Top of the world
A recent trek to Mount Everest Base Camp was the culmination of a lifelong dream for Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Global Studies student Holly Tapia.
Her time in Nepal allowed her to take the knowledge she’s acquired at university and apply it outside the classroom.
“I think it gave me a different perspective than other people on the trek – I could pick out landmarks, see where landslides had been and I knew the names of different water features and mountains,” she said.
“I’m such a geography geek, but it felt good to approach the journey from a different perspective.”
Holly is majoring in geography at ACU, and the trek provided a chance to explore the stunning landscapes of the Himalayas, the local wildlife and culture.
“We were climbing up mountains and across suspension bridges, looking down these sweeping valleys,” she said. “We saw yaks, flocks of colourful birds called danphe and a little creature called a Musk deer, which is apparently really rare.”
Holly flew into Kathmandu, before taking a four-hour bus journey through the mountains and a white-knuckle flight to the trek starting point at Lukla.
“We caught a 12-seater plane at dawn. I was terrified, but excited to start the hike,” she said. “When we got to Lukla the elevation was already over 2,000 metres. Then it was 12 days of trekking – eight days to get to base camp and four days back.”
Holly said the ascent to Everest Base Camp was a physical and mental challenge.
“It is extremely challenging just to make it to base camp,” she said. “It wasn’t just the hiking, it was the altitude – you feel a real shortness of breath and your heart racing.
“I lost my appetite when I got higher up and was just focused on one foot in front of the other – being careful I didn't fall. But it was an experience I’ll always remember – I’ve never seen mountains like that and it was my first time seeing snow.”
A changing environment
While a beautiful landscape, Holly also saw the impact of humans on the landscape firsthand, as climate change and technology wreak change in the Himalayas.
“I guess when Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay first climbed Everest, it would have been an untouched part of the world. It blows my mind the amount of change that has taken place in the past 70 years.
“Unfortunately there have been downsides, including an increase in rubbish left on the mountain. I was glad we stopped and learnt about the things they are doing to combat pollution and deal with the rubbish brought in by trekkers.
“Sometimes I feel like the media fails to help people understand the depth of global warming, and I definitely saw the effects firsthand.
“Base camp sits on the Khumbu Glacier and we were told that they can't set up anything permanent there because the glacier moves so much because of climate change… it was definitely a shock to the system.”
A learning experience
Holly has one year left of her studies at ACU – and she’s determined to bring lessons back from her trek to the classroom.
“It's definitely taught me to persevere a little bit more,” she said. “I also have a better appreciation of the things that I'm doing at uni and my life here. It’s taught me to make the most of it and give my best in everything that I do.”
In her first year at ACU, Holly won Geography Student of the Year as part of the Geographical Society of NSW University Prizes.
“Geography gets a bad rap in high school, everyone just does longitude and latitude and find it a little boring. But there's so much more to it – it's such a rewarding subject and has become one of my biggest passions.”
Holly originally enrolled in a Bachelor of Education (Secondary)/Bachelor of Arts (Humanities) at ACU and has just switched to the Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Global Studies.
“I'm leaning towards a career in environmental sustainability, working for a non-profit – I’m excited to see what the future holds after graduation.”
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