Everest Base Camp Days 12-15

Trip Start Oct 29, 2011
Trip End Jun 01, 2012

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

So Day 12 and after one of the best night's sleep I’ve ever had it was time to really start heading back. Today we were heading back to Tengboche (and the best Dal Bhat). So we headed over the Pheriche Pass by the Chola Kola (I’m surprised no-one ever used that one for a brand of Cola, it also rhymes with Rola-Cola which Peter Kay used to also mention, a.k.a. Crap Coke). We then joined back to the Imja Khola and headed back down the valley, out of the tundra (trees and no more woolly hats – well not quite for everyone just yet – will explain shortly) to Upper Pangboche. Pangboche is the highest year-round settlement in the Khumbu Valley. On the way we once again got to the stunning photo opportunity where a stupa crowns an exposed bluff, mirroring the soaring tower of Ama Dablam at the end of the valley. East of the stupa is a footprint of Khumbu’s patron saint Lama Sange Dorje, preserved in stone. Lama Sange Dorje was the fifth reincarnate lama of Rongbuk Gompa in Tbet and he is credited with bringing Buddhism to the Khumbu on supernatural flights around the Himalaya. So apparently, this lama blokey used the technique of wind meditation (no Helen you can’t use this as an excuse), which was invented by the yogi Milarepa (close relation of Yogi Bear and Boo Boo – although were they related or just friends?) in the 11th century. So apparently the yogi was able to run incredible distances at incredible speeds through intense meditation and careful control of his breathing (wouldn’t half be useful if you ever have to go on the M1 on a Friday evening).

On the way up we had gone through Lower Pangboche but this time we were off to visit another Monastery. This is the oldest monastery in the Khumbu, and was founded by the afore mentioned Lama Sange Dorje (hence the reason for all that stuff in that previous paragraph). Anyway until recently, it contained relics that were said to be the skull and hand of a yeti. They first came to light in the 1950s when an expedition to find the abominable snowman led by Peter Byrne came upon the monastery. Peter Byrne managed to take one of the bones from the hand out of Nepal to his friend, the Hollywood actor James Stewart, who was on holiday at the time with his wife in Calcutta. James Stewart's wife then placed the bone in her lingerie box and smuggled it into England where it was examined by a professor at Oxford University who said he could not conclusively say what kind of bone it was. They said that it was probably from some form of Neanderthal species.  In the 1990s, an American television channel ran a documentary about the hand and skull. Shortly after, both were stolen from the monastery.  When we visited we did not know anything about this, but apparently in 2011 a replica of the hand was donated to the monastery.

So after our trip to Pangboche we continued onto Tengboche and a lot of excitement for the Canadians in particular. This was going to be their first shower and for Emily and Lindsey their first hair wash for 12 days (they had decided against the joy of waiting 6 hours for your hair to dry in the lodges on the way up). None of us had actually seen their hair for days as they were always wearing hats but it wasn’t actually too bad. And of course they got to shower with the duck shower curtain. The rest of us had a relaxing afternoon of playing cards and listening to Dire Straits (as you do at 4410m above sea level). The only problem was that they seemed to have 'Money for Nothing’ on repeat. They even had wine in the lodge – Katherine and Meredith you would be so proud as there was a box of the legendry Rostdy HOF on the side (the wine that we drunk in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania three years ago).

So Day 13 and this was nearly the end, and today was our last full day of trekking and today I would be saying good bye to the mighty Everest. So we headed out of Tengboche, down the through the Kani and back down the steep path to the river (we were rather quicker on the way down than we had been a few days previously). We then had to climb back up to Khumjung (remember there is still 2400m of ascent as well as 4800m of descent back from base camp) and then we were heading onto Namche Bazaar. Before we got to Namche we came across a memorial stupa for Tenzing Norgay, with the stunning backdrop of Mount Everest. Both he and Sir Edmund Hillary were the first men to stand on top of Everest but both were from completely different worlds. It is still disputed about where Tenzing Norgay was born, with both Tibet and Nepal claiming his birth place. His exact date of birth is not known, but he knew it was in late May by the weather and the crops. After his ascent of Everest on 29 May, he decided to celebrate his birthday on that day thereafter. His year of birth according to the Tibetan Calendar was the Year of the Rabbit, making it likely that he was born in 1915.  He was originally called "Namgyal Wangdi", but as a child his name was changed on the advice of the head lama and founder of the famous Rongbuk Monastery, Ngawang Tenzin Norbu. Tenzing Norgay translates as "wealthy-fortunate-follower-of-religion". His father, a yak herder, was Ghang La Mingma (d. 1949) and his mother was Dokmo Kinzom (who lived to see him climb Everest); he was the 11th of 13 children, most of whom died young. He ran away from home twice in his teens, first to Kathmandu and later to Darjeeling in India.  He was once sent to Tengboche Monastery to be a monk but decided that it was not for him and departed. At the age of 19, he eventually settled in the Sherpa community in Too Song Bhusti in Darjeeling. Therefore India also claim him as one of there’s. When he was 19 he got his first opportunity to climb join an Everest expedition. After his success in 1953, Tenzing was met with great adulation in India and Nepal. Hillary and Hunt (the leader of the British expedition) were knighted by Queen Elizabeth,while Tenzing received either the British Empire Medal, or the George Medal from the British Government for his efforts with the expedition. It has been suggested that Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru refused permission for Tenzing to be knighted.  Whilst Edmund Hillary seemed to manage his fame and use it for his and the Khumbu region’s gain, Tenzing Norgay struggled with his new found fame and life. He said ‘It has been a long road ... From a mountain coolie (Historically, a coolie was an Asian slave or manual laborer, particularly in southern China, the Indian subcontinent, and the Philippines during the 19th century and early 20th century), a bearer of loads, to a wearer of a coat with rows of medals who is carried about in planes and worries about income tax’.

He took part in a few expeditions, but spent much of his time back in Darjeeling and he later became director of field training for the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling. In 1978, he founded Tenzing Norgay Adventures, a company providing trekking adventures in the Himalayas. As of 2003, the company was run by his son Jamling Tenzing Norgay, who himself reached the summit of Everest in 1996 (he also reached the summit in 2002 along with Peter Hillary – the son of Sir Edmund). Tenzing died of a cerebral haemorrhage in Darjeeling, West Bengal, India, in 1986, at age 71. His remains were cremated in Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling, his favourite haunt. Our guide Lakpa grew up in Darjeeling and is good friends with Tenzing Norgay’s son’s. Lakpa told is how Tenzing could never really come to terms with his fame and the Everest experience.

And so this was the point I was to say farewell to Everest. Beyond the ridge we would no longer be able to see the mountain. This really was the end of the big trip for me, but what a view to see it all out on. I must admit I nearly shedded another tear (terrible the dust in this area). And so we headed on back into Namche and stopped at Pizza Hut (no not the real one) Then we headed back to the Dukh Kosi, over the scary bridge (no less scary the second time round) and then onto Monjo (2835m).

So Day 14 and it was our final day of trekking back to Lukla (2840m), we had 5 hours to go to get back to Lukla. So we walked through thriving picturesque villages and once again I realised that the Khumbu valley really is the place that time forgot. It’s like it’s all caught up in a time warp, free of roads and technology with terraced fields and wooden huts stacked up on huge hillsides. These paths that we were treading are timeless pilgrimage routes, that people for hundreds of years have walked upon, and these are the same paths that Edmund Hillary and the 1953 Everest Expedition, and countless other expeditions have trodden on since. Under normal circumstances it would be a frustration to have to get out of the way of so many people and animals as you are trekking along but here it is a real privilege to be sharing these paths with the locals, the porters, the yaks and the dzopka’s. I guess in a way it’s like taking a trek along the M4.

So we headed back through Benkar and Phadking, past the Yeti Airlines Memorial and into Lukla. We would be flying out the following morning back to Kathmandu. So with much excitement we dropped off our bags because we were off to Starbucks (not a real one, but a very good knock-off). There was much excitement because not only did it have coffee, but also wi-fi (out came all of the iPhones and Blackberry’s. I made a bit of a hmpfff sound but I think that was more because I didn’t actually have a phone and was jealous, rather than me trying to cling onto the non-technology way of life for a few hours more). So we all sat on comfy sofas, with coffee and cake and Doug got chatting to a couple from Bolton (I will come back to them later).

Then it all went downhill….

So – a bit of background – my plan had been to not drink or eat meat until Kathmandu. I was going to hang on. The problem was that Lindsay decided we needed some Baileys and that underneath the Starbucks was an Irish Bar (isn’t there always). So at about 4pm we all went down the stairs to the freezing cold Irish Bar (it was like one of the dingy student bars). Then we discover that Rob, Kathryn and Paul are already down there it turns out it Happy Hour. So then Caroline forces me (there was a lot of resistance) to have a beer with her (and then another). Then we discover the laptop and the tunes (starting to go downhill from now really). Then Jamie appears and (I still have no idea on this one still) decides to buy a round of White Russians. Which we all drink. Then someone orders some tequilas (the point of no return) and then we end up with Mojito’s made with Gin (not a good one).  I think this is when the dancing occurred (as Rob was still there). As per usual I was busting quite a move on the old dance floor, along with old Twinkle Toes – Pete

So then it’s 7pm and it’s dinner time. So we headed back to the lodge to receive the food we’d ordered earlier. Well most of us – Rob was already being a bit unwell in the toilets. So that was the aim, except no-one could actually remember (they weren’t the best on the rest of the days sober) what they had ordered. Then Caroline and I ended up drinking rum with Dawa and heading back to the Irish Bar. Then I ended up buying a round of drinks for everyone in the bar (Black Russians – seriously who does that ???). Then Caroline and I were quite brilliant at playing pool (very much at the hit and hope stage).

So Day 15 and the flight back. We were up nice and early and there were a few sore heads (nobody had the faintest what they’d ordered for breakfast or to be honest if they’d even manage to order any breakfast at all the night before).  So we headed over the Lukla airport as we were going to be the fourth flight out. It took forever and we were getting concerned as the cloud was rolling on in. Were we going to make it out. Luckily we managed to get on the last flight out (some Scottish people tried to get on ahead of us but we gave them what for). Then the worst flight of my life ensued. First of all there was the most scariest take-off  I’ve ever experienced in my life. The place basically goes like the clappers (technical aviation term) as it can down the sloping downhill runway and then just before the end, the pilot does something with the flaps (flaps them up and down a lot I’d guess), pulls up the nose and hopefully doesn’t drop into the 600m (2000ft) drop below). Then there is the scary Kathmandu landing on the very runway that has more holes than tarmac. Then it’s the scrummage to get your bags back from the shed that is baggage reclaim.

When we got back to Kathmandu the streets were very quiet. Apparently Kathmandu was on strike and most of the shops were shut and the roads were empty. That evening we went to Rum Doodle (once again) and I finally had some meat (on a pizza). I then had my first Everest beer (I pushed on through even though I was feeling a little hungover still), which has a very strange label. On first sight you think it is Tenzing Norgay on the top of Everest, but then you realize his face is like Obi Wan Kenobi (no idea why). Then we did our group’s Yeti Footprint (well muggings here did it again as I apparently had experience). It was nice to see the Annapurna Circuit one still up though. Then the boys took about half an hour to nail it to the wall (how many men does it take to nail up a yeti footprint? At least 4 I can tell you).

And then we had a final day in Kathmandu (shopping !!!) and it was homeward bound. So I checked onto my flight for Dubai (once again Kathmandu Airport seemed pretty shocked to see a plane). They must have wondered what lots of people were sitting around waiting for, and then what the big birdies were coming from the sky. There were no departure boards, no announcements just a bit of luck that got me on the plane. I ended up sitting close to the woman that Doug was chatting to in Starbucks and we had a good old chinwag all the way to Dubai. She then headed straight back to London, but I had a 6 hour layover. So I checked into a very swanky hotel in Dubai (they nearly didn’t let me in), and had some very nice room service, a bath and a very comfortable 4 hours sleep. Then I flew back home and to not so warm Birmingham …

…. So I’d already put in the request for a cup of tea, a sausage sandwich and some dark chocolate digestives. Mum and Bill were very obliging with this, and then I went upstairs for the big weigh-in. I wanted to see how much weight I’d lost on the Nepali trekking diet. I was a little disappointed to see I hadn’t quite hit my target of a stone. However, the Nepali trekking diet isn’t just about losing weight in Nepal. The great thing is that when you return home and are a little disappointed when you do get on the scales, it has a finale for you. So that night I headed off to bed, ready for a good night’s sleep. But this wasn’t to be had, as my body had other ideas. Let’s just say I appeared an hour later back downstairs wearing a different pair of pajamas. Then a few hours later I had to get my Mum up as I needed some assistance. Basically I was in a state where I now couldn’t actually get of the toilet as I had not control over any bodily functions. So Mum was brilliant, she fetched some extra toilet roll, but a do not disturb sign on the door and left me several back issues of Women’s Own (at least I could catch up on the goings-on of Lorraine Kelly and Colleen Nolan). So the good news is that three days I had managed to shift those final few pounds – I’d barely left the bathroom, let alone the house but yes the Nepali Trekking Diet does work (just make sure you book off an extra few days of holiday for when you get back as well, oh and have spare sheets and PJ’s at the ready). I was the thinnest I'd been since I was 21 !!!

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