Everest Base Camp 2018
Words cannot describe the scenery of the snow capped mountains of the Himalayas. Having lived in the Canadian Rockies 25 years ago, I was sceptical that I would ever find somewhere as stunningly spectacular, but now I have found the Himalayas! As beautiful as the Rockies but when you add the culture of the Nepalese and the Buddhists, the strength of the Sherpas and the hauntingly beautiful jingle jangle of the Yak train’s bells, you’ve experienced a special place forever etched in your memory - which only leaves you daydreaming about your next visit.
Despite having summited Africa’s Kilimanjaro (5,895 metres), that was 23 years ago as a much younger man, so I was naturally apprehensive about how I would handle high altitude again, especially as us Aussies only have Kosciusko at 2,228 to play with. And now we were preparing for Base Camp (5,360) and Kalapathar 5,545 metres!
Thankfully ProSport Richmond has a high altitude chamber which gave us 5 weekly sessions where we cranked it up to 4,000 metres, turned the AC off and worked our butts off with 2 hour circuit sessions! Whilst we were cursing them at the time, we knew it would hold us in good stead for when the real challenge came.
Before we knew it, the build up training was over, bags packed, loved ones kissed goodbye and we were on the plane to Kathmandu. Arriving late at night we were met with the normal hustle and bustle of of a highly populated Asian country with people everywhere and everyone offering to carry your bags for you! Thankfully we were met at the airport by our new Nepalese friends from ProSport who got us safely into the minibus and we made our way out into Kathmandu proper, our first experience of the seemingly “no road rules required” drive to the hotel Shanker, a little oasis of 5 star quality which was quite the surprise.
Day 1 A well earned rest in the crisp white sheets and a buffet breakfast had us raring to go. First up we had our trek briefing and were given our sleeping bags and down jackets for our expedition into the mountains. After learning that our lead guide Finjo Sherpa has summited Mt Everest (8,848) twice, we knew we were in good hands for our little stroll into the Himalayas! A tour of the city (why is this place so dusty?), major temples, learning to walk straight through moving traffic, and a traditional Nepalese dinner was a cultural delight. A big day before we were tucked in bed again knowing that tomorrow we were flying into the mountains.
Day 2 Flight into Lukla (2,800). Small aircraft, 360 degree view of the highest mountain range in the world and a landing strip literally cut into the side of the mountain, a white knuckle ride that you just couldn’t buy at Disneyland, what an adrenaline rush! A welcome hot tea, meet our porters before we do our final bags/equipment check. Already at 2,800 the thin air is noticeable, as is the considerable drop in temperature. Fortunately the sun was out and the blue sky created picture postcard scenery.
With the sage advice of “go slow so you acclimatise”, we were off and trekking. I cannot speak highly enough of the majestic scenery of this wonderland. Pine forests, gushing mountain streams, Buddhist prayer flags, temples, mule trains, yak trains, human trains all carrying mind boggling loads as that is the only way in and out. Before long we were at our first “Tea House” for lunch. Sitting outside surrounded by Swiss Alp like scenery, we were pleasantly surprised with the choices on the menu. As a man who unashamedly rates “hot chips” as one of his favourite foods, my joy in learning that potato is the main food source in the mountains (along with eggs) was only surpassed by the size of the meals! Hot chips, mashed potatoes, roast potatoes, hash browns, Swiss Rosti, noodles, pizza, and what was to become my favourite - the traditional Dal Bhat vegetable / lentil curry with the added bonus that as a local custom it is “all you can eat”!
Waddling along after lunch, we experienced our first (of many) wire rope suspension bridges across death defying gorges, learned to stand on the “mountainside” when you hear the jingle jangle of the yak trains, say “namaste” to the locals we passed, walked clockwise around the prayer wheels, breathtaking views after breathtaking views, and then we arrived at our teahouse for the night. Quaint little “B&B’s’ with the feel of a ski lodge, we warmed ourselves with milky tea and the unforgettable smell of the yak dung fire to warm the common room. It was quite the luxury to just “chill out” until dinner was served with nothing to do except to get to know your fellow trekkers and 2 new Sherpa friends, read, laugh, play cards, nap by the fire and even enjoy or rue (?) the available wifi!
We made our way to 3,450 metres and the simply amazing town of Namche Bazaar perched on the side of the mountain. Being the major shopping centre in the mountains, this place simply has everything you could possibly need, from trekking clothing/equipment stores, hairdressers, ATM banks, cafes - and the ultimate, an Irish Pub! Not wanting to risk the effects of any alcohol mixed with altitude, we continued our new habits of abstinence and vegetarianism! I really noticed how short of breath I was as I climbed the 2 floors to my room! But it was worth the climb to be greeted with a world class view from the bedroom! I paid the $4 for a hot shower, it was quite fresh getting dressed afterwards but well worth it and didn’t take long before I was once again cozy warm by the fire.
Day 3 Was a rest / acclimatisation day where we went for a short stroll (up) to about 3,600 before returning to Namche Bazaar. We visited the museum and got our first glimpse of Mt Everest, the highest mountain in the world, only another 6 days walk away!
Day 4 A slow walk to Khumjung at 3,800 metres. We make it to our night stop by lunch time and enjoyed the chill time in the glass sunroom watching the locals plant potatoes as it starts to lightly snow! After lunch we visit the Edmund Hillary memorial school and all take solace and give gratitude for the wonderful lives we have.
Days 5 -9 Each day we crept higher, enjoying the scenery and the food but each starting to battle our individual demons as the effects of the high altitude start to creep up on us. Slight headaches, tummy cramps, runny noses - some or all for some of us and none for the others, it is really an individual luck of the draw and something that cannot really be prepared for. After lunch on day 9 and we finally make it to our goal of Everest Base Camp - high fives all round. We are well above the treeline so the vegetation has been replaced by rock boulders and the Kkumbu Glacier and over in the distance we see the iconic yellow tents of the Mt Everest expeditions as they prepare for the start of the climbing season. Feeling the slight discomfort of being at 5,360, our minds boggle of how/why one could get to the summit at 8,848 meters.
Day 10 3 of us take up the challenge of climbing the feature of Kalapathar - 5,545m and start off at 4.00am so we can get the once in a lifetime experience of watching the sunrise over Everest. Man that was hard work, but like anything, the hard work was worth it as we see Mother Nature in all its glory.
And now it’s time to get out of here! Descending from altitude is so much more fun and by late afternoon we are at Pheriche at 4,200 and it feels like we are by the seaside! I get my 2nd hot shower and my best night’s sleep of the trek!
Day 11 Brilliant blue sky morning and unbeknownst to us, we’ve had 10cms of snow over night to wake to a winter wonderland - and I’m trekking in shorts! Hot coffee, eggs on French toast and porridge before we set off on a really long but spectacular day of trekking all the way back to Namche Bazaar - and the Irish Pub!!
Day 12-13 A slow but beautiful walk to Phakding and the seaside elevation of 2,600 where we treat ourselves to a night out at the local bar!
The next day we fly out from Lukla - we have conquered Base Camp! What an amazing experience!
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