Instead of covering long distances every day that went up and down the many foothills, we were more concentrated on going up up up. We eased up mainly to give us “gweedays” ample time to acclimate to the higher elevations. Generally speaking, we also didn’t see as many climate changes as we witnessed in the lower elevation hiking. Higher up, it was usually more barren and rocky, with occasional wooded areas.
The weather was nothing to complain about most the time. The daytime was pleasant enough to hike in a light jacket or even a t-shirt and the nights were always just straight up cold. If we were lucky enough to score a hotel with a fire, it usually wasn't going very long... The owners needed to save a lot of the fuel for the fire (dried yak poop) for the upcoming winter. There were clouds that bogged in the airport in Lukla, which ended up being a blessing for us at the time. The clouds delayed all flights in/out for 5 straight days. This gave us a large window of time without the large trekking groups that fly in, so the trails were not very crowded at all. It also ruined a rumored 2,000 tourists' trips with no ability to get home other than an occasional window for an expensive helicopter flight. More on Lukla, clouds, and delayed flights in a bit...
In one town, our friends Greg, Gavin and Kevin had stayed in the same lodge a few years back. They had written a thank you card to the owner for a little birthday celebration they had for Greg's birthday and the letter was still hanging on the wall. It was faded, but we could still make it out. The following day, we decided to not take our scheduled rest / acclimate day and walk to some extra villages. We got lost along the way at the top of a hill where cremation ceremonies take place and had to blaze a new trail through some woods to get to the towns for lunch.
After almost 2 weeks of hiking since we left Gombu's village, Deurali, we woke up to a beautiful, blue-bird day and made it to Mount Everest Base Camp! We made it to the base with a clear view of the top of the world. I know that everyone says this about their pictures, but I feel really strongly that the photos I've uploaded do the area no justice. Its very hard to get the feeling and scale of how gianormous everything is. Base camp is situated on the Khumbu Glacier, and the location and trails to it are constantly changing and moving with the glacier. We walked around the glacier finding cool ice formations and pushing massive rocks down cliffs and hills (boys will be boys) and just soaked in the area for a good amount of time. When we started our journey back to our lodge,
Everest gave us an epic good bye... We turned around to a load roar that you could feel more than you can hear, and miles away across the glacier we watched a massive avalanche go down Mount Nuptse, Everest's beautiful neighbor. We had to rush out of our viewing area because it didnt seem too stable itself and then made it back to the lodge.
The next “morning,” our group woke up and was on the trail at 4am to get to the top of Kala Pathar, a nearby peak that has a good view of Everest and the highest point of our trek. The idea was to get to the top and watch the sunrise over Everest. It was a tough hike because it was dark, high in elevation, and incredibly cold. After we made it to the top, which is around 18,600 feet high, we realized we miscalculated when the sun comes up and had to wait 2 hours for the sun to hit. It was the coldest I have ever been. We were dancing and jumping trying to stay warm. I would have had some water, but my Nalgene bottle had frozen. The views were amazing and we were the only ones to around to whiteness them because the crowds didn't get there until we were already leaving. Everest had been described to me as a fat man in a bar surrounded by beautiful women. You can judge for yourself in my pictures.
We all soaked it in and celebrated. Chris had brought some of his father's ashes and after some very moving words, he spread them into the cold air overlooking the top of the world. After our incredible morning, we started the journey back.
We hiked back to Lukla to fly back to Kathmandu and skip the tough foothill hiking. The hike back was not too hard because it was mostly downhill and we were lowering elevation everyday. The hikes were still very long and tiring.
We got to Lukla early one day and watched planes land and take off on the hairy, cliffside runway. The next morning the planes were cycling in and out, but there seemed to be a cloud low on the horizon. I hear the plane ride is very scenic and scary.... I say “I hear” because those clouds we saw on the horizon came in as we were in the airport an hour before our flight. They bogged in the whole town and all flights were delayed. After a fun night with Sean playing music in a bar with some fun, drunk English guys, we woke up to more clouds and delayed flights. Our options were to either wait out the weather and backed up flight list and hope we get back in time for our connecting flights, pay around $400 each for a helicopter ride, or hike back all the way back to
Deurali and take that crazy bus ride... Ugh... So we chose to hike those brutal foothills again back to that crazy bus. Because we are now in tip-top shape with steel legs and powerful lungs and partly because we are crazy, we decided to do the same trek that took us five very tough days of hiking, in just three days
. That's right, we did that brutal hike in 3 days instead of 5.
Our porters (guys who carried our large bags) had left before we knew we were going to be delayed. We started out of Lukla carrying our own large bags and day bags. After just 45 min of back-breaking hiking, our guide, Ow, came across some guys he knew that were headed back in our direction and we were able to hire them as porters. After just 45 min of pain, we had a new, profound, respect for our past and newly found porters. The hikes back were exhausting. They were all about 10 hours long and it was tough for me to get my body to do what it needed to... especially after the fact that we were so close of just relaxing in a plane to get home.
The second day, we got to the bottom of a pass that we needed to go over that night, it was already getting dark and we were spent. Ow knew exactly how to get us to hike for 2 more hours in the dark... He bought us each 4 glasses of rokshi (a rice based spirit similar to saki) and bottled some more for the road. We got nice and toasty and sang and danced all the way up. :) It was a great way to make a dismal situation into a super fun, joyous hike. We got to the top in what seemed like 3 minutes and had more rokshi in a tea hut before hiking back down the other side to our lodge.
After the 3 days we made it to Deurali. Sean and I had a nasty cough that we had all week and continue to battle even today. Its finally almost 100% gone now, 3 weeks later. Sean was especially sick on the last day and basically crawled those last miles. We all ended up being champions though and made it back to our home away from home. It was a great feeling to make it back the hard way to a village full of Gombu's family that treated us like their own. We had a feast to celebrate, kind of a delayed Thanksgiving for us, and enjoyed the company of our old friends. The bus ride the next day was as crazy as ever, but we knew what to expect this time.
We were going to go see some new areas of Nepal, but the delayed flight changed plans... probably for the better and defiantly better for the wallet. We were able to have a great time in Kathmandu for the rest of the time we spent there.
Gombu's cousin made a really great breakfast for us in her home, we were finally able to warm up and clean up in a sauna (I hadn't showered in over 24 days....), hit up dinner at a nice restaurant, and hit up that first bar we waited for Sean in a month before. The bar let Sean go on the stage and play a couple of his songs in between the local band's sets. They loved it! (Sean's good so check his music out: http://www.myspace.com/seanpawlinggroup
). The next day we were invited by another uncle of Gombu's to attend a ceremony called Changna. The ceremony was for a relative that had passed away and we were able to watch and listen to the Buddhist monks' blessings. There were hundreds in attendance and we were once again the only “gweedays” around.
After such a magical experience, a very high par has been set that I'm not sure I'll ever reach again regarding travel. We were blessed to have such a fantastic experience. A very special thank you to Gombu and his family for such an amazing trip. Sean and I had to say farewell to Chris, who had to go home to LA while we continued on. It was a tough good-bye to Gombu and his Uncles, but we exchanged prayer scarfs for safe journeys ahead, wrapped them around our necks, and set off to Thailand.
Once we passed through the pass into Sagarmatha National Park, the duration and the intensity of the hiking generally eased up... somewhat.