Everest Base Camp Days 1-4
Trip Start Oct 29, 2011
48Trip End Jun 01, 2012
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I had a couple of days in Kathmandu between trips to reflect on this final chapter. Originally the plan was to stay in Nepal after the Everest Base Camp Trip and see a bit more of the country (was meant to get back into the UK on 1st June), but whilst I was on the Annapurna Circuit trip I had decided that I was going to go home earlier. So I booked a flight back for May 12th which was the day that everyone else on the EBC was also due to go back
So my final group arrived on the Tuesday – there was fifteen of us; John, Paul (Bob), Kathryn and Rob friends from Yorkshire, the Canadians comprising Pete, Emily, Mark and Lindsey, Ollie and Alex (the youngsters), John from Telford, Jamie from London, Doug from Scotland and my Mancunian (posh one though – now lives in Cardiff, but soon to be moving to Edinburgh) room mate Caroline. We also met our group leader Lakpa who is one of the most experienced Exodus leaders in Nepal. So the first night we went to a traditional Nepalese restaurant where the rest of the group got to experience their first Dal Bhat (as you know it really wasn’t my first one). I was still sticking to my no alcohol policy but most of the group pushed on through and were up until the early hours. John even managed not to make it back to his room at all. Well he did try but Steve was so out of it he didn’t hear him knocking so John slept on the hotel in reception (genius). The following morning we had our full briefing from Lakpa and quite a few members of the group were struggling a little bit. I of course was feeling just fine having retreated off to bed early and got in a good 8 hours
So the next day and Day 1 of the Everest Base Camp Trek. Before I start can I just say that the photos here are not just mine, thank you to Caroline, Mark, Lindsey, Pete and Lakpa for also letting me have yours. So we had a very early start at we were going to be on the first flight out of Kathmandu to Lukla. We got up at 4am and headed off on the bus to the domestic terminal at Kathmandu. Well that’s if you can call it a terminal.
Now usually at the start of such a trek the overriding feeling is one of excitement but I’d say in most of our cases it was one of trepidation verging on shear terror. This is because we were going to be flying into the Hillary-Tenzing Airport at Lukla. That’s Lukla the gateway to the Khumbu region and to Everest but also Lukla which has another claim to fame – as it has one of the albeit of the World's Most Dangerous Airports (funnily enough I didn’t mention this one to my family before I did this). Lukla sits at 2,840 meters like a dinner plate balanced on a table edge: a terrifyingly shallow plateau in a ridge of mountainsSpace Shuttle. The runway incline at lukla is a staggering 12% (equivalent of a 10 storey building). The airport can only take the 18 Seater Twin Otter Propeller Aircraft (so no you can’t land a 747 or an A380 there, the A380 is actually probably longer than the runway itself).
Landing in Lukla leaves no room for error. The approach is through a maze of spectacular mountain peaks and the air is often cluttered with clouds. The approach is through a maze of spectacular mountain peaks and the air is often cluttered with clouds. Pilots throw their propellers into hard reverse before they touch down. When you take off the pilots have to gun the engines as they race down the hill for takeoff as at the end of the runway there is an abrupt drop off down to a river valley below. So funnily enough only the most experienced pilots in Nepal are allowed to fly into there.
So we headed out on the first flight with Tara Air. The weather was stunning but to be honest I wasn’t paying too much attention to what was around us
Beyond the scariness of the airport the fact that it even exists is a huge feat in itself. The airport was built in 1964 by Edmund Hillary as part of his Hillary Trust project. In 1960 when Hillary was in back in Nepal on a multi-purpose expedition (Climbing, conducting physiological research into high-altitude acclimatisation and trying to find the yeti aka the abominable snowman) to Makalu (the 5th highest mountain in the world) that he decided that he wanted to give something back to the Sherpa people, who he believed had given so much to mountaineering. So Edmund Hillary set up the Hillary Trust in order to provide better education and health care facilities to the people of the Khumbu region. One of the problems with the projects was getting in supplies and materials so Hillary decided they needed to build and airfield. They found some low grade farming land close to Lukla (meaning a place with many goats and sheep) and Hillary purchased the farm land on behalf of government of Nepal for a total of $635 quite a substantial sum in that area in those days
So on arrival we all clambered (in a state of shock) out of the plane and onto the tarmac, and the first thing we noticed was it a tad bit nippy up there. We were now at 2840m (t-shirts all the way in Kathmandu). So we headed out of the airport (our bags had already been taken apparently) and off to get some breakfast and get ready for the day’s walking. On the way to a lodge we could see other planes coming into land and taking off and were all completely mesmerized by what we were seeing. We’d landed on that !! After some breakfast we were ready to set off on the EBC trek
The first days’s trekking was only 3 hours (6km) and it was to Phakding at 2610m. We were a little pit annoyed because Lukla is at 2840m and weren’t really appreciative of the fact that on the first day we were descending not ascending. So we headed on out of Lukla, past lots of trekking shops, a hairdressers, bars and lodges and even a Starbucks (looked a little bit on the fake side)
So we trekked on up the Dudh Kosi (Milk River – it’s a cloudy colour due to the amount of eroded rock in the water that has been removed by glaciers) through the incredible landscape and was what I was expecting from Nepal. Lush green valleys surrounding by stunning mountain peaks. The first major peak we could see (no Everest on Day 1 I’m afraid) was Kumsum Khangkara at a height of 6367mSherpa language, which refers to the triple summit of the mountain. With an altitude of only (I say only but am comparing it to the big guys further up the valley!) 6,367 metres mountain is classified as a trekking peak, but it is considered one of the most difficult to climb. Out of 22 attempts between 1978 and 1998, only 9 successful expeditions have been reported. On the way I was actually taken aback by the amount of Buddhist Prayer Wheels and Painted Rocks. I had seen a lot in Annapurna but there was far more here. The Sherpa’s were originally from Tibet and migrated across the mountains. According to oral Buddhist traditions, the initial Tibetan migration, was a search for beyul (Shangri-La). Sherpas belong to the Nyingmapa, the "Red Hat Sect" of Tibetan Buddhism. Allegedly the oldest Buddhist sect in Tibet, founded by Padmasambhava during the 8th century, it emphasises mysticism and local deities shared by the pre-Buddhist Bon religion, which has shamanic elements. Sherpa’s are the group that particularly believe in hidden treasures and valleys. Monasteries with celibate monks and nuns, along with the practice of reincarnated spiritual leaders are later adaptations.
In addition to Buddha and the great Buddhist divinities, the Sherpa also believe in numerous deities and demons who inhabit every mountain, cave, and forest
Today, the day-to-day Sherpas religious affairs are presided by lamas (Buddhist spiritual leaders) and other religious practitioners living in the villages. The village lama who presides over ceremonies and rituals can be monastic or a married householder. In addition, shamanic (lhawa) and soothsayers (mindung) deal with the supernatural and the spirit world. Lama identify witches (pem), act as the mouthpiece of deities and spirits, and diagnose spiritual illnesses.
An important aspect of Sherpa religion is the monastery or gompa. There are some two dozen of these institutions scattered through the Solukhumbu region. They are communities of lamas or monks (sometimes of nuns) who take a vow of celibacy and lead a life in isolation searching for truth and religious enlightenment. They are respected by and supported by the community at large. Their contact with the outside world is focused on monastery practices and annual festivals to which the public is invited, as well as the reading of sacred texts at funerals.
So we arrived at our lodge in Phadking in time for lunch (obviously it was the last lunch again) and already three members of the group were suffering from the altitude. Jamie, Doug and Rob were all not in a good way. This wasn’t looking good for the rest of the trek. In the afternoon the rest of us headed up 200m to Thaktul Monastery
On the way back down I was at the back (once again) chatting to Lakpa about the Monastery with Ollie and Steve and there were some workmen on a roof building it. Very scarily we witnessed (it seemed like it was in slow motion) one of the men come careering off the roof. He slid off and then his chest hit smack in to a pile of logs below. Amazingly he stood up but he was clutching his chest. We couldn’t imagine how after that kind of impact that he hadn’t broken ribs and even punctured a lung. At this point it became very real the lives of people out in this region. The nearest hospital was in Lukla (3 hours walk away, remembering there are no roads here) but that would only have very basic facilities. This man would need to be flown back down to Kathmandu but we also knew that he wouldn’t be able to afford that and certainly would not have insurance. For us, it would just be a 999 phone call and an ambulance would be there in a few minutes. Here in Nepal the reality is very different.
So onto Day 2 and we were going to be trekking Phadking at 2610m Namche Bazar to 3440m, a hike of 11km. Once again we were following the Dudh Kosi river valley. As we followed the valley north through pine trees and little villages we got our first glimpse of Thamserku (6608m)Himalayas of eastern Nepal containing the southern half of Mount Everest. The park was created on July 19, 1976 and was inscribed as a Natural World Heritage Site in 1979. Sagarmāthā is a Sanskrit word, from sagar meaning ‘sky’ and matha means ‘forehead’ or ‘head’, and is the modern Nepali name for Mount Everest.
The park encompasses an area of 1,148 km2 (443 sq mi) in the Solukhumbu District and ranges in elevation from 2,845 m (9,334 ft) at Jorsalle to 8,848 m (29,029 ft) at the summit of Mount Everest. Barren land above 5,000 m (16,000 ft) comprises 69% of the park while 28% is grazing land and the remaining 3% is forested. Most of the park area is very rugged and steep, with its terrain cut by deep rivers and glaciers. Unlike other parks, this park can be divided into four climate zones because of the rising altitude. The climatic zones include a forested lower zone, a zone of alpine scrub, the upper alpine zone which includes upper limit of vegetation growth, and the Arctic zone where no plants can grow. So we passed through the gate and into the park and this was it, we were now in Everest National Park. Then we had to go down a couple about a 100m (really not needed). We then hiked for another hour following the Dudh Kosi river until it reached the confluence with the Bhote Kosi (which flows from Tibet). We then looked up and saw the Larja Bridge (the highest on the trek) which is a drooping suspension bridge that floats from a dizzying height above the Dudh Kosi
So the next day, another early start
So I pulled myself together and we carried on to the Everest View Hotel, which is a Japanese hotel, very minimalist, expensive (and no hot lemon – what kind of a place is this ?!?!) and surprisingly very poor toilets (although I think actual guests get the good ones, we just got the hole in the ground outside). So we sat having a bit of a break completely mesmerised by the sight of Everest. After that we headed on through some rhododendrons down to the villages of Khumjung and Khunde.
The first village was Khumjung and it was here that we visited the first school that Edmund Hillary help to build, the Khumjung School, also known as Hillary School in a mark of respect towards the man who built it back in 1961
So after our visit to the school we went to Khunde which is where Edmund Hillary helped build the Khunde Hospital. In 1966 Hillary together with a small team from overseas and local villagers built Kunde Hospital, his biggest project at that stage. It differed from his others in that overseas volunteer staff would remain at the hospital after the expedition left, so that healthcare would shift from being a temporary service provided when an expedition was in the area to being part of Khumbu's permanent infrastructure
Hillary had been able to bring in Sherpa teachers from Darjeeling for the schools, but there were no qualified staff for the hospital at Kunde. So Overseas Volunteer Doctors had to be used. In October 2002 Dr Kami Temba Sherpa became the first Nepali doctor-in-charge of Kunde Hospital. His appointment to Kunde is in many respects a fulfillment of what Hillary's and the Himalayan Trust's involvement with the people and the area has been all about. Kami Temba came from the village of Thame, went to the local primary school that Hillary had built in 1963 before continuing his education at Khumjung School, which offered schooling to Class 7. He had to complete his high school education four days' walk away at the Solukhumbu district centre Salleri, where he gained his school leaving certificate in 1976. Returning to Thame, he worked for one year at the school as a teacher. He also became the part-time village health worker before being offered a job at Kunde Hospital.
Apart from a few months away Kami Temba remained at the hospital, eventually taking on a wider medical and administrative role both at the hospital and in the wider community
The final stop was back down in Khumjung where were off to see a yeti skull (of course it’s real). The Khumjung Gomba (monastery) possesses a rare Yeti skull. Generations ago, before Khumjung Gomba was established, the people of Thame, Namche, Khunde, and Khumjung celebrated the festival of Dumji together at Thame every year. After some time, a dispute arose over management of the festival, and the people of Khunde, Khumjung and Namche left Thame to celebrate at Khumjung. When they left, the people of Khumjung expected a cultural gift of some significance – perhaps prayer flags, Buddhist scriptures, or ritual instruments – from the people of Thame, but were surprised to receive only a yeti skull
The legendary Yeti or so-called "Abominable Snowman" is a well-known feature of Solu Khumbu. These creatures have been searched and hunted for but are rarely sighted. The Yeti, according to legend, is a shy humanoid creature that inhabits the high, remote regions of the Himalaya. While traversing the region you may hear Sherpas and other hill people describe the Yeti's superhuman strength and its ability to carry off yaks and even abduct children.
The Sherpas distinguish three different types of yeti: Drema, or Telma the messenger of calamities; Chuti which preys on goats, sheep and yaks; and Mite or Midre which also attacks animals and sometimes men. Sherpas believe that the findings of mysterious footprints in the snow and several incidents of yaks killings support the legend, and Sherpa accounts say the yeti's height is approx. 6-8 feet with a conical scalp, pointed ears, hairless chest area and a human-like face
So (after giving a small donation) we were able to see the yeti skull in a glass cabinet. To be honest I was a little disappointed – I thought it would be bigger and looking like Chewbacca but it just looked like a cross between a coconut and a guinea pig. I also remember as a kid hearing about its alter-ego the ‘abominable snowman’ so expected something like the one out the snowman, but who’d joined the dark side (cue Aled Jones singing ‘Walking in the Air’ – that should not stick in my head for a few days then – deep deep joy).
So after all of the yeti excitement (nearly wet my pants), we headed down to Kyanjuma and our lodge, the Tashi Dalek (it’s that dark side again) Ama Dablam View Lodge. There’s a lot of lodges in Nepal that have use the word view. For most of them it’s rightly so but for some you have got to question the view. Often it’s a view of a big rock or some building work going on rather than a lofty Himalayan Peak. My favourite was the North Pole View Lodge – nope I think you are pushing the boundaries of feasibility a little bit much there. Anyway it was a very exciting evening – I managed to wash some pants, socks and even a t-shirt (no it doesn’t get any better than that !)
So onto Day 4 (I do hope that in your head when it says Day 4 you hear it from the Geordie bloke on Big Brother) and I was wide awake way before the alarm so decided to head out for the sunriseKhumbu region of Eastern Nepal within the boundaries of Sagarmatha National Park. Considered too sacred to be climbed by most local Sherpa people, the mountain is considered home to the patron God of the local area. Khumbu Yül-Lha has never been climbed; one attempt prior to the 1980s ended when climbers were killed in an avalanche, and there have been no subsequent attempts. Apparently Edmund Hillary did make an attempt but broke his arm and had to come back down before reaching the summit. So today we were heading down from Khumjung 3780m to Phunki Tenga 3250m and then up to the famous Tengboche at 3860m. The descent down to Phunki Tenga was pretty steep so this meant only one thing – it was going to be grueling 2 hour ascent up to Tengboche. We thought it would never come, but finally we passed through the gate and saw the stunning sight of the famous Tengboche Monastery with Everest and Ama Dablam looking stunning further up the valley. Tengboche is the cultural and religious centre of the Khumbu valley and is also famed as where the 1953 Everest Expedition speant 3 weeks aclimatising after their trek from Kathmandu. That expedition spent a lot of time in the monastery and since then Everest expeditioners have visited the monastery to light candles and seek the blessings of gods for good health and safe mountaineering
The Khumbu valley, where Tengboche is located, came under the influence of Buddhism about 350 years back. Other monastery’s were built in the area but Tengboche monastery was only built in 1916 by Lama Gulu.It is the first celibate monastery under the Nyingmapa lineage of the Vajrayana Buddhism.
The monastery of Tengboche and other buildings were destroyed during the 1934 earthquake. Lama Gulu died of shock when he saw what had happened to the His successor, Umze Gelden, took up the task of rebuilding the monastery, with strong support from Ngawang Tenzin Norbu. Then sadly on January 19th 1989 there was a devastating fire caused by a short circuit on an electric fire which destroyed the monastery's precious old scriptures, statues, murals and wood carvings.
Following the destruction of the monastery by fire, its rebuilding was undertaken by the present Nawang Tenzing Jangpo who is considered as the incarnation of the founder Lama Gulu, an important spiritual leader of the Sherpas. The project was only possible because of once again the efforts of Sir Edmund Hillary. When word came to Sir Ed, he flew with his wife June to Kathmandu, and then on to Tengboche to witness the destruction himself.As he stood there looking, the Sherpa people told him that the monastery must rise again. Sir Ed took it to heart, and began a massive fundraising effort, travelling the world asking for support. Money poured in from Japan, England, North America and France. Switzerland donated the copper roof. More than $500,000 dollars was raised, and the monastery slowly emerged from its ashes.
Today the monastery is home to about 40 monks, from students who live in a hostel, right through to those who have lived here all their lives, turning small mud huts into comfortable houses.The monks spend their days studying scripts and praying. During breaks they play football on an uneven, sloped field bereft of grass. It is a place of religion, and little else. In the winter it is covered in a thin blanket of snow. Temperatures plummet to well below freezing and the monks rely on the burning of yak dung for heat. However, it is also said that fewer and fewer young boys join as monks as they prefer to work in mountaineering or trekking-related activities.
We visited and had to the chance to watch the afternoon prayers. I’m not too sure what I was expecting really - a few hymns maybe, a bit of ‘All things bright and beautiful’ perhaps (wrong religion Liz – that RE teaching did you wonders !). But we just sat for (on the floor, crossed legged I hasten to add – how to kids sit like that for ages?, I was dying after 2 minutes, think some yoga or pilates is in order – none of that hot one though – I just want one where I have a nap for a few minutes) 20 minutes whilst a monk read out loud his prayer book very quickly.
Lakpa then told us a fantastic story about Tengboche and the world’s obsession with celebrity
So after all the excitement of the monastery I decided to go for an extra bit of a walk and headed off down the path to see if I could get a better view of the beautiful Ama Dablam (6812m). For its soaring ridges and steep faces (for all of you geographers out there it’s a lovely example of a pyramidal peak and therefore Ama Dablam is sometimes referred as the "Matterhorn of the Himalayas." Ama Dablam actually means "Mother's necklace" as the long ridges on each side like the arms of a mother (ama) protecting her child, and the hanging glacier thought of as the dablam, the traditional double-pendant containing pictures of the gods, worn by Sherpa women.
Then it was shower time – and I was now becoming an expert in scoring the quality of shower facilities
In the evening we all headed outside (down jackets on) to see the stunning sunset over Everest. It’s an incredible sight because at Everest is the highest point (doesn’t look it, but it is), everything else below it goes dark and then all you are left with is the last rays of the sun hitting the triangle peaking up over the Nuptse Ridge and bathing it in red (emotional yet again). Then I had the best Dal Bhat of my trip to Nepal (and believe me by the end I’d tried a few). This was certainly NOT a dal bhat disaster. A long way to come to try some dal bhat I know but it is recommended.