When they reached Everest Base Camp, Julie and Chris Smith had a sip of Scotch whisky. Apart from the couple from Scotland, their two children – the nine-year-old daughter Erihn and the four-year-old son Jacob – and their Nepalese companions Kevin Sherpa and Dhanku Rai, nobody else was then at this point at almost 5,400 meters, the destination of one of the most popular trekking routes in the world.
The corona pandemic had made the hike of the Scottish Smith family an exclusive adventure. Julie, Chris and their children had been stuck in Lukla for three months before the lockdown in Nepal was eased a bit and Kevin Sherpa could organize the necessary papers for the family to continue their trek.
Everest trek after three months in lockdown
When they had just started their trekking tour to Everest Base Camp in the village of Salleri in the Solukhumbu mid-March, the pandemic reached the Himalayan state: The government of Nepal imposed a lockdown. The Smiths hiked on to Lukla, which was their final destination until the end of June. Then they were allowed to continue their trip
About one year ago, at the end of July 2019, the family from Aberdeen had set off for their lifetime trip which had finally taken them to Nepal via Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, the Middle East and India. In their Facebook blog “Clan Wander” the Smiths have been reporting about their adventures.
Meanwhile, 46-year-old Julie, her 41-year-old husband Chris and the two children are on their way back from Everest Base Camp through the Khumbu region. They also made a side trip to the Gokyo valley. I have reached the couple from Scotland by email.
Julie and Chris, when the lockdown was announced, most foreign tourists tried to return to Kathmandu as soon as possible to fly back home. Why didn’t you do it that way?
We were 2 days into our trek when we heard Nepal was going into lockdown. Our New Zealand friends (who we started the EBC trek with) made the decision to fly home the next day 21 March, a 50-hour journey.
We knew Scotland wasn’t great at that time with Covid and cases rising everyday, in addition it was a long journey to make and uncertain travel times and protocol. Thankfully our New Zealand friends returned home safely and went straight into quarantine. We on the other hand decided to stay in the mountains and walk on. We knew the area was going into lockdown and the local Nepali’s advised us against returning to Kathmandu saying that the mountains were the safer option.
You were stuck in Lukla for three months – how did you manage to avoid you and your children getting cabin fever?
When lockdown arrived, we had been travelling for 9 months by that time so we were well versed spending time together 24/7. I’m not saying it was easy, but it wasn’t awful. We were restricted to the grounds of the teahouse and not allowed into Lukla itself for 3 months for our own safety plus comfort to the locals. Plus we were tested for the virus early on at Lukla hospital and almost kept in isolation which was a great comfort.
Thankfully the grounds were spacious and we played lot’s of hide and seek and made dens in the woods, taking us back to our own childhood. The cold temperatures in March were a little challenging. Bucket washes and washing clothes outside and one wood burning stove in the dining area made it difficult and uncomfortable at times. Otherwise the children were happy playing in the grounds and just being children. It’s amazing how quickly you can adapt as a family when there’s no or limited choices.
You trekked all the way to Everest BC and then to the Gokyo Valley too. What was the mental condition of the local people you met in the Khumbu?
Thankfully once lockdown eased, we completed the next part of our trek to EBC with our 2 Nepali friends (we started our trek in March as independent trekkers). This gave us and the locals comfort. Our friends could explain that we had spent lockdown in Lukla and hadn’t come straight from Kathmandu.
Once the locals knew this, you could see them relax. They are clearly very worried about the virus and how this is going to affect them now and long term. We’ve also witnessed how it‘s affecting their mental health, not spoken about openly but we did get a glimpse of this and like every country in the world it’s been a very challenging time.
Weren’t you afraid to get infected with the coronavirus or to suffer from high altitude sickness, especially with two so young children?
Regarding altitude sickness, due to the children we planned more rest days than normal trekkers plus our pace was very slow. We had no reason to rush this trek and wanted to embrace the quiet route. All of this had a positive outcome, if anything it was us adults that suffered from the odd gastric issue and slight headache.
The Solukhumbu district was and still is (regarding corona) a green zone, tests were being carried out across the district plus we had been tested in Lukla which gave us peace of mind.
How did the locals deal with the corona crisis?
This particular district has been cushioned to some extent due to its geographical location. However, when we were in lockdown, we knew the locals continued life as normal, no social distancing and small gatherings all we could do was the right thing for our family and keep ourselves safe and in isolation.
What do you take with you from your Everest adventure?
We have relished everyday of our Everest Base Camp trek and hopefully shown others that little people don’t inhibit adventure, they enhance it.