Journal

EBC Trek, Day 7: Pangboche to Dingboche

Total mileage on Day 7: ~3
Beginning altitude (Pangboche): 13,254 ft
Final altitude (Dingboche): 14,272 ft

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A sparkling sheet of snow coated the village of Pangboche when we awoke on day 7. We stuffed our bags and headed downstairs to the kitchen, where our host prepared us another breakfast of fried momos and sweet milk tea. I paid for an hour of charge for our cell phone for 300 rupees (about $3) and for our room ($3/night).

It was early as we began our trek out of town. The air was cold, but the lack of wind and the bright, clear skies made for fantastic hiking conditions. Although Steph was still suffering a head cold, she’d improved a lot since the day before. Bounding down the trail out of town, we were upbeat and thankful to be spending another day in such an amazing place.

[Our goal for that day was to reach the imposing mountain in the distance, Ama Dablam, abutting the village of Dingboche.]
Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal
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[Helicopter rescue farther up the trail.]
Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

The beaten dirt path out of the village cut across the side of a wide valley with a glowing green glacial river flowing through its trough. We could see miles of the trail ahead, and it appeared as if we would follow this winding valley all the way to EBC.

Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal
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[Steph taking the low-road…]
Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

As we climbed, the landscape and vegetation had been gradually changing. We had reached the altitude at which taller trees stop growing, and all that was left between the patches of moss and dirt were smaller bushy shrubs. The harsher climate was noticeable in everything we passed, from the huge Tibetan yaks that were kept unshorn for warmth, to the Sherpa people we passed who maintained more stoic, wincing looks as they hiked past us (though we’d still usually get a greeting and a smile).

[This little guy looked so cold…]
Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

Along the way, we passed memorials to climbers and trekkers who had died exploring Everest in the past – an eerie reminder of the dangers of this incredible place.

Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal
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Although we only had 3 miles total to cover, we expected the journey to Dingboche would take us most of the day because we were increasing our altitude by another 1,000 ft. Steph started singing the “Do you know the way to Dingboche” song in marching step. After a couple of hours pounding down the trail with gear on our backs, we began to tire again.  We were routinely left in the dust by Sherpa porters carrying twice our weight on their backs. It was amazing to see just how comfortable people could be at 14,000ft; merely jogging in place for 10 seconds would render us breathless!

Porters

Porters
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Our host the prior day, Ang, had recommended that once we get to Dingboche, we reserve a room at her friend’s lodge, the Snow Lion Inn. Ang had called ahead and confirmed a room for us. She gave us the hotel’s business card… only at this altitude do you see Helicopter Rescue advertised as a hotel ammenity!

Facilities.

The trail on this day was noticeably more barren and deserted than in days past. Instead of a clear-cut trail, the path had widened to the size of a football field crisscrossed with water-made ruts from the previous year’s snowmelt. We were crossing over a wide plain, where we occasionally had to turn our backs to the wind to warm up and keep moving. We found a tiny hut that we leaned against for some much-needed relief from the cold wind and had another Snickers bar. After traversing the plain, we crossed over a small stream and came to a fork in the trail. Looking at our map, we guessed that ‘right’ was more likely to be correct than ‘left’, and we were sent up and around a large mountain (often needing to watch our step to avoid that dropoff to the river below to our right!).

More walking to do still, but we could see that we were approaching a small village in the distance. We were excited to have a place to stop, enjoy the views, and ask how far we had left to Dingboche.

Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

…But as we were pulling into the village, a big surprise: this village was Dingboche after all! We’d made it sooner than we thought. Pictured below, an exhausted Steph almost in tears at the site of a Dingboche sign. Hah!

Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal
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We found the Snow Lion Lodge on the outskirts of town and checked into our room. Similar conditions to the last room: a spare, unheated cabin room built out of plywood. Overall, it was growing increasingly colder and more uncomfortable, sure, but it was also getting a lot more fun. Our sense of adventure was back, and we felt like we were camping.

Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

Posters in the lodge warning about the dangers ahead- we were getting close!
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[Notice the yellow oxygen canisters in the photo below– the exact ones we had seen in Ang’s memorabilia case in Pangboche!]
Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal
Our new host offered us tea in the wind-protected yard in front of the lodge where several women from the village were chatting, and we relaxed in some rare warm sunshine before settling in for dinner inside.

Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

As dusk set in, we sat around a fireplace amongst a cheery crowd of other trekkers and climbers and watched with great curiosity as an entire hiking group was administered their daily dose of Diamox, an altitude sickness prevention and treatment drug. We’d heard that these guided groups need to keep to a schedule and often provide Diamox to everyone to avoid any delays, whether they need it or not! We had some Diamox in our bags, but had yet to use any ourselves – saving it in case of emergency, we figured.

We were pleased to find that the Snow Lion Lodge had a collection of books to borrow as well, since we would need to spend the following day acclimatizing at the lodge before proceeding onward.

As we were getting ready to turn in for the night, the host of our lodge came and asked Steph and I to bring our camera and follow her outside to the yard. What we found outside was a spectacular finish to an already great day. Dingboche is positioned in a valley beneath the monstrous Ama Dablam, the pointy mountain peak that dominated the horizon for the previous 2-3 days of our hike. There was a full moon that night, and it glowed just to the left of Ama Dablam and illuminated the frosty village of Dingboche below.

Standing under the beautiful glow of the moon and Ama Dablam, all we could hear was the wind…
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Moon over Ama Dablam

Dusk in Dingboche

Moon over Ama Dablam

Dusk in Dingboche

EBC Trek, Day 6: Rest Day in Pangboche

Total mileage on Day 6: 0
Resting altitude (Pangboche): 13,254 ft

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Steph’s sinus infection had worsened throughout the previous days, and after her light-headedness, we worried that launching into yet another day of hiking could push her too far. Fortunately for us, we were on our own and our schedule was loose, so we decided a day of rest and reading in Pangboche was in order. We lumbered downstairs, where our host made us a delicious breakfast of fried vegetable-filled momos (as large as our hands) and hot milk cardamom tea. The inn was very cold in the morning, and she invited us to sit by the kitchen’s fire, where she was flipping and frying up our delicious breakfast.

After breakfast, we grabbed our laptops and books and locked up the room. We wanted to sit and read in our own inn’s common room, but it was too cold to stop shivering or concentrate on anything. Kindly, our innkeeper saw us suffering and set up two chairs for us outdoors in the sun. We lingered in those chairs as long as we could but eventually had to head to the inn next door to see if we could secure a seat in their warm dining room for the day.

We were welcomed by Ang again and told we could hang out as long as we’d like, so we snagged a seat and ordered a pot of hot water to use with the tea we’d brought along. And so began a nice and relatively uneventful day of recovery.

Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

Snow began to fall late in the morning, and we watched it come down while sipping tea, reading our books (The Alchemist and Midnight’s Children), and updating the travel blog. As we were the only guests in the dining room that day, we were able to spend some time chatting with our host as well.

Ang told us that a Sherpa had been killed the prior day by an avalanche while hiking in the Khumbu Icefall on the way to Everest Camp #1. It was the first death of the season, and she spoke of it like it was a bad omen. She talked about her husband’s duties up at EBC and that he actually used to guide expeditions to the summit. She used to worry about him, she said, but can rest easier nowadays knowing that he’s no longer climbing the mountain and instead staying safe at EBC. She pointed out piles of Everest memorabilia in the glass cases sitting around her dining room, including some original yellow and orange oxygen tanks that accompanied Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay to the top of Mount Everest in the 1950’s. We could have listened to her speak about Everest history all day, but she eventually left us to our reading.

Mid-day, we heard a loud helicopter flying overhead (a common sight up here,  we would watch at least 1 or 2 helicopters fly overhead everyday for a rescue farther up the trail). As we watched the blue and yellow copter fly closer and closer to Pangboche, we saw it get very low to the ground, like it was searching for something. Just then, it landed right outside our window!

Rescue

Someone was loaded into the copter on a stretcher, and it headed back for Kathmandu. Probably a trekker with altitude sickness, we thought, but we would never find out what had happened.

As nighttime and the cold began to settle into Pangboche, we headed back to our lodge, where our innkeeper served us dinner and we spoke to a fellow trekker from Europe who had just summited nearby Island Peak (over 20,000 ft). He had experienced mild altitude sickness at the top, and his descriptions of severe nausea and headaches and thirst sounded awful. Another woman he had been hiking with, however, had gotten extremely sick to the point of stumbling and confusion and had to be evacuated off the mountain. We were glad we had been forced to take it so slowly due to Steph’s infection… as it may have unknowingly saved us from going too high too quickly.

Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

Before turning in for the night, I ventured into the village to find an internet cafe so that I could check-in with work back home – it could very well be my last chance to do so for many days!

EBC Trek, Day 5: Tengboche to Pangboche

Total mileage on Day 5: ~3
Beginning altitude (Tengboche):  12,696 ft
Final altitude (Pangboche):  13,254 ft

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We hiked out of Tengboche on a spectacular, clear day. The sky was a deep, intense blue, like an ocean, and the only clouds in the sky were the ones hovering over Mt. Everest in the distance.

Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

We almost hadn’t made it out the door on this particular day– I was sicker than ever with my sinus infection and worried that I was making it worse by hiking. We agreed that we should try to go just a little farther and use the afternoon to rest. So we descended out of Tengboche and into a lush green forest, filled with rhododendron trees (and yaks).

Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

After about an hour, we reached a tiny village called Dingboche, where we had heard there was a Buddhist nunnery. We easily found the nunnery and walked around the grounds for a few minutes but didn’t see signs of any people.

[Me outside the nunnery; scriptures are carved into the stones.]
Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal
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[Glacial water flowing below Dingboche]
Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

Although I was still feeling pretty good by the time we got to Dingboche, my energy had started to fall off precipitously thereafter. To keep me going, we passed the time singing, “Do You Know the Way to Pangboche? bah bah bah bah bah…” (…to the tune of Dionne Warwick).  It even became our theme song for the trek, since so many towns along the EBC trail rhyme with “San Jose” ( Tengboche, Pangboche, Dingboche, Pheriche………)

Heading toward Pangboche, with Ama Dablam, one of the most beautiful and recognizable peaks in the region, in the distance.

Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal
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The Pangboche stupa (one of my favorites):
Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal
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The gates approaching outer Pangboche:
Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

We made it to Pangboche around 11:00 in the morning. Normally, we would break during the day around this time for lunch and then hit the trail again for the afternoon portion of the hike. However, on this particular day, I was barely standing by the time the time we reached Pangboche due to my infection, and we knew we needed to stop for the day. I clung to a rock wall while Scott ran inside a place called the Himalayan Motel to see if they had any rooms. While he was checking, one of the motel caretakers came up to me and asked me if I was OK, since I was clinging onto the rock wall so tightly. I was so, so tired. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any rooms available that night, so we checked into the guesthouse next door where a nice Nepali woman showed us our room. She gave us the best room in the lodge (we were the only guests) with a clear view of Ama Dablam; however, the wind was so fierce and cold on that side of the lodge that it blasted through the rickety single-pane windows and created and draft through the room. We asked to be moved to the other side of the lodge, which was fine with her, but I’m not sure how much warmer it was…

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this village was again noticeably colder than the last. We were now at just over 13,000 feet, which is higher than either of us had ever been, and there was, of course, no heat in the buildings. We learned that the buildings aren’t heated because it is (thankfully) illegal to chop down and burn wood in the region. Innkeepers run their small wood stoves using dried out yak dung, but there usually isn’t much to use, and it’s certainly not worth using it when the temps are a robust 30 deg F! (When we asked if the innkeepers lower down on the trail could run the stove for us, they said it wasn’t the “cold season” yet!)

Like most lodges, this motel did have a Western-style toilet, although it was a bucket-flush set up (again, like most toilets on our entire trip). The problem that we were starting to encounter with the bucket-flush on the EBC trail was that, well, the flush water wasn’t exactly what I would call liquid. It was so cold that the water was more of a slushy ice bath, that we’d have to dip our fingers into to grab the bucket and fill it up. Brrrr!

Washing our hands was getting more difficult, as well. Innkeepers generally kept a jug full of water above their bathroom sinks (hooked up to a drain, but not hooked up to incoming water) that had a spigot at the bottom, where water would come out. The water was freezing (and often empty), so we resorted to just washing our fingertips. Needless to say, we were going on Day #3 without a shower, but neither of us had the courage to take one in this cold. That shower we had back in Namche 3 days ago would be our last shower until we headed back down……….

Once we had settled into our room, we headed down to the dining room of our lodge, where we were planning to catch up on our reading and blog writing. However, it was far too cold to concentrate, and we were shivering uncontrollably. Luckily, Scott had noticed that the lodge that didn’t have any rooms available had its wood stove running and that the common room was nice and toasty. So we went next door to the Himalayan Motel and ordered some hot water ($~3 per thermos) for our tea we had brought from India.

Ang, the owner of the lodge, was a fascinating Nepali woman who was eager to share some stories of her life in the Khumbu. Apparently, she and her husband are one of the most famous Sherpa families in the region– almost every “big” summit expedition stays at her lodge, and her husband in the manager of one of the summit teams at EBC. He used to lead climbers up Mt. Everest, she said, but now he just manages from Base Camp, which she seemed very relieved to say. Next to our table was a display case containing memorabilia from early expeditions, including an air tank from the Hillary expedition (the first to summit), which we found to be pretty inspiring. She had a CB radio that she would monitor throughout the day, listening for updates from EBC and the summiting expeditions.

Eventually Ang left the room, and Scott and I spent the next hour sipping our Indian tea and reading. Suddenly, I felt the strangest wave of cloudiness run up my entire body, closing in like a blackness around my eyes and face. Sounds in the room were getting farther and farther away from me and were replaced with a fuzzy humming sound. I knew I was asking Scott for help, but I couldn’t hear my voice. I knew this feeling; I had had the same feeling after receiving an immunization, right before my blood pressure plummeted off the charts and I nearly passed out in the doctor’s office. I knew I was losing blood pressure fast, but what I didn’t know was why. I’ve always had perfect blood pressure (outside of receiving that Hep B shot…), and I began panicking as to why it was happening now. Was it the altitude? Luckily, I knew the drill from before: I quickly laid down and rested my feet up on Scott’s shoulder, praying for the feeling to just go away. Scott tried to reassure me, trying not to let my mind make it into more than it was. All I could think was “I’m going to pass out, and I’m not going to wake up again. If I do wake up, where will I be when I wake up?” Quickly, I told Scott, “Ang said there is oxygen here. If I pass out, please get me oxygen. Please get me down the mountain. Please don’t let anything happen to me.” I was so scared.

For several minutes, I lay there, with that feeling of blackness coming and going in waves, while Scott rubbed my shin lying on his shoulder. I took deep breaths and tried to relax as much as possible. Eventually, the feeling started to fade and eventually went away. Slowly, I sat up, happy to be sitting simply in case anyone else came into the room– I didn’t want anyone else to know what was happening.

Less than 5 minutes later, it happened again. No! I thought. I laid down again and tried to relax. Unfortunately (or luckily?), Ang walked in while I was sprawled out in her dining room. I had to tell her what was happening. Concerned, she suggested that go down the mountain. She said oxygen was available here, but it was expensive. I would have heeded her advice about leaving Pangboche, except that I didn’t have any nausea or headache or any “hallmark” signs of altitude-sickness. I certainly would have gone down if I had, but my symptoms just didn’t seem to fit with altitude problems. Eventually Ang left us to make our decision, and I began to feel better again. We decided that it was more likely that it was the Indian tea I had been drinking– I had had at least 3 cups of it in less than an hour, and there was no telling how much caffeine (or other strange herbs) were in it. I stopped drinking it, and thankfully, the feeling never returned…and Ang never forced us to go back down the mountain.

Eventually, dinnertime arrived, and we strolled back over to our lodge, where I managed to do what I could to keep warm.

Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

Although I wasn’t trying to be so obvious about how cold I was, my sickness was making me shiver uncontrollably. Our innkeeper noticed me shivering and brought me at least 3 heavy rugs to place over my body and legs while I waited for dinner. I was so grateful.

I choked down a plate of spaghetti for dinner, which became cold as soon as it hit the plate and tasted like kerosene. Scott ordered the veggie momos (dumplings), which were the best we found along the trail. They were huge, like stuffed pita shells and panfried on both sides like pancakes. They were also warm and very tasty. 🙂

After dinner, we gathered the stamina to brave the cold and go get into our beds, which were made colder by the fact that we couldn’t push these beds together! I thought about reading but was too chilled to put my hands outside of the sleeping bag!

Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal
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Although we heard that Pangboche had so much to offer outside of the lodges (the oldest monastery in the region, gorgeous hiking, a yeti hand!!!), I was too sick to explore on this day. So we promised ourselves that we would conserve our energy now and have a look around when we were on our way back down….

EBC Trek, Day 4: Namche Bazaar to Tengboche

Total mileage on Day 4: 4
Beginning altitude (Namche Bazaar): 11,286 ft
Final altitude (Tengboche):  12,696 ft

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As much as I had been trying to tell myself it was only my imagination, I woke up this morning to a face-full of reality. I had contracted a gnarly sinus infection, and it was only getting worse. This would complicate everything: How many additional rest days would we need to add to our trip? How would it affect my ability to acclimatize? Had this measly affliction just wrecked our plans of reaching EBC?

Even without the sinus infection, Scott and I had a tough day ahead of us. Although we would only be covering about 4 lateral miles, the hike would take most of the day and increase our elevation from Namche Bazaar to the tiny village of Tengboche at 12,600 feet… and we had heard that the final push to Tengboche was a grueling 2.5-hour uphill hike with no facilities at which to rest.

Scott graciously strapped my sleeping bag to his backpack, while I re-ducktaped my blistered toes and shoved a wad of Kleenex into my pockets (what a disaster I was — poor Scott). Winding our way out of Namche Bazaar, we came upon a fork in the road; to the right lie a flat, meandering path that led more-or-less to Tengboche, while to the left lie a far more grueling path that held the all-too-tempting prospect of passing by one of the best viewpoints of Mt. Everest on the entire hike to EBC. Needless to say, we didn’t hesitate to go left!

After a few minutes slugging up the steep hill out of Namche, I realized I was already very winded– a combination of both the sinus infection and the altitude. We paused to let other hikers pass by us and occasionally passed the same people back…everyone seemed exhausted. Luckily, the expansive mountain views and dry, cool air kept us energized…

Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal
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Me making my “meh, this is just OK” face:

Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

After about 45 minutes, we made it to the Everest look-out, and there it was again! Just amazing… That said, it didn’t look any closer than it had in Namche, and we still had another 25 miles to go until we reached it. (Everest is the little blip in the right-center of the pic, with its iconic white plume of snow blowing off the top.)

Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal
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We jumped back on the trail, which we could see meandering ahead of us for miles..

Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal
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As we hiked along the ridge of the mountain just past the lookout, we passed a middle-aged woman who had fallen behind her group that had passed us a while back. We offered a cheery “hello” as we passed and didn’t think much of it when she didn’t respond with more than a small grunt. She was clearly tired and obviously trying to conserve everything she had.

We quickly pulled ahead and crossed over a large dry, rocky field. Without thinking why, I glanced back to check on the woman’s progress, and was terrified to see her sitting down far back down the trail, nearly where we had left her, with her hands up in the air in a large “V”. Assuming she needed help, Scott and I jogged ahead to find her group’s leader, figuring that going back for her would make less sense than going forward to find someone who had medication or who could help her go back down to Namche, if needed (altitude sickness can often be cured simply by descending a few hundred meters for a day or two, and we found that the pace of many guided groups can be faster than some hikers may need – causing some to push a little too hard and get sick).

Scott and I frantically split up and began asking people along the trail if they knew the woman matching her description. No one did, but I soon passed a big group who was going back in her direction, and I asked them to please check on her while I continued to look for her group. I knew they would run into her after a few minutes and be able to help her back down the hill, if she needed it.

After the initial flurry had subsided, I finally realized that I was now in a predicament of my own: I had lost sight of Scott and had no way to contact him if I was unable to find him.

I ran ahead and came across a lodge that appeared to serve as a lookout and restaurant for hikers, where there were several groups gathered. Figuring Scott had gone inside to look for the group, I poked my head inside but didn’t see him. I ran back outside, somewhat frantically at this point, and ran ahead down the trail, thinking perhaps Scott had run ahead looking for the woman’s group. I ran for a few hundred feet and then climbed up onto a rocky outcrop, where I began yelling, “Scott! Scott!!!”

Knowing he wouldn’t have gone too far ahead, I again ran back in the direction of the lodge again and simply waited, hoping he wouldn’t think that I had run ahead down the trail. After what seemed like forever, Scott finally appeared on the steps of the lodge, where he had been inside talking to the various groups (the place was huge, and apparently, I just hadn’t seen him the first time). I ran to him and started crying. “Don’t ever do that to me again! I thought I had lost you,” I sobbed, realizing my emotions had gotten the best of me.  …Of course, I knew he hadn’t done anything wrong… I’d simply begun spinning ideas in my head of Scott moving ahead to the next village while I went looking for him in the other direction, for example), and we would have had no way to contact each other. We had one cell phone between us, and hadn’t made an emergency meeting point, since we had always planned to stay together. Thereafter, we made sure we always had a plan….

We never found the woman’s group at the lodge, so we felt like we could do more good by continuing on down the trail to look for them (in the direction we were going anyway), while the other hikers I had spoken to would have run into her in a matter of minutes.

So we continued to the village of Khumjung, halfway between Namche and Tengboche. We reached Khumjung and asked around, but never found the woman’s group. It seemed we had done what we could, so we pressed on toward Tengboche.

(Sign reads: “Way to Everest B.C., Tengboche”. Ama Dablam in the background!)
Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

We passed many more yaks, each one more adorable than the last– not merely due to our growing fondess but largely owing to the fact that these were a different breed of cold-weather yaks from Tibet, and their keepers let them grow out their beautiful fluffy fur coats!

Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal
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Eventually, we reached the last village before the uphill climb to Tengboche. This restaurant’s sign smartly read: “This is last stop. Thyangboche 2 more hours climbing. Ok see you.”

Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

We stopped for a rest and a bowl of soup, and pulled off our boots and just sat in tired silence. I probably would have talked myself into staying at this lodge if the caretaker hadn’t been a bit too pushy with us, but thankfully that encouraged us to press on!

Across from our table were 2 men in their early 40’s who we had been passing back-and-forth on the trail for several days. We had all exited Lukla airport together and started on the trail at the same time. They looked a lot more tired and worn than we did, and we later learned that they ended up sleeping in the lodge for the night and that one of them unfortunately never made it all the way to EBC.

We laced up our boots and hit the trail again… after the yaks cleared the suspension bridge!

Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

As usual, the trail was tougher than we expected– 2.5 hours of switchbacks along the side of a barren mountain– but we had nice company along the way, and a beautiful clear sunny day with incredible visibility. Near the bottom of the mountain, we met a Nepali woman who was returning to Tengboche after buying supplies in Namche. Her English was perfect, and she seemed well-educated. She told us that she ran a lodge in Tengboche that was open for only 6 months of the year, during the hiking season (like most of the lodges in the higher altitudes of the trail). In fact, she pointed out that no one lives any higher than Tengboche during the winter season and that everyone moves their families down to lower elevations to ride out the cold in the off-season. During hiking season, she said, she makes the day-long trek from Namche to Tengboche nearly twice a week– and to think I was worried I wouldn’t be able to do it once! Despite being many years our senior, she plowed on ahead of us after a little while, while I struggled to bring up the rear.

Right as the sun was starring to set, we finally tumbled into Tengboche.

Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal
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We entered the first cozy-looking lodge and found a ruckus of activity in the dining area. There were at least 3 large groups all packed around the stoves and tables, drinking and chatting loudly. We worriedly asked the caretaker if there were any rooms– there was one (1!) left.

Most of the rooms had great views of Everest, but ours looked the other direction. Still, the view of the prayer flags and carved stones set against the inhospitable craggy peaks in the near distance was beautiful and serene, and gave us a fun, nervous feeling that the trek was becoming a little more serious.

Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

The comfort level of our accommodations had lowered a little with each stop, which made it fun in a camping/roughing-it sort of way, but also made us miss the coziness we had enjoyed days earlier. Our room was right next to the bathroom too – which smelled terribly for various reasons I will not disclose. (I had to brush my teeth while standing out in the hallway….)

The cold in the air was more evident in Tengboche than it had been anywhere on the trail so far. Our little room had no heat of course, so in usual fashion, we pushed our beds together and got our sleeping bags ready for maximal warmth.

Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

With our room ready for the night, we went back outside to explore the tiny town. Tengboche was nothing more than approximately 3 small lodges, a bakery, and a monastery, set upon a beautiful clearing. The town was surrounded by massive, beautiful, cold mountains with views of Everest in the distance.

[The bakery is in the back with the green roof. Monastery is on the left. Everest in the distance (obscured by a cloud). Scott, front and center. :)]
Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal
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Sweet puppy that we found near the Nepali woman’s lodge who we had spoken to on the hike.

Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

Me freezing in Tengboche:
Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal
(Our lodge is on the left.)

The Tengoboche stupa:
Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

We stopped into the bakery to warm up and take in some warm, homemade apple pie and hot Nepali milk tea….
Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

…and then crawled into bed. It was far too cold to think about taking a shower, and the prices for a shower were increasing (only about 200 rupees, or $4, which is admittedly very little, but we were working off of a fixed pile of on the trail cash and didn’t know how much we’d need towards the top), so we went to sleep dirty and still in our hiking clothes, ready to go up again the next day!

 

EBC Trek, Day 3: Rest day in Namche Bazaar

Total mileage on Day 3: 0
Beginning altitude (Namche Bazaar): 11,286 ft
Final altitude (Namche Bazaar): 11,286 ft

—————————————————————–

Today, we awoke early (a side-effect of going to bed at 8:00 pm to escape the cold in our room, I guess), but we didn’t manage to pull ourselves out of our beds for at least another hour. My nose, which was the only part of my body outside of the sleeping bag, was cold to the touch, and the air in the room was freezing. Last night, Scott and I had the idea to pile all of our clothes that we were going to wear the next day on top of our sleeping bags, not only for extra warmth during the night, but also so that we could pull our freezing clothes into the sleeping bag with us in the morning and warm them up before putting them on. After we couldn’t wait any longer, we courageously grabbed our clothes, stuffed them into the sleeping bag for a few minutes (holy goosebumps!!), and got dressed inside of our bags.

After getting dressed, we tiptoed down the dorm hallway to the shared bathroom and turned on the trickle of freezing water from the sink. The water was too cold to splash on my face or even my whole hands, so I merely resorted to rubbing some soapy water between my fingertips and rubbing them onto my nose and forehead for my “shower”. A real shower would have to wait until midday, when it was warmer.

Although our hike to Everest was scheduled to take 10 days, several of those days are scheduled to be “rest” days– not to fight off the inevitable fatigue and exhaustion that builds over the course of the hike, but to acclimatize slowly to the lack of oxygen in the air. Each day, we knew not to climb more than 300 net meters in altitude in a single day and to build in a rest day every third day.  Therefore, all hikers (even experienced ones) use Namche Bazaar as their first rest day on the EBC trail. So we headed out the door and found that the town of Namche Bazaar was surprisingly quiet (save for the occasional yeti or yak…).

Namche Bazar

Namche Bazar
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We set out in search of some Nepalese breakfast and thankfully found some deliciously piping hot noodle soup at a woman’s shop down the street (we had developed a small obsession for hot noodle soups for breakfast in Thailand and Cambodia and were thrilled to find that the Nepalese also adhered to this amazing concept!!). We ordered two different types of hot soups: one, a traditional Tibetan “thukpa” soup with wide noodles and vegetables in clear broth, and the other, a Nepalese ramen-style noodle soup out of a package. With the 30-degree temps barely creeping up outside (and no indoor heating….), both soups were hot, delicious, and very welcome.

Namche Bazar

After breakfast, we decided to explore the outskirts of Namche Bazaar. Up a small hill on the edge of town, we found some gargantuan mani wheels that rang each time they completed a circuit. Beautiful old murals and paintings on a canvas-like material adorned the walls around each of the wheels.

Namche Bazar
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Smaller tin mani wheels lined the many paths leading to Namche.

Namche Bazar

We knew we were going to need a lot of help if we were going to make it to Everest, so the wheels did a lot of ringing that day…

http://www.flickr.com/photos/scottjehl/8206515340/in/photostream
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Eventually, we reached the edge of town, where the town quite literally fell off the map: an enormous cliff dropping to the valley below separated Namche Bazarre from the Himalayas in the distance. With the high altitude and near-360-degree views, our lookout felt almost heavenly.

Namche Bazar

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On our walk back to Namche, we came across a small monastery. Outside were signs in English, inviting us to come in. We tiptoed inside and were greeted by a Nepali monk dressed in dark maroon and saffron robes. We couldn’t communicate with one another, but he beckoned for us to follow him inside the monastery, where dozens of yak butter candles lit the room.

Namche Bazar

Namche Bazar
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Surrounded by pictures of the Dalai Lama and other monks were small shoebox-like boxes in the cubbies of the walls. We had previously learned that these were old handwritten holy scrolls that had been copied and re-copied over the years, with each chapter being kept in a separate box. Noticing our interest, the monk pulled one down off the wall and showed us the pages.

Namche Bazar
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Each line had indeed been carefully inscribed onto the delicate translucent pages in black ink.

I thanked the monk, pinched myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming, and stepped back out into the twenty first century and on to Namche.

——-

Although we were instructed by our guidebook to do an “acclimitization hike”, where you hike higher each day than you plan to sleep that night, my feet looked like this from all the hiking in my new boots the day before:

Blisters

Oh yeah, that’s ducktape (covering some gnarly blisters)– we weren’t hiking anywhere. So we spent the afternoon reading books and chatting to fellow hikers in a small German bakery where the apple streudels and warm drinks were more abundant than the oxygen outside. Life was good. That night, we hung out at Liquid Bar again, where we toasted our last comfortable day that we would get with a large Everest beer, while watching a documentary on Everest by the filmaker David Breshears. It was nice to have a rest day– and with the difficult hike tomorrow rapidly approaching, we were going to need it.

Everest Base Camp Trek, Day 2: Phakding to Namche Bazaar


Total mileage on Day 2: 4
Beginning altitude (Phakding): 8,500 ft
Final altitude (Namche Bazaar): 11,286 ft

—————————————————————–

Today was one of those days that can only happen once in one’s lifetime: the day we got our first glimpse of Mt. Everest.

When we booked our airline tickets to Nepal over 6 weeks ago, our entire trip was planned so that we would make it to the first Everest viewpoint on this day, April 29 – my birthday. This second day of the EBC hike is infamous for being very difficult (the hike involves a “leisurely” 2.5 hour stroll at 8,500ft, followed by a grueling 4-hour near-vertical climb that ends at over 11,000 ft – with backpacks, in our case!), and we were going to have to push through whatever hurdles we might encounter to make it to the viewpoint before sundown for a birthday celebration!!

We set out from our lodge in Phakding at 8am on the morning of April 29th and bounded up the trail. We both had surprising amounts of energy to burn, and we were powering past other groups, left and right.

[…the beautiful scenery and old mani stone carvings certainly didn’t hurt in powering us along…]

Phakding to Namche Bazar

Phakding to Namche Bazar

Phakding to Namche Bazar

Phakding to Namche Bazar
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[Buddhist prayer flags near Jorsale.]
Phakding to Namche Bazar
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After a few minutes, we were so hot from bounding over boulders that Scott decided to change into his lighter-weight pants behind a large rock, while I awkwardly stood guard. From behind the rock, Scott waved to our Zimbabwean friends that we had met the day before, and eventually we were on our way again. (Thirty minutes later down the trail, it was my turn!)

Feeling much lighter in our new garb, we were able to pick up our pace again and make excellent time to the Sagarmatha National Park entrance, near the village of Jorsale.

Phakding to Namche Bazar

[Spinning Tibetan Buddhist prayer wheels; praying for safe travels to EBC.]
Phakding to Namche Bazar
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At the entrance, we had our passes stamped again, and began to descend a long a series of steps. Although I normally prefer going downhill over uphill, this trail was quickly teaching me to abhor “down” nearly as much, as we were discovering that the EBC trail is far from being a steady uphill climb. Rather, by the time you reach EBC (at almost 10,000ft higher elevation than Phakding), you’ve probably climbed closer to 30,000 feet worth of “ups”. (To be honest, I was glad we didn’t know this before setting out on the trek.)

In addition to the ups and downs, the trail cut back and forth between different sides of the valley, connected by tall steel suspension bridges.

Phakding to Namche Bazar

Between Phakding and Jorsale, we crossed at least 4 suspension bridges, which spanned several hundred feet above the river in places. The bridges were surprisingly well-maintained and felt safe, even with 10 fully-loaded donkeys (carrying gas tanks) coming at us!

Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

With a long-held fear of heights, Scott was not a huge fan of the bridges, particularly those that let you see straight through to the rivers below…

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After stopping for a lunch of veggie momos (Nepalese fried dumplings) and milk tea, we passed over another suspension bridge that brought us to a fork in the trail.

Phakding to Namche Bazar

One direction was clearly meant to be the main trail, but the porters all seemed to be taking a smaller path to the side that looked like a shortcut. We thought about following the porters, but we reasoned that they were probably taking a longer, flatter side-trail to better handle their heavy loads and that we should stick to the main trail. Additionally, our host at the lodge last night said that our first glimpse of Everest could be had soon after leaving Jorsale, and we were reluctant to miss out on the possibility of a viewpoint by taking a shortcut.

We started into the insane set of crumbling stone steps that lay ahead of us, while other trekkers hit the flat side-trail to our left. Ha! We’d show them when we’d see Everest first!

Needless to say….. our decision was a huge mistake. The portion of trail we took was abnormally difficult and grueling: up for 100 feet, down for 100 feet; then repeat. With the prospect of seeing Everest keeping our spirits up, we dragged ourselves along the trail, looking in every direction for a tall mountain (problem was, they were everywhere). After 45 minutes of stumbling along, we met up with another trail– the same side-trail that we had elected not to follow. Although this time we had a perfect view of the shortcut along the side of the mountain (the one that we had just climbed up and over). The sidetrail was a perfectly flat, curving 10-minute shortcut that offered beautiful views of the river below. Happy trekkers that we had passed eating lunch an hour ago were now flying by us. Adding insult to injury, we hadn’t even seen Everest by going the other way.

We crossed one final bridge and, looking up at the steeps ahead, we could tell we’d just finished the “leisurely” part of the day. Now, we were faced with the real start to the uphill climb to Namche Bazaar, the “capitol” of the Khumbu region and (relatively) large trading post for people in the region. Namche is also home to the first official viewing spot of Mt. Everest along the trek…therefore, we’d need to make it there before sundown if we were going to make it in time for the b-day viewing.

We began the 4-hour uphill climb at a decent clip, even following the porters up steep, tricky shortcuts to get around slow hikers. However, it wasn’t long before I found myself running out of steam. The climb we had just needlessly opted-into had sapped my last energy reserves for the day. We decided to split one of the Snickers bars from our small stockpile (which we had been trying to conserve) before continuing up the trail.

Even with a little sugar boost, we were stopping every 3-4 minutes to rest. The air had already become noticeably thinner, and my legs would become exhausted after only a few stairs. Scott graciously volunteered to carry my sleeping bag for me, so we tied it onto his pack and continued to climb for a couple of more hours by taking a few steps, stopping to rest, and taking a few more.

[My porter…]
Phakding to Namche Bazar
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A few hours along, we stopped a young guy coming down the trail from Namche and asked him how much longer we had until we reached the town. “I just made it downhill from there to here in 10 minutes, so you can probably do it uphill in 20. You’re almost there!” Whether or not he was lying to cheer us up, we took his encouragement to heart and twenty minutes later, sure enough found ourselves stumbling into Namche Bazaar– or what we thought was Namche Bazaar– and had our passes stamped.  When I saw the map saying “You Are Here”, I nearly cried in relief.

Phakding to Namche Bazar

A few seconds later, I wanted to cry when I realized that the Namche outpost was still a long set of steps away from the village itself.

[Doh!]
Phakding to Namche Bazar

We began taking the final steps toward Namche one at a time and eventually made it to the edge of town. Suddenly, I started to feel dizzy from the altitude and had to sit down to rest. Being located at over 11,000 feet, Namche is often the first village along the trail where trekkers begin to experience altitude sickness, so we were purposely being overly cautiously. While I rested, Scott bought a Coke for me and then decided that he should carry not only my sleeping bag (which he already had) but my entire backpack, as well!

[Sherpa Scott]
Scott Sherpa

Because I was ALSO getting blisters at this point, we decided I should change into my flipflops for the remainder of the walk to find a hotel. So I strolled into Namche Bazaar with no backpack, wearing flip flops, with a cold Coke in my hand.

Birthday in Namche

One trekker came up to me and asked “Whoa, did you hike the whole way in those??” motioning to my flops. Then he noticed the blisters. “Oh.”

On our way into the village, we also saw our friends from Zimbabwe again. “You made good time for carrying all of your own bags,” one of them said, motioning to Scott’s 2-backpack setup. “He’s my porter,” I joked. 🙂

We easily found a hotel and collapsed into our room, utterly exhausted. This room was similar to the one in Phakding (two twin beds, nothing else), but the price had already begun to come up (OK, $3 instead of $2…).

[View from our room…]
Namche Bazar
Namche Bazar

Just when I was about to curl up into a ball with my sore, aching legs and blistered toes, Scott reminded me: “We still have to go see Mt. Everest! It’s your birthday!”

I opened one eye in pain. “I can’t decide: Best birthday ever? Or worst birthday ever?”

“It’s gonna be amazing! Let’s go!!”, he said, literally dragging me off the bed.

So we re-bundled ourselves in our winter gear and began what we thought would be a leisurely 5 minute walk up to the viewing point just outside of Namche. Twenty minutes of oxygen-deprived climbing later, we were approaching the grassy outcrop where the viewpoint was located just as the sun was preparing to set over the horizon. The angle from which we climbed up to the viewpoint was such that Everest would be at our backs as we made the last few steps to the outcrop….

Knowing that Everest was at our backs, we held hands and counted…”1… 2… 3!!”

We spun around together– Gray stone rising up to the left of Lhotse, with its iconic white plume of snow glazing off the summit– Mt. Everest!

Namche Bazar, first view of Everest (round peak, left of center)
Birthday view of Mt. Everest
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“Happy Birthday,” Scott whispered, as he gave me a huge hug.

I should mention that at first, we were confused whether Lhotse (the 4th tallest mountain in the world, next to Everest) was actually Everest, since Lhotse was the taller, more imposing mountain in the center of our view, but a fellow hiker verified for us the real Everest, just to the left. Everest was still over 25 miles away and thus appeared less monstrous than some of the closer surrounding mountains.

Knowing we’d get better views in a couple of days, we spent just a few minutes at the look-out and then headed back into Namche Bazaar to see what the town was all about.

Surrounded by jagged, snow-covered mountains, Namche Bazaar was a colorful, well-maintained Sherpa village reminiscent of a tiny Swiss ski village, with rocky cobblestone footpaths and quaint stone chalets with red and blue and green roofs. Most of the buildings were hotels; the remainder were trekking shops or restaurants, including (for better or worse) Namche’s very own Irish Pub, German bakery, pizza parlor, and Jamaican reggae bar.

[Overlooking Namche Bazaar– gateway to Everest.]
Namche Bazar

We were ravished from our hike, so we indulged in a huge “pepperoni” pizza at the pizza parlor. (Don’t order meat when in Nepal. The meat didn’t taste bad, but the “pepperoni” were little chunks of purple Spam-like substance that pushed the definition of meat.)

As we were finishing our last slices of pizza, I looked up to see a slice of carrot cake with a candle in it coming my way!!! Scott had arranged for our waiter to deliver the cake to me, and luckily, they just happened to have a candle in the restaurant.

Birthday in Namche
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We finished the night with a couple of Everest beers at a little bar across from our hotel called Liquid Bar, which was a surprisingly hip cave-like bar with a few fellow trekkers gathered around a soccer match.

[Enjoying Liquid Bar with our down jackets on.]

Birthday in Namche

We were too exhausted from the day’s events to stay out very long, though, and we quickly found ourselves buried inside our sleeping bags, fast asleep….

Everest Base Camp trek, Day 1: Kathmandu to Phakding

Total mileage: 5
Beginning altitude (at Lukla): 9,000 feet
Final altitude in Phakding: 8,500 feet (the hike on Day 1 has a net negative climb.)

—————————————————————————————–

Early on the morning of May 28th, we arrived at the Kathmandu Airport and were put into a queue of people who were all waiting to fly to Lukla, the town where the EBC trailhead begins. Air bookings for domestic flights in Nepal are unlike anywhere else that I know of: having a ticket guarantees you a flight for some time that day (or week) if the weather is good, but it does not assign you to any specific flight, time of departure, or seat. We arrived at the airport and were put on an 8:30am flight with Agni Air.

Flight to Lukla, Nepal
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When Scott and I boarded the tiny plane (which only held 10 passengers and 2 pilots), we both scrambled for seats on the left side of the place, since we were told that the left side offers the best views of the Himalayas. Our flight was relatively smooth, but occasionally we’d hit a pocket of air that would send a nervous chatter throughout the cabin. As much as we all tried to let the loud drone of the engines drown out any bad thoughts, everyone was keenly aware that our little plane was battling typical Himalayan wind patterns and flying only hundreds of feet away from some of the tallest mountains in the world. The only thing I could do to distract myself from the flight was to look out at the incredible view in the distance– the Himalaya!

Flight to Lukla, Nepal

Flight to Lukla, Nepal

Flight to Lukla, Nepal
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Twenty-five minutes after leaving Kathmandu, we were approaching the landing strip at Lukla Airport, a tiny strip of asphalt at 9,000 feet that begins at the edge of a cliff and ends abruptly at the face of a mountain wall. Lukla airport has has the honor of being named the world’s most dangerous airport. And because the landing strip is so short, it was built at a 12 degree angle, both to help landing planes stop more quickly and to help taking off planes gain speed faster before flying off the edge of the cliff. Thankfully, we neither clipped the edge of the cliff on the way in nor ran into the mountain at the end of it; however, I did see one plane that attempted to land and aborted at the last minute and another plane that skidded to a stop right before the face of the mountain, causing the gawking airport staff to run outside to see who the pilot was. Needless to say, I was too nervous to stand around watching other flights come in… We’d be back here in two weeks to fly back out.

[Lukla airstrip, where Everest stands a mere 30 miles away.]
Flight to Lukla, Nepal

(If you’re interested, look up some YouTube videos on Lukla Airport; it’s pretty fascinating. (Mind you, only do this if you’re not interested in flying into Lukla or going to Mt. Everest one day.))

Scott and I had decided not to use a guide or a porter to carry our bags for our trek to Everest; we wanted the “romantic” adventure of transporting ourselves and our gear from village to village, deciding where we wanted to stop, not worrying about consulting anyone if we wanted to take a detour or add an extra day to rest. So we literally walked off the airstrip in Lukla with our bags on our backs and realized…we didn’t quite know which way to go. Casually trying to play it cool, acting like we were “adjusting” our backpacks, we decided that “left” looked more lively than “right”, and we headed in that direction.

[Me going “left”. Me also looking incredibly awkward and reminiscent of Quasimodo. At the least, this shot shows my setup: Scott and I each carried one backpack on our backs with a sleeping bag tied to the outside. We each had a refillable waterbottle within reach on the sidepocket of our bags.]
Lukla to Phakding

A mere 5 steps later, we came to a German bakery, which smelled too good to pass up. We had heard that European bakeries could be found all along the Everest trail, owing to the large population of European hikers that have been paving their way along this trail for decades, bringing their high-energy strudels and danishes along with them. Solely out of our effort to embrace the local culture wherever we go, we split a seriously decadent, enormous, dense, rich apple strudel for breakfast and then hopped back on the trail.

[If you ever visit the region, do have an apple strudel at this bakery (the first one you come to when leaving the airport).]

Lukla to Phakding

A few hundred feet later, we came to Lukla town (“left” was indeed the right way!), where a Nepali policeman stamped our hiking permits. While we waited, we met a guided group of fellow hikers from Zimbabwe. They were shocked to learn that we were hiking the trail on our own. They were clearly concerned for our safety (worried that we would hike too high too fast, I suppose), and we had to convince them that we would be fine. It certainly raised an interesting point though: whereas we thought that independent trekkers would dominate the trail, over the course of our hike we discovered the opposite to be true. Almost all of the other trekkers had guides with them. Not only did we appear to be the only independent trekkers on the trail, we also quickly noticed that very few people around us were carrying their own packs, and we wondered whether it was something we would regret. But in the end, we would be so happy that we had chosen to undertake the adventure on our own.

We passed through the welcome gates of the EBC Trek, and just like that, we were off! Our backpacks felt light and comfortable, our new boots weren’t rubbing any blisters, the temperature and humidity were spectacular– we were happy to be hiking out into the big beautiful world of the unknown!

[We’re off!]
Lukla to Phakding

Lukla to Phakding

Lukla to Phakding
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[Passing through the welcome gates of The EBC Trek, near Lukla.]

Lukla to Phakding

Lukla to Phakding
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As we weaved our way along the mountain out of Lukla, we caught our first glimpse of the porters, whose back-breaking work is so vital to this region of Nepal. Known as the Khumbu region, this region is a remote, mountainous area completely devoid of any roads (it would be nearly impossible to build them, given the mountainous terrain, rivers, and gorges). Therefore, everything in the Khumbu region that cannot be derived from the mountains is hiked into the region on foot by porters or yaks. Every windowpane, every can of Coke, every gas cylinder for cooking, every Western-style toilet, was carried on someone’s back up the mountain for days or weeks, depending on its final destination. (I really did see a porter carrying a toilet up the mountain on his back one day– I think that any tourist who demands one while in the Everest region should have to carry his own!)

Lukla to Phakding

Lukla to Phakding
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A porter’s load is carried on the porter’s back, held in place by a leather head strap that transfers a significant portion of the weight to the porter’s forehead. Although one of the best jobs for men in the Khumbu region is to be a trekking guide or camp manager in the Everest region, many young men often end up becoming porters, perhaps because they cannot communicate in a foreign language or because it’s the best job available to them at the time. The porters are paid per job based on how much they carry, and we were told that the loads can sometimes exceed 250 pounds (!).

Although porters in Nepal are often mistakenly referred to as “Sherpas,” we learned that Sherpas are a specific ethnic group of Nepali people, and although many of them are porters, the words are not interchangeable. Sherpas are of Tibetan decent, and are the major tribe present in the Everest region. They are the people who have been shuttling people up Everest, running lodges, and supporting the entire tourist industry in the region for decades. Because the Sherpas have been living at high-altitudes for hundreds (thousands?) of years, they can function more easily in the low-oxygen environments, making them excellent guides on Everest and, of course, excellent porters.

Yaks also share a part of the burden in the Everest region, of course, which is good news for the porters and sometimes bad news for hikers– yaks are known for their ability to accidentally “push” hikers to their deaths off of mountain cliffs , due to the yaks’ failure to yield to human traffic and their abnormally wide loads on their backs. After hearing this, Scott and I were always sure to yield to the yaks by standing on the mountain-side of the trail ather than the cliff-side…

Lukla to Phakding
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But back to our hike…. The Everest Trail is largely confined to one in-and-out trail, and I was acutely aware that every step that I took forward was a step that I would have to take back in just a couple of weeks. Our first day, we had no definitive plans for how far along the trail we might get, but the “suggested itinerary” for the EBC trek that I had hurriedly scribbled down the day before suggested that we try to make it to a little village called Phakding, about 5 hours walking from Lukla.

The trail near Lukla was crowded, and we repeatedly passed the same groups of European hikers, only to have them pass us again if one of us stopped to tie a shoe. As we walked, I carefully scrutinized each person that we passed going in the opposite direction as us, back toward Lukla: Had they made it all the way to Basecamp? What had they been thinking when they were in my position two weeks ago? Some people were jovial and in good condition; other people limped on one leg or leaned on their walking sticks a bit too heavily. One young woman asked her guide if she could walk around the measly little set of rock steps that lay in front of her, rather than go over them and punish her knees any more than she had already. But our week of hiking in the high-altitude hills in Chopta was paying off, as I kept mentioning how surprised I was that climbing steep stairs with a fully loaded backpack felt so easy. Once we had warmed up, we were flying past the other groups on the trail, barely stopping to catch our breath.

Eventually, it was the weather that forced us to slow down, as light rain began coming down on us and we ducked inside a tea shop to escape it. It was there that we had our first cup of Khumbu Nepali milk tea– black tea brewed with spices and milk, served inside one of the traditional tea shops that has served as resting place for Nepali porters for hundreds of years. The walls of the one-room shack were lined with benches covered in old rugs and cushions, where porters (and some adventurous hikers) sleep, with a wood-burning stove set up in the middle of the room. Although we didn’t need the warmth of the stove on this day (we were hiking in T-shirts with light jackets), I had no idea how much we would come to rely on them farther along the hike…

[Judging how far we have to go before Phakding…]

Lukla to Phakding

We paid for our teas and continued on to Phakding, passing though tiny villages every half mile or so. Along the way, we stopped for lunch at another tea shop, which offered beautiful views over the green forest while blocking the equally ferocious winds that encouraged us to sit inside.

[“Mani stones” (Tibetan Buddhist prayers, carved into rocks and then painted) line the Everest trail.]

Lukla to Phakding

Lukla to Phakding

Lukla to Phakding
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[Tiny monastery with prayer wheel on the way to Phakding..]
Lukla to Phakding
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We reached Phakding around  2:00 in the afternoon.

Phakding, Nepal

Despite the 5-hour walk we’d just completed, we felt oddly energized and decided to push past Phakding to get a head-start on the hoards of backpackers that we would find ourselves alongside the following morning. We hiked through the village and got our first taste of what the lodges and towns along the Everest Trail would be like. Dozens of lodges reminiscent of old Swiss hiking lodges lined the road of the tiny, single-road village. A few shops sold the items that people might have forgotten to buy in Kathmandu (socks, bandages, beanies, walking poles, maps..….) at exorbitant prices.  Because we had no knowledge of what lodging prices were like along the trail, we began asking lodge owners what their prices were when we arrived into town. We were relieved when we asked the first lodge owner for the price of a double room: 100 rupees…about $2.

Just out of town, we found a nice stone lodge that we decided to sleep in for the night.

[Our hotel. Not bad at $2/night!]
Phakding, Nepal
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[The common room. Me, in the background, reading and drinking some hot mint tea.]
Phakding, Nepal

Phakding, Nepal

The lodge was on a lush green, mountainous outcrop overlooking Phakding. It was well-maintained by the 3 young guys who lived and worked there during the high-season, with a wood paneled common room and two floors of basic hotel rooms. Tonight, we would be the only guests.

Although we had been spoiled by hot showers and free use of the electricity in Kathmandu, the case was certainly going to be different on the Everest trail. Our room was clean but basic, with nothing but two twin beds and a window. The only electric outlet on the second floor of the hotel was located outside the one shared bathroom, with a sign over it that read “Outlet use: 100 rupees per hour”. Luckily, we had charged our camera in Kathmandu. When I asked the guys if I could take a hot shower, they winced a little and told me to wait until they turned the boiler on around 4pm. I patiently waited until 4, when they turned on the water and stood outside the bathroom to make sure it was working properly for me. It was, but to call it a “shower” is a little misleading. It was a faucet at knee level that I used to gather water in my hands and throw it onto myself. Mind you, the hotel itself (or any hotel on the trail) was not heated, and I was “showering/ throwing water at myself” in a 50-degree tiled room. It was freezing.

Luckily, the shower experience taught me a lot, and from that day forward, I would choose my showers and shower times on the EBC trail very carefully (to be divulged in later posts…)

I eventually rejoined Scott in the common room (he declined a shower), where we had vegetable momos (dumplings) for dinner and spent a while talking to the young hotel manager. He was raised in the Khumbu region and had been to EBC many times. He was obviously proud to be from the area, and he happily told us about what lay ahead on the trail and where we could get our earliest view of Everest. He had aspirations of eventually reaching the summit of Everest one day, and we were suddenly so revived to be on the trail– we’re really here! People here climb Mt. Everest! This guy was going to climb Everest one day, too! Wow!! Wisely, his plan was to train to be a mountain guide and get paid to summit the mountain, rather than paying to hike it, as most tourists do. He gave us a book to take up the trail with us (we decided to leave it with him and leave the extra weight out of our bags in the end).  After talking with him for what must have been an hour, we finally decided to turn in to our sleeping bags in our [very unheated] room and get some sleep….

Phakding, Nepal

Godsend.
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