Sarah and I are long-time friends and – not surprisingly, considering we are both enjoying long careers with Flight Centre – we’re avid travellers. Climbing to Everest Base Camp has been a long-held dream of mine, so when Sarah suggested we do the trip together, I pretty much started planning straight away. We booked a small tour with a company that lets trekkers camp overnight at Base Camp, so we could enjoy the achievement of our climb for as long as possible.
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Having planned trips to Nepal and Mount Everest for clients when I was a travel consultant, and personally looking forward to when I would make the trip myself, I knew adjusting to the altitude as we climbed was something we needed to be ready for. I was anticipating headaches and cold and flu symptoms as we climbed the mountain.
Find out more about how to deal with the dangers of altitude here, as told by travel writer Michael Kelly.
After arriving and acclimatising in Kathmandu, we spent 10 days trekking to Base Camp. The trek was equally awe-inspiring and seriously hard work. As anyone who has trekked to Base Camp will know, some days we were scaling rocks and outcrops as tall as we were – climbing in every sense of the word. It was physical and exhausting, but it was especially beautiful. I knew I’d love it, but I wasn’t prepared for how the scenery would engulf me.
As we got closer to Base Camp, I felt worse and keeping up with the group was increasingly hard. But I kept telling myself it was normal to be feeling this way due to the altitude. On the afternoon we reached Base Camp (and just to make things that little bit harder, we were trekking through a snowstorm), I was so far behind the group that Sarah sat and waited for me at the entrance so we could reach it together. To put it simply, Sarah is a champion. She knew how much getting to Base Camp meant to me and didn’t want me to achieve such a milestone on my own. As she watched me arrive, Sarah said I was walking with huge effort. We’d made it, but I felt so terrible I almost couldn’t enjoy it and I went to lie down in our tent.
Base Camp has an onsite doctor, so Sarah and our guide went and got him and he tested my oxygen levels. They were low, so I was put on oxygen overnight. The next morning my oxygen levels had improved and I was feeling better, so we started the four-day descent to Kathmandu. I left ahead of the group so I could take it slowly and not be left behind. But by the first rest point, I’d started to retain fluid and I was still having trouble breathing. I went to rest again and Sarah found me in bed in a great deal of pain due to the pressure in my head (a sign of brain swelling) and she says I was almost non-coherent.
There were four GPs travelling in our group, so Sarah went and found one of them, as well as our tour guide. Our guide told me – and he knew how much I wanted to make the trek down myself – that they needed to get me off the mountain. I was finding it hard to breathe, I couldn’t lie down due to the pressure in my head, I felt like my fluid retention was getting worse by the minute, and I was drinking plenty of water but remained thirsty.
There was almost no phone signal at the camp. Sarah literally had to stand on a rock, in the dark, on the edge of Everest to find the one spot where the satellite phone got reception and called our Sydney-based Cover-More BDM, Rachel. It was Saturday night in Australia and Rachel was out watching the football with friends, but it didn’t stop her dropping everything so she could organise a medevac for me.
From Sarah’s first call, Rachel was on the phone to us, the Cover-More rep in Kathmandu, our tour guide, and the air ambulance team to organise for me to be airlifted off Everest. It was pretty clear I was suffering serious altitude sickness, with one of the symptoms showing I probably had pulmonary edema (fluid on my lungs). Acute pulmonary edema is a medical emergency (on top of my brain swelling), so Cover-More did everything possible to ensure I was safe and comfortable, while at the same time getting a helicopter onto the mountain the following morning.
Despite terrible weather that made landing difficult, an air ambulance arrived to airlift me to hospital in Kathmandu the next morning. To our surprise, the Nepal-based Cover-More rep made the journey in the helicopter and personally escorted us down the mountain to hospital in Kathmandu. We were already so impressed with the service and how serious the Cover-More team was about getting me off the mountain - but this elevated it to another level! At one stage we were worried the helicopter might not have had enough room for Sarah too, but Cover-More made sure the helicopter that was dispatched could fly both of us. At that point, Sarah asked our BDM Rachel if we were receiving such amazing service because we work for Flight Centre and Rachel very simply said, “No, you’re receiving this level of service because this is what we do.” It was so good for our guide and fellow-trekkers to see. Our guide in particular said he was blown away by Cover-More’s efficiency (and he would know).
When we landed in Kathmandu, the air ambulance team briefed the medical staff at Cover-More’s preferred private medical clinic. I spent 24 hours in hospital and in that time they pumped seven litres of fluid into me via an IV. I was diagnosed with two forms of altitude sickness, which is why I experienced such a broad range of symptoms. Meanwhile, Cover-More organised nearby accommodation for Sarah, arranged getting our bags off the mountain and when I was ‘fit to fly’, the assistance team booked new flights home for us so we could depart Kathmandu a day earlier than scheduled. And this whole time, the Cover-More assistance team and Rachel were calling me and Sarah all the time to make sure we were okay.
Cover-More was phenomenal. Everything was organised, there were no questions about what was covered and what wasn’t, it was just done. Cover-More, you just nail it. - Linda McMullen
Want to find out more about what it is like to hike to Mount Everest Base Camp? Read Jess Buchan's blog about her experience finding Everest.
Story as told by Flight Centre Area Leader, Linda McMullen, who travelled with National Leader, Leisure Leadership Experts Team, Sarah Farhat.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the PDS available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.