Date – June 12th / Altitude – 2,860m
We had landed early on the 11th of June into Kathmandu. The events of that first day are linked in my Kathmandu post. So if, like I suspect you’re here for Everest then read on!We woke at 4am local time to head back to the airport and the domestic lounge where we would be grabbing a small 16-seater twin propeller plane to Lukla. This small town is situated at around 2,860m in the Himalaya foothills. It is the gateway to the Sagarmāthā National Park and to Mount Everest. One thing to take note of is that Everest is not the real name of… …Everest at all. The British only named it that after a recommendation to the Royal Geographical Society. The mountain borders both Nepal and Tibet, and both countries have their own names for it. Nepal calls the mountain Sagarmāthā, the namesake of the national park in which it resides. Tibet however, call the mountain Chomolungma. The Chinese call it Zhūmùlǎngmǎ Fēng. I’ve included the Chinese name as well as there is much contention as to whether the mountain borders Tibet or China, based on whether you still recognize Tibet as a nation. The traditional routes of ascent are on the Nepalese side though; the route which we were going to take is known as the Tengboche Route. The flight was short, roughly an hour long but the plane being so small it’s pretty darn bumpy, it’s kinda cool that you can see out of the cockpit though. The runway at Lukla is sloped and as we were informed this was to slow incoming planes down and speed outgoing planes up and is apparently, as we found out after we left, one of the world’s most dangerous airports to fly in or out of. It’s a small town, but is reasonably heavily commercialized. There’s even a Starbucks – doubt it’s geniune. After arriving we got off the plane and before we had left the tarmac it had been unpacked, repacked and re-boarded ready for take off – in less than 3 minutes if memory serves. We checked into our accommodation, which was basic but comfortable and then began our acclimatisation walk to a nearby village where we would be partaking in some charity projects. It is the charities belief that as participants we should see first hand what our fundraising has been helping to achieve. Part of that was to head to the local school in the region and meet the children and at the same time get our butts kicked by them in a game of volleyball; although I was told I was best server there – win! In addition, one of the girls in the group made some connections between this school and her old school in England as a social and educational connection between two very different nations. Furthermore we went on to meet some of the locales and how they have built their livelihoods in the local farms and monasteries. Part of being socially and environmentally responsible was to help plant trees. This was for two reasons, to offset our carbon emissions of getting there and back (as well as for future carbon sequestration) but also to make the roads safer for the locales and children while they use the paths by reducing the risk of landslides. I clearly haven’t done enough hard graft before and got blisters, but I did enjoy getting stuck in and getting my hands dirty! Making places safer and being kind to the environment was also a win-win!LUKLA to PHAKDING
Date: June 13th / Altitude: 2,610m
I awoke this morning to the clouds below us revealing the mountains that had been shrouded the day before. I was a little taken aback at the size of them, I wasn’t aware that the clouds had hidden so much, and something I learnt very quickly, and it is something you will too if you ever go; is how fast the weather moves and changes at altitude. I mean you can literally see the clouds rise or sink around you and swallow entire mountains in seconds. Truly beautiful. It did however, mean that we had to be wary of the conditions around us and no sooner had we started out than the clouds rose and we were in foggy conditions. The walk to Phakding is short, only around three and half hours away and is actually a decline to 2,610m. This can be a bit disheartening when you think we have to go back up 200m! The weather pulled back during the day to reveal lush green valleys and terraces farmed by the local people and a glorious river running on the valley floor, one that we would be crossing many times before reaching our final destination. The route at this portion is pretty busy (and we were “out of season”) but what staggered me was the weight that the locales carried on their backs, at least 60 kilos and that’s just the little elderly ladies! Madness; but clearly the locales are made of tougher stuff. The hostel at the end of our route for the day was very nice and had some truly spectacular views and decent food, although be wary of the sugar here – it may contain bugs!PHAKDING to NAMCHE BAZAAR
Date: June 14th / Altitude: 3,440m
This was a pretty tough day all round with an ascent to 3440m which was roughly a gain of 800m. The altitude was becoming very noticeable by both the thinning of the flora and the air itself. We were still surrounded by lush forest, but the number of ground plants was noticeably thinner. The river had got wider and we were required to walk across several very high bridges that “whipped” in the middle as you walked, which made the furthest end of them quite tiring to finish. The sun was shining and in typical me fashion I started to burn. It may not sound like you’re much closer to the sun, but actually that 3km does make a difference! Again the hostel is clean and comfortable and the meal was excellent.
Date: June 15th / Altitude: ~3,800m
Part of the process of trekking at high altitude is to ensure that you acclimatize your body. There is less oxygen in the air, so a single breath at altitude will make you feel out of breath compared to at sea level. As such, by ascending and descending in one day, your body begins to get used to that lower level of oxygen and you are able to take in more when lower down. This is really important as some real nasty things can happen to you if you don’t, namely HAPE and HACE; basically fluid build up in the lungs or brain respectively and if not dealt with quickly it will kill you. Although cases are known around the 2,800m death is uncommon as many of the Sherpa’s know the warning signs and will take you back down ASAP. It gets worse the higher you are, not least because it becomes more difficult to get people down. Descent is without a doubt the best cure. My advice is simple; if you do feel very unwell tell someone. That said, there are a lot of warning signs that someone is suffering from altitude sickness and these will often, but not always show up long before HAPE or HACE sets in. Examples include; a lack of appetite, irritability, dehydration, confusion, headaches, nausea and vomiting. It sounds horrendous and I’ll be honest there were times when I felt pretty rubbish, normally though if you just feel like you’ve got a banging headache and feel nauseous, you can keep going unless other symptoms kick in, as soon as you start vomiting, you need to descend. It’s wise to go with guides that know what they are doing. They are often used to the altitude, many living at high altitude anyway and can deal with problems quickly but as a rule of thumb don’t over exert yourself, if you don’t think you will manage something, there is no shame in saying so. Remember there is no knowing how altitude will affect you until you are being affected. The fittest in the group can suffer the worst, so your level of fitness doesn’t really have much of a bearing on it (though it never hurts to keep in shape right?!) and if you are having issues, pushing on too far could end up endangering your group. Bare in mind even experts who have never suffered from it can suddenly do so. Basically listen to your guides and do exactly as they say. As such, part of our trip was to hang back and get used to the altitude by ascending roughly 400m and then coming back down, it also meant that we could head to the highest hotel in the world (Everest View) and get our first shot of the mountain itself. These kind of day trips are referred to as acclimatization days. If you ever attempt the seriously tall peaks, you’ll do many of these. Sadly the mountain was obscured by clouds, so we settled for Lhoste and Ama Dablam which were still damn impressive. After eating here we headed down and a word to the wise, bring decent walking poles to lessen the impact on your knees for the descents! We spent the afternoon perusing the stalls around the town of Namche Bazaar and stocked up on sugar and woolly hats. One of the guys and myself invested in some chewing tobacco for 10p a bag for the hell of it. It wasn’t worth the 10p.
NAMCHE BAZAAR to TENGBOCHE
Date: June 16th / Altitude: 3,867m
The trek for this day was to take us to the highest monastery in the country at Tengboche. The valley here needed to be criss-crossed several times with lots of ups and downs to contend with and although difficult it was well worth it, the lunch itself was excellent and we actually saw Everest in all her beauty. During one of our rests a game of extreme shot put started, using rocks. Needless to say I didn’t win. The monastery here is over 400 years old and we were allowed in, however, and this is where I felt one of those valuable life lessons sunk in. Find out at least a bit about a culture before you go. We were unaware that it is rude to show the soles of your feet and wear shorts in a monastery. Of which the group as a whole managed. #awkward. Just 20 minutes from the monastery was our accommodation. It was called “Wel-come to Paradise”, it was situated in a bleak forest of semi dead trees and (at the time) fog. It looked anything but paradise. There was much laughing at who would actually want to stay there until we ourselves were directed through the door. Our initial judgement was hasty and the place was actually pretty decent. We played a game of catch, in which the Sherpa’s joined in. A great time was had all round until the midges became unbearable. After a tasty dinner, we all promptly fell asleep. We would be heading above the 4000m mark tomorrow. Here altitude was meant to really start kicking in.
TENGBOCHE to DINGBOCHE
Date: June 17th / Altitude: 4,410m
The walk today was quick, the gradient reasonable, though what it lacked in steepness, I made up for in illness. I clearly am not drinking enough. That is one of the best ways of avoiding altitude or at least dealing with it, is to eat lots, drinks lots to replenish lost vitamins and salts. The lodge itself is nice and again comfortable so can’t complain about anything else.
Date: June 18th / Altitude: ~4,800m
Today’s “rest day” constituted a walk of around 400m in ascent and the sunshine we had for the last few days was replaced with mist and fog. The plant life by this stage had really thinned down, there were few trees, if any and much of the landscape was dotted with piles of stone. I wrote in my journal at the time that “The walk was amazing, it was so serene and peaceful. It reminded me of the Hound of the Baskervilles since it was like moorland scrub and all foggy, I was half expecting some crazed animal to leap out at us! Finished (the ascent) in an hour and a half which was great, since we were informed it would take nearly four!” I guess it may have been unwise to ascend so quickly, but the weather was turning and we would be heading back down soon. Everyone seemed fine though. Had a decent meal and a good nights rest. There was another 500m ascent planned for the next day…
DINGBOCHE to LOBUCHE
Date: June 19th / Altitude: 4,910m
This walk took us into a zone where next to no plants exist. The walk was steep but afforded us spectacular views of some of the highest mountains in the world surrounding us. The route took us over glacial rivers (one of which would be become a firm memory on the route down) and up steep scree slopes, at the top of which sits the Everest Memorial. This is a poignant reminder that we are in Mother Natures back yard and she is still the boss. We rested here for a while before continuing on to the hostel. This was more basic than some of the others that we had stayed at, but one must remember that we are seriously isolated now, and all building materials have to be carried up from Lukla or Namche Bazaar at the very least. That said the weather was fantastic and we had some most excellent shots of the valley sides which rose up from the floor on which we stood. We had another game of shot put and I lost again. It was time to get some decent sleep, tomorrow was the time to reach Everest Base Camp, the whole purpose of the trip!
LOBUCHE to EVEREST BASE CAMP to GORAK SHEP
Date June 20th / Altitude: 5,364m
This was the big day, the route would take us along the Everest Base Camp (EBC) trail from Gorak Shep all the way from the original EBC to the current one adjacent to the Khumbu Icefall – the most dangerous part of Everest. It was by far the longest day of walking, setting out early morning and not arriving back until after dark. The walk from the old to current base camps required some nifty navigation on ice but it meant that we got to see some of the most breathtaking sights I’ve ever seen and of which I have not since seen anything of the like. Khumbu Icefall is made up of seracs, tall unstable chunks of ice that can topple over at any point, often larger than the size of an average house. These are what make this the most dangerous portion of the Everest ascent. Leaving EBC climbers head through the seracs to Camp 1. This needs to be done several times for proper acclimatization. The icefalls are often known as the moving glacier for its appetite for randomly moving and opening up new crevasses into which people can fall. Now while dangerous to transverse it is truly wonderful to admire alongside. The ice is a pale aqua blue, bright, yet subtle and remarkably eerie. Ghost like almost. Add that to the towering walls of rock, snow and ice that loom above it on the flanks of Nuptse and the Western Col and it’s a sight to behold, especially when the walls of ice are cracking in the afternoon sun. I think that was one of my highlights, sitting looking at Nuptse and listening in the complete silence for the cracking of ice that whipped through the valley like a thunderbolt. Then you could locate where it came from as you watched an avalanche scale down the side of the mountain at high-speed.
Out of season Everest Base Camp is mainly a collection of icy, dark green pools of water, usually it is iced over completely and allows tents to be pitched. At this point it was empty save for us. The clouds had moved in low and there was not much to be seen. Everest incidentally cannot be viewed from Base Camp as the Western Col obscures it. So after taking some photos and signing the rock which everyone before us has signed we decided to head back. It was pretty late in the day and the sun was beginning to set. Some of the group felt very rough and had actually been sick and so it was important to try to get them some rest and food before morning when we would attempt to reach Kala Pattar, the highest point on our journey. The two who were ill, while gutting that they couldn’t join sensibly stayed behind to get some much needed rest. Walking across the ice and rocks on the way back with nothing more than our head torches was good fun and I’m certainly glad I got to experience that. After we all got back to Gorak Shep where we were staying for the night; we ate food and swiftly went to bed. We had a 4am start. There wasn’t even time to process what we had achieved that day before my head hit the pillow and I was out faster than a light.
GORAK SHEP to KALA PATTAR to PHERICHE
Date: June 21st / Altitude: 5,643m
This was another long day. Starting at 4am and climbing on empty stomachs we left the hostel to make sure we made it to the summit of the “Black Mountain” for sunrise. The views that we would get that morning would be seared into my memory forever. The climb is steep to Kala Pattar, which is a southern flank of Mt. Pumori which overshadows it. Kala Pattar is common for most trekkers going to EBC as it offers the best uninterrupted views of Everest for the amateur climber. It is where those iconic shots of Everest are all taken. By 6am we were atop Kala Pattar and were gazing down to Gorak Shep and the valleys we had climbed two days previously that were shrouded in cloud. It can only be described as a sea of white with rocky, snow-capped islands jutting through. It was beautiful, particularly with a golden sunrise accentuating everything. In fact our guide who had been here around 22 times before said he had never seen such good weather for that time of year. We were out of season after all. For us, the view was cloudless. We were very lucky! We spent half an hour or so on summit with some other trekkers who had made it there too. I felt terrible so chowed down a victory snickers bar I had been saving and I felt right as rain. It is probably a good idea to keep victory chocolate bars stashed on your person. Sugar helps the brain manage properly at altitude. We eventually descended for Gorak Shep and a well-earned breakfast! It had been a hard slog getting to the top, but the weather held out and we were rewarded with some of the most spectacular and beautiful views I have ever seen.
The rest of the day was spent descending to 4,371m to the small town of Pheriche. This is the next most important medical base after EBC and contains a permanent medical center, not just a seasonal one. However, getting there was not easy. Near Dughla, which is just below the Everest Memorial, a glacial river we had crossed 2 days prior; had become a glacial torrent. The sun and warmer days had melted ice higher in the mountains and it had become a milky white river that had basically obscured the bridge we had used. It was the only time the guides we were with seemed slightly unsure of how to proceed, but seemed confident when some locales walked past and walked onto the submerged bridge still carrying their load of several doors. In order to cross we had to go one at a time, barefoot either across the rocks or the submerged logs that made the bridge. One girl started having a panic attack, it was like my D of E training all over again. We eventually managed to calm her and she made it safely across. Hurrah! After all that had subsided we rewarded ourselves with a splendid few miles walking to Pheriche, where we had vegetarian burgers and met another group of hikers heading up to EBC. They seemed wholly under-prepared taking only half a liter of untreated water with them each for a day’s walk. We were told we should be drinking closer to 6-8 liters. They seemed nice enough though but they did seem a bit taken aback when we mentioned that it might be worth taking some more water with them!
PHERICHE to NAMCHE BAZAAR
Date: June 22nd / Altitude: 3,340m
This was a long walk, though not quite as long as two guys who we met along the way who were also heading back to Namche from Gorak Shep, they had left after us, arrived before us and were apparently training for the marathon that takes place between Gorak Shep and Namche Bazaar. The record is ~4 hours. It took us 4 days to walk it going up and 2 coming down… Already we could see the benefits of being at a lower altitude, we were able to walk longer and further without breaks and we all felt 100 times better with each passing hour. It was also cool to come back down and start to see the vegetation creeping slowly back into the world. Our time in Namche was spent having a gander around the shops and eating a good meal (or two).
NAMCHE BAZAAR to LUKLA
Date: June 23rd / Altitude: 2,860m
This walk was again similar to the day before, a lot of downhill walking, pretty humid weather and our lungs full of air! It felt great. It wasn’t long before we were back in Lukla and celebrating with a hearty meal and a cigar one of the lads had been saving for victory. It was finished, what we had all come here to achieve was done and dusted and I knew even then that I had gained some serious valuable insight into a new world and culture and had experienced the hospitality of some of the most humble people I’d ever had the good fortune to meet. This was truly a trip of a lifetime and we were only half way through. It wasn’t long though, before we headed onto the “town” for a drink (or five) and ended getting royally plastered with a few of the other charity groups that had been stuck in Lukla due to inclement weather. None of us had touched any alcohol on route up as we were advised that it is not a good thing to do, it thins the blood and reduces oxygen intake, so at altitude you are more likely to suffer the effects of altitude. It turns out that one of the guys we met knew my brother. Small world. The drinks were apparently vodka (after my rice wine experience in Kathmandu I was skeptical) but it was cheap and it was plentiful, two very dangerous combinations, especially when still technically at high altitude, though in my defense my body had gotten used to a lower level of oxygen. Now on route back it was raining, as it always does at night and I got pretty darn soaked. Being drunk and in wet clothes I decided in my best fashion to pull my trousers down declare how wet my underwear was and promptly fell asleep with a random guys feet in my face. I won’t lie, it wasn’t my finest hour, but I had a bloody good time, so I have no regrets! All I had to do now was to survive the flight back to Kathmandu…. whoops I’d only gone and forgotten about that when I got a little too drunk didn’t I… …oh dear.
Continue reading what I and the group got up to when we left the mountains in my Kathmandu and Chitwan post!
Cover Photo: Myself at Kala Pattar with Everest in the far distance.