Finding a new spirit of adventure at Everest Base Camp

Words & Photos by Theo von Bardeleben, Competitive Masters Swimmer

Competitive sport has always been close to my heart and I have treated sport as an important part of my life. As a competitive Masters swimmer, I competed in various galas and open water swims, and in 2011 I won four Silver and two Gold medals in the Men’s 45-49 Masters category. I had done well at the Nationals Masters and my swimming career was looking great.

My training for World Masters in Riccione, Italy, was taking shape nicely when disaster struck. A shoulder injury sidelined me and I had to undergo surgery. If rehab works, I might be able to take a crack again in 2014, but this year is definitely out for me.

What to do? I felt frustrated, angry and lost without a sporting avenue in which to express myself. Then an opportunity I never dreamed of presented itself unexpectedly.

My daughter, Alex, came home one day with an invitation to trek to Everest Base Camp. A company called Streetschool, run by Klasie Wessels, offers adventure coaching experiences and the next such journey was to Everest Base Camp in Nepal. Something triggered my interest – it sounded like a great adventure and something I could do with my daughter. Plus, I needed time out to refocus and deal with my disappointment of not being able to swim competitively anymore. We decided to join the expedition and this was the start of an adventure that I will never forget.

From the time we landed in bustling Kathmandu, the adventure never stopped. The trip had all the makings of a complete experience. We were stretched beyond our limits and many times had to dig deep to successfully deal with our daily challenges. We witnessed open cremations at the Pashupatinath Hindu temple in Kathmandu, ate exotic foods and met some of the most humblest, kindest people on earth.

The gruelling trek to Everest Base Camp took 14 days and when we reached our final destination, at an altitude of 5545m above sea level, we were enriched by new levels of personal awareness. Not only did my daughter and I discover a new country, we discovered our new selves. I saw in her a young adult overflowing with dreams and ambitions. And as we made new plans and discussed the future, I too was filled with a new energy. The loss of being able to swim competitively was replaced by something much more powerful – a love and appreciation for life and the richness it offers.

The Everest Base Camp trek is a fascinating experience and as a seasoned traveller I have yet to find a place like Nepal that challenges you physically, mentally and spiritually. Our guide, Klasie Wessels, and his Streetschool staff facilitated an experience that stretched way beyond the expected.

Back in Johannesburg, with the trappings of modern day city life, I find myself frequently reflecting back on the magical mountains of the Himalayas and people of Nepal. And I remind myself daily to stay in touch with what really inspires me – my wife, two kids and the many opportunities life presents to me every day.

This trip has made me appreciate what I took for granted and made me feel alive. My advice to anyone: visit Nepal and the mountains of the Himalayas. There’s life-giving energy there!


The expedition to Everest Base Camp was such a success that plans are already being made for the next one in April 2013. Anyone interested can contact Klasie Wessels at Streetschool, or visit