by Michelle McKay
As I sit at home with a hacking cough I realise the enormity of the journey recently undertaken and the lessons learnt. I am blessed.
In November last year I trekked to Everest Base Camp. I decided to do this for multiple reasons. I grew up on a child protection plan jumping between home and local authority care before becoming a social worker. Living in neglectful circumstances, I hated the cold, so saw the trip through sub-zero temperatures as a way of tackling my fears, but it was also about inspiring young people who would follow me through care.
If I could do this, what could stop them from doing similar?
I needed the right attitude and ability to push through it. The Major, part of the group trekking, was quite a chap to keep us all motivated and regaled us with his stories of being a royal marine on expedition in the Antarctic.
Each member of the group had their own stories and life experiences to share, which I found incredibly interesting. Some were just purely entertaining characters which is required on such a journey.
I learned that once I’d stepped out onto a path as part of a journey there is no way back, you can only keep going forward.
By constantly watching my footing I noted that in order to admire the beauty and the breath-taking (literally breath taking due to lack of oxygen) views I had to stop in my path to look up. You could try walking while looking up however once a view captivates you it’s incredibly difficult not to trip over a rock.
Looking at the horizon
The lesson learnt is that although I was amongst the mountains in the Himalayas is that I often just put my head down and work hard, life to me is about stopping, downing tools so to speak and looking at the horizon and admire the world and people around us.
The walking was methodical and needed to be to regulate breathing. The air was so thin I often felt like my lungs were on fire, screaming out for oxygen. I realised quickly that you march to your own tune, as each of our bodies work differently and it’s not a competitive task; which was difficult for someone who is competitive.
I guess I’m fortunate enough to be resilient in most circumstances and will not quit a task unless I choose to; failing at something is not an option I’d choose.
There was a point on Kala Patar, which is 5644m above sea level and deemed extreme altitude, where my body appeared to want to stop. Stop as in it was screaming at me to stop, I felt like my legs and chest were on fire. Not all the group climbed Kala Patar, half way up I figured why, it’s hard!
I shuffled – yes, shuffled – each foot in front of the other ignoring the burning in my chest. Once at the top, the group had chosen the very highest point with a sheer drop down the other side, I literally staggered up the rocks and collapsed into someone’s lap for the team photo.
To be fair I literally ran back down the mountain; I’d taught myself once on a mountain get down as quickly and safely as I can. It’s stood me in good stead to date so I moved down quickly, besides the temperature was dropping below freezing quickly to -10 and I dislike the cold due to the years of neglect I suffered as a child.
The group encouraged one another and were supportive in our ultimate goal. Not one member failed to make Everest Base Camp; I think this was due more to the leadership of The Major than ourselves!
One thing that impacted upon me significantly was a visit to the Sherpas memorial/graveyard. The place is sacred to the Sherpas. What touched me was the memorial to three Chinese climbers. They had each achieved great feats and pitched themselves against Mother Nature on Everest and ten other 8000m+ mountains.
To achieve such feats is a real test of a person’s endurance and ability to focus, not on fears but on the outcomes, carefully assessing risk and windows to climb mountains as safely as one can. The group were at a base camp in the Pakistan mountains late one evening when they were all attacked by a group of Taliban militants in revenge for drone strikes.
The people killed were a mixture of nationals from China, Ukraine, Slovakia, one American dual citizen and a Nepalese Sherpa; innocent people whose drive and passion was for climbing big mountains and not politics.
I learned to take each step as it comes, just get through today and tomorrow will take care of itself. Smile at strangers who cross your path, it’s a universal language. I can do whatever I set my mind to. Raising money for a charity or a good cause is a bonus.
Who said a kid from care cannot achieve great things? They can, and I did. Next stop Africa, to climb Kilimanjaro.
Michelle McKay is a care leaver and social worker.