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.

Himalayas Day Two

Day two in Kathmandu starts with breakfast at a fairly civilised 8am. I am tired as I had a bit of a fitful sleep due to having the window wide open all night, which in itself was entirely necessary due to the air conditioning in the room seemingly pumping hot air out instead of cold, and the dial not making any difference no matter which way it is set. Outside you can hear dogs, monkeys, endless traffic and all manner of other strange sounds. It is all so different too that it makes you want to listen to it and try to make sense of it all.

After breakfast we meet Ngima, who then does a full briefing with us. We have to get our trekking passes issued, and then he explains the route to us for Everest Base Camp and Island Peak. The journey will differ slightly it seems from the trip notes, but for the better. He gives us a map each which has been highlighted and noted where we will spend each day.

We will spend two days around Namche Bazaar it seems, which is great, as this will be the first night at altitude proper (above 3,300m). Whilst there we will also get to spend time at the Edmund Hillary hospital, which actually makes me really emotional thinking about it for some reason. We will also I think get to spend the 8th night at Everest Base Camp! This is so unexpected (whilst EBC was always part of the route it was due to be a very fleeting visit) it about floors me, and I have to look out of the window as I think I am welling up. We will also spend just two or three nights now (as opposed to what I thought was four) in tents on the glacier at Island Peak, which still seems like a long way away for some reason, probably because it is.

After breakfast we head back into Thamel, to ‘The Summit Brothers’ mountain hire shop.

A typical shopping street in Thamel.....

And the 'Summit Brothers' Hire shop.

We are duly decked out (for those of the group who don’t already have them, which is about half) with plastic boots, crampons, ice axes, helmets (mine looks like it is off a building site and it is suggested that I look like Bob the Builder) and the like. We have to pack all of our Island Peak equipment separately as it will be taken today to Everest Base Camp and we will thus not see it again on the trek until the climb itself.

After a leisurely lunch of pizza in Thamel, we go back and pack for the trip proper. Everything has to be sorted into four bags. One for Island Peak with the climbing stuff, one for the trek with all clothes, sleeping bag, toiletries etc, one day bag/rucksack with waterproofs and camelbak and the like, and then anything else is left behind at the hotel so that you have a clean set of clothes to change into when you return from the Himalayas. As I am packing I realise that I have forgotten to pack my Camelbak, and so I head back into Thamel again to buy one. After a bit of haggling I get a rather cheap and nasty looking one, which is probably because it is actually cheap (about 8 quid including an albeit flimsy insulating tube) and nasty, and I hope will last the course.

Duly packed and ready for the off, I get a message from a friend I used to very recently work with, Louise, who is trekking in Nepal with a friend of hers at the same time as me. She asks if I would like a beer and dinner, and that sounds like a perfect way to round off my stay here, and so we meet at 7pm. A thoroughly enjoyable evening is had and we have some great food and a copious supply of Everest beer. I find out during the evening that Lou had altered her trekking plans to come back to Kathmandu so she could see me whilst I am out there, which was very flattering. Thanks Lou if you ever come to read this πŸ™‚

Lou and I at 'Old Orleans' restaurant in Thamel, much recommended if you are down that way.

I get back to the hotel rather later than I should for what will be a 5am start in the morning, but nomatter, it was so good to meet up, and I actually wish afterwards that I had stayed longer.

Tomorrow though is effectively here already. At 5.30am we will head to the airport to fly to Lukla. I have been dreading this flight for some time to the world’s shortest runway, banked at 15 degrees. Then shortly after arriving at Sir Edmund Hillary airport, (which sadly and ironically claimed the lives of his wife and son in a crash landing there) we will start walking right away, towards Everest. I will at last be on the path of giants, the same path that Edmund Hillary himself took in fact. The trip is now on, well and truly.

In just over a week’s time, I will stand directly underneath the tallest natural phenomena on the planet, Mount Everest. And if that doesn’t get you out of bed by 5am in the morning, then nothing ever will. See you in the mountains πŸ™‚