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Andrzej Zyms, 45, originally from Poland and now living in Northampton, is celebrating after safely returning home from Everest Base Camp and raising vital funds for St Barnabas House.
Notorious for its steep climbs, changeable weather and altitude sickness, the Everest Base Camp trek is part of a series of extreme endurance challenges Andrzej has undertaken in memory of his father, Wojciech Zyms. Andrzej has raised £1,840 for St Barnabas House, who cared for Wojciech during his battle with cancer in 2012.
Andrzej said: “Had it not been for St Barnabas House, Dad may have had to spend his final weeks in a random, bleak hospital room. I was able to spend time at Dad’s bedside, at his home, surrounded by the people and things he knew and loved. All this was made possible by the Hospice at Home service, which is why I am raising money to help St Barnabas House do for many more, what they did for my Dad.”
Setting off from Lukla in Nepal on 11 May 2019, Andrzej covered over 180km in 14 days, which included critical acclimatisation stopovers and shorter hikes on route to try and prevent altitude sickness. To prepare himself for low oxygen levels, Andrzej slept and exercised in altitude tents for five weeks in the lead-up to the trek which had reduced oxygen levels equivalent to 4,000m above sea level.
Andrzej said: “I’m sure the altitude training helped. There were only two of us in the group who didn’t need to take Diamox altitude sickness medication. Although once we got above 5,000m, I’m not sure that the training I did was of much benefit. My resting heart rate was 105bmp compared to 55bmp at sea level.”
When asked what the most challenging point of the trek was, Andrzej said: “probably the day before we reached Base Camp when we climbed up to Kala Patthar which is 5,545m above sea level. At the top, we were breathing just 10% oxygen compared to the 20.8% we breathe normally. The effort was worth it though as we got there in time to watch the sun set on the roof of the world, which was an unforgettable experience.
“I didn’t specifically go on the trek to grieve or find myself, but it did bring things home to me while I was there. There was more emotion and time to reflect in those two weeks than there was in the seven years since Dad died.”
Andrzej reached Base Camp with his team on 20 May 2019. He said: “being at Base Camp was amazing. The camp itself is literally tents on rock, on top of a glacier. That night it was so cold that one of the guides made popcorn and we danced to local Sherpa music and a bit of Pete Tong to keep warm!”
On the morning Andrzej was leaving Base Camp – to make the return hike to Lukla – he woke early, at 4am, to catch a glimpse of teams attempting to summit Everest further up the mountain.
“I always planned to wake up before sunrise. Everyone else was still asleep. All I could hear was the glacial ice cracking around me and the odd snore. In the distance, I could see the head torches of the summit teams heading up the Khumbu Icefall, as well as lights on the top ridge which would have been a summit attempt setting out for the day. When I later watched the news in Kathmandu, I did wonder if any of the lights I saw on the mountain that morning belonged to anyone in that awful queue.”
When asked if he would ever attempt to summit Everest, Andrzej said: “not until they change some of the rules about how many people they send up there. It’s getting too dangerous, especially this year as the window for the climbers to attempt the summit was so narrow and too many people were sent up on the same day. Having said that, I do have a newly-found respect for those who summit – operating at 5,500m was pretty hard and I hate to think how it feels above 8,000m.”
During his trip Andrzej had a rare opportunity to meet Kanchha Sherpa, the last living member of the 1953 British Mount Everest expedition team who were the first group of climbers to successfully ascent Everest. Andrzej said: “87 and still loving life! He’s seen and done some amazing things. It was an extremely special and emotional moment sitting next to this man and shaking his hand.”
“It’s a challenging couple of weeks but it is very rewarding. You will see and experience things that you will not find anywhere else in the world. You will have days when you find it hard to breath, you will have days when you cannot stomach any food, you’ll have headaches, but you can and will get through it. And when you do, the feelings are indescribable. Sign up, you won’t regret it.”
You can read more about Andrzej’s experience and follow his fundraising challenges on his JustGiving page.
If you have been inspired by Andrzej and fancy taking on a once in a lifetime experience in 2020, visit www.stbh.org.uk/your-challenge-for-2020 which includes details of the next Everest Base Camp trek taking place 12-29 March 2020.