Everyone needs to challenge themselves and I set myself a couple of personal goals for adventure each year. I’m heading to Nepal with my brother-in-law in September 2015. We’re away for three weeks with the Everest Adventure Trek Co and we will test ourselves on the arduous trek to Everest Base Camp.
This blog is for friends and family to share in our exploits and keep them up to date with our progress.
I don’t actually like Oysters. They’re a big glob of goo from the sea. But apparently they also give us pearls, which is the treasure that Shakespeare originally wrote about when he coined the phrase.
Therefore, the world is a place where you can get something of great value, with relative ease.
My pearl in the world is Mt Everest. I’ve always wanted to see it for as long as I can remember. I’ve seriously had it on my wish list for several years now. Last year, while celebrating my birthday with a few wines, I drunkenly said “Let’s just book the trip.” Which I soberly did the next day.
We were originally supposed to travel in May, trekking to Everest Base Camp at the end of the spring season. Just before we were due to leave, a major series of earthquakes hit Nepal. We reluctantly had to postpone the adventure until after the Himalayan monsoons. This stormy precipitous period finishes mid-September and we will now soon be one of the first groups back up the mountain.
A team of structural and geo-technical engineers led by the US-based firm Miyamoto International surveyed the Everest trail on foot and by helicopter to check for quake-triggered destruction and hazards. The conditions up the trail are mostly safe with a couple of new detours crossing the Dudh Kosi River following a safer path avoiding possible landslides and avalanches.
Paul and I were well ready and prepared to travel in May. The four month delay has only made our feet even more itchy and our appetites for the challenge more ravenous. We’ve been up snowy peaks throughout the South Island most weekends and I’ve tried to acclimatize to the low oxygenated atmosphere of Nepal by climbing with an ear plug up one nostril to halve the amount of air getting to my brain. I’m not sure this has worked successfully but I reckon I’m all good to go. At the least it’s increased my nostril size.
Let the blogging begin. 10 days to go!!!
A twelve hour stop over in Sydney then four hours in Kuala Lumpur set us up for the last leg to Kathmandu. It feels real now! I write this after a tasty chicken curry with naan bread served while I watch Mad Max on the in-flight entertainment consol.
The Malaysian Air flight to Nepal is only a third full, which is probably a testament to the earthquakes and the drop off in tourists visiting the area. Paul spoke to one of the flight attendants who said the aircraft now quickly disembark the passengers and leave Kathmandu immediately to reduce the earthquake risk to the plane and staff. She said she previously stayed overnight in Kathmandu frequently. Not anymore, at least until things settle down. Everything has run smoothly so far. I bought a new Sony compact camera in Sydney and Paul discovered a stylish Swiss Tissot altimeter watch in Kaula Lumpur which needed to be bought. It might be useful, to confirm that we are at the top of Everest, if we decide to continue on up from base camp!
The plane has many Nepalese Sherpa type people on board. I suspect many are returning to restart trekking and climbing jobs. There are just a few obvious tourists. I wonder if we will see some of them again up the trail. Paul was very excited to see his first Nepalese monk in robes when he boarded the flight with us.
Rooftop view Hotel Moonlight.
Keeping hydrated at Hotel Moonlight.
We awoke at 4am on Tuesday to depart Hotel Moonlight at five in the morning. It wasn’t a problem as I was awake at 2am rearing to go. Paul and I had packed the night before so I had a shower and met the rest of the Base Camp team in the foyer. We were all infected with nervous anticipation and couldn’t wait to start the adventure properly. Bishnu, our mountain guide, promptly met us and we headed to Kathmandu airport. Check in went smoothly and after sitting in the departure lounge for about 2 minutes we were called to embark the plane. It was too soon, I hadn’t psyched myself up and got myself all nervous yet. This was probably a good thing and before I knew it we were taxiing down the runway in a small plane that seats around 12 people.
The flight went smoothly as we flew above the clouds. After 30 minutes the hills rose to meet us and a thin strip of asphalt appeared very quickly. We charged at it and banged down hard onto the runway, the engines screamed as loud as all the passengers, who cheered in celebration at surviving the most dangerous airport in the world.
Lukla is a small bustling airport. Trekkers who had completed their journey were lined up waiting to take our seats on the aircraft and return to Kathmandu. They looked tired and tanned and weathered. This would be us in just over two weeks time. Our porters were eagerly waiting to uplift the gear and get us on our way. We spent an hour acclimatising and getting our day packs organised and then we were off! The trail was relatively quiet, mostly filled with young and old porters carrying everything from sacks of potatoes, to chairs, to back breaking freshly cut timber. Dogs, cows and bullocks also shared the trail lazily watching us stroll by. Bishnu kept us at a steady and easy pace explaining about various features and structures on the way.
It was hard to believe we were actually here after all the anticipation and delays. The Duhd Kosi River roared alongside us and after 90 minutes we crossed our first swing bridge. Lots of photos were taken. They are actually very sturdily built and gave a great view of the bubbling river below.
After a lot of climbs and descents, and skilful sidesteps of intermittent yaks droppings, the small village of Phakding appeared and our accommodation was allocated. The rooms were small and basic and we unexpectantly had the luxury of an electric light in our room, albeit glowing very faintly. Today has whet my appetitive for much more. It was a good easy start to what will be a long day tomorrow. Bring it on.
Monday had seen us on a guided tour of old Kathmandu town and then on to see lots of shrines (including the famous Monkey Temple). The old town was badly affected by the recent earthquakes. If the buildings hadn’t completely fallen down, they were often streaked with large cracks and on strange leans. We’d left early in the morning and got back late in the afternoon in time for some last minute trekking purchases in the chaotic shopping district of Thamel in central Kathmandu. This was an interesting place but my feet were wanting to head into the mountains and start the climb to the dizzy Himalayan heights. This would soon be happening.
I write this from Namche Bazar after a very tough day of climbing. Everyone is exhausted and affected by the altitude to various degrees. I’ll post more tomorrow. The internet is very slow here. There was no internet in Phakding at all. Need sleep and recovery now. More tomorrow.
It rained heavily all night in Phakding. I woke at 6am and went outside to see amazing towering peaks around us. A mist was just starting to form and by the time we got dressed and headed for 7am breakfast the views had disappeared, replaced with low clouds. At least the rain had gone. It wouldn’t have been fun hiking in the deluge. We immediately crossed another swing bridge and came to a washout from the night’s downpour. Bishnu told us to run one by one, very quickly, across a very narrow, newly formed small path with a drop below to the roaring Duhd Kosi River. We did as we were told and we all made it with fresh adrenaline pumping in our veins to kick start our day. Bishnu told us the first 2 or 3 hours were flat and easy before the steep two and a half hour climb to Namche. Yeah right! “Nepal flat” says Bishnu smiling with each very steep stepped section we ascend. There is no flat!
After many hours of trekking and a compulsory stop for tea (lemon with honey is my favourite) we then stopped for lunch. Soon after that, mushroom pizza sat heavily in my stomach as the famous Hillary bridge appeared before us. This bridge features in the new movie “Everest” and is even more spectacular in reality.
The bridge marks the beginning of the continuous unrelenting two and a half hour climb to Namche Bazar. Regular slow steps beating a rhythm to the top was the order of the day. After an eternity the exhausted group arrived at the welcoming mountain village of Namche Bazar. We checked into our accommodation at the Footrest Lodge and imbibed more tea and we all formed a queue for a hot shower. These had to be paid for but nobody was going to have a cold one tonight. Further up the mountain it is cold shower or no shower. It will be the latter for me I’m picking.
Dinner of Dahl Baht, a traditional Nepalese curry with lentil soup, and it was time for bed. The rooms have two wooden structures with thin foam mattresses that have been squeezed flat by many tired trekkers over the years. Luckily I like firm beds and I’m exhausted. I wanted this challenge to be hard and it’s more than delivered today. On top of that, mild altitude sickness set in and my head was throbbing. I stupidly took a couple of Coldral day tablets to help the head but this meant I lay wide awake until 2am at which time I took the Coldral night tabs and finally got some sleep.
Day two saw us climb a 3880 metre peak (400 vertical metres) next to the village. On a clear day Mt Everest can be seen in its glory from the top. Today however is misty again and Everest eludes us. Lemon tea at a lodge on the summit and I descend by myself back to Namche so I can Facetime Vincent Fuller who turned 25 today. HAPPY BIRTHDAY VINNIE! The rest of the group visited Khumjung and arrived back at the lodge two hours later.
My head and body feels much better today as I acclimatise to the lack of oxygen but it’s still not pleasant. We head to Tengbouche tomorrow and we will visit the famous monastery there. We’ve got another two and a half hour climb to finish the day to look forward to. Internet here is painfully slow so I can’t post a lot of photos just yet. I’ll add later when I can. Namaste!
The acclimatisation climb yesterday was a great success and I awoke after a great sleep feeling really good. Today we trek to Tengbouche. The day is misty again and the mountain peaks remain elusive. An initial climb leads onto a decent down to the river again where we have lunch. The sun is kind to us as it peeks through the clouds. We can see heavy mist up the steep climb ahead of us. At the top of this is the largest monastery in the area.
Bishnu, our guide informs us that the Lukla airport has been closed for 4 days due to visibility. Not even the helicopter has been able to land. Apparently our flight was the last to land up the mountain. It would have been so frustrating being stuck in Kathmandu for four days. He said the trek would have been shortened and Everest Base Camp would not have been reached. We’d have been gutted!! I don’t mind the mist as long as we are getting closer to our goal. I feel for those stuck behind. A light lunch in the belly and we cross another swing bridge and begin the two hour climb to our accommodation tonight. It is hard going all the way and heavy mist follows us right to the top.
Tengbouche is a tiny village with just a couple of lodges. Ours is pleasant and the beds are surprising comfortable although the rooms are tiny. There is barely room to move between the two wooden bases with just a small space at the end for our bag. The monastery is visible just outside our small window. It’s late in the afternoon and I forsake a shower. I place my order for Dahl Baht for dinner. “Dahl Baht Power!” says Bishnu grinning. “24 hour power!”
Finally the gods smile upon us the next morning and the mountains that have been hiding reveal themselves. The mist clears early and we discover that amazing peaks have been looking down on us all this time.
Ama Dablum sits right in front of us and to the left Lhotse with Everest peak peering over behind her. It is so beautiful! Cameras are clicking all morning before breakfast. Bishnu arranges for us to visit the Tengbouche monastery and we hear the monks chanting their rhythmic prayers. Its very soothing.
We continue our march to Everest in sunshine and spectacular views. Dingbouche greets us 6 hours later. The mountains around us are so tall and steep. There hasn’t been any Wifi since Namche and it’s the same here. On our second day in the village and after climbing a 5100 metre peak to gain more amazing views and help with acclimatisation, I have discovered a man with his own private Wifi and have managed this quick blog. I’m feeling good and confident in reaching base camp in two days.
I’ve been out of Wi-Fi range for a few days now and much has happened. We trekked to Lobuche on Sunday. A steep incline out of the village had everyone panting but then the trail levelled off over a barren open plane.
We passed by old broken down stone houses with the occupants long gone. As we took advantage of this photo opportunity a crazed bearded marathon runner sprinted down the hill to greet us. He babbled non stop asking for someone to film and photograph him on his camera, running up and down the hill.
We did so for half a dozen takes and then he informed us he was training and acclimatising for the Everest Marathon next week. He was very hyperactive and funny and it turned out he was from Poland. He sprung off back up the hill and we also continued on.
After a couple of hours hiking we came to Thukla, a tiny two tearoomed village just over a bubbling river. We stopped for tea and observed a very steep climb up to the spot where there are many memorials for climbers and sherpas that have died in these mountains. I took lots of photos then we carried on to Lobuche.
This last one includes Anatoli Boukreev who was in the movie “Everest” that’s just been released. He saved a number of the climbers in the movie and died the following year on Mt Annapurna.
Again tiny rooms and more primitive toilet facilities were awaiting at the lodge in Lobuche. Tomorrow we head to Gorak Shep, the last accommodation before Everest Base Camp. The nights are getting very cold now and the air is noticeably harder to breathe. In the small hours I wake up panting deeply with a terrible feeling that I’m suffocating. Still I’m very excited to see Everest Base Camp soon.
This morning we head to Gorak Shep and Everest Base Camp. One of our group has been unwell for a few days and our guide has sent her back down the mountain to a lower altitude to help with the acute altitude sickness she has developed.
I am very excited to be hitting the destination of base camp and I eagerly head off. The going is relatively easy following a dry river bed and over some short rocky climbs. The terrain is alpine with very little vegetation and certainly no trees. The air is dry and everyone has a raspy cough deep in the back of their throats. The high altitude causes fluid to build up in our lungs. After three and a half hours we round a bend to see the small settlement of Gorak Shep that caters for climbers and trekkers to Everest. This is the last village before the foot of the big mountain.
We unload our gear and organize a few essentials for the two hour hike ahead of us. A quick cup of tea and we’re away!
Just ahead is the famous sign pointing the way to Mt Everest BC. I take a quick pic and then spring up the mountain with adrenaline pumping in my veins.
There’s still a good two hours of toil up and down rock strewn hill sides before Base Camp appears. The skies are perfectly clear. We are so lucky. Many trekkers come up here and see nothing but clouds and mist. Not us, we have great views of mountains all around us.
RIP Ariva Philip Ngaata, 5 Jan 2013.
We head back to Gorak Shep. Tomorrow morning we awake at 3am to climb the peak of Kala Patthar for an amazing view of the sun rising behind Mt Everest, Mt Nuptse, Mt Pumore and the north face of Lhotse. I’m picking it will be a tough climb with the lack of oxygen in the air.
We then descend to Periche for the night, then back to Namche and Kathmandu. It’s been an amazing adventure that I don’t want to end!