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Published: July 21st 2014
So, the time had come and we were ready to start our journey to Everest Camp. Even today, that still sounds as bonkers to me as when Donna first suggested we do this many years ago. Not knowing anything about the trek to EBC (Everest Base Camp), I was under the impression this was something only undertaken by true professional climbers and trekkers. So when Donna came up with the idea that we do it, I literally laughed at her and told her to keep dreaming. Years later though and a bit of research later, I realised this was something that despite still being very difficult, would be something we could potentially achieve if we put our minds to it. And so, here we were, a few years later, making our way to the hotel where we would meet our fellow trekkers that we would spend the next 2 weeks with in some of the most stunning scenery any of us could ever have hoped to see in this lifetime.
Firstly, it was time to meet our travel companions and trek leader whilst going over some of the trek details and filling out some of the mandatory paperwork that comes
with trips such as these. I think in doing this, our first reaction was one of relief as the group of 8 guys that we would be spending the next couple of weeks with all seemed like a good bunch and with the trek leader having over 13 years’ experience with these types of treks, confidence was high that we might actually make it to Base Camp in one piece. The other reason we were happy that the group were all so nice was that originally Donna and I were tempted to try undertake this trip on our own trying to save some money, and now having a positive cheery bunch of people to tag along with, really seemed to prove to us that this was one of our better decisions.
Before leaving for the trek itself, we would have a chance to get to know our trek leader and group a little better with our last meal in civilisation (this was Kathmandu however, so civilised is actually a little misleading!).
And so, chatting amongst our new trekking pals, swapping stories and getting to know each other better, there wasn’t anything more we could do other than look
forward to our adventure ahead and dread the flight that we were about to embark on in the morning. The flight was to be unlike anything we had experienced before……
Day 2 – Flight to Lukla (2800m) and walk to Phakding (2610m)
Today was an early start and one that truth be told, I was dreading from the moment we had booked up the trip. Actually, this is a lie, as I was actually dreading this day from the moment we suggested that EBC was a real possibility. The reason…. The flight from Kathmandu to Lukla.
The reason for my anxieties is valid though to be fair, as Lukla is considered to be one of, if not THE, most dangerous airport in the world. There are actually quite a few reasons for this rather daunting title, and some of these reasons are as follows:
The flight from Kathmandu to Lukla is taken in a tiny propeller powered plane that holds around 15 people maximum. Many of these planes are really quite old and safety in Nepal isn’t quite up to the standards of the Western world as yet, hence many of these planes don’t
actually make their destination, instead preferring to end up in the mountain valleys emitting a touch of smoke and fire. It is also a mountain flight being that the destination is bang in the middle of the Himalayas, and so this means flying way too close to mountains for my liking. This doesn’t make it dangerous, however in my eyes, it doesn’t make it fun either. Once in the air though and initial nerves are settled, the 30 minute flight takes an interesting turn when you are able to see the tiny strip of runway through the eyes of the pilot (as you can see the pilot and co-pilot from your seat) and you realise what these guys have to aim at in order to land this plane. Essentially what this is, is a tiny strip of tarmac in the middle of an entire mountain range….not ideal. Settling yourself down after seeing this landing strip for the first time, you reassure yourself that of course the landing strip seems so tiny because of the vastness of the mountains that engulfs it, and that really this is clearly an optical illusion. Nearing the airport though it all becomes horrifically clear now
that this wasn’t an illusion, and that despite the perspective of the mountains, this runway is indeed TINY
and that if this pilot is even slightly off of his game, we are in some serious trouble! So, bracing ourselves and with one eye open looking out the cockpit window, we headed for the mountain and the tiny strip of tarmac. Landing with less of a thud than expected I was glad to be on terra firma; however I know the ordeal wasn’t over yet. With the runway only being 450 metres long and with a mountain face that says ‘Welcome’ awaiting you should you not happen to stop, I have never willed something’s brakes to not fail more than this moment. Opening my other eye as the plane came to a respectable speed and now happy that we wasn’t going to career into the mountain face, I let out a loud exhaled breath and could finally now focus on the task ahead of climbing to Everest base Camp. That was one flight I would happily never take ever again…..unfortunately, come the end of the trip, we would have to go through it all again on the return trip to Kathmandu!
Once the terror of the flight was over, it was time for a spot of breakfast and to prepare for our first walk of the trip. Easing us in gently, we were told that this would be a gentle start and should only take us around 3 hours to complete. So, having taken the standard picture of the group in front of the start of the trek, and then a few more slightly non-standard ones involving a few of the local village kids, we were off on the start of our Everest Base Camp journey.
Despite this being one of our shorter walks of the trek, we took in so much that day. Lukla being the gateway to the Himalayas means that life thrives around that area for the mountain people with nearly everything geared towards the tourist trade from restaurants to Scottish pubs(?). It was a while before we got out of Lukla proper and started to see less activity, however being bang in the middle of the season to trek EBC, there were still plenty of walkers and Sherpa’s with the same goal as us. Leaving the town behind us with the rolling hills and terraces
ahead, the 3 hours passed by without any of us really noticing it. Chatting to different people within the group and finding out everyone’s stories as to why they were here, made what could have been a long walk whiz by, and before we knew it, we were entering our first teahouse for lunch where we would also spend the night. With a hot drink sunk and dinner ordered, it was time to check out our room for the night. Making our way upstairs, we walked through an MDF door to a very basic yet cute twin room. The room consisted only of 2 beds, each with mattress and pillow and a window and the walls were thin enough to hear your neighbours stomach growl, however compared to a tent like some people choose to use, this was luxury!
With our bags now in the room and with dinner having been consumed, there was nothing left to do other than sit back with a hot drink and take in a DVD that the teahouse kindly put on in the seating area for us. Naturally, it was an Everest based documentary, but fortunately for us, it was an inspiring story
for us to enjoy as opposed to some of the other morale dampening Everest disaster movies that were on the shelf. So, with our spirits high and morale boosted by the film, we were all ready for tomorrows challenge. We were warned that today truly was just a warm up and that there would be some hard work to come, but I think we were all up for what lie ahead.
Day 3 – Phakding (2610m) – Namche Bazaar (3440m)
So, after a somewhat gentle introduction to the trek, today was our first real test. We would be walking approximately 9km and was told that this should take around 6 hours or so. Our goal was to arrive in the centre of the Khumba region to a place called Namche Bazaar. Here would be the last place that we could buy any supplies or clothing for the trek ahead as past this point, civilisation as we knew it would all but cease to be.
Before we got to Namche though, we would have a fairly exhausting day ahead of us. The route included a pleasant walk along the Dudh Kosi River before starting the dreaded climb of
over 830 metres upwards into the mountains. This all sounded fine as I think everyone wanted to get stuck in to the walking, however a few people’s minds changed when we were told that we would have to battle 4 or 5 large and long suspension bridges along the way. I think in our heads, we expected something out of an Indiana Jones movie with the bridge being old, rickety and made of rope and wood…..something that despite not having a huge fear of heights, even I was dreading. As we came to our first bridge though, panic stations for the most part were put on hold, as it seems progress has found its way to this corner of Nepal, and the bridges were thankfully all made of sturdy steel and metal…phew! Saying that though, with the gushing river below us flowing past at crazy speeds and being a fair height up, it was still a little disconcerting to say the least.
During the trekking, we had plenty of breaks to rehydrate with water which we were told was one of the best ways to avoid altitude sickness, and so every now and again we stopped for a while
to rest. Feeling good so far, and after a quick swig of my Nalgene, I decided to take a couple of snaps of the beautiful surroundings that we found ourselves in. Putting the camera on a wall and taking another sip of my water, it was time for us to move on again, and so collecting what I thought was everything off we went again once more. Being at the back on the group at this point I walked alone and just thinking to myself I realised how lucky I was to be doing this. To be here in the Himalayas amongst by far some of the most stunning scenery I have ever seen, I realised what a privilege this was to be here. Interrupting my little daydream, Ashok, our trek leader shouted my name from behind. As I turned round, he pointed a camera in my direction and told me to ‘strike a pose’. Being the polite person I am, I duly obliged, and gave Ashok one of my favourite model poses from the huge repertoire I have practised over the years, and laughing along with Nimma, (our other trek leader), I could see that they were happy that
I had produced the goods. Turning to walk off after my ‘Blue steel’ pout and stance, I was again called from behind by Ashok. I guessed this was because he wanted to show me the awesome picture he took, however as I looked, I could see why they were laughing so much. It wasn’t because of the geeky stance I produced for them at all, it was because the picture was taken with my camera. The camera that I had only recently purchased and had ‘lovingly’ left on the wall of some random house and left for the taking! What a doughnut! Fortunately, at least one of the trek leaders always brings up the rear, meaning that I didn’t have to face the next 9 days or so camera less and with Donna telling me how I need to look after things better…. It would appear I was lucky in more ways than one.
Having retrieved my camera and walking a little further we came along a cute little place where we could stop for a rest and get some refreshments. It was here that the trip really started to sink in for many of us, as that was
the first time we had really managed to see some of the snow-capped mountains that we were heading for. They were still way off in the distance and partially covered with cloud, but despite this, it was a humbling and stark realisation of what we had taken on. In a few days, the beauty of the trees, flowers and greenery that surrounded us would soon all disappear and instead be replaced by nothing but sheer mountain faces, rock and snow.
A little tired and out of breath, we eventually made it to our destination for the evening, Namche Bazaar. This place was just like nowhere we had ever been before and really quite surreal. Way up in the mountains and surrounded by giant peaks and huge valleys, this place was a little hub in the middle of nowhere and had I have not seen it with my own eyes, almost wouldn’t have believed it existed. The views from every angle were stunning and being up so high, the clouds that now surrounded us gave it a mysterious feel. Having made it safely to Namche we were to be here for the rest of this day and the next one,
in order to acclimatise, since the altitude gain was quite large from the morning. This meant we would have a nice amount of time to spend here before moving on. News I think we all welcomed.
Day 4 – Acclimatisation day in Namche Bazaar. Walked up a couple hundred metres.
Our first night in Namche Bazaar was a fairly quiet affair with everyone just chilling out in the teahouse, eating dinner and having a chat. There were opportunities to hit the local night life where of course there were the obligatory Irish bars and coffee shops (Yes, even all the way up here!), however I think having walked a fair distance that day and knowing that we were to be walking again tomorrow in order to help acclimatise, we wisely all decided against it. Donna and I were shown to our room and were actually quite surprised once more of how nice it appeared to be. Again, the walls were thinner than an IPhone seems to be these days and it was of course basic, however it was just what we needed. We did also have two large windows looking out to the town and what
would have been the mountains had the weather treated us kindly, but for now we just had a great view of the shop downstairs and some cloud.
The following day was earmarked for acclimatisation where we would climb a couple of hundred metres or so before returning to Namche in order to sleep. This is pretty essential when trekking at these altitudes as if you don’t do things like this, you can develop symptoms of Altitude sickness such as vomiting, loss of breath and headaches, and these can prove pretty disastrous if ignored. One of the clear signs of this whilst in Namche, and whilst trekking in general, was the amount of helicopters we noticed flying in and out of the mountains. We were told that although some of these were chartered vehicles, the vast majority were there to rescue people in the mountains because of Altitude sickness or from injuries. It was clear we needed to take all the advice that was given to us from our experienced trek leaders.
So, after a relative lay-in, we started our acclimatisation walk up towards a local museum. To be honest, the museum wasn’t the most amazing place I have
ever visited, however its positioning on a flat piece of land with unbelievable 360 degree views was. It was also the very first time we got a look at Everest’s peak. Way off into the distance and hiding amongst a fair amount of cloud, it wasn’t an easy task to spot at first. As the clouds started to shift though and having hung around the site for a while taking in the other beautiful views, all of sudden, there it was poking its peak out between the clouds. An extraordinary experience seeing the tallest mountain in the world right there in front of you. Being here however wasn’t all perfect views and famous firsts. There was also something there on that plateau that was pretty darn rough…..the toilet. Now, having travelled for some time now, I have come across my fair share of bad carsies, however this one really was something else. The strangest thing about this however, is that for once, this was not the Mens toilet we were talking about, but the Women’s! Probably wondering now what I am doing snooping round girls toilets, please be advised that I was asked in there to take a look and
I made sure the toilet was free of females before entering. The reason I was invited to take a look was because I couldn’t believe the hype about how rough these women’s toilets were considering the guys seemed to be fine! As far as I was concerned, girls tended to moan about the toilets if there wasn’t classical music playing in the background or hair straighteners by the sinks, so I assumed that the toilets were probably just fine, but the girls were being picky.
I take it all back.
These toilets absolutely stunk and made the eyes water on entry. The reason for this foul smell was apparent as soon as you walked in. There was human faeces everywhere around the hole in the ground except in it itself it seemed……wow, this was a grim toilet and far exceeded my expectations as to how bad it might look. Fair play to the girls for grinning and bearing it in there, as that place was enough to make even the hardiest of festival goers feel a little off balance.
So, after our spectacular glimpse of Everest and of course battling the ‘ladies poo heap’ it was time
to carry on climbing upwards. Eventually, we made it to a great little spot just shy of 4000 metres where we could buy some refreshments and of stare in awe of the surrounding mountains. Having stopped here for a little while, we were off again back to Namche for the evening where we could eat, shop and even shower if we wanted before tucking into dinner. On the way back down to Namche, we all got to chatting and the conversation quickly turned to food. This was to be a conversation we would always come back to whilst on this trip it seemed, and whether this was because of the situation we were in with simple basic food, or whether we are all just quite foody people I’m not sure, but food certainly came up a lot!
Back at our hotel, we settled in the dining area either chatting amongst ourselves, reading or writing when we noticed something pretty horrific coming through the door. It was the face of someone who was returning from Base Camp. The reason this persons face is being referred to as horrific isn’t because of any other reason than because of their bright red
sunburn. This persons face was as badly burnt as anyone’s I have ever seen, and after hearing it was from the reflection of the snow up by Base Camp, I think everyone made it their business there and then to start topping up the suntan lotion more than once as we ascended further.
The other amazing thing we saw whilst there were a few guys that were also on their way up, chucking down the beers and even smashing some shots down their throat! I mean, each to their own, but we were all wondering whether these guys would make it if they carried on the way they were going. As it turned out, these guys were pretty experienced and having spoken to them, they mentioned that their destination wasn’t Base Camp, but instead, the peak of Amadablum, a 6000 metre plus mountain that looks pretty sheer when you look up at it……. It seems these guys were made of harder stuff!
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