VSO Everest Base Camp Challenge

About the Challenge

In March 2009 I went to Everest Base Camp by participating in the Everest Base Camp Challenge. This challenge was organised by VSO and Accenture and over 20 colleagues from aroud the world participated in my group (Group 1). Together we raised over Ä 100.000,- for VSO. The money will be used for the VSO Educational Programme in Nepal (the page on the VSO site no longer exists so I have removed the link).
100% of donations went to VSO, I have personally paid for my flight and other personal expenses.

Fifty years ago Nepal had no education system, now it has 28,000 schools and nearly four million primary school students. This is a phenomenal achievement.
Nepal is still working towards 100% enrolment in schools, especially girls and lower castes. This raises difficult issues: huge first year classes of up to 90 students; pressure to expand classrooms and textbook supply (a typical textbook is only in black and white and there's little else apart from chalk and a blackboard), and above all a change in attitudes to education.

Check out more details on the fundraising on my JustGiving page.

Many people that also started to raise funds have asked me what I did to raise money. So I finally decided to create a page with fundraising tips.


A special note (in Dutch) for a special gift (€2,000.00)

Ter nagedachtenis aan Willemine Schijvens, *12.11.1933 - 23.01.2001. In leven directeur van de bibliotheek de Lindenberg Nijmegen.

Zij ondersteunde en geloofde in het waarmaken van dromen. Een droom van haar was om naar Nepal te gaan en een bijdrage te leveren aan boeken voor kinderen.

Zij liet ons geld na om in haar voetstappen "iets" met Nepal te gaan doen. Door haar bijdrage wordt een droom alsnog werkelijkheid.

Peter Heine & Nan Pluymackers


The challenge started on March 9 2009. I went 2 days earlier to acclimatise. In a hurry? Just want to see the pictures? Check out the slide show.

March 7: In-Flight Amsterdam - Delhi

Patricia dropped me off at Schiphol. Dimphy was on the same flight. We went through security together. There I found out I was upgraded to businessclass. As Dimphy and I hoped we could sit next to each other, we asked if that was still possible. The KLM ground staff was extremely helpful and upgraded her too; we could even choose between sitting downstairs or upstairs (we chose upstairs)! Just before midnight we arrived at New Delhi. Ground staff guided us to the transfer room where we had to wait for our flight to Kathmandu.

March 8: Delhi - Kathmandu

Somewhere during the night Sander and Mark joined us (they had a flight via Ankara and arrived in Delhi a few hours after we did). Due to low visibility in Kathmandu we had a delay of almost three hours before we finally could take off. During the flight we made some circles above Kathmandu before visibility improved enough so we could land. At the airport, our hotel shuttle was still waiting so we could go there very quickly. Around noon we arrived at the Acme Guest House. Patrick was already there and later in the afternoon Epco and Ward also joined us. In the guest house I shared a room with Dimphy and Epco. We walked around in Thamel (I was suprised to see how easy it was to find my way again) a bit and had a beer and something to eat. We had dinner at the K-to Steak House. I took a shower afterwards and went to bed early.

March 9: Kathmandu

After breakfast at the Pumpernickel (still very good cream cheese sandwhiches), we went to Durbar Square (which now costs 300 NPR admission fee) and after that to Swayambhunath. It was the day before Holi and the locals were preparing for it by targetting us with little sacks filled with water (just plain water, not coloured this day)... After Swayambhunath we took the public bus back to Thamel. The last part we walked as the traffic jam slowed us down too much. We went for some drinks at 7pm. After dinner I went back to the hotel for a shower and shave.

March 10: Kathmandu

This day the Nepali celebrated Holi. Every tourist, especially the females, were targetted with little sacks of water, coloured in a wide range of colours. We arrived at the Pumpernickel for breakfast still dry. On the way back I was hit 3 times, but with plain water. Some of the others bought some cheap clothes to participate. I decided to stay in the hotel until we would transfer to the Summit Hotel where would meet the rest. I had a chat with three Dutch students from Utrecht who had done the Annapurna Base Camp trek and where about to do the Langtang trek. Around noon we headed for the Summit Hotel. We were not the first to arrive. Many colleagues were already sitting on the terrace. Around 6.30pm I got the fleece I had bought with the company logo and the challenge title. Nice and warm! I learned that we were with 23 colleagues from The Netherlands, UK, US, Ireland, Australia, Norway, Germany and Switzerland. After a small round of introductions we had dinner. After that we sat in the bar to chat some more, but not until late. I shared a room with Mark.

March 11: Kathmandu

Mark was ill so unfortunately he could not participate in the visit to the VSO project. We were divided into three groups, each visiting a different project. Within each group we were again divided into smaller groups to be less intimidating (as far as us white giants could be not intimidating to the smallest children). We had a bus that drove us to Bhaktapur. We first were introduced to the head master and then we could visit the classrooms where lessons were in progress. Many kids wanted to ask questions and we could explain a bit why we were visiting Nepal. I was surprised how much the local teachers had been able to achieve helped by the guidance of VSO volunteers in setting up their classes. Most children could speak a bit (or a lot, depending on their age) English, which made it possible to talk directly with them. Sometimes the head master helped by a bit of translation into Nepali. After the classroom visits, the children sang and danced for us and in return we performed the "birds dance" for them (although I must say their perfomance was way better than ours). After that we had lunch and a bit of time to see Durbar Square before we headed back to the hotel.
The trek briefing was done by the owner of the hotel and also manager of the trekking company and Chris, our trekking guide. The itinerary was explained as well as AMS and what we could do to prevent it. I packed my backpack. Then I called my parents, tried to call Patricia, but got her voicemail. I did manage to reach Sabine. After dinner I weighed the backpack: 13kg, well below the maximum of 15kg. After this I called Patricia and this time I was able to talk to her. I went to bed early as we had to get up at 4.30 to catch the first flight.

March 12: Kathmandu - Lukla - Phakding (2652m/8698ft)

At 4.15 we got our wake-up call. After getting dressed we had a few slices of bread and then we headed for the airport. The whole procedure went very quickly and we were flying in 2 groups in the first two planes heading out. In our plane, every one had a window seat. We saw the snow line of the Himalayan range to the north and the rugged foothills of Nepal below and stretching away to the south. The landing at Lukla airstrip (2880m/9184ft) went very smoothly. After a cup of tea at the New Yeti Lodge, we started walking around 8.55. I learned that we would only use a couple of porters and mostly Zo's (mix of a Yak bull and a cow) to transport luggage, etc and that we would eat the food prepared by our cooking staff in tea houses. We had lunch in Tharokosi and arrived at our first camp site in Phakding around 2.20pm. Our tents were neatly set up for us (a luxury unknown on previous treks). We had dinner around 6. Ramesh, our doctor, explained the risks of Altitude Sickness and Tensing, our guide talked about the route for the next day (to Namche). I started using Diamox, just in case...
This day I walked approximately 2h25m.

March 13: Phakding - Namche Bazaar (3445m)

At 7am we woke up with bed tea. A few minutes later we got up and packed our stuff. Around 8 we started walking. The first part was Nepali flat with some nice hanging bridges to cross the river a couple of times. Halfway we had lunch and after that we had to do the steep climb all the way up to Namche Bazaar, in the burning sun. About halfway up we bought some tangerines. When we arrived at Namche Bazaar we could already see the market being prepared for Saturday. We also had to climb up to the museum where our campsite was located. I had a coke which tasted a bit strange, probably due to the Diamox.
This day I walked approximately 7h30m.

March 14: Namche Bazaar (Acclimatisation day)

We started by walking down to the market in Namche Bazaar. From there we headed up to the landing strip above Namche and then to the Everest View hotel. Quite a trip for acclimatisation! From there we had fantastic views of the Everest, Nuptse, Lhotse and Ama Dablam. After a drink we walked down again to our camp site. After lunch I went shopping. I didn't buy very much, only a pair of inliner gloves.
This day I walked approximately 3h45m.

March 15: Namche Bazaar - Khumjung (3790m)

From Namche Bazaar we walked up a ridge to 4000m and then continued to follow the ridge. Then we went down and walked into Khumjung. After tea we visited the monastery where they will show you (if you pay a small fee) what supposed is the head of a Yeti... Of course we wanted to see it. Afterwards we walked back to the camp site. When we had just arrived, it started snowing a bit. During the evening the sky cleared again and it became quite cold.
This day I walked approximately 3h25m.

March 16: Khumjung - Deboche

After breakfast I had to run to our toilet tent a I had "D"... Fortunately, the Immodium I took helped. The sky was almost clear, but when we reached our lunch spot (after little over two hours), we could already see the snow clouds down in the valley. We made a bet on how long it would take before it would start snowing. My guess was the shortest time: 17 minutes. It took less than 2... I had a chat with a Dutch couple that had been travelling around the world for nearly 15 months and were now heading for their final stretch home. No matter where you go, it seems there are always somme Dutch people around that are travelling the world...
The long way up to Tyangboche we had snow, but when we arrived there it stopped snowing for a while. We waited in a tea house for the rest of the group to arrive (which didn't take long). We had some hot drinks (hot lemon in my case) and then visited the monastery. After that we walked to our campsite in Deboche. There it started snowing again for a while, but like most days the sky was clear again by dinner time so the night was quite cold.
This day I walked approximately 3h45m.

March 17: Deboche - Dingboche (4450m)

Not too long after we started walking we had great views of Ama Dablam and Everest. We had lunch in a tea house with its own "Little Buddha". After lunch the vegetation clearly changed: no more trees but only bushes. More and more clouds came rolling in, but they seemed to go by our part of the valley. By 3pm we arrived at our camp site. As there was a bit of sun, we could dry/air our sleeping bags. During tea we got a demonstration of the Gamow bag. Scott volunteered to go into it, together with an altimeter. After less than two minutes of pumping air into the bag, the altimeter signaled 2500m / 8333ft, while we were actually still at 4450m / 14833ft! Good to know something like that is at hand, just hope we wouldn't need it. Naturally by dinner time it was snowing again...
This day I walked approximately 3h30m.

March 18: Dingboche (Acclimatisation day)

By now we could see Ama Dablam from the side. As we walked up from Dingboche to a tea house we saw Nuptse, Lhotse and Island Peak. Fantastic views! Susanne tried to cut a chocolate bar using a Swiss knife. Unfortunately she cut her finger too. Back home it would probably have meant she would get some stitches, but not here... At 4790m / 15967ft we had tea (hot lemon in my case). After half an hour or so we headed back to Dingboche. It was a long way back and we arrived for lunch quite late (around 2pm). Epco had ripped the sole of his shoe which was fixed using super glue. Hopefully this will hold. After lunch and later after dinner I played cards with some of the Dutch: hearts. And yes: it was snowing again. I went to bed with a slight headache.
This day I walked approximately 4h40m.

March 19: Dingboche - Lobuche

By morning, the headache was gone. We sang for Pelin who turned 30 this day. After breakfast we started walking; the first time I started in my warm jacket. It was cold and the wind made it feel even colder. Up to the lunch spot, it was slowly but surely up. During lunch the sky became cloudy and it became even colder so we started walking quickly again. A zig-zag path up, very steep. At the end of this ascend, we arrived at the memorials for people that have died in the area (most attempting to summit Everest, or coming down afterwards). A very impressive sight. After that it was Nepali flat all the way to Lobuche. Before we got there it was snowing again... In the tea house we played cards. Fortunately, they turned on the stove so we could warm up a bit. I put on my thermo underware as it was expected to become colder. After dinner we got a special desert: birthday cake for Pelin. The Swiss had brought "Röteli" (cherry liquor) for the occasion. Quite nice! The cake was amazing, especially when you consider the fact that they created it at nearly 5000m / 16667ft! Again a slight headache, now combined with a cough.
This day I walked approximately 4h00m.

March 20: Lobuche - Gorak Shep (5160m)

Just before dawn, someone checked the thermometer: -18°C / -28°F. We started walking just before 8am. Expected walking time was 3 hours. So when we would arrive, Patricia should be in the car, so hopefully I would be able to reach her, calling from the lodge in Gorak Shep. The first part of the day, I had a tough time, but about halfway up, I started feeling better. The clouds came in early, so the views of Nuptse, Everest and Pumori that we had at the start disappeared quite fast. We arrived before noon and I immediately tried to call Patricia, but the connection was down.
We played cards for a long time. Some of the other guests told us it had been -32°C / -36°F that night!
After dinner Rachel told us that before the trek and not including some "celebrating performance" points that were on their way to VSO we had already raised 88,000 GBP! 90,000 is within reach - an amazing amount!
We went to bed early, to be fully fit (as far as possible at least). I had my fleece inliner in my sleeping bag for the first time.
This day I walked approximately 3h10m.

March 21: Gorak Shep - Everest Base Camp (5300m) - Gorak Shep

The fleece inliner was 20euro well spent! I slept like a baby and wasn't cold for a second, even though it was -22°C / -30°F. We started early so we would be able to enjoy the good weather this region has during most mornings, and of course the views this makes possible. Almost from the start we could see Pumori, Everest, the Khumbu Glacier, etc. We reached EBC (5365m / 17,883ft) quite fast and took a lot of pictures. Some of the group then went on to the camp site that was being put up. I went to the glacier with some of the others. After that we walked back to the camp site. The fact that I hadn't been eating well for the last couple of days became noticeable. I was quite tired by the time we got back, but didn't have a headache. I tried to call Patricia from the tea house, but the connection was still down. Then someone said the tea house next to hours had a satellite phone. Marco and I went there and found out it was even cheaper than the regular phone at our tea house. And the quality was excellent; as if she was standing next to me! Around 3pm it started snowing again... We went to bed early again as the next day would be very tough and long and start early...
This day I walked approximately 5h30m.

March 22: Gorak Shep - Kala Pattar (5545m) - Pheriche

At 5am we got up. The sky was clear. But 5 minutes later it was cloudy and we had some small snow flakes... By 5.45 we had had tea and some bread and started walking. After a while I found myself at the front of the second group, setting pace. This worked for a while but then I felt rushed and going too fast for my own good, so I let some of them pass and then continued at my own pace. A while later I thought we were getting close, but some people we met that were coming down, told us that we were almost half way... I told Peter, who was walking just behind me, that I wasn't sure I'd go all the way to Kala Pattar as I was egtting tired and there was no visibilty anyway. But when I looked back I saw a small patch of blue in the sky and decided to contine (as I didn't want to be the guy that turned around just before the sky became clear).
By the time I got up to Kala Pattar, the sky had just cleared, so I was very glad I had continued, even though it was a tough trip... The view from Kala Pattar and the feeling of having reached it was superb! I stayed at Kala Pattar untill the last people had arrived and then started walking down. This went quite well, so I arrived back in the camp quite fast. We rested for a while and then started packing our stuff. Around 10.45 we headed for Lobuche (lunch spot). After that we had a very long walk to Pheriche, where we arrived around 5pm. After dinner we played a game of cards and went to bed early; this had been the toughest day by far...
This day I walked approximately 7h50m.

March 23: Pheriche - Kyangjuma

After a night with not much sleep for quite a few people (suffering from D and/or V), we got up and could take it slow because we would only start walking at 8.45. When we started walking, the group was so full of energy we almost raced down for 3 hours straight. Then we stopped for some hot lemon and waited until the group was complete again. Then it was only 30 minutes until lunchtime (down at 3250m). Like on the way up, the sky quickly turned from blue to grey. From the lunch spot, we had to walk up again to 3600m. By the time we got there, it was snowing again. During the day I said goodbye to the mountains as we wouldn't see most of the famous peaks anymore on the way back to Lukla. This evening, quite a few people allowed themselves beer. I decided to wait one more day.
This day I walked approximately 5h30m.

March 24: Kyangjuma - Chumoa

This night it was relatively warm. By 9 we headed for Namche. We arrived there before 10.45. Time to do some shopping, but I didn't but much more than a coke :) I sent an SMS hoem and got a call from Patricia who was staying at my Mothers'. After lunch we headed down to 2800m, walking down a dusty slope. My left knee was hurting. Luckily only one more day after this one... By the end of the afternoon, it was raining (too warm for snow down here). We played cards and had some beer. Some had a bit too much in my opinion and I decided to go to bed early (8pm) to listen some music.
This day I walked approximately 4h30m.

March 25: Chumoa - Lukla (2804m)

Our final day of walking! We went pretty fast again. After about 90 minutes we encountered Group 2. I had dressed in campany clothing (Accenture Cap and Fleece sweater), so we would be easy to spot. We wished them best of luck and then headed to our lunch spot in Phakding. Fromm there we had to walk up to Lukla. Naturally by the time we got there, it was raining a bit... A celebration beer was already waiting for us at the campsite. After that we went to a bar. After dinner the tips were handed out. The group really deserved it! What followed was some dancing with the crew, first to some western music, but later to local music. Around 1am I went to bed.
This day I walked approximately 4h10m. This makes for a total of 64h40m for this trek!

March 26: Lukla (again)

By 5am we had to get up. The group would be spread across multiple planes. Beinng at the end of the alphabet (at least according to the non-Dutch people) I would be in the 3rd plane. The first group had left and we had seen their plane coming in and leaving too. Our group headed for the airport by 7.30. But no plane... We waited until 10.30 and then we knew we wouldn't be leaving today. The weather was clearly changing and flying surely was not possible. We played some cards, watched "The Matrix" part 2. After that we headed "downtown" to play some pool and have a drink at the bar. When we got back we found out that for some people the bags did leave for Kathmandu (fortunately not mine) and that some people were in Kathamandu without their bags. We had dinner at the lodge where we would stay and watched the original version of "The wizzard of Oz". After dinner I had a sip of "Tomba" (I still don't know what it was made of, but it tasted a bit like Glühwein) but I didn't really like it. And then went to bed, hoping for better weather the next day. I shared the room with Tony. Fortunately for him, he could lend a sleeping bag as his luggae was already in Kathmandu.

March 27: Lukla - Kathmandu

During the night, around 3am, I had to pee, so I went out to the toilets. Facing the hill I was silently cheering: Clear sky! On my way back, facing the valley, I became afraid again: I could only see clouds and nothing of the valley down below... When we woke up at 5 and looked outside, the sky was clear and we could see all the way down the valley. So at least our side should be ok for the planes to fly. At 7 we heared sirens: the planes are flying!!! We headed for the airport. The first four planes were other airlines and the Yetii Airlines planes came in. Ours was the third. Everybody was very relieved we could fly out. After 10-15 minutes we flew over a pass (just some 50m above it) where we could clearly see the fresh snow. We learned that the day before our plane had come to that point and then had had to turn around to Kathmandu because of the poor visibility (no chance to fly higher, the planes aren't build for that). Just before 8 we arrived at Kathmandu.
A small bus took us to the Summit Hotel. We arrived just in time for breakfast. We met the rest of the group and heard from them how things had been the day before: the group had been split across 2 planes. The 1st had good visibilty, the second (10 minutes later) hardly any at the pass and ice on the wings. After breakfast I took a shower and shaved my beard off. I SMSed Patricia who called me as she was very happy to know I wasn't stuck in Lukla anymore.
In the afternoon I went shopping with some of the group in Thamel. Dinner was BBQ. After a long evening (speaking with Dimphy and Patrick) I decided it was time for bed. But outside I ran into John and Elliot who were in a conversation with some American girls and asked me to join in. Eventually it was 3am before I arrived in my room.

March 28/29: Kathmandu - New Delhi - Amsterdam - home

In the morning I packed my stuff and took a shower. During the trek my flight back was ripped. Fortunately Susanna wanted to throw hers away so I could use that one. After lunch it was time to say goodbye to the people that were still there and head for the airport. I shared a taxi with Tony. John and Elliot would be on the same flight to Delhi and took a second taxi. At the airport, getting the boarding pass took ages. After that we had two security checks, the second just before entering the plane. This caused us to arrive late in Delhi. But then again, who cares, my flight to Amsterdam would not leave until 7 hours later. John and Elliot had a domestic flight, so we said goodbye to them. Tony could go to his plane around 7 pm. Only 6 more hours to go for me. I SMSed to Patricia and some friends back home. By 11pm I could go to the gate. The plane left around 1am. I had a great seat - thanks to a former colleague at KLM - and could sleep almost all through the night. Just before 7am the plane landed. At the exit, Patricia, my parents and sister-in-law were waiting for me. When we arrived at our house, my brother-in-law and little neece and Sabine were also there to welcome me back home. Fanstastic to see so many people to welcome me back!

UPDATED AMOUNT

On May 16 2009 we reived the following message from VSO:
At the final count the first trek has raised £98,865 and the second £88,810 giving an incredible total of £187,675!
Thank you so much on behalf of VSO for the hard work and commitment which has gone into raising this incredible sum!
We hope you will have long lasting, wonderful memories of your VSO challenge and consider staying in touch! 

We hope you will take pride in hearing from Raj, the VSO education programme manager, about the activity which these funds will support: 

The work in 2009 will have a focus on improving the management and quality of education in Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres and primary schools.
To support the people of Nepal in their efforts to ensure that all children, whatever their gender or background,
can receive the primary school education that they are entitled to. VSO will support: 

250 teachers working in primary schools 
100 Early Childhood Development (ECD) facilitators 
25 staff working at different levels within the Ministry, Department of Education and District Education Office 
75 school supervisors supporting teachers through monitoring and evaluation 
This will impact on the quality and relevance of education of: 

Approx 2,000 children in ECD centres 
Approx 5,000 children of primary school age (5 - 11 years old) 

Thank you again for all your support.