Offaly councillor Robert McDermott (right) and his friend Dave Clancy, pictured with Mount Everest in the background.

Offaly councillor's 'bucket list' Everest trip

An Offaly county councillor recently fulfilled a lifelong ambition by climbing to the base camp of the world's tallest mountain, Mount Everest.

In order to prepare for the challenge, Edenderry's Cllr Robert McDermott spent time climbing in the Slieve Blooms while wearing a Covid-19 face mask.

"I got a few strange looks for wearing a mask out in the open, on the Slieve Blooms, but it was an attempt to simulate the lack of oxygen that I was going to be facing (in Everest)," he told the Offaly Independent this week.

Robert said the trip, which involved flying to Nepal, via Turkey, was challenging but unforgettable.

"I've been asked, did I enjoy the holiday? A holiday it was not, but an experience of a lifetime it most definitely was. I would recommend it if you have an interest in heading to base camp, but fitness is required along with mental strength.

"You will have some bad days on the trip, but it's worth it."

The “bucket list” climb saw the Fianna Fáil councillor and a long-time friend of his, Dave Clancy, set off in mid-September and return early last month.

Mount Everest, which is located in the Himalayas, by the China-Nepal border, is 8,848 metres in height, while the base camp, which was Robert's target, is at 5,510 metres.

The expedition was led by Pat Falvey, "a legend in the mountaineering world," who runs an adventure company in Kerry and who twice made it to the summit of Everest.

"It was great to have his experience on our trip, and his stories of his exploits had us all enthralled," said Robert.

"Our group of 10 flew from Dublin to Kathmandu, via Istanbul, on the way out. Nepal suffered a huge earthquake in 2015, registering 7.8 on the Richter scale, which caused devastation in Kathmandu and surrounding areas.

"The after-effects of the quake can still be seen in the city today. By western standards there were a lot of differences as we drove to our hotel, the first being the lack of street signs and traffic lights, which led to interesting driving habits."

After a couple of days of acclimatising and resting, the group had a 4am start to make it to the airport and catch a flight to Lukla airport in the mountains.

"Lukla is known as the most dangerous airport in the world - it's 527 meters in length and goes uphill on landing. Once we claimed our bags, we met our three local guides for our adventure, as well as the Sherpas who carried our luggage for the duration of our trip.

"This left us with a rucksack which contained our daily essentials. These Sherpas are the real heroes of the trip as they ferried goods up and down the mountain. Their stamina never ceased to amaze us all."

As they started their journey up the mountain, the climbers were warned to take it easy, as they were now at high altitude.

A photo of the world's tallest mountain, taken by Cllr Robert McDermott.

"We could all feel the shortage of air in our breathing. Our group had different experiences of it, some with dizziness, others had upset stomach.

"Personally, the first few nights I awoke suddenly due to shortness of breath. Definitely a good way to ruin your night's sleep!" he said.

The second day of the climb was probably the toughest," as the group made their way to Namche Bazaar, a trading post town in the Himalayas.

"It is at 3,440m above sea level, and it took us seven hours of trekking to reach it. We stayed here for two nights, which was useful for acclimatisation and on our second day here we trekked to the famous Everest Hotel, at 3880m, which offered us our first view of Mount Everest.

"That was quite a thrilling experience, and quite moving as well. You now know you are up high because you are looking down at the helicopters flying below you as they make their way to base camp.

"All in all it took eight days to get to base camp, and normally four to return. As you get higher, the weather gets colder and the facilities get sparser. The tea houses we stayed in were very welcoming and were mainly made from plywood, so it was shelter they offered, not warmth.

"The main room in the house has a big fire and its fuel mainly comes from yak dung. Yaks are similar to cows and are used as well for transport and food. The food is basic but adequate and, bearing in mind that everything has to be carried, the variety is limited.

"Also, as you climb, you can see the lack of birds and vegetation and the nearer you get to base camp its mainly rocks and boulders which dominate the landscape.

"The glaciers themselves are melting due to climate change, as you approach base camp, which makes for some interesting sound effects underneath. We were all elated on reaching base camp.

Robert pictured after reaching the base camp on Mount Everest, at 5,510 metres.

"The camp was quite full with lots of different nationalities celebrating their achievement. We spent an hour there before we had to return to GorakShep, the nearest village to Base Camp, which sits on a frozen lake.

"The scenery of the snow-capped mountains and the quietness are ingrained in my memory," he concluded.

He also commented on the friendliness of the local people. "I'll remember their smiling faces and their happiness with their lot in life, which lacks a lot of the western comforts.

"Their greeting of 'Namaste', which translates to 'I see the good in you', is a great motto to live your life by," he said.