Overseas Adventure: Kiwi trekkers follow in Sir Edmund Hillary’s footsteps
Last May, 65 years after Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the summit of Mt Everest, a group of New Zealanders trekked through the Himalayas to celebrate this special anniversary.
All 26 Kiwis on the Himalayan Trust and Kathmandu Summit Club trek were there for adventure, to experience the awe-inspiring scenery, and for a chance to meet the locals and soak up the history of the Hillary legacy in the region.
On their 19-day journey to Everest Base Camp, the trekkers volunteered with local communities and at schools set up by Hillary following his famous ascent.
“The highlight of the trip was arriving at Everest Base Camp on May 29, the 65th anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary’s ascent. To think we trekked through the same valleys, stared up at the same snowy peaks as such an iconic pioneer, a true New Zealand icon. It really was a dream come true,” said trekker Helen Chalmers, a teacher from Auckland.
“But it was a jittery start to our adventure,” added Anita Perkins from Wellington. “The weather really wasn’t co-operating and the short flight from Kathmandu to Lukla airport was cancelled for several days due to bad weather.”
The tiny Lukla airport, with its runway perched on a steep cliff, is often billed as the most dangerous airport in the world. It was built by Hillary in the 1960s to transport into the region the construction materials he needed for the schools and hospitals he was building. Now, the precarious airport serves as the gateway for visitors to the Everest region.
“In the end we had to book a fleet of helicopters to taxi us up to Lukla. Now that flight certainly did not disappoint!”
From Lukla, the trekkers set off for the school in the village of Chaurikharka, where they were met by the head master.
“As a school teacher I was particularly interested in this aspect of the trek – a chance to meet and talk with local teachers,” said Helen.
“The head master explained how the village and the school had been devastated by the earthquakes in 2015 but, with support from Himalayan Trust and donations from the New Zealand public, the school was recovering well.
“We also had a chance to spend time in the classrooms with the students. It was such a privileged to teach a reading and writing lesson based around the old kiwi classic Hairy Maclary. The kids loved it!”
The next day, the trekkers joined locals in the remote village of Musey to help build a new water system to replace the tanks and water pipes that were destroyed beyond repair in the 2015 earthquakes.
As they climbed higher through the majestic mountain region, the trekkers visited Khumjung school, the first school built by Hillary. It was after completing this school in 1961 that Hillary found a new vocation that occupied much of the rest of his life – his aid work with the people of the Everest region. In Khumjung, the trekkers were treated to a special cultural show organised by the school children.
Before embarking on the final hike up to Everest Base Camp, the trekkers made one last stop for dinner with the medical staff from Kunde hospital – the first hospital built by Sir Ed in 1966. For many years the hospital was staffed by volunteer doctors from New Zealand and Canada.
Now, it’s run entirely by Nepali medical staff, many of whom started their education at schools built by Hillary. The hospital services up to 8,000 local people, plus the thousands of trekkers that pass through the region during the climbing seasons.
“We really got a strong sense of just how much Sir Ed has impacted generations of the lives of people in this region,” said Anita. “We learned about the long-lasting friendship between New Zealanders and the Nepali people, a friendship inspired by Sir Ed, but that lives on today.
“On the final days of climbing to Everest Base Camp at 5360m, it felt like a never-ending up hill. But the views of the incredible 8000m peaks such as Lhotse and Makalu, and of course that unforgettable glimpse of Everest, will be a sight I hold dear for a very long time indeed.
“At our evening briefing on the next day’s hike, our guide Prasant would always remind us: “…just go slowly and remember to look back so you can see your achievement” – sounds like good advice for life to me!
Above: The colourful village of Namche.
Below left: On the trek from Lukla to Chaurikharka.
Above: Trekkers on their way down.
Left: Crossing the swing bridge over the Dudh Kosi river on the way to Namche Bazaar.