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Published: April 1st 2010
The Everest Base Camp trek is perhaps the most famous in the world. It is certainly one of the most popular. In the peak season of October/November, up to 10,000 people take to the route with the foot of the highest mountain on Earth in their sights. In fact, it is hard to think of a good reason to choose Nepal over India as a destination if you are not visiting the high Himalayas. It is the most amazing place, with the highest peaks, deepest valleys and some of the biggest challenges on Earth.
The word challenge is pretty appropriate in summing up our reasons for going but having read, 'Into Thin Air', 'The Death Zone', 'Left for Dead' and many others you begin to doubt yourself and wonder if you'll be able to cope high up. Sentences like "and every step left you gasping for breath" or " you suffer constant migraines at this height" actually exaggerate the issue a tad. Although the air is 50% less oxygen rich at base camp than at sea level, it is very bearable for an acclimatised walker. In fact, the entire trip from Lukla to base camp can be undertaken in as
Flight to Lukla
Worryingly, the captain is repeatedly tapping the sat nav on the dash...
little as two or three long days according to Jon Krakauer, who was present on the mountain during the fabled 1996 disaster. We did it in four days.
The guide books, and indeed the guides in Kathmandu suggest you should take between 12 days and three weeks to complete the out and back. This is to ensure you the best possible chance of making base camp without developing any of the considerable range of altitude induced ailments (HAPE/HACE, Hypoxia etc). Most people don't have any trouble with these but the occasional individual will suffer. We witnessed two helicopter evacuations during our ascent but were unconcerned due to our acclimatisation in the Annapurna range (Acclimatisation typically lasts from 2-3 weeks).
March is a great time to do the walk. 70% fewer people undertake the task as its hotter in the day and colder at night than in October. However this means all the tea houses are empty ish and its easy to do it unguided. It's a bit of a motorway up to base camp at times and its surprising to see how many people seem to be hating every step. The charity groups are always the exception (the
British Heart Foundation were having a great time over there three week ascent).
So you leave Lukla and head towards Namchee Bazaar, a town in the middle of the Himalayan foothills at about 3440m. There are many entrepreneurs here and everyone seems out to get some easy cash. Who wouldn't? The average annual income is $200 per household - while a guest house can rake that in during one night in prime season. The Sherpa community is said to be one the richest in Nepal. From Namchee, it's up towards Periche and then to Lobuche, a settlement famous for its filthy hygiene and poor lodgings. The next stop is Gorak Shep which is the final permanent settlement before Base Camp and also the access point for Kala Pattar, a hill reaching 5550m that give great views of the Everest dome.
Being the competitive types, we arrived at Base Camp about 2 hours before anyone else (we'd set off early and refused to stop on the 2 hour trip from Gorak Shep. This turned out to be the 'Old' Everest Base Camp and the official finish point for the trek. This is sufficient for most people as it has
the only EBC sign and evidence of completion is the main thing for the majority of groups. The 'New' base Camp is approximately 45 mins walk further along by the Khumbu glacier over loose boulders. We made the journey and found sherpas readying the tent sites for the April and May climbing season. I helped move a boulder which was harder than it looked, finally it toppled over and I took all the credit. We then sat by the glacier staring up at the Western Cwm and imagining the route of the many expeditions that have headed up this lump.
The Khumbu glacier is considered to be the most deadly part of the climb as it has many overhanging seracs (lumps of ice) that move at a rate of 4m per day. They eventually tumble down and nobble whoever is unlucky enough to be under them. It is here that ladders are strapped together to span large crevasses which the climbers (wearing crampons) must tip toe over holding on to a safety rope. No thanks.
Many people are overawed with the mountain and begin to dream to climb it. I had no desire whatsoever and I think Lindsay
even less so. It just looked so dangerous and inhospitable even in glorious weather. We decided we would head over the Cho La pass the next day and head into the Gokyo valley, climbing Gokyo Ri in the process to get a good view of the upper slopes instead. We reached the pass only to be told that is was dangerous without a guide and, having climbed Kala Pattar that morning, decided to head to Pangboche and walk up the Gokyo Valley the next day. This we did and we were amazed to see Golden Eagles swooping all around us. I had a fit when the camera wouldn't turn on as one came elegantly gliding towards us about 50m away and about 20 m below us. It didn't turn on and I hit the camera and would later hallucinate that I had thrown the camera down the hill and was looking for a route to retrieve it. I was tired. Lindsay snapped me out of it. We were lucky enough to see a mother let go of its baby and follow it's progress before swopping down to catch it in her talons and thereby saving it from the embarrassment of
a crash landing. It was one of the most amazing sights of our trip.
From Phoertse, you can climb up the length of the Gokyo Valley to Gokyo itself in two days. This we did, crossing the Ngoz Khumbu Glacier in the process. This is a moraine covered 2km wide whopper but quite safe. The next day we climbed Gokyo Ri and were rewarded with great views of Everest for the last time. From here we followed the western side of the valley down to Namchee and then the next day we walked to Lukla for a days rest. The whole thing took us 10 days. We boarded a plain (10 seater) and took off from the 100m runway in style and cruised below the peaks back to Kathmandu.
It's a great walk, make no mistake, despite the numbers. It didn't seem too crowded at any point but I suppose you have to manage your expectations. We assumed it would be littered with people and were pleasantly surprised. The trek was difficult because we did so many miles much quicker than most, but we decided we didn't need a guide and porter. I would suggest to anyone with
a big enough budget do get a guide - it benefits these people through employment and if you are already acclimatised you can push up quickly. But don;t go in a randm group unless you want to be very frustrated by the pace you can go. I know this is not scenery to rush through but you can see so much more in the same time if you work hard! PE Teachers unite!
Taj Next and then back next week!
See you all soon.
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