Himalayas Day 20 – The Final Day!

So today was (I hope, as I write this) my final day in Kathmandu. It is now the 8th November and I have been here for almost what seems like forever. That is no bad thing, it is just because of the delays in Lukla stretched the whole thing out so far that I was almost not sure what reality was like anymore.

I have to say that waking up this morning was so utterly wonderful, for two reasons. Firstly I woke up in a bed, with my head on a pillow! Being that was the first time I did so in about three weeks, I cannot even begin to describe to you how good that feels. Secondly, I could walk into a bathroom, and have a shower! That was also such a novelty that I did it twice! The water in hotels in Kathmandu is a bit yellowy, but no matter, it was warm and wet, and that is a whole lot more than I got in the Himalayas.

At breakfast time we (Tony, Stefan and I) got a phone call from Ngima up in Lukla (they did not manage to escape yesterday) to say that the others had been issued with boarding passes for a flight today, which was great. We didn’t know when, but it was just good to know that they’d be back on terra firma and make their flights back to the UK tomorrow. In the meantime we had a day to kill of just getting used to being out of the mountains, before tomorrow’s long day of flights home.

After breakfast Tony and I had a walk to Durbar Square, the sort of ceremonial/temple end of Kathmandu. The temples were incredible, in fact the whole place was, and I loved it, all of it.

Here are some images of the place:

The start of Durbar Square, Kathmandu

Old Alfred Hitchcock movies, anyone?

One of the many temples around Durbar Square

And another

And the local trader's market

And a plaque describing how it all came about.

One of the many amazing Stupas in Durbar Square

And finally, walking back out into the madness that is Kathmandu traffic.

It was actually quite ridiculous to come into this, an alien and amazing world anyway, after being in the mountains for just under three weeks. I felt a bit like I had just landed from Mars, or Japan, or somewhere, so snap happy was I :).
We returned with Stefan to Thamel at lunchtime and took our hired climbing gear back to ‘The Summit Brothers’ (not I suspect, their real names :)) hire shop, and thereafter had a very nice and large pizza for lunch. It is incredible how much I now need to eat. I have eaten what seems like, erm, mountains of food up there, but when I put my jeans on last night I would estimate that I have lost about two inches around my waist in three weeks.

In the afternoon the rest of the party made it back to Kathmandu, and we arranged for a dinner to round off the trip. Six of us made it for the dinner in the end, as Dave was suffering from sinus pains and Stefan suffering from a bit of ‘Nepal belly’, but the food was great and it was nice to chill and relax as opposed to worrying about helicopters or anything at all. Eating meat again, especially being as carniverous as I am, is a very good thing, believe me!

It then felt very strange that all of a sudden our trip was over. We’d spent altogether three weeks in each other’s company, and tomorrow would be day 22. When you consider that this is a bunch of disparate people almost thrown together, and that we would spend often 15 or more hours with each other in a bunch of sometimes trying and often almost unpleasant (despite the scenery) circumstances, everyone got on great. Really great in fact. I don’t think I saw or heard a crossed word between the eight of us the whole time, which is fantastic.

So tomorrow we will get up at 5am for an early morning flight to Delhi in India. There is then a three hour layover before a ten hour flight to the UK, and all being well I should be back on the ground at about 5.30pm UK time.

It will almost be strange to be back – I think this is the second longest ‘holiday’ (it seems a bit strange to call it that though) that I have ever had, and all of a sudden from it being still fairly warm before I set off, it is now just five or so weeks to Christmas. News just came in also that my friends Darina, Paul, Jason and Ryan just completed the New York Marathon at the weekend, so my congratulations to them. I have a lot of catching up to do, and I suppose that means back to work as well.

All good things come to and end though, or so they say, and despite the frustration of the holdup in Lukla at the end this has been an absolutely fantastic trip, with memories that will simply last forever. I can’t wait to download the photos, relive the memories, and extol the experience and excitement of seeing and experiencing Mount Everest close at hand to people back home. I also can’t wait for my own bed, and another few showers, and also some normality, even, whatever that is.

Himalayas Days 17 and 18, still in Lukla

So having decided not to fill blog posts up with boring days in Kathmandu, I have now skipped through to Sunday 6th November. Since I last wrote, which was Friday, my third day in Lukla, I spent all of Saturday and all of Sunday doing pretty much exactly what I had done on the three days before. Mornings were waiting for helicopters which never came, afternoons in Fakebucks getting a bit of wifi and catching up with the outside world (if very very very slowly, the connection was slower than any old dial-up I ever remember.

The weather however has been exactly the same, and it has rained with low cloud both days, which means that no aeroplanes whatsoever have landed here now for six days now.

The odd break in the clouds offers a bit of a glimpse of the runway.

This plane (the only one here) has been here since last Tuesday and not moved.

Then a few beers in the ‘Irish Pub’, and then back to base for the evening of sitting and listening to everyone else’s tales of how near and yet so far the helicopter that never came really was.

A good thing happened mid afternoon today (Sunday) however, in that the rest of the Island Peak Group made it down the mountain. I had already heard their summit news from Val, the excellent Exodus guide who had made it down to Lukla a day before them. So basically, my huge congratulations to each of Tony, Rob and Dave, who all successfully submitted Island Peak, all 6,189m of her, on 3rd November at about 7am. I am really looking forward to seeing their photographs from the top.

Of the others, Stefan had tried but had to turn back, and each of Bruce and Ben had decided that it would be too much, and did not set out. They all made it to high camp though at 5,600m, and the photos look stunning from there even. As I look back now and reflect, there was no way I would have made it to the top, not feeling the way that I did, and so I did the right thing with hindsight in coming down early. I feel much better for some days rest, despite the tedium of not getting out of Lukla. The mountain will still be there should I decide upon some later occasion to try again, so there is nothing lost for me.

So anyway, each of them, having picked Mo up where I had left her in Tengboche five days ago, made it down the mountain, somewhat wet due to the rain, and settled in to the North Face Resort for the night. They had already heard that Lukla was a.) full, and b.) closed to air traffic, so there were no surprises in store for them really when they got there. They unfortunately had to stay in tents too, which made me feel a little guilty as I still had my room, although my room was by now so damp that I wondered if a tent would actually be a much dryer place.

The view down the mountain from Lukla, the tents in the foreground the sleeping quarters for the Island Peak returnees.

We celebrated everyone’s ‘coming down the moutnain’ in the Irish Pub, and then back at the Lodge in the evening we did the tipping ceremony. It is customary on these trips to pay your porters and guides to thank them for their support whilst out on the mountain. Each of us put in approximately US$100, and so they all seemed pretty happy with their share of the spoils, presented to them with appropriate aplomb by Bruce. We also bought them two bottles of the local rum, Kukira, which they duly despatched between them inside about an hour. Bruce and I had some of this noxious fluid also in a hot chocolate, and that was sufficient to give me rather a thumping head in the morning – I thought it was AMS all over again for an instant!

The forecast is much better for tomorrow, and so there are hopes of getting some of us out of here. There were significant gaps in the clouds at times today for the first time, and tomorrow could apparently even be a sunny day. Here’s hoping………

Himalayas Day 16 – Lukla, bored now

So one good thing and one bad thing already happened to me today, and it is only 7am.

Firstly the good news – wait for it….. I slept through the night! I could not believe it when I woke up at 5.35am, and I hadn’t stirred since about 9 last night. That is literally my best sleep in the Himalayas. I will put it down to the four Everest beers that I had last evening, they obviously did the trick. Maybe today I will have six and sleep for ten hours, who knows.

Then the bad news, or should I say the boring and predictable news – yes it is still raining, yes the cloud is lower than even it was yesterday, and yes the prospect of the weather changing for the foreseeable future is not even close to slim. We are in the clouds, it is as simple as that, and Kathmandu is also cloudy, so no planes will fly here for a fifth consecutive day, and my third day of being marooned here.

The North Face Lodge is looking like some sort of refugee camp now. I am very lucky to have a bed, but have no idea if I will be able to keep it. Everything is so damp though due to the weather, that you wake up damp, your clothes are damp (and unspeakably dirty of course, there is nowhere to wash much less to dry anything), and it makes you even more miserable. There is in fact no running water here at all any more, which makes washing impossible other than (and thank goodness for them) with wet wipes, and the whole toilet situation a bit, well, smelly let’s just say.

I exhausted the shops yesterday and am running out of rupees, and so am not sure how much longer I can hold out. If yesterday was a looonnnnnnng day, then today is going to be longer still. More later……………

So it is now 7pm, and I got promised a helicopter at about noon. Apparently an army 24 seater helicopter was going to fly in, Apocalypse Now style (is that the right film I’m thinking of?), and I can pay $600 and be transported off into oblivion, or Kathmandu, whichever I get to first. I agreed to it, more readily than I thought I would, as I really just want to get out of here now. Somewhat predictably, the helicopter never comes. I am only glad that I didn’t pay my $600 first.

Trouble is, the weather is actually getting worse. You can now see about 50 to 100 yards in any direction. The bigger trouble still is, that in Kathmandu where we are trying to get to, some 5,000 feet below us, the weather is actually worse. They even cancelled the international flights there today, and so the chances of a single-engined ironing board with an outboard motor landing at the world’s most dangerous airstrip are laughable at best.

The runway, or all you can see of it, at Lukla.

I gave up even hanging around the lodge in the end. In fact even the shopkeepers here have given up trying. Normally the Nepalese are very good, they don’t actually pester you too much. They do try to help you however when you go to their store. Now however they have seen the same faces walking backwards and forwards all day long. It is like Shaun of the Dead versus Zombie Dawn at altitude.

Horse getting a bite to eat from the Organic Food Store was one of the highlights of my day

So my afternoon was a couple of hours in ‘Starbucks’ (that’ll be fake Starbucks, a bit like the ‘North Fake’ clothing that you see everywhere). I caught up on emails, caught up on what is happening at work (yes I was that bored), and caught up on Facebook etc too, putting up my Kala Pattar Everest picture up there, of which I am really proud.

Everyone else is just hanging around in the rain.

When 4pm came I went to the Irish Pub, which is becoming my local now. I walk in there now and the bartender puts a Tiger Beer in front of me before I ask for it. I am part of the furniture it seems – which is fine with me. I am stuck here for as long as I am stuck here, and that’s just how it is.

Back at the lodge in the evening I got in with a crowd from Canada and Germany playing card tricks. It whiled away at least 45 minutes of my life, which was a good thing at the time.

I am not even making any predictions for tomorrow. When I was in Fakebucks I checked the weather forecast. It is shocking through at least Monday (this is Friday). I therefore have at least three more days of looking at the rain, and then the people round at the airport have a week’s backlog of really really really pissed off people to try to process through an airfield with no controls, no gates, no nothing. It is going to be an unholy free-for-all on an epic scale.

I shall have a few more Everest beers now and sign off. If I could sleep for the next two days it would be a lot better than what I will actually face. Oh well, at least I am still in the Himalayas (well sort of, even if I cannot see them).

Instead of doing daily updates, I’ll return now to this only when I know for certain that I am heading out of here, to save anyone reading this with as much boredom as I am suffering from right now.

Here’s hoping it’s not too long before that happens………..

Himalayas Day 15 – Lukla to Nowhere at all

I woke in my fairly nasty room in the North Face Resort at 2am. It was strange, it was actually warm, the comparatively oxygen rich atmosphere of 2,800m elevation was strange, and after a quick “where the heck am I” (fourteen different locations in fourteen nights will do that to you, believe me), I realised I was in Lukla. Would I fly today? The answer was obvious when I began to listen to the sounds outside.

It was pouring. Not just any old rain mind you. Cloud was effectively below the level of the lodge, and it was monsoon style, torrential, beating rain. I drifted back into a warm slumber but never really slept again until 5.30am came, when the sounds of a German couple humping about 3 feet away from my head, and separated from me by the thinnest sheet of plywood, told me that I may as well just get up and see what the day would bring.

What the day would bring however, was sadly obvious from the moment I looked outside. The air was totally still, the cloud level some long way below us, and it was raining heavily still. This wasn’t going to shift anytime soon, and I knew it.

My slightly less than salubrious, and a bit damp, room in Lukla

By the time The dining room filled with people at about 7.30am, all the talk was of helicopters and of how to get out of here by whatever means. Porters scurried around from time to time and got their clients excited with talk of a trek up or down the valley to a helicopter pad at exorbitant expense, but it was all for nought. Nobody moved, everyone sat and hoped in vain.

Hanging on in quiet desperation, North Face Lodge, Lukla

And so began one of the longest days I have ever experienced. I walked around Lukla for a bit in the morning, and for something to do. It took about ten minutes. There are probably 20 or so shops, but they all sell pretty much the same tat, so once you have seen one you have seen them all. Although my hotel overlooks the airstrip, I also walked down there just to kill time. The ‘terminal’ was closed, so that told me all I needed to know for the day. I did then see a helicopter take off and fly into the clouds, and then turn straight back again, so obviously they thought it too risky too.

Wandering around aimlessly, Lukla style

There is also, horror of horrors, a Starbucks here! I am entirely sure that it is not a proper Starbucks having been inside and tasted their coffee, but it is a bloody long way for them to come and sue whoever it is using their name, and they had free wi-fi (albeit ridiculously slow), so it worked for me :). This enabled me to get online and catch up with work, and that will tell you how bored I already am.

In the afternoon I killed time by walking back and forward up and down the shops again. I bought incense sticks from practically every store just to mull away the time. I bartered every time too. It is amazing how much time you can waste just by simply arguing over 50 rupees, I also bought a wooly hat. The in thing round here it seems is to have is an “Everest B C 5364m” hat, but I had to be different and got a “Kala Pattar 5545m” one, principally because a.) 5545m is higher than 5364m, and also because I was there after all. It was my summit, and I’m bloody pleased about it, so for my bartered 250 Rupees I will jolly well wear my hat!

When 4pm came around and I literally could not carry any more incense sticks about my person, I dumped them all back at the lodge, and headed back out for the Irish Bar. It seemed a good way to pass a couple of hours before dinner, and also it was Happy Hour from 4pm to 7pm, which means here “buy two get one free”. That is a good enough reason for me any day of the week to wile away a couple of hours. Oh and as an added bonus there was Beach Volleyball being shown on the big screen – I seem to have forgotten the score and who was playing, but that doesn’t bother me too much :).

Whilst in the pub, the group next to me were debating (as every single person in Lukla is who has someone to talk to, except for me as I am on my jack) whether to sit out the weather or to walk to Kathmandu. They opted to walk, on the basis that a.) the weather is set now until Sunday or Monday apparently, and b.) they’d just rather keep moving than hang around. The walk is six days, plus a 12 hour bus jouney. I think that’s a lot, but I am seriously considering it. If I am still here in six days time I will have gone completely mad, I know that for sure.

Roll on tomorrow – except I somehow know very well where I will be both spending and finishing my day…………

Himalayas Day 14 – Kyangjuma to Lukla

So this morning I woke up to beautiful clear skies, and the news that the two day backlog at Lukla airstrip had cleared, and that I would be able to fly today. Then I woke up properly from my dream. It was actually 2am, and it was snowing. My heart then sank at the prospect of even getting down the Khumbu valley today, let alone the airstrip reopening.

I tossed and turned for the remaining four hours of the night, and hoped that the clouds would lift by the time Saroz knocked on my door at 6am.  They sadly hadn’t, but a boy has to keep hoping, that’s all. The snow that fell in the night was thankfully just a dusting at this level, although my thoughts turned to the rest of the troupe up in tents at Island Peak, and I hoped that they weren’t snowed in altogether.

Saroz and I set off for our long trek at about 6.45am, accompanied by a porter to carry my kit bag and climbing stuff, which had come down from Island Peak the previous evening. We were in clouds for much of the way. The path round to Namche Bazaar was a quick one though, Saroz setting off at his breakneck speed, the porter in pursuit, probably not used to such a light load as 30kg on his head (some of them can carry over 100kg this way), and we got there inside an hour.

Following Saroz down the path from Kyangjuma - the clouds now below us...

After Namche (which I hardly noticed, so dense were the clouds) we set off down the steep hill and made the 500 or so metre descent to the Khumbu river in no time at all. Soraz was on the phone most of the way, either getting updates from Lukla or Kathmandu on the weather conditions. It was bleak bleak bleak basically. No planes were coming in or out due to the low cloud.

The problem is that the planes, being 8, 12 or 16 seaters, have to be flown entirely manually, and therefore rely entirely on being able to see the airstrip before attempting the hair-raising landing. If there is low cloud, they don’t fly, simple as that.

Saroz kept trying though, and told me that he had said a prayer for me. An ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’, or something like that. I think this is the Buddhist mantra but can’t rememeber what it means for now, but hope it works whatever it is. He also kept turning the prayer wheels on the way down, and never missed a prayer flag or mani stone, so he must have meant it.

We reached Monjo in about two and a half hours, and then Phakding, where we stopped for lunch, in about 4 and a half. Lunch was again my usual spaghetti with Tomato sauce, in case Ben is reading this once more – are you there Ben?

Setting off after lunch at about 12.45, the clouds appeared to lift, and Saroz got his hopes up when he thought he heard a plane. This thought vanished though when it turned out to be a rescue helicopter. They must be nuts, or it must have been a total emergency, for them to be even attempting to fly in these conditions.

The walk back to Lukla from Phakding is largely uphill, and gains in fact about 300m, making this at the end of a 20+ mile haul a real slog. I was therefore very happy to arrive at about 2.45pm.

The North Face Lodge, my home for the next 'x' nights....

As we arrived at the North Face Resort, my lodge in Lukla for the night, it was chaos. There were bags and people everywhere, as most folk had been sat here for two days waiting for a plane. The airstrip is the only way out of the Himalayas, other than on foot, which would take a week or more, so there is simply no choice but to sit and wait. The problem will get worse day by day as more people arrive hoping to fly out of here too. I was told shortly after arriving that the forecast was for rain for the next four days. Oh heck, and words like that.

Lukla - not really much happening under the clouds at all.

I had a quick look into Lukla, which is a pretty nasty place, but it does have a pub or two, for people to “enjoy the last time in the Himalaya”. I ventured into an ‘Irish’ bar, to kill the time, and had my first beer in a fortnight. It would have tasted good if I knew that I would be able to leave anytime soon, but instead I sort of stood there frustrated. There was a muted atmosphere everywhere in fact, people walking around a bit zombie-like.

This place at least offered me something to while away the odd hour or three.

Dinner back at The North Face Resort was a fairly somber affair. I did meet a Canadian guy, a dentist from Toronto, who had just arrived from Kathmandu however. He had managed to charter a private helicopter to get him to a village about two hours walk down the mountain. It was apparently the only helicopter to leave Kathmandu the whole day, so I am guessing he paid a rather large fortune for the privilege. He told me he is acclimatising in the Himalayas for a running event in the Annapurna circuit next week which is 250km over six days. He had to be totally nuts, as he does these things about 10 times a year apparently.

After dinner I caught up with Pasang, another Exodus trek leader, who we have seen several times up and down the mountain. He is in charge of around 16 sixth-formers from Wells School, and he told me that he has a place reserved for me on a flight at 11am in the morning. The chance of it flying of course was written all over his face.

I went to bed in the same state as the day before, hoping, praying for sunny skies the following day. Om Mani Padme Hum…….

Himalayas Day 13 – Dingboche to Kyangjuma

So today was a very up and down day, both literally and emotionally. I would wake up at 4,400m, and end up at 3,740m, but covered a heck of a lot of ground inbetween in every way. Let me explain:

There was firstly only Mo, who was suffering badly from a sinus infection and AMS, and myself, with just mild AMS, staying in the Friendship Lodge in Dingboche last night. It was a very weird feeling having stayed in full lodges all the way so far, so walking into the dining room here it was so strange to be the only person there.

Inside the Dining Room at the Friendship Lodge at Dingboche

I awoke at about 6, and got ready for our departure to Tengboche at 7. The idea of Tengboche was that it would be the stopping place of the rest of the group, including Mo’s husband Dave, who remained with the rest of the climbing group at Island Peak. I was to accompany her, and we were accompanied by two guides, Pasang would look after Mo until Thursday when the rest arrived, and Saroz would come with me all the way to Lukla. Today though we would just go to Tengboche, at 3,940m, a journey of about five hours.

The weather turned today, and we walked in cloud practically the entire way. The mountain tops were largely obscured, although there were occasional glimpses of Lhotse, Ama Dablam, Pumori, and even Everest herself along the way. All were fleeting though, and as we were walking away from them all, and also predominantly downhill, it really was not a sightseeing sort of day.

Already out of the snow and ice, our descent down the valley was well and truly underway now.

It was actually a great walk though, although I was helped by feeling better as I descended into more oxygen rich air. Mo was still feeling terrible, and it was sadly just a chore for her. We walked along the Khumbu river, which flowed like the torrential white water that it is, about 200 feet below us.

I could have done with one of those horses on the way up!

After an hour or so, the path split to the high path on the one side, where we had come from Phortse last week sometime, and to the left for us, down and across the river towards Tengboche. The bridge over the Khumbu way below us was breathtaking, if thankfully just a short walk of faith:

About to cross the Khumbu before heading to Tengboche

Saroz seemed to be pushing along the pace, and secretly hoping that this was a challenge of some sort (I certainly did not want to just stop at Tengboche if I could get away with it, I wanted to go lower) I went with him. We left Mo and Pasang some way behind, and although I felt sorry to be not walking with Mo, she was in safer hands than mine alongside Pasang.

Not long after we crossed the river, I noticed that we were down to about 3,600m or so, and knowing that Tengboche was at 3,940m, and wasn’t too far away, it would mean a steep climb. It was indeed a bugger of a climb. We stopped at the start of it, and realising also that we were going to get to Tengboche before noon, I chanced my arm with Sarod. I said “it’s a real shame that we can’t go further down the valley today”, hoping that he would sense what I wanted from the statement. He clearly did, and just said in reply “let’s see when we get to Tengboche”.

The next 30/45 minutes were brutal, and if he wasn’t testing me out before, he clearly was now. He just walked up that steep hill “Sherpa style”, and if you have ever been to the Himalayas before then you will know just what that means. I knew I had to try to keep up. I couldn’t of course, but neither was he at full tilt, and I felt really strong now, and just gave it all I had. We got to the top without stopping, and I was breathing as hard as I ever have, but we were in Tengboche inside four hours, for a journey at we were told would take five, and so I just hoped that that would win me a further walk this afternoon.

By the time Pasang and Mo arrived at our lunch stop in Tengboche, Sarod had already come to me with the news I hoped for. He said we could go on today to Kyangjuma, some three hours further down the valley. I was delighted, although again sad to have to leave Mo on her own. I knew that Mo was in good hands with Pasang though, and also she desperately needs rest, so a couple of days with little to do (although Tengboche does have the most attractive Gompa in the whole of the Khumbu region to while away a little time) will no doubt be good for her.

After a delicious lunch (my usual of Spaghetti with Tomato sauce in case you are reading this Ben :)), I wished Mo a speedy recovery, a Happy Birthday for Thursday, and a fond farewell. I hope to be able to keep in touch with her and Dave, and in fact with everyone on the trek. It really was a great group, with no issues between anyone at any time. I also wished Pasang goodbye, and thanked him for everything and asked him to say the same to Ngima for me. Everyone at Exodus really has been faultless, but more of them in a later post.

And so we were off, now just Saroz and me. I was on my way home, sort of. After Tengboche there is a huge descent, going quickly down to about 3,500m, from 3,940m at lunch. We raced down it, and that was good as far as I was concerned – it was all progress to get nearer to Lukla, and the plan now was to try to get there inside a further two days, which would be tough.

As we mowed down the hill, past mainly knackered trekkers on their way up, Saroz was almost continually on the phone, making arrangements for me to change my flights out of the Himalayas, my accommodation in Kathmandu, and also my international flight back to the UK. At one point we had it sorted that with a heap of good fortune (and also my legs and lungs holding out on me), I could be on a flight out of Nepal as early as Friday (this is now Tuesday). I was overjoyed, the thought of a shower, a bed, a shave, another shower, followed by a bath etc, were just so exciting to me. The hotel in Kathmandu might get the surface layers of dirt off, but I really needed a lot more than that.

Then came the bad news. As we almost ran our way through the clouds, Saroz got a call to say any plans would have to be shelved. Apparently Lukla airport has been closed all day, and there are no flights out of the mountains scheduled tomorrow either. Worse, the bad weather is expected to last four days, and so there a no point in planning for anything. If this happens, there will also be a backlog like no tomorrow at Lukla itself of people trying to get out. Saroz explained further that accommodation may be a problem, and that I might be lucky to get a place on a floor in a lodge somewhere, and that he would try for me. Bummer. It was so disappointing, but what can you do? I would get a flight when I could, and the weather might change for the better, although of course it could also get worse!

For now I concentrated on my second big uphill stretch of the day. At 3,500m we had to get up to about 3,780m to the lodge in Kyangjuma. It was again a horrible hill, but it was helped by the fact that the weather was so overcast. We reached the lodge before 3, just one and a quarter hours from Tengboche. It is supposed to be a three hour journey. Saroz is a great guide, very patient and very friendly, and very quick!. My bags would take another two hours to arrive by porter, and so I sat in the lodge room drinking hot lemon by the fire until dinner time came.

I would need to sleep tonight. The journey to Lukla from here is normally a two day trek, and we are now aiming to do it in one. Sarod could do it walking on his hands of course, but he tells me that it will be for me “around nine hours”. That is him judging me on today when I busted everything I had to get me a chance at tomorrow. I will need to do it all over again to hopefully get myself a place on someone’s dining room floor for maybe one, two three or four days depending on how long this weather lasts. Apparently these things are not that uncommon at Lukla, but I feel a bit narked that I am going to be caught up in it nonetheless.

Oh well, just another day in the Himalayas I suppose. Overall I am still so enormously happy and privileged to be here at all, so I will take whatever I get, and just continue to enjoy my time in the greatest mountain range on planet earth. It is all just part of my greatest adventure ever, and every day is so different still.

We leave at six in the morning……

Himalayas Day 12 – Up or Down? (Or Lobuche to Dingboche)

Yesterday was such a remarkable and fantastic day, seeing Everest in absolutely perfect and breathtaking conditions (see yesterday’s blog post), but of course the trip is only half way through right now. Today, day 12, should be the day that we start ascending again, towards Island Peak. But for me, it wouldn’t be a day of ascent at all.

I thought that today would be tinged with some sadness and regret when I woke up, due to the fact that I had already decided (in my head at least) that I was definitely going down today and not up. I thought that perhaps part of me would wonder about whether I should have continued upwards. As it turned out, I needed have even bothered wondering, due to waking up with the mother of all headaches, and dizziness to boot.

I had gone to bed last night after a reasonable dinner with a lot of thoughts in my head. The briefing given by Ngima had contained a choice for the next day (i.e today), which was to involve the high pass route over the Komgma La pass (5,435m) to Chukhung. It would be a difficult walk, and so Ngima had offered the choice of instead walking down to Dingboche (4,400m) and then back up to Chukhung at 4,700m. Everyone bar myself and Maureen opted for the high pass, and if I had felt better under different circumstances, I would very definitely have done that too.

I was surprised in fact that Maureen was going to be able to walk at all. As well as her sinus infection she was now suffering from AMS like me. After discussing with Ngima and also Val, an Exodus leader of over 25 years who was to join the group for the rest of the trip, they said that if I needed to go down then that was all fine, and that my health was the most important thing. It’s a very comforting thing to hear, when you so want to push yourself to do what you set out to do in the first place.

Having gone to bed last night at around 8pm (sad really, but most people do in lodges) and read for a little while, I was actually delighted when I woke up at 3am. It was the longest stretch of sleep I have had in about 5 nights. It was also freezing cold however, and my bottle of water had frozen on the bedside table. My head though, despite wearing a hat in bed, was throbbing with a headache and I felt simply sick. This despite having gone to bed with Paracetamol and Diamox, was at best really annoying.

I surfaced from bed at around 5.45, ready for the walk, and could hardly walk in a straight line. Breakfast was just a blur, and packing my bag an ordeal, but I got there. Seeing Valerie at the breakfast table I told her that I just needed to get out of altitude, and she agreed. The others duly trekked over the glacier for their trip to Chukhung, and I and Maureen got ready to descend. I didn’t say goodbyes to the others at this time, there didn’t seem any point in anyone trying to persuade me against my decision, or for it to be a distraction to their day ahead. I did feel like I was letting the team down a bit, but my body told me that it was time to go.

Leaving a very cold Lobuche for the last time - the clouds just creeping up ahead in the valley.

We walked through cloud, accompanied by assistant guide Pasang, for most of the journey to Dingboche, ironically the first time we had not had a clear and sunny morning. Maureen was clearly weak, but managed the walk of about three hours without incident. I was so happy to be entering more oxygen rich air – we would go down about 1,600 feet or so.

Maureen shared en route that she was most concerned on the way that her not continuing onwards would mean that her husband Dave would not continue with the climb. She knew that he was so determined to do a 6,000m peak, but she would now not see him again to be able to tell him this. She was also concerned that not seeing him would mean that she would spend her 60th birthday (this coming Thursday) alone. Both of these it seems had been taken care of by Pasang. In respect of the former, he (Pasang) would go up to Chukhung after dropping us off in Dingboche and tell Dave that Maureen was in good hands, and that he should continue his climb. In respect of the latter he had arranged for Maureen to go to Tengboche on her way down and to wait for the others at the lodge there. Dave would arrive on the 4th November, her birthday, in four days time, so that made her happy, and me too for her, as I felt guilty for leaving.

Our walk took about three hours to get to Dingboche, probably half or less than the time it took us to get up the same stretch some three or four days earlier. We walked again through the memorials at Thukla, which was again a very moving experience. It was still mid morning when we arrived at Dingboche, but Pasang advised us both to just rest and take it easy. It is amazing just how descending only around 600m can so rejuvenate you though. From feeling so dizzy up and above 5,000m, I now felt almost as if I could run a marathon – well maybe not quite, but you get my drift!

Arriving back in Dingboche, and my last view of Island Peak.

Once we were wettled in, Pasang trooped off back up the next valley to Chukkung, in order to make arrangements for both Maureen and I, and we stayed at the Friendship Lodge, the same tea house we had been to about three days previously on the way up. Pasang would all being well return later that evening with my climbing gear (which at this point in time was up at Island Peak having travelled thee by Yak). He would also talk to Ngima and Val about getting a porter to take my bags down the mountain, and make arrangements for me to stay in various lodges on the way. The remaining journey down should take about three days to get to Lukla. All being well they would be able to sort out an earlier departure for me on a plane, otherwise I would have a lot of hanging around to do, about four or five days worth in fact. I then had to think about how or if I might be able to change my flight back to the UK, but that could wait until the weekend – I had to get out of the Himalayas first.

My mind was now just on getting down to breathable air, and then to getting home. I spent the rest of the day just sitting around in a cold lodge and hoping that I would get a smooth and speedy trip back. Coming down would always be an anticlimax compared its the going up, but I felt a renewed sense of purpose, a new lease of life, a reason to be coming down. That kept me going.

The day was very odd compared to the days before. The lodge was empty apart from Mo and I, and instead of the challenge and excitement of Everest and all around her, it was all of a sudden just a quiet and almost eery experience. It was nice though, after expending so much energy, just to simply be able to take it easy. My thoughts though naturally turned to the others – they would be by now in Chukkung, and preparing to go to Island Peak Base Camp the next day.

In the evening, Pasang arrived back with Saroz, an Exodus assistant guide who we would be assigned to me alone to get me down the mountain. We would get up at 7am the next morning and (also armed with a porter to carry the bags) begin the trek to Tengboche, and that was great as far as I was concerned – it would get me another few thousand feet closer to the base of the Himalayas, and to air that I could breathe more readily. I would head to bed early and hopefully sleep really well………

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 4 – Phakding to Namche Bazar, or ‘The Day I First Got to See Mount Everest’

Having been doing this blog for about two years now, there are certain times when you are going to put up a post and you are quite excited about what you are going to write about. And then there is this one, which would be the most excited I think I have ever been about a blog post. As you can see from the title above, this was the day I got to see Everest, simple as that……

It is so cold in the room when we (Rob, my roommate and I ) wake up that even I am cold (and I am practically never cold at all), and we didn’t even open the window last night. I was very toasty in my sleepy bag though, and really didn’t want to get out of it when the porters came knocking at 6am with bed tea. I hadn’t expected the bed tea, as I thought that was a camping only ritual, but I am very happy to receive it. I start also to worry about how cold things will get later in the trip if it is this cold at only 2,600m.

This is our first night of waking up in the Himalayas themselves, and what a day it is to be. We have a big trek, and a big ascent ahead of us, and a few views to take on board along the way.

So after packing our bags we are given a nice breakfast of porridge and toast, and are almost straight on our way (after paying the bill in the lodge, which is a bit of a faff, but never mind) for our trip to Namche Bazaar. We will today ascend over 800m, and be at a place where the effects of altitude will certainly be felt, hopefully with not much more than a mild headache and increased heartbeat.

The day starts cold and clear, and thankfully is to stay clear all day, but get very warm when the sun hits us a few hours later. We start off in fleeces and hats, but after a while are down to T shirts, and the bottom half of my walking trousers are unzipped.

The path is good and actually very pretty in places, being mostly wooded and along the Dudh Khosi (Milk) River. The river is glacial melt water and bright aquamarine almost all the way. Very soon after setting off we hit our first suspension bridge of the day. I thought I was going to be a bit nervous going over these, as they sway, some are pretty high, and are both long, narrow (like three feet wide) and fairly precarious in places, but I passed all with the overriding emotion of enjoyment. I have never done anything like that before, and it is simply a thrill.

The walk begins along the Dudh Kosi River

The first of about five suspension bridges to cross on the day.

Imagine for example the experience of walking about two thirds of the way across a 200m suspension bridge, only to then have to turn back altogether because you have a yak train coming at you the other way! I thought it was absolutely brilliant.

After about three hours we stopped for a delicious lunch of fried noodles, reminding me that we are actually remarkably close already to the Tibetan border. Then it was off to our final suspension bridge, a shorter but really high one this time, which is at the confluence of the Dudh Khosi and Khumbu rivers. We are thus now at the head of the Khumbu valley, and these waters flowing below me are coming from Mount Everest, the Khumbu being the name of the massive glacier which comes down off Everest’s south face.

The last bridge to cross before the climb to Namche Bazaar.

Probably best not to look down. I didn't.

We then head up the steepest part of the walk, and it is a really tough pull. We are rewarded though with the best possible prize for our efforts – for there, after about an hour, and only for a very fleeting moment as a gap through trees and between valleys emerges, is the view I have been waiting for. Everest! It is only the summit, and it is a long way away (about 25 miles I believe from here) but this is the very reason why I am here.

The very first distant view of Everest!

I cannot even tell you what this does to me as far as an emotional experience is concerned. I can tell you though that as I write up these notes, four hours after arriving at my destination, I am actually dripping tears onto the keyboard. Best of all, I see Everest (8,848m, 29,028ft) flanked by Lhotse (8,501m, 27,890ft) the fourth tallest mountain in the world, and Nuptse, a giant herself at 7,800m. Better than even best of all, is that Everest has her magical and iconic plume on show, a trail of snow vapour blown from the very summit ridge, as if flying a massive flag to let everyone know that she, Chomolungma, the Mother Goddess of the Universe, is looking down on you.

 

Everest (left) and Lhotse, (right).

From this moment the day could only be anti-climactic, but it was all actually great. The walk from there to Namche Bazaar was still around two hours away, and a tough slog, but very rewarding when we arrived.

Namche sits in a big bowl, surrounded by giant peaks, and perched on the hillside at 3,440m. It is a market town, a place on the great trade route between Nepal and Tibet, and many Tibetan traders come here to sell goods to locals and to trekkers alike. It feels just amazing to be here – is truly is a different world.

The view coming into Namche Bazar

You can in fact buy seemingly anything in Namche, it has wall to wall shops and market stalls, Internet cafes, and bars. You could probably get fairly high just walking around the streets also, as it has a let’s say “evocative” aroma in the air.

A typical street In Namche Bazar, 3,440m

We find ourselves eventually at the ‘Hotel’ Tibet, a four story building at the top of the town. The rooms are basic but fine, although the lack of hot water is disappointing as I thought this might be a place where I was able to take a shower, but alas not. Cold water at below zero temperatures doesn’t entice me to part with my clothes, so they stay put.

Dinner at seven is followed by our briefing for the following day. It is basically an acclimatisation day, as we are now at altitude and must get acclimatised before heading higher to prevent AMS. We will have a great day still though, trekking to a place called The Everest View Hotel, and then onto a place called Kunde, where the major hospital of the Khumbu region was commissioned and part funded by Sir Edmund Hillary. We will do around 350m of ascent and then come back down to a place called Kyangjuma at 3,700m, where we will spend the night.

But today, which is the 23rd October 2011, is a day I will never forget. I got to see Mount Everest. I will get, I sincerely hope, much closer, clearer and better views of Everest as the trek goes on. They may well floor me more than today’s did, and in fact probably will. But nothing in the world can take away from me the fact that today, with my own eyes, I saw her for the first time, and she is undeniably the most magnificent thing I have ever seen.

Himalayas Day 3 – Kathmandu/Lukla to Phakding

Day three is what it is all about. The start of the trek proper! I wake at 4.45am in the hotel in Kathmandu and jump straight into a freezing cold shower and therefore straight out again. It may be my last shower for 18 days, and so it is very necessary and welcome nonetheless!

Everyone is in breakfast shortly after 5, and before we know it our bags are loaded onto the bus and we are off to the airport. The skies are clear, which is great, as if they are not, or it is windy, then the plane will simply not take off. This is a journey on a twelve seater plane, pictured below, to the world’s shortest runway, at just 250 metres. It is also christened ‘the world’s scariest airport’ as the pilots fly directly at the side of a mountain, to a runway banked at 15 degrees. They have to land the plane in exactly the right spot, and get one chance at it. If they miss, it is curtains, simple as that.

Our bags get loaded and weighed for the flight to Lukla - 12kg seems to have gone out of the window.

And our plane, A Dornier, to fly us into the Himlayas is duly loaded.

If I said I was nervous before and during this flight, it would dramatically understate the facts. Despite this, the flight was breathtaking, pure and simple. We are greeted with almost instant views of the snow-capped Himalaya, the sun glistening beautifully from the ice bound caps of every one, their names unknown to me, but their majesty unparalleled on planet earth. We are too far away still to see as far as the 8,000m peaks yet, but there will be plenty of time to see those, including the greatest of them all, over the coming days.

I don’t think I knew just how vast and amazing the Himalayas would look upon first viewing, but I was just staggered. It is one of those moments that just make you smile and be aghast at the same time. These are the moments that I am here for, and I am so overwhelming stunned by the views that I cannot wait to get closer to the mountains themselves, and I can scarcely believe at I will start walking into them literally in a matter of an hour or so’s time.

The snow-capped Himalayas come into view for the first time.

The flight takes just 30 minutes, and then the runway is fast approaching us. It looks like we are heading face first into it, so steep is the descent and so banked the runway itself towards us. Almost before we know it, or have too much time to think about it, we are somehow on the ground, and braking hard uphill to quickly bank right to the front of Lukla airport, which is no more than a stone hut. Around the runway are seemingly hundreds of Sherpas, all looking for work from each successive arrival of tourists. In peak season, which we are in, up to 100 flights a day will touch down here.

On the ground in Lukla - and yes the runway really does slope a long way!

We assemble the kit bags and after a bit of shuffling and reshuffling we are on our way. I have a moment’s panic as my new hastily bought (fake, from a backstreet shop in Kathmandu yesterday) camelbak seems to not let any water out through the mouthpiece. I am about to have a hissy fit and throw it off the edge of the mountain, but Mo takes it from me and manages to find that there is a sort of hidden valve there, and she gets it flowing. Thanks Mo 🙂

The first day’s walk is actually a net descent of 200m, to a place called Phakding. We have flown up to 2,800m, and to start going up further would be to risk feeling the effects of a too sudden ascent, so the trail (for all Trekkers heading to Everest in fact) takes them down this path on day one. It is a short walk, punctuated most memorably by several suspension bridges.

My first suspension bridge, the first of about 10 or so en route

Within minutes of being on the trail, the emotions of what I am doing, where I am, quite hit me. It is now very very real, I am here at last, on the trail, and as early as tomorrow I should get my first glimpse of Chomolungma.

The track is incredibly well laid, of mostly stone path and dirt trail. All the way we are passed in both directions by the incredible Sherpas.  They can carry considerably more than their body weight, sometimes up to about 120kg, or 290lbs, strapped to their head!

You cannot believe some of the loads these guys carry.

We are also passed in the opposite direction by seemingly endless djo trains and also mule trains. The djo is a cross between a yak and cow. Higher up we will see yaks, but they cannot survive down at this altitude, so their shorter haired relatives are deployed here instead. We learn that you must always let the djos and yaks pass you on the ‘down’ side of the mountain path, as they never stop, and you really done’t want to shoved off the mountain by one of them.

The djos carry the bulk of our luggage up the mountain.

The walk also sees us pass our first prayer flags, prayer wheels, and mani stones. The mani stones are basically prayer messages in the Tibetan/Buddhist faith, and take the form of often very intricately carved tablets, or are sometimes just carved onto bigger rocks. You must pass any of these to the left for good luck, as this is the direction of the earth’s rotation. You can also enhance your blessings and good karma, and keep away from negative influences by spinning the prayer wheels (three times is recommended).

Plenty of mani stones line the route from Lukla to Phakding

A prayer wheel, with various blessings attached.

The views all around are amazing. Towering peaks loom in the distance, although as yet only those to about 6,000m, as the valley that we are in, that of the Dudh Khosi, or milk river, obscures those further up and further away. We are probably within about 30 miles or so of Mount Everest at this point in time, our overall walk there and back being bout 70 miles or so.

Mountains only giving glimpses of themselves at this stage of the walk.

The weather is beautifully warm and sunny, and I walk with my lower pants zipped off, and just a T shirt, although when the sun hides behind the valley walls it feels a bit cooler. Everything is also very lush, the summer monsoon having only finished a few weeks ago. Other than the glimpses of faraway snowy peaks, sherpas and the yak trains, we could be hiking almost anywhere. There is green grass, lush vegetation and abundant flowers and trees.

The walk takes just around four hours, including a lunch stop, and we are here at Phakding in the early afternoon. We are to stay at the Tashi Tagey Tea Lodge. I am very pleasantly surprised when entering the lodge – the bedrooms are nice and spacious and clean, the eating area quite cozy and homely. It is far nicer than I had imagined. I was expecting a stone hut with a cold stone dormitory, and a yak dung stove. Maybe even donkeys or a manger or something too. Perhaps we will see that sort of thing higher up the mountain.

Our group at our very first lodge dinner

The bedroom in the Tashey Tagey Lodge. I was never very good at keeping my side very tidy 🙂

After a nice relaxing afternoon we have dinner from a menu that we can choose from, and it is great and plentiful. I drink ginger tea, and look wistfully at the bottles of beer on display at albeit stupidly high prices. I would love one, but decide better of it. By tomorrow we will be at 3,500m, and the onset of potential altitude headaches or worse will me upon us. We will need to drink around four litres of water a day to hopefully stave off the effects of AMS, and to drink alcohol at this altitude is foolish at best. I am now therefore on the wagon for the next 18 days, which can’t hurt me after all, even if it doesn’t sit well with me at the moment.

After dinner of our choosing (I got spaghetti with tomato sauce and it was delicious) we get our briefing for the following day. We will be walking for around 6 and a half hours from here to Namche Bazaar. That very name has excited me ever since I first heard about it on the trip notes.

We will tomorrow alone apparently cross 5 suspension bridges, the last two of which are very high, and then there is a very steep path, where at some point we should catch our first, but fleeting view of the thing I came here for – Everest! We all troop off to bed around nine and will have an early start at around 6.30.

The trek is on, and we have completed our first day in the foothills of the Himalayas. I am so excited about everything that I will see higher up, and this day is a great (and also nice and easy) taster for it all, and yet I have already seen and learned so much. I hope I can sleep…….