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It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve returned from my trip to Nepal and I’ve finally finished processing enough of my experience to write it down.  While it was a wonderful trip it was a far cry from the expectations I’ve built up of Everest Base Camp over the last year.  So naturally I left with some mixed feelings and just needed some extra time to reflect on my actual experience (versus my anticipated one).

In the months leading up to this adventure I had the mindset that Everest Base Camp would be easier than Kilimanjaro.  As a result my training reflected that mentality.  I was a lot less diligent about my physical preparation than I should have been.  When I stepped foot on the trail I received a serious reality check.

For me, the EBC trek was much MUCH harder than Kilimanjaro.  The weather and the altitude were huge factors in my hiking speed and performance and each day was physically challenging.  For some reason my body just didn’t adjust to the hiking demands like it did when I was on Kilimanjaro.

An hour after this photo was taken I was hiking along the river. We did A LOT of walking each day

But what was so much easier about this trip were the mental challenges I faced.  When I was hiking Mount Kilimanjaro I felt like I had to keep my struggles to myself, mostly because no one else was struggling and I didn’t want to be the only one.  I was already embarrassed at being the slowest hiker, I didn’t want give anyone another reason to believe I wouldn’t make it to the top.  So I bottled it up and tried to deal with those challenges myself.

That wasn’t the case in Nepal.  If I was having a rough day I talked about it.  And because I was hiking with such an AMAZING group of women they rallied around me to help.  If I needed a hiking buddy there was always someone willing to lag behind and walk with me.  Those are the memories that will stick with me years from now.

Retha kept me motivated on the trail and is part of the reason I made it as far as I did
The ladies who always stuck with me in the back of the pack: Retha, Laura, Haley and Angie

When I returned home I had a film interview to do for my upcoming plus size hike up Kilimanjaro.  The interviewer asked me why I hike long treks like this.  At first I wasn’t really sure what to say besides the typical “I like challenges” response.  But after some reflection I’ve realized that I do these hiking trips because I experience so much personal growth when I’m on them.  The trails are quiet and peaceful and your mind is free of the distractions of daily life.  When out among nature there are important lessons about one’s self to be learned.

On Kilimanjaro the lesson I learned was to appreciate my body, exactly as it is.  It’s strong and it’s capable of so much more than I ever gave it credit for.  I realized that there’s no need to change my body, no reason to try and turn it back into what it was 10 years ago.  I’m not the same person I was 10 years ago and my body shouldn’t be either.

Every time I passed a prayer wheel I would thank the powers that be for my strong legs

In Nepal the lesson I learned was to listen to my body.  When I’m at altitude I need to remember that my body reacts by losing its appetite and I need to respond by feeding it differently.  I have to bring snacks that are high in calories but small in size along with electrolyte packages.  That is what my body needs.  I also need to listen to my body and tell the difference between pushing it through exhaustion and pushing it beyond what it has the energy to do.  I learned how scary it can be to experience true altitude sickness and know when it’s time to stop ascending.

For those that don’t follow Travel Fearlessly on Facebook, I didn’t make it all the way to Everest Base Camp.  I stopped at Gorak Shep, about 2 miles away.  I just didn’t have it in me to finish that last 5-hour trek to Base Camp and back.  The altitude had beaten me and I was incredibly close to taking a chopper back to Kathmandu.  I stuck it out after a long nap and even longer night’s sleep in Gorak Shep.  Over the next two days I hiked back down, almost making it to Lukla before throwing in the towel and taking a short helicopter ride the rest of the way.  Like I said, it was a tough trip.

I made it to the Everest sign in Gorak Shep

On the way down our group encountered a woman who was suffering from altitude sickness at Dingboche.  She was put on a horse and sent down the mountain but on the way she got worse, falling off her horse and losing consciousness.  Our guides, along with her porter, carried her to the nearest helicopter pad to be evacuated to Kathmandu.  She died on the way but the medics managed to revive her.  We’re not sure what her medical condition was in the days and weeks after that but permanent brain damage is a very real possibility.

That incident haunted me for days.  I knew I had altitude sickness on the trail, worse than any I had ever experienced.  At times I would be stumbling during my hikes.  I would have alternating headaches and nausea, my stomach shriveled up to the size of a bean.  Many evenings I only ate a few french fries and a cup of tea.  But yet I pushed on.  I’m glad that I finally realized what my body was trying to tell me.  There were many others, sucking on oxygen bottles while being carried to a waiting helicopter, who didn’t.

So would I trek to Everest Base Camp again? Probably not, though I said the same thing about Kilimanjaro and I’m going back in 9 months.  But if I were to return to Nepal I think the Annapurna Circuit would be a better fit for me.  Shorter trip (10 days versus 12) and less altitude.  Who knows what the future will hold!

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