We have just returned from the 7th Mark Hughes Foundation trek, Everest Base Camp Twin Peak Summit – and what an epic 15 days it was. 21 trekkers set out with the purpose of making their family proud and achieving a goal of not only completing the trek but raising significant funds for MHF. To sign up for this challenge, fundraise, train and take annual leave off work is a big commitment. When we all met up at Sydney Airport on Friday the 13th of October to gather for the first time as a team, we looked around and could feel something special. We knew we were about to tackle an adventure of a lifetime together.
We arrived in Kathmandu Airport lunchtime Saturday after a long 24 hours of travel. Getting to know each other is a recipe for the group’s success so it was made a priority. Lucky for us an Irish bar was only 5 minutes down the road from our hotel and we had an amazing afternoon bonding , which led in to the official, all important welcome to the MHF trekking family led by our leader Mark Hughes. This gave every trekker the chance to talk about their “Why”, a bit about themselves and what they want to get out of the experience. It was an emotional couple of hours hearing everyone’s personal story and you just knew this was going to be a special couple of weeks.
Next came our pre trip meeting led by Wayne Wetherall (Wild Spirit Adventures) and our guides who would be steering us through our adventure. The challenge of 15kgs each for our 1 bag gave us plenty to think about and you could see the nerves on our faces - it was getting real now, so an early night was had with some packing and unpacking before an early morning start.
Here we are, game day, and all finally packed ready for Lukla airport! One thing that was stressed was the patience needed as getting on and off the mountain could take hours or days depending on the weather. We were given the green light and it was organised chaos at the airport, eventually arriving at Lukla airport via a 500m airstrip which is classed as one of the most dangerous airports in the world. Thankfully we were landing via helicopter! What an incredible ride – we are all accounted for except for our bags but luckily wearing our trekking shoes, so we set off towards our first tea house which was a 5 hour walk to Phakding (2610m) and will be home for the night.
Night time gave us our opportunity to connect, debrief and reflect on the day. We also had 2 awards to hand out daily nominated by the group. The first was the Golden Goblet for the person that had an extraordinary day being a team player and providing some inspiration along the way. This Golden Goblet has travelled the world after being bought in 2017 in Nepal and has been on every trek since. The second was the Yak award for the person who maybe didn’t have an extraordinary day and didn’t represent the group or themselves the way he would have liked (lol). This was a stunning, heavy necklace with a toy yak attached, and is worn for 24 hours until it’s passed on. We had so many inspirational people on the trek with a story to tell, and after the awards each night we would have interviews unveiling a bit more on each trekker. One night Keiran Neeson spoke of his late father Doc (Neeson) from The Angels, who sadly passed away from brain cancer. Kieran shared some life stories of growing up being the son of the lead singer of Australia’s biggest rock band at the time. Darren Forward (Fordo) gave one of the great interviews which was super special and so insighful. We also heard from trekker Mick Paul, walking in memory of his great mate, Matt Forster. Such an emotional journey for these guys. Special mention also to Andrew Beattie who shared duties with Fordo with his “Beatts around the fire” chats, he did some beauties as well. Of course, none of this is possible without the group opening up, being honest and vulnerable, and those cold nights huddled together with only body warmth listening to these chats were some of my favourite moments on the mountain.
When you’re walking 8 to 12 hours daily, the conversations and things you get off your chest with each other is therapeutic. You are walking with stunning scenery, great mates & new mates, and that is one of the aspects of trekking I love the most.
Our mornings started with a Johnny Gannon stretch and a breathing class, followed by Trent Robinson reading a chapter from William H. Mcraven’s book “Make your Bed” about the little things that can change your life and maybe the world. What an amazing way to start each day!
As we settled in to life on the mountain we headed off on a 5 hour trek, which took us to Namche Bazaar (3441m). What a magical place! We had 2 nights here acclimatising - the home of the Sherpas and the most breath taking views you will ever see. The next day in Namche was our first sighting of Mt Everest. If you’re ever there make sure you pop into the Irish bar (yes, there is an Irish bar there!) You will see one of our MHF trekking shirts signed and stapled to the wall. Another highlight here was after 3 days our bags finally arrived. Straight for a change of clothes!
After acclimatising in Namche we headed off to Tengboche Monastry (3860m) which was a 12km walk. A little secret, you get the most amazing coffee and cakes at the bakeries in these little mountain towns. Tengboche is the holy destination of Buddhism which was great for the soul, and once settled we had a few of the lads take a dip in the mountain streams which was below freezing, but made for great pictures!
The next few days were tough going as we approached above 4000m for the first time. We stopped at a place called Dingboche for the night where we saw the snow-capped Ama Dablam Mountain in all its glory. We also got a look at the famous Island peaks, as we stopped along the way with some MHF beanies to hand out which were such a hit with the kids from Dingboche, along with tennis balls and other bits and pieces, it was so good seeing their smiling faces.
Another 4 hour trek to Chukkung (4710m) which was our home for another 2 nights including an acclimatisation day. The footy analogy was used and explained to us like “it’s a Thursday night session preparing for a Sunday game”. We kept using footy references like ”it’s nearly semi-final time” “Finals time, week 1 is the hardest of them to win” and “the group is heading for a top 2 spot!”. It resonated with the group and was mentally how we would build the day up. Well, getting back to the Thursday session, this was a real humdinger! I had all sorts of thoughts going on once we hit 5000m and were about to go higher than Everest Base Camp at Chukking Ri (5500m). I had a moment questioning myself and if I could do it. But, my trusty mate and leader Mark was right behind me shadowing me in case I slipped. He could feel my fear and said “Let’s go mate, we have come this far let’s keep going”. It was all I needed, and not long after we were embracing at the top.
We were deep in the final series now as we trek to Lobuche (4950m). This was a huge day of around 10 hours walking fresh off our Thursday night session. We arrived late afternoon and you could look around the group and see the altitude was taking a toll. There was a lot of coughing and red eyes, and plenty of medication getting used but we also knew we are at the pointy end of the trek. Tomorrow is Grand Final Day, Everest Base Camp!
On the trek you meet so many awesome people from all over the world, it really is such a great vibe on the mountain. We had people sharing stories about brain cancer from all over the world which really inspired us to keep going. We handed out a lot of MHF beanies and kept seeing them throughout the walk. Shout out to Allan and his 3 daughters from Newcastle – we hope you got to your destination. We had young friends from Darwin that pretty much mirrored our same journey. Also, Ant Wells who took on the treacherous Island Peak and sent us back a photo and message with an MHF Beanie from the top. What a legend!
Grand final day had finally arrived for our group. Roosters Coach Trent Robinson rallied the troops and we were treated to a stirring, emotional chat from the great man before we set off. I wish I could click my fingers and get back there, it was amazing to hear. We all had a chance to talk about what this day was going to mean to us and reemphasised our “Why” - what a special moment. All super pumped up for the day we headed to our last tea house at Gorak Shep (5164m) to drop off our bags and a quick bite to eat before we kept going towards our goal, 2 hours from a moment that will last with us forever. We reached Everest Base Camp (5364m) at 1:30pm and emotions were running high. Plenty of hugs, tears, photos, even a team ballad from trekker Cam Clark and as we huddled together as a team and Mark addressed the group, I know this is a moment none of us will ever forget.
We headed back to Gorak Shep for a stunning sunset at Kalapather (5545m) to top off our grand final day.
A day that we will never forget.
It may have been -15 degrees waking up early the next morning to begin our mission to get off the mountain and back safely to Kathmandu, but our spirits were so high and we knew we had a celebration coming, along with one of the best showers in a long time.
Our celebrations continued long into the night. Every trekker had the chance to talk about their experience and what it meant to be a part of the adventure. Fordo took out the Golden Goblet as overall winner after a tight contest where every trekker polled. What a moment that was.
I feel so honoured to be part of this group, who collectively raised almost $550,000 towards MHF and brain cancer research. To me this shows the calibre of men involved in the trek. Also, huge thanks to all who donated and our trek sponsors – PKF Sydney & Newcastle, Fred Mayer Foundation, Vision Infrastructure, Ausure Insurance, Colterlec, Channel Nine, The Travel Space along with Wayne and the crew from Wild Spirit Adventures, we were in great hands. To Bill Peden, one of our trek leaders and who was instrumental in the MHF trekking idea, Matt Kelson (MHF photographer) and Ryley McKay (social media and content), great work men.
Just thought I would finish with my own WHY – my mate Mark. I was so honoured to be standing side by side with him, sharing another massive achievement together, and also roommates again after all these years since our wives split us up.
To see Mark spend hours in the lead up to the trek, scrutinizing every detail leaving no stone unturned, bringing this group together to share in his purpose and giving them the strength to do things that they thought they could never do, it is in his own DNA and MHF’s too. It was such a pleasure to walk and support him on this trip of a lifetime.
Every trekker brought something unique and important to this experience, thanks to each of you for 2 weeks we will never forget –
Trent Robinson, Bill Peden, Mark Hughes, Rob Flanagan, Andrew Beattie, Ryley McKay, Sam Mayer, Cameron Clark, Mark Fisher, Ed Mounsey, Mick Paul, Darren Forward, Michael Hart, Travis Hargreaves, Daniel Smith, Jamy Forbes, John Gannon, Matt Kelson, Kieran Neeson, Saia Teisina, Danny Buderus