I’m not exactly what you’d call a risk-taker. In fact, I’m absolutely risk averse. I’m the type of person who looks both ways before crossing the road, scans the passengers on the train before I hop on and washes my hands every time I touch a public surface. So how did I end up on the trail to Mount Everest's base camp?

Stephanie Lam

I had lived a life of following rules, taking advice and doing the right thing up until this point, but I was about to embark on a new chapter of my adult life. I was soon to graduate from university, so I was eager to do something different as a commemoration. Most of all, I wanted a great story to tell. Though I may have severely underestimated the difficulty of reaching the Everest base camp, I can’t say that I regretted the experience.

I set foot on this journey with something to prove because not only did I lack talent in sports, but I also returned with strange bruises and sprained ankles every time I walked anywhere that wasn’t a playground. This only strengthened my determination to reach base camp. I may not have had the coordination of Alex Honnold, but I certainly had the curiosity, resilience and grit needed to finish the trek. I knew the journey would be tough, but I thought I was ready for it. 

I bought my tickets and arrived at the world’s most dangerous airport. Instantly, I was unsure about my decision. The mountaineers at the airport carried an air of confidence that I lacked, and I could tell just from looking at them that they’d probably been trekking for years. I couldn’t help but notice how frail I looked in comparison. Despite preparing for months, any ounce of confidence I had started to falter. Dozens of sherpas stood around at the airport, hoping for someone to consult their services. They offered to guide us, carry our bags and do anything we could possibly need. While rethinking the decisions that led me to this spot, a sherpa approached me. He seemed friendly and spoke English. Upon seeing how fit the other mountaineers looked, I decided it was probably better for me to hire a sherpa. He took one of my bags, and soon we were on our way. 

Stephanie Lam

We trekked through the scorching heat for the first few days and slept in the freezing cold, but everything went smoothly. As I watched an old lady at least a few decades older hobble past me with two canes wobbling unsteadily in her grasp, it hit me that the trail itself was easy enough for seniors to attempt without sherpas. I was suddenly conscious of the fact that I hired one. As I marched on, more and more trekkers were starting to struggle from the altitude. For some strange reason, I was perfectly fine. This was certainly different because I’m usually the one that falls ill first, but I could get used to this. 

Stephanie Lam

Over the next few days, I rested with the other trekkers at the checkpoint as I waited for the altitude sickness to eventually hit me like a ton of bricks. For a long time, I was fine. But just when we were about to leave the checkpoint, I made my way to one of the “bathrooms” in the ground. Suddenly, the ground swayed below me. The world spun and then everything went black. And just like that—my adventure had come to an end. 

Before I even had the chance to wake up and protest, I was already airlifted to the hospital in Kathmandu. Although I was grateful the sherpas and trekkers got into action so quickly, I was convinced that I could’ve made it to base camp. The image of the old lady shuffling past me flashed through my mind. Did she make it? I sighed, embarrassed that she probably made it farther than I did. Not only had I proven nothing on this trip, but I had also left the mountains empty-handed. No story, and no triumphant pictures taken from the base camp.  

Life isn’t always fair, but thinking about all the other trekkers being able to continue without me made me huff and puff. Despite extensive research, training and arriving with everything I needed, my body couldn’t keep up. I stayed at the hospital for the next few days (thank God for insurance), contemplating my life choices and trying to find meaning in this experience. Maybe I shouldn’t have come here after all. Should I have just played to my strengths? Committed to a challenge that I knew I could overcome?

I thought about my week on the mountain and realized that I hardly stopped to appreciate the view, nor did I learn anything about the local culture. What did I really come here for? I was here for a story. I wanted to return with a “trophy” and prove that I could do it. I think I was really missing the point. The reason why I hike and venture into the outdoors is not so that I have something to post on Instagram, nor am I out there for an imagined award to satisfy my ego. I genuinely enjoy being in nature. Being in nature is healing—but this trip did the opposite of that for me. I came to Mount Everest filled with anxiety and focused on only finishing the trek. As I scrolled and looked at the pictures I’d taken on the trip, I felt proud of my effort. Despite knowing this was not my forte, I was willing to jump outside my comfort zone and try. 

For that, I think I deserve a pat on the back.

Will I continue exploring the outdoors? Definitely. But there’s no doubt that I’ll be dropping this unhelpful attitude in the wild. Nature is something that exists for me to enjoy, not to conquer.


Editor’s Note: As of April 1, 2023 you need a guide to hike to Everest base camp. Explore Magazine does not condone hiking any trail illegally or doing any adventure without the proper training and preparation.

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