- The serenity of a Buddhist Monastery and my encounter with a monk in Kathmandu
- Caring mountains and tourist spots: forward-looking planning is an urgent priority
- Aloft Hotel brands for the global traveller
- Himalaya Airlines starting Dhaka flights from July 22
- Nepal’s central bank bans use of unregistered foreign digital payment systems
Hi, we’re Kate and Steve from Cornwall in the UK. We’ve been married twenty-eight years, have two grown up children and are currently travelling the world – Nepal is destination number one.
We’ve spent a wonderful few weeks getting to know this beautiful country and it’s friendly people – we’ve explored Patan and Bhaktapur Durbar Squares, enjoyed Chitwan and Lumbini, visited Thamel and partied in Pokhara during the New Year celebrations. We’ve trekked to Anurpurna Base Camp and on the 19th January this year we achieved lifelong dreams of reaching Everest Base Camp.
This is the story of how we got there.
Day 1 Kathmandu to Phakding via Lukla Airport
Let’s trek to Everest Base Camp Steve said – OK I said. Let’s fly to Lukla Steve said – Not likely I said! Two days later we were sat in Kathmandu Airport with our guide Rabin bound for what is considered to be one of the world’s most dangerous airports. As we sat out a 4-hour delay due to snow on Lukla runway, I was bitterly regretting my moment of weakness in agreeing to fly to the start of our trek rather than taking the jeep! I needn’t have worried. The take-off and majority of the flight were smooth, marred only by a short bout of turbulence around the midway point, which was clearly expected as the hostess had just scooted through the tiny craft to check all seat belts were fastened. 25 minutes of spectacular mountain scenery later and the inevitable and dreaded landing were upon us. From a distance the runway looked like a challenge, as we flew closer it looked like an impossibility. The crash-landing warning alarms sounded throughout the cabin (I’d done my research and knew this was normal), just before touching down and coming, thankfully, to a controlled halt. Our safe landing was rewarded with a round of applause by all on board. The weather closed in behind us and our flight was to be the first and last of the day. Joined by Rabin and Padam, our porter, we set off in the direction of Everest Base Camp. Our afternoon trek was a beautiful and easy introduction to what lay ahead. We walked through the snows that had prevented us from flying earlier in the day, past numerous prayer wheels and rocks carved with Tibetan Buddhist mantras. At Phakding we settled into the first of many chilly nights in the mountains.
Day 2 Phakding (2,610m) to Namche Bazar (3,440m)
Our first day’s trekking in the mountains was everything we’d hoped for. Stopping only for a mid morning cup of tea, a dahl bhat lunch and a very expensive apple – sold to us at a view point where we caught our first spectacular glimpse of Everest – we made good time. The route snaked through wooded tracks that reminded us of treks in the Highlands of Scotland, traced the beautiful turquoise glacial melt waters of the Dudh Kosi river, crossed dizzyingly high suspension bridges and ended with a two and a half hour climb to Namche Bazaar (3,440m). We checked into our second tea house of the trek, which sadly due to the wintry weather didn’t live up to its name of Comfort Inn. There was no running water, all inside toilets were frozen and the only source of heating was an electric fire that worked intermittently. It was COLD! As we settled into our base for the next two nights it began to snow, the temperature plummeted and things started to feel very bleak.
Day 3 – Namche Bazaar Acclimatisation Day
Having heard rumours the previous day that our trek was in doubt because of the adverse weather conditions, we were relieved to wake to clear skies and unbroken sunshine. Unbelievably this fine weather was to last for the rest of our time in the mountains. We took a morning tour of the surrounding area, which included the Tenzing Norgay memorial and nearby mountain museum. The afternoon was spent exploring Namche’s labyrinth of pretty, narrow streets. With it’s shops selling local and branded products, cafes, bars and local market there was plenty to keep us busy. We bought and wrote postcards and invested in some down mittens for Steve’s unusually chilly hands, before settling into a cafe to contemplate the trek ahead.
Day 4 – Namche Bazaar (3,440m) to Khyangjuma (3,550m)
We left Namche Bazaar on the clearest of days. The sun was shining and the sky was as blue as we’ve ever seen. Rabin remarked on how lucky we were – we felt positive for the trek ahead. Our first climb of the morning led us to the world famous Hotel Everest View, where we indulged in a cup of tea, before heading off to see the famous Yeti Skull in Khumjung monastery. Unfortunately the monastery was closed due to rebuilding works so we set off for the neighbouring village of Khunde a short stroll away, visiting the monastery there instead. Nestled in the hillside overlooking the village the monastery is beautifully decorated with brightly coloured murals and pictures of the Dali Lama. Home to around 10 resident monks, it was well worth the detour. The third tea house of our trek at Khyangjuma was the best so far, a draught proof room with en-suite toilet and stunning panoramic mountain views made us very happy! We ate our evening meal in the company of the friendly family running the lodge, who made us popcorn whilst we watched ‘Into Thin Air’ a low budget film of the 1996 Everest disaster. Sunset brought the most spectacular view of the day. Joined by the tea house family we watched a beautiful display of pinks, oranges and reds grazing the snow capped peaks of Lhotse, Ama Dablam and other Himalayan mountains. It was a perfect end to a great day.
Day 5 – Khyangjuma (3,550m) to Pangboche (3,950m)
The day consisted of expected uphill and appreciated downhill walking. Wall to wall sunshine and stunning views made it a perfect trek. We stopped for lunch in Tengboche, a wide grassy plateau with tea houses and a monastery. Later that day we arrived at Pangboche, where to our delight we were given a room that felt like a sauna. With the sun streaming through its windows it was a warm treat that we enjoyed until the sun disappeared behind the mountains. Having soaked up the heat of our room, we joined other guests in the communal area. Here we were warmed through some more by our first yak poo fire. We were now living above the tree line, from here on up there would be no more wood burning stoves.
Day 6 – Pangboche (3,950m) to Dingboche (4,410m)
It had been the usual freezing cold night, followed by a crisp bright morning. We were keeping our fingers crossed that the good weather would hold for just a few more days. Shortly after the days trekking began we reached the spot where a Frenchman had recently fallen to his death. He’d taken a short-cut along a narrow path above a steep drop to the river. Notices about his accident were displayed at intervals along the trek, a reminder for us to take care in the mountains. We arrived at Dingboche in time for lunch. Here I started my garlic soup regime in an attempt to keep AMS at bay. On advice from Rabin, Steve continued with his dahl bhat diet, not only does it contain garlic but it’s the only meal in the mountains where you get seconds! After lunch we took a short acclimatising stroll above the village, the views were lovely but the wind was cold and the night was to be bitter. With frozen toilets everywhere and no running water anywhere, this was not a trip for the faint-hearted.
Day 7 – Acclimatisation Day in Dingboche
What an incredible day! It started with a late breakfast at 8:30 followed by an acclimatisation trek as far as we could manage up Nangkar Tshang. Fuelled by days of dahl bhat, ginger tea and adrenaline, we slowly gained height until we actually reached the summit at 5,616m. Here we were rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views of some of the worlds highest mountains joined by eagles flying above and below us. It was a magical moment. At around 1,200m higher than our tea house it’s not an altitude gain recommended in one day but Rabin was keeping a close eye on us – we felt strong and were showing no signs of altitude sickness.
Day 8 – Dingboche (4,410m) to Lobuche (4,910m)
Having said our farewells to fellow trekkers we set off on the same route as we had the day before, only this time following the contours to the adjacent valley, rather than heading on up the mountain. After a welcome cup of tea at Dughla (4,620m) we followed a steep track to find ourselves at a plateau surrounded by memorials to lost climbers and Sherpas. It was an emotional and sobering experience, as well as a reminder of just how remote we now were. There were memorials for Rob Hall and Scott Fischer, who lost their lives in the previously mentioned 1996 disaster but the largest memorial was saved for Chheri Sherpa who climbed Everest an incredible ten times, sadly losing his life on his eleventh attempt. As we pressed on, the landscape became evermore stark and impressive. Underfoot the terrain became increasingly tricky as we began walking on rocks left behind by ancient glaciers. After reaching Lobuche and eating our chosen diets of garlic soup and dahl bhat, we took a short trip to the Italian Pyramid. Since 1990 the Pyramid has been giving the international scientific community an opportunity to study environment, climate, human physiology and geology in a remote, mountain protected area. The pyramid is a modern, abstract structure that strangely suits its surroundings well. As people became ill around us with altitude sickness we settled in for the night ahead. Thawing ourselves by the fire our thoughts turned to Everest Base Camp. We were so close, just one more day to stay fit and healthy. Would we make it? Would our friends make it? Would the weather hold? Warmed through and with so many thoughts going through our heads we took ourselves off to bed. Dressed in nearly all our clothes, we drifted off to a fitful nights sleep.
Day 9 – Everest Base Camp (5,356m)
The now familiar alarm sounded at 5:45. Grateful that we still had no signs of altitude sickness we packed our bags and eager to find out how everyone else was faring we headed downstairs – happily all but one of us would be going to Base Camp this day. The weather could not have been better. It was a magnificent trek over rough and barren terrain. It meandered through some of the most awe inspiring landscape we’d ever seen. In perfect conditions we reached our final destination of Everest Base Camp where we picked our way over tricky moraine and across deep crevasses finally arriving at a couple of prayer-flag covered mounds – we’d done it, we’d reached our goal! In bright sunshine and with hardly anyone else in sight – the joy of trekking at this time of year -we posed for our obligatory Base Camp photos. It was exciting and emotional for us both, a bucket list dream come true. We celebrated our achievement with friends made along the way and remembered those who hadn’t quite made it. It was a special moment for us all and one Steve and I shall never forget. We would like to thank Bicky from XXXXXXXXXXX, for all his help in arranging such a fantastic trip – it couldn’t have been more perfect. We would also like to thank Rabin, our guide, for getting us there & back safely, and for all the laughs along the way; Padam, our porter for carrying our pack and last, but by no means least, the skillful pilots of Goma Air! It’s been the most incredible adventure and a challenge we shall remember for the rest of our lives.
Kate & Steve Opie xx January 2017