Lessons from trekking to Everest Base Camp – for life and coaching

Having recently had the great privilege of three weeks of trekking through the Everest and Goyko valleys in Nepal, I have taken the time to reflect on some of the insights and learnings that came from this journey. In this post I summarise my ten most prominent learnings and over the next few weeks I will expand on each of them. While these are based on my experience of the trek most link back nicely to the Positive Performance Coaching model we use at BKD Executive Leaders. I will also encourage readers to reflect on whether there is anything that they can draw on that will assist them with their own performance and development. But first, some background to the trek.

Why go to Everest Base Camp?

The decision to trek to Everest Base Camp (EBC) was the result of an on-going fascination with the challenge taken on by the brave few who push the limits of human endurance and resilience by climbing the worlds highest peak (8848m). Having a strong interest in the psychology and physiology of human performance I have always wanted to see Sagarmatha (Nepali for Everest) for myself and contemplate what it must take to climb it. As a former athlete I understand the need to physically push your limits but I recognise that an 8000 plus metre summit requires a totally different level of discipline and mental toughness. The consequence of a failed climb is quite possibly death. YouTube has plenty of videos highlighting the challenges of climbing Everest.

Given my interest in Everest, when my friend Steve Chitchester floated the idea of a trek to Base Camp to mark his 50th year, I was in, as was his best mate Jason Elias. What I wasn’t so keen on was trekking in late January / February when the Himalayan winter is at its peak. Nevertheless, this was the most convenient time for us, so off we went.

Day 1 of the trek. Departing Lukla through the gates dedicated to the first Nepalese woman to summit Mt. Everest – Pasang Lhamu Sherpa. Unfortunately she lost her life on the descent.

A big thankyou to our lead guide from Trek, Guide, Ski Nepal, Gyan Tamang (summited in 2018) and Lukpa Sherpa (6-time summiteer), and our porters Nimah and Born. Their support made a challenging trip (big dumps of snow and regular temperatures below -20’C) manageable.

My top ten lessons

Having returned home safely from a great trekking adventure, here are my top ten learnings and personal reflections.

  1. A clear purpose supported by a well thought out plan provides you with the focus that will drive your best behaviours and performance
  2. We should take time out to challenge ourselves regularly – done well it encourages a positive mindset, feeds your confidence, self esteem and personal belief
  3. Invest in your health – it repays you by opening the door to experiences you can’t have without it. No doubt there is some good fortune involved in individual health but investments in your health are well worthwhile.
  4. Humility is a value of mine and on this trip two things reinforced its importance – seeing the reality of life in a developing country, and being exposed to the grandeur of nature.
  5. Reflection is an essential catalyst to change and progress. As a psychologist and coach I have long subscribed to the value of reflection as a tool for driving personal development and change. This trip emphasised the need to set aside real time for genuine reflection.
  6. Family is the clear priority in my life. The same for my trekking partners.We noted that we spent around half of our time talking about family in one way or another. I’ll explore why that was important for us to recognise and what can flow from that and how a little bit of creativity can open up communication.
  7. Men do talk, especially when trust is there and time is set aside to allow conversations to evolve organically. ‘Men don’t talk about personal issues’ is a common refrain. There is some truth in this day-to-day but on this trip I observed that trust and time appeared critical to open male to male conversations.
  8. When you are feeling the pressure (e.g. you’re on a ledge and you dislike high ledges), having the skill to relax your mind and body is a critical coping skill. Best of all it’s available to all of us.
  9. When you are struggling and being tested, be it physical or mental, breaking the challenge down to ‘the next most important step’ is essential to progress. It zeros your focus in on where your future momentum will come from.
  10. I am very fortunate to have been born in Australia. Even more so to live in Australia. Having spent 2 weeks touring Japan in January, and then trekking Nepal, I have a stronger appreciation of the advantages this country provides. A few areas for improvement were also highlighted.

My ‘clear plan’ is to elaborate on each of the ten reflections and pose some questions that will encourage readers to reflect and consider what if anything is relevant to you, your work and your family. I encourage reflection as it promotes insight and awareness which are pre-conditions to building the motivation for development and change. Insight, motivation, development and change are all central elements of our coaching practice at BKD Executive Leaders. If you are interested to learn more I encourage you to contact me at robkerr@bkdexecutiveleaders.com

For a laugh / gasp, enjoy this brief video of the hard landing at Lukla airport, the gateway to the Himalayas and one of the worlds most dangerous airports. 


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