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 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.

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 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 🙂

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 🙂