Everest Base Camp, Nepal

Everest Base Camp Trek
Day 1: Lukla to Phakding, 2652m.

Where better to start than with the death plane.

Lukla is a mountain village and the starting point for treks to EBC and the surrounding area. I’d say ‘it’s the highest point on the trek with a commercial airport’ except ‘airport’ would be a vicious lie. ‘Death defying landing strip’ would paint a better picture.

Once voted the world’s most dangerous airport, you don’t EVEN want to wiki its safety records if you ever intend a visit. As the Rough Guide puts it “at least they have taken the initiative to tarmac the runway (it was previously grass) and to clear the old wreckage that festoons nearby.” Add to that the tiny propeller driven, 20 seater, lightweight planes you have to board to reach here. If this is what a private jet is like then give me an airbus 360 any day of the week. The 35 min flight here was like the scene in Almost Famous where they rattle around in the thunderstorm hysterically thinking they are plummeting to death. You are so close to the cockpit you see every flick of every dial, and feel each slight fraction of turbulence tenfold. I couldn’t even speak for the first hour here out of post traumatic stress.

The lovely Lukla is like a cute little ski village cut into the mountainside with colorful Tibetan flags blowing in the breeze. To save me describing every ‘town’ from here on up, I’ll just say that all of them are exactly like a miniature version of here. There are 20 teahouse lodges in Lukla, 10 in Dingbouche, 5 in Loubouche and less so and less so the higher up you get.

There are lots of variations on the EMC trek. Some people (with the sense to avoid the death plane) walk in an extra 5 days from the nearest road in Juri. Some people take a full 17 days. (9 up, 8 down.) Some people climb alternative peaks at Gokyo or the Chi Li pass. We did it in 11 by walking an average for 6 – 8 hours per day, using 2 days for acclimatization in Namache and Dingbouche. I don’t know the stats, so I’ll take the opportunity to use dramatic general sweeping statements; it’s tough, it will make you cry and, to put it mildly, not everyone makes it. Normal medical insurance insures you up to 2000m. We are about to walk up over 5000m. That’s one hell of an expensive medic helicopter if you throw in the towel or get sick.

There are also varying degrees of packages you can book through agencies in Kathmandu. If you have a couple of thousand dollars to throw at it, you can go for the hot shower/food and English speaking guide included option. Although the joke is on you as you’re still resigned to the same simple lodges as everyone else. If you decide to DIY it like us you can pay as little as 200rs a night (75p each) for a lodge room. Think Goldilocks style woodcutters shed in the Swiss Alps.

However more important than accommodation in terms of things to organize is the be-all-and-end-all of mountain life; a porter. The average Everest Expedition requires 60 yaks and men carting 25kg plus for 9 days. Our 13kg between us then, was more than tame. Especially as 10k was our -10c sleeping bags, walking boots, waterproofs and various trekking paraphernalia all rented from Kathmandu for a mere 25rs (15p) a day. The rest was a max of 2 ‘normal’outfits each and 3 sets of socks/underwear – which we of course claimed we were going to wash every other day.

In the 11 days we were up there we washed the following:

Above said underwear/socks = twice
Ourselves = once in 12 days. (Pause. Think about it. ONCE. Utter grossness)
My hair = Zero, but that’s not really anything new

So our porter. Pronounced ‘Fhony,’ (but funnier to ourselves to amend this to ‘Pony,’) he was a Sherpa of 25 who lived in Phakling. Sherpas are a community of Nepalise people that have been carrying loads along these mountain passes for hundreds of years. They have adapted red blood cells to cope with the lack of oxygen through altitude, and can carry mind blowing amounts on their backs. Base camp is a full 9 days away from the nearest road. That is insane when you think that every Mars bar, every beer, every medical supply, bottle of water, plank of wood, has to be carried here on foot. If that’s not crazy enough, bare it in mind when I talk about things like pool tables, bathroom sinks, and gas cylinders for generators. If we thought Pony was impressive, we also noticed he seemed to be looking after a local village girl, who at 4ft was carting 2 humongous sacks of grain rice on her head in front of him. “Girlfriend” he confessed when we questioned him. I’m not how she felt about the fact that all her fella had was our (comparatively lightweight) 13kg rucksack!

Now our plans were to push on to Monjo for the first night, but figuring Pony would most likely just re-walk the 4h round trip to spend the night downhill with his family, we decided to do the nice thing and settle in for the night early in his village Phakling. So day 1’s walking included a grand total of 3 hours in the lovely scenic Nepali countryside, calling out ‘Namaste’(Hello) to cute rubenesq cheeked children in the lovely perfect temperature sunshine. Piece of cake right?

Day 2: Phakding to Namache Bazaar, 3500m

Continuing these Disney like early days and Goldilocks theme, I order the ever so hearty choice of oat porridge for our first breakfast whilst sat in our restaurant lounge by a woodburing stove. Could we BE more twee. Like good little hikers we’ve had a good 8h sleep. We have nice few hours following the river upstream, crossing dangling Indiana Jones style rope bridges. It’s all great and fresh and very Into The Wild. Then comes the hills, confirming just why a 3km trek would take 3 long hours. We vow to start appreciating the clue that contour lines on a map give you from this point on.

Thankfully we are intercepted by a band of donkeys, giving us an excuse to slow the hell down on the narrow tracks and pretend it’s their fault we are so slow. Except into this traffic jam come a wading a dozen or so yaks.

Now yaks are lovely bless them, they are just like big cows really, but apparently they have tendency to throw a strop sometimes and knock tourists off of 100ft drops. You are warned to always stay mountainside to them when they pass. There are no witnesses to this next bit, just Mark’s word, but next thing you know he’s clutching his chest like a bullfighter, having been scratched by its horns on the swing of its head. Unprovoked apparently. More on yak-gate in a second.

Then next animal related trauma of the afternoon comes as the donkey patrol pass us again on a huge ascent through a pine forest just before Namache. One of the scrawny little fella’s keels over, bloody pouring out of its nose. Its owners, concerned only about its cargo, then proceed to beat it with a stick, push it and drag it up the mountain. For them I think it would be like us crying emotionally at our car breaking down and needing a tyre change. Of course I’m over there in tears kneeling by its head trying desperately to hand feed it Sprite (it’s all I had with me water wise, and cost about 150rs a bottle I’ll have him know.) Poor donkey just licks pathetically and gushes blood all over my hand. Eventually the Sherpas unfasten its massive 30kg load and it stumbles to its feet and trots on a little. A mistake if you ask me. If I were him I’d have faked out fatigue for a little while longer and got some rest. Although maybe he knew that if he pushed it too far his body would simply be rolled off the cliff by his owners as collateral damage. We make it to Namache whilst reflecting on the harsh lesson in animal welfare vs. the mountain economy. What can you really do?

Day 3. Namache Bazaar, 3500m

Today was meant to be our much anticipated rest day for acclimatization. You shouldn’t really accent more than 500m in one day as it plays all sorts of havoc with your body. Plus the ‘town’ of Namache is the last place of relative civilization from here on in, so it’s a kind of ‘enjoy the 150rs internet and ESPN in bars whilst you can’ mentality. There are souvenir shops which kill 10 mins, and a view point mini day trip trek that keeno’s can do. Hmm a view point or a lie in? Tough one.

Nevertheless, we however are woken at 7am. Thanks for that then. To be told that ‘Pony’ is in ill health and cannot go on. The poor guy had sounded as though he’d had a cough just short of TB ever since we met him, and it doesn’t bode that well if at 3500m the porters are dropping like flies. We give him his 2 days tips and wish him well and meet his replacement; Mingmo. More on that rascal later.

We have bigger problems to worry about. Namely that the slightly overdramatic Mark is convinced he has rabies from yesterday’s yak-gate incident, and needs to get to a clinic within 24h if he’s to live. The drama being, that the nearest clinic would be back down 2 days and a plane ride away in Kathmandu. We spend a few hours debating one of life’s greatest topics; Are Yaks a carrier of rabies? Not satisfied with my ‘just google it’ attitude, he walks into town to a local women pharmacist. Baring in mind her normal 9 – 5 is spent dispensing altitude sickness tablets and nothing else, she’s rather baffled by our re-inaction mime of the yak-attack and ‘is rabies prolific in this area?’ questions. We eventually settle on ringing a specialist clinic in Kathmandu who, after they eventually stop laughing (I imagine), do assure him it’s of minimal risk. Crisis averted.

The next thing to kick off are the owners of our guesthouse, comically named the Hill Ten (yes it’s a play on Hilton, if Hilton’s were made out of paper thin plywood box walls.) They try and warn us that our room is only the cheap rate of 200rs if we eat all our food with them, in their x4 times the price restaurant. We ignore this and sneak into the valley for a veggie burger and chips, and sit outside on a sundeck scared that they have binoculars and a sniper trained on us. Like rebels we spend the rest of our acclimatization hanging out here chatting to other trekkers, stockpiling cheap 60rs Mars bars like madmen, and painstakingly fighting the overwhelming urge to sleep at 3pm in the afternoon.

Day 4. Debouche 3700m

The 200m height difference is misleading. We’ve actually scaled up and down from a valley of 3200m today. It started well, we had our power breakfast of eggs and Nepalese milk tea, and spent a lovely sunny few hours on winding flat mountain edge tracks. We chat to our new friends, a nice Florida couple in their 50’s who call us the ‘young gazelles’ when we pass them looking all sprightly. Mingmo seems alright, we share our sweets with him and despite the language lull, and we point out all of the villages and seem to pass them on the map quicker than expected. Our new walking shoes are broken into the point where they are actually comfortable. Life is good.

Then around 11.30am comes the kicker; a 600m ascent up to Tengbouche. Mark and I are keen to just blast it and east lunch at the top. Good for psychology/moral we reason. There’s an upsetting moment when (don’t judge me, everyone does it in the wilderness) I stop to wee behind some tree’s and manage drop into it my own Raybands. Oh the glamour of trekking. And yes I still wear them. Anyway, we make it in 1h and a half (Mingmo in 4h), just in time for lunch.

It’s all worth it. Tengbouche is arguably the prettiest of villages on route. A little dream hamlet in the clouds there are only 5 lodges plus the famous 1900’s monastery which is traversed with flowing Tibetan flags all around. The most beautiful part is the central grassy central square, very ‘Little House on the Prairie,’with wild horses running free. If Unicorns live anywhere, it is here.

Day 5. Digbouche. 4200m

I’m not being funny but we might be getting the hang of this trekking lark. We have the 10km, ‘6/7h journey’ wrapped up just before 1pm, in 4 hours. I know it’s not race but surely that deserves a high five. The scenery turned very ‘North Yorkshire Moors’ today, with epic snowcapped mountains for a backdrop. We’re enjoying it.

However, I am popping paracetamol like an addict, and starting sentences before midday with “Swig of Whisky to take the edge of the altitude headaches shall we?” which I’m not really sure is socially acceptable. At 4000m the faint signs of sickness start to creep in for most people. You are breathless in seconds, have a constant dull head and sinuses that scream out for Lemsip and a cuddle. The downside of having amazing scenery is that it now costs 350rs for an hour’s solar powered electricity it costs to charge your electricals and capture it in photos. That is if you can coax your batteries into playing ball. My little pink Fujifilm is clearly wondering why she’s been brought to these heights and pressures and is starting to show altitude sickness symptoms of her own. Tomorrow is a much needed A day again.

Day 6 Digbouche Acclimatization Day.

Digbouche didn’t really do it for me. It’s a 20 lodge town spread across a flat valley, but has that bleakness of gray weather and architecture in the dry stone walls that gives it a somber vibe. We’re sleeping for about 14 hours a day now.

We tried to play chess, but it really is amazing to watch your brain slow down to the reactions of a sloth. We topped this with an attempted game of pool in a tiny Tibetan owned bakery. I mean why wouldn’t a bakery have a pool table. We made it our home for the afternoon as it had nice cakes and old 1997 copies of Vogue magazine. Again, why wouldn’t a Tibetan bakery half way up a mountain not have retro fashion mags.

The game of pool killed about 2 hours of our day as our hand eye coordination was miles off. The local lads piled into watch in amusement. Chatting to them we learn that they all live up here for up to 9 months at a time, then return to Kathmandu in the off season. As teenagers you get the impression they are bored senseless back on the mountain. Snooker and pool tables, impossible as they are to transport here, (by helicopter to Namache then carried up) are the only real saving grace. This and apparently Mylee Cyrus’s Party in the USA which inexplicably they love. Who am I to question escapism up here.

Oh. Big news. Our first (and only) shower! Not the best 400rs (£3) i’ve spent to be honest. It was in a tin hut outside in the freezing air, which kind of defeats the point of it being ‘hot’ but beggars cannot be choosers can they. You get a whole 10 min, which I spent about 20 sec on myself and the remaining 9m40 washing my two pairs of underwear and leggings. How far the mighty have fallen from the glamour of Vogue this afternoon to watching my clothes dry on dry stone walls.

Day 7. Dingbouche to Lobouche. 4900m

Today the drama has already started by 7am, as we wake to face our 2nd Porter-gate in 7 days. Mingmo has only gone and done one. Disappeared. Leaving us half way up the world’s highest mountain with 13kg’s of luggage. The Porter/Guide’s traditionally sleep in porter lodges, connected to the trekker lodges. We ask around. When we mention he’s from Lukla everyone seems to laugh that implies their fly by night nature. The general consensus is that he’s been offered another job perhaps, and has run back down the mountain. We’ll never really know?!

It turns out the crack is that it’s “near on impossible” to pick up another guide this far up. No one really walks this far if they are not already attached to a tour. We rang ‘uncle Kul;’ from our agency in Kathmandu from a 50rs a minute 1970’s phone from a local shop in the far end of the village. He contacted his mate at Sunny Lodge Lukla who employs Pony/Mingmo. We had to explain the whole sage from start to finish like we were suspicious porter murderers, since we mysteriously only seem to keep them for 48h at a time. Somewhere along the line ‘Kul 2’ gets involved. He owns the Sherpa Land Lodge here in Dingbouche and is Kul 1’s ‘brother.’ Course he is. By this point it’s 11am. We should have left at 7am and the leg to Lobouche is a hard 5 or so hours ahead. The good news is that ‘K2’can sort us out someone who can porter our remaining 6 days. This is a godsend.

Porter 3’s name is Dillip. Like ‘Phillip’ with a ‘D’ although you will be forgiven for not keeping up at the rate we’re going through them. After an hour Dillip rocks up, having trekked an hour from Shormore. He’s the same weight and build as the others, is sporting the same terrible whooping cough and shoes bound up by string. He insists he’s fine, and wordlessly hikes our kg’s on his back and sets off. The guy is a machine. Pony and Mingmo stopped on average every 5 mins to rest their packs, which we took to be normal. I think we saw Dillip stop three times in the entire 6 days we knew him. Legend. Turns out he’s neither a porter nor a guide but a restaurant chef who Kul roped in as he’s off to Tibet in two weeks to work an expedition and took this job to earn extra cash.

Mainly due to the steam train that is Dillip, we make good pace until we reach Duglaha. The point which really sorts the men from the boys. Midway up there flakes of snow start to tumble. We all huddle in our muffled jackets and layer up, except for Dillip who doesn’t even have gloves until Mark donates his. Mark himself is guzzling inhaler at alarming rates as at over 5000m the air is impossibly thin. He’s having a bit of a moment on a rock when he comes out with possibly my fave mountain quote in the saddest of voices as he’ll never get to see it: “it’s a really important weekend in the premiership.”

By the time we make Lobouche its late afternoon, and has been quite the day. For the first time you start to wonder whether everyone will make it. So many people come down from Lobouche, or can’t hack the night at Gorok Shep 5300m up. Maybe it’s the fact that by this point we were slightly delusional, but the Alpine Lodge at Lobouche seemed to serve pizza and pasta out of this world. That said, we were both starting to lose it slightly. We try and play the simple child’s game ‘Squares’ but each take 10 secs more than it should to write our own initials in the boxes. With the heat from the log fire, the altitude and the exhaustion, we go to bed in a drowsiness that feels like we’re underwater.

Day 8. Lobuche. 4740m

…And wake up looking like corpses straight out of CSI, our lips purple tinged and splintered, our bodies wondering WTF happened. We decide it’s now or never, knowing neither of us want to risk spending the night at Gorok Shep we decide to leave our packs here and push it to EBC and back today in one big 8h leg. By this point coordination is just comedy as our feet fall about a meter from where we interned every step which is risky on the huge boulders that we’re walking on. The good thing about today however is that they’ve wheeled out the Signor Ross/Planet Earth scenery – vast snow capped valleys and icicle clad streams.

We make it to Gorok Shep to pit stop in Yeti Lodge for tea and a million pound costing emergency Mars bar. We also spring for a $360rs coke, which is all 1rs worth and 359rs of fizz that explodes like a grenade. It’s here where it was my turn to lose my personality and have a bit of a moment spaced out to high heaven. We press on.

Somewhere about 3h in you round a corner when you’re least expecting it and with adrenalin fueled glee you finally peak at the tiny yellow North Face tents set against black rock that mark Base Camp. It’s another hour or so to actually reach it, walking below the looming peaks of the Tibetan Himalaya range, a stone’s throw away. Everest itself is there in the background, coming in and out of shot like an ugly granite top that seems to brag “yeah that’s me, I’m too big and tough to be snowcapped.”

As we approach base camp itself it’s bizarre to take in. Climbers spent 4 weeks here. Four weeks in a tiny isolated community in this obscure valley, then up to 70 days acclimatizing back up and down from camps 2 and 3 before they eventually summit. Its early afternoon and we head to the far end of camp where the mysterious Dillip has a friend of a friend that’s part of an expedition. Apparently the climbers don’t always take kindly to tourist trekkers in and out of their camp, but Dillip’s camp wave us in for a cup of tea. We are ushered into a dining tent, which to be honest holds double the heat of most of our teahouse lodges of the past week, to meet a Canadian female climber and the expedition coordinator. They look at us oddly although TBF we’ve popped up out of nowhere in our comedy unicorn and Angry Birds hats. She is modest and most serine for someone who is about to summit the highest peak in the next few weeks, and he chats whilst simultaneously ‘over-and-outing’ Camp 2 over his walky talky. It’s all pretty cool to watch.

Base camp itself is kind of subdued due to last week’s avalanche at Camp2 which took the lives of three Sherpa. Although it’s relatively commercialized nowadays with hundreds of people trying to summit every season, it’s still harrowingly dangerous. A permit costs $50k, so we weren’t tempted. Some mad Slovenian fools are there in camp attempting to try it without oxygen. At 8848m, it’s the same height as a cruising commercial airplane.

We stay for around an hour to take the obligatory mascot picks outside of the ‘EBC’sign like the tourists we are, and Dillip looks slightly unimpressed he’s been carting about a bag full of Jesus elephants, toy koala bears and Mark’s mascot, Sensei the turtle.

The second you hug it out, pat yourself on your back, grin obsessively having achieved it and turn to decent, your body is having none of it. It’s like it’s said “there, I did what you asked me to do, now I’m giving up.” It was time for the emergency MP3. Earphone in. Hood up. Atmosphere by Joy Division saved the day, and we auto piloted a tough few hours back to Loboche for a victorious night’s sleep.

Day 9. Tenbouche. 3900m

Now there is always one isn’t there. Curled up in a little ball on the dusty track road outside of Pengboche, there was me. Altitude sickness on the way DOWN. The hours and the scenery blur and fade out any definable memories and worryingly we spend most of our day saying to each other “I do not remember this?” from the way up.

Our cameras are dragging their asses as much as we, as mine looses the ability to focus and knows not how much battery she has anymore. Mark’s has a fetching purple blob on the viewfinder, which we are praying doesn’t mar all of yesterday’s shots, as we ain’t climbing back up there for new ones. We somehow make it to Shomare for lunchtime to meet Dillip’s family restaurant. We lethargically play with his 4 year old son who amuses himself with my purple glasses and hands us the corpse of a fly he has caught. Delightful. I teach him a new word; Rihanna, who he looks like dancing around. By night we’ve reached Tenbouche and a more humane 3000 ish meters. For the first time in days we eat dinner feeling not like death. Hurry to the decent!

Day 10 Namache Bazaar.

We had Porter-gate part 3 this morning but it turned out to be a false alarm. After walking to Tenbouche for 4pm, Dillip then turned and walked back the 2h round trip to spend the night in Shomore with his family. And then walked all of the way back at 5am the next morning for us.

As we re-trace our steps down the mountainside villages, blisters ready for bursting, we laugh in that we have come to regard Namache as civilization. The population is about 100. Oh and ‘great news:’ Mark is beside himself with excitement as we are back to the land of TV’s in time for the Man U vs. Man City match. However since the time delayed kickoff is at precisely midnight it would be a near in micacle if we’re up this late, since we are both like moles now and sleep for about 23h or every day. Instead we settled for the 4pm screening of the tragically funny made for TV documentary movie of ‘Into Thin Air” based on an ill fated expedition to Everest. (Everyone dies!) It plays most nights here, just to rouse confidence and put everyone in the mood.

Day 11 – 14, Lukla

As everyone knows ‘The last hour is the hardest of all,’ and indeed it was. I lost the will for a little while that morning but cheered myself up my harassing two grey ponies that we found in our path by dressing one up in my unicorn hat and taking pics. He got an éclair toffee out of it so everyone went away happy. We passed through about a dozen weather zones, arctic jacket on. arctic jacket off. As you pass these lowland communities it’s hard to think that only 4 – 6 days behind you there’s a whole hidden world up there where all these ported loads are couriered. Even after 11 days it never got less mesmerizing; the staggering amount that Sherpa and Sherpina herded slowly up there into the clouds.

Waking up on the dawn of the 12th day at 5am, the biggest shock to the system is NOT having to walk today. The new problem however is thus: The return of the death plane part 2! Since we finished 3 days early we want to try and haul ass back to Kathmandu asap. Everyone does. So here you have it, the most inefficient system that even make Indian trains look logical: Lukla’s flight scheduling. In theory there are 20 flights a day, via three airlines; Sita, Agne, and Yeti. Again, do NOT google safety records for any/all of these. Really, just don’t.

In reality, due to the perilous winds, there are rarely more than 5 or 6 runs each that make it off the mountain. This means that if your scheduled flight is grounded, everyone queues for standby, hoping to make the next day’s morning flights. The real window starts at 6am and we never saw anything operate past 9.30am in our entire time there. Rather an assigned plane you get a ‘2nd plane of the day’ ticket. Except we WISH. Instead we got ‘5th.’ On the plus side, Lukla is so small that a plane coming into land can be heard 10 miles away, so your departure lounge can be your bed, the Irish bar, or pretty much wherever you make it.

Baring in mind the entire town is half a dozen permanent residents and then a mass of tourists and porters desperate to get out of there, it’s not difficult to find salvation in fellow strandee’s. We met Steven (Ireland) Helen (NZ) and Steph (USA) as rejected as we were, all with Agne air tickets. The Catch 22 of the whole situation is that despite the fact that planes are grounded and an Air Force One fighter jet wouldn’t be getting to land on that landing strip, they don’t officially cancel flights until 3pm. We made it all the way to the runway with our bags on the tarmac, clutching boarding slips in our hands, and still no one officially tells you it’s not looking likely. The airport just kind of packs away without you. We took the initiative and ran to the off license of course, and killed an afternoon playing giant chess on the departures checked floors, but by 3pm the writing was on the wall.

Another day in Lukla. At 4pm on the dot the race begins, to run to the three airline offices to wrestle for standby slots for the very next day. What we all want are the illusive ‘first three slots of the day.’ I’ll skip the whole day in-between which was basically a re-run of today, where like pro’s we all knew we wouldn’t be going anywhere, and spent our day in Lukla’s fake Starbucks and the Irish bar with free popcorn to cheer our little faces up.

Anyway, apart from the utter lack of personal hygiene (not one of us had showered in 6 days and counting) being stranded for a couple at the end of it all was a nice fun way to finish it all off. Third day lucky and needless to say we all caught our (thankfully smooth and crash free death flight) to the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu where we met for Mexican food that night to celebrate.

We all figure that maybe they strand you in Lukla to calm you all down. For the euphoria to settle. As even though I’m one of them and have earned my badge of honor, there is NOTHING more smug as a group of travelers at dinner starting every storey from now on till the end of time with “This one time when I was climbing Everest…” :)

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An.an.tas.in : The Anantasin is the name of a shipwreck just of the coast of the Sensi Parasise, Mae Haad Bay, Koh Tao, Thailand. It’s one of my many favorite places.

Lit.tle: Just because it’s cute.

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