If you're going to break your foot in the Himalayas, you may as well do it on a clear day
If you're going to break your foot in the Himalayas, you may as well do it on a clear day

The silver lining when you break your foot trekking to Everest Base Camp? This priceless shot of the Himalayas

Seth Nelson's hike to see the world's highest mountain didn't quite go according to plan

Julia Buckley
Wednesday 25 January 2017 19:00
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Seth Nelson’s pretty proud of this photo of the Himalayas. Taken last October on his mobile phone, the sun is out, the clouds hover below the snowy peaks, and Everest lurks just off to the right. It was such an unusually good set-up that even the helicopter co-pilot, he says, whipped out his phone to take some pictures. It was the highlight of the 90-minute flight.

There’s only one downside to it. Though it was a beautiful view, it was one Nelson and his fiancée, Jennifer Hocevar, had been hoping they wouldn’t see on their trek to Everest Base Camp. Because when you’re in a helicopter – unless you’ve taken a pricey sightseeing flight from Kathmandu – you’re being emergency repatriated.

“Every day on the trail you see helicopters all day coming and going,” Nelson says. “People, particularly young men, think they can go further and faster than they can.

“Then they get altitude sickness, their brain swells and they get helicoptered down.”

Nelson was evacuated from Tengboche

Nelson wasn’t that foolhardy; he took the ride of shame because he’d broken his foot. And not because of some daredevil mountaineering, either; his injury was embarrassingly pedestrian. He was walking – not on the trail but through a town – when he rolled his ankle on loose gravel.

“It was a horrible day,” he says. It was day five of their trek, and they were about halfway to base camp when they realised they’d left their camera at a rest stop, 10 minutes downhill. Nelson turned back for it, but it wasn’t there.

So he carried on downhill to see if anyone had handed it in at the previous town, and that’s when he had his moment of reckoning with an errant piece of gravel.

“That’s when I realised the trip was over,” he says.

Nelson tried to soldier on, but after overnighting in a teahouse in Tengboche, a village at 3,860 metres, he woke up to find he couldn’t put any weight on the foot at all. They called for the helicopter.

Ever the optimist, he said the repatriation was “really nice – as soon as the helicopter shows up, everyone in the village goes and looks, so there we were, hobbling onto it with everyone from Tengboche watching us”.

Then came the silver lining to the broken-footed cloud: “We were just cruising around, past the peaks, going through the clouds and then all of a sudden the pilot pulled up and the Himalayas were right there.

“Jennifer just grabbed my phone – because the camera was gone – and took about 50 pictures.”

And there it was, the money shot – one most hikers who are evacuated don’t get to see, because they’re delirious with altitude sickness.

Nelson was taken to hospital on arrival at Kathmandu, where the foot was confirmed as broken, and he was repatriated to Canada soon afterwards.

Seth Nelson, Jennifer Hocevar and his walking poles prepare to bid farewell to Tengboche

And no, the couple didn’t fall out over the disappointment. “Jennifer was the first to say, we got halfway, it’s okay. Nepal isn’t going anywhere – if anything, it gives us a reason to go back.”

The moral of the tale? Sometimes the silver lining can turn out better than even a cloudless sky. Especially if it’s in the Himalayas.

But there’s one thing you must do: buy insurance, and specific airlift insurance at that. Cost of their 90-minute flight? US$4,800. Enjoying the view, knowing every penny is covered by insurance? Priceless.

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