My lungs are burning, my lips are frozen, my legs are begging me to stop. Four more steps. I stop to gasp for air. At last, there is no where else to go. I'm standing on the summit of Kala Pattar at 5,600m. Prayer flags are flapping furiously in the wind. Finally I muster the energy to lift my head and look around me. There it is... Everest piercing the bright blue sky surrounded by its Himalayan giant neighbours, Lhotse, Nuptse, Pumori, Ama Dablam, and the Khumbu Glacier. I have to concentrate to catch my breath again. I remember how this time yesterday I was clambering my way across the Khumbu glacier to reach Everest Base Camp. My dream has finally come true. I have wanted to come here since I was 13 when Dad gave me a book by Matt Dickenson ("The Death Zone"), an English journalist who climbed Everest during the ill fated 1996 season. I developed a fascination with Everest and the Khumbu region and Gregory and I have read nearly every book published and watched every documentary made about Everest. Mark got sucked into the Everest mania last year too and the three of us religiously watched
Kate with a bottle of Everest beer
the latest Everest documentary on the Discovery Channel every Tuesday night. Naturally when we were planning our round the world trip, Nepal was top on my list of places to visit. Standing on the summit of Kala Patar, as I try to absorb the breathtaking view, I realise how lucky I am to have made it here. It took 13 days of walking over rough terrain, at extreme altitudes, and a hell of a lot of determination and will power. Ten minutes later Mark arrives on the summit and we are both ecstatic. We've done it!
Just to warn you, this is going to be a long entry as there is so much to tell! Apologies for all the detail, but we want to remember it all. Better go make yourselves a cup of tea and get comfy!
We arrived in Kathmandu in high spirits, delighted to get out of the nightmare that was Delhi. We immediately felt at home as our taxi drove us through the bustling streets of Thamel to the hotel. We passed by the Royal Palace, where the Prince massacred the whole Royal family in 2001. Kathmandu provided us with a refreshing stimulation of
Our plane to Lukla
the senses... sheep being slaughtered in doorways, tiger balm sellers roaming the streets, mothers bathing their kids in basins, colourful prayer flags strung in all directions, rickshaws, pedestrians and taxis all meandering through the narrow streets trying to avoid each other. It felt great to be back in a third world city! Our hotel was on the fringes of Thamel and represented the antithesis of the mania outside its gate. It was a tranquil haven with a beautiful garden and was surprisingly peaceful. We spent the next day and a half running around the hundreds of Thamel trekking shops, haggling for bits and pieces that we needed for our trek. 100 euros later (it would have amounted to thousands at home!) we were well equipped for the Himalaya with down jackets and sleeping bags, torches, backpacks, walking poles, guide books etc and were well fed on glorious pizzas and Everest beer.
It was back to the airport the next morning to catch our flight to Lukla. The hustle and bustle (and stress!) of Kathmandu's domestic terminal was a little overwhelming at first, but we soon got into the swing of things. Our boarding cards had no names on them,
The start of the trek
no flight number or times! When you go through to the departure hall, it is really just a matter of listening out for a man to call out your destination (which may or may not be your flight). When we finally got on the tiny Twin Otter plane we were in the air within 5 minutes. The views were astounding- when we got high enough the Himalayan peaks protruded above the clouds, way higher than we were flying. It was a strange sight. The landing at Lukla airstrip is renowned as one of the world's scariest landings. The runway is uphill and precariously placed on a mountain side. As the plane approaches it all you can see is a vertical wall of runway coming towards you. The landing was surprisingly smooth and everyone breathed a sigh of relief to have landed safely. As we alighted from the plane at Tenzing-Hillary airport, we looked up to see the Himalaya towering above us. It's a very impressive location for the start of a trek, if a little intimidating. The locals come out to meet tourists from the plane and there was lots more hustle bustle trying to exit the airport building.
Day 1- Lukla (2,850m) - Phakding (2,640m)
We arrived in Lukla at around 9am and we first set out to find a porter. Porters' Progress found us a Sherpa called Phurba who lived just outside Lukla. He seemed like a nice man and we explained our plan and that we would be back to Lukla in 17 days. He invited us to his home for lunch before we set off for Phakding. His family were lovely and his house was traditional Sherpa style, with the animals living downstairs and the family's cosy living quarters upstairs. Things went downhill from here though, and he explained to us that he wanted his 70 year old father to bring us to Base Camp as he had arranged to bring a client up there in 9 days time. The father was an alcoholic and didn't speak a word of English, so obviously we were pretty pissed off, especially since Phurba had lied about his availability for 17 days. We made it clear that we would not be going with his father and Phurba agreed to bring us as far as Namche where we would find another porter. However, halfway to Phakding, Phurba turned
Kate and the daughter of our first porter
to us and told us that he was going no further. I could have strangled him as he began to take our stuff out of his bag. We had no choice but to carry everything ourselves the rest of the way to Phakding. We got there eventually and after many enquiries we managed to find a new porter, Ramesh. It was all very stressful but Ramesh seemed like a decent guy. We stayed at a nice lodge in the picturesque village for 50 cent each and enjoyed some Dhal Bhat (the seminal Nepali meal consisting of rice, lentils and potatoes- very tasty) for dinner.
Day 2- Phakding (2,650m) - Namche (3,450m)
This was a very tough day. The climb to Namche seemed never ending and I really thought I wasn't going to make it. I even began to wonder why we were putting ourselves through this. I had to keep going though, because there were no more lodges until Namche. It was really spectacular though, and we crossed four very high and scary suspension bridges built across the Dudh Kosi. We both survived however, and made it to Namche (before our estimated time of arrival!) in one piece. We
arrived at 1pm and spent the afternoon soothing our sore muscles and eating to replace all those lost calories. Namche is a really nice thriving village, if a little haphazardly built into the side of a mountain. It is juxtaposed between the old and the new with its traditional Saturday market and its modern trekking shops, ATM and internet cafe! We met a nice Irish lass doing the Gokyo trek and chatted to her over tea for most of the afternoon.
Day 3- Acclimatisation day in Namche
We hiked up to the Everest View Hotel and got our first glimpse of Everest. It looked perfect, in the distance with it's characteristic ice plume blowing off the East ridge. The Everest View hotel is a Japanese enterprise and has actually never made a profit! It costs about 150$ to stay there but the views are incredible and probably worth it if you have the dosh. It is situated at 3,900m and many people fly there by helicopter. This is a stupid idea though unless you are acclimatised and recently a man suffered a heart attack at the front door. We had some expensive tea on the terrace and then hiked
back down to Namche. That evening when we were having dinner at the lodge we met a Canadian guy who had spent the last month at Base Camp. He was there to film a guy climbing to the top but the guy got sick and had to fly back to Vancouver. Needless to say, he was really disappointed that he now too had to go home since he had no one to film and his Everest hopes were over. He was telling us how it's getting pretty exciting up there at the moment as the ropes have been fixed on the Icefall and climbers were starting to make their way through it and up to Camps 1 and 2.
Day 4- Acclimatisation day in Namche
We had planned to have a complete rest day but we figured a little exercise in the morning couldn't hurt. We took the more difficult route up to Syangboche (which is 3/4 of the way to the Everest Hotel). This involved a hard slog up steep steps for about 45 minutes. We both performed well and began to feel a little more confident and acclimatised. We spent the afternoon in the Namche bakery. Yum!
Day 5- Namche (3,450m)- Tengboche (3,860m)
The trek to Tengboche was really spectacular. Everest was in full view for most of the morning. The trail is carved into the side of the mountains, overlooking the Dudh Kosi River gorge. We stopped at the small village of Phunki Tenga (3,250m) for lunch before crossing the river and ascending up the other side of the gorge. From here, the trail climbed and climbed for about 1 1/2 hours up a steep hill. We took it slow and steady, only stopping to drink some water. We both felt in much better shape than we did on the way to Namche and we really felt like we were getting into the swing of things. We arrived at Tengboche at around 12.30pm and found ourselves a nice room at a friendly lodge.
Tengboche is a beautiful village and a cultural and religious centre for the people of the Khumbu region. It occupies a commanding position with superb views up and down the surrounding valleys. The gompa (monastery) there is famous for its spectacular setting under the mighty Kangtaiga and Thamserku mountains. Everest climbers stop here on their way to Base Camp to seek
permission from ..., the goddess of Everest to climb the mountain, and to consult the head lama for a prediction for the climbing season ahead. Sometimes these predictions are unfavourable, as in 1996 where many people perished on the mountain after a devastating storm and unscrupulous decision making by climbing guides. We spent the afternoon playing cards with Ramesh and headed to bed at 8pm, as usual!
Day 6- Acclimatisation day in Tengboche
The next day we climbed up a nearby ridge and were rewarded with superlative views of Ama Dablam. We visited the gompa in the afternoon and sat in on a prayer meeting of the monks. It is a very spiritual place and even Mark had to admit that it felt special here. We brought our Kata scarves with us to the gompa, as an offering to the gods, along with a donation. We presumed that we got the scarves back at the end of the prayers but a bloody monk took them away with him, so we were pretty confused!
That night we had a lovely dinner by candlelight as there was no electricity in the lodge that night. We met a group of trekkers
One of the many bridges along the way
from the UK who were on their way down from Kala Patar and base camp. They had all suffered from the altitude up there but as usual, the trekking company had brought them up too fast. We also met an American man who must have been 70. He seemed exhausted and I was really surprised that he had made it as far as Namche, let alone Tengboche! We overheard him talking with his guide and were shocked to hear that they were only staying in Tengboche for one night. It is essential to stay here for 2 nights for proper acclimatisation. He was determined to make it to Base Camp but we were sure he would have to head down soon as he was very slow and definately not acclimatised. We were tempted to intervene and advise him to wait a day or two and take it slower, but he seemed very stubborn so we stayed out of it.
Day 7- Tengboche (3,860m)- Dingboche (4,350m)
A pretty straightforward trek. Gaining altitude, but took it slowly. The weather started to get very cold at this stage and it was time to start layering up, and the gloves came on too.
Kate feels the altitude on the way up
We crossed a very exposed plateau so the wind was wild. The landscape also started to change at this point. We left behind the lush rhodedendron forests and the land became very barren. The mountains were so close to us, it felt amazing. Ama Dablam looks fearsome from Dingboche and towers over the small village. We stayed at a huge lodge, and we were the only people staying there. This meant it was freezing! We spent the rest of the day trying to keep warm and huddling around the stove. We also enjoyed the best French onion soup we have ever tasted- the perfect recipe to warm up! The altitude was starting to tell here, and we both had mild headaches, but managed to sleep fine.
Day 8- Acclimatisation day in Dingboche
We decided that a strenuous trek to a higher altitude was in order to aid our acclimatising. We headed up to the Ama Dablam lakes at 4,700m. Strenuous it was indeed! It involved climbing up a 50 degree slope to the base of Ama Dablam, which took about an hour. It was tough going but worth it as we both felt great after it and the views
Day 9- Dingboche (4,350m)- Thuklha (4,600m)
Most people trek directly from Dingboche to Lobuche (4,900m) but we figured it would be safer to break the rapid ascent in altitude and stay half way at Thuklha. Thuklha is not so much a village, as one lodge perched on a hill in the middle of nowhere, but it's a good place to rest and eat.
Day 10- Thuklha (4,600m)- Lobuche (4,940m)
I woke up feeling a bit woozy and wobbly on the feet. We considered descending to Pheriche for the day, but decided to have breakfast and assess the situation then. I felt a little better after breakfast but still wasn't right. I was conscious of losing a day if we descended and didn't feel bad enough to do so. We decided that the best thing was for me to start a light course of Diamox. I was hoping to put this off until we were higher up as I wanted to do the trek without medication, but I didn't want to risk getting worse. We started off after breakfast and we had to negotiate a very steep hill with no trail and lots of boulders to hop
across. I felt faint as soon as I started walking and then the tears started when I felt I couldn't go on. We also watched porters and horses carry a group of people down the slope who were clearly suffering from severe AMS and had to be brought down to the Health post at Pheriche as quickly as possible. I took a few deep breaths and forced myself to continue on for a few more metres. Luckily the Diamox kicked in a few minutes later, and soon I was feeling much better and made it to Lobuche in relative comfort. We made sure to drink lots of tea and water up here, as it is so important to keep hydrated the higher you go. We met an Irish guy at the lodge, who walked from Lukla to Lobuche in 3 days! We couldn't believe it. Apart from a mild headache he was fine. It's amazing how the altitude affects different people in different ways. His plan was to climb Kala Patar the next day and then stay the night at Base Camp with a member of the Vietnamese team who he met on the walk in. We thought he was
Kate and Ramesh, our guide and porter
crazy and a being a bit reckless.
Day 11- Lobuche (4,940m)- Gorak Shep (5,170m)
A long, tough trek. We descended slightly from Lobuche onto the Khumbu glacier. The trail almost disappears here, so the best way to go is to follow the yak poo, as there are frequent yak trains headed to Base Camp with supplies everyday. We saw the yellow tents of Base Camp in the distance and got very excited. As we approached Gorak Shep there were a seemingly endless amount of hills to ascend, traverse and descend which was tough going. We got there before lunch though and settled into a really nice lodge which was much warmer than those in Lobuche and Dingboche. Gorak Shep is a really nice collection of lodges and tea houses in a sheltered valley facing Kala Patar. We met Steve, the Irish guy again and he had successfully summited Kala Patar that morning. He was exhausted though, and looked a bit worse for wear. As we were chatting in the lodge, I noticed a bit of commotion going on at the reception desk. Mark and I knew straight away what was happening. The stupid American man we met in Tengboche
Helicopter delivering supplies
had gotten himself into an emergency situation. From what we could gather, he somehow made it to Lobuche, realised he was getting very sick and ordered a helicopter to pick him up from Lobuche the next day. He then rented a horse and his guide brought him to Base Camp (an altitude increase of 400m!) despite the fact that he was suffering from severe AMS. He got off the horse at Gorak Shep on the way back to Lobuche but refused to go any further and demanded that a rescue helicopter be summoned. Obviously we are in Nepal here and also at 5,100m, and a helicopter rescue is not going to happen with a click of the fingers, no matter how much money you have. The guide was now running around all the lodges trying to find a doctor. I decided to go over to the other lodge and try to talk some sense into the man, despite the warning that others had tried and failed. It is testament to my amazing powers of persuasion that I managed to convince the world's most stubborn man to get back on the horse and GET DOWN NOW! He was adamant that he
Kate, poles at the ready
didn't have altitude sickness, yet he was showing clear signs of ataxia, vomiting persistently and was blue in the face. I explained to him that no matter what sickness he had, it would only deteriorate at this altitude and that it was vital that he descend as fast as possible. There is a doctor in Lobuche so I eventually managed to convince him to get back on the horse and get down to Lobuche. Mark and some other guys lifted him up and help him towards the horse. We never found out if he got there, or if he got through the ordeal but we all knew that if he had stayed the night in Gorak Shep he would have been in a coma by the morning. He may have achieved is dream of getting to Base Camp, but he really paid a price.
Day 12- Base Camp Day! Gorak Shep (5,170m)- Everest Base Camp (5,360m)
We woke up excited on day 12 and couldn't wait to get going. I was in my element when we met Pemba Dorje Sherpa, who holds the current world record for the fastest ascent of Everest- an incredible 8 hours from Base Camp!
Our first view of Everest, with the distinctive ice plume
He also climbed Everest 3 times in 5 days without supplemental oxygen. I couldn't believe how lucky we were to meet him. He is heading for the summit again this year with an all women Nepali expedition who we also met at our lodge in Gorak Shep. A very exciting morning and we hadn't even started to walk yet!
Willpower was the only thing that got us to Base Camp. It was a hell of a walk, along a knife edge ridge, and hopping across boulders on the Khumbu glacier. It was the most physically testing day of the whole trek and it tested us mentally too. We made slow progress and it took us about 3 1/2 hours to get there, with only a couple of rest stops en route. It was worth every step though and the pain of the labour intensive trek was soon forgotten when we arrived at the the base camp of the world's highest mountain. Base Camp is a crazy crazy place. This year, there are over 45 expeditions there with about 1,000 people living at base camp for 3 months. We were hungry so first stop was the bakery. Can you believe
Everest View Hotel
Everest as seen from Everest View Hotel
it?! A bakery! And some bakery it was too. The man is a genius and served us up the best apple tart I've ever had (just out of the oven) and a well deserved cup of tea. We spent the next hour and a half checking out the base camp scene. It'a a lively place with music blaring from tents, excited chatter and it felt quite chilled out. Mark spotted the Irish flag we were hoping to see, and we called in to say hello. There we met, Ian from Kildare who is aiming to be the first Kildareman on the summit! He was a great guy and we really do wish him the best of luck. We asked him how the Icefall was, and he said he has been through it a few times and has been up to Camp 1. It was so thrilling to talk to him and find out how he was getting on. He invited us to the after party back in Dublin when they come home in June. If you want to check out the expedition details, the website is www.everest2008.ie.
There was more than the normal pre climb tension about though, and
expeditions at Base Camp are understandably disgruntled and frustrated about the restrictions imposed on communications by Nepal's Ministry of Tourism, as China prepares to take the Olympic torch up the North side of Everest. There is a complete communications ban from base camp upwards and the authorities have closed territory on Everest above 6,500 metres until the torch has been and gone from the top (which means no climbing above Camp II). Obviously this will impede climbers' essential acclimatisation and there will be even more congestion during the rush for the top when the ban is finally lifted. Ian from the Irish expedition was telling us how their satellite phones have been confiscated as well as their video cameras. We even saw the Chinese officials flying in to Base Camp in their helicopters over the last few days.
We walked to the edge of the camp to the base of the dreaded Khumbu Icefall. This is the most dangerous part of the ascent to the summit and is where most fatalities on Everest have occured. Climbers must tackle it early in the morning before the ice starts to melt and releases blocks of ice the size of houses. It
is a pretty impressive sight from Base Camp and must be extremely intimidating for climbers. We bumped into Steve from Lobuche hanging out in the Vietnamese tent and he seemed to be in good form, despite his rapid ascent over the last few days! Soon it was time to start the long walk back to Gorak Shep and we said goodbye to Base Camp. We tried to find the memorials for Rob Hall and Scott Fischer on the way back but had no luck. We thought we spotted them on a ridge near Gorak Shep but there was no way we were doing any more climbing that day! By the time we reached the lodge, we were absolutely wrecked. I have never known such tiredness! I somehow managed to summon the energy to make a 2 minute call home (costing me 5 euros!) to let the family know we had made it and were in good form. It was early to bed and a happy, content sleep followed.
Day 13- Gorak Shep (5,170m) - Kala Patar Summit (5,600m) - Pheriche (4,280m)
I woke up at 6am feeling very low on energy and generally exhausted. I resigned myself to the
fact that I wasn't going to be able to attempt Kala Patar as I was too shattered from the day before. Mark was feeling ok and decided that he would give it a go. We had also planned to descend to Pheriche today to give our bodies a break from the altitude and that was going to be a long and difficult trek. We had breakfast together and I started to think that I might be able to give Kala Patar a go, especially when my morning Diamox started to kick in. We only had one shot at this, and I might never be back (something tells me I will though!) so I decided to go for it. Ramesh wasn't feeling well at all so we gave him the morning off and tackled it ourselves. I found it very difficult at the start, the slope was steep and I was tired. I soon got into a rhythm though, and from then on it was just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. I felt great and the higher I got, the faster I was able to move. Mark was a little slower since he was Diamox
free, but kept going at a steady pace. The summit seemed so far away and for ages I felt like I wasn't getting any closer to it. I could see the prayer flags flapping in the wind at the summit, but they just weren't getting closer. I kept going nonetheless and finally made it to the lower summit at 5,554m. The real summit was still a few minutes away and involved some steep scrambling over boulders. I was so determined at this stage, but also in alot of pain- my chest was really sore and my throat was extremely dry from trying to breathe in the dry air. My lungs felt empty and I couldn't get a full deep breath. I persevered anyway and slowly lifted my legs over the boulders. A long ten minutes later I was standing on the summit and a French guy congratulated me. I looked down to see Mark pumping his arm in the air congratulating me too and he joined me on the summit about 10 minutes later exhausted, but thrilled that we both made it. The wind started to pick up around us, and the prayer flags were flapping violently. We knew we
didn't have much time to take photos as the temperature was dropping rapidly. We had to take our gloves off to operate the cameras properly which was extremely painful! After about 10 minutes up there together, we ran down as fast as we could to warm up. It was all very thrilling and it wasn't until we got below the lower summit that we began jumping up and down in celebration! Fantastic!
It had taken us about 2 hours to get to the top but the descent was easy, and we soon warmed up as we moved quickly down the mountain. Ramesh was waiting for us at the bottom, waiting to hear the news. When we told him we got to the summit, he looked very surprised and responded with his most commonly used phrase, "Are you sure sir?" Yes we're bloody sure Ramesh! He was just surprised that we had made it up and down so fast. After a quick lunch we left Gorak Shep at 11am. By the time we reached Lobuche, the jubilation had diminished somewhat and I was bordering on physical exhaustion. We really wanted to get to Pheriche though, so we continued on, down
through the awful boulder hill (which we had climbed a few days earlier), to Thuklha where we stopped for tea. This descent was proving to be the most difficult part of the whole trek for me so far. I really found it challenging. After leaving Thuklha we trekked through a beautiful valley, which reminded me of Connemara with its heather bushes and stone walls. But then you look up and see giant snow covered Ama Dablam and realise that you are in fact very far away from Connemara! I somehow managed to make it to Pheriche and flopped into bed at 4pm. Mark brought me a tuna sandwich in bed and I slept soundly until 7am the next morning. In total we descended 1,300m that day.
Day 14- Pheriche (4,280m)- Tengboche (3,860m)
A 3 hour trek down to Tengboche. It took us much longer than I had thought it would, and I had forgotten how many hills there were, both downhill and uphill! I was very glad to finally take off my thermal leggings which I'd been wearing non-stop for the last 9 days...!
Day 15- Tengboche (3,860m)- Namche (3,450m)
I was so relieved to arrive in Namche.
It was a very long walk with loads of hard slogging uphill. It was on this day that I realised that I hadn't seen a road vehicle (only yaks and zopkias) in 2 weeks! The only way to get around is to walk, walk and walk. We went to the local bakery and treated ourselves and Ramesh to great pizzas. It was early to bed again though, and by 7pm I was sound asleep.
Day 16- Namche (3,450m) - Phakding (2,650m)
We were delighted to reach Phakding, safe in the knowledge that the bulk of the hard work was done and we just had 2 more hours trekking the next day to get to Lukla. As we arrived in Phakding, a crazy looking woman came up to Ramesh and started belting him and screaming at him. It was a pretty funny sight! It transpired that it was his wife who had trekked up to Lukla with their two daughters to find him as they hadn't heard from him in weeks! We stayed at the lodge where Ramesh worked as a cook and he made me another delicious pizza.
Day 17- Phakding (2,650m) - Lukla (2,850m)
We were finally
back where it all began! After yet another pizza for lunch for me (I was dying for pizza after all the potatoes and rice I had consumed over the last few weeks!) and some chocolate cake, biscuits and tea at the German bakery, we headed to the Irish pub. Yes, an Irish pub! Proof that there really is an Irish pub EVERYWHERE. We ended up getting hammered and 4 pints of San Miguel at 2,850m we were singing along to the Dubliners and the Pogues. We were the only people in the tiny bar so we really let loose with the drunken antics and were dancing around and singing "The Cavan Girl" in true celebratory style. Around 7pm we stumbled back to our lodge like drunken fools, had some dinner and conked out in bed.
Day 18- Yeti Airlines Flight No.1 to Kathmandu
We woke up with sore heads but delighted to be heading back to Kathmandu. No more walking!!!! We arrived at the airport (just a room really) and after much confusion managed to get our boarding cards. Our flight number appeared to be "1". We were waiting in the departure lounge, unsure of when we were supposed
to be boarding. Suddenly a man shouted out "Green boarding cards, Green boarding cards come to the door". We had green boarding cards so we headed over. "No, no, no, Sir, Not that shade of green". We sat down again. A few minutes later there was another call of some sort so we just went back to the door in case it was for us. Turns out the call was for flight no. 1 to Kathmandu, which seemed to match up with the number 1 on our boarding cards. We were hustled outside straight onto the runway as the plane landed right beside us. Bags of rice were hauled out of the plane and stacked up by the door to use as steps! It was just so funny! We climbed the bags of rice and buckled up in our seats, and we were in the air within 1 minute. I tell you, Ryanair could learn some valuable lessons here!
So, it was goodbye to the Khumbu after 17 special days there. What an adventure! It really couldn't have been better. I know I will be back here some day...
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