Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Adventure trekking to Everest Base Camp, Himalayan Mountains, Nepal

"To accomplish great things, we must dream as well as act."  Anatole France 


It started off as an idea, a very hypothetical sort of idea... We could trek to Everest Base Camp. 

But between doing my final year of my Arts/Law degree, maintaining a few jobs to pay the rent and trying to apply for graduate jobs for 2012, it appeared to be an idea without commitment.
Then one day after procrastinating from the study and doing some research on costs and the difficulty of trekking to Everest Base Camp, it dawned on us that it WAS possible. 
When I say 'us' I mean myself and my boyfriend of 5 years, Simon, who has claimed the idea from the beginning as his own.  I've since let him have it.

So after deciding that we didn't want to go trekking with a western company, but instead that it would be cheaper, more interesting and more beneficial to all parties involved to go with a Nepalese organisation, I stumbled upon Advanced Adventures.  They are a tour company who caters the trek to your own needs and desires, and so we were able to secure our trek on the desired days that Simon had been given leave, lock in two Sherpa's and an English speaking Guide to help us get up the mountain and agree on a fantastic price for the 12 days that we would be trekking.  Suddenly, after a few emails back and forth, it was booked.  We were going to Everest!

This blog is divided up into four sections: We were on our way, Altitude sickness sinking in, We made it & With Thanks.  I hope you can find the time to read this story and I look forward to receiving your comments on it. 

WE WERE ON OUR WAY 

Six months later (including only two days worth of trekking training and too much time spent studying at the desk) we found ourselves at Melbourne Tullamarine airport, handing over our passports and sporting matching Everest Base Camp t-shirts with the slogan "The man on top of the mountain didn't fall there".  We were full of adrenalin and excitement and a little apprehensive about what lay ahead for us.  Our trekking team included myself, my boyfriend Simon, my younger brother James and his mate Rohan.

After almost 30 hours in transit between Kuala Lumpar and Delhi, we touched down in Kathmandu and immediately the culture shock started to sink in...  Beaten up cars honking everywhere and every second, hot muggy thick air, streets full of beggars, stray dogs, cows and chickens and the friendliest people I have ever come across... Yes - we were in Nepal. 

We were greeted at the airport by our Guide, Eaklal, who stayed with us for our entire time in Nepal - he was fantastic and always at our service with a smiling "yes please".  The following day after settling in and catching up on lost ZZZ's, we headed to the Advanced Adventure Office in Thamel to get our gear sorted out, we needed -20 North Face sleeping bags and down jackets and they were included in our trekking package.  We were also warned that the weather had been very bad and no flights had gone to or come out of Lukla in 6 days - so we were told to be very positive and optimistic and hopefully the weather would be clear by 6.30am the following morning when we were due to fly out.  We went to bed that night with our fingers and toes crossed.

On Sunday 6th November 2011, the Himalayan clouds cleared for us and we were the very "lucky Australians" as we boarded the first flight from Kathmandu to Lukla in 6 days... What an INCREDIBLE breath taking flight it was. We simply strolled on into the run down domestic airport full of monkeys swinging from the roof (literally) and before we could say "Are we there yet?", we were in the air - headed for Everest.   We were flying in a small twin otter plane seating 12 passengers and two pilots at the front, due to the 3 boys taking the seats at the back, I went and sat at the front of the tiny plane and tried to swallow my stomach, which by then felt like it was in my mouth whilst I watched the world get smaller and smaller from my tiny window.  We flew between the highest peaks in thew world - the incredible Himalayan mountains, all snow capped, very rugged and steep and so beautiful.  The morning sun came out just as we started making our very quick descent into Lukla, which has to be the biggest adrenalin rush I have ever experienced (and I HAVE been skydiving).  The runway is 400metres long and sits on a steep angle up the mountain side. I could see everything, as in much more than I wanted to, as the plane balanced and wobbled at full speed towards the town and the people.  Disembarking the plane after celebrating our survival, I felt like I had been holding my breath for the entire 35minute ride!

We arrived in Lukla around 7.30am to many tired people eager to get on the next flight - but we were in great spirits.  On this first day we trekked 3hours to a village called Phakding.  There were some steep parts of the trek, but it was relatively easy going and we were full of energy.   The sun came out and we started wondering why we had packed so many thermals and jackets and thick socks, little did we know what we had coming for us.  After spending our first night relaxing in Phakding (2852metres) we had a hard day of trekking to Namche Bazaar (3440metres) on our second day and had to cross over many wobbly footbridges, including the famous Hillary bridge, over strong flowing rivers of frozen water flowing down from the glaciers.  Despite the challenging climbing on this day, everywhere we looked the scenery would take our breath away, it was the most amazing imagery I could ever dream of seeing and it wasn't a painting or a photo.  The climb into Namche was very steep, at times it felt like if we leaned slightly backwards then we would've topple down hundreds of metres.

After our first challenging day we enjoyed a hot bucket of water as a shower (the only one we were going to have for the next 7 days until we returned to Namche), some ginger tea (which we drank 4 times per day as it helps with the circulation) and a few conversations with fellow trekkers who were all staying at our tea house called Everest View Hotel.  The following day we enjoyed a rest day in Namche and just took a 3 hour trek in the morning to the top of very steep mountain, from where we were able to see amazing views of Everest and the surrounding mountain range of Lhotse and Nupste and we could also view our trek for  the days ahead.

ALTITUDE SICKNESS SINKING IN

After relaxing in Namche it was onto Tengboche (3870metres), where the Tengboche Monastery is.  At our time of trekking there happened to be a 'festival' called Mani Rimbu Festival which ended up being a Buddhist ceremony that we were unable to witness due to not being Buddhists.  However, because of the festival we were not able to stay in Tengboche for the night as apparently it was too crowded with festival-goers (despite us not witnessing anything much going on at all at the time we were there except for inside the Monastery).  So we stopped for lunch on the top of the hill at Tengboche and a quick visit to the drop toilet's and then we were off for another hour and 30 minutes to Pengboche..."only across the river and up the side of another mountain...". Our Guide was very good and making some of the trek sound a lot less effort than it actually required, we should probably thank him for that in the long run.   It was in Pengboche that the altitude sickness started kicking in, and here we had to have our last rest day, Eaklal, our Guide called it our emergency rest day.    We spent our emergency rest day between the drop toilets, our very hard wooden beds and sitting outside in the mountain sun playing cards.  We knew we had to rest as there was going to be no more resting after this.

The next morning we all woke generally feeling better, the headaches tended to come and go for the entire trek, but they were never so bad that we couldn't push past them.  Simon fell quite ill on this morning with strong symptoms of altitude sickness, however we had no choice but to head on up, and knowing this Simon kept it to himself and pushed on.  This was day 6 and we were trekking from Pengboche to Dingboche (4430metres).   The trekking terrain didn't get any easier and it was starting to get particularly cold, especially in the mornings when everything was covered in frost and we would struggle to feel our fingers for the first few hours of walking.  For the next 4 days we wore our gloves, beanies, thermals and I wore 5 layers on top including a down jacket, without really taking much off, as it became too cold and too exhausting to bother shedding the layers.  We were pleased to arrive in Dingboche for a late lunch that afternoon after about 5.5 hours of steady trekking, there was nothing too strenuous about this days trekking, however the affects of the altitude was starting to make any kind of activity more challenging.       

The Hillary Footbridge - marked the beginning of the steep 2-hour climb into Namche Bazaar.

On Day 7 we were trekking with many other trekking groups from Dingboche to Lobouche, only 2 days to go until we were to reach Base Camp and as the trekking become more treacherous and the landscape around us transformed, it dawned on us that... we are going to make it to Base Camp.  It was something that we had not really comprehended yet, as we had been focused on just getting from Melbourne to Kathmandu and then soaking up the culture and our surroundings, so it really was at this point that we realised we were actually going to make it.  This lifted our spirits and motivated us to push on through some of the pains caused by the altitude. 

The landscape surrounding us did drastically change over the trek from being dense and green with lots of trees in the first 3-4 days of trekking to a dry, rocky and barren setting, the higher we went.  It resembled something similar to what we imagine the moon may look like.  
We arrived in Lobouche (4960metres - very high altitude), which had all the signs of being over crowded for the night as we asked around at the tea houses for two spare rooms.  Eventually, our guide and Sherpa's sorted it for us, as they always did.  Soon enough we were happily sipping on garlic soup and scoffing down Momo's to try and find some energy for our final day of climbing. Day 8 = Base Camp Summit Day!  

We all had a rather frozen sleepless night at Lobouche, which is not uncommon at that altitude, and so set off for Gorak Shep after being given some aspirin by some lovely fellow French trekkers for headaches.  This day was a particularly strenuous day of climbing, in addition to suffering various symptoms of altitude sickness.  James and I suffered least as compared to Simon and Rohan, whose symptoms were a lot stronger, but I still felt the affects of exhaustion and loss of appetite on my body when trying to push it and we had all suffered from gastro for the 4 days leading up to Base Camp, which doesn't help.

The approach to Gorak Shep (5110metres) felt as though it took many hours.  Every dint in the mountain that the track ducked in and out of we thought we would come out of in view of Gorak Shep and our launch pad to Base Camp... At that stage I recall that we were really needing that motivation to have the goal in sight.  It finally came and we realised that in fact it had only taken 2.5 hours of trekking from Lobouche into Gorak Shep, at that altitude time felt a lot longer.  We dumped our gear and found a room to lodge in over night, I can't say sleep in, as there is not many people who are lucky enough to be able to sleep at that altitude, the best the body can do is allow you a few hours... if you're lucky and exhausted enough.

WE MADE IT!!!  
  
After sipping on hot tomato and garlic soup, we were ready to set off to Base Camp, Everest Base Camp... We found ourselves with a new sense of adrenalin that we had been missing for days, we were about to reach our goal.  We headed off as a team with our matching t-shirts on underneath the hundred other layers and walked across the arid landscape, where the icy wind blew down on us from the top of Everest.  After approximately 2 hours, we saw tiny black dots on the horizon, heading out towards the Khumbu Glacier (which marks the beginning of the trek to Everest's summit) - it was Base Camp.  

We all had a spring in our step, well not literally... but within 30 minutes our trekking boots were taking their final steps onto the rocky soil that marks Everest Base Camp.  A feeling of elated pride and achievement overwhelmed us all as we took a few moments each to take in the scenery and the reality of what we had just completed.  It was a great achievement and we soaked it up for a whole 20 minutes before our Guide convinced that we had to head back to Gorak Shep before the bad weather came in.  Everest Base Camp sits at the end of a valley surrounded by some of the most enormous mountains in the world and when the icy cold wind blows through the valley in the afternoon it doesn't matter how many layers of material you are wearing, it literally blows right through your body and feels like it cuts into your skin... it is freezing.  So after a few hugs between team mates and the photos to prove we got there, we were on our way back, that was it - we had made it to Base Camp.

     
We were lucky to have beautiful sunny weather for our entire trek up the mountain!

This was the view from our tea house at Namche, it was around 5pm at night and the moon was coming up as the sun was going down! So beautiful!   


EVEREST BASE CAMP

 We had three days to trek all the way down to Lukla.  On the morning after climbing to Base Camp up at Gorak Shep we had the option to head to Kala Patthar, which is higher than Everest Base Camp and provides the best views of Everest itself.  In order to do it though we were required to get up at 4am and started trekking up the steep mountain in order to get there to see the sunrise and be back by the early morning to start the 8 hour trek down to Pengboche.  This was followed by 6 hours trekking the next day to Namche and then lastly it was about 8 hours into Lukla.   Simon, Rohan and I decided that we were far too exhausted and affected by the altitude to make it up Kala Patthar.  We needed to save our energy to get down and we were all feeling proud at getting to Base Camp.
So it was just James who set his sights on a 4.30am climb up Kala Patthar with our 16-year old Sherpa Des.  Lucky Des!  The story goes that James actually almost ran up Kala Patthar that morning in a record time of 45minutes (supposed to take 2 hours up and 1 hour down) and was the first person to arrive on the top of the mountain on Wednesday 15th November with Des trailing behind, the two of them shared some delicious Coconut Crunch biscuits, a Sherpa favourite provided by Des and then they ran back down again.  They were back in time to witness the three of us rousing from our sleepless night.     

The first day climbing down was a challenge as energy levels were running low.  However we soon discovered that the further down the mountain we went, the more energy we seemed to find.  We had fought beyond the negative affects of altitude sickness and now we were able to feel some positive affects - some rewards, the red blood cells were running wild around our exhausted bodies, providing us with extra energy so that we could finally enjoy having conversations and eating food again - yes we had our appetites back.  

Arriving back in Namche Bazaar we were all so excited at the prospect of having our first shower in 7 days, we could literally smell ourselves.  It was AMAZING.  To feel warmth on my skin and actually feel the dirt and sweat built up over 7 days of trekking wash off my body was a very rewarding feeling that I will always remember.  We felt as though we were back in civilisation and celebrated with delicious hot chocolates from the German Bakery in town and sending emails home from the computers in the Supermarket.  We were in great spirits. We also had a fun night in the tea house playing a card game with our Sherpa's and Guide.  I recall looking around the tea room and noticing that we were the loudest group of people in the room by far and smiling, thinking that I was so glad we had made it altogether and were now able to really appreciate our first laughter in a few days, first showers and having an appetite again.  We each had a new understanding of making goals and achieving them, no matter how big or small.   

We arrived back in Lukla on the 17th November, after 3 big days of climbing down the mountain.  Lukla was again packed with people from all over the world as the weather had closed in and there had been no flights our for the past 5 days.   We were told to cross our fingers and toes and stay positive by our Guide.  Yet, we were also told by fellow trekkers that it looked unlikely we would be taking our flight scheduled for 7am tomorrow, and then we would go into the backlog, waiting behind the line of hundreds of other trekkers stuck in Lukla.  With all of this in mind, off we went to have our first coffee in 2 weeks at Lukla Starbucks, yes there is a Starbucks in Lukla. Then it was onto the Irish pub in town for a few celebratory beers and some popcorn (in Nepal we found that they serve popcorn before most meals like an appetiser and also with drinks - we loved it and felt like we were at the movies every night before dinner).  

The next morning we woke to our Guide Eaklal at our door saying "Good morning, hello, it is good weather, we are flying out...Come on, are you ready?".  We really couldn't believe our luck and we didn't have time to soak it up either.  It was bags packed, say a very sad goodbye to our amazing Sherpa's Des and BJ and we were off to Lukla airport.  Soon we were waving our Tara Air ticket in the air as the planes started piling onto the runway, literally every 3-4 minutes another plane would arrive.  We were on our way back to Kathmandu with smiles spread across our faces.  We were feeling like the luckiest people in Nepal ... again... as we said an appreciative goodbye to the breathtaking Himalayan mountains, breathing in the freshest air in the world I whispered, "I'll be back".       


Lukla Airport in the early morning, sun coming over the surrounding mountains and it is freezing! 

Our first view of Mount Everest  - AMAZING - but still seemed to be very far away.

Our team from left to right: Eaklal our Guide, Simon, Rohan, James, Des and BJ our Sherpa's and me. Playing cards together on our way back down in Namche  - this photo was taken after we had our showers, we all look significantly cleaner. 

At our tea house in Namche Bazaar called Everest View Hotel - James stuck an Australian Kangaroo on the wall with our names on it and 'EBC 2011' - we plan to go back in years to come and make sure it is still hanging there beside the clock. 


MANY THANKS

I would like to thank Advanced Adventures for accompanying us and assisting us achieve our goal and enjoy the greatest experience of our lives.  Our Guide Eaklal was amazing, always caring for us and very informative, every night he would approach our table after dinner and say "Soooo.... You know... we have a plan to go to ..... It takes 1 hour up, 1 hour down, 20 minutes flat, two hours up and then 1 hour down." Or something along those lines.  We couldn't have asked for a better Guide.  Also our amazing Sherpa's who carried all our gear, except for James' as he was insistent on carrying his pack all the way there and all the way back.  Thanks Des and BJ! 

If after reading this post you are interested in looking into trekking in the Himalayas, whether it be to Base Camp, or the very scenic Annapurna circuit, or any other type of trekking or adventure I would recommend contacting Chet at Advanced Adventures.  The team at Advanced Adventures are very happy to tailor your adventure trek to all of the requests you may have and you are guaranteed the best value for your adventure of a lifetime (it really is the adventure of a lifetime, but they also call it this).  We are all agreed that one of the best parts of our trek were having such a great Guide and Sherpa's and a team that we could really trust.  Here is the link to access the website: http://www.advaadventures.com/
Thank you for taking the time to read this post.  I hope that you can come away feeling enlightened and inspired to go trekking in the incredible Himalayas and also about the challenges and the rewards of having an idea and turning it into a reality.  It really is an amazing feeling... So make sure you keep dreaming those crazy ideas, you never know when they may become your reality.
        

17 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience, im planning to trek base camp in early 2013, your blog will help.

    Somesh
    Adelaide

    ReplyDelete
  2. Gaetan from Canada3 March 2012 at 10:24

    Wow! We booked to go to Everest Base Camp from October 16th to November 1rst 2012 and your experience was so great to read! Thank you and bravo to have reached your goal!

    ReplyDelete
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  7. That was such a lovely blog...I've been unsuccessful in gathering like-minded friends on this expedition as we are "city folks". Going without showers for 2 days is totally unthinkable, least of all 7 days! Nonetheless, I am inspired by your experience & sense of adventure and will put this trip on my "bucket list". Thanks for sharing.....

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  14. Glad to hear you had a great experience with Advanced Adventures. It seems like their corporate attitude has changed a bit given the present trekking climate and foreign sourced income flow. They were focused on making as much money as they could from us and we do not recommend using them nor other trekking companies. Give directly to the locals by hiring a guide and porter when you get to Lukla airport.

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