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Everest Base Camp III & Return To Kathmandu

sunny -8 °C

Here's a belated map update for India: Kolkata to Varanasi, Jaipur to Rishikesh, New Dehli to Agra and then back again before the flight to Kathmandu. Now that we have good wifi connection again we've also been able to go back in and add photos to our last two blog entries.

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Leaving Dingboche we both felt very determined to push on but we were starting to tire of the basic accommodation and it wouldn't be long before we'd start to feel fed up of the food. Yes it's true, I had spoken about the variety of the food on offer in my last entry but you know after so many days eating the same selection of vegetarian Asian dishes your body starts to crave something different. I kept thinking about having a good burger or fajitas with all the trimmings. Dear waiter... if there's any chance of guacamole on the side that would be wonderful? No? Not a chance!

Our next stop was in a remote little place called Lobuche and from there we'd make the trip to Gorak Shep. Our accommodation at Lobuche was pretty decent. It was basic but it was clean. Gorak Shep was a challenge. This was our final lodge en-route and our expectations were rock bottom. The room we stayed in was like a giant cardboard box and as for the toilets... well by now I had gotten used to holding my nose in most of the toilets on offer and you know you just have to grin and bear it. Or have a moan and a laugh with your other half about it as I did with Alberto over the course of the two weeks. As soon as we checked into our lodge in Gorak Shep we had a quick cup of tea (for a change) and off we went to the destination we had been thinking about constantly for the past two weeks. It would take us two hours to get there and on the way we passed glaciers and plenty of rocky obstacles to step over or walk through. By now our surroundings were mostly covered in snow with enormous, striking and beautiful snowy/icy mountains encompassing our view. You could well be forgiven for thinking you're at a ski resort somewhere in the alps. Only there was no sign of any chair lifts or a single piece of ski gear in sight. Despite being tired I could feel an extra sense of adrenaline to be here. On we went and a couple of hours later we reached our destination point... Everest Base Camp! Now the thing is you can't actually go into the camp itself as there are hundreds of climbers getting ready for their summit bid so instead you're taken to a vantage point close by where you can see all of the tents and the general circus it has now become. And of course... the infamous Khumbu Icefall. Despite my earlier excitement I felt a little underwhelmed. You could only see the very top part of Everest. To get the best view we'd have to make one last push the following morning to Kala Patthar (5,644m/18,519 feet).

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Kala Patthar was always a 'bonus day' for us and on day two we had written it off. How could we possibly ascend another few hundred metres if we even made it to base camp when we were struggling to ascend into Namche Bazaar? From speaking with our guide Kaji and other trekkers on the way it appeared that only 50-60% of those who go to EBC make it to KP. Usually folks who attempt it get up at 3am so they can make it there for sunrise. We had little interest in venturing out at crazy o'clock in serious minus conditions but we really wanted to give this a go. We asked our guide if we could have an early breakfast at 6am and make a dash for it afterwards. No problem. Going to bed the night before it felt like we had one final school exam in store before we could begin to relax.

The first hour of this walk was awful for me, not so much for Alberto. It was freezing cold, and I was starting to worry about my toes and fingers as I just couldn't warm them up. I never felt so happy to see the sun before when it finally came up and my shoes and gloves began to warm up. The walk was fairly vertical and it was the first time I had to use my trekking poles. They'd be just as important to get back down. You can really feel the altitude and even walking a short distance you end up out of breathe very quickly. I must have thought 'FML' to myself so many times that I lost track but after a couple of hours we could see the end point. One final push and we were there! We felt a sense of elation and accomplishment that was missing from base camp. By now our surrounding views were simply spectacular and I'm not sure the photos here do it justice. Our guide congratulated us and we felt such a sense of relief and accomplishment. Secretly I had always hoped we'd make the summit of KP but I never felt confident about it.

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We spent around twenty minutes on top and tried to soak up the views as best we could. Today was going to be a long day as not only did we need to get back down we'd need to trek for at least another 5-6 hours. It takes 8 days to get to base camp, but only 4 to get back and now that altitude was no longer a factor we would be walking at a much faster pace.

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The few days we spent returning to Lukla were generally uneventful. We had the opportunity to witness much better views of the forests and mountains thanks to the welcome absence of snow and rain. We spent our final day in Lukla where it all began. We discovered it was New Years Eve and Nepal was about to move into the year 2076! We had hoped there might have been some celebrations but the place was like a ghost town. It appeared that all the locals were spending their time indoors with family. Fair enough. It rained heavily a lot that day and I was only too happy to spend it indoors drinking hot chocolate and reading the book 'Into Thin Air', a first hand account of the 1996 Everest disaster. Speaking of tragedies, Lukla airport is one of the most dangerous in the world and unfortunately a plane had crashed into a helicopter and three people had died the day before we were due to travel. So sad for everyone involved. We felt nervous the following morning boarding our flight but thankfully everything was ok. You could still see the crashed plane on the runway as we took off and I couldn't help but think about those who had lost their lives, two security guards and one of the pilots. We wish their family and friends all the best during this awful time.

We've been back in Kathmandu for the past four days and after the feeling of elation began to fade away physical and mental fatigue took its place. We unashamedly spent the last few days gorging on western foods (including KFC) and visiting the cinema. Today we paid a visit to two of the best Buddhist temples in Kathmandu, the Swayambhunath Stupa and the Boudhanath Stupa.

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We've been in Nepal for almost three weeks now. The EBC trek is not so much a sprint but an endurance... the altitude, the cold, the sweat and dirt, the accommodation and food, the non stop walking, pushing past the pain barrier etc. Despite its challenges the EBC trek will remain with us as a real achievement and lifetime highlight. We even managed to raise AU$4,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. We'd encourage anyone to give this trek or something similar a go, you won't regret it! For now we're turning our attention towards Tokyo as we board our flight tomorrow afternoon. Japan has been a long time coming for us and we can't wait to tour the country.

Posted by mattld 04:42 Archived in Nepal Tagged everest asia nepal lobuche everestbasecamp gorakshep Comments (4)

Everest Base Camp II

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Today is day six of thirteen on the trail and it's been challenging in different ways. Every day we move forward it feels like a small victory as both the days and nights are long. I’ll rewind back to Saturday when we left Namche Bazaar… Alberto had been feeling very sick with a cold and it was touch and go whether he’d be able to continue. With thanks to the classic bowl of hot water, herbal remedy and a towel over the head followed by some antibiotics he started to feel a lot better and we could continue on together. Phew!

We woke up that morning colder than the previous day in Namche and it only took a peak outside the curtains to understand why. There was no sign of the sun as the sky was filled with cloud and rain looked imminent. We began a steep uphill walk to the top of the town just before 8am, and that’s when the rain began. We were told by others who were on their way back to look out for beautiful forests during this section. With the rain it didn’t look so great and visibility was poor. Our main priority was staying dry and our waterproof clothing did the job. After a couple of hours of walking through the mud and avoiding animal droppings (believe me there’s plenty of it) we were able to stop for tea and it tasted like the best cup of tea I ever had in my life. Please sir, must we go back outside? Come hither young men, you must move on.. grow a pair! Oh alright then.

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After a nice flat section (thank the gods, the old and the new) we were soon losing altitude and we realised this would have to be regained. And fast. Our final few hours were uphill and unlike day two we took it much slower and paced ourselves. It was far more manageable and the cold weather did mean less sweat. One must stay positive! I had envisioned another few hours of this and when we arrived at Tengboche our next stop I couldn’t believe it. This time I could actually speak on arrival and my legs were in decent shape. It gave us an increased sense of confidence that we could do this. #gotthis? We’ll see…

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Tengboche like most towns in the Himalayas is home to only a few hundred people but is home to one of Nepal's most famous monasteries. After some more tea we paid a visit and it definitely had that comforting feeling of serenity inside. Quick side note… I’ve lost count of how much tea I’ve drank at this stage and I am going on a tea strike as soon as I'm back in Kathmandu. By now you could see a lot more snow and although it was pretty cloudy when we arrived it later cleared and we had a magnificent view, including our first sight of Everest in the distance.

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I had a terrible night’s sleep. The room was freezing and temperatures at night time are now dropping below freezing. I wore almost everything I had and could barely move in the sleeping bag. It was anything but cosy. FML. I took a couple of herbal sleeping tablets to help send me off but I must have only slept for a couple of hours in total. I had to sit up a few times as I felt I couldn’t breath properly. This is quite common and apparently sleeping tablets can cause this. No more sleeping tablets for me so! Aside from that you’ve got a lot less oxygen than usual and with five layers of clothing, a sleeping bag and a duvet it all feels very claustrophobic. I told myself to take lots of deep breaths and stay calm. We woke the following morning to a blanket of snow covering most of the fields surrounding our lodge.

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Snow was definitely better than rain but I couldn’t help but think to myself for feck sake, they’re really testing us now between Alberto getting sick, rain all day yesterday and snow today. On we went and the initial scenery in the snow was quite beautiful. It had a kind of wintery Japanese quality to it. We’ll take that. A few hours later and you could notice everything becoming a lot more desolate. Vegetation became less frequent and large areas that resembled a wasteland began to appear. We had expected this and it felt like a check point that we were getting closer to our destination. The walk that day was more of a consistent gradual increase and again we could manage this.

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We’ve been staying at our current stop in Dingboche for two days to allow for acclimatisation. We’re 4,410 metres above sea level but we still have another 1,000m to go. The temperature has noticeably dropped and even at 7am this morning it was -6 degrees celsius. I did sleep a lot better though, Alberto not so much. We’re starting to think that perhaps the physical part of this trek won’t be our biggest obstacle but perhaps it’ll be the cold and possibly the altitude as we get higher. We met a Japanese lady named Kayko back in Phakding (our first lodge) and she turned around at the stop we’re at now due to the cold. We sort of shrugged this off and told ourselves ‘ah it’ll be grand, she clearly overreacted’ until she told us she had been to Antartica seven times as a tour guide! Gulp.

Going to bed has become our least favourite time of the day as we desperately try to stay warm and comfortable enough to nod off. We’re wearing thermal vests and leggings and filling our bottle with hot water and placing it in the sleeping bag to provide some heat and comfort. Unfortunately it’s your face that feels the cold the most. You can put your neck scarf around your face but then it’s difficult to breathe so you’re left with pulling part of the sleeping bag over your head but allowing just enough space for the air to come in that doesn’t feel too cold, whilst getting comfortable enough to fall asleep at the same time. It’s definitely an art and we’ve yet to master it! The lodges are starting to decline in quality and we expected this. We were actually give an 'ensuite room' at this stop but when we saw the toilet without a seat or a flush I couldn't help but laugh loudly about it. Flushing would require dropping large amounts of water in via the bucket we were provided. I wonder what our final two lodges have in store for us...

I haven't spoken about food yet but can say overall we're pretty happy. Animals are not allowed to be killed on the mountain for religious reasons so after Namche so we were told by our guide to avoid any meat. We've only had meat twice in the past week and unlike in Rishikesh we're not missing it as much as the meals here are more varied and freshly made by the Nepalese with love and pride. We've had toast, fried/scrambled eggs, porridge, muesli, corn flake and Nepalese bread for breakfast. Lunch and dinner are interchangable and could include all sorts of rice and noodle dishes, soups, curries, potatoes, veggies etc. The variety is starting to diminish so perhaps in another few days we'll be starting to struggle.

Today is a beautiful day weather wise and this morning we trekked a few hundred metres up for some panoramic views of the glaciers and the fourth highest mountain in the world, Lhotse. We’re off to a bakery now to enjoy a warm pastry and watch a documentary on the Sherpas. The Everest Base Camp Trek is overflowing with challenges and rewards. I’ve shared a lot of the challenges we’re facing but equally I am almost pinching myself being in such a remote and beautiful part of the world. We have just a few more days before we hopefully reach Everest. Fingers crossed.

Posted by mattld 02:39 Archived in Nepal Tagged everest asia nepal tengboche dingboche everestbasecamp namchebazaar Comments (1)

Kathmandu & Everest Base Camp I

semi-overcast 5 °C

Nepal is one of the least developed countries we’ve visited. You won’t find a single motorway and you’ll struggle to find many decent roads outside of its capital. It’s been a little bit like going back in time but as with Myanmar the Nepalese are very friendly. Most of them will greet you with an enthusiastic ‘Namaste!’ and a warm smile and we really got the impression that they genuinely appreciate the tourism and the money it brings in that the country so badly requires. The main tourist area is populated with cute cobbled stone streets lit up in multi-coloured fairy lights at night time with 100+ shops selling the same trekking equipment. There are different coloured triangular flags dotted around the town and cafés/restaurants are well set up for Johnny foreigner. Fancy a soy chai laté with vegan foam? No problem!

We arrived in Kathmandu on Monday 1st April (happy April Fools y’all!) in the evening time. We’d only have two nights here before we’d start the trek and our main priority that day was to meet with the company we booked our trek with, Nepal Environment Trekking. They were highly recommended to me by a work colleague and trusted recommendations are worth their weight in gold when choosing who to pick as there are many choices available. That initial meeting was a chance to meet our guide Kaji who’s been doing this for fifteen years and take a look at the items they were supplying us with: a sleeping bag, outer jacket, trekking poles and a duffle bag. We were happy with everything. It was just going to be the three of us plus our porter Rami who we’d meet in Lukla and would carry our main luggage. Porters are incredible people with super human strength (carrying bags using a strap on their heads) and we’re so grateful for his help as it just wouldn’t be possible otherwise. I was hoping we might have other travellers with us but in hindsight it’s been nice to be able to go at your own pace.

If you’ve ever followed the tv show known as ‘The Apprentice’ you might recall there is always an episode where the contestants are given a shopping list of random items to hunt down in an unfamiliar market place abroad and haggle as best they can for the lowest price. This was our second day in Kathmandu and it was definitely stressful! We managed to buy half of what we needed in Dehli but couldn’t buy the bulkier items in advance as we had very little room in our bags. We made a decision that morning to get a suitcase so we could keep everything we bought and have a little more breathing room for souvenirs. We’d leave it behind in Kathmandu along with other luggage we wouldn’t need for the trek and collect it on our way back. It was a long day and having to haggle on every item as you know the original price is far too high is exhausting. By the end of the day you’re almost ready to hand them whatever they’re asking for.

The Everest Base Camp (EBC) trek is one of the best known in the world and regarded by many as pretty damn difficult. We’re three days in and we’d definitely agree! You’ve got three main obstacles in your way that you need to conquer… the walk itself, the cold weather and the altitude. We saw the movie ‘Everest’ years ago and felt inspired to see the highest mountain in the world in person. We’ve wanted to do a fundraiser for charity for quite some time and this was a good way to combine the two. We’ve managed to raise almost US$2,800 for the children’s International Make-A-Wish Foundation for terminally and seriously ill children and we’re very thankful for every single donation. If you want to know about this charity, check out our page http://worldwish.rallybound.org/mattandalberto.

I started training for EBC immediately after Christmas. I run three times a week in the gym but I knew I would need to make some modifications. I upped it to four times and rather than just weights and running I mixed it up with a lot of stair climbing and outdoor trekking. We had to buy our trekking booths a few months beforehand and break them in to avoid any blisters on the mountains. We joined up with a simulated high altitude gym in Sydney which removes the oxygen from the room to simulate 3,500 metres above sea level. We were able to spend time walking at a steep incline, running and lifting weights to get our bodies used to higher altitude conditions. Alberto has previous mountain trekking experience summiting Kilimanjaro and while I’d liked to have done more hopefully we are able to do this. I worry about one of us not being able to make it. There is no shame in at least trying though. If you’re considering attempting EBC there is plenty of professional advice available online. Ian Taylor Trekking is a great website with an abundance of information. They charge more than twice the price than most other trekking companies… I didn’t see enough value add to justify the higher price when scrutinising our final two choices but I’ve no doubt they do a fantastic job with their clients and the information they provide is free of charge and really valuable. They were a very close second choice.

Normally trekkers would fly from Kathmandu to Lukla but as of April 1st runway repairs are taking place and we would instead have to be picked up at 2am and driven for four hours on the bumpiest of roads with barely a wink of sleep before a three hour walk to our first overnight stay in Phakding. Looks like the April Fools joke was on us! Thankfully the first day is a relatively easy walk with only modest inclines and declines. Lukla is 2,800 metres above sea level and Phakding is 200 metres less. The whole trek is filled with ups and down. Every time you gain some good height it’s not long before you’ll lose some of it and even by the second day your heart will sink when you realise you’ll have to go down as you know it’s only a matter of time before you’ll have to go back up. We’ll be returning via the same route so it may not be a huge amount easier on the way back.

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Our lodge, aka tea house that night was very basic as most of them are up here. There is no heating in the bedroom, toilet paper, an ensuite costs extra and most have paid showers only. By our third tea house we’re told not to even attempt a shower as it could result in a severe flu. We shall heed this advice and baby wipes will become our new best friend!

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Day two was an early start and we had to be ready for breakfast by 7am. We’re told there’s usually blue skies and sunshine by morning making it quite warm before cloud arrives in the afternoon followed by a sharp drop in the temperature in the evening. So far they haven’t been lying. Our research told us that April was a great month to go and we were not prepared for how cold it gets in the evening. Bearing in mind we’ve come from India which was almost 40 degrees at times and I guess it was going to be that bit harder for us to get used to it. Our six hour walk on the second day took us to Namche Bazaar, the last big town in the region and the last chance to enjoy a shower and buy anything else we may need. Between the temperature dropping further and the altitude it’s apparently going to get a whole lot harder from here on in. The last two hours reaching Namche was painful. You’re hoping against hope that there will be a straight section but the steps keep on coming. During a particularly difficult section my thoughts varied from ‘wow I sound like Darth Vader’ to ‘FML I regret every KFC and cider I’ve ever had’! We could barely speak by the time we reached our tea house but we felt like kings having a hot shower completely ignoring how basic and cold the bathroom was. After two days it was lovely to put on new dry clothes that weren’t smelling of cold sweat. Better appreciate these good moments while we have them.

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This is our porter Kami (to the left) and guide Kaji (front). They've been looking after us extremely well.

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And of course, there's an Irish pub up here!

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Today is a welcome day of rest as you need to let your body acclimatise so as to avoid altitude sickness which can induce headaches, nausea, lack of appetite and generally feeling awful. Speaking of which, Alberto’s had a cold since our 2am start in Kathmandu and thankfully he didn’t have to walk today. My legs are not feeling too bad considering yesterday but tomorrow is going to be another hard one as we make our way to Tengboche. Don’t let my above rants put you off from EBC or another physical challenge you may be considering. Some of the scenery out here is just postcard perfect and photos don’t do it justice. The air is so fresh and this certainly beats sitting in the office. Aside from a few 5km races and one 10km this is my first major physical challenge. I’d really love to accomplish it and I’ll be thinking about the generous donations for the Make-A-Wish Foundation when the going gets tougher.

Posted by mattld 04:10 Archived in Nepal Tagged everest nepal kathmandu lukla phakding everestbasecamp namchebazaar Comments (0)

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