The challenge of a lifetime.

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Saw the big one.

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

DAY 1    Kathmandu to Lukla (2840m) to Phakding (2610m)

We awoke really early today to catch our hell raising flight into Lukla airport.  Now I use the term 'airport' quite loosely because it is just a very small building and a ridiculously small runway perched on the side of a mountain face, known as the world’s most dangerous runway, with one crash already under its belt from Agni Airlines in 2010 (crashed into the rocks).  So as you can imagine I was really excited about this especially as it was an Agni plane I was boarding!  What made it worse was the two hour delay we had in Kathmandu, so we just sat around waiting and waiting until eventually we boarded.......the bus to take us to the plane.  We sat on the bus for about half an hour again waiting.  The lady opposite me on the bus Sandy was asking where we were trekking etc so I told her then her frGiend told us that she summated Everest in 1996 and as it was 15 years since she decided to come back and trek again.  Turns out it took her three tries and she finally got to the summit on the third after bad weather stopped her on her second, this made her the USA’s fourth woman to summit Everest.  We aptly named her ‘Number Four’ after that.  She was very friendly and knowledgeable on the area so after a chat for half an hour we all boarded out twin otter jet (seats 14 people) what was nice is that Agni Airlines found room to squeeze in a very friendly air steward with a tray or boiled sweets.  The flight as it turned out was fine and we got great views of the Himalayas as we flew over.  Landing was crazy we saw a very small strip through the cockpit and realised that’s the runway, the plane landed and stopped within 1 minute it was so quick.  I was a much relived girl!  We grabbed our bag from a small room and relaxed for some lunch in Lukla before we started walking to our first village.

The view was awesome snow-capped mountains everywhere and a real buzz about the place, some people starting their trek and other looking very weary finishing off.  Our walk took us through forests, through Glacier Rivers running through the valley; we also passed the Sir Edmund Hillary School.  We made it plainly obvious we had just started our trek by taking hundreds of photographs of all the yaks walking by unbeknown to us they would be everywhere for the next three weeks.  We found a lovely lodge in Phakding owned by a really nice family, they gave us a bed and fed us some amazing Dal Bat (local curry porters eat) for a great price.

-          Overall dropped 200 meters

-          Rescue helicopter count two

DAY 2  Phakding (2610m) to Namche Bazaar (3340m)

We read that today was a bit of a tough climb so I was a little worried as to my fitness level and ability to deal with high altitude so we took it nice and slow.  We met lots of people on the trek and for a period of time walked with two groups one from UK and one form USA.  The first three hours were fine no real climbs but then after lunch we gained our height for that day climbing up through a forest zig zagging all the way up as we neared the top a storm came in and down came the hailstones.  We made it to Namche half an hour after the storm so it wasn’t all too bad, a good introduction to what was ahead I thought.  We passed through lots of small villages Zamfute, Toktok, Benkar to name a few; the villages are very small with only a few tea houses where you can stop for a refreshment.  Also along the route are check points where we have to provide the army with our National Park passes so they can check where we are in the trail should we o missing, more so as we don’t have a guide or porter.  We arrived at Namche Bazaar within 6 hours and I was really tired it was a tough day.  We checked into The Namche Hotel Lodge and spent that afternoon drinking tea in the lounge, and this is where I met Kevin Smith from Dunston (Gateshead) and a group of three others who were in Nepal trekking all the way from Bahrain (Ahmed, Terry & Rick).  We chatted ages about the North East and I think we both found it nice to meet a fellow Geordie and natter about Geordie things (Brown Ale, Newcastle v Sunderland etc).  

The following day we stayed in Namche for an extra day to acclimatize, and the golden rule in doing this is to climb higher that day then walk back down and sleep low, so we all agreed to walk up to The Everest Hotel the following day to try and get a glimpse of the big one.

-          Walked for  6 hour

-          Elevation gain 1000 meters

-          Rescue helicopter count two

DAY 3  Namche Bazaar (3340m) to The Everest Hotel (3740m)

Only allowed to gain 400meters elevation per day, we stayed in Namche today to acclimatize better.  The higher we climb the less oxygen is available, dropping to less than 40% we decided to stick to the acclimatization rules that are laid out by medical officials.  And not to mention of course our travel insurance doesn’t insure us above 2000 meters we thought 5,000 pounds for an emergency helicopter back to Lukla was a bit of a pricy tag for a taxi out.  We all met up for breakfast and started walking up to the once famous Everest View Hotel, according to the Guinness book of records is the highest hotel in the world.  It used to fly guests into Shyanboche directly from Kathmandu using pressurised rooms and piped oxygen it to get around the problem of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), and guess who through this one up? Yes that’s right the Japanese but is no longer regarded as sensible policy!

It was cloudy so we only caught a slight glimpse of Everest but we did but a great bowl of chips and a nice cuppa.  We also bumped into Number Four (Sandy) so we chatted a while, she freely named all the nearby mountains and pointed out each one then off she walked complete with her Prada shorts.  It was at this point I noticed a real shortness of breath when walking, even climbing four or five steps and I’m out of breath it’s a very strange feeling.

-           Gained 400 meters elevation then dropped back down

-          Rescue helicopter count 1

-          Took one hour to climb up

DAY 4  Nmache Bazaar (3340m) to  Dole (4090m)

We said goodbye to The Bahrain Bunch as we split and headed in different directions it’s also where we made a wrong decision, you see we should have walked to Phortse Thenga which is 300 meters below Dole but after chatting to guided groups and Sandy they were all heading to Dole which stands at 700 meters above Namche.  It was defiantly the straw that broke the camel’s back!  We started out fine, gaining altitude with views of Everest and Ama Dablam in the distance we were feeling excited.  We climbed up high then the path took us all the way back down to the river at Phortse Thenga (where we should have slept) so as we were feeling good we decided to keep going and climbed back up.  Half way the weather got colder and we were tired so we pushed on up and up, we both started to get headaches but we pushed on up and up again.  I was very much ut of breath so we kept stopping to catch it back then we would climb again, just as I was thinking we would never get there we made it to Dole.  I was so exhausted I burst out crying at the top trying to catch my breath.  Once I did we chose a lodge to stay and I dropped my bag and climbed into bed.  I knew at that point we had h it too much, I was up all night with an upset stomach so decided to put myself on antibiotics that night as something wasn’t right.  We both agreed we would be stupid to climb higher the next day (My Birthday) so agreed If I wasn’t feeling better we would stay put.

-           Total elevation 700 meters

-            Rescue helicopter count 0

DAY 5  Dole (4090m) "Happy Birthday to me"

Feeling exhausted and the shock of turning 36 we decided to stay in Dole to acclimatize to both.  I spoke with the lodge owner and he said it would help to climb a couple of hundred meters to a nearby ridge and drop back down, so that we did!  We did get some great views over the valley so that I was grateful for.  As it was my birthday Justin paid 3 pound for me to have my first shower, the lodge owner heated the kettle and he poured it in a bucket to which I showered under.  What a great feeling to complete my birthday treats I had a Mars bar.....lucky girl!  I lounged around most of the day sleeping on and off.  The lodge owner showed us a glass cabinet in the corner of the lounge and it was filled with Sir Edmund Hillary items of his Everest expedition, he told us how his own father climbed Everest and showed us some on the equipment he used to get up.  It was so interesting.

-          Rescue helicopter count 1

DAY 6  Dole (4090m) to Machhermo (4410m)

Crazy Birthday celebrations over and I was feeling better so onward and upwards we decided to move on.  We said goodbye to the lovely owners and the big hill I had been looking at for the last two days I was about to clamber up.  It was a relatively good day nice and flat after the climb.

That afternoon we walked up to the medical centre where we chatted with two volunteer doctors from the UK who were spending 3-4 months in Nepal.  Each day they give a talk on AMS Acute Mountain Sickness so we thought it would be good to go along and hear all about it.  They explained the symptoms and what you should do if you suffer.  I told them of my condition and they agreed I did the right thing by staying in Dole.  A large group of Germans walked in half way through and at the end of the talk one of them decided it would be a good laugh if he pretended to collapse in the went down like a lead balloon!  I think he felt rather stupid when the Doctor started shouting at him saying “It’s not funny”, at that point we thought it was as we watched him quietly walk out the door.  The things you do for entertainment!

They told us how every day people ignore the elevation rules and keep climbing higher and ignore their body and subsequently end up catching helicopter out at the risk of dying, I told her about my helicopter count.

-           Elevated 360 meters

-           Rescue helicopter count 0

DAY 7  Machermo (4410m) to Gokyo (4750m)

A good day today as we left the foothills and entered the high mountains, we climbed quite high but I felt much fitter that earlier on, I think the antibiotics have really set in to work on my stomach.  We got great views of Kantega (6685m) and Cho Oyu (8201m), the sixth highest mountain in the world.  We passed Gokyos first lake, Longponga Tsho its second lake, Taboche Tsho.  A family of Brahminy ducks have been living here for years, why? I don’t know, maybe it’s the views. We then arrived at Gokyo which is amazing the lake was frozen over here and the weather as you can imagine was freezing so we hurried into the lodge Kevin (Geordie) recommended to us and bought a cup of mint tea just in time for the snow to come down.

The lodge owner light the fire and started to put Yak dung on it, yes that’s right Yak dung, they dry it out break it up and put it on the fire and boy does it burn!  We were chatting about our Bahrain friends as they were daringly walking over The Cho La Pass (5420m) that day. I was wondering how they were doing, we chatted to an Israeli guy who said he saw them and they were planning to climb over today.  The snow got heavier then all of a sudden a yeti walked in the door covered in snow, out of breath looking really bad then I realised it was Rick, I shouted and he staggered over and collapsed on a chair telling us how the weather was really bad up there and the others will follow.  We couldn’t help but laugh.  I think it was about an hour later that the rest of the group again staggered through the door looking worse.  Once they all caught their breath we played cards and laughed about it.

DAY 8  Gokyo (4410m) to Gokyo Ri (5360m)

Today was another acclimatization day so we just had to climb up Gokyo Ri to get the amazing views over Everest.  We started climbing at 8am and the route slowly climbed up every time we thought we were approaching the summit we weren’t, so we would climb again up to what looked like the top, but again it wasn’t.  When we set off the sky was blue but as we climbed up the clouds started to blow in and other people started to descend telling us how great the views are from the top.  I started to find breathing difficult so we kept stopping and after two and a half hours we reached the top along with the clouds....grrrrrr!  We couldn’t see Everest but we did get great views over Gokyo glacier.  Because it was too cold and our fingers were freezing, we decided to descend which took about an hour and as we reached to bottom the snow started to blow in.  It was great to gain a bit more height which would at this point be the highest we have been so far.

DAY 9  Gokyo (4410m) to Phortse (3810m)

Today was as expected a really long hard day, we walked for six and a half hours and descended a total of 900 meters.  The air felt so great and at one point I think I was skipping downhill.  We presumed it would be fairly easy decline but it wasn’t. We were up the down, then up then down. So when we arrived in Phortse I was a happy little bunny.  Just before we arrived I saw two Musk Deer which are a very rare protected animal in Nepal, they were hunted for the scent gland in their bottom which is used to make Musk perfume.  When we checked in the lodge and were chatting in the lounge we heard that a young UK girl (27) had died of altitude sickness in Dole a few days earlier which was sad to hear.  A sobering reminder how dangerous gaining altitude can be if you ingnor the symptoms.

-           Walked 6 hours

-           Rescue helicopter count 1

-           Long day

DAY 10  Phortse (3810m) to pangboche (3930m)

Now that we have left Gokyo Valley we set off today to head up the Khumbu Valley heading up to everest Base Camp.  I was feeling great, my energy levels were good and my back ache of my bag was disappearing.  The best part was it was only a three hour walk.  It was overall a pleasant walk.

We checked into Everest View Lodge and I jumped into a warm shower (Second one) pretty much straight away.  The bedrooms were great but the lounge area was freezing so we sat around all afternoon trying to cure boredom and get warm, the owner refused to put Yak dung on the fire so we had to wait till 5pm before we could warm up.  It was a miserable afternoon and when the snow came in we all wondered if we would be able to make it to base camp.

-           Elevated 100 meters

DAY 11 Pangboche (3930m) to Pheriche (4240m)

After a miserable afternoon yesterday today was great, we had great views as we walked over Pheriche pass and best of the entire walk took us 2 hours.  The downside with that is that we arrived at Pheriche at 10am so you then have to fill the day with things to do, and the only thing to do was to attend another AMS talk at the local medical centre, so if you have any questions please email me.  We are still walking with the Bahrain boys so we all decided to wash our pants and socks that afternoon as soon as the sun decided to shine.

-           Total elevation 300 meters

-           Two hour walk

DAY 12  Pheriche (4240m) to Lobuche (4910m)

We walked along the valley today and headed uphill to Dughla where we stopped for a bite to eat as we stared at the hill which we would have to climb after.  We were the first to set off in the group after lunch as I just couldn’t look at it any more I just wanted to get to the top.  We made it up there in 45 minutes and at the top we saw quite a lot of memorials in remembrance of those who lost their lives climbing Everest.  One of which is Scott Fischer who died in the climbing disaster of 1996 where 8 people in two expeditions died due to freak weather.  The book and film ‘Into Thin Air’ tell all.  It was a fairly lever walk after that as we took an hour to arrive at Lobuche where we collapsed with a cup of tea.

The weather is really getting colder and when we climb higher it’s easy to notice the cold wind.

-           Elevation 700 meters

-          Three and a half hours walk


DAY 13  Lobuche (4910m) to Gorak Shep (5140m)

I’m really tired right now and the cold weather is getting to me, you wake up cold and go to bed cold, brush my teeth in the cold and pee in the cold.  It is defiantly the most challenging thing I have ever done and I think being surrounded by 5 men everyday is getting a little challenging.

We climbed uphill then as we turned a corner to descent I got my first glimpse of Everest Base Camp, a maze of yellow tents dotted all over.  It was this point I started to get really excited to get up there and have a look about.  Once we arrived at Gorak shep I took a walk to see the Khumbu Glacier and we could hear it cracking from the moving.  We tried to climb up Kala Pattar which is the best place to get views of Everest but the weather changed a third of the way up so we had to abort mission until the following day .

-           Total elevation 200 meters

-          Walking time two and a half hours

DAY 14  Gorak Shep (5140m) to Kala Pattar (5545m) to Everest Base Camp (5356m)

Big day today...huge!  We got up at 4.30am and started to climb Kalar Pattar to get our pictures of Everest; this is the best place to get them as you can’t actually se Everest from the base camp itself.  We only made it half way up as the weather was freezing and we both suffered from a really bad headache.  We were told the views are not to different from the top so I didn’t feel like I had missed out.  I continued a little further as Justin walked back down to warm up.  It was spectacular, I was above the clouds looking at the highest mountain in the world (8848m) it was the most amazing moment of the whole trek something I will always remember.  I sat for a while watching the sun come up over the glacier then started to walk back down for breakfast.  Having those 30 minutes up there made all the hard effort and tough days all worthwhile.

After breakfast we all set off for a draining scramble over a changing path to Everest Base Camp it took us over the Khumbu Glacier.  I was shocked that the brightly coloured dome tents were all pitched on the glacier I thought they would maybe be at the side, but no there they were on the glacier.  Once we made it to the obligatory photo spot and took our pictures, we said goodbye to the guys as they headed back to the lodge and we walked another hour into the base camp so see if we could meet some expeditions.  We had heard a local 82 year man was going to attempt to summit, making him the oldest man to do so, but we couldn’t find him, nor could we find the British expedition but I did start chatting with a Hungarian expedition who were looking to summit Lhotse (8501m) in the next two weeks.  There is a real buzz about the place; people are sitting around, eating, playing cards, gambling waiting for that window of good weather so they can summit.  Right above base camp is a huge icefall which feeds into the glacier it really is amazing to see and hear.  We met Ahmed from our group and he was chatting to a Pakistani guy who was waiting to summit an dhe was invited in his tent for food and a chat.

As much as we wanted to spend so much more time there the weather was starting to change and we knew we had a three hour walk back so we decided to turn around and walk back to Gorak Shep.  Sure enough our afternoon snow came in just as we were stepping back into the lodge, we were very happy not to get caught in it.  That night I slept so well with the relief that I made it up because not everyone does.  A lot of people we met along the trek have at some point had to turn back because they get sick or had to say bye to their walking buddy because they fell ill.  It was believable due to the amount of rescue helicopters we saw every day.

DAY 15 Gorak Shep (5140m) to Pangboche (3930m)

Oh I can’t tell you enough how good it feels to be descanting in altitude, I felt like I could take on Mike Tyson and with the thought of a hot shower nearing I had a skip in my step.  We estimated it would take six hours and it took five and a half, it must have been that skip in my step!

We stopped at Pheriche for lunch and arrived in Pangboche just in time for the rain to come in.  We had one of the best lodges on the trek, with a warm lounge and the most amazing pizza on the menu.  The lodges are ok but because everything that is on the trek has been carried up by a porter so it is quite limited as to what comforts there is and what food we can buy.  Of course because the food is carried up by porter the prices are expensive.  We paid 2.50 for one toilet roll and we have paid 1.50 for a Mars bar too, so it really is not a cheap thing to do, but the lodge owners really do a good job to make us comfortable.  It has been five days since I last showered (thank god for baby wipes) so I was really at the point of cracking up today.  Fifteen days with blokes looking at me like I’m an idiot at the near mention of something girlie, I was ready to get back into civilization.......quick!

DAY 16   Pangboche (3930m) to Namche Bazaar (3440m)

The weather was brilliant today so we got a good run (not literally).  We took a different route to the one we climbed.  Uphill to Tengboche where we spent time looking around Tengboche Monastery.  There we got our last view of Everest and said our last goodbye.  The next bit of the walk was a killer un be known to me, we dropped down 600 meters with constant switch backs and my knees were really irritated.  We all met at the bottom by the river, a quick Mars Bar then Kevin pointed out the path all the way back up the other side of the river....”What” I screamed.  Kevin (Geordie) has the best knowledge of the Himalayas as he has treks here every year, so every time I ask him “what kind of walk today Kev?”  He would say “up a bit, down a bit the round a corner” more like up a lot, down a bit and no corner!  The Nepali downhill is up and down, there is no such thing a ‘just downhill’.  But we laughed through the aches shouting motivational crap at each other like “Dig deep” and “Slow and steady wins the race”.  Whenever I was in front of the guys I would her “Dig deep Tray”.  We also noticed that whenever we were climbing up a steep hill the people descending would be very cheerful  saying “Hello, not far to go” whilst I’m gasping for breath.  So now that we were on our way down, we had a lot of fun with this joyfully shouting “Morning” “Hello there”  trying to get conversation out of the fresh new climbers, whilst they are wondering why they can’t breathe.

I am proud to say I climbed for two and a half hours and didn’t stop once, we just kept pushing on to Namche Bazaar, so when I turned that corner to see the village/lodge/deluxe room I was a very happy girl.  Not only did we have a deluxe room but I had an electric blanket on my bed, to which I sat in chomping on chocolate whilst the guys played cards in the lounge.

DAY 17  Namche Bazaar (3440m) to Lukla (2840m) “We did it”

Last day today and I was feeling good after my shower and chocolate binge in bed.  It took us six hours to get back to Lukla and half way through it started to rain, not bad considering it was the first time.  I really struggled today every step was a battle, I wasn’t sure if it because the end was near or because I was drained, but never the less I just put one foot in front of the other and slowly we moved on.  As we arrived in Lukla the rain stopped and the sun came out which was a real treat.  We waited for the other guys to catch up then we all celebrated with some local drinks, Roxy and Chang....very strong drinks.  A couple of Everest Beers and I fell into bed with the room spinning.  

DAY 18  Flight back to Kahatmandu

It wasn’t until the following morning we sat at breakfast watching the planes take off that I realosed how horrific it actually was.  The runway is on a slope and just runs off the mountain, so the planes rev up as much as they can and roll down the hill almost dropping off the end.  I also remember Kevin saying “your stomach will drop when it falls of the runway” So the fact we were delayed an hour or so didn’t help.  It has to be one of the scariest take offs I have been in, but thankfully the plane lifted off the runway before it reached the end and off we flew over the Himalayas.  To be honest I was just so pleased I was moving without my legs moving.

I had been called “A strong lady, carrying my own bag” by a group of American guys who had porters and “Crazy fit girl” by another guy, these were huge compliments that gave me the drive to push on when I was exhausted.  I wouldn’t change a thing about this trek, it really has been a massive highlight of my whole trip away and something I will remember till the day I die.  Truly amazing experience and no matter how tough it was, I will return one day I just know it.

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