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Published: April 2nd 2014
(**Photos are our favourites from the entire trip, so most have probably already been previously posted**)
Nothing can really prepare you for the mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional challenge of trekking at high altitude in the Himalayas. I think possibly like most people who make the decision to trek to Everest Base Camp, or anywhere above 3,000m for that matter, we were in hindsight perhaps a little naive and uneducated. Our research and mental preparation, although it felt thorough at the time, was limited to reading about other people’s experiences through their online blogs. Our physical preparation was gained through regular cardio sessions and some bushwalking around the Brisbane hinterland. However this was all completed at a maximum elevation of perhaps 300m above sea level. Spiritually and emotionally, we went through no real preparation at all.
We were both at the peak of our fitness levels, having regularly exercised at least 3 times a week for the past 6 months, and Suz even longer than that, perhaps around 18 months. We had read a blog about a 40 year old mother and her 15 year old son completing the trek together with a certain ease, well this is what
their blog conveyed anyway. So physically we were quietly confident that we would “eat the EBC trek for breakfast”. Of course we had a couple of doubts in our minds. Namely, how our bodies would cope with the thinly oxygenated air at high altitude, and how we would hold up, especially our feet and legs, trekking for 17 straight days in a row. Both of which we had never experienced before. But we knew that we couldn’t answer either of those doubts until we were there, experiencing it first hand.
As explained in part 1 of this series, our minds were already wandering during the first day’s trekking. Doubt had already started creeping in about how we would back this up again and again and again. However on the morning of day 2 it passed as quickly as it came. We were both stunned and shocked by the cold temperatures, we certainly hadn’t prepared for this at all (although in fairness it was a colder than usual start to the spring season). We had come with the expectation that yeah it would be cold at night and in the early morning once we were near the top, perhaps above
4,500m, but below this we would be afforded an outfit of shorts and perhaps a long sleeve fleece during the day. How wrong we were! Looking back we both believe the it was this ill perceived notion of these warmer temperatures that had put us on the back foot from day 1. We joked and laughed about the cold for perhaps the first 3-4 days and how it affected us physically and mentally and also how it dictated our strange dressing and undressing routines. But after the romance and novelty of the freezing cold wore off, it really started to grate on our beings. I think for the next 3-4 days we both put on brave faces and were able to deal with it quite well together, but after that period is when it visibly started to fall apart for us.
By day 8, on our walk from Machhermo to Gokyo (above 4,000m), we started to feel it physically. Our cold’s had started to set in, and I’m certain the altitude wasn’t helping the situation. It took only 24 hours from the point of physical symptoms that the negative mentality set in as well. Again in hindsight, I think,
on day 9, when we had started climbing Goko Ri, although as much as we wanted it, deep down we knew that for us Cho La Pass and EBC were going to be physically out of our reach. We pushed on probably for a day too many when we trekked across the glacier to Dragnag, both possibly already mentally defeated, but not wanting to let one another down with our lustful ambition of making it to EBC together. Although we really wanted to keep the duly lit candle of hope alive. However that night, on the eve of our Cho La Pass attempt, we made the rightful decision to put our health before our ambition, and we pulled the pin on the rest of our trek. Descending as quickly as we physically could so we could start to feel the warmth on our skin and the oxygen in our lungs and blood once again. We departed Lukla on day 15, only 3 days ahead of our original 18 day schedule.
But I guess somewhat surprisingly the feelings were not of defeat, failure, regret or even sadness but instead and overwhelmingly of accomplishment, satisfaction, and pride, but also a renewed
sense of humility and respect. Respect for this extremely foreign natural environment to us. Humility for our place on this earth, in the big comfortable country town of Brisbane, Australia. Protected from the physically hard nature of life in these mountains. The sense of accomplishment and satisfaction for having made it from Lukla to Gokyo Ri, standing at 5,360m above sea level and gazing in awe at Everest, the highest mountain in the world. We really do believe we got to stand at the best view point in the Himalayas, bar possibly the summit of Everest itself - and according to many others we made the best view point! The panorama pictures we took we believe speak for themselves. Although they still don’t do justice for actually being in the moment, experiencing the calm, the silence, the power of the Himalayas. And finally pride. Pride in ourselves, but most of all in each other! To see Suz conquer Gokyo Ri in the mental and physical state she was in, to me was a true feeling of shared triumph. It was such a real tribute to her tenacious and determined character.
I think we were probably also both surprised about
just how well we got along together or the entire 15 days. There were no quarrels or feelings of irrational resentment or frustration towards one another. Which for us, during testing times, we do historically have a habit of slipping into. Instead we were a united team. We helped each other get through difficult situations, and we fed off each others sheer enthusiasm and passion for where we were and what we were currently experiencing. We were living in the moment, and we were keeping a positive attitude towards everything (except for earlier above mentioned situations!). Exactly how we want to feel during this long trip. It was a Williams’ win for sure!
Below I’ve provided a fairly detailed summary for those that are also considering following in our footsteps and may have taken some inspiration from our experience and story. I’ve included information on how much we spent, what the weather was like, what the environment was like, how good the food and drink was, what the accommodation standards were, and finally some additional info on our favourite things and some tips and tricks to get the most enjoyment out of your trekking experience. So please enjoy!
We had researched a fair bit about how much money we would need to take with us. However what we found was that a lot of the advice was overestimated. Hence we are heading back to Kathmandu with quite a bit more money in our pockets than we expected. So here is a bit of a break down of what we spent (currently $1AUD = 87NPR and $1USD = 97NPR). Also note that we are trekking on a shouder season and not peak season. Food costs in peak season will remain constant, however lodging costs are expected to double or even triple, so add perhaps around another $7AUD per day for extra lodging costs if trekking in peak times:
• $1760AUD on the 18 day trek which included a guide, porter and both of their lodging, accommodation, travel, and insurances. It also included our trekking permits, return flights from Kathmandu to Lukla, agents fees (Nepal Hiking Team), airport taxes, and airport transfers from both Kathmandu International and Kathmandu Domestic
• $53AUD per day for 2 people for all lodging, food, and drinks (we brought our own supply of Mars and Snickers bars with us from Kathmandu and
also drank the tap water with iodine tablets)
• $4AUD per day hiring 2x down jackets and 2x down sleeping bags from Shona’s rentals in Thamel
• $150AUD tip to our guide at the end of our trek
• $70AUD tip to our porter at the end of the trek
Our travel in early March of course has seen cooler temperatures than your peak trekking seasons of late March and April, and also October and November. In general we experienced very fresh cool and clear mornings. The sun came up at around 6am but didn’t warm the air up until around 8.30am. The clouds started hiding some of the higher peaks at around 10.30am, and it was completely cloudy by around 3pm. The night time was very cold, ranging from +5 degrees down in Lukla, to -8 degrees in Gokyo.
The Nepalese people are quite reserved, somewhat shy (around tourists only perhaps), but are also very kind, caring, happy and friendly. Our guide Prakash Rai was always joking and smiling and had a very positive attitude. Our porter Pradip was definitely the quieter one, however it may have been because he is only
18 years old and is still teaching himself English. However Pradip was very playful and also cheeky, especially when it came to playing cards. The lodge workers were always considerate and helpful, and of course they loved it when you attempted to speak Nepalese to them directly….. “kripiya chiso pani?” meaning "can I please have some cold water?" always received a smirk from the locals in the lodge kitchens. They greet each other with a handshake and tend to hold their hands together after the shake for at least the first few exchanges of sentences. They talk to each other quite colourfully and also don’t mind talking to one another when their back is turned away or even when walking away from one another. They don’t really warrant the necessity of tissues but instead blow “snot rockets” (as one of our American friends we met along the way termed it) onto the ground, and also spit more frequently than we Westerners may be used to. A few of them also eat with their right hands.
It is an ever changing buffet of landscapes, flora, and fauna. The landscape changed gradually yet dramatically over the 10 days it
took us to trek from Lukla to Gokyo Ri. From lush pine forests, deep valleys divided by a fast flowing crystal clear blue river, bald hills with a spot or two of low lying juniper bushes, frozen waterfalls clinging to the sides of mountains, snow up to waist deep strewn across the paths, ever moving glaciers working their way down from high altitudes, and of course who could forget those exquisite gentle giants, the snow capped Himalayan peaks, many standing proudly above 8000m. Along the way we saw our fair share of donkeys, yaks (and their female counterparts Naks), and the cross breed of the Yak-Cow pronounced “djob-kyo” in Nepalese. We were also lucky enough to spot a musk deer and a peacock in the forests between Namche and Phortse Thanga, and I swear Nepal has the biggest crows I have ever seen. They are the size of perhaps a poodle! Near Machhermo we saw snow-cocks hopping from rock to rock. But our favourites by far, perhaps because we miss our dear friend Bailey so much, were the various canine companions that we had for long periods of our daily treks.
FOOD/DRINK (refer below for our favourite food finds)
Nepalese food in the mountains is largely full of starch and carbohydrates for fuel and energy. Breakfast is typically a choice between oat porridge with honey, eggs to your style, tibetan fried bread with jam, pancake with honey, or fried potatoes. Lunch would usually consist of either 2 minute noodles with a broth and vegetables, fried rice with egg and vegetables, garlic or onion soup, or vegetable chow mien (which was made with spaghetti). Dinner could either be similar to lunch or perhaps vegetarian dal bhat (lentils, rice and veggies). So you can see that they are very heavy on flour, rice, oats, lentils, and potatoes. The veggies, this time of year anyway, have always been the same mix of potato, cabbage, onion, and carrot. Towards the lower altitude of the trails you can get some meat, mainly chicken and yak steak. We didn’t try the yak steak, but the roast chicken was unreal. We also started to get fresh tomatoes at this lower altitude which was a really nice change. I would also typically ask for “mountain diamox”, or chilli, to douse my meals in it as I love spicy food. It’s pretty safe to say that for
the first 5-6 days you are pretty excited about the food, then it all starts to become a challenge after that to order something you are looking forward to eating as opposed to just eating because you know you will need the energy. Snacks tend to be in the form of chocolate bars, pringles, pop corn, or quite delicious "coco crunchees" nepalese coconut biscuits.The drink selection is quite good, and there are a lot of different hot drinks to help you warm up at night. They serve coffee, black tea, mint tea, masala tea, lemon tea, ginger tea (quite nice with honey), and hot orange juice (also quite nice) as the main consistent drinks. Cold drinks are your typical soft drinks and bottled water. They do also serve quite expensive beers and khukuri rum, however we didn’t go near alcohol the whole time we were trekking as it doesn’t mix well with altitude.
We stayed in lodges for the entire duration of the trek. We pretty much let our guide take us to whichever lodge he pleased, as by the end of the long trekking day the last thing we felt like doing was comparing lodges. The
most expensive lodge we stayed in was Namche on the way back down when we wanted some comfort and an in room toilet and hot shower, the room was 2000NPR per night. However typically the rooms were a timber box with twin single beds and a window. If you were lucky you got a working light and also some hooks on the wall. The average price for these rooms were between 200NPR and 400NPR per night. For this price you were typically using a communal squat toilet. I understand that prices may double or triple in peak seasons for accommodation. However most of the action and time spent was in the communal restaurant lodge anyway. At 5pm the fireplace would be lit and most people crowded around the fire to try and keep warm.To us there seems to be perhaps a niche gap in the market for more comfortable lodging at larger prices. Suz and I would have happily paid between $15-$20AUD per night for more comfortable accommodation that included private double bed rooms with an in room toilet and hot shower (run off gas). Ideally the walls, floors, and ceiling would all be well insulated and perhaps each private
room would have a small gas heater that you could limit the use of for an hour at night and an hour in the morning. It would make the dressing and undressing processes so much more bearable. Maybe there is a business venture there!?
Favourite Food Finds:
• Dahl Bhat, which is the regions staple diet consisting of platefuls of plain rice, a mixed vegetable curry, and a dal soup. Many locals pour the soup onto the rice, mix through the veggies than plough in with their right hands. Truly a magnificent, sustainable and filling dish.
• the tuna and fried egg sandwich at Gokyo was amazing, probably only because of 8 days meat free
• tibetan bread with jam, it’s pretty much a plate sized deep fried thin dough bread that puffs up and has air in the middle
• the steak sandwich at Cafe8848, Namche Bazaar, was delicious, especially since our last red meat was over 2 weeks ago. They described their meat as being “frozen and vacuum packed” for freshness, let’s hope so!
Favourite Exercise Experience:
• 14 days of trekking! but namely the walks from:
• Pakding to Namche Bazaar on
day 2 following the crystal blue river
• Exploring Namche Bazaar on day 3 and our first glimpses of Everest from the lookout near the museum
• Namche Bazaar to Photse Thanga via Kumjung on day 4
• Making the top of Gokyo Ri on day 9 with the stunning 360 degree Himalayan view
We'll Remember This Place For:
• Prakash our Guide and Pradip our Porter
• The hilarious dressing routines in the freezing cold
• That bloody trek up Gokyo Ri
• Amazing snow capped mountain vistas
• The sour smell of not showering for 8 straight days
Don’t Leave Home Without:
• sturdy full leather boots, broken in (We both bought almost top of the range Asolo brand boots. The first time we wore them they were already comfortable. They seemed heavy at first, with mine at 1kg per boot, but even after 14 days of straight trekking my legs weren't tired. Walking through mud, yak shit, and snow, and across large rocks, tree rots and potholes you will be glad you have the extra support and sturdiness that they provide)
• trekking poles x2 (we saw countless tourists without poles and we seriously don’t know how
they do it. Not only do the poles take tens of kilograms of your own body and pack weight out of your legs, but they also provide necessary balance and support whilst trekking across icy paths, and up and down countless rocky steps)
• personal hygiene kit including most importantly; talcum powder, wet wipes, tissues, toilet paper, hand sanitiser, suncream, sun block lip balm, strapping tape, blister kit (bandaids, large padded bandages, safety pins for popping blisters) (most items are pretty self explanatory but by far the most advantageous item to our personal hygiene was the talcum powder. We used it endlessly to “freshen up” our feet, twice a day, and also our underwear that was worn for at least 4 days in a row.)
• head torch (for those 3-4 nightly trips to the communal toilet)
• lodge slippers (so many trekkers stared at out our luxurious slippers in the restaurant lodges at night with envy. Our feet thanked us for giving them a break out of the confines of the trekknig boots and into the soft warmth of the slippers. Just don’t wear them into the communal toilets as you are bound to be walking on frozen urine)
What We Wished We had Brought With Us:
• warm woollen mittens (our fancy expensive ski gloves surprisingly didn't cut it), the hands get extremely cold in the mornings whilst using your poles
• a third set of long thermal underwear
• a down vest to wear during in between weather when it’s too hot to wear a full length down jacket but too cold to wear just a full length wind proof fleece top
• a warm headband for girls, as Suz felt that sometimes a full beanie was too hot and restricting on her full head of long hair
• a “potty” that holds at least 4L of liquid for the freezing nights when you don’t want to have to venture out of your room to the communal toilet to relieve yourself (we may or may have improvised at some lodges and found buckets to use as our potty for the night....shh!)
Our Tips for a Happier Trekking Experience:
• take a guide AND a porter with you, it will make your experience so much more enriching
• if you like the heat, don’t travel in the first 2 weeks of March
• but if you like to almost
have the trails to yourselves then definitely go in the first 2 weeks of March
• try to change out of your clothes as little as possible. we discovered near the end of our trek that the cold temperatures were much more bearable when you simply slept in your trekking gear, instead of having day separate day time and night time clothes (as nice as it is to change into fresh clothes to sleep in we think the constant changing in the extreme cold and therefore letting our body temperatures dropped contributed largely to the onset of our colds)
• don’t bother packing your sleeping bags away into their tiny Mary Poppins style bags every time you move to a new town. It seriously wastes energy reserves. Instead use your spare boot laces that you bring with you to keep the roll tight and put it straight into your Porter’s bag like a long sausage
• keep a clean set of clothes for your hot shower upon your return to Namche, you will feel like a million bucks
• if you haven’t trekked a lot in the past for extended periods, try a shorter return 12 day trek to EBC or Gokyo Ri only,
as opposed to the onslaught of an 18 day marathon to EBC via Gokyo Ri and Cho La Pass
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