The trekking group, Team Epic, seems to have unburied my penchant for cocktails, despite the fact that my alcoholic consumption on this trip has been limited to a beer in Club Namche. Lab manager Monty Mythen, Smiths Medical Professor of Anaesthesia and Critical Care and Director for the Centre of Anaesthesia at UCL, insists that the cold, cavernous basement beneath the Xtreme Everest lab in Namche Bazaar (3500m) is ‘the world’s highest nightclub’. I suspect it may have a couple of rivals, but it does have a bar, a pool table, a disco ball and a warm vibe to make up for the chilly temperatures: I don’t think I’ve ever been in a ‘club’ where the dress code is down jacket! In the thin air, a single can of San Miguel did make me feel a little giddy. But that’s nothing compared with the euphoria and exhilaration that trekking in this magnificent landscape can bring.The acclimatisation walk we made on our second day in Pheriche was overwhelming. Physically it was demanding. As my team mate Jain and I inched our way up the dusty, rock-strewn path our hearts beat a rapid tempo and the gritty air scoured our lungs. Visually, it was intoxicating. With every step, every twist and turn of the sinuous contours, our eyes lifted up eagerly to drink in the mountains, especially the dominating summit of Ama Dablam, of which we’d grown especially fond. Fishbone grooves of ice topped its undressed lower slopes, capricious clouds frothed fussily around its peak. Looking at the unsullied slopes at the top it’s easy to get a glimmer of the magnetism that pulls mountaineers in to pit their wits and their lives against these ruggedly seductive cliff faces. The mountains exude a deadly charm. If you succeed in climbing to the top, the feeling must be unbeatable; if you fail – well, later on, during our trek from Pheriche to Lobuche we saw the memorials to those who’d died in their battle against the Himalayas.
As we clambered up above the treeline, zigzagging our way along the contours to rise high up above the farming village of Deboche, stalwart shrubs clung to surprisingly sandy soils. Grazing fields parcelled up by grey stone walls huddled below, every plateau put to use by the hardy highlanders who live at these heights. Gasping in the air that was chill but vibrating with clarity, we were out of breath with exertion as we pushed up past squat, crouching cairns and waving prayer flags. At the same time, we were winded and overawed by the views that just seemed to get better with every metre we climbed. We couldn’t stop smiling and there was a definite lilt to our steps despite the efforts of climbing steeply uphill. Finally we turned around and began our descent back to the lodge for lunch, our appetite for mountain views tickled but not sated. We skipped and skidded our way down the dusty track much more quickly than we’d heaved ourselves up it only shortly before, to the tune of Bryan Adams’ ‘Summer of 69’ trilling from our Sherpa guide Dodje’s phone. A natural high indeed – who needs cocktails?!