Published: January 19th 2013January 19th 2013
I flew into Kathmandu from Bangkok and I spent the first day looking for a jacket, gloves, thermals, socks, hat, scarf, boots, sleeping bag - basically an entire wardrobe more suited to Nepal in January rather than the beaches of South East Asia. After several fruitless hours I came to the conclusion that renting mountain gear in Kathmandu is unheard of, so I found the cheapest equipment available and met up with my group for the next two weeks - Rob, a British-Canadian DJ booking agent living in LA; Pankaj, an Indian-born Australian IT consultant and Siobhan, an Australian lawyer who quit her job to travel.
The following morning we took the small plane from Kathmandu to Lukla - famous for being the world's most dangerous airport. As we approached through buffeting turbulence I could see why: a short, steep runway built on the face of a mountain leading to a wall of solid rock to greet any plane unfortunate enough to overshoot the landing. Thankfully we didn't die on transit and started our journey up to Base Camp.
Day 1 involved a gentle three hour hike and along the way we played football with local children.
The electricity was out at Phakding where we spent the night so we dined by candlelight. The following morning the overnight chill had frozen all the water pipes so we had no running water or flushing toilets. A couple of thoughts struck me: firstly, we're going a lot higher than this so it's going to get much colder and secondly why had I been so cheap and only bought counterfeit mountain gear. My gloves started falling apart on the first day and my trousers and boots both began disintegrating by Day 4.
On Day 2 we trekked up to Namche - the cultural capital of Sherpa people. On the way we caught our first sight of Mt Everest. It was spectacular but overshadowed by the three or four nearby peaks which looked much bigger. A trick of perception, I'm sure. Also I expected to be trekking through deep snow on our way up but the region hasn't had any precipitation since August so instead of snow there was lots and lots of dry rocks and dust.When ascending we hiked incredibly slowly to allow our bodies to acclimatise. Walking this slowly through grey dust whilst wearing oversized boots and protective
clothing brought to mind images of moonwalking, although I'd bet that entails more severe altitude sickness.
Day 3 was an acclimation day where we climbed to the world's highest airport at 3700m. In the evening we celebrated Pankaj's birthday with apple pie and a £1.50 bottle of whisky which to my great surprise left no-one blind. The first thing I noticed the following day was that the dorm windows were frosted over. Upon closer inspection I discovered that the frost was all on the inside of the glass. The second thing I noticed was that my stomach and guts felt like they were rotting and I had contracted a stomach bug overnight. Throughout the day I developed new levels of discomfort and concluded that there are few worse places to have a stomach bug than a long hike uphill with very limited toilet facilities.
The scenery was spectacular though. For much of the day we trekked alongside amazing scenery: from the turquoise river flowing several kilometres below us, to the mist rising from forests growing on precipitous inclines, to frozen waterfalls up to the massive snow-capped peaks towering kilometres above us. The scale was incredible, and I doubt
there are many other places on earth which afford such enormous scenery.
On Day 5 we hiked up to Dingboche at 4400m, then spent the next day again acclimatising. On Day 7 we climbed up to Labouche and the following day we made our attempt on Base Camp.
On 13 January, we hiked up the remaining 700m along an exposed valley ridge, got blown around by ferocious gales and inhaled several kilograms of dust until we reached the promised land, Everest Base Camp. It was a fitting way to mark my dad's birthday, and we celebrated by drinking undrinkable rum. It's off season (no-one else is stupid enough to do the trek in the depths of winter) and there was no one around preparing for a summit attempt so we headed back down to Gorak Shep where we would spend the night.
Gorak Shep was astonishingly cold. It brought to mind images of prisoner-of-war camps. Toothpaste, sun screen and pens all became unusable as anything liquid froze. I woke up in the night parched, reached for my water bottle to find the contents had solidified. It was with some relief that we got up before dawn the
next day to climb Kala Patthar - at 5500m the highest point of the trek. Only two of us got to the summit, fro which we had the best view of Mt Everest. Naturally even from this angle Everest was overshadowed by a couple of it's neighbours but it was still pretty impressive.
So our trek over, we walked back to Lukla in three days and celebrated with hard-earned beers before another ride in the death-plane back to Kathmandu.