Hiking to Everest Base Camp with a 6yr old & what I learned about the right mindset

Wednesday 2 November 2022
TAGS: Mindset | Nepal

Nepal, what a magical country-  With delight my thoughts go back to my recent trip to this wonderful country. In April this year I found myself in the Khumbu valley (the area in northern Nepal which encompasses Mt Everest). The goal: To hike to Everest Base Camp (60km+, 4500m+ elevation, finish at 5300m) together with my wife Esther and our six year old daughter Zaya. It was an eye opening journey that taught me a lot of things – first and foremost about mindset:

– Setting expectations (aka rephrasing what “easy” means for a 6 year old) : To say that Zaya is an enthusiastic hiker, would slightly overstate it. Nevertheless, when Esther and I floated the idea to go to Everest Base Camp (EBC) for the first time Zaya was very enthusiastic. Having hiked the trail already nine years earlier, I was a bit weary – even with best planning a few long days could not be avoided. The surprising result – the long days went by in a blast. Zaya cruised up the mind numbing hill to Tengboche (a dusty uphill path of 750m elevation meters to the monastery) with not much thinking (organising a continuous Easter egg hung along the way might have helped) – what was difficult were the short days afterwards. By building up expectations – ie the long days are followed by “easy days” – we inevitably set ourselves up to fail – Zayas expectations of “easy” was more a 10min hike… so when the short days turned out to be “only” a 2 to 2.5 hr hike it turned to be a LOT longer than expected. This resulted in a LOT of motivation required.

– Patience (aka the art of motivating): The attention span of a 6 year old is well… rather short. So a hiking day of five or six hours by definition ended up at one stage  in a rational question ( Mum, Dad, why do I need to go on?) followed by obstruction (I don’t want to go anymore).

What to do? 

a) Highlight the positive –  the amazing scenery  & people provided a LOT of opportunities

b) provide entertainment: sharing stories (from my childhood), fairy tales (tbh wasn’t aware that I could recount so many Brother Grimm stories) and sing songs, play games (name the mountains, etc..)

c) set a goal/ something to look forward to: this proved easy – on the outset of the journey we had, as a family decided to reward ourself with a helicopter flight back from EBC. Event for a six year old this proved an amazingly motivating goal

– Enjoying the journey – in the end reaching EBC was not the core objective of the trip. It was to have a great time as a family and enjoy and experience an amazing country. And while i have shared this mantra often in the past – that the “journey is bigger than the goal”, it was never truer than on this trip.

– Speed (or lack thereof) can be an advantage: I don’t think it needs a lot of explanation that little feet walk slower – while this usually is a disadvantage, when it comes to mountaineering in higher mountains it is actually an advantage. While climbing Kilimanjaro porters famously ask their clients to go “Pole. Pole” – “Slowly, Slowly”. A slower pace allows the body to faster adapt to lower oxygen content of higher elevations by producing an increased amount of blood cells. Hence our slower speed proved a godsend – while a LOT (and I would almost make the bold statement of almost ALL) of trekkers to EBC suffer symptoms of altitude sickness, our slower speed and shorter day trips allowed us to have a much more pleasant experience.

So what happened?

Needless to say we made it. Zaya hiked all the way – we only learnt afterwards that she apparently was the youngest girl to do so. Along the way we made fascinating and truly memorable encounters – kind people that wanted to make endless selfies with Zaya (and yes, there was also the grumpy Belgian trekker that just couldn’t take it that Zaya hiked faster than him!!), the amazing Sherpas that hosted and helped us along the way and the moments as a family – that will stay with us forever!

  PS: Zaya still loves to proudly share the newspaper article that followed soon thereafter..


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