Himalayas Day 10 -Lobuche to Gorak Shep, via Everest Base Camp

I had the worst night’s sleep of the trek yet in Lobuche at 4,950m. Perhaps it was the anticipation of getting up at 5am to get to Everest Base Camp that had something to do with it. It was more probably to do with a banging head and an inability to get my breath though. There was one (thankfully brief) moment when I just about couldn’t get my breath at all, and I thought that my whole trip was over there and then. Somehow I managed to get myself calmed down again, and tossed and turned the rest of the night until the 5am wake up call came.

The temperature in our room was -3C, and the outside temperature -9C as we set off after a hurried bowl of porridge. I was wrapped up in practically everything I had, bar my down jacket, as I figure that if I make to Island Peak I’d like to appreciate its benefits as much as possible. Daylight was just breaking, although the sun would be another hour before it made an appearance. I felt like a bit of a zombie for the first hour or so, but nothing was going to stop me getting to EBC.

Even the yaks have ice on their backs this morning!

The start of the trek towards Gorak Shep, at dawn, looking between Pumori and Nuptse

We walked along the edge of the same glacial moraine from the Khumbu glacier that we had finished off seeing yesterday afternoon. It is truly spectacular, although it was literally so cold that even with my ski gloves on it was too cold to grab the camera out for a while. The views ahead though, continued, as they have every day, to get better and better, and the crisp dawn air makes the mountains even more intimidating and monstrous than ever before. We had the gargantuan west wall of Nuptse on our right, and the eastern approach of Pumori on our left. It is truly staggering to think that in the photograph above, we are are walking at an altitude of above 5km, and yet there are peaks towering two and three kilometres above our heads still. This really takes some getting your head around, and is true mark of the majesty of the upper Khumbu valley.

Along the way are various memorials, and they put things, and this particular mountain that we are approaching, into some perspective for you:

One of many memorials en route which mark the deaths of those who have died up here.

As the sun starts to rise from behind Nuptse, it shines upon the great peak of Pumori, at 7,165m staright ahead of us, and the path we are on now gets significantly more rocky and harder to walk upon.

Pumori dominating our path ahead - another spectacular sky too.

The upper Khumbu Valley - Lingtren, Changtse, Nuptse. Colossal.

After about two and half hours we came to the highest settlement in the world (true that), called Gorak Shep, at 5,180m (17,000ft). It is not a true settlement probably, as it consists of just a few lodges for trekkers, but it must set a lot of records. We had our second breakfast of the day before setting out at about 10am for the highlight of the trip so far, Everest Base Camp. I actually don’t mind admitting that everything became rather overwhelming for me at this point, and I shed a tear. I was stood outside, and the enormity of everything that I was doing just hit me. Ngima came over to me and asked if I was OK, and I just told him that I was incredibly happy, which was a huge understatement.

Gorak Shep is finally in sight, the Khumbu Icefall in view in the distance too!

The weather by this time was gloriously sunny, and we set out to ascend the remaining 200m or so in height, and three or so miles, which would take us another two and a half hours. The walk is mainly along a ridge, with the Khumbu glacier on one side, and Pumori on the other. We were able to clearly see some climbers on Pumori making their way to the final summit ridge at about 7,000m. Rather them than me is all I can say, it is one steep and brutal mountain, but breathtaking too.

Stopping often, as I was determined to do, not just to breathe, but to take it all in, was just fantastic. I can’t use words to adequately explain any of this at this point. Here is a picture taken back down the valley now, which shows you just the sort of landscape we are in – this is the Khumbu glacier, the highest glacier in the world, cutting its way through 7,000m peaks like they weren’t there. It is ridiculous, mesmerising stuff.

Looking back down the valley along the Khumbu glacier

The sign points the way! The magnificent west wall of Nuptse dominates the skyline.

After a very undulating walk, Base Camp came into view! We could also briefly see the summit of Everest herself poking above Nuptse.

A teasing view of Everest's summit over the shoulder of Nuptse, the Khumbu Icefall on the left.

I just thought I would point out something in the above picture too, to put things into perspective here. The mountain on the left, the one under the wispy cloud, doesn’t look that big from here does it? Well it is Changtse in Tibet, and it is 7,583m, or a shade under 25,000 feet high. That might give you a clue as to what looking at the walls of Nuptse, Lhotse and Everest are like, and just how stonkingly monumental they are, even when viewed as here from 17,500 feet up. Nothing can possibly tell you what it is like to be in this picture unless you have been fortunate to stand here. I am so incredibly lucky, I really am.

At the far end of Base Camp, away from where the ‘public’ access is, were a number of yellow expedition tents – people choosing to climb either Lhotse or  Nuptse probably, as they share the same Base Camp. Everest herself is almost always only ever climbed when a small weather window opens in late April/early May. We were now very close, and the excitement soared.

Expedition tents visible at the far end of EBC - away from the 'public' area.

The view, albeit brief, of Everest today was a huge bonus too. I hadn’t expected to see it at all today, as I know that you cannot see it from Base Camp. The weather again helped – we have been so lucky, and the sun again shone on us incessantly. Pure magic!

The walk now to Base Camp itself is now a bit of a scramble over boulders and onto the glacier itself. The part where the expeditions go from in April/May time is further along slightly, so to be away from the trekkers and tourists. You are still in the same vicinity though – actually staring at the totally incredible Khumbu Icefall, a massively stacked section of seracs, some taller than houses, which starts up between the South Col of Everest and the Lhotse face at about 7,600m. From here you forget about the altitude altogether, as adrenaline just takes over – there is no way you aren’t going to make it to Base Camp, and everyone does.

And so finally at about 12.30 Nepal time, we arrived at the inscribed stone on top of the glacier which officially denotes Base Camp at 5,360m.

And here, recorded for all time, is the ‘money shot’:

"Everest" marks the spot!

The whole group, including our guides, at EBC.

The Khumbu Icefall as seen from Everest Base Camp.

What is Base Camp like? Well before I went on this trip, I had it variously described to me as ‘dirty’, ‘boring’, ‘just nothingness’, ‘a pile of rubble and rocks’, and ‘you don’t see anything at all from there’. Anyone who makes those remarks must have had the worst altitude sickness in the world, or just hasn’t been there. Look at the photographs and see for yourself. And what do people expect after all, a gift shop or something? We are at almost 18,000 feet up in the Himalayas for pity’s sake!

It is only a figurative, or commemorative place of course, but that is irrelevant. This is the place from which Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing first ascended the world’s highest mountain. It is from where all the great Everest treks have commenced. You feel it almost. You see the start of the climb in the Khumbu Icefall, you see so much of everything that the Himalayas has to offer, and that is simply more than any other mountain range in the world. Consider this too: The world’s highest mountain outside of Asia, is Aconcagua in The Andes, at 6,962m, or 22,840ft. The Himalayas has over 100 mountains exceeding 7,200m, or 23,600 ft. You get to stand in the heart of it all, the place of giants. You get to say that you have been here too, and I am so happy (ecstatic in fact) to have that particular T shirt.

So after about half an hour or so, we turned and headed back towards Gorak Shep. The walk back was long and hard, which although was overall a descent of 200m or so, has many ups and downs, and after about 8 or 9 hours of walking above 5,000m, every part of your body feels it. I was absolutely drained, emotionally and physically when I got back, and don’t think I could have walked another step. My head pounded with the altitude, and after a couple of Paracetamol went and found my room and was asleep within about 30 seconds. It was just a short nap however, as I was conscious of not wanting to sleep for long and then not sleep tonight.

Back at Gorak Shep - in the shadow of Pumori, a mere 7,165m

Tomorrow we again get up at 5am, to get to the highest point of our trip so far. We also get to do a true summit, Kala Pattar, at about 5,650m, or 18,500 feet, which is about 1,000 feet above Base Camp. This is about the only place where Everest can be truly seen in most of her glory. If you have seen a picture of Everest before it was probably taken from the summit of Kala Pattar. At that sort of height, it is no mean feat of a mountain in her own right, and although not a challenging or technical climb, everything at this altitude is just bloody hard work, make no bones about it.

If I make it, I suspect that this will be the highest that my body lets me go on this trip, as I just feel drained with lack of sleep. I’ll be giving it my best shot.

Himalayas Day 9 – Dingboche to Lobouche

So I woke this morning for the second night in Dingboche at 4,370m or so, and my head was thankfully reasonably clear, despite not the best night’s sleep I have ever had. Nights at this altitude when you listen to your heart beating and you cannot properly get your breath are just not easy, and certainly not condusive to restful sleep. My terrible dreams (like really horrific grisly nightmares) seem to have abated slightly however, which I was having slightly further down the valley.

Yesterday we did an acclimatisation walk up to around 5,100m, which involved my first ever Himalayan peak, called Nangkartshang. It was stunning in every way, if very hard work at this altitiude.

The morning was again totally beautiful, without a cloud in the sky, and barely a trace of wind. We would again today get to an altitude of around 5,000m (16,500ft), with our destination being Lobuche, the final resting place before Everest Base Camp on Saturday.

Ready for the off to Lobouche, and a very cold start despite the sunshine.

The walk begins at around 7.20am with a fairly steep uphill section, the start of the same trail that yesterday took us up to Nangkartshang Peak at 5,050m for our acclimatisation walk. It then flattens out into a valley, and is a beautiful walk between the peaks of Cholatse (6,440m), Taboche (6,376m), and Pokalde (5,749m), mountains that we haven’t seen before, but are breathtaking the whole way.

Not a bad spot for a cup of tea......

After about an hour and a half the path then descends and reaches the Khumbu river and crosses it at Thokla (4,600m). We stopped here for tea before a brutal uphill section which takes us up a further 300m or so. During this stretch I thought on several occasions that my heart was going to literally burst out of my chest, and that was walking almost as slowly as I possibly could. It made me think (or should I say ‘know’) that I will struggle even more than this when more than one and a half kilometres higher and on a 50 degree ice wall.

I did make it to the top however, alongside my now very regular walking partner Mo. She and I are ‘on a par’ I would say in the struggling stakes, although I should give her the benefit of the doubt as she is feeling terrible with a bad cold and sinus pains. She christens us the ‘tail end Charlies’, which is very apt I have to say.

Reaching the top I had my biggest (in terms of emotions) ‘moment’ to date. At the top of the pass, at 4,840m (15,479ft), there are a large number of memorials. These are to the climbers who didn’t make it back down Everest, including Babu Chiri, a very famous Sherpa who summitted Everest 11 times, but died in 2001, and Scott Fischer, a legendary climber who was one of the eleven who perished on that fateful night in May 1996 (and to anyone who hasn’t read “Into Thin Air”, I would heartily recommend that you do so).

The memorial ground to Everest's fallen heroes

The Scott Fischer Memorial

The Babu Chiri Memorial

At this point my emotions come out totally, and I have to walk to the other side of the plateau so the others do not see me shed a tear. I realise that here am I, struggling to walk up a path to 15,500 feet, and here I stand, totally unworthy, in what is effectively a graveyard to the greats of mountaineering. In total, 162 people have lost their lives on Everest. At this point in time I want to be at home, with a glass of wine. I stand here, inadequate, but very humbly respectful and in tribute to the people who have succumbed to the mountain.

The views from here are breathtaking too, and composing myself I take a few shots (click to expand these, as you can actually with all the photographs in my blog).

Looking back down from the memorial ground towards Thokla

And a wider shot back down the valley again. I think this photograph is going on my wall as a picture somehow.

From hereon upwards the walk changes perspective quite considerably. We are now in the main part of the Khumbu valley itself, in what is principally miles of moraine (debris, rock etc) from the glacier as it originally was. It is again stunning, and we are now in the shadow of even more staggering peaks. In front of us looms Pumori, at 7,165m, and on our right the towering mass that is Nuptse (7,851m). In the distance now also are Lingtren (6,813m) and Changtse (7,583m). We are looking in fact now directly at Tibet (Changste is in Tibet, as in fact is half of Everest) which just makes me have yet another gasping awestruck moment.

We cannot yet see Everest or Lhotse as they are hidden behind Nuptse – they will (hopefully) be tomorrow’s reward, but today’s rewards are more than anyone could wish for in a normal lifetime. Around every corner everything gets simply better and better and better. I probably uttered the word “fuck” (excuse my French here, but if you were here you would too, believe me) in total astonishment about 30 or 40 times this afternoon.

Heading towards Lobouche, with Pumori (23,494 ft) left and Nuptse (25,790 ft) right

Further up the Khumbu Valley towards Nuptse as the clouds start to descend

We reach our destination, the Eco Lodge in Lobouche, in the early afternoon. We start early and finish early to get the views and the best of the weather, as in the afternoon the clouds always roll in up the Khumbu valley. I sadly have a crippling headache when we get here, and immediately take two painkillers. I’m just grateful it didn’t really affect me during the walk itself. Thankfully my appetite is ok, and I wolf down a rather enjoyable (and surprisingly good) Spaghetti Carbonara. The lodge here though is not terribly nice, and has outside dirty squat toilets with icy floors where you fear that you are going to slide through the hole. I have to say it didn’t bother me, but just thought I would mention it in case you expected something else!

The "Eco Lodge" at Lobouche, 16,400 feet - pretty it certainly wasn't.

The settlement of Lobouche, a desolate place indeed

After sorting our stuff out in our rooms and a quick half hour’s sleep (I am exhausted), at 3pm we walk up to the glacial moraine to the right of the lodge, so gaining another 75m or so in height to around 5,050m. Sadly the clouds have rolled in by now, but all the same the sight is totally incredible. The swathe cut into the valley by the Khumbu glacier is incredible, the blueness of the now receding glacier itself still shining through in places.

The swathe cut by the Khumbu glacier below us

Better still, there up the valley, clearly visible, is snow on the Khumbu glacier itself, alongside Kala Pattar, the iconic viewpoint for Everest herself, and in the far far distance, Everest base camp. It is not really visible from where I stand, but Tony points to me where it is. We will, I hope, stand there tomorrow morning.We are nearly there! For now, I feel like I have almost made it. I am at 16,700 feet, and I can ‘see’ Everest Base Camp. The Khumbu Icefall, about which I have read tens of books in the last six months, will be there in front of me tomorrow. I feel like I can almost touch it, that I can smell it, feel it.

Looking up towards the head of the Khumbu Valley, and the Khumbu Icefall itself.

Back at the lodge, and after dinner, we are informed that tomorrow morning we will get up at 5am for our trip to Everest Base Camp. It will be a very long day, the longest day so far in fact, but this is the reason I am here. I so want to be able to be there. I know it will be an incredibly emotional day whichever way it goes.

The feelings I have here right now stagger me, I can’t even describe them to you, but if you ever hanker to go into the Everest region, all I can say is do it, experience what I did this day, and you will get the biggest buzz of your life.

From everything that I have now seen, and knowing that tomorrow is Everest Base Camp, I know full well that if this were a world of superlatives, then tomorrow would be the day when the world simply came to an end.

Himalayas Day 8 – Dingboche to Nangkartshang Peak, and return to Dingboche

I woke up very early this morning in the Friendship Lodge in Dingboche. The temperature on my watch showed -1 C, and the water beside my bed is partly frozen. For the first time on the trek I slept with clothes on in my sleeping bag. Slightly too much information there perhaps, but normally I never ever wear clothes in a sleeping bag, no matter how cold. I even wore a hat. And this is inside, so I cannot imagine how cold it is outside. In under a week, if I make it that far, I will find out, as by then we will be camping, on a glacier, and at 1,200m above where we are now.

I said above “if I make it”, as if you have seen my previous entries you will know that for the last day or so I have suffered from mild AMS symptoms, and they aren’t pleasant. They aren’t exactly the end of the world either, being bad headache, nausea, dizziness and shortness of breath, but the point is you can’t let them get worse.

There are only two worse types of AMS, and without wishing to overdramatise the situation (although I have been called a drama queen many times in the past :)) they can both result in death within a day if not treated immediately. One is called HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema), the other HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Edema). With one you drown as your lungs fill with fluid, the other is fluid on the brain. I don’t want either, funnily enough.

Anyway, I won’t be getting any of those for two reasons. One is that we are being very well looked after on this trip by our guide Ngima and his assistants. They carry full medical equipment including a Gamow bag, which is used to pressurise the air and relieve symptoms, and also oxygen and dexamethasone. Secondly I know my body well enough, I think, to know when to cry for help. I don’t want or need to summit Island Peak that badly that I want to put my health at risk. I am reminded of the quote that Ed Viesturs (Ed has climbed all 14 of the World’s >8,000m peaks ) uses often in his excellent book “No Shortcuts to the Top”, which goes something like “getting to the top is optional, getting down is mandatory“. That’s an ethos I won’t have to try too hard to follow, believe me.

Anyway – back to today. We are now at 4,360m or so, having arrived here from around 3,800m yesterday, and so today it is very important to acclimatise. You can do this in one of two ways – either you stay put for a while (a day or so) before moving any higher, or you can do an acclimatisation walk. This means that you climb higher, and then you come back down so that you utilise the ‘climb high, sleep low’ philosophy. With this technique you are (even though you have just ascended higher than you would wish to stay), coming back down to more oxygen rich air, which your body craves. We took this latter approach.

The morning was yet again clear and crisp, and also very frosty, and offering beautiful views of the surrounding peaks. It is now cold enough to merit down jackets, gloves, and hats are essential at all times. This was the view I woke up to in fact, of Lhotse in the distance:

Sunrise on Lhotse from the Peaceful Lodge in Dingboche

We began our ascent of Nangkartshang Peak (5,050m) at around 7.30am. The walk is steep, almost unremittingly steep, and a struggle for me right from the start. Very quickly however, some spectacular views were on offer, including our first proper view of Island Peak, nestling below the gigantic Lhotse. It still looks a fairly fearsome peak in its own right, and the snowy summit ridge was clearly visible.

Lhotse (distance, left) and Island Peak (centre in the distance) over the top of Dingboche

As we got higher, the massive soaring Ama Dablam was to our right, Lhotse in front of us, and gradually we got sight of Makalu, at 27,765 feet the fifth highest mountain in the world. Around every corner in the Himalayas you see something different, and as you get higher into the upper Himalayas the views get more spectacular still, as the panorama of ridiculously tall peaks gets more and more impressive. I have in fact now seen four of the top 6 mountains on the planet (Everest, Lhotse, Makalu and Cho Oyu) today alone.

The westbound view from here alone also shows just how substantially the landscape has changed:

Looking up the Cho La Valley from the ridge above Dingboche

The climb up also showed the difference in walking abilities/fitness in our group quite markedly. For example, Tony reached the summit in 1 hr 25 minutes, Rob in 1 hr 40. I brought up the rear with Maureen at a shade under 3 hours. How telling this is for Island Peak I do not know, but I am sure that Ngima has it figured out. I asked him on the way up (at a rest point where I could breathe) as to the ‘success rate’ on this trip. He said it was a little over 50%. If I’m terribly honest with myself I will be amazed if I make it, but we will see – I’m not giving up yet by a long chalk.

The summit itself of Nangkartshang Peak is very small, and adorned by prayer flags. I did manage to take a couple of panoramic shots, shown below. If you click on these they will expand and look more impressive….

West panorama from Nangkartshang Peak, 5,080m

South/East panorama from Nangkartshang

The whole vista was simply magnificent – and very cold, but I was very glad to have made it to over 5,000m – my watch showed 5,100m or so as seen below:

Made it to over 5km vertically!

Looking down from the summit towards Dingboche in the valley below

And the northbound summit shot, just to prove I got there.

The walk back down was straightforward, and it was nice to get to more oxygen rich air. The climb up was over 700m, and actually took us higher than we will get to tomorrow, which is a place called Lobouche, at 4,940m. I got back in around an hour and a half, the same time as it took Tony to get up. I really hope, that if I do get to attempt Island Peak, that I don’t hold these guys up. I got back with nothing more than a sharp headache, which after a couple of Paracetamol abated significantly.

After a lunch back at the Friendship Lodge we were treated to a demonstration of how a Portable Altitude Chamber (PAC) bag works. It was fascinating, and Ngima showed how just by pumping air in with a foot pump, the effective altitude reduced from 4,400m to 2,600m by placing my watch inside.

The PAC bag demonstration back in Dingboche

After a quick walk through the village with Rob to kill a bit of time (where we were afforded a great view of Island Peak) it was back to base for dinner.

The best view so far of Island Peak - starting to look intimidating!

A very enterprising bakery in Dingboche offering hot and cold showers - not sure I fancy the cold ones though.

We then had our evening briefing for the walk to Lobouche tomorrow. It seems a reasonably straightforward affair (if anything can be straightforward at 5km up in the air), albeit punctuated by a pretty stiff climb in the middle.We will also apparently see a number of shrines and memorials to the many people who have lost their lives in and around Everest. That will be a very emotional experience I am very sure.

In just two days time now, I hope, I pray, I will be at Everest Base Camp, staring at the Khumbu Icefall, surrounded by Nuptse and Lhotse, and treading in the footsteps of giants, both animal and mineral, and getting no doubt even more nostalgic than I have been so far.

You have so much thinking time in the mountains, whether just when walking, or during the inevitable numerous times that you are awake in the night due to the altitude. I will share some of those deliberations another time. Bring on tomorrow.

Everest Base Camp Trek Overview, plus map

So here is a brief overview of the trek which I undertook, and also a few notes on the places and the geography of the place, which I hope puts it all into context:

Under the “Map and Places Visited” section further down there is a pointer to where I went each day, referenced to a copy of the map that I took on trek with me.

Dates

I went on trek on the 19th October 2011, and returned on the 9th November 2011, a total of 22 days. This should be an ideal time for anyone wishing to visit Nepal. It is a principally very dry time of the year, being after the summer monsoon, and the weather is fairly mild for most of the trek.

Climate

Expect (daytime) temperatures of 25C or so In Kathmandu pre trek, and temperatures warm enough for shorts in the Himalayas if the sun is shining for the first few days. Nightime temperatures in the Himalayas will always be below 0C, even in the tea lodges (see below). When you are above about 4,500m, expect even daytime temperatures of below zero. I will talk about kitlist and clothing separately.

Trek Organiser

I went with Exodus Holidays. If you copy and paste this link here:  http://www.exodus.co.uk/holidays/tni/overview  into your browser you will get all the information you need to tell you if it is the sort of trip for you. There are also trek notes, prices and what have you, in case it piques your interest more to make you wish to do it yourself. I should say that this was the first time I had travelled with Exodus, that I have no affiliation with them whatsoever, and that I found them to be excellent in every regard. I compared Exodus primarily against Jagged Globe before going, and I have no reason to suggest that Jagged Globe would have done a better or worse job. I am still very happy with my choice though.

Brief Overview

My trip was to take in essentially two elements, which are highlighted on the overview map included below:

The first is a trek from Lukla, at the base of the Himalayas, up though to Everest Base Camp and Kala Pattar, which is (although technically very much a mountain in its own right at 5,545m) the iconic and much celebrated viewing platform for Mount Everest herself. The second would then be an attempt to scale Island Peak, at 6,189m on of the highest ‘trekking peaks’ in the Himalayas. It is called a trekking peak as it is capable of being climbed as part of an organised trek, even though it does involve technical equipment including ropes, jumars, ice axes etc to get to the top.

To get to Lukla where the trek, and almost all Everest treks that have ever been, starts, it is necessary to fly from Kathmandu. Once at Lukla you are in the Himalayas themselves. It is at 2,800m, or around 9,500 feet. From here there are no cars, no transport of any kind in fact other than two or four legs. The four legs bit refers to either yaks, or djos (a cross between a cow and a yak, used at lower altitudes), who carry the bulk of the loads throughout the region for trekkers and locals alike.

The region is called the Khumbu, after the glacier and river that flows from the south face of Mount Everest. As can be seen from the maps the geography is all in Nepal, but borders Tibet (in fact half of Mount Everest is in Tibet too), so many of the influences in the region are as much Tibetan and Buddhist as they are Nepalese.

Type of Trek

There are essentially just two types of trek available in the region. You can either camp in tents, or go into tea houses, or combine the two. Most trekkers opt for the tea houses, as they provide a roof over your head, and they also provide hot food, cooked and prepared for you. A typical tea house has a dining room, twin-bedded rooms, and a toilet or two. Some toilets are western style, most are ‘squat’ style. Some toilets are indoor, some are outside. Most lodges don’t have shower facilities, but some do, often just a hut outside where they will pour hot water over you for a few quid. Although there are ‘bedrooms’ you will still need a good sleeping bag to stay there. Our trip was tea house all the way except for nights 13 and 14 below, which were in tents.

The lodges by the average Nepali standards are actually pretty clean, but don’t expect western style cleanliness or warmth. I measured -5 C in my bedroom one night, and running water of almost any kind is fairly rare. They will typically have one heater in the whole lodge, which is a yak dung fuelled stove in the dining room. Be prepared otherwsie, especially higher up, to keep your hat, gloves, thermals and fleeces on inside the lodge. Most have electricity of varying quality, depending upon their solar heaters etc.

Most lodges charge around $1 or $2 a night for you to stay there, and make their money on food. The food is varied, fairly plentiful, and of a good standard.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the lodges that Exodus used. It is fair to say that some of the lodges we saw en route I am glad that we weren’t staying in. It is also very true that the higher you get up the mountain, the facilities get more basic, more expensive, and dirtier as a rule. Again that is to be expected – getting anything up to 16,500 feet will take forever by yak train, so don’t expect a lot.

Map and places visited:

Route map in yellow of the whole trek to and from Lukla

OK so am not sure how easily the above map is to read for you, but if you click it (like all other photographs on my blog) it will expand:) I will explain further below….

The days of travel are as follows:

Day One and two were travelling, and spent getting ready for the trek in Khatmandu.

The days below correspond then with the dates as planned in the trip notes, so the first entry “Himalayas Day 3” is the first day of the trek proper. You will see however from my blog (although I haven’t yet posted it all as I write this) that it didn’t all work out that way for me. This is the way that it was supposed to be therefore.My blog entries will ultimately tell you why things ended up as being different.

The places referred to are more fully described in the individual entries in my blog, and are as marked on the route in yellow on the map above. Most of these places are just settlements of perhaps 20 or 30 houses and lodges, but they vary greatly. Basically again as you get up the mountain everything is less abundant. There are probably 30 lodges and 100 buildings altogether in Lukla, the first and lowest point on the trail at 2,800m. By the time you get to Gorak Shep at the top, I think I saw three building in total. I’ve not provided links, but Google of course is your friend as always.

The distance from Lukla, our starting and finishing point, to Everest Base Camp, is approximately 35 miles, so the total distance covered including Island Peak is probably something like 80-85 miles I would say.

Himalayas Day 3 : Lukla (2,800m, 9,200ft) to Phakding (2,600m, 8,530ft)

Himalayas Day 4: Phakding to Namche Bazar (3,440m, 11,287ft))

Himalayas Day 5: Namche Bazar to Kyangjuma (3,650m, 11,976ft)

Himalayas Day 6: Kyangjuma to Phortse (3,850m, 12,632 ft)

Himalayas Day 7: Phortse to Dingboche (4,400m, 14,436ft )

Himalayas Day 8: Dingboche to Nangkartshang Peak (5,083m, 16,677ft) and back to Dingboche

Himalayas Day 9: Dingboche to Lobouche (4,940m, 16,208ft)

Himalayas Day 10: Lobouche to Gorak Shep (5,180m, 16,996ft), via Everest Base Camp (5,360m, 17,586ft)

Himalayas Day 11: Gorak Shep to Lobouche via Kala Pattar (5,643m, 18,515ft)

Himalayas Day 12: Lobuche to Chukkung (4,730m, 15,519ft) via Kongma La (5,535m, 18,160ft)

Himalayas Day 13: Chukkung to Island Peak Base camp (5,100m, 16,733ft)

Himalayas Day 14: Island Peak Base camp to Island Peak High Camp (5,600m, 18,364ft)

Himalayas Day 15: Island Peak High Camp to Chukkung via Island Peak summit (6,189m, 20,300ft)

Himalayas Day 16: Chukkung to Tengboche (3,900m, 12,796ft)

Himalayas Day 17: Tengboche to Monjo (2,835m, 9,302ft)

Himalayas Day 18: Monjo to Lukla (2,800m, 9,200ft)

After Lukla the trek ends with a flight back to Kathmandu for a day’s recuperation before returning back home to the UK.

If there are any questions or comments on the above, then please let me know – I am always very happy to have feedback or constructive criticism as to how to make it all more useful and/or easier to understand.

Himalayas Day 7 – Phortse to Dingboche

Today was one of those days when you try to get your head round things, but never really manage it. The cause – altitude. AMS or Acute Mountain Sickness has several forms, and at their most extreme can kill. At its mildest, AMS means a bad headache, loss of appetite, a feeling of nausea, and dizziness. Sadly I was to get all four of those symptoms today.

I had what I think was actually a reasonable night’s sleep, and was woken by the porter bringing bed tea at about 6.15. Looking our of the window down the valley we were greeted by another cloudless sky, and this time a very sharp frost. We are at 3,800m after all. After a quickish breakfast, we were on our way for the longest walk so far, to Dingboche at 4,350m.

Leaving Phortse behind on another gloriously cloudless morning.

The walk began very steeply on frozen ground, and I struggled from the outset. Getting clothing right was hard at first too, as it was extremely cold in the shade, but already warm in the sun’s rays, and so walking uphill meant you would perspire very easily no matter what you were wearing. After about half a mile I felt very much out of breath, and hoping that this wasn’t going to be a very bad day. I thought my heart was going to burst out of my chest at one point.

Looking back down towards Mong La (on rocky outcrop middle right) as we head up the Khumbu Valley

The path however was a spectacular one, traversing a hillside with precipitous drops on the right hand side, and much easier overall than the first half hour or so. My fear of heights meant I looked to my right (where the drop was) a lot less frequently than I perhaps should have done in order to best appreciate the scenery, but this was already becoming a head-down sort of day in more ways than one. The views though were again breathtaking. Ama Dablam edged ever closer to us and I had to stop myself taking photographs every five minutes or so, but this mountain is just so tantalising and mesmerising in every way.

Ama Dablam in the distance as we traverse the mountainside

A mountain goat on the rocks behind our path

It's that Ama Dablam again - it keeps creeping up on you...

We stopped for a tea break at Pangboche (4,000m), and by this time I was feeling pretty crap. My headache had started, and I was struggling at times to place my feet in the right places, which is dangerous at best on a walk with a sheer 2,000ft drop on one side of it. We then carried on towards Shomare, at 4,120m, which would be our lunch stop. By this time I was feeling decidedly worse, and actually wondered for much of this section if this would be as far as I got in the Himalayas. I was just so frustrated at this point.

At the lodge at lunch I told Ngima, our guide, how I was feeling. He gave me some Paracetamol, and whilst they did not remove my headache, they allowed me to function enough to make me know that I could carry on at least for the shorter afternoon session. I tried to eat (and in fact did) my normal lunchtime order of Spaghetti with tomato sauce, but was not at all in the mood for it.

The quite staggering bulk of Lhotse (28,000 feet) comes into view in the distance

By this time the clouds had rolled in up the Khumbu Valley, and with them a stiff breeze, which though thankfully at our backs, made me feel cold for the first time since I have been here. We all thus layered up, with a fleece, a buff and a woolly hat now essential.

This last section of around 2 hours was pretty much all uphill, as opposed to the more undulating terrain of the morning, and was slow going for me. It was hugely rewarding though, as we were now greeted with the enormous bulk of Lhotse right in front of us. Lhotse is just gargantuan in every way, seemingly as broad as she is wide, and at 8,501m, the fourth tallest mountain on earth. Lhotse now became the mountain where there just weren’t enough superlatives to describe it. Oh and yes, peaking just above Lhotse and Nuptse’s mass was a glimpse of the summit and snow plume coming from Mount Everest herself.

The landscape began to change quite significantly now too. We were now well out of the tree line, and in the high Himalaya.

Woolly hat and fleece time now.....

I reached Dingboche walking on my own, well behind the rest of the group, but supported by both Ngima and Pasang, our guide and assistant guide respectively, so I was in good hands.

And Dingboche (4,400m, or 14,500 feet) finally comes into view.

Upon getting to the Peaceful Lodge in Dingboche, our home for the next two nights, at about 3pm, I went straight into my sleeping bag and slept for about two hours. I did not feel at all good upon waking, and I tromped to dinner wondering if I could manage to eat anything, and whether this would be the highest I get here.

So the ‘making sense of it all’ bit at the start of this post was about reflection. On life, and why we are here, and what we, or I want to do with my life. I spent some considerable time thinking about it today, I suppose because feeling ‘ill’ (I’m not ill of course, I’m just feeling sorry for myself) makes you feel a little more remorseful/contemplative, or makes you want to put things into perspective anyway.

In my fuddled attempts at conclusions on the above, my thought processes came to the following conclusions:

1. I don’t want to put my body through this again. I was walking looking at the south face of Lhotse, and realised to myself that I am at best delusional if I think I could ever aspire to get as high as that, and I simply know that feeling as I do right now, it is not going to happen ever.

2. I suddenly want to be at home, be in a nice garden, and to get settled down again, in a pretty place, and still travel when I can, but not alone.  Deep huh? Well mountains can do funny things to you (not that there is anything funny there, but you know what I mean), and this is what this one did to me today.

Tomorrow will I think be a make or break day for me. We will be heading up another 700m or so, to above 5,000m, or 16,500 feet. We will climb to a peak called Nangkartschang and then back down again on what sounds like a brutal acclimatisation walk, and it will be at the crack of dawn too, like 5.30am. I’ll be there.

I wanted most of all this day just to feel better, to be able to better appreciate all that is around me. I love my surroundings, they are utterly stupendous, and you should be able to take them in better than I was able to today. I’m not giving up though, I have to see Everest up close at the very least. That may be my revised goal on this trip, we will see….

Himalayas Day 6 – Kyangjuma to Phortse

I awoke on day five of the trek proper with a nervous feeling for two reasons. Firstly I was worried that my stomach had not settled properly after yesterday’s diarrhoea, and secondly I was concerned about altitude, as yesterday I had my first altitude headache, and had taken paracetamol to alleviate it.

To help with the first of the above I had been given two sachets of hydration salts by Ngima, our guide, and I had drunk most of this with one and a half litres of water, during the night. The effects of the water, coupled with the fact that I am taking Diamox for the altitude, made me want to pee like a Russian racehorse, and then about every fifteen minutes. Trouble is, that even in a teahouse, the temperature gets pretty cold at night (we are talking below zero), and so you really don’t want to get out of your sleeping bag if you can avoid it. I managed in the end with just one trip at about 3am and a lot of willpower.

I felt thankfully actually better on both counts by the time I had looked out of the window. We were greeted by perfectly clear skies and a view of the colossal and majestic Ama Dablam (22,500 feet), staring right at us. This view could clear the sickest and sorriest of souls I can promise you.

After a breakfast of the now ubiquitous watery porridge and toast, we were set for the off at about 7.30am. Today was to be a short day in terms of distance, and practically speaking our second acclimatisation day since reaching Namche Bazar. This was great as far as I am concerned, as there is no such thing as either walking too slowly or too much acclimatisation for my liking.

After a brief group photograph (see below) we set off first downhill, and then crossed the river to begin a steep uphill climb towards Mong La, the highest place we have been to yet at 3,975m (13,117ft).

Kjangjuma, Solokhumbu, Himalayas. Life doesn't get an awful lot better than this.

So in the above you will see, from left to right, Ngawang, Ngima (kneeling), Ram, Rob, yours truly, Ben, Stefan, Pasang, Tony, Bruce (kneeling), Dave, and Mo.

The walk is the most picturesque we have been on yet. There were simply staggering views of Ama Dablam, which has now surpassed the Matterhorn as my most photographed mountain (are you reading this Paul?). But better, there is just magnificent scenery all around us. We can see the trail that we will start to take in two days time towards Dingboche, we can see the Gokyo River far below us, we see snow capped Himalayan peaks stretching into forever. It is magical.

On the way towards Mong La

We have a tea stop at Mong La, and are afforded the best views yet. Just look at this:

Staring in wonderment at the majesty of the Himalayas

I just don't need words to describe this.

This is by far the best view I have seen yet. I stand here and get all misty eyed all over again. I could have stayed there for days on end.

After our rest we descend steeply around 300m to a break in the Gokyo River, at a tiny hamlet called Phortse Tenga. On the way down we see mountain goats, pheasant, a peacock, and a musk deer! I had not expected to see anything but Yaks on this journey, and so this is a huge bonus.

Mountains goats below our path

Following lunch we have to gain the majority of the altitude we have just lost, and walk up the other side of the Gokyo River. Again it is stunning. The trees are lichen covered, and the sun shines like a perfect summers day. As we ascend we are afforded a view of Cho Oyu behind us, the sixth highest mountain in the world at 26,900 feet. It looks even bigger than that, if that is at all possible. How good can the views around here get? I want to stop every twenty yards at times to take photographs, as it is just so ridiculously wonderful.

Lichen covered trees looking back up the Gokyo Valley

In fact let’s just pause for thought a minute here. Imagine you are walking up a gorgeous path, with a glacial river in the valley below you coming off Mount Everest. You have deer, pheasant, mountain goats around you. The sun is shining, the air is still, and for miles in any direction you see nature at its most majestic, and that is an understatement, including the tallest mountains in the world. Do you laugh or cry? I can tell you I did a pretty damn good job of doing both at the same time this day.

Eventually we reach our destination of Phortse, at 3,840m. This will be the highest we have yet slept, but I feel now comfortable at this altitude. Our guide Ngima is brilliant at a practically making us go as slowly as we wish. Seven of the eight are happy with this, but one, Stefan, wants to get ahead most of the time, and I really hope for his sake that he doesn’t pay for it as we get higher.

The settlement of Phortse, at 3,900m

The one thing that I have learned as possibly my most valuable lesson in the mountains is that you have absolutely nothing to gain, and possibly everything to lose, by going up too quickly. That is perhaps an excuse, or a justification for the fact that I am probably the slowest of the whole group and lingering at the back most of the time, but that is just how it is, and doesn’t bother me one iota. I am just happy (the understatement of all time) to be here.

Aside from that fact, by going quickly you don’t get to stop, look up, and take in the sights like we did today. There are always things above you, around you, and below you. They are to be treasured. I am reminded of what someone told me when I did Kilimanjaro, which was ‘the worst thing you can do is put your head down and end up looking at the boots of the person in front of you – stop, look around, take it all in!’.

After we arrived at our lodge, the Namaste Lodge, there was a huge treat in store – a shower! The shower consisted of standing in an outside cubicle under a bucket of hot water, but the word hot was all that mattered, and it was my first shower in four days, so it was hugely welcome. In fact to have a shower you first ask the kitchen staff at the lodge to boil some water for you. They then take a big kettle, climb the ladder outside and fill up the bucket on the roof of the hut below. You then pull a chain inside and the water comes down. It works!

It is about -5 degrees outside, but the water is in fact hot from those buckets!

The Namaste Lodge in Phortse

The yaks arrive with our bags in Phortse

You may notice that up against the wall in the above picture is some brown stuff. That is in fact yak dung. They dry out the pats in the sun, and then use it for both heating the lodge dining room, and also for cooking – all kitchens that I saw had a nice big bucket of yak dung in there for fuelling the oven. Nice!

Dining room in the Namaste Lodge - yak dung heater essential!

After a dinner which was as welcome as the earlier shower, we had the briefing for the following day. Tomorrow’s walk is a tough one, both in terms of distance covered and most particularly (combined with) the altitude. We will leave for Dingboche, at 4,400m (14,500 feet) at 7am. Hopefully we are blessed with the same clear skies as we have had for the first four days. We must be due some bad weather at some point, and I just hope it holds as long as possible.

Today’s walk was simply the best day’s walking I have ever done. I may have better to come, but even if I don’t, I will always treasure this one very dearly. I feel so very blessed indeed. In fact it can’t get any better than this – can it?

Himalayas Day 5 – Namche Bazar to Kyangjuma

It’s the 24th October, and I wake up in Namche Bazar, on the trade route to Tibet, and just six days away from Everest Base Camp! Namche is the gateway to the high Himalaya, and almost everyone coming to this region will at least pass through here. Sadly I woke after a terribly fitful night’s sleep. This is the highest that I have slept since Kilimanjaro, and I certainly felt the altitude.

I went to bed at about 9.30 last night, but was awake again shortly after midnight, tossing and turning for most of the rest of the night. I could feel that my heartbeat was quicker than normal, and that my breathing was more laboured. The annoying thing is that I am also taking Diamox, and really hoped not to have any altitude symptoms at 3,500m. I was after all above 4,000m in the Alps only in July, and didn’t even notice the altitude at all. So this is really frustrating at best. Still I have to just get on with things, and the days are much better than the nightimes, for now anyway.

Oh and to add to this I have what I believe is technically called ‘Nepali Tummy’, and I am chomping down Immodium and Kaolin and Morphine tablets like they are going out of fashion, although sadly to no avail. A cork would be more useful, in fact.

Still I had a better night than one of our group did. Tony woke to find himself and his sleeping bag soaked from a leak in the roof in his room, and was to spend his day trying to dry it out, which I am glad to say he ultimately did. He was not able to walk with us though, and went straight to Kjangjuma, where at least the sun was shining for him to get his bag hung out.

So today was more or less an acclimatisation day, taking us from Namche Bazaar at 3,440m to Kyangjuma at 3,700m. In the middle however we would ascend to about 3,900m, our highest yet, and then descend, so deploying the well favoured ‘climb high sleep low’ philosophy.

We started the day with the obligatory ‘bed tea’ at 6.30, which I think is really the porters way of ensuring that no-one sleeps in. By 7.30 we had packed, breakfasted and were on our way. Our luggage gets loaded onto djos, and we just carry whatever we might need for the day, which in my case usually consists of a fleece, waterproof jacket and trousers, gloves, two hats (sun and woolly), a buff, suntan lotion, hand gel, my camera, a few snack bars, and then at least three litres of water. The water you can either get boiled for you in the lodge and then add (or not) sterilising tablets, or you can buy mineral water in bottles at great expense. I have been using boiled, but due to my ‘tummy’ I go onto mineral water – hoping that it wasn’t filled and sealed ‘Slumdog Millionnaire style’ if you get my drift.

We set off straight up the hill out of Namche and it is steep, really steep, and gets you breathing hard very quickly. We were rewarded almost immediately however with a great view back down into the Namche ‘bowl’ as shown below:

Climbing out of Namche Bazar - I did say it was steep !

Once at the top of the hill from Namche there is a great little museum at Choi Gang, showing a lot of interesting displays on the mountains and their history. From there we walked back downhill and then steeply uphill to Syangboche, where there is a dirt strip airfield capable of talking only tiny single engine planes and helicopters.

Syangboche airstrip (by the green hut, centre)

From there we climbed again to the most aptly named hotel I have ever visited, it being called simply the Everest View. From the terrace is afforded the most unbelievable views of Ama Dablam, Nuptse, Lhotse, and of course Everest herself. The view is immediately put onto my phone as the screensaver, replacing the Matterhorn. The view is so stunning of Everest, even from about 25 miles away still. The photograph just doesn’t do it justice at all.

Everest (with plume) and Lhotse in the far distance, Ama Dablam on the right.

The hotel interestingly enough is a haven for Japanese tourists. It has prices to match, at around $250 per night (the lodges round here are normally no more than $2 to put that into context), and the rooms apparently are replete with oxygen masks. It sits at 3,880m, and has a fantastic rear terrace from which to observe the pinnacles of the world’s highest mountain range. From this terrace Bruce suggests to me that a glass of wine would be very nice. I agree and sort of snarl at the same time, as I could have sat there all day, drank a glass of overpriced wine or two, and headed back down the mountain a very happy man.

Leaving the Everest View after a stupidly priced cup of tea, which was still worth every penny just to sit there and drink it taking in the views, we trekked to a village called Khumjung. It has many beautiful well kept houses and affords fantastic views of Ama Dablam, Thamserku and Kangtaiga.

Approaching Khumjung

We visited whilst there the local school, established by Sir Edmund Hillary in 1961, which was fascinating, and then stared open mouthed at the majesty of Ama Dablam.

The Stupa in the centre of Khumjung

The Sir Edmund Hillary School

Ama Dablam (left), at 22,500 feet a totally stunning mountain

This mountain’s peak rises almost impossibly up to 6,868m, and I have to say that no photograph will ever do it justice. Hillary himself described it as ‘unclimbable’ some 8 years after climbing Everest. It is stunning from every angle.

From Khumjung we trekked to Kunde, another picturesque village at the western end of the Khumbu Valley. Here can be found the famous Kunde hospital, established again by the Hillary Trust, and still funded by it to this day. This place has two full time doctors and serves the entire Everest region, from innoculations to emergencies, from locals to trekkers suffering from AMS alike. We were given a talk by one of the doctors, which was fascinating, and I felt very happy to give a donation to them at the end in the box outside.

The entrance to Kunde Hospital

From here we came back to the northern side of Khumjung. Here stands the local gompa, or Buddhist temple. It was quite interesting to see inside, although don’t be put off by the attempt by the guy inside to make you pay money to see the yeti’s skull behind a closed door. If I believed that Yeti’s existed I have been tempted, but I don’t and that’s that.

Inside the Gompa (temple) courtyard at Khumjung

We then left and trekked downhill to Kyangjuma, at 3,550m our resting place for the night. My first stop was the bathroom (TMI there I know), and Ngima our guide has told me that if my diarrhoea doesn’t not improve by tomorrow he will give me antibiotics. I order plain rice and a chapatti for dinner, which hopefully don’t disturb my system any more than it already is.

We stay at the Ama Dablam Lodge, in the shadow of the great mountain herself. We get a majestic view of the sunset on its western flank, which I sadly failed to photograph, but the memory of it will stay with me for ever.

We were to travel altogether 11.7km in the day, ascending 600m and descending 480m. Thanks to my roommate Rob for the stats as he has a fancy GPS gizmo with him. I feel happy to be sharing with him, not that everyone on the trek isn’t great, but I just think he is a great and generous person whom I have a definite affinity with.

Tomorrow we have a not too challenging (or so Ngima says) day which takes us to Phortse, at around 4,000m. We will now be above the tree line, and everything will start to get more serious, more bleak/mountainlike, harder, and even more exciting from here.

I head to bed early (8am) and hope for a better night’s sleep. I need it.