Air traffic controller raises £3,000 for charities
From Jersey Airport
5th December 2022
A Jersey air traffic controller has raised more than £3000 after a 19-day trek to the base camp at Mount Everest in the Sagarmatha Park (Sagarmatha is Nepali for Mount Everest).
Marc Hill will be splitting the money between the charities Every Child Our Future (ECOF) and Helping Wings, both of which have connections with his family. Ports of Jersey will match the amount raised for ECOF, which is one of their designated charity partners.
Marc trained for the expedition for six months with long walks, an exercise bike and taking the stairs up to the top of the Air Traffic Control Tower. The trek was part of an organised tour of four trekkers plus a guide, and he said it was the team that got him through the tough days: “We worked well together, checking on each other’s wellbeing and encouraging each other when we got tired.
“There was one day when we had a 4.30am start, it was very cold, and my water bottle was freezing on our walk up to Kala Patthar. I was already finding it hard to breathe with the altitude and the cold, and when I forced the bottle open to drink the freezing water it made it even harder. I didn’t think I was going to make it to the top, but my fellow team members just said to keep going, and I’m so glad I did. We got to a height of 5640 metres that day.”
One of the experiences Marc found most interesting, as an air traffic controller, was landing and taking off from Lukla airport, one of the ten most dangerous airports in the world. It’s set in a tiny Himalayan settlement 2,846 meters above sea level and sees around 180 flights a day of helicopters and light aircraft. The airport is surrounded by mountains, and the short runway is perched on a mountain shelf with a wall at one end and a steep drop at the other.
Because the runway is just 493m long (runways at many of the world’s international airports are more than 3000m long, and even Jersey’s is a lengthy 1,706m) it slopes with a gradient of almost 12% to help planes slow down when they land.
Marc visited the airport’s control tower to see how they control planes in the area. He said: “The Tower was very basic compared to Jersey’s, but it was interesting, and I felt in safe hands and not worried about flying out, in spite of the airport’s reputation.”
Marc was out of touch with family and friends for most of his journey but received a text notification from work when a plane ditched into the sea off the south-east coast of Jersey. Marc recognised the plane’s registration number and knew people who flew it, so he was concerned. His concern did not diminish when he received another text notification saying that the incident was closed, without revealing the outcome. On that day he borrowed the phone of a fellow hiker who had paid for Wi-Fi to find out what had happened.
Marc and his teammates stayed in teahouses overnight, some of which were so cold there was ice on the inside of the windows, and one of which had an outdoor sink. He said: “Our washing routine was restricted to wet wipes and hand sanitizer for four days, so a hot shower and a change of clothes back in Kathmandu was most welcome.”
The group tried to respect the environment while they were trekking, and after visiting an environment centre at www.sagarmathanext.com they each carried a bag of plastic waste for two days down from Namche Bazaar to Lukla, where it was recycled. Marc noticed that there was less rubbish around the mountains than in 2015 when he trekked to Annapurna base camp: “I think they are trying to take more care of the environment and are providing recycling bins to reduce the amount of waste. All supplies have to be taken up the mountain by yak, donkey or helicopter. We saw donkeys carrying two full gas bottles each, as gas is used to power appliances higher up the mountains where there is no electricity.
“Solar panels are also becoming more popular, and we saw an ingenious contraption consisting of a solar panel with a kettle dangling above it, ready to use the power of the sun to make a cup of tea.”
Marc and his fellow trekkers came across a film crew who were working with the son and grandson of Edmund Hilary while they were at Khumjung, the largest Sherpa village in Khumbu. And they heard that they had missed bumping into Bear Grylls, one of the youngest climbers ever to reach the summit of Mount Everest, by just two weeks.
Marc says he was glad he made the trip: “While the trek was at times gruelling and incredibly tough, the scenery and comradery made it all worthwhile. It really was a trip of a lifetime, and the sense of achievement is unbelievable, particularly knowing that people have been so generous when giving to worthy causes, and that people in Jersey will benefit. The only question is, where to next? The sky’s the limit!”