Skip to content
Recruiting now.Explore navy careers

From helicopters to the Himalayas – Portsmouth Navy engineers trek to Everest

Trekking through snow to one of the passes
22 March 2024
Naval engineers from Portsmouth swapped helicopters for the Himalayas on a 15-day trek to Everest base camp.

A 14-strong team – from able seaman to commander – normally responsible for recovering and adapting military helicopters, monitoring and assessing their engines/systems, spent 15 days being guided by two expert instructors through the Himalayas.

The adventurous training expedition took the air engineers of 1710 Naval Air Squadron to iconic locations as they tackled the ‘Three Passes Trek’ – and challenges posed by altitude sickness and temperatures – down to -26 Celsius.

The trekkers slept in tea houses which offered very basic facilities: no running water or electricity. Maintaining sanitary conditions so high up is a major challenge: all the water – including for washing hands and toilets – was frozen. The only heating is from a stove in the dining room, lit only in the evening and fuelled by dried yak dung.

The team conquered Renjo La and Cho La passes, vast glaciers, battled snowstorms and poor visibility before making a 12-hour hike to Everest Base Camp (5,364m/17,600ft) and back, which proved to be well worth the effort for the combination of the views offered and the fact that the engineers were the only ones there out of season.

“Although weather conditions made it more difficult and temperatures were as low as -26 Celsius, there were almost no other trekkers around, so the team could fully appreciate the enormity and magnificence of the huge towering mountains of the Himalayas,” said Lieutenant Jenna Clark.

Wintry conditions forced the engineers to skip the final pass of the trek, Kongma La, and head back down the valley – a sobering trek as they passed the memorials to climbers who’ve lost their lives climbing Everest and other mountains in the region rising above 7,000 metres.

Avionics specialist Air Engineering Technician Matthew Edwards said despite the exertions, the expedition was “pure joy”.

He continued: “Every step felt like an adventure and I couldn’t get enough of it. The most challenging aspect was becoming ill the night before the first and most challenging pass.

“I had to push my body to the limit, running on very little energy and an empty stomach (due to being ill). I felt a huge sense of accomplishment once that day was over – it was the most mentally and physically challenging day of my life so far.”

Exped leader Lieutenant Olivia Critchley-Peddle said beyond the experience of a lifetime, the Himalayan trek said her squadron would benefit from the skills learned in the mountains - and the determination needed to overcome adversity.

“There were multiple times and prolonged periods that our resilience was tested. To keep trekking day after day, setting off at 0500 on some days and in such low temperatures, the entire team deserve all the credit I can give them,” she added.

“Physical fitness and courage played major roles in the trek, but the resilience developed and the leadership shown at various points, pulling each other through and working together to get over the high passes was amazing.” 

Every step felt like an adventure and I couldn’t get enough of it... I had to push my body to the limit, running on very little energy... I felt a huge sense of accomplishment.

AET Matthew Edwards, 1710 NAS

Related articles

Navy News

Direct from the front-line, the official newspaper of the Royal Navy, Navy News, brings you the latest news, features and award winning photos every month.