It is quite apt that Rodnie and Bryan Whitlock live in the Everest apartment block at Edmund Hillary Retirement Village, having had real Nepalese adventures in recent years.
The couple had harboured a desire to visit the country for decades – for Rodnie, who co-founded Ceres Organics, she had heard so much about the place from Deepak, one of the Nepalese workers in the shop, it was at the top of her list of places to go.
Bryan, meanwhile, had visited that part of Asia in the 1970s and had set off from there on an 11-week overland trip, vowing to return one day to go trekking.
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Their dream finally became reality in 2014 and thanks to their connection with Deepak, who was by then running a trekking company back in Nepal, they secured his top tour guide, Ganesh Simkhada, for their trip.
“We wanted to do a two week trek and we decided on Annapurna Basecamp,” says Rodnie.
“We decided not to go to Everest Basecamp because you don’t actually get a very good view of Everest unless you do a side trek, or go beyond Basecamp,” adds Bryan.
Annapurna proved to be an incredible choice.
“The Basecamp is surrounded by lofty peaks, it’s like a huge amphitheatre, and the glacier slides by in a very deep valley nearby,” says Bryan.
“At first I thought it was a just shingly valley until I heard the sound of ice cracking!”
The landscape was breathtaking – quite literally.
“It’s pretty tough,” says Rodnie. “The altitude just made walking different to anything you could ever have expected. What seemed like a gentle slope was just so hard.”
The couple had done their best to get their fitness levels up including walking up Mt Hobson many times with water bottles in their packs and seeking out locations with lots of steps.
Rodnie and Bryan (far left and centre) recently got the opportunity to meet Peter Hillary and his son Alexander and tell them about their Nepalese experience, along with fellow Edmund Hillary resident and next door neighbour Kathy Hey, who also went trekking there in 2009.
“The training we did wasn’t enough. When we went to Ulleri there are 3,000 steps!”
Their fitness level would regularly be underlined by the many children running past them on their way to school!
Rodnie and Bryan grew very attached to their guide Ganesh and when tragedy struck Nepal the following year with the huge earthquake that killed nearly 9,000 people, they reached out to see what they could do.
Ganesh’s house had collapsed so Bryan decided to put his construction experience to good use and flew out to help for several weeks.
“I had a small building company for a few years until I retired. The plan was to help them rebuild but then the machinery we were going to use was taken away from the village.
“The wise old mother of the family suggested we spend the money on buying a lot of land in Kathmandu valley where they could grow mushrooms and chickens and build a hut where children from their village could stay to get a better education in Kathmandu.
“I saw that would be a lasting benefit to the family so we did that.”
As well as supporting them directly in Nepal, Rodnie and Bryan used their musical talents to put on a benefit concert at Highwic House. This resulted in thousands more dollars being sent over to help the families of other guides who worked for the trekking agency.
In 2017 they went back again, this time having sought out expert training with Walter Thorburn, an Ironman champion who taught them special breathing techniques to maximise oxygen intake.
“He had us tramping on a treadmill while breathing oxygen-deprived air,” says Bryan.
They tramped up to 5,400m, ‘which really surprised us’, and lasting memories were made after visiting the village of Langtang where only one house remained after the side fell off the mountain, burying the houses and their inhabitants 20m underneath.
“The force of that much rock suddenly collapsing like that created a pressure wave which levelled the forest on the other side of the valley to stumps.
“It was just silence as everyone had to walk over that, it was very difficult emotionally,” says Rodnie.
Ganesh’s family treated the couple to high honours as thanks for their help.
“It was Dashain, the Nepalese equivalent of Hindu Diwali, and we were crowned with these marigolds and they gave us the honours and tika on the forehead.”
They haven’t ruled out another return trip.
“I can see myself going up there and helping to build a school or hospital,” says Bryan.
Adds Rodnie: “Nepal gets into your blood, it’s the people, it’s always just the people, they are just wonderful people.”
While they don’t have a return date for Nepal just yet, taking part in Ryman’s Walking for Wellness activity is the next best thing until they do.
Says Bryan: “The only thing is we will have to do it from Iceland as that’s where we’ll be in September!”