Gareth Peel was one of a group of travel agents who took on the challenge Explore set them of trekking to Everest Base Camp. He didn't consider himself a walker or a trekker before the trip; read his day-by-day account of his adventure to see how this soon changed.
Day one saw the group travelling from the UK to Kathmandu, and day two is where the adventure really started...
Day 2: Kathmandu
Good morning Kathmandu! The tour starts off as all tours should with a buffet breakfast (the usual bowl of coco pops but then also one bowl of curry to get me into the Nepali mood) at our lovely hotel, a former Palace no less! Then it's off for our walking tour of the crazy streets of Kathmandu. First stop was the Temple of the Living Virgin Goddess, where a seven-year-old girl is treated like a living God. It's reasons like this that you travel. The whole story behind her is unbelievable to a Western ear. I won't ruin it for you but I wouldn’t like to be present at the selection ceremony!
Kathmandu streets are a harsh reality check as to how the rest of the world live - how they survive might be a more appropriate word. The dust clogs your throat and the smells haunt your nose, some are exotic and sweet...most aren’t. As you see the dirty water bubbling in the gutters (fermenting not boiling) you know you're a long way from home. We visit the former King's palace, grab some lunch and then in the afternoon we get one last chance to buy kit for the trek. Comfy down slippers are not exactly essential but in the UK they're £40 and in Nepal only £7; bargain! Really wishing I hadn’t bought so much kit in the UK now. Could have saved a fortune!
Day 3: Fly Kathmandu to Lukla; walk to Phakding
Last night I hardly slept. I was a six-year-old again and it was the night before Christmas. Everyone else was exactly the same! We're off to Everest!!!! We took a minibus to the airport and checked our bags in. Mine was slightly overweight but managed to sneak it through. It wasn’t until I was on the plane that it dawned on me that it was actually going to be me carrying this extra weight for the next 12 days. Sat nervously on the tiny plane with the hand written plane ticket in my hand. Peering out of the window, the propeller humming and the glistening white peaks of the Himalaya getting closer and closer. In Lukla, the relief of surviving the landing (Youtube it now!) was counter-balanced by the shock to the system that 2800 metres worth of altitude provides. We had arrived!
We met our Sherpa crew, had a spot of lunch and then the trekking began. A winding path through the busy villages of the Lower Khumbu Valley. We shared the paths with mules and porters, with school children and monks. Around every corner is a new sight or sound. A woman tending to her vegetable patch, a waterfall falling a thousand metres in the distance down a sheer cliff face. A porter carrying a weight that looks four times the size of him; how does he even stand? Towards the end of the afternoon the heavens opened and we got a chance to put our waterproofs to the test. Phakding, our night time resting place, was shrouded in mist as we arrived. A tour of the village would have to wait until the morning. We were all just glad to be inside with our hot drinks and Nepali style chocolate bourbons! They’re a bit softer than British Bourbons, perhaps they're out of date. We were warned to watch out for the sell-by dates on food up here. But I just want to replace my calories and I'd eat a thousand-year-old egg right now if it was chocolate flavoured.
Day 4: Phakding to Namche Bazaar
Today has been a day of highs and lows…no pun intended. We’ve learnt the true meaning of “Nepali Flat”. For every one step you take up you take one step down which equals Nepali flat. Multiply that by about one million and that's how flat it’s been for us today! The views have possibly been more beautiful than anything I’ve ever seen before. We’ve crossed valleys carved by white water rivers on flimsy Indiana Jones style bridges with the backdrop of glistening snow-caped 6000m plus mountains. The weather has been beautiful with sunshine all day and the Nepali people have been as friendly and welcoming and helpful as always. The lows ironically have been the altitude with our ascent to the market town of Namche Bazaar at nearly 3500m. It’s hit all of us, some worse than others but I for one certainly have a banging headache. It’s been a hard day's trek but we’ve managed to keep each other motivated with sarcasm and bad jokes. The thought of our first view of Everest tomorrow is also doing the trick in keeping our tired legs moving.
Day 5: In Namche
An amazing day today, our first view of Everest and hardly any walking. Had a great eight hours sleep and a nice big breakfast of pancakes and porridge. That's a perfect start as far as I'm concerned. Namche is a horse-shoe shaped market town planted on the side of the valley. It's a small town of only 50 or so buildings but looks more like a city compared to anything we've seen in the last few days. It was a short climb up the steps leading out of town to the viewing point. And there it was: Everest. But it wasn't alone. The sun shone down on a whole host of 8000m mountains. And in the sky griffin vultures soared majestically on the thermals above our heads. Now tell me that isn’t special?! It certainly made for some spectacular photos. In the afternoon we did a short acclimatisation walk and then had some free time to explore the local shops and stock up on Mars bars and other goodies for the trip.
Day 6: Namche to Thyangboche/Deboche
Wow. Yet another wow. I'm sat in the Rivendell Lodge at Deboche writing this. I'm in the communal dining room at our table. To the right of me is the Alpine Accent Team and to the left a team of professional Mongolian climbers. These people are crazy...a lot of them might look like school teachers sat their calmly reading their magazines in their big woolly jumpers but they’re actually planning on going to the top.
Today has been tough..why do I feel like I write that every day? It started off easy with an almost flat run out of Namche past the Stupa dedicated to Tenzing Norgay. We had a bit of a traffic jam as everyone stopped to take photos of the prayer flags fluttering around the monument with Everest in the background. Everywhere you look is a photo opportunity with Ama Dablam, Lhotse and Nupste all in view. I'd started out on isotonic drinks rather than water this morning which kept me pretty lively and near the front of the pack in the morning. By the afternoon I was completely exhausted and no fancy energy drink was going to save me.
We had a three hour climb from the river bed up to Thyangboche monastery at 3867m. I think the climb was about 1000m but it felt double that.
Headaches and leg aches were back in full force but I did make it. One of our Sherpa's brothers was studying to be a monk at the monastery but I didn’t get to meet him as I was too busy getting rid of this morning's designer sports drinks.
You have to drink plenty of liquid at this height to aid acclimatisation but all this liquid doesn’t stay in your system for long! I must spend about 10% of my waking day peeing, meaning I'm always missing some amazing view or person or something. At least I get to see the flora up close I guess. Our teahouse for the night lay at the bottom of the hill so off we trotted. I hate going downhill. Not only because it hurts your knees...but because it just means even more up tomorrow!
Day 7: Thyangboche to Dingboche
Woke up this morning to rain. The promise of amazing views of Ama Dablam did not materialise. We had a long steady climb throughout the day to Dingboche. Bistari, bistari (slowly, slowly) as they like to say here. Slow is good though. I'm not fit, I haven’t ever run a marathon, I haven’t even run a 10k so I'm always near the back of the group. But surprisingly, here being unfit is an actual advantage. The slower you walk, the longer you have to acclimatise. Aesop's Fable of the tortoise and the hare has never been truer! At our teahouse tonight we were joined by a Korean pro team. They have their own food shipped in so it's rice and seaweed and all manner of crazy looking dishes. It makes our vegetable and potato based diet look very dull. Pot noodles would make our diet look dull in all honesty. They’re here for the night resting before heading back to climb Mount Everest. Your body heals much quicker at lower altitude. One of their team seems to be sporting a lovely patch of frostbite on his leg. I think he needs to be a lot lower than our current 4410m.
Day 8: At Dingboche
We had an acclimatisation day today. A five to six hour trek gaining 300m in height to prepare us for the days ahead. This was the easy option. So easy was it, that at the half-way lunch point I curled up on a duvet cover from the 70s and fell asleep for an hour. We just don’t get easy options here! In the afternoon we went to a talk about altitude sickness by one of the volunteer doctors. We’re all suffering to various degrees and it was nice to know that my symptoms were a genuine illness. I seem to be suffering from HAFE. High Altitude Flatulence Expulsion! But at least it’s better than some of the illnesses up here. In the evening we all have dinner in the communal dining room. In the centre, a traditional wood burner heats the room but as we’re above the tree level, yak pooh is used to keep us warm. It has a very distinct smell. Food usually consists of potatoes and vegetables. It’s actually very good but it definitely contributes to the HAFE. We tend to stay up chatting for a bit rubbing shoulders with the various pro teams aiming for the top. By nine everyone is ready for bed. A quick stop at the squatter toilets, flushed with a bucket of water by hand, then off to our rooms which essentially look like a garden shed minus the lawn mower. Luxury this isn’t. Thank God for my thermal long-johns and four-season sleeping bag.
Day 9: Dingboche to Lobuche
Our teahouse was a hive of activity this morning. Everyone was ready to push off, the Koreans included who were going to the top! We had a beautiful start with brilliant sunshine and only a small incline. Helicopters buzzed overhead all morning ferrying altitude sick patients back and forth. Serious stuff happens up here!! We had a great lunch of frankfurter sausages, chapati bread and chips. It was stodge heaven. After lunch the day changed. The first hour was a steep 300m climb through a boulder pass. 300m, even writing it down now seems like so little but trust me, it's enough to make a nun curse when you’re already 4600m up! The hour seemed to last forever, headaches appeared, my lungs faltered and my breathing was short at best. I think it was the worst experience of the trip so far but I could be wrong. All the painful parts seem to blur into one... At the top of the hill we were met with memorials to climbers passed. And as we’re in the middle of climbing season the familiar dates were all very sobering. We trekked on past Lobuche Mountain at the base of which there was a camp for climbers. You just assume that everyone is here for Everest but there are plenty of other challenges here (Explore do a lovely Gokyo Lake and 3 High Passes Trek for instance). As we walked on it started to snow. It was a truly romantic image... that was quickly ruined as it turned into a blizzard which was not so romantic. The last hour to the teahouse in Lobuche was cold, wet, tiring and full of plenty of expletives I won’t repeat!
Day 10: Trek to Everest Base Camp; overnight in Gorak Shep
The reason we’re here, the big one, Everest Base Camp or EBC for those in the know. Today has been physically and emotionally the hardest day of my life. We trekked for nine hours mostly at over 5000m. Your body uses three times the amount of energy at this altitude so today has been like jogging for nine hours! I never thought I wouldn’t make it before we left for Nepal. My friends assured me that adrenaline alone would get me through. They were wrong. It turned out to be a raspberry flavoured energy gel that did the trick, that and the help of our guide Su. He's been amazing. I spent a fair amount of the day towards the back of our pack as walking got harder and harder. It was his words of advice and encouragement that helped me through the worst parts. We had amazing weather for the day and the views have been picture perfect but everything has been a bit of a blur. I will have to use my photos to establish the finer details. What I do remember is getting to Base Camp. I remember the hugs, the high fives and the smiles on everyone’s faces as we’d actually made it. Su had one last incredible special treat for us at the end. He is a personal friend of Appa Sherpa who has summited Everest 22 times, more than anyone else in the world. Su led us to Appa’s camp where we got unprecedented access to one of the world’s true living legends. Thank you Su, thank you Explore!
Day 11: Ascend Kala Pattar; descend to Pheriche
Today has been like heaven. With the emotional and physical exertions of yesterday out of the way, we’re almost back to normal. We had an early start at 4am for a few of us to hike up the peak of Kala Pattar for sunrise views of Everest. I'm not ashamed to say I didn’t make it. Yesterday had drained me. Words can’t explain how hard walking is at 5am, in the freezing cold at 5000m plus. Even spectacular views of Everest, Lhotse and all the rest couldn’t tempt me any higher. I made it half-way to the summit and then decided to turn back. As I made my way back down I was greeted by a helicopter coming into land. As the dust swirled around the teahouse three tiny figures made their way out to the helicopter and it took straight off down the valley. Some people unfortunately don’t even get to attempt Kala Pattar. After that ordeal, today improved dramatically. Downhill! It’s a truly magical word. We’ve dropped nearly 700m to Pheriche and everyone has a spring in their step again. We trekked for six hours but I’m sure we could all have gone on much further. The other bonus with lower altitude is the better standards of accommodation. Our teahouse is pure luxury in comparison to last night. Nicer beds, actual toilets and even a shower. Why am I writing this blog when I could actually be having a shower?!
Day 12: Pheriche to Phortse
Expletive, expletive, expletive! They lulled us into a false sense of security yesterday! Today started off okay. Nepali flat as per usual which we can all handle now. The sun was shining, the birds were tweeting and words like “pleasant” and “stroll” came to mind. It was a nice easy walk in the morning and we stopped for lunch in Pangboche in a teahouse that we had visited on the way up. In the afternoon things changed. From the teahouse there were two paths. We chose the up path. The up, up and up path. It was a different path to the one we had come in on. The reason they don’t choose the path on the way in is because of the number of tourists they'd lose over the edge and they don’t want to effect the success rate of summiters! Losing a few on the way down obviously doesn’t matter. The views were stunning but I spent most of the time looking at my feet making sure I was putting them somewhere safe. The words “pleasant” and “stroll” are nowhere to be seen. We spent four challenging hours clinging to the side of a mountain path a couple of thousand feet up. A few wild mountain goats joined us for company but they seemed a lot more at ease surrounded by the sheer drops than us. Nine very happy and relieved trekkers reached our teahouse in Phortse tonight. Just in case you were wondering, we started out as nine; we didn't lose any!
Day 13: Phortse to Monzo
Early start...quel surprise!? The teahouse has been lovely and after being well-fed we made our way down through the village. We were led through a tiny maze of stone-walled paths to the edge of the village before the path dropped down the hill through thick forest towards the river. The trees dripped in hanging moss casting shadows and in the darkness behind we could see tiny musk deer feeding. The animals seemed so comfortable in our presence which I guess has something to do with living in a Buddhist country. Crossing the river meant only one thing...there was an uphill on the way. And it was a proper Nepali uphill. We struggled upwards, occasionally being overtaken by yaks and porters. The porters were carrying huge sheets of plywood off to some building project in the distance. It's just absolutely crazy. I'm here struggling with a tiny rucksack on and they're carrying half of B&Q on their back! Nearly two hours later we reached the top. Hot and sweaty we stopped for a drink at what can only be described as a cafe. Next to us three young monks in Ray Bans chatted away on their mobile phones (it’s the 21st century even in Nepal). We had an hour or so repeat of yesterday's mountain hugging paths until we joined up with our previous route near the teahouse belonging to Lakpa Dorjee Sherpa. From there the path back to Namche was the same as before. It just seemed longer. Around every corner I thought our lunch destination would be there but it never was. When will this walking end?!
We ate lunch in Namche and even had time for a bit of shopping. Then the walking started all over again. This afternoon was tiring as we made our way downhill back to the river below. On the way up, this hill had nearly killed us. It was only slightly kinder on the way down. Luckily the altitude had stopped being a problem. Only the aches and pains of our feet and joints to contend with this time! We retraced our steps through lush green valleys to our teahouse in Chomoa for our evening rest. And everyone slept like a log tonight!
Day 14: Chomoa to Lukla
The last day was a pleasure. We ambled, we strolled, we stopped to take more photos than is humanly possible. We were on wind-down. The end was in sight and we all knew that this great adventure was coming to an end. Maybe we walked slowly because we didn’t want it to end. Maybe we walked slowly because our feet were killing?! We passed through the lower valleys of the Himalaya without incident. More yaks charging us off the paths, more porters carrying 75kg loads on their heads, more Buddhist monks with their mobile phones attached to their ears, more swaying suspension bridges and white-water rivers carving their way through the valley...it was all so blasé. We reached our teahouse in Lukla safe and well but a little wet. The heavens had decided to open five minutes from our destination. We had had rain on our first day trekking and our last, not a bad count for twelve days trekking. We enjoyed our accommodation that night. We had a great meal, our first chance in twelve days to eat meat not out of a tin. We all drank a little and there was even some dancing and singing (think traditional Nepali mixed with Rhianna).
Our time on the mountain was over but there was a group of professionals in our teahouse for whom it was far from over. The next day they were attempting the world’s highest helicopter evacuation of a body from a vertical cliff of 6400m. The body belonged to a Russian climber and these brave men were risking their own lives to bring it down. The things they were attempting were like stunts from a Mission Impossible film...only harder. We were trekkers now but the climbers and pilots who call this mountain home each spring are a completely different breed.
Day 15: Fly Lukla to Kathmandu
Time to depart Lukla...our trekking has come to end an end. We were on the first plane back to Kathmandu. The plane landed at 6.30 and by 6.45 the passengers were off and we were getting on. They can land 80 flights a day on this tiny airstrip... now I know how they do it. Five minutes later we're rolling down the runway and fingers crossed taking off! We did take off - phew - you know you're on an adventure holiday when even the plane rides are white knuckle! The mountains shrank into foot hills and soon we were coming into land in Kathmandu. The patchwork of buildings looked just as impressive from the air. Arriving back at the hotel was pure bliss. I've roughed it for the best part of two weeks. This afternoon shall be spent with a glass of wine sunning myself by the pool. I know it's hardly culturally enlightening but for once I don’t care!
Day 16: In Kathmandu
Today we had a final whirlwind tour of the city, more temples and shrines and we even had a bit of time for shopping. First was the Bodnath Stupa and then we went on to the Temple of Pashupatinath where we were witness to a funeral pyre. It's such an alien concept although to be honest the cows wandering past the flames seemed just as alien. This mix of Buddhism and Hinduism, the poverty, the dust, the sunshine beating down, the constant honking of car horns! This city is alive in so many ways but the pyres are stark reminders of the end of life that awaits everyone no matter where they live. We saw many memorials on Everest to the climbers who had passed away trying to reach their goal. I'd reached my goal with little more than sore feet. Maybe all the spinning of Buddhist prayer wheels had helped? This had been such an amazing experience. I'd have to warn anybody thinking of doing this trip that it's certainly not a holiday...it's much, much better than that!
Day 17: Tour ends Kathmandu
It was the usual early start for the airport this morning. Su waved us off and it was time to fly home. It was the end of a truly life changing trip but we had one last treat. For the first 40 minutes the plane skirted the Himalayas on its way back towards India. The whole mountain range was in view stretching to Pakistan. One last chance to see these beautiful monsters of snow and rock. Cruising at 36,000 feet they look so tiny. Maybe getting to the top isn't so hard.
To experience this trek for yourself, try our Everest Base Camp tour.