That morning we left early, high spirited in the crisp morning air, and we walked off a belly of porridge. Under the blue sky, ringing with purity, we watched our breath, then lowered our gaze to the trail ahead. Yaks trudged behind us, their shaggy, black bodies carrying the burden of loads to be taken to the lodge above. The bells on their neck tinkled, and their huge horns gave us the incentive to keep a reasonable pace.

Here in the Himalaya, there are no trees, just a desert, dust and ice, crows around you and mountains above.

It took us nearly two hours over broken, rocky ground, and when we arrived at the lodge in Gorak Shep, situated at the feet of timeless mountains, Mark was disappointed that the peak of “Sagamartha” the “Mother Goddess” (or Everest, in our tongue) was covered by thick cloud. We took tea, and chose to head to Base Camp first, in the hope that the cloud would have cleared by the time we got there, and we could then press on for Kalla Pattar. I realised though, at this altitude, it may have been too optimistic to try to reach both in a single day.

We trekked alongside the Khumbu glacier, with ice pinnacles taller than myself, that gleamed in the mid-morning sun. The trail was never level, over broken rocky terrain, and we either headed down for a short distance, or up for a longer distance. Since base camp was not a specific site, we walked seemingly without end, and my breaths were strained even under the light pack that I carried. Arjun walked ahead, picking his path through the ice and rock. His normally bright, cheerful self, was dulled under the exertion.

But after two hours, we reached a crashed helicopter, frozen solid into the ground. Mark had heard that there is a helicopter at base camp, and we took this to be our goal. We sat on the scree and shared Mars bars, water and handshakes. We were all relieved to have a rest.

While Mark and Arjun explored the helicopter and rejoiced at the clearing weather, I took a can of San Miguel from my bag and shared a drink and a tear with dad.

Looking in my Lonely Planet, people don’t generally get to Base Camp and Kalla Pattar in the same day. But we decided to try.

“Do you know a shortcut?” I asked Arjun, as he led us over loose boulders and scree, towards the ridge on the side of 7000m Pumo Ri that is Kalla Pattar.

“No,” he said.

I took deep breaths and tried to keep up the conversation: “Not many people do this in the same day, according to the guide book.”

“Fuck the book,” blurted Arjun, and we all laughed between short breaths and coughs, still clambering our way uphill.

We were all exhausted, and after a further two hours walking uphill, Kalla Pattar came into view. We looked back at the faint twisted wreck that was the helicopter, and continued on.

I have never walked with such aching legs and short breath, but with determination we arrived at the cairns at the top, falling over through a mixture of elation and exhaustion. We lay on our backs, and the sharp wind that buffeted the prayer flags blew the sweat from our faces, as we admired the view. From here, the mountains became alive, sharp old men with white beards. They had cracked faces and a multitude of moods, and they reached into the skies with a simple message, “I am”.

Surrounded by peaks, with the huge pyramid of Everest before us, black rock exposed, we rested a while.

Eventually, after hundreds of photos of the surrounding glaciers and mountains, the time to head down arrived, and we descended quickly. Our feet carried themselves to warmth and a hot meal, and we were still buzzing with awe and the sense of achievement, as we stumbled cheerily back into the lodge at Gorak Shep.

While trying to drive across the Simpson Desert, LIZZIE JOYCE and her partner were forced to hitch a ride with some dodgy truckers.

Early one January morning my boyfriend Dan and I set off on our trip across three states, covering 3,000 miles on what would turn out to be the best trip I have ever done, not to mention the most dangerous. We were attempting to cross the Simpson Desert on our way to Alice Springs from Sydney. We were fully prepared and set off in our 4WD loaded with equipment, including 60 litres of water, a double swag, a laser beam,
and an Epirb signal.

After 10 hours of driving, watching the landscape turn from highways and tall buildings to red earth and eternal horizons we glided past an old mining town called Cobar, stopped for a wee and drove on through, thankful that this ‘Hicksville’ town was not our destination. But while driving at an average speed of 120km per hour, the trusty car (which I was assured had “just had a full service and was made for driving across such terrain”) was disintegrating and the entire wheel was about to fall off.

Ugly mothertruckers

Suddenly, the brakes started to fail and smoke started pouring out the front passenger tyre. We were 120km from the last town and with at least 100km to the next, Dan decided we should drive on (without brakes) and see if we could make it to our destination. Luckily it didn’t last long anyway as the car stopped in defiance and we were forced to pull off the road in the middle of nowhere. Within minutes two semi-trailers driving in convoy by brothers, pulled up to offer us help and I’ve never been so glad to see two spectacularly ugly truckers before in my life. Freaky Brother One then began to undress me, with his eyes, almost frothing at the mouth at coming in such close proximity to someone of the opposite sex, while Freaky Brother Two was pretending to be a mechanic and baffling Dan with his bullshit. It was turning into Wolf Creek.

Nothing could be done with the car, and we had no choice but to accept a lift from Freaky Brother One to the nearest roadhouse 13km up the road. But then he said there wouldn’t be enough room in the cab so Dan should travel with his brother and I should hop into his cab by myself. By this point I was close to hysteria and there was no way I would be getting in that lorry by myself.

So we both hopped in with Brother Number Two. Dan settled in the middle of the very spacious cab which had enough room to house a small Albanian family! Relieved to be on our way to a phone box and in relative safety, (even if we were in being driven by an axe wielding maniac I had enough faith that Dan could knock him out if it came to it) I thought it would be plain sailing from here. After a couple of minutes on the road Brother Number One starts becoming agitated – he thinks he has lost his keys as he can’t use the radio to contact his brother. He pulls into the side of the road and asks me to hop out to see if he had left them in the door lock. This forced me into ungraceful acrobatic maneuvers in order to hang myself out the door and reach round to grab the keys, with freaky brother one more than enjoying the view of my ass in the air. The keys were there, so off we set again in stilted silence.

Roadhouse blues

Finally we caught sight of the roadhouse and saw our escape was only minutes away and we made a sharp exit from the freaky brothers. Good riddance!

The roadhouse turned out to be a petrol pump and a shop that was about to close. They had a phone though and we arranged for a tow truck to pick us up and take us back to the nearest town… Cobar (the Hicksville town we drove through scorning) where we would have to wait for the next three days for the car to be repaired. How ironic that the town we were laughing at turned out to be our refuge.

So we skipped the Simpson Desert and took another route to Alice Springs where we arrived two weeks later with the biggest smiles and the best memories!

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