At 9:15 on the morning of 19th April I stood on top of the Thorong La Pass, at 17,776 feet above sea level, shaking hands with my fellow trekkers and drinking-in the view. This in itself is not unusual; there were dozens, if not hundreds of people crossing over the pass that day. What was unusual was that I had my 12 year old son with me.
The decision to take Louis trekking in the Himalayas was not made lightly, it was years in the making. From a very young age Louis has walked the Lake District fells with me. From his first summit – standing on the top of Latrigg looking down over Keswick he has loved walking. As Louis grew older we walked further, climbed higher and had longer days on the mountains, chatting and laughing and eating pork pies.
We would talk about everything, the weather, school, work, if Bear Grylls could beat James Bond in a fight – all sorts of stuff. However, in the summer of 2015 we started to talk about what we would do when we had ‘finished the Wainwrights’ – what would we do next? I can’t remember who said it first, but we started to daydream about going to Everest. “Could it be done?” Louis would ask. There’s only one way to find out…
There is not enough time to explain why we did not trek to Everest basecamp. Several trekking companies decided they did not wish to be involved with getting a child up to basecamp and at one point the whole trip began to look like if would fail. Beaten by health and safety. Then someone suggested we contact Jagged Globe. From the very first phone call I felt like we were in safe-hands, dealing with professionals that knew their business inside-out. At some point, I can’t remember when, we booked. Finally everything we talked about would happen and we would walk in the Himalayas.
A trip like this has many high points, the scenery, the people and the feeling of remoteness are all beyond description. The knowledge that I was fulfilling a dream and walking in and amongst truly massive mountains was overwhelming. To be with like-minded people and sharing the simple pleasure of walking each day helped to put our Western lifestyle into perspective – we consume too much, want everything and need for nothing. If Louis takes one thing away with him from his time in Nepal, I hope it is this; we are privileged beyond our understanding.
The low point came without warning. As we went up towards the high-pass, having walked through the dark and the cold, Louis suddenly stopped. Finally the effects of the altitude had gripped him. He was ill, he said he felt ill and he was. As he stood on the path as white as a sheet, it suddenly dawned on me that I had done something to put my only son in danger. Since our first walk on Latrigg all those years ago, this was the first time he was in real danger. It was my fault, my responsibility and it was selfishness and hubris that had got us to this point. Close to 16,500’ and literally in the middle of nowhere, my boy was sick and I was struck with fear. At this point our trip-leader; Mungo and Sirdar; Lhakpa were amazing.
They were calm and profession, and without them I know we would have gone no further; but it’s amazing the positive impact of a Mars Bar, half a tablet of Diamox and some water, gradually Louis started to move again. If you need a definition of grit and determination; this was it. To use the phrase ‘dig deep’ is an under-estimation of Louis’ efforts that morning. Slowly and surely, one foot after the other he started to walk towards the top.
To spend three weeks with Louis was a true privilege; to watch him interact with others on the walk, talking to the Sherpas and porters and see him thrive in the environment was amazing. The entire trip (along with our weekend walks) would not have been possible without the love, patience and support of my beautiful and long-suffering wife, we are both in her debt and being away from home for an extended period of time makes both Louis and I more sure of how amazing she really is.
At 9:15 on the morning of the 19th of April I hugged my son on the top of the Thorong La pass, with tears streaming down my face. All of what I said to him that morning will stay between him, my wife and myself – but what I can tell you is that the word “proud” was included.
We still walk each weekend, still daydream and chat about nonsense, still eat pork pies and, every now and then, we stop, give each other a look and say ‘we’ve been to the Himalayas.’