Cara and Don Egan at Everest Base Camp.

Athlone father-daughter duo hike to Everest Base Camp

Local father-daughter duo Don and Cara Egan have recently returned from an epic adventure in the Himalayan Mountains, having spent two and a half weeks in Nepal and hiked to Everest Base Camp.

Preparation for the trip began a year ago, after Don, 58, stepped back from coaching at Athlone Boat Cub. He said that his wife, Pamela, encouraged him to get up and do something, and he decided to return to climb in Nepal, over 30 years since his last visit.

His daughter Cara, now 16, knew that as she would be in her Transition Year at Our Lady's Bower, it would be an ideal time for her to travel with her dad.

Don had been to the Himalayas in 1991 where he trekked in the Annapurna range in northern Nepal. So, while he had some experience of what lay ahead, novice hiker Cara was going in to the unknown. They trained in the Wicklow Mountains, Croagh Patrick, and the Slieve Bloom trails. However, most of their training was confined to the gym. Don noted: “The problem is that we live in the Midlands – everywhere that is worthwhile to train is a 2 hour drive away.”

After arriving in Nepal on April 11 they took a helicopter ride to Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Lukla to begin their hike to Everest Base Camp. Over the next eight days they walked approximately 80km across all types of terrain. At night they stayed in local Tea Houses where food was provided. One day, they met Sherpa guide Kami Rita in a café. He holds the world record for most times to have climbed to the summit of Everest, having completed the climb 28 times.

Don and Cara battled through the sickness of constant headaches, shortness of breath, and fatigue, all of which was due to the high altitude. Don said: “You’re hiking quite slowly so you body can acclimatise. If you hike too quickly, you’ll get high altitude sickness. The key is to go slow and drink plenty of water.”

When they reached the Everest Base Camp, it was buzzing with people, as it was the height of the climbing season. They had reached 5364m above sea level. It was a very grueling climb, and Don said: “One in three people who do it the way we did don’t make it to Base Camp. There is a 65% success rate. I only learned this after we came back.” Helicopters flying overhead to bring those suffering with high altitude sickness back to safety were a common occurrence.

Don stressed: “This was a very, very difficult adventure. Physically, but mostly mentally. Especially for Cara. She grew up a lot on the trip. She pushed a lot of limits. She was absolutely fabulous.”

“I am immensely proud of her. Three days into it, Cara said ‘this is a lot different than I thought. This is no Croagh Patrick’. But it wouldn’t be the trip it is if it was easy.”

Cara Egan.

Cara is currently rowing with the Junior 16 girls at Athlone Boat Club. Padraig Hegarty, PRO of Athlone Boat Club, said: “We are all extremely proud of Cara and her determination. That’s also how she is as a rower; determined and able to achieve whatever she sets her mind to.”

Don has said that he intends to return to Nepal in a couple of years to reach an even higher altitude. “Once you go there, you’ll never just go once. You’re drawn back there. The scenery is beautiful. Photos don’t do it justice.”

“It is a beautiful part of the world, and the Nepalese people are just absolutely wonderful. There are porters carrying 20 to 30 kilos on their backs. We’ve a lot to be thankful to them for.”

Overall, they say that this trip was an “adventure of a lifetime” and could not have been achieved without the support of their family; mum Pamela and sister Rebecca, Athlone Boat Club where Cara gained her fitness to achieve the feat, and Cara’s school Our Lady’s Bower.

Don and Cara Egan skiing.