Everest Base Camp Trek
Lukla – Phakding
I am standing at Everest Base Camp with Matt and our friends Jordan and Ashley. We trekked through the Himalayas and overcame obstacles that were really urging us to give up. Definitely against the odds, we made it and I couldn’t be more proud. Rewind a week and a half and it is Day 1 of a crazy experience in my life. We took a taxi to the airport from our hostel with two kids who also were going to do the same trek as us. We were all on different flights but that doesn’t mean much here. There are a few airlines that fly daily to and from Lukla, the “Most dangerous airport in the world.” Flights are on small, 12 person planes that have 30 minute flights to the town that no roads lead to. We checked in, walked through some chaos and somehow ended up on our plane. We each got a window and isle seat because the plane was so small. We are in the same room as the luggage and the pilots. It’s a very small aircraft. We flew pretty close to mountain peaks so that was cool. Our landing was different because the runway isn’t very long. It is on the side of a mountain and the end of the runway is a steep side wall of a mountain. Because of this, the runway is on an incline so it can slow down quicker after landing. We swooped down and then gradually came up as we landed. A few seconds after landing, we take a quick right and stop short on one of the four spots for planes to temporarily park. We unloaded and walked to the main town road. We found out now that you need a permit and TIMS card to hike in the region. We didn’t know this beforehand and were now very nervous that we would have to turn around and fly back to Kathmandu. That would be the end of our trek. Not many people in the town were much help. People asked us why we didn’t buy it already and that we should have got it before we flew up here. We are now so nervous and are desperate for an answer. We found out that we needed two passport hoots each to even be able to get to the permit so we frantically went around town trying to find someone to take and print our picture. The power was low so no one would do it. We ended up paying a guy $10 to do it for us. He said that he now wouldn’t have hot water all day or night. We got our pictures and we now had to make a two day walk to a place on the way that some people said probably sells permits. It was risky but we had no choice at this point. We walked for three hours to Phakding, where we would spend the night. As of now, we are following Lonely Planet’s very conservative itinerary that takes altitude well into account. It takes 16 days according their itinerary, but we know days will be cut out here and there in reality. We went to a Teahouse and dropped our stuff off. The way this trek works, you go to a small town in the Himalayas on the trekking path and you stay at Teahouse/Guesthouses. You only pay about $1 per room with two beds, but the deal is that you have to eat lunch, dinner and breakfast the next morning there. Still though, food is cheap during meals so it’s a great deal. You can get by on $10 to $15 a day and eat pretty much whatever you wanted each meal. It is about $8 a day for the first few days and $15 the final days high in the mountains. The reason it is a little bit more expensive up there is because porters have to carry the food up the mountain for days to get it up there. And still it’s only about $1 more expensive. Some of these porters are crazy. They hold around 50 kilograms at a time and sometimes wear sandals. It puts people to shame to go all out buying the most expensive gear for this hike. We went to a bar near our place, called Liquid Bar. We didn’t get alcohol because that’s the last thing you should drink while adjusting to the altitude, but I got some milk tea and we watched tennis on satellite tv. We are dinner at our place and went to bed. Once the sin goes down, everyone goes to bed because it gets very cold and because there is nothing else to do. You have to pay to use electricity so most people don’t really charge things unless they have to. I got luckily and my camera batteries made it all trek. I had three of them charged beforehand. Tomorrow we find out if we can buy a permit and continue our trek or if we have to turn around and fly back to the capital city.
Phakding – Namche Bazaar
Today, we woke up early and started our nerve-wracking hike. We weren’t sure if we would be able to buy a permit on the mountain and continue to Everest Base Camp. We hiked for two hours and finally made it to Monju, the town where the national park begins. We first pass a small wooden hut where a guy said we could by the permits. We were so relieved by this. I felt like I was finally free. I wanted to cry, I was so happy. We have our passport pictures and got registered with our passports. We hiked for another 30 minutes and make it to the gate if the park where we paid $20 to get in. All in all, it was $50 each for paperwork. The flight was $375 each for round trip, plus that $50 each, and after the entire trek, we realized that we did this on our own for $600, which is half of what many people pay for a tour, or a guide or porter. We had no one. We had our 6 kilogram bags and a map we bought in Lukla. The path is very well marked and it is almost impossible to not know which direction to go. Generally, there is only forward and backward so it is easy. Also, there are porters and yaks (bulls) walking by all day with things on their backs, so you just follow them. We crossed a few bridges and then hiked an hour or two up a steep mountainside to get to Namche, the main town on the trek. We were very short on cash because of the permits setback, but luckily, somehow, Namche has an ATM. That saved us. While checking in with police at a checkpoint, we randomly saw those two people from our hostel and can to the airport yesterday. We all decided to get a place together. We chose a small place on one of the main roads and then ate. Their names were Jordan and Ashley, both Americans traveling solo for now. Ashley is a mid-twenties raft guide in the states every rafting season and then travels for the off season. For the past year, she has been teaching in a school in Thailand. Jordan is in his upper twenties and quit his job to travel the world for a year. He is now on the back end of his trip, like us. We all walked around the town and walked up to the helipad where helicopters transfer supplies and people fairly frequently each day. Throughout our trek, every 15 minutes or so we would hear and see a helicopter overhead, usually going to and from Base Camp. A few days ago, there was the deadliest avalanche in Everest history between Base Camp 1 and Base Camp 2. Sherpas were setting up ropes for exposition climbers to use to climb to the top of Everest. There was an avalanche and about 15 Sherpas died. Now, all climbers are being forced to come down to Base Camp 1. Today, there was the announcement that all expositions to the summit are cancelled for this climbing season. This is for a couple of reasons but mainly because the Sherpas went on strike and refuse to climb this season now that their friends died. A climbing group of ten people uses 10 to 20 Sherpas depending on who they are so there are a lot of Sherpas and climbs can’t really be done without them. They do all the hard work and climbers rely on them. We walked around the town and admired the religious buildings with Tibetan prayer flags. These flags are everywhere to be seen in the Himalayas, blessing the land and surroundings for good safety. We went to Liquid Bar, which is our second of two for this trek. We got some momo there, which is the Nepal dumplings. They were spicy and I liked them. I got more while in Nepal. I also like Dal Bhat with vegetables. It is a rice as veritable dish, but you get pretty much unlimited amounts for the meal until you are full. I liked that because it was good, healthy and cheap. We went to bed around 9:00 pm, which actually is pretty late for most people on this trek. It’s a different world.
Today, we took a day trip up the mountain. It was an hour if tough uphill and then pretty easy after that. Views were amazing. We had a good view of Everest and many others. Everest looks the same height as many of the mountains, but I can tell it’s an illusion because Everest is the furthest away in view and is the only one with wind constantly blowing snow from the top. We walked around the top of a mountain and to a town that was nestled in there. We walked through the small town and watched kids play some game that resembled marbles but was played with chips on a big wooden board. We then passed a famous school named after the first man to summit Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary. We walked back up over the mountain and down to Namche a different and dustier way than we came up. We were very tired after our “rest” day where we acclimatized to the altitude. We hung out in town for the rest of the day and got our last wifi for a week or so. We chilled, played cards, and went to bed shortly after dinner so we could wake up early and hit the ground running.
Namche Bazaar – Tangboche
We woke up to our first health issue. Matt had a huge swollen gland on the left side of his neck. It was weird because his throat didn’t hurt and it was only on one side. We got nervous and knew we had to go to the doctor. We went to a woman who had a pharmacy and was the doctor in town. She luckily said that it was a bacterial infection and had nothing to do with altitude. She gave Matt a Z-Pack and some ibuprofen, explained the dosages and sent us off. If it didn’t improve in two days, she said to go back down the mountain and go to the hospital in Kathmandu. While we were at the doctor, we told Jordan and Ashley to go ahead. We didn’t want to make them wait if we had to just back down the mountain today. We started our long hike for today. We went around a mountainside for a couple of hours and then down to a river that we had to cross. Once we crossed the river, we hike for two hours up a steep mountainside to get to a town called Tangboche. This hike was way harder than yesterday. I had no idea this Everest Base Camp trek was going to be so much hiking. I was expecting short distances to adjust for altitude easily, but I was wrong. As soon as we got to the top, we happened to see Jordan as Ashley. This wasn’t that surprising because you see mostly the same people each day, since everyone is doing the same route. We run into some people more than others but always recognize some people. Probably 100-150 people did the same route as us while we were. Us four walked to a Teahouse and got two rooms, four beds. We dropped our stuff off and went to the temple in town. There is a Buddhist temple with monks that allows visitors to watch the monks pray, but can’t take pictures. This was a nice experience, but I couldn’t imagine living here as these monks. It would be so boring, although the views are unbeatable with snowcap mountain peaks sticking out as the backdrop in all directions. We then got some hot chocolate and tea at the bakery in town with this guy named Mike from Scotland. He is traveling alone and hired a guide for the trek. He left us before it it dark and we went back to our Teahouse for dinner, a few games of cards, and then bed. It’s starting to get a lot colder at night and we are really happy that we got sleeping bags. It drops below freezing at night.
Tangboche – Dingboche
We woke up and Matt’s swollen glands weren’t much better. I knew that they would be worse in the morning because that’s how symptoms usually work, but it still wasn’t a good feeling knowing we had to consider turning around and ending our trek. We both knew this but also both knew that a trek that is supposed to be fun shouldn’t be a painful struggle through danger. We asked the Teahouse owner if we could stay another night, but he said that they were full tonight, so we decided to keep moving. Jordan left early this morning because he is on a tighter schedule than us. We have time and so does Ashley, who has altitude sickness symptoms like vomiting, headaches, and loss of appetite. Today, she was feeling a little better, so we all agreed that we were ok to continue higher. We hiked for 5 hours, mostly a gradual uphill climb, with a few steep parts. We tried to make it to Periche, bit ended up at its sister town right next to it but 200 meters higher. We all felt ok with the attitude so we spent the night there. In our Teahouse, we met these businessmen from America who are here for a charity. The two people leading the group of 8 total were so interesting. They were a 40-year-old married couple from California who summited the highest mountain on each of the seven contingents. Their favorite was Everest, second favorite was Antarctica. I can’t remember their other favorites, but the mountains were Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, some mountain in Alaska, some mountain in Australia and some mountain in South America. They have a book that we managed to find out the name of. These people were great because they didn’t brag at all and were very down to earth. We learned about their awesome history through the people in their group. We saw them every day until base camp and ended up calling them Team America because that’s the name that these three Canadians we met called them. It is now very very cold at night and no one even thinks to shower. I haven’t and won’t shower all trek, but Matt and Ashley are the same. None of us care though. We are fine with it. Tonight Matt and I wore these neck earners and feet warmers that we bought in Namche for 3 dollars. It was a great purchase.
Today was our rest day to acclimatize. We wanted to literally rest and so nothing, but realized that it was smart to climb the nearby mountain to get to a higher altitude. If you go up more than 500 meters in a day and then sleep at that altitude, it’s really dangerous, but climbing up that high and then back down is actually recommended because you help yourself adjust the next day when you actually climb and sleep at that higher altitude. We were some of the first people in the morning to get going. We can’t sleep in much at all here because the cold wakes us around 6:00 am if not earlier. My alarm for 6:00 am never woke me throughout the entire trek. I was always awake beforehand for one reason or another. Having to pee in the middle of the night is always a fear we have when going to bed. It’s almost inevitable, but we always still hold on to some amount of false hope that we will not have to pee tonight in the negative temperatures. We climbed up a mountain that we saw a few people hiking up from a distance. It went up about 1000 meters but we only managed to go up about 600 or 700 meters before we gave up from exhaustion and headaches from altitude. We turned around after a two hour upward hike and went back down to our Teahouse to actually rest for the remainder of our last rest day. We chilled and ate and played cards, the usual things to keep us from getting bored. We went to bed around the same time and once again had to face an extremely cold night.
Dingboche – Laboche
We woke up to snow on the ground. This wasn’t good news at first, but then we realized how cool it was that we were actually trekking to Everest Base Camp, which is high enough to gather snow anytime of the year. It was almost an energizing realization that gave us excitement for the day. It was our frat day trekking trough snow so we really appreciated the beauty and experience. We once again woke up extremely early and were the first to set off to our next town. We weren’t extrovert sure which direction to go so we temporarily befriended a porter or an hour who helped lead us in the right directions. We walked along an elevated valley on a small angle for two hours, following porters and yaks. We arrived at our half way point, a small town that was actually just one building with a courtyard and the worst bathroom man has ever seen. It was a small wooden shake with one floorboard kicked out as the hole and poop all around the edges. It was an experience to see that will probably never be topped in my lifetime. We ran into a Franch solo trekker and our friend Mike from Scotland. We all joined forced for the next three hours as we climbed up a steep mountainside and through a valley with constant ups and downs. We made it to Laboche and split up for the night to stay at different places. We tend to stay at the lodges that are very cheap, yet the most crowded in each town. It is our way of feeling like we are still on the right track to our goal and are in the right place. We met some older guys from New York, played rummy with a Sherpa, and I met a fellow Penn Stater who I saw wearing a hat with the Nittany Lion on it. Small world. Penn State is everywhere, even in the Himalayas. I then ate dinner and went to bed. I had mild headaches but nothing serious. I feel like I understand altitude sickness now, after experiencing it two months ago on top of Mount Kinabalu and learning more since I’ve been on this trek. Any symptom alone isn’t enough to oaf nose altitude sickness, but rather, multiple common sides. The cure is easy, you go lower until you feel better. The sickness is unforgiving and you have to know when to turn back because it can get dangerous and even fatal if you are stupid about it or think you can push through it.
Laboche – Everest Base Camp – Gorak Shep
We woke up, ate breakfast and started out on a very exciting day. Today, we finally make it to Everest Base Camp! We walked through a valley and then next to a huge glacier with rocks on top of the ice. After a few hours of gradually ascending with little air to breathe, we could see base camp far in the distance. This was an incredible feeling and showed us that we could actually make it. We started out early today for two reasons, one being we wanted to have enough time to get to base camp and the other being that we needed to get to this final town before most other people so we could get a room before the three teahouses filled up. Your groups call in advance to book a space so we had to race against other people doing it on their own. We got to the final town Gorak Shep around 10:00 am and got a room at the first Teahouse we went to. It was a relief. We dropped off our bags in the freezing room and rested for 30 minutes. We then took a day pack and continued for 2.5 hours to base camp. The hike was more difficult than I was expecting. I thought it would be flat but it was very fragile and pretty up and down. You had to be careful with very step because ricks were flimsy and you could easily hurt yourself. We got closer and closer and finally made it to our goal. We made it to Everest Base Camp and couldn’t be happier. It was such a great sight. There were hundreds of yellow tents and helicopters flying to and from every five minutes. We took some pictures as walked around. People are now starting to clear out because expositions got canceled for the rest of the climbing season. In one week, this place will be completely empty. It is literally just a bunch of tents on a glacier in a valley, so it will be empty. The people are allowed to leave nothing when they leave. Even human waste has to be carried down in a closed barrel by a porter. I couldn’t even imagine having to carry that. We ran into Mike and into Jordan while up there. We have seen Mike each day, but haven’t seen Jordan in 5 days so it was nice. He is going to continue his trek to Gorkyo, a famous lake area that people trek to from Everest Base Camp. I am content with base camp. We turned around and made the long 2 hour journey back to Gorak Shep where we ate a late lunch, hung out in a semi warm room being heated by died yak poop. The smell lingers in my mind as a sickening, yet comforting warmth. Right after dinner, we went to bed to avoid it being that much below zero.
Gorak Shep – Kala Patthar – Dingboche
As the night went on, I couldn’t really sleep because there was a pressure in my head. This was because of the altitude. I drank water and by morning, it pretty much was back to normal. We woke up at 4:00 am and only Ashley and I decided to hike to Kala Patthar. Matt had a headache so he hung out until we got back. We went outside when it was still pitch dark. It was so cold and dark, I considered just going back to bed. The only thing keeping me out there were the stars. They were so visible and there were so many. It was an amazing sight because I have only seen stars in a remote place a handful of times. Ashley and I stood outside if our Teahouse until we saw someone with a flashlight making their way across the valley. We followed in the darkness with our flashlights and found the path that people take up the mountain. We started the two hour hike up. It was so cold, my moving water bottle froze before I could drink any of it. I lost Ashley because there were multiple paths that went up the mountain. I could see her but we just continued on our own. Breathing was so difficult at this altitude, I had to take multiple sitting breaks to rest my lungs and legs. Oxygen didn’t circulate around my body very well, so it was a difficult hike. I eventually made it to the top. I was the first one to the peak, so I sat on some rocks next to very steep mountain sides. I sat by myself for ten minutes until a Russian girl and South African guy made it up, as well. We sat and waited for the sun to rise as a few more people made it to the top. Ashley turned back once she got to the top because it was too cold to be outside for too long. I couldn’t feel my toes or fingers so I decided to wait until the sun came up, to warm them up a little bit more so they could come back to life. The sun rose and it was cool, but going for sunrise was unnecessary. It was so cold, it wasn’t worth waking up early to do it. It would be best midday. I don’t know why everything in the world has to be seen for sunrise or sunset. Some things are just better in the daytime, like this. You could see the top of Everest peaking over some mountains in the foreground, as wind blew snow off of its peak. I took some pictures, tries to get wiggle my toes to get blood into them, and then started back down the mountain. It was 5,545 meters high, so it was up there. I passed people still struggling to get up as I was going down. My toes got feeling back after a while so that was good. I got back down and we met Matt for breakfast. We all ate and then started our three day journey back down the mountains to Lukla. The walk down was easier on the lungs but not on the legs. We ha to take fewer breaks, so we could walk further, but it was tiring on the leg muscles and knees when we went downhill. We passed Laboche and made the four hour journey trough the valley to Dingboche, where we spent the night. The Canadians that we met ended up in the same Teahouse as us so we talked to them for a little. It was a chill night, as we tried to relax our legs for the long journey again tomorrow.
Dingboche – Namche Bazaar
Today, was the longest day yet. We woke up as the ass crack of dawn and started our hike. The first hour was easy. We walked flat and then downhill. Once we crossed the river, we had to go uphill and then flat again. We then went downhill at a pace and slope that jammed my toes into the ends of my shoes. We passed three towns and took a few water breaks. We then crossed a river again and had to go uphill further than I remembered. We were very tired now in Tingboche, so we took a break at the bakery. We then headed back down the steepest part of the while trek. It was an hour and a half journey downhill on a steep mountainside. We eventually made it to the bottom, crossed a river and made our way uphill again. It was then gradually uphill for the next two and a half hours as we rounded mountainside after mountainside as we were very high up. After a frustrating exhausting day, we made it to Namche. We dropped our stuff at a Teahouse lodge and went to eat and get wifi at a cafe. We met up with Mike from Scotland again at the cafe and talked with him for a while. We ate dinner at our Teahouse lodge and then went on our Namche Pub-Crawn. We planned on doing this for a while because we noticed that there were three bars in Namche. We wanted to go to each one on our way down the mountain, as something to look forward to. The world’s highest pub crawl! Namche Bazaar 2014 #Let’sGetBazaar. We had a curfew at our hostel of 9 pm so the pub crawl only went to the first bar. It was an Irish pub and We got an Everest Beer. We got three huge bowls of free popcorn, which was awesome. Some American guy talked to us for a while about his disastrous first trip ourside the USA. He planned to meet friends here to hike to base camp but their flights were delayed. He then started the trek without them and started to get altitude symptoms, so he stayed in Namche. His friends caught up and then passed him when he was still feeling symptoms. Now, he doesn’t have enough time to go to base camp so he is going up to one more town tomorrow and then turning around all by himself to go down and fly back to the USA. That sucks. We got another beer and then went back to our Teahouse lodge to go to bed.
Namche Bazaar – Lukla
We woke up early and started our final day of our trek back to Lukla. We went down a steep hill, over a bridge and continued back on our 6 hour journey over a series of ups and downs. It was just as difficult as yesterday and I am so ready to be done. It was exhausting again to walk so far in one day through rough terrain. We finally made it after having hours of false hope that it was right around the corner or over a hill. We dropped our stuff off and went to eat at a place called Everest Burger. It was a shitty cheeseburger but the first meat I have had in two weeks so it was a nice change. Matt and I then went to the small airport to finalize our flight back to Kathmandu tomorrow. Today, all flights were canceled due to weather, so it was chaotic in the airport white people trying to reschedule flights. They have a very weird system here. If you don’t have the first flight of the day, there is a good chance your flight will be cancelled due to weather. If your flight is cancelled, you can’t reschedule, you can only be added to a waiting list that could take days for you to get on a flight. Because if this, it’s worthless to book a flight that isn’t first thing in the morning. We waited in tell airport outside of the office until 5:00 pm to finally be told that we couldn’t fly out tomorrow because our hostel lady forgot to reserve our flight. He asked us if we wanted to be added to the waiting list for tomorrow, we said hell no and booked the two last seats on the flight for the morning after tomorrow. We went back to our guesthouse to chill after a frustrating day. I had milk tea and we got pop corn. The family at our guesthouse played Home Alone 2 for us and the two other guests in our hostel from Russia and South Africa. After the movie, we called it a night and said our goodbyes to Ashley, our travel partner for one and a half weeks.
We attempted to sleep in and still woke up by 8:00 am because it is what we are used to here in the cold mountains. Matt and I got wifi and walked around. It takes about ten minute to walk the only street so we got bored pretty quickly. We played cards for a couple of hours and went to a “bar” for an hour for a beer called Everest. We had to walk back to the airport today to reconfirm our flight for tomorrow morning. They make you do this so some people forget and some people can be given the flight off of the waiting list. We are dinner, watched some movie at our guesthouse, ate some popcorn, drank some milk tea, and went to bed.
Lukla to Kathmandu
Today, we checked out at 5:00 am and walked 10 minutes to the airport. We were nervous because we know how likely it is to have flights get cancelled. We checked in, weighed ourselves and our small bags, went through “security” and waited by the only gate. The security literally just opened the top of your bag and would see if anything is on top that shouldn’t be allowed and would take that thing. They wouldn’t dig through the whole bag or feel anything. It isn’t a good system. Eventually, our twelve person plane arrived and we boarder quickly. It’s a quick flight turnaround because only four planes can fit at the airport at one time and planes alternate arriving and departing on the only way in or out, the west. The runway isn’t that long, so our plane had to back up so much, we almost hit the wall of the mountain. Our pilot hit the gas and started our downhill journey off of the runway. About five meters from the end of the runway, we lifted off. The scary thing is, that is how close it is supposed to be. We flew for thirty minutes and safely arrived at Kathmandu airport. We made it!