Everst Base Camp Trek Solu Khumbu Region
Trip Start Mar 19, 2007
16Trip End Ongoing
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Unfortunately I could not go trekking on the original date with Ulrika the Swedish blonde instead on my re-arranged trek I was to spend the initial part with Aussie Mick, a Queenslander from Brisbane who now lives in Thailand. .
Day 1 Lukla to Phakding (2640M's)
On day 1 I still felt queasy. Sat waiting for our delayed flight up to Lukla the starting point Mick passed the time by telling me his stories of Cambodia and how he bought fried Spiders as a treat for some locals, which they gobbled up. This didn't help my condition. I was pleased when we were called out onto the tarmac to watch our plane being unloaded
The flight was uneventful, in-fact I fell asleep. I awoke in time for the landing. I didn't see much of the runway, as there wasn't much of one. It was about 300 m's long and uphill to help the plane stop in time.
In Lukla, although thin, the air was clearer and the atmosphere much more friendly. The locals in these parts are mainly Sherpa people and not Indian or Kashmiries trying their damnedest to sell you something. It was a much more peaceful atmosphere. If anyone visits Nepal other than for trekking I recommend they get out of Katmandu and spend some time in this kind of area, if only to escape the summer dust. Our Guide Kamel picked up a Porter, Ram, and off we went. Our first stop was to be Pharkding. It was to be a pleasant 3 hour hike mainly downhill through some very interesting and pleasant countryside.
Day 2 Phakding to Namche Bazaar (3440 m's)
5 hours hiking mainly up hill, this was a bit of an awakener and pre-cursor of things to come. The scenery was still quite lush and interesting. Crossing frothing rivers on wire rope bridges, the horizon was snow-capped mountains of varying shapes and sizes. We ambled passed huge carved prayer stones (Manis or Chortens) with the message "Om Mani Padme Hum" meaning god will make things good for you if you are good, a bit like Santa will bring you presents if you are a good boy, or something like that. It is the done thing to always walk to the left of these stones. We passed other religious items some as prayer wheels, which you spin as you go by & prayer ribbons that are strung up. This helps the prayers reach the heavens (the wind catches them and carries them skywards. But worryingly we passed other trekkers coming the other way. Most of whom looked very dishevelled and could barely speak.
There were trekkers of all nationalities and shapes and sizes. With their metal walking poles, hunched over & with backpacks they looked like weird 4-legged spiders crawling up the hill. We spoke to a middle-aged woman from Wellington, New Zealand who had made it all the way to Everest Base Camp and this encouraged me. Although I am not as strong as a middle-aged woman I felt sure I could do it. Also for encouragement we got our first glimpse of Everest, it seemed so small from where we were. Or was it really that far away?
We reached Namche mid-afternoon. It is a small but busy (in Himalayan terms) junction for trekkers and climbers on their way up the various routes. Namche is poised precariously on the side of the mountain and it seems a struggle to go anywhere. Where ever you go eventually you will have to go up the steep steps. Namche is over 3500m's above sea level and is used as a place of rest to aclimatise before going higher. We stayed at a pleasant mountain lodge with great views. It was owned and run by a Sherpa woman who was related to Sherpa Tensing. Tensing who along with Hilary was the first to climb Everest.
This was a day of rest to help acclimatize. If you rush up the mountain (which I wasn't about to do) you can become sick with Altitude sickness, which in turn can turn to something else much more deadly. A kind of Lung disease called Hape or Hace. (Acronyms). To give an impression on how thin the air was at this level. I had difficulty chewing on a biscuit. Ok I was not fully fit but between bites I had to stop for a breather. The least little bit of exertion and I was out of breath. Therefore I made the best for the rest day testing out my new sleeping bag.
Day 4 Namche to Pangboche. (3985m's)
This was the day I said good bye to Aussie Mick, he was not in it for the full hog just a little excursion and he was returning with our Porter Ram back to Lukla then Katmandu.
This day was the toughest yet. 6 hours uphill slog. As I struggled up the hillside unable to breath, trekkers, locals, guides and yak trains coming down the hill threw up clouds of dust, making it even harder to catch my breath. The Himalayas also lies just north of the tropics, so it was also quite hot. With all the exertions I was wet through with sweat, nice. I looked at my Guide Kamel some place in the distance I did a little chant "Om mani Padme Hom" that it was he that was carrying my back pack and not I.
On this day we passed through Tengboche and I stopped to look at the Monastery. There I was able to pray and make a donation (although not a very large one). So if anyone has had a sparkle of good health this week I would like to take the credit, thank you. Sorry my donation wasn't bigger so the sparkle may have lasted longer.
When Kamel and I arrived at the next lodge in Pengboche the temp had changed from hot to Freezing and it began to snow. It wasn't welcome. The lodge was very Spartan and absolutely freezing cold. That night the entertainment was guessing what topping was on my "mixed" pizza and there was also a Sherpa dance performed by some guides of another party. It was quite slow and not very energetic. I put this down to the cold and the fact they had probably carried half a ton down the side of the mountain earlier. How they manage to perform these feats amazes me (not the dancing but the carrying). However it seems it's not the Trekkers that take advantage of these people, it's the trekking companies. They are the ones that pay the guides and the trekkers pay the companies quite a lot of money in some cases that isn't passed on to the locals. I'd say it’s also true most trekkers and climbers try their best to respect the area following good trekking codes to minimise impact
Pengboche to Perriche (4243m,s)
The scenery had definitely changed subtly from forested hillsides to a more lunar style landscape with ominous mountain tops looking down on you with foreboding, so I daren't look at them. There were no trees so bang went my Boy Scout survival techniques. "Hide behind a tree". All I had was a pot noodle and a small bottle of rum. Possibly this was more substantial than the other food I had been eating on the trek. We were headed for a village called Perriche where I could give my hypochondria a feed. There is a voluntary doctor service that gives daily lectures on Altitude sickness. The village was made up of about 5 lodges for trekkers. This seemed to be the common of all the villages we passed through and I wondered if they would exist at all if there were no trekkers. It’s funny how one keeps the other going.
I attended the lecture, which was very interesting. Apparently as the body tries to acclimatize and struggles to take in oxygen, it tries to dispel carbon dioxide from the body in the form of gas. This explained the way my stomach had been for the last few days. There were interesting treatments too, for instance Viagra. This apparently opens capillaries so more oxygen can be taken to the blood. I looked around me wondering which others had packed such pills in order to help them climb the mountain. Also approximately 70% of trekkers in these parts suffer some kind of Altitude sickness. I am rarely on the good side of percentages so I feared the worst.
The further up we went the more Spartan the lodges and the more interesting the food. As everything had to be carried up the hillside the cost of things became more expensive and the food less fresh. I had difficulty stomaching most of the food and fancied something substantial. I asked my guide about Yak steak and chips but he advised against. The reason is that higher than Lukla it is not permitted to kill Yaks they are sacred to Buddhists. Therefore all yak meat is carried for a few days from Lukla meaning the meat is not fresh. It's also unpractical to kill Yaks, as they are needed for transport. It's quite possible that as there is no TV in these parts so maybe some people are romantically linked to the yaks.
My current host at the lodge had actually climb Everest twice. His English was not that good and my Nepali worse so I couldn't talk to him too much about it. I think my brain was freezing I couldn't think of any good questions "was it cold up there?"
He stopped climbing because his wife told him not to do it again. This begs the question, which is most dangerous, climbing Mount Everest or disobeying the wife?
Day 6 Perriche to Labouche 4900m's
When will it end? Although the trek was not demanding on my legs, in fact we hadn't walked that far (I think the total trek one way is only 28k's) it’s the cold and altitude (and food) that gets you.
The Lodge at Labouche was the most rustic yet. No light in my room, intermittent electrical supply & curious food. One Russian trekker told the "waiter" to take her food back and make it warm, I was tempted to ask them to take mine back and change it to something distinguishable. It was supposed to be mashed potato with fried egg. I recognized the egg but....I guess this is what I had paid my $550 for and in true British style didn't complain. It was in these miserable conditions that I felt I had altitude sickness. I recall the Doc at the lecture saying if your symptoms had gone in the morning (Headache / nausea) then it’s safe to continue if not descend to a lower altitude. I still had my symptoms in the morning but decided to carry on. It wasn't British stiff upper lip or Yorkshire grit just the fact I had paid $550. It also wasn't much further to Gorak Shep the last post before Everest Base Camp.
Day 7 Labouche to Gorak Shep (5200ms.)
Gorak Shep really was an Outpost. There was a small cluster of Lodges in the middle of a small bowl of land. This was supposed to make it warmer as it was shielded from the wind. Our lodge had that "you are at the edge of the world" feel to it. The lodges are mainly made of dry stone walls and boarded out inside by plywood. This had a dimly lit communal area, a kitchen a few rooms and a toilet (next to my room). Walking down the corridor to my room various flags and artefacts of previous visitors decorated the walls. I saw a tube of Vegemite nailed to the wall and a pair of knickers with the Aussie flag drawn on them. I didn't get close enough to read the names that were underneath the flag. I am not sure if it was the names of the people in the party or the names of the people who had worn the knickers. Further along I clocked the flag of St. George so I went to read it. To my surprise it had been left by a group of school kids from Batley Grammar School (a school I attended, briefly). There were various pearls of wisdom on the flag, one that surpassed all other comments on the other flags. This was in-fact where to get the best chips on the Everest trek, very useful information indeed. The last piece was a fable "There are two brothers who live on the high passes, one called Misery the other Pleasure. If you venture up there you never know which one you will meet", they then signed off BATLEY BULLDOGS ON TOUR 2003. Heartened by this seemingly small coincidence I set off for Everest Base Camp.
The 4 hour round trip was through a glacial wasteland that was baron yet picturesque. It was uninviting yet enticing. Cold yet...well you get the picture. The ice formations illustrated perfectly what my Geography teacher tried in vain to explain to my class in my schooldays. You could clearly see how the valley had been formed by the river of ice that in turn left boulders and rocks in the form of a dry river, across the valley floor.
Everest Base camp is the staging post for the expeditions to climb the highest mountain in the world. Its real name is Sagarmatha meaning Goddess of the sky and it's 8848ms high. The base camp is at 5300ms. After that camp I believe there are 3 or 4 more. Camp 1 to 4, then the summit. The record for longest at the summit is 21 hours without bottled oxygen. I wouldn't be attempting to break that on this trip.
The base camp is built on permafrost and is a settlement of tents, offering ground support and facilities to the climbers. Who each have to pay as much as $70k US in fees and expenses to climb. I wouldn't be attempting to climb on this trip. It is currently expedition season and there 31 teams waiting to climb.
A few photos later we returned to our base camp at Gorak Shep.
Day 8 Kalapathar experience. 5543m's
I can’t recall who's dumb idea it was, mine or the guides but we decided to walk up the peak of Kalapathar before sunrise. (black rock - soon to be renamed freezing cold windy rock). We wanted to see the sunrise over Everest and this is the usual place. During this trek I hadn't had much sleep due to altitude affects and the cold, so un-characteristically I didn't mind getting up at 4am and trudging through the cold & pitch black. We crossed the small plain to the base of the peak quickly enough but 100ms up I was struggling to breath. This is what is meant by breath-taking scenery. When I paused for a breath the cold wind tried every way it could to get inside my jacket. The only way was to keep walking. The sun was coming up quite fast and there was no sunrise as such just the horizon got several shades lighter. So with only 50ms to go to the top my guide, Kamel, sensing I was near death suggested we go no further and take photos from where we were. He explained that even from the top the view is no different. Knowing that I had a huge day in front of me, I didn't argue.
When we returned to the Lodge I had strange mixed feelings about it all. I am not sure why this was. May be I was just a little more tired and affected by altitude than I thought maybe it was the thought of what next and the thought of the journey back down. I guess it’s difficult to put in perspective straight away what you have sometimes done. My Guide explained to me that today was actually New Year’s day in the Nepali calendar and that not many people had seen the sunrise at Everest on new year’s day. By the way it's actually the year 2064 in Nepal.
The rest of the day was spent trekking back down towards Lukla, We actually walked over 10 hours in one day to reach Tengbouche. That night we stayed at a very basic lodge behind the Monastery. It actually had a fantastic view both up towards Everest and down into the valley below. As we sat in the open and watched nightfall you could actually see the clouds closing all around us.
The next 2 days were basically a race back down. The further I descended the better and stronger I felt. I am sure I did actually have some kind of mild altitude sickness which I guess is yet another experience. We over nighted back in Phakding and the following day retraced our steps to Lukla. Coming down those hills I stopped to wonder how I had actually climbed them in the first place. I couldn't believe I made it down in 2 days and I never thought I would be happy to see Katmandu again
I now have couple of days to get myself ready for my next trip. See you in Tibet.