Editor’s note: The following piece is the first of a three-part series of journal entries written by Manchester native Leslie Trussler about her experience trekking to Mount Everest Base Camp earlier this year. The second account will now be available to read in our Dec. 7 print edition. The accounts are dedicated to her Sherpa, Thundu, who was killed in an avalanche triggered by a 5.6-magnitude earthquake on Ama Dablam mountain in Nepal, on Sunday, Nov. 27.
With anxious anticipation for what the year 2016 would hold for me, I approached my husband, Jay, in January and told him that I knew what I wanted for my birthday. He looked a bit perplexed, as we usually don’t buy each other a lot for our birthdays and mine was a full six months away. What had been a dream of mine for five years was going to be my birthday wish, and although he knew this was an excuse for a new adventure I wanted to embark upon, he listened. I wanted to go to Everest Base Camp, and this was not a new concept, as I had mentioned this desire to him in years past. But the demands of working as a physical therapist and raising two young children had prevented me from reaching this dream. I knew I needed his support to help with the children and many other things, and so after thoughtful regard, he agreed…only after I told him it could also count for his Christmas and anniversary gifts as well.
The trek to Everest Base Camp was incredible and one I will discuss in a future article, but what proved to be even more of an adventure and challenge was the “extra climb” we opted to do in an attempt to summit Lobuche East peak at 20,200 feet. Our journey would cover 15 days on the mountain starting in Lukula and traveling on foot to a different town almost each day, with the exception of two acclimatization days where we stayed in the same location/height to let our bodies adjust more easily to the altitude.
I turned out to be the solo female on the trip which also included my first cousin and Manchester native Mike Niederhauser. Mike was celebrating two years to the month winning a battle over cancer by joining me on this epic adventure. Mike and I were among a group of fun and exceptionally gifted individuals including Kevin Vann, Manchester native who has summited Mount Everest as well as the tallest peaks on all seven continents; Rob Casserley, a British emergency room physician who was termed the “Everest ER doctor” along with 8 Everest summits under his belt among others; and our humblest Nepalese Sherpa, Thundu, with nine Everest summits.
Our adventure was full of challenges, but the beauty of the land is indescribable. On the eighth day of trekking, which initially started at 9,000 feet in Lukula, we had climbed to 17,500 feet and were feeling great making our way to Lobuche High Base camp, where we would “spend the night,” which actually meant just a few hours of rest. We arrived at high camp to have our tents already sent up for us by our porters around 5 p.m., and a smiling cook greeted us with hot tea and noodles, a favorite in the area. We would get a few winks of rest and wake at midnight for a 1:30 a.m. departure to the summit.
That time approached quickly as I said my prayers that night asking God for strength and good weather. We needed good weather or would need to spend another day at high camp in the very cold and windy conditions to make the summit attempt the following day. Upon waking that night to a frozen water container beside me and icicles on the inside of our tent, God granted both of my prayers and we departed our frozen tents to view the most amazing midnight sky full of stars and a full bright moon. The brisk cold didn’t afford us much time to star gaze but we all took a minute to appreciate this gorgeous sky before donning our warm clothes, putting our boiling Nalgene water bottles in our jackets close to our cores, loading up our gear in our packs, and setting off up the mountain into the cold, dark, thin air.
The pace would be slow and steady, as we frequently had to pause to catch that well-needed breath of thin air. The grade was very steep and rocky as we climbed on all fours on the more challenging sections. We trekked up the side of this great mountain with a slight view of the summit peaking around the corners. The total distance would be five miles up and five miles back down to our tents. Over the next six hours to the summit, we climbed slowly and steadily, watching our steps closely as we could see the sheer ledges and cliffs to either side in the dark.
We finally approached the crampon point where we would change our gear and put on a climbing harness, Jamar ascender, boots, crampons, and grab the ice ax. From this point, it would get steeper, but as the sun rose we were still free climbing, and I became a little uneasy about not being tied into the mountain yet. All was well as our guides were right beside us helping us and encouraging us with each step. We eventually came to the ropes where we tied into the mountain and although I felt safer, the grade steepened remarkably as I was using both feet and hands to move my body upward. I remember wondering and asking often how close we were to the summit as Thundu would say, “Don’t look up at that, but at your feet taking one step at a time.” This was very encouraging and a reality of the job ahead.
I was about 20 minutes from the summit, and I started to feel very weak when Rob came to me and asked what was going on, and although I don’t remember the entire conversation, I knew my blood sugar was low as I was running out of energy, feeling dizzy and weak. He made me stand on my feet as I wanted to lay in the snow, and he grabbed food and drinks out of my pack saying, “Eat and drink ALL of this.” As I did, I could feel my body processing the sugar and nutrients as it hit my mouth. In just a few minutes I gained my second wind and headed to the top.
As I came over the lip of the summit, the sky was so clear, and the mountains that surrounded us were impeccable with the “big daddy” Mount Everest just to my right. I had never seen or experienced this type of beauty, and as I stood somewhat alone on the side looking over the edge, I was overcome with emotion. I knew I didn’t do this alone and felt so honored that God gave me the strength to get to the top at 20,200 feet. I was standing atop a mountain that was taller than any mountain on four continents and within 100 feet of the tallest mountain in North America.
We stayed on top for about 20 minutes, refueling our bodies before making the four-hour trek back down to basecamp, and as I was repelling off the side of the mountain, I finally felt warm. A short rest at base camp and then another six to seven-mile trek to the town of Lobuche where we would spend a well needed night of rest. It was definitely a day to remember.