Standing at an altitude of over 4,000 metres above sea level in arguably the world’s greatest mountain range is an incredibly humbling experience. I’ve been lucky enough to do so twice in the Himalayas; at both Annapurna Base Camp and Everest Base Camp.
These experiences could not have happened without significant training and preparation in the preceding months. Isn’t there a saying that goes, proper planning and preparation prevents piss-poor performance? Well, I consider it gospel.
As a registered paramedic, team medic and expedition leader, I’m well acquainted with the concept of expecting the unexpected. I thrive in a dynamic environment, and nothing excites me more than the unknown. But here’s the thing - perhaps the reason I’m so excited is because I know I’ve covered my bases and I’m prepared with the right knowledge, equipment and training to face any potential challenges.
The track along the Khumbu Valley puts you in the company of some remarkable mountains - in this case Ama Dablam. Photo: Genevieve Swan
Trekking in the Himalayas is no walk in the park, I’ll tell you that much for free. As a team medic and 2IC for a group of 22 trekkers, I definitely felt the pressure of being responsible for everyone’s health and wellbeing. But I was lucky enough that most people had done the necessary preparation by hiking every weekend in their local national parks, to reduce their risk of injury or illness.
Over 10 days, we smashed our individual and team goals, all whilst being surrounded by the beauty that is the Himalayas. I find myself getting lost in the grandeur of it all every time I visit. In every village you pass, Nepalese men, women and children go out of their way to say ‘Namaste’ with a smile. The hospitality at tea-houses is exceptional; hosts will make sure you are comfortable with a full belly and a smile before you go to sleep each night.
The scenery is divine and changes as you hike higher into the mountains. Starting with trekking through lush green forests alongside small running creeks, to following trails cut into the sides of hills as you look out over the valley. Once you move into high altitude, all flora falls away to expose bare rock faces and, in the distance, snow-capped mountains. It is at this point that I begin to feel liberated by the knowledge that my small worries pale in comparison to the open landscape around me. There is nothing quite like it.
Crossing the Khumbu - below Namche Bazaar. Photo: Genevieve Swan
That being said, I was still heavily tested in my role. One of our team members became incredibly short of breath at Everest Base Camp, which required myself and the expedition leader to spring into action. We provided some basic first aid and descended as quickly as possible, to improve her symptoms and reduce her risk of deterioration. We worked with our local guides and made use of their extensive altitude knowledge and experience to provide safe and timely care. Thanks to our teamwork, contingency planning and quick actions, she recovered promptly and was able to continue the descent with the team as intended.
Photo: Genevieve Swan
I consider myself lucky to be able to work with and lead groups of like-minded people. I relish the opportunity to share knowledge and experiences, even if it is stressful at times. I’ve even taught an Introduction to Improvised Medicine course twice, to students and professionals alike, because I truly believe it is vital to equip yourself with skills which may save your life or that of a team member.
Isn’t that the beauty of the outdoors though? We seek adventure, excitement and the unknown, because it makes us feel connected to the earth and to our peers. It makes us feel alive.
If you are interested in learning more about Wilderness First Aid, I completed my qualifications through RescueMed. This post does not endorse, and nor is it affiliated with RescueMed or any other company.
Genevieve is a trekker, skier and mountain-enthusiast. She is a registered paramedic, AWLS certified and works as a team medic and expedition leader in her spare time. Most importantly, she is a mum to Arlo - a giant Groodle that can be confused for a teddy bear.