On the way to Everest Base Camp - getting to Namche with first symptoms of altitude sickness, already???

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March 9th 2013
Published: April 7th 2013
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majestic Everest! majestic Everest! majestic Everest!

(the one with the could on top on the left)
I remember looking at different options for Everest Base Camp trek a few months back and having some serious doubts whether I should sign up for one or not… After all the trek did look pretty demanding and let’s be honest I don’t think there was ever a time in my life when I could say that I was really in top shape. But then I thought if I booked it relatively early, there would be plenty of time to work on my fitness levels and maybe it would work after all… So I did book the trek some time last year– I actually went beyond that and in the moment of total madness booked two treks, Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Circuit, one just after the other, thinking piece of cake! 😉 So the months have passed by and the plans to get in shape remained plans only (I guess no surprise there!), so I started having some serious second thoughts whether I would be able to do it at all as it was getting closer to my departure and I sure wasn't ready! But then some people say that apparently EBC trek is not really a challenge anymore as even grannies sign up for it nowadays (still I wonder who these people are actually!), so there was a slight chance that it could all work out well after all… 😉

I was a bit anxious about meeting my trekking group as well, as you'll never know who you'll be stuck with for the next two weeks... 😉 But at the very first meeting any doubts that I had about this trip were gone in seconds as the group (12 in total) seemed like a nice (talkative and some slightly crazy, which is always fun!) bunch of people and our guide with a huge smile stuck on his face sounded like he knew what he was talking about (which could prove helpful later on I guess 😉). We went through the whole itinerary at the meeting and at the end were given a list of things that we should have with us on the trek, including an indication on how much money to take with us (which obviously was quite an important information as there wouldn’t be much of a chance to come across an ATM on the trek and changing the money could be difficult as well). So straight after the meeting everybody spread around to do the last bits of shopping and get some badly needed cash…

In the evening we all went to a dinner together to get to know each other a bit better. Our guide chose a traditional Nepali restaurant and we all happily agreed to it. I was surprised to see that they were pouring sake in our glasses (strong alcohols are definitely not for me, so had to decline the offer), but the rest of the group had a shot – looking at their faces drinking it convinced me even more that I did the right choice though. 😉 The evening altogether was really nice – food was very tasty (dal bhaat again of course), company great and all was accompanied by some traditional music and dance, which we took part in at the end as well (I wasn’t exactly too keen on it – the shy beast that I am sometimes, haha! but eventually everybody joined in, a Japanese group that was having dinner at the restaurant as well seemed to be the most enthusiastic about it, so it sure was fun!). Once back at the hotel everybody went back to their rooms, we were starting very early next day – meeting in the lobby at 5am!, so it was a wise idea to call it a night early and catch some sleep in between…

Day 1 – Kathmandu to Phakding (2,610m)

I wasn’t exactly too happy when the alarm rang at 4am, so let myself lie in for another 15 minutes, only to regret making this decision a few moments later cause as usual had to rush in the end and therefore the packing didn’t go as great as planed and my backpack seemed pretty heavy unfortunately… Also I was the last one to show up downstairs… was on time, but still last! Not a great second (or I guess the third, including meeting and dinner also) impression… Ah well… That’s me! I'm always paying attention to silly things like that and thinking about it for way too long later on… 😉

We threw our backpacks on top of the minibus and set off for the airport. Once we got there, with the boarding passes in hand had the backpacks scanned and weighted (quite possibly mine was the heaviest – not good again!!! – we were supposed to pack in max 12kilos as the porters would need to carry 3 backpacks at once! So felt pretty bad slightly exceeding the 12 kilos, especially that some people from my group managed to pack in half if that weight! Honestly have no clue how, as I think my backpack weighs 2 kilos on its own only! what's more I didn't know what could've been so heavy there as really took few things only! hmmm... anyway… not much I could’ve done about that at that moment, just made a note in my head that have to do better than that on the Annapurna trek!

Once the backpacks were gone, we got our daypacks scanned as well and soon after we were waiting for our flight to Lukla. It didn’t look too promising though as it was very cloudy over in Lukla so the flights couldn’t take off until they got the go ahead that the skies are clear again… Apparently there used to be a sign hanging at the domestic terminal reading: ‘Passengers Please Note: In Nepal we do not fly through clouds, as here they often have rocks in them!’ Taking into account that phrase and the fact that the planes weren’t equipped in any kind of radars so the pilots were only relying on their eyes when leading the plane to the airstrip, I say it definitely was better to wait until the skies are clear before taking off! Also we were hoping that we wouldn’t come across any birds on the way, as a couple of months before one plane went down killing everybody on board because a bird hit one of the propellers. Anyway… All we could do now was to sit and wait and hope the flight would take off eventually and that we would safely land in Lukla – I couldn’t imagine waking up at 4am the next day again… Had a chance to see on TV a few images from the festival that was taking place in Kathmandu that day – Shiva festival – it was quite a ‘special’ celebration as beside the fact that some parts of Kathmandu like Durbar Square were nicely decorated for the festival, it looked like there were going to be quite a few happy people in the city that day as the most important part about it was smoking hash on that day (one day in the whole year when you can actually smoke it legally!). Taking into account that it wasn’t even 8 in the morning yet and people were ‘celebrating’ already, Kathmandu would definitely turn into a crazy place later on… So even more was hoping that we would leave that day. But thankfully an hour or so later, the good news came – flights would be taking off shortly!

We were one of the first ones in line, so shortly after were boarding the ‘huuuge’ plane to Lukla! Didn’t count the seats but don't think there were more than 14-16 seats on this plane as there were 13 of us (12 hopeful trekkers and our guide Ashok) and a stewardess and the plane seemed full… And two pilots of course! 😊 Once everybody got their seats the propellers started turning, and shortly after we were making our way through the runway and then were up in the air. It definitely was cloudy throughout the whole flight so didn’t really see much of the Himalayas this time, still here and there you could catch a glimpse of the hilly area and all the fields around. I was slightly alarmed when suddenly one of the pilots took out a newspaper and covering the whole front window with it, just started reading it, but then once we were getting closer to Lukla he put it away on time and after a short 40-minutes flight we were approaching the runway in Lukla. As cloudy as it was before suddenly the clouds seemed to have cleared and now everybody was staring through the front window at the tiny runway and was wondering how on earth we are going to land there! But the pilots put us very gently and safely on the ground so soon after we were cheering that we made it to Lukla in one piece and were slowly starting to realise that we are about to start our trek very shortly!

It sure was very exciting! I was thinking and reading about this trek for some time now and now I was actually here! Just couldn’t help but smile… At the back of my mind I had quite a few doubts of course, whether I was going to keep up with the group and in general whether I was going to make it all the way as haven’t really done a trek like this before and trekking in Tatras is nowhere close to this – not only because of the altitude but also the amount of days of trekking and the distance! I also was hoping I wouldn’t get the altitude sickness! Like they say you might be very fit, but it still can hit you quite unexpectedly! So there were a few worries – I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t worry once in a while 😉, but then excitement seemed to exceed the doubts, so full of energy and optimism was starting my trek to Everest Base Camp! 😊

Unfortunately we weren’t too lucky about the weather as the moment we started passing through Lukla the first drops of rain fell from the sky so soon after everybody was rushing to take out their raincoats and rain covers for the backpacks as it looked like it was going to be raining for a while… Even though the weather was quite miserable, it didn’t kill the spirits of our group as we were marching through the trail in very good moods anyway… Leaving Lukla we had a chance to come across our first group of yaks! Our guide quickly warned us though not to get too close to them as they have quite a temper and looking at their horns and in general their size it sure would be wise not to mess with them! 😉

On our first day of trekking we were walking along the Dudh Kosi river, passing by numerous small villages along the way. Half way on our trek it stopped raining so had a chance to concentrate a bit on the surroundings as well and not only on the path to avoid slipping on the stones. It sure was a nice scenery around - we were strolling next to the river and had a chance to cross it through the bouncy suspension bridges, we also saw the first Himalayan peaks sticking out from the clouds and passed by (always on the left side to respect the Buddhist ways) a few stupas, mani stones and prayer flags and wheels here and there.

All and all it was a fairly easy and, despite the weather, a very pleasant trek that day (fairly easy as I still had to stop a few times to catch my breath as there were a few steep ascents in between). We reached Phakding in the early afternoon so had plenty of time to relax. To kill a bit of time our guide said we could watch a movie if we wanted which sounded like a great idea, so we sat around the fireplace (it was getting pretty cold closer to the evening), with a cup of hot chocolate in hand and were ready to enjoy the film… And then the title showed up on the screen: ‘Into thin air, Death in Everest’… Everybody had to laugh as obviously it wasn’t a great way to motivate us for the trek! Haha! The movie was pretty bad, the acting that is, as the story behind it sure was interesting and based on facts for that matter… The unfortunate story of Scott Fisher and his crew… Very sad… But I guess there is always a risk when going on an expedition like this as the conditions up there are pretty extreme and once the weather gets worse, well… there’s not much you can do about it but to hope you will make through it… Definitely not something I will be thinking about doing any time soon… It’s not a cheap thing to do either – as they say that once you want to do an expedition to Everest summit you are looking at costs around $30,000-40,000 per person! So definitely something to consider before taking on this challenge! So with this ‘positive’ accent we called it a day…

Day 2 – Phakding to Namche Bazaar (3,440m)

Had a horrible night, I hardly slept at all as I was absolutely frozen the whole night! Not sure what the temperature was during the night, but it must have been close to 0 (maybe 5C maximum) and that would be outside the guesthouse but inside as well! Lying on my bed, wrapped up in a sleeping bag, I started thinking why on earth I exchanged the sleeping bag from 3 seasons to 2 just before I left (oh yep! I remember now, to save a bit of space in my backpack!), now it seemed like a very bad choice! A lot of people said they were pretty cold during the night also, but our guide said there was still a chance to get some fleece liner for the sleeping bags or new sleeping bags once we got to Namche, so just made a note of it in my head as definitely needed something a bit warmer (especially that it was only supposed to get colder once we got higher up the trail!).

Had a nice porridge with apple and banana for breakfast hoping that it would make up for my lack of sleep and soon after breakie the guides said: ‘Jam jam‘ (let’s go!) and the second day of the trek begun… This time the skies were clear and straight away you could admire the beautiful scenery around! Again at the beginning we were walking along the river, passing tiny villages, yaks and ponies loaded with all sorts of goods and quite a number of porters carrying some very heavy loads. In Thumbug we stopped for lunch as this was the last village before Namche, so needed to rest before the two-hour climb that was ahead of us… Our guide reminded us to take enough water for the climb as there wouldn’t be any chance to fill in the bottles later on. The first part of the path from here was pretty gentle and I actually started thinking that maybe they exaggerated a bit calling it ‘a climb’, but just after we crossed the high suspension bridge over the Dudh Kosi river, it became very steep indeed and it was only up, up, up from now on for the next two hours! I have to say I struggled with it a lot! Was actually at the very back of the group and had to stop quite a number of times along the way to catch a few breaths here and there… Was I really so out of shape??? Or maybe it was just the lack of sleep and energy in general??? It sure was very hard and I really had to push myself the last part of the way, but then finally there it was! Namche Bazaar at last! It’s set just on the side of the hill, so walking through Namche proved to be quite a challenge also, as there were steps all around! But eventually made it to our guesthouse! As the last person from our group! Pretty embarrassing, but then hey! At least I made it!

A guesthouse was very spacious and had a big dining area, so everybody just took their seat around, and with a cup of hot chocolate in hand we exchanged the experiences from the day. One of the guys got sick, he did say he wasn’t feeling that great along the way already (nothing worse than walking with your stomach all over the place!). Well, I guess it was just the beginning… Everybody was wondering who will get sick next… Just before dinner everybody spread around Namche to buy a couple of things for the trek – I got the trekking poles (few people said they were quite helpful and since they were very cheap I thought why not? Whatever helps!), extra thermal layer and a fleece liner for my sleeping bag, hoping that I bought enough warm things and that I wouldn’t freeze along the way! Everybody was actually laughing at me saying that out of all the people in the group I actually should be the most used to the cold weather (there is a point in that I guess), but then I was never great with cold temperatures and definitely prefer some nice tropical climate! 😉. Once I got back to our guesthouse suddenly started feeling really bad… Very weak, all congested, quite nauseous as well… Thought of going to the room and lie down for a moment but once I got to the room felt as if I was going to faint, so realised it might be best to go sit around people just in case. Went to the restaurant and lied down on the side bench, our guide Ashok was soon around me asking how I was feeling and if I drank enough water during the day, and it looked like I was definitely dehydrated… He quickly ordered a garlic soup for me and gave me a bottle of water with some dehydration powder in it… It was very difficult to force the soup down my throat as first of all it felt as if they put a kilo of garlic there, and besides that feeling nauseous, food was the last thing on my mind at that moment. Soon another girl joined me at the table in a very similar state to mine. After 'dinner' I went to lie down in my room and later on came back downstairs asking Ashok for some more remedies… Was all congested and felt like there was something strange going on in my chest as well – great! The last thing I needed now was for my cold to turn into something nasty… But then again Ashok took care of me very well, quickly they set up an inhalation corner for me and then gave me some stuff to rub on my chest for the night as well. When I was falling asleep I was hoping that in the morning I would feel better…

Day 3 – Acclimatisation day in Namche

This time I had a good night’s sleep, which helped a lot! Even though I was still feeling week in the morning I actually did feel better… The day before I started having serious doubts and was very disappointed that I got sick so early on the trek as was really afraid that I wasn’t going to make it all the way since it was so bad down here already, but thankfully a small light appeared at the end of the tunnel and I decided that have to listen to the advice of our guide and stick to drinking more water along the way and eat some more food, whether I felt like it or not! Definitely didn’t want to repeat feeling like that again!

Thankfully this was meant to be quite a relaxing day as there was only a three hour trek planned for that day, just to get used to the altitude. Ashok was asking me if maybe I wanted to stay in the guesthouse instead, but I thought it was best to do the acclimatisation trek or at least give it a try… As I said before walking through Namche is not an easy task as wherever you go it’s never flat, you either have to climb steps going up or put some pressure on your knees while descending… Funny how you see the tourists walking slowly and stopping here and there catching a few breaths while the locals are basically flying through the steps without any effect on them whatsoever… First we walked to the Sagarmatha National Park Visitor Centre as there was a nice view on the Everest from there and whoever wanted to visit the museum could find out a few bits about the Khumbu region and its people… Everest was quite far away from us at this point, but still the skies were clear so the visibility was perfect! There it was – the highest mountain in the world! With a little cloud hanging just on top of it, it seemed as if a smoke or steam was coming out from it, looking majestic and very mysterious at the same time!

Soon after it was time for the acclimatisation walk and I have to say it sure was quite a climb! But the views from the top were incredible! Leaving Namche far below, the village looked just beautiful set right in the middle of the mountains… So even though it was quite a strenuous climb, the views were making up for it for sure! We got to the helicopter landing point and from here whoever wanted could climb up a bit more to a teahouse set atop of the mountain nearby. I didn’t want to push it and decided to go back to our guesthouse and so did a few other people. Since it was the last place where we would be able to have hot shower, I took this opportunity very gladly. I went for the garlic soup for dinner again and some momos – enjoyed the momos, but the garlic soup not so much, still was hoping it will put me on my feet and that I would be fully recovered the next day. Called it a night very early again but then so did everyone else as some good rest was definitely needed before another big trek the following day...

Additional photos below
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7th April 2013

I love the way you share your thoughts...
hang in there...you can make it! Looking forward to the rest of your blogs.
1st May 2013

Thanks Bob :) Only catching up on my blogs now... Finished Base Camp trek successfully after all and actually just back from Annapurna Circuit as well, just love Himalayas! :) More blogs on the way! Regards
7th April 2013

Enjoyed your descriptions
Sounds like you are making the best of a miserable situation. Sorry to hear about the rain and your illness. Hopefully, you will continue to feel better and enjoy it a bit more.
1st May 2013

Thanks Dave & Merry :) Very behind with my blogs now, but will try to catch up this week... All recovered now, madde it to the Base Camp and just finished another trek now actually as well! Regards!
8th April 2013

Interesting entry with nice photos! Makes me want to go to Nepal even more (though I'm not so keen on the climbing and the possibility of altitude sickness).
1st May 2013

Thanks Jay! Absolutely love Nepal! So you should definitely head in this direction, there are some amazing treks at lower altitudes as well, especially around Annapurna! Regards!

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