Feature

Go-get-it-girl Karis tackles Everest

Giving anything a crack, never passing on an opportunity to help others and cramming a million things into a week – meet Karis Aplin. Whether working four jobs, volunteering at the local visitor centre, donating blood, or fundraising, she never complains about anything being too hard. An optimist at heart, she is a courageous and spontaneous character who is always up for a challenge. Purchase a one-way ticket to London? Sure. Climb to Everest base camp? Why not.

Karis Aplin hiking to Everest Base Camp, 2017. Photo supplied by Karis Aplin.

Aplin beams and waves as she exits her van. Dressed in leggings, black top, khaki fur collar vest and trainers, her long, straight, blonde hair is pulled into a low, neat ponytail. Blue-green eyes look brightly into mine, “shall we walk?”. Five minutes later, it hisses down with rain. “We tried,” she laughs. I frantically zip my rain-jacket up and squint my eyes but she is unfazed. She calmly walks towards a café, eyes wide open and chatting about work. It is in this moment I realise what an adventurous and nature-loving spirit I have just met.

Aplin is a marketing and communications Officer. She is also a fitness instructor, lifeguard and duty officer. If Aplin wants to do something, she will. She faces and overcomes challenges with a sense of enthusiasm and is a go-getter. This has led to valuable and enjoyable experiences.

In May 2021 she trekked 60km along the western end of The Larapinta Trail, Alice Springs, to reach Mount Sonder: West MacDonnell Ranges’ highest point. Starting out at 1:30am, she climbed 1,380m to reach its summit before sunrise. Doing this trek, she raised money for Interplast, a charity sending volunteers across the Asia-Pacific to provide life-changing surgery. “You think about the footprint you leave when going anywhere, and this component meant I was leaving a more meaningful one,” she says. This is not the first time Aplin supported Interplast. In 2016, she signed up to receive hiking emails from Inspired Adventures, an organisation that partners with Interplast among others to create fundraising adventures. A year later, an opportunity to climb Everest came through. “I didn’t have any desire to do it before,” she says – “I thought, this sounds cool. Stuff it. I’m going to do it.” She raised $12,000 for Everest Base Camp.

Farm-hand and truck driver Bronwyn Aplin admires her sister’s ambition and determination. “She always fundraises well over the goal amount,” she laughs. “In August this year, she fundraised for her birthday on Facebook to take part in Fred’s Big Run. It was 150km to support The Fred Hollows Foundation.”

Sisters Karis and Bronwyn Aplin. Photo supplied by Bronwyn Aplin.

Sitting at Corners on The Bay in Bunbury, Aplin sips her almond-milk flat white. “Mmm!”. “The climb to Everest was fine,” she says. “The flight was the scariest bit!”

It is May, 2017. She and 11 others wait on the Lukla Tenzing-Hillary Airport airstrip. Built by Sir Edmund Hillary in 1964, the runway sits nearly 3,000-metres above the sea and ends over a cliff. “Lukla is one of those ‘most dangerous airports’ you see on YouTube videos”, she says. “My brother and I are on separate planes. We’re like, ‘oh, we think they’ve done this, so that mum doesn’t lose both her children!” It’s foggy. They encounter turbulence. “I can see other planes in the air. Their planes and technology aren’t like ours.”           

Setting off through cedar trees along the Dudh Kosi River, 24 hikers and yak caravans carrying supplies accompany Aplin and her group. She hikes through blue pine forests and on high suspension bridges that span hundreds of metres across crystal-clear rivers. “We have to wait for donkeys to cross the bridge,” she chuckles. “You don’t want to get knocked off.” Hours of muscle strain later, she arrives at Namche Bazaar, a bustling, colourful village filled with vendors and Tibetans trading rugs and Chinese-made clothing. She buys a shirt to cover her shoulders. “I’m prepared to be cold, but it’s warm during the day. I’m sunburnt!”. Days pass as she treks through Himalayan Silver Fir and birch forests, trudges on riverbeds, glimpses rich blue sky, mountain peaks that emanate blue when hit by sunlight, melting Khumbu Glacier and others that look like open-cut mines. With a couple days rest to acclimatise, she marches on. The air thins. She does not get altitude sickness because of months of altitude training. She tells me excitedly about toileting instead: “At the bottom we have traditional Western toilets, but nearing the top, it’s a hole in the ground!”

Karis Aplin in her first few days of hiking. Photo supplied by Karis Aplin.

Her hostel room has a wooden bed, uncomfortable mattress and plywood walls. Another hiker lies half a metre away. She has finished eating Dal Bhat Tarkari, a Nepali meal of lentils, spices, vegetables, yoghurt, chutney and boiled rice. “Some nights are freezing,” she says. “At a certain height above sea, trees stop growing. So, they’re burning yak sh*t to keep us warm. It doesn’t burn like firewood. It’s smoky. It smells too!” she laughs. “I’m stinking, but I’m warm.”

Following a rocky path to Gorak Shep, she continues to Everest base camp – 5,364-metres above sea level. The air is clean. Cold. Still. “There’s a sense of achievement and a sense of, oh my gosh, I’ve done this. There’s people on the trek who aren’t as fit and healthy, so I love that they’re feeling satisfied.” Early next morning, while still dark, she and a few others trek to Kala Patthar, a peak offering teasingly close views of Everest’s summit. “We climb half the mountain in darkness. We can’t see what we’re climbing towards!” she says. The sun rises as she climbs. It becomes steeper near the summit. Breathing is difficult. “My brother and I, we get to the top. I can see the top of Everest. I couldn’t see Everest’s peak at base camp!”. In the cloudless, clear, blue sky she sees some of the world’s highest mountain peaks: Himalayan giants Pumari, Nuptse and Lhotse. “I feel on top of the world.”

Karis Aplin and her brother celebrate together. Photo supplied by Karis Aplin.

Aplin is eager to tell me one last thing. “Get this. Along the way, roadside villages sold mars bars, snickers and Coke. They were the only snacks, right to the top of the mountain.”

Fitness instructor Brooke Scott enjoys biking with her friend. “Karis is always willing to try something new,” she says. Aplin confirms this, telling me about her latest mountain biking craze. “I did a 100km cycle. I’d never done that many kilometres.” She places second in the Dwellingup 100, but because the winner is not a Mountain Bike Club member, Aplin becomes its state champion. Later, she cycles a shorter trail. The leader gets lost. She wins again. She bursts into laughter, “I just flew in and got all these medals. I was doing a Steven Bradbury!”.

Brooke Scott and Karis Aplin enjoy Mountain Biking together. Photo supplied by Brooke Scott.

Aplin grew up in the coastal town of Myalup, Western Australia, a population of less than 200. She endured long days from a young age, catching the school bus at 7:30am and doing homework on the hours’ drive. “It definitely meant that I became an early riser,” she says. “It taught me about routine and working hard. A sleep in is like… six o’clock?” she grins.

She moved to England solo at 21. Aplin got a British passport because her mum was born there. “Knowing I could go, I went. It wasn’t the nicest place for me. I missed water-skiing.” Ever the glass half-full optimist, she adds: “But, I met a great uncle for the first time. Plus, my first plane ride took 20 hours… anything was great after that!”

Aplin is excited about her next challenge. “I’m looking for a career change. If a job opportunity doesn’t pull through, I might move towns. If I get another hiking email, I’ll sign up. I don’t procrastinate. If I’ve thought I’ll do it, I don’t think about reasons not to. If the opportunity is there, go for it.” Go-get-it, girl.        

Go get-it girl Karis Aplin is ready for her next adventure. Photo supplied by Karis Aplin.

   

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