something that will challenge me and allow me to raise money for the fantastic charity Cancer Research UK. For 2016, I decided to take on two challenges – the trek to Everest Base Camp and running the Berlin marathon. I had never thought I would be using a marathon as training for something else (!) but the opportunity to do both seemed too good to pass by and being able to support a charity close to my heart gave me huge motivation through the months of training.

I have been fascinated with Everest since I was a little girl. It has always been a dream of mine to be able to see it for myself, not in a book or on a film. I love the mountains and take any opportunity to visit them, in the winter or summer, but I am very scared of heights and drops and so knew that even making it to Everest Base Camp would be a challenge for me. Over the years, I have tried to conquer these fears and have made some progress but usually I have my amazing husband with me who encourages me when I get scared but this time, whilst he would be supporting me from afar, I would need to deal with the challenges on my own.

The trek surpassed all my expectations (and they were very high!). The scenery is absolutely stunning, the Nepalese people are welcoming, generous and kind and the amazing aura of Everest is something that is hard to describe. Sometimes when I have undertaken previous challenges, it is only afterwards that I realised how much I enjoyed it (as anyone who has seen me at mile 18 of a marathon will testify!). Despite the difficulty, for every single minute of this trek I knew that I was having an amazing experience and felt very blessed and privileged to be there. So, what did I take away from the experience? And what questions am I now asking myself?

Our world is a beautiful place – most days I rush around focusing on what needs to be done and I forget how lucky I am to be here. Taking three weeks away from my usual life allowed me the space to reflect, to slow down and to really appreciate the beauty around me. It is a cliché but, despite taking hundreds of pictures, they really couldn’t do the scenery justice. The pure blue of the sky against the stunning mountains made me gaze in awe and smile so much. How do I make the time in my day to day life to reflect and to really see what is around me more regularly?

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Asking for help is a strength – I knew from the moment that I booked the trip that it would be a huge challenge for me. One of the reasons was because I like to try and do things on my own and asking for help doesn’t come naturally to me. Whilst I was on the trek with eleven others – three wonderful Nepalese guides and eight fantastic fellow trekkers – I didn’t know any of them beforehand and so asking for help and support would be even harder. Sometimes the help I needed was obvious. For example, the wobbly bridges which cross the deep gorges filled me with fear and so I needed someone to hold my hand to help me to cross them. Sometimes the help I needed was less obvious – having a conversation when I was feeling lonely, for example. Whenever I asked for help, one of our group would always offer it without question or judgement. It reminded me that people are inherently kind, generous and supportive. How much more could I achieve in life if I asked for help more?

We can push ourselves far more than we think is possible to achieve our dreams – I would never have believed all that I achieved on the trek. The terrain was extremely difficult for me with steep and high drops a constant challenge. The altitude (we reached 5,545m) made breathing difficult and progress very slow. The cold was severe – walking to the summit of Kala Patthar in minus 15 degrees and sleeping inside in minus 12 degrees was very hard for someone who struggles with the cold in the UK! Added to that, the lack of appetite from the effects of the altitude, the lack of sleep and the loneliness meant the trek challenged me in every way. I was, however, ultimately able to cope with everything because I was fulfilling one of my dreams. Walking in to Everest Base Camp and standing on the summit of Kala Patthar looking at the awe-inspiring sight of Everest made me so emotional. How much further could I push myself if I am doing something that I am truly passionate about?

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My family and friends are so important to me – this was something I have always known but was brought home so much to me before and during the trek. My husband, my family and my friends were unwavering in their support. Beforehand, they walked miles with me in my training, they encouraged me with words, articles and books and gave me good luck cards and tokens which made it all the way to Base Camp in my ruck sack. On the trek itself I was inundated with messages from home – giving me encouragement and keeping me up to date with news. Some messages made me smile, some made me laugh and some made me cry (in a good way!). But, most importantly, all of the support made me feel that I had a whole team with me who were willing me on. It was more than I could ever have imagined and was what I focused on to keep one foot moving in front of the other on the really hard days, to avoid focusing on the cold and pain. It reminded me to always make time for the people who are most important to me.

Being yourself and sharing your experiences can help and inspire others – I decided to write a daily blog to my family, friends and colleagues who were supporting me as many seemed excited about the adventure I would be having and asked me to let them know how I was getting on. I wouldn’t normally do this type of thing as I am a shy and private person and I was therefore slightly nervous about doing so. I wrote the blog at the end of each day when I was tired and sometimes emotional from the day’s activities. It was therefore a heartfelt and very personal account of the experiences I was having and the challenges I was trying to overcome. When I returned I was surprised by how much people liked the blogs! They had gone far and wide and many said they were inspired by reading them precisely because they were so personal. They felt they had learnt more about ‘me’ and had been part of my journey. They helped me build relationships with people who, until that point, I hadn’t known too well. It showed me the power of being open, being true to yourself and sharing your experiences.

So, was the adventure life changing? I’m still not sure. It has, however, certainly been life affirming. It has reminded me of everything I value, everything and everyone I love and everything that I want to achieve. It has made me want to do more, explore more, inspire more. It has made me more grateful for all that I have and more challenging of myself to help those who have less. Despite all the difficulties and moments of fear, I feel incredibly blessed and lucky to have been able to fulfil this dream and know I couldn’t have done so without so much support. Thank you so much to everyone who helped me.

If you are thinking about your dream, the one that you have put off until ‘the right time’, I’d encourage you to take the leap now. Don’t let your dream remain only a dream.

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