Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world rises up to 8,848m is synonymous with adventure. It is a place where people put themselves to the test, to challenge their own mind and bodies against that of the mountain.
It is a place which has captivated me for as long as I have known about it. Since reading and hearing about the exploits of Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing’s successful summit attempt of the mountain in 1953, I have wanted to go and see for it myself.
I deemed the task of summiting Mt.Everest and emulating the pair of boys to be just a little beyond me for the moment, lacking the $50,000 fund needed and any mountaineering experience. I was happy enough just to make it to the base camp at least.
This is how I did it…..
So, when you decide you want to do the Everest Base Camp trek, you have to make a few decisions. The first one is to decide whether you want to go with a group, to get your own sherpa/ guide or just go it alone?
If you do it with a group it is usually all inclusive so they tend to take care of all the arrangements which is really nice but this is the most expensive option. The fewer people providing assistance the cheaper the trip will be, but this puts more stress on the traveller to organise it all themselves.
I decided to organise the trip when I arrived in Kathmandu with a company called Himalaya Hub in Thamel. These lads were great. From chatting to friends that had been on the trek before I had a good idea of what I wanted to do and how long I felt I could do it in. Himalaya Hub helps you to tailor your own trek as you would like to do it. So I decided to hire a guide but decided against the sherpa and carry my own stuff.
I made the booking on a Saturday and was all set to start on the Monday morning. The booking included entry to the National Park, hiking fees, the flights in and out of Lukla, money for the guide as well as food and accommodation. The price came to about $800 US dollars. I was initially going to pay for food and accommodation as I went along but was having problems taking money out of the ATM’s in Kathmandu so decided to include it all. Most of the ATM’s in Kathmandu restrict the amount of money you can take out on any given day si make sure you have enough cash for the trip.
High season runs from March to May and September to end of November. The foot traffic along the trek was starting to pick up again after the earthquake which struck the region at the start of the year. Having a guide during the peak times can be very handy as they help arrange the accommodation and ensure you always have a bed. Nima was my guide along the trek. He was a good man for a chat and bit of banter along the way along with being very well organised.
I made my preparations on the Sunday. I picked up a few things, a sleeping bag which I rented off a shop just around the corner to Himalaya Hub, a headlamp, water bottle, water purifying tablets, Diamox and a few other bits. I was ready to go!!
Once you are all packed and ready to go the next challenge you face is getting on the flight to Lukla. The flights are weather dependent and delays are often to be expected.
The delays can range from a few hours or even up a few days if you are very unlucky. When I was in the airport a group had been already waiting 2 days trying to make the flight to Lukla. They even made it onto the plane on the runway only to be told that the flight wasn’t going ahead. Heartbreak before your trip can even get going.
But keep the faith as the adventure starts pretty much when the plane takes off. The small plane takes off in the Domestic Airport in Kathmandu bound for “the world’s most dangerous airport” in Lukla at 2,840m.
After what seems like a little adventure in getting there, you can finally kick on and get going to Base Camp.
Day 1: The first stretch of walking from Lukla to Phakding (2,610m) is about 7km long and takes about 3 hours to walk. I thought the walk would be pretty much up hill all the way but the first part was actually mostly downhill which was a nice suprise. You pass through the lush alpine forests, powerful Dudh Kosi River using the impressive suspension bridges to allow for safe passage from one side of the valley to the other. The views are stunning throughout.
The first night I stayed in See You Lodge in Phakding. A small family run lodge on the edge of the town. The lodges are all basic enough but do the job for the trek. After a long day walking you are just about fit to fall into bed.
You rise and fall with the sunrise and sunset. Early starts and early finishes. The food along the trek was lovely. Good sized portions to keep the energy levels up. You have to try the Dahl Bat along the way. You can go back for seconds and thirds if you can manage it.
Day 2: Today’s walking is a tough test in the march to Namche Bazaar (3,441m). 12 km of walking which took about 5 hours going at a nice steady pace. I remember the last hour of the walk was a particularly difficult ascent, the first major physical test in the trek.
Through this section you pass through the entrance to Sagarmatha National Park and you get the first glimpse at Mt. Everest. As you progress higher and higher the views gradually change. You move away from the forest and start to see the snow-capped peaks.
Namche Bazaar is a stunning town penned in by the surrounding colossal Himalayas. It is the last place where you can stock up on big supplies before the mian push to Base Camp. I picked up a good Down Jacket here which was really needed for the cold nights further up the trail. The weather during the day was ideal with blue skies and plenty of sunshine. It is also a good place to stock up on a few snacks and treats. The price for everything increases considerably after Namche.
Day 3: Namche was also the first place where you get a day to acclimatise to the altitude. You trek up to a high point and return to the town to sleep for the night. Nima brought us on a hike up to 4,200m. There were almost no other people on this part of the trek. It was a brilliant day. It was a great feeling to be high in the mountains. We were able to reach out and touch the clouds.
Even though I was doing the trek on my own with my guide Nima, it was rarely that we were on our own. We would meet the same people along the trek, we would stay in the same guesthouses, eat together, have a few drinks and of course play many games of Uno in the evenings. They were from all over the world walking for their own purspose or goal. People from Ireland, England, Wales, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Spain, Saudi Arabia and Australia.
The guides and sherpas from the local Khumbu region were always kind, helpful and forever with a smile on their face.
A few of the lads enjoyiong a well earned rest after the Acclimize day in Namche Bazaar
Day 4: After a few days of walking, you start to get used to the feel of the backpack on the shoulders and the early morning starts. From Namche, the next stop was Tengboche (3,860m) where the Buddhist Monastery stands. It is a great place to stop off and indulge in some treats provided by local bakery. We passed through the town of Tengbouche and stayed at the base of a hill in Debouche at the Rivendell Lodge. I was delighted to stay here. Synonymous with Lord of the Rings, it provided amazing views of Ama Dablam. “Mountains Galndalf”
The mountain peaks start to rise up even higher and become even more impressive. You can start to pick out the mountains…Thamserku, Kantega, Ama Dablam, Lhotse, and Everest.
Day 5: From Debouche to the next main village Dingbouche (4,400 m), you pass through 4,000m mark and start to rise above the tree line (a good indicator that the oxygen level is starting to drop). The altitude starts to become a little more noticeable here with it being that bit more difficult to get one’s breath.
It is important to be aware of how you are feeling. Drink plenty of water, control your breathing and take regular breaks as you need to. Symptoms of altitude sickness can range from headache, nausea and vomiting, dizziness, tiredness, loss of appetite, upset stomach, feeling unsteady and shortness of breath. I started to take Diamox tablets at this point and felt it was helpful.
Everyone will get a few of these symptoms at some stage of the trek but it is so important to know if it is getting too much. The helicopter evacuation was getting a lot of use as people pushed themselves just that bit too far. The goal of reaching base camp is always on the mind but don’t let that cloud your judgment.
Get to the Chopper!!!
Day 6: Dingboche was the location for the second acclimatization day. A village in the shadow of Ama Dablam. There are much fewer guesthouses and less supplies to be picked up here. If you are bored in the evenings, pop into the local snooker halls and give the locals a game.
We stayed at the Velley View Lodge. I had the best meal of the whole trip here, Tuna Chow Mein…great food and energy for the final push.
Nima brought us up to a local building along the mountain side. By this stage there was a good gang of us. At least 12 altogether moving along together. The acclimatize days were great. It gave us a chance to throw off the big bags and walk with a little more freedom. We made our way to another little peak close to 5,000 m called Chhukung. The views were spectactular.
Day 7: After 2 nights in Dingboche, the next leg brought us to the village of Labouche (4900m). The highlight of this stretch of walking was to peer over the top of the hill before the village and see the stone monuments dedicated to those that had lost their lives trying to explore this beautiful and treacherous region. The New Zealand explorer Scott Fischer (the main man in the movie Everest) and many others are commereated here. It is a quiet place where everyone stops for a little while to pay their respects. It is another little reminder of the dangers of being in such high altitudes.
We stayed at Oxygen Altitude Lodge in Lobouche. Many of the lodges are quite similar but this place was really impressive. Hikers were making their way in at different times during the day looking for a place to stay. The higher you go and closer to Base Camp you get there are less places to stay. Some people had to sleep in the common area of the guesthouse as they ran out of beds. Nima came up with the goods here and had a bed arranged for me.
The View from Oxygen Altitude Lodge
Day 8: The big day finally comes. Lobouche to Goark Shep (5,164m) in the morning. This is the final stopping point before the final ascent towards base camp. Enjoy another hearty meal, throw your bag in your room, grab some water and a beer to celebrate before the last leg. The walk to Base Camp (5363m) is not too difficult from Gorak Shep but it can be slow going if there are a lot of people as the track can be quite narrow in certain places. I would advise moving off early so you can enjoy some time there before the crowds of people start to arrive.
Get up close to the Khumbu Glacier and sit at the spot where so many attempts have been started from to scale the world’s highest mountain. It is a great feeling to make it there. Take it all in. The scenery and the history of the region.
Day 9: After achieving the first goal of reaching Base Camp, some of the pressure is off to scale the peak of Kala Pathar (5,545m) which is the highest point on the trek. This is the mountain that looms over the village of Gorak Shep. People are given the opportunity to start in the very early hours to be at the summit to watch the sunrise. I was happy enough to enjoy a lie in and scale the peak in some heat and sunshine a little later on in the day. This walk is very tough going as you would expect. Bit by bit, step by step. The summit gets closer and closer.
Then finally after 9 tough days of walking. You make it to the top of Kala Pathar and witness the awe-inspiring Himalayas for all their beauty.
Great view of Everest, the Khumbu Glacier and Base Camp from the top of Kala Pathar.
The hard work is done…just the 48km of walking to go to get back to Lukla.
The homeward journey threw up some unbelieveable scenery. The stretch from Lobouche to Pheriche (4,200m) on the same day as the summit to Kala Pathar provided what was my favourite shot of the entire trek.
The common sight of the locals and their Yak carrying goods but made so much more impressive with the towering Ama Dablam peaking up above the clouds in the background.
Relax in the village of Pheriche for the night. Any effects of altitude that may have been prominent at Base Camp or Kala Pathar should ease off when relaxing here. Some people may go to Dingboche on the way in and Pheriche on the way back or vice versa but make sure to take in the surroundings for these last few days.
Day 10: This was the first cloudy day of the entire trek. The very long walk back to Namche Baazar with plenty of twists, turns and undulations. The memory of a few familar spots from a few days before jog the memory. By the time I saw Namche again. I was delighted to see it and enjoy a well earned rest. You think the walking gets easier but the longer walks even though they are downhill can really take it out of you.
I love being in the mountains but after walking for 10 days I felt quite happy the trek was coming to an end. Enjoy some free wifi and a beer in the Irish bar in town. Sure why not.
Day 11: Namche to Phakding and finally onto Lukla. I went off at a fast pace excited for a hot shower and a bowl of hot soup. You cross the bridges and remember the excitement you had in starting the trek just over a week before. Thinking back seems like a long time ago.
The end is near. The sound of the planes can be heard arriving into the airport at Lukla. I arrived back into Lukla, swung the bells on the way into the village. I sat down in the guesthouse and had a celebratory twix and an Everest Beer. Job well done and great few days trekking.
The homeward flight back to Kathmandu
Everest Base Camp is one of the best things I ever did and would advise it to absolutely everyone. Get there and go for it.
There and back again…a teddy bear’s tale by Packie the Bear.