Trekking to Everest Base Camp is an essential part of the route for every Everest summit attempt. There are various Everest Base Camp treks and most begin with a flight into Lukla airport at a height of 2860 meters. Each of these trekking routes provides a picturesque and rewarding way to tackle the rise in altitude of 2500 meters to Everest Base Camp on the Nepal side, situated at 5360 meters in elevation. Importantly, these Everest treks incorporate rest days to provide trekkers and mountaineers with a chance to get used to the thinner air while enjoying the scenery on the route.
For mountaineers, the trek to Everest Base Camp is just the start of their adventure. When they reach the head of the Khumbu Valley, they establish their Everest Base Camp on the Khumbu glacier as they launch into the final stages of their training and acclimatisation that comes before any summit attempt. It is a gradual process that can take months, and often years, of preparation and planning.
For the famous television survival expert, Bear Grylls, his 1998 expedition to Everest's summit took three months to complete. At that time, he was the youngest Briton to safely reach the peak. The following year, his British record was then eclipsed by Rob Gauntlett from Sussex, aged just nineteen.
But in nine years later, Bear Grylls returned to the Everest trekking region and made an even more audacious and dangerous venture. He attempted to fly a paraglider to an altitude exceeding the summit of Mount Everest. Bear would fly in a supercharged vehicle designed by his friend Giles "Gilo" Cardozo, trying to exceed the existing altitude record for paragliding of 20,017 feet (6101 meters).
In May 2007, the team set up their "Mission Everest" Base Camp having trekked with their heavy equipment to an altitude of 4400 meters in Nepal. On the day of the flight, with three hours' worth of good weather, fuel and oxygen, Bear and Gilo launched themselves into the air strapped to what looked to be little more than a chair with a motor and parachute attached.
Soon they were spiralling up to a height further than that capable by the camera helicopter that was following their progress. However, the cameras onboard the paragliders showed a spectacular sight of a ribbon of blue sky merging into the blackness of space above, which at the heights they reached they could see even though it was daytime.
After seventy two minutes of flying upwards, when he was sure he had succeeded, Bear turned off his engine and glided down through the stunning mountain landscape that makes Everest trekking so special. The plan was to corroborate their altitude with a global positioning system and altimeters; unfortunately, they found in the thin air and sub-zero temperatures, their instruments froze when they were about four miles above the Mission Everest Base Camp.
Although the reading the instruments took before they froze showed that Bear, at 7621 meters, had surpassed the existing paragliding record by 1524 meters and was still climbing, the record cannot be official without a valid reading from the altimeter. Nonetheless, is clear what Bear had achieved in Gilo's machine. The images from the onboard cameras showed Bear had cleared the height of Mount Everest, and the team estimated he had reached about 150 meters higher. This took him to above 3640 meters higher than the Everest Base Camp (that's more than two miles) and almost five miles above sea level.
So as you embark on your Everest Base Camp Trek, spare a thought to the complex preparations, activities and adventures that may be going on ahead of you at the high end of the trail.