Hard manual labour, no showers, altitude sickness and temperatures diving below minus 25 degrees Celsius isn’t most people’s idea of a summer holiday. But for an adventure-seeking group from St Joseph’s College it was the opportunity of a lifetime.
In January 2012, as many Australians headed for the beach to make the most of the summer break, a group of 23 students, teachers and parents packed their winter thermals and readied themselves to take part in a unique community service trip to Nepal. During the three-week trip the group experienced the sights and sounds of chaotic Kathmandu, worked at a small community school in the village of Ghat and made the tough trek to Mt Everest Base Camp.
Coordinator of the trip, teacher Mr Fergus Stewart, said the group faced many different challenges on the journey which was organised through World Youth Adventures. “At times it was confronting, physically exhausting and very cold,” he said. “We were often at the mercy of the extreme weather conditions, which led to part of our group having to be helicoptered off the mountain because the plane couldn’t take off. However along with the challenges, which were unforgettable in themselves, we also had the privilege of experiencing the warm hospitality of the Nepalese people and their beautiful culture whilst trekking through some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet”.
After spending the first few days in Kathmandu the group flew to Lukla, a Himalayan village situated 2,800 metres above sea level. The Lukla airport is considered one of the most dangerous in the world – with a short landing strip of only 460 metres built on a 30 degree angle it made for a nail-biting arrival.
The next port of call was the village of Ghat, where the group participated in a two-day community service project at the local school. This was a true expression of the Marist mission of service and education for the poor and marginalised. The work, which included sanding and painting shelves, doors, desks and window frames, widening a path and digging a rubbish pit, was made more difficult due to the high altitude but the Joeys group found great joy in working alongside the villagers.
Year 11 student Simon Jones said he felt honoured to help the village children in their pursuit of an education. “The thing that touched me the most was that all the children from this school wanted to help us; every single child pitched in to help sand down a desk or a door. The fact that these children came back to school in their school holidays demonstrated to me just how much they care for their school and their education.”
At the conclusion of the work the Ghat community held a celebration to thank the Joeys group and entertained them with an afternoon of traditional Nepalese singing and dancing. The joyous mood of the locals was infectious and before long the Joeys boys, parents and teachers were up singing and dancing with the locals.
Joeys intends to continue the association with the Ghat school. much like the College's partnership with St Joseph's school, Mabiri, Bougainville. It is planning to conduct a number of fundraising initiatives to pay for much needed school equipment, the construction of two showers for students and funding for another teacher in Ghat.
Trekking to Everest Base Camp was a tiring and unforgettable experience. During the early part of the journey, the group traversed beautiful Rhododendron forests along the Dudh Kosi River, crossing a number of high suspension bridges and passing many beautiful Mani walls or prayer walls – striking structures made up of intricately carved stone tablets.
The trek to Namche Bazaar was one of the most difficult trekking days as the walk was very steep and relentless and covered in ice. All members of the group were very pleased to arrive at their lodging, and even more relieved about the two-night stay that would allow their bodies to acclimatise to the altitude.
From Namche Bazar the Joeys travellers braved bitterly cold conditions to trek to Thyangbouche, the site of the world’s highest Buddhist monastery, where they were treated to a breathtaking view of the valley below as well as the big peaks above. They then headed down to Deboche to make camp for the night.
Dingboche, situated at an altitude of 4,530 metres was the next destination. A photographers’ dream it sits at the foot of Ama Dablam which many describe as the most picturesque mountain in the Khumbu region. By this stage temperatures were dropping rapidly and the travellers were waking up to find many of their supplies, including toothpaste, sunscreen and wet wipes, had frozen solid overnight. To combat this, each of them began sleeping with these things each night, making for a very strange assortment of items in their sleeping bags.
The final section of trekking to reach Base Camp was tough, with harsh winds that were bitterly cold. The last day comprised around six hours of walking through glaciers in gale force winds with a wind chill factor of minus 30 degrees. It was with a great sense of satisfaction and achievement that the exhausted group arrived at Base Camp having conquered the mountain in such extreme conditions. However there was no time for rest and the following day the trekkers climbed the highest mountain on the journey, Kala Pattar at 5,550m. The ascent was very steep and, when combined with the altitude which meant there was only half the amount of oxygen as at sea level, all members of the group were constantly stopping to catch their breath. The reward for their efforts was a stunning view of the Himalaya mountains soaring more than 6,000 metres high, with majestic Mount Everest towering above them.
“Even from a distance, Everest seemed to dwarf its surroundings,” said Year 10 student Nicholas Dunn. “The mountain has an aura around it that even the most majestic of the others lacked.”
Teacher, Mrs Linda Roden, said reaching the summit was an awe-inspiring moment. “We sat on Kala Pattar summit rocks with our eyes taking in the awesome view of the Himalayas, and realised that we were looking at something that only a few people would ever see in their lifetime.”
However, despite reaching their ultimate destination, the hard work and drama had not finished for the Joeys travellers. Their hopes of soon re-discovering creature comforts such as warm showers, western toilets and electricity were dashed by harsh weather which delayed their flights back to Kathmandu, forcing the group to stay an extra night in Lukla. Extreme fog the following day didn’t look promising, but finally the first small plane, containing 15 of the Joeys group, was cleared for take off – a take off that proved to be a lurching, bumpy and all round terrifying experience! Unfortunately not long after the first group’s departure the weather closed in again, shutting the airport and leaving the remaining eight members of the group stranded at Lukla for another two days. In the end, the eight remaining Joeys trekkers were treated to another adventure when they had to be flown off the mountain in a helicopter.
On his return to Australia, Year 10 student Nicholas Garrick said the Nepal experience was one he will never forget. “The expedition was, and will always be, the greatest experience of my life. Being surrounded by giant mountains, clear blue skies and the fresh air was something not many will ever come across, and was something I will cherish forever,” he said.
“Helping out the Ghat community was one of the highlights of the trip. Working with the school to create a better environment for the children was something our whole group enjoyed as it put smiles on the faces of all the villagers.”
Year 10 student Johnathon Chow agreed. “Nepal was a great experience and one that I will never forget. One highlight was the feeling of accomplishment I got when I made it to Base Camp – it felt great to know that I had accomplished what I had set out to do. Another highlight was the community project at Ghat – knowing our work was helping others less fortunate than ourselves was one of the best experiences of my life so far.”
Mark Street Hunters Hill NSW 2110 Australia | Tel. +61 2 9816 1044 | email: firstname.lastname@example.org | CRICOS Number: 01369C