Everest Base Camp Trek – April 2022
BY- SWENDRINI GUNASEKARA
Day 1(April 10th) and 2(April 11th) of the Journey:
Colombo, Sri Lanka(Bandaranaike International Airport)to Kathmandu, Nepal(Tribhuvan International Airport) to Lukla Domestic Airport.
Flying out on our national carrier SriLankan Airlines on a most convenient flight direct to Nepal, we reached the beautiful, vibrant and colorful city of Kathmandu, Nepal in just under 4 hours.
After a night at the quaint and charming Kathmandu Guest House where the likes of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay themselves as well as Robert Redford, John. F Kennedy Jr and The Beatles among many others have set foot…we were off to board a flight to Lukla.
An amazing experience itself on a Dash 8 aircraft of Summit Airlines, we land safe and sound after a thrilling roller-coaster ride at The Tenzing-Hillary Airport Lukla, Nepal lying in the Khumbu region.
This Airport has gained worldwide fame as it was rated the most dangerous airport in the world for more than 20 years by a program titled Most Extreme Airports, broadcast on The History Channel in 2010.
Interestingly, “Lukla ” means the place of many goats and sheep. Though few of these are to be seen now, our first sighting of Yaks..used as one of the main modes of transport in this region was seen along the streets of Lukla!
After a hearty, warm meal of egg-fried rice(which was to be our main source of protein during the vegetarian diet for the next 2 weeks!)…we start our trek at an altitude of approximately 2,860m..to Phadking 2,610m.
YES! the first leg of the trek is actually decent!
Day 2(April 11th) of the Journey. ..
Lukla 2,860m to Phadking 2610m
Following an amazing Egg Fried Rice, we were geared up and all set!
The engines were fresh, revs were high, we were raring to go …
Everything was new, every mountain was breathtaking, every scenery had to be captured…every sight and sound was recorded…for some etched in their memories, for some on their GoPros, for others on high-tech cameras, and for most captured on their phones.
In addition of course we all knew the first trek was mostly a decent 2,860m to 2,610m…and even though a decent is just as challenging as an ascent would be(more stress especially on one’s knees, constant scuffing of toes against hard trekking shoes, shoulder and neck pain due to constantly looking downward, etc), there’s an imagined ‘betterness” always attributed to a descent vs an ascent in trekking!
On this trek, many were the trekkers we met…on their final lap to reach Lukla Airport after having completed their climb to Base Camp. The agony and the pain of a final climb to reach ‘home’ was clearly registered in their tired faces and duly noted by us-who would God willingly be in those shoes, come next week!
Similar to having a climbing season for Adams Peak so does Everest too have its seasons to climb- two in fact. The Spring season(Feb to May, generally ending on the 28th of May, Everest Day) and the Autumn season (late September to November). Not for us from the tropical islands in the latter with its freezing temperatures…our bodies are better suited by far to the milder temperatures the Everest Spring brings at -6°c/-7°c in most instances!!!
Starting out in the early afternoon from Lukla, we reached the small but beautiful little town of Phakding by 5.30/6 pm after approximately 3.5-4hrs of trekking.
A Unesco Heritage site, this little village lies in the Dudh Kosi river valley, north of Lukla and south of Monjo at an altitude of 2,610m. The main purpose of this village is to support tourism and the many trekkers who break journey here before the first test and trial…the trek to Namchè Bazaar!
As such Phakding consists of many little guest houses, inns, and pretty log cabins all nestled by the surrounding mountains; reminding me so much of the prettier parts of Little England back home…
Hot showers at 300NRs later, scrubbed and fresh, cold but comfortable, we sit down to dinner.
The first tasting of fried Momos(fried dumplings vegetarian of course!) here, and more egg fried rice, egg fried noodles, etc…
A pleasant evening was passed where we still had the energy and enthusiasm to pick up and strum a guitar, sing songs from back home…enjoy our food with much enthusiasm…all this after the day’s trek!
Phakding was a night of many firsts…..! Our first night after a trek at EBC, our first experience of lodging at a Teahouse(complete with shared bathrooms and no flushing tissue down the toilet!) but all these firsts pale in comparison to the beloved Nalgene Bottle. A Nalgene bottle- for those who are as clueless as I was-is a special plastic bottle that can be filled with boiling water. A nightly ritual is getting your Nalgene filled with boiling water after dinner- courtesy of the Teahouse. The comfort and warmth as you cling onto that bottle during the bitterly cold Everest nights are beyond description! ….and when morning comes, this same bottle will hold slightly warm water, enough to brush your teeth and wash your face- sparing you from having to deal with almost frozen, icy cold water for your wakeup rituals!!
The first test of strength and trial awaits us tomorrow…the trek of almost a constant climb and passing 3,000m in altitude …
But for tonight it’s Goodnight and sweet dreams from the sleepy little town of Phakding…
Day 3(12th April 2022) of the Journey….
Phakding 2610m to Namche Bazaar 3,440m
The first real test of grit we were told…for a difficult day we were asked to be ready.
The mere statics themselves were daunting to think about. At the end of the day, we would be at 3,000m plus altitude! (High altitude is classified between 2,438m-3,658mm).
High altitude also meant thinner air- or less effective oxygen. We would be going from the 20.9% effective oxygen we were used to in our little island paradise, to approximately 13.7% of effective oxygen at Namche Bazaar!
Less effective oxygen meant, the body starting to make many physiological changes…less sleep(your breathing becomes shallow and your brain in essence wakes you up to remind you to breathe!), having to pee more often ( getting up in minus temperatures several times at night and walking down a freezing corridor to a common toilet, when you can’t win the battle to hold it in anymore…is not a great party!)hearts beat faster, breathing becomes faster…climbing 2-3 steps feels like having run the Colombo Marathon!..
In addition to all the above, there is the actual physical task of having to climb and gain that altitude one little step at a time….!!!!
Physically, I feel, that with some amount of training, dedication, and fitness most people can do the Base Camp trek…however, it is mental fitness and preparation that is more key.
This is something you should want to do, it is not because of any other reason except to challenge yourself and push your boundaries. Every comfort zone you know from material creature comforts to climate, to altitude, to the most basic task of breathing is pushed and challenged. It is here more than ever that Sir Edmund Hillary’s words ” it is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves ” rings so true and finally make sense.
So trek we did…a mere distance of approximately 13.6Km however taking a duration of 8.5 hours of trekking…with breathers needed every few steps to calm racing hearts and heightened breathing.
Almost a continuous climb, through beautiful pine forests, monasteries, and temples(though by now the cameras were barely coming out!). The singular focus was to breathe and put one foot in front of the other …and get this trek done and dusted.
The Everest Mountain is within the Sagarmartha National Park, and it is on the trek to Namche that one officially enters the gateway to Sagarmartha.
It is also on this trek that we cross the famous Hillary Suspension bridge, estimated to swing and dance approximately 400plus ft above the gushing milky white rapids of the Dudh Kosi river below!
The milky white water of the Dudh Kosi – Dudh meaning ‘milk’ in Nepal and Kosi meaning ‘river’-is said to be because of the many varied minerals found in the water which comes from melting glaciers and snow. This river drains water from Everest Mountain and is the highest river in terms of elevation. It is also said to be devoid of any marine life.
When you feel like all hope is gone and your leg muscles will not take one more step…Namche Bazzar comes into view just around the next mountain!
All the pain, sore muscles, laboured breathing and fatigue is wiped out with the sighting of this beautiful town- the Sherpa capital.
Layers upon layers of colourful buildings, a signature fountain cascading down one side for almost the entire length of the town…bars, cafès, restaurants, shops…an explosion of colour, an eclectic mix of people from all over the world, Base Campers, summiting groups, trekkers of all ages, sizes and shapes, the Sherpas…they are all there.
Beautiful. Amazing. Inspiring.
Day 4 (13th April 2022) of the journey…
“Acclimatization” is the process by which our bodies get accustomed to the lower levels of oxygen in the surrounding air. It is a very gradual process as you move up through different levels of altitude. The golden rule of thumb at high altitudes is to start acclimatization at 3,000m(approx. 10,000ft) above sea level.
In order to acclamatise, your body requires you to spend time at the given altitude and not ascend further for at least a day, maybe more.
The day after reaching Namchè Bazzar therefore at 3,400m is generally an acclimatization day for most Base Camp trekkers.
During acclimatization, the body produces more red blood cells to counteract the lower oxygen saturation in the blood at high altitudes.
Resting overnight, at generally 3000m(1,000ft) elevation increases each day, allows and helps the body to acclimatize naturally.
This is generally the rule of thumb followed at EBC…and whenever there is an altitude gain of more than 3000m..it is followed by a day of acclimatization or a ‘rest’ day.
An Acclimatization day is regarded as a ‘rest day’ on the trekking schedule, but it’s anything but rest! Typically to allow your body to acclimatize well, trekkers will go up to a higher altitude doing a day trek on the ‘rest’ day and trek back to base for the night.
We were to trek to the village of Khumjung at an altitude of 3,780m (approximately 340m above Namchè Bazzar) on our acclamatization trek, and trek we did!
The day was misty and cold with an imminent threat of rain impending more doom and gloom…in addition to breathlessness and a steep climb!
This was our very first ‘ rest day’ and the gullible lot that we were, a trek of almost 5hrs and a sharp climb was not what any of us naive trekkers had envisioned for the day!
Most imagined a day strolling through the bars(though alcohol was strictly prohibited on the trek), whiffing perhaps at the fumes, enjoying warm restaurants, grabbing the last chance to sip a good cappuccino, window shopping amongst the explosion of colour on offer…instead here we were- well into the afternoon, in cold almost wet and foggy weather, trekking up 1,000ft or more!
The scenery was beautiful and breathtaking. The mist adding to the aura of tranquility and peace that enveloped this entire area.
Lying almost hidden in a valley surrounded by mountains…the initial glimpse into Khumjung is from high above the village. Khumjung lies in a “Beyul”- or hidden valley. A majority of the village’s tin roofs in the colour of turquoise blue and teal adds to the magical beauty of the place when glimpsed from afar.
It is believed that Khumjung is amongst one of the few places in the world, that has been identified to persevere and sustain itself should the rest of the world ever be destroyed. So untouched is it by the world around it, so secluded, so pristine …ticking to a heartbeat all on its own…guarded and protected by the surrounding mountains.
A warm meal of Dhal Bhat rejuvenated our spirits and powered us enough for the trek back to Namche. As one of our beloved Sherpas used to frequently say to us
” 24 hour, Dhal Bhat power!”
‘Dhal Bhat is the Nepali equivalent to traditional rice and curry. It became part of our staple diet on the trek.
Steaming hot, fluffy, white rice served with a liquidy curry of mixed lentils such as green gram and dhal, a thick curry of mixed veg- cauliflower, green peas, potato and carrot (the variety in the curry becomes increasingly less with just potato and the occasional pea as the altitude increases), a stir fry of mixed greens, bak Choy, leak and other greens (the greens too, disappearing completely with altitude gain as vegetation and access to greens diminished), a Papad(Papadam), omelet, and some element of a pickle.
For non-vegetarians chicken, yak meat or some type of meat would be added to the above menu. To those of us craving spice a variety of chili sauces, chili pastes and sometimes fresh, hot green chillies would be provided from the kitchen.
Ever willing to serve more, the people were friendly, accommodating and always very hospitable.
It is also said that the Khumjung Monastery (Gompa) displays a purported Yeti scalp….kept under lock and key by the monks in a glass box.
This is what Khumjung is….magical, mythical almost, untouched and to a large extent unpolluted by the world around it…
We trekked back to our tea house in Namchè by early evening…temperatures were down to 5°c, and armed with a hot dinner and an even hotter Nalgene Bottle we were off to bed by 8-830pm the latest…
For when the sun comes out tomorrow another long trek to Tygenboche (altitude 3,860m/12,700ft),awaited!
Our wake-up call was generally between 5-5.30am, shared bathrooms, frozen toothpaste and freezing cold mornings demanded much more time in high altitude for run-of-the-mill morning rituals. Breakfast was served at 645am and trekking would sart by 745am…
This colourful town, this beautiful melting pot drawing diverse people from all over the world to a remote town in the Himalayas, this Sherpa capital Namchè Bazzar will forever and a day be etched in our memories…
Day 5 (April 14th 2022) of the journey…
Namche Bazzar(3,440m) to Tygenboche(3,860m)
Bucket list Trek – Everest Base Camp
It was a beautiful day…with clear blue skies and bright sunshine, perfect for trekking!
It was also funnily enough an auspicious day in many ways. Miles away in our paradise island, most of our families were getting ready to celebrate the dawning of the Sinhala Tamil New Year…on the trek with some of the most beautiful snow-capped mountains creating a stunning backdrop, mobile data happened to work! How amazing was it to be able to make video calls to our families, watch them boiling the traditional milk to herald in the new year and in turn, turn the cameras around and let them see some of the most spectacular mountains we had encountered so far…. nature and modern technology-both giving the performance of their lives!!
It was also auspicious in that this was the day we had our first glimpse of Mount Everest…the highest mountain in the Himalayan range and the highest point on earth…April 14th 8.40am!
The trek to Tygenboche seemed totally geared to lift any spirits that were deflated, boost any confidence that was found lacking and renew motivation in all trekkers.
Not only did we glimpse Mount Everest(usually considered to be an extremely shy mountain covered most oft in snow storms), not only were we surrounded by awe-inspiring beauty in every direction, not only were we trekking in absolutely perfect weather…we were also trekking through the dazzling beauty of the Rhododendron forests which were on this day, in full bloom!
Azure blue skies set off by pristine white snow-capped mountains, were now set aflame by crimson red, pale pink, and fusia blooms…like sparkling confetti strewn along the mountains. The beautiful Rhododendron also happens to be the National Flower of Nepal…and no wonder this bloom amongst all others was chosen…given the way it decorates one of the country’s most famous expeditions.
Namche to Tygenboche was a long trek, starting around 7.45 am and ending between 4.30/530pm, depending on your pace.
Each day following a few hours of trekking there would be a tea break around 10 am stopping at a Tea House along the way…piping hot black tea or better yet, hot lemon tea with ginger worked miracles in the chilly temperatures. It was also a welcome pee break, especially for the females.
‘Going to the bush’, especially with icy cold winds whipping at you from every direction is not the most comforting bathroom break!
Bathroom and toilet facilities were a lesson on their own on the Base Camp trek. In the higher altitudes running water was not available….paper and wet wipes stepped in. In almost all the Tea Houses where overnight stops were made, common toilets did have a big barrel filled with water, icy cold at best, most mornings it would have a frozen layer of ice at the top!
Paper under no circumstances was to be flushed down the bowl….instead it was thrown into a common bucket left in the washroom. It’s strange how we become creatures of habit, for even after coming down to Kathmandu and Colombo many were the times I’d naturally throw toilet paper in a waste bin with all the skill of a professional jock shooting a basket!
During the trek itself, one comes across all manner of washrooms…!!!! From rocks and bushes, to squatting pans and commodes and mere holes in the ground! However, of all the washrooms that came my way…my favourite by far was the ‘ thunderbox’ type. Consisting of a wooden planked floor with a hole cut out…the entire construction was built raised above ground level. Far below the cutout was a good pile of dry foliage, pine needles, wood shavings etc…when the call of nature was complete a similar pile of wood and tree shavings stood in a corner of the washroom to be shoveled over by the user. It was absolutely dry, clean, completely biodegradable, and completely devoid of any foul smells….the best washrooms going!
The second stop for the day of course was generally about a half-hour to 45minute lunch break at yet another Tea House en route. Although a quick snooze or forty winks were attempted by some and the temptation for a siesta was great…we were scurried off by the tour leaders and guides who harbored no sympathy towards the need of an afternoon nap!
Tygenboche was cold…but we were pleasantly surprised to find that even this far up on the trek, the Tea House we were staying at offered a hot shower! Starting at 300NRs in Phadking 1,250m higher it was now 650NRs for a shower! The showers also happened to be outdoors!! However, the thought of hot water and scrubbing the day’s fatigue out of our systems made most of us brave the cold evening, to stand huddled in line, PJ’S and toiletries in hand to take our turn under the hot water.
Scrubbed and clean…all the trekkers would gather in a common room which was also the restaurant and diner, sitting around a boiler which would be lit from around 5pm till around 1030pm each evening. Hot black tea and coffee were plentiful, feet and hands were warm, conversation flowed, people from all parts of the world met and mingled, piping hot food was served…it was for me one of the best parts of the day…
At the Tygenboche Tea House today they even served snacks…toasted egg sandwiches with thick-cut fries…what an awesome treat way up here…!!!
The yummy snacks were enjoyed whilst looking out through big glass windows at a mountain range(including Mount Everest). The setting sun danced and painted the mountains in golden hues till finally, the long dark shadows of the night took over the show. It was one of the most mesmerizing and amazing sunsets I’ve ever seen…
Breathing was now laboured for many, especially at night. When we finally come out of the warm common room and head down freezing corridors and often 2 to 3 flights of stairs towards our icy cold bedrooms…we are panting, out of breath and gasping like there was no tomorrow. All part of the journey, nothing out of the norm, breathe in deep and out…this was our calming mantra.
Almost at the halfway point…Yes!!!
A beautiful day it had been…the next few would be challenging, mobile phones and communications would be almost nonexistent….hot showers would become a distant dream, temperatures would continue to fall, wetwipe washes if you washed at all would be the order of the day, but hey! ” The best view comes after the hardest climb!”
Day 6(April 15th, 2022) of the journey…
Tygenboche(3,860m) to Pheriche(4,371m)
Even though the original destination on our trek was Tygenboche to Dingboche, due to heavy ‘trekker traffic’ and over-crowded facilities in Dingboche, a diversion was made to stop over instead in the smaller, relatively quieter town of Pheriche.
The highlight of today’s trek would be that we’d be crossing 4,000m(approx. 13,000ft)!
Gaining an altitude of about 500m today(15th April) also meant that tomorrow(16th April) would be another ‘rest’/ acclimatization day.
We started out on the morning of this day by visiting a very serene and quiet yet, vibrant and colorful monastery in Tygenboche, en route to our trek to Pheriche.
The first part of the trek was through a heavily wooded area…which allowed little or no sunshine to penetrate through to the path. This made trekking through this area extremely cold in the shadow of the trees.
It was also the onset of rocky, barren terrain…devoid of vegetation and the beautiful greenery that had kept our spirits high all this time. Dotting this stark landscape are sparsely scattered shrubs and bushes, struggling against the atmospheric conditions as well as the strong winds that whip through this area almost continuously.
Despite, the dusty, stony terrain the surrounding mountain range growing ever more closer now, was beautiful and breathtaking. Far below the narrow mountain ridges we sometimes trekked along, flowed the gushing rapids of river Tsola with its milky white waters.
It was Good Friday and this barren terrain bore much resemblance to the stark hills of Golgotha, Jerusalem portrayed in the movies we had always seen on Jesus’s life.
I’ll never forget the memories of when we were barely able to breathe with the increasing altitude and when the mere act of putting one foot in front of the other was a mammoth task, how we stopped on that mountain and sang our hearts out, the lyrics of the beautiful and emotional Good Friday hymn “On a Hill Far Away”. Never will singing this hymn within the church walls be the same; as the memories of hearing it echo from our voices at over 13,000ft amidst the towering Himalayan mountains will be forever etched in our memory.
It was so very cold in Pheriche, one of the coldest nights that even the town could remember in the recent past…
A key feature in this little town is the Himalayan Rescue Association(HRA) Post.
Starting in 1973 with its headquarters in Kathmandu, the HRA has helped and saved many lives in the Himalayas. One of its main purposes is to prevent and aid trekkers and mountaineers suffering from Acute Mountain Sickness(AMS), or other mountain ailments. As a beacon of aid and safety the Pheriche Aid post, also played a significant role in organizing rescue operations during the devastating 2015 Nepali earthquakes.
In addition, very importantly at the beginning of every trekking season, it hosts many lectures to bring awareness and knowledge to trekkers and mountaineers on AMS and how to prevent it. Owing to their work, AMS in the Khumbu Himalayas has dwindled considerably, with fatalities due to AMS at almost zero per year.
It was enlightening as much as it was a little frightening to be made aware of all the signs, symptoms, and conditions of AMS, HACE(High Altitude Cerebal Edema), and HAPE(High Altitude Pulmonary Edema) when we ourselves attended one of these lectures during our stay in Pheriche!
So yes, the dreaded word “AMS”, the bane and nightmare of trekkers and mountaineers, let’s talk about the elephant in the room!
The most common symptoms of AMS are headaches originating from the back and sides of the head which will not subside with any form of pain medication, loss of appetite, light-headed or dizziness, nausea/vomiting, absolute fatigue, and rapid heart rate among others. As mentioned in the HRA lecture, its akin to having a hangover.
Trekkers generally take all precautions to avoid headaches of any sort, keeping well hydrated, avoiding the glare(special sunglasses which are polarised, with UV300 or above protection, ideally with mirror coating, are anyway needed due to the strong sunlight up in high altitude and the brilliant glare from the snow-covered mountains); so that if a headache occurs we can rule out all other factors for its cause. Secondly, a painkiller is taken for the headache, and if there’s no positive response to the medication its generally taken as a cue for the onset of AMS.
The first response/ treatment for AMS is nothing but rest and absolutely no ascending into higher altitude. This means if you are in a group and the group treks the next day…you don’t go.
Following rest, the secondary treatment option is starting on the one and only wonder drug for AMS, Diamox(Acetazolamide) and hoping the symptoms will subside; for only then can you proceed to climb.
It’s strange and sad that given all the mountaineering in the world for so many decades there is very little research and conclusive information on this drug.
The school of thought is divided as some believe in taking it as prophylaxis(as a preventive against AMS) others as a treatment for AMS and others not taking it at all..
As in all groups in ours too, there were those who had started Diamox as prophylaxis at Lukla or Phadking(altitude under 3,000m), those that had started Diamox as treatment owing to headaches suspected to be signs of early AMS, and those that were still not on the medication.
Other than if a trekker was showing AMS symptoms and had to be treated with it, the decision to start on Diamox as prophylaxis was a personal one. It was up to an individual to weigh the pros and cons and most importantly, listen to one’s body and make one’s decision to start Diamox(of course at all times we’re guided and advised by our group leaders and lead guides on all important decisions)….
One of the most important learnings for me personally on this journey was understanding my body, it’s capabilities and it’s limitations. Never have I felt more attuned to my body than in the mountains. It is a wonderful feeling to be sure!
HACE ( High Altitude Cerebral Edema)is a more severe form of AMS which involves fluid collection in the brain and is a life-threatening situation. If AMS was a hangover, HACE is likened to a person coming out of a bar completely intoxicated. Disorientation, unsteadiness, headache, vomiting, hallucination, etc. Decending to a lower altitude as quickly and as safely as possible, supplementary oxygen, and the use of steroids are some of the main treatment methods for this condition, among others.
HAPE( High Altitude Pulmonary Edema)where fluid collection in the lung occurs can be a transition of AMS but can also occur independently, with no symptoms of AMS.
Yes! ..so it is a pretty darn big elephant that squashes the room…one we don’t want to think too much about or talk too much about but one that is ever-present pushing against our thoughts, lingering behind every symptom of fatigue or headache we feel, an ever-present nagging fear on every leg of the trek as we ascend higher and higher.
However, a very pleasant common room, a warm boiler, a sweet old ‘Tea House aunty’, cups and cups of black tea and hot lemon tea, popcorn, a game or two of Uno, the facility to get(oh glorious!!) fresh laundry done(at approx. 1,500 NRs per 1kg of laundry)…AMS and all its worries took a backseat for a while…
….and tomorrow after all was a ‘Rest Day!’
Day 7 (April 16th 2022) of the journey…
Acclimatization Day/’Rest’Day in Pheriche
The weather in Pheriche was unusually cold, we were told this, by even the Pheriche residents (nights going down to -4°C). Fortunately, on ‘rest’ days our morning start was a little later than on our trek days.
Pheriche’s ‘sweet and sauve Tea-House’ aunty’s breakfast was thick pancakes and sweet, sticky honey, butter, jam, and omelets. Our standard breakfasts on the trek were most often, hot chapatis, mixed veg curry, and fried eggs.
After a good breakfast, layered in at least two tees(one long-sleeved and one short-sleeved), a fleece jacket and a down jacket, beanies and gloves, and despite cups of hot coffee and tea and a warm boiler, most of us still resembled those battery-operated toys that moved around with convulsive twitching…our teeth chattering, fingers numb, toes non-existent…so much so that we were asked by our lead guides to go and sit out in the sun!
After a half-hour or so of sunbathing we were ‘defrosted’ enough for a really amazing stretching/yoga session by our very own yoga guru in the group Sharmila Cassim. Our yoga guru had kept us well stretched and supple before and after many of our challenging treks so far…
We set off on our acclimatization hike to Pheriche Peak viewpoint at an altitude of approx 4,671m.
Having been promised this acclimatization hike would not eat into a bulk part of our rest day (like
the acclimatization hike at Namchè did), we started out on a very steep climb around 9am. Every tiresome step put in front of the other and every hard breath pulled into our bursting lungs, was worth the absolutely amazing view from Pheriche Peak. The total altitude gain was around 300m. After a flurry of picture-taking that would have put any wedding photoshoot to shame, we headed back down, and we were back in our cozy Tea House by noon.
The rest of the day was ours to enjoy as we pleased…some set off on a shopping spree, as we were clearly becoming aware that most of our ‘warmest of warm’ clothes were not going to cut it in the Himalayan temperatures; Others sat down to a game of cards and Uno; some of us walked over to the Himalayan Rescue Association Post for their evening lecture on Mountain Sickness, and some of us went over to one of the best coffee houses one can find – their hot chocolate was literally on top of the world!
A pleasant and cozy day….we all had and was well spent.
A hard trek to look forward to tomorrow. The accent will be higher from Pheriche to Lobuche than if we had stayed at Dingboche as planned originally. The feasibility of starting -all who were not yet on Diamox -was being discussed and weighed by our tour leaders, who were worried that we were ascending higher than we should for a given day…
We were on the brink of beginning tough days and even tougher terrain. Harsh winds, falling temperatures, absolutely barren landscapes, loose rock and stone demanding that every step taken and every footing placed, needed to be taken and placed with the utmost care…
Playing Polyanna was key in these circumstances…even if the only silver lining was the thought of starting out tomorrow with clean, fresh laundry- thanks to our incredible and delightful Tea House aunty!
That night for the first time…knowing how cold and uncomfortable the morning was going to be (washing in frozen water; getting out of warm PJ s and into trekking gear, all with every little task making you feel you’ve run a cross-country race) I went to bed in the trekking gear I would wear the next morning. Never did I believe I’d do this- even though fair warning of it had been given! All I needed to do come morning, was brush my teeth and pull on my trekking boots, and Voila! I would be done with the morning rituals just like that!
Now, it was only the duel with the Duffel that remained to challenge me at the crack of dawn!
On our trek each of us carried a maximum of 7-8kgs in our backpacks (which included our salinated water in a bladder, clothing for layering as the temperature changed jackets, rainwear, gloves, etc, the day’s ration of snack /energy bars, personal medication, etc). In addition, our day-to-day clothing( trekking pants, t-shirts, underwear, socks, slippers, etc), sleeping bags, sleepwear, medication, and toiletries, a total of 12-15kg per person was packed into what was called a Jute bag. Two Jute bags (generally belonging to each set of roommates) were packed into one Duffel bag. These Duffel bags – weighing approx. 24-30kg each, would be carried by our amazing porters.
No! each porter didn’t carry each Duffel…one porter carried two/ three Duffel bags!!!
These Duffel bags had to be packed each morning…PJ, toiletries, etc going in, trekking clothes, warm clothing as per the day’s weather coming out. Once packed and zipped the Duffels had to be given to the porters, who left much earlier than the rest of the group to the next destination.
In the freezing cold rooms, generally at the crack of dawn, with numb and frozen fingers, squashing two jute bags and zipping up the Duffel probably rates among some of the toughest ‘trek challenges’. Many were the tactics used by each set of roomies to get the bags sealed and zipped! Some, simply, sat on them, some bounced up and down whilst sitting on them, some wrestled with them, some berated them like a mother would a stubborn child, some pleaded with them in tears and some just kicked them in sheer desperation. Whatever tactic we used, to date back in Colombo, most of our fingertips bear the scars and gashes from dueling with the duffel zippers.
If you ever trek Base Camp…trust me, don’t worry about the yaks and mules along the narrow steeps that may push you over, don’t worry about the crazy, swaying suspension bridges hundreds of feet above the ground, don’t even worry about Acute Mountain Sickness or any other mountain ailments…just watch out for those bright yellow, orange, and blue Duffels!!!
Day 8 (April 17th 2022) of the journey…
Pheriche (4,371m) to Lobuche (4,940m)
This was going to be a day of debacles. However, little did we know of any of this as we started out on a blue-skied sunny day, on our trek to Lobuche.
It was now well and truly into rock, stone, and sand terrain. The weather though sunny, was cold and windy and ahead of us lay the extremely steep and dreaded Thukla Pass which needed to be trekked and conquered!
Overexertion could cause altitude sickness, so it was crucial to walk slowly not exhausting yourself. One step one breath, step – breathe in, step breathes out. Also breathe in deep through the nose, with maximum use of the diaphragm, and out quickly through the mouth. Sounds basic but, most times you tend to find yourself with your mouth open, gasping, and panting for air. This was a very strict NO, NO in the required breathing technique…I guess this is why months of breathing exercises are part and parcel of Pre-EBC training!
The Thukla Pass is a very steep, zig-zagged climb at high altitudes. During the trekking season, the otherwise brown and drab Pass is dotted brightly along its zig-zagged course with colourfully attired trekkers in the hundreds, like a bumper to bumper, peak time, traffic jam!
Every few steps you will stop to catch your breath and rest on Thukla Pass. Even though the view of the Himalayan mountains surrounding you is spectacular, very rarely does a hand move to bring out a camera or phone or an eye blink to capture this beauty.
At the top of this pass is a very surreal memorial ground for the many hundreds of Sherpas and Climbers who have lost their lives climbing Mount Everest. The memorial site is a significant landmark on the Base Camp trek and is in stark contrast to its colourless, dull surroundings. Strewn across the grounds are colourful groups of trekkers in various forms catching their breath after the mean climb they’ve just completed; brightly coloured prayer flags fluttering and dancing in the thousands amongst the cairns and memorials. It is strange and unsettling to stand in front of the memorials (mostly made of stone and cement) for the likes of Rob Hall and Scott Fisher among so many others. Rob Hall and Scott Fisher are two mountaineers who died in a disastrous climbing season in 1996 when a total of 12 climbers died in one of the deadliest seasons on Mount Everest(“Everest”, “Into Thin Air” are must-see movies based on these events).
The weather seemed to threaten rain which none of us wanted to encounter, so following a brief rest, we set out again along a trail leading steeply towards glacier morain and eventually leveling out and leading towards the tiny hamlet of Lobuche.
Due to the strenuous climb and the difficulty of altitude this is one of the treks where ‘each was to his own’. Pacing yourself out and working out a rhythm and speed comfortable to oneself.
So the group got split, some in twos and threes, some alone, the sole focus being ” just making it to Lobuche”. I myself trekked alone for the most part of the trek following the memorial ground. The weather had turned, skies were grey, strong winds whipped mercilessly at you, and even when the terrain leveled out somewhat(what by now we were wise enough to recognise as ‘Himalayan Flat’, anything but flat but considering the steeps this was flat!) the cold and wind chill didn’t make the trek any easier. In fact, if there was any point of self-doubt and bleakness that overcame me it was now.
Finally, however each one of us made it into Lobuche.
Lobuche’s lodging/ accommodation is notoriously primitive and we had been forewarned. However, little did we know that there was a surprise awaiting- where we had been booked into a new hotel with hot running water, decent bathrooms and rooms(unheard of accommodation levels by Lobuche standards!!). However, day of debacles as this was to be, this hotel was another 45min trek from Lobuche Town. Whilst the first few of our group had already trekked there, those of us just arriving at Lobuche and those following behind owing to several logistical reasons, the impending darkness and lateness of the hour had to find lodging at Lobuche itself. No ‘grand hotel surprise’ for us!
For the first time on the trek, the group was split.
Split at a point when the threat of AMS and all other complications were at an all-time high. Our spirits were down, tempers were high, tiredness after trekking almost 7-8hrs was at an all-time high…it was not a night to remember.
For those of us that remained at Lobuche there was no running water, no electricity in the bedrooms and corridors, the entire upper levels of the lodge reeked of a smell similar to kerosene making already laboured breathing even harder( this was apparently the chemical used to prevent water filled in buckets from freezing up), a trip to the bathroom meant a walk about half a mile down a long unlit, dark corridor…and at the end of it:- two metal sinks with no taps just two draining holes, and two dark dingy WCs ( the condition of which is best untold). By this time on the trek, all of us were on Diamox- a side effect of which was the frequent urge to pee! In addition, the rooms were as cold as the valleys we had just trekked through, mattresses were some alien formation, it was one disastrous aspect after another.
There was worry about the group that had trekked on, as they were now completely on their own, there was physical discomfort in being tired, there was an absolute lack of anything close to creature comforts and there was total mental exhaustion.
We made it through the night because we had each others backs..we were united as a group.
Luggage was piled into one bedroom and locked, mattresses were pulled down to the ground and laid side by side so that five instead of two shared a room for sheer body heat, passports and wallets slept by our side that night, headlamps around the head for washroom trips in the night, so cold was the night and the rooms that even our Down jackets were still on.
Due to sheer exhaustion and sheer lack of facilities after a quick dinner we dropped down to sleep still in our trekking clothes- worn the night before in Pheriche, trekked in during the day for 8 hours and now doubling up as PJ’S for the 2nd night in a row.
A first time ever if there ever was one!
After every dark night they say comes a brighter day and so it did. Blue skies and bright sunshine greeted us next morning as we sat out in zero temperatures breakfasting alfresco…owing to not the bright weather but the unbearable chemical odor indoors…!!!
Ahead of us today was Gorakshep. One of the bleakest segments of the trek. Loose stones made up almost the entire length of this trek, where each step had to be carefully placed to avoid twisted, broken ankles or falls. The altitude played with the mind making you more irritable and sour…but this was the challenge, this was what it was all about, pushing yourself mentally and physically to extremes you never imagined…and Base Camp was just a day away.
Despite the hardships of Lobuche, the trek this day and the weather…the memorial at the top of that devilish pass is what lingers in one’s mind and memory. All those lives lost on these mountains, all those souls perhaps lingering on this terrain, most of those bodies still left to this day somewhere up there. It is a humbling and disquieting thought. One that demanded utmost respect towards the towering giants that surrounded us in all directions, one that earned our respect towards nature, its forces, its ultimate power over all…echoing the words of the deceased mountaineer Anatoli Boukreev “The last word always belongs to the mountain “.
Rest in Peace.
Day 9(April 18th 2022) of the journey…
Lobuche(4,940) to Groakahep (5,164m).
If you ask people who have trekked to Gorakshep what they remember, am sure the answer from most if not all, will be stones, stones and more stones!! The very name ‘Gorakshep ‘ means ‘ Dead Raven’, due to its complete lack of vegetation.
These are powdery white stones that make up almost the entire trek. The stones are also not embedded in the soil but just lie around in loose piles..making stepping on them and even more so trekking on them treacherous and difficult.
However, when you stop to catch your breath which is literally every 5-10 steps…and you raise your eyes to the heavens…despite the sterile terrain surrounding you, you will think you’ve landed in heaven. The beautiful snow capped mountains, like towering white giants, rise above you in every direction. When it is blue- as it was on the day we trekked- the sky is an amazing colour of azure blue. The mountains are so close by now, that you can distinguish ridges, slopes, and features on them; for the lack of a better word or my limited vocabulary, I’ll just say it’s Awe-inspiring to say the very least!
Aside from the bleak and dangerous terrain we were trekking on, the highlight of the trek today, would be that we will be reaching over 5,000m(16,500ft)! It was also on the trek from Lobuche to Gorakshep that were had our first sightings of Base Camp itself. Like some beautiful wild yellow flowers that had sprung through the harsh, stony soil, a rocky area dotted with a scattering of bright yellow tents could be seen in the distance. The tents were all summiteers waiting to reach the highest point in the world.
One step at a time, one foot in front of the other, stepping and breathing, we all reached Gorakshep by early afternoon. While most settled for hot, steaming noodle soup, some of us had a delicious, spicy egg fried rice for lunch at our Tea House.
Reaching Gorakshep by early afternoon was also crucial as there was a mini-trek from Gorakshep to Kalap Patthar that evening. Whilst this was optional, due to the really tiring and strenuous trek already completed for the day, most Base Camp trekkers did not want to miss the evening trek to Kala Patthar.
Kala Patthar at 5,550m was in fact higher in altitude than Base Camp itself. The climb was a steep ascent, and it was also an evening trek which meant that you would trek back to Gorakshep from Kala Patthar in the night, in absolute darkness, with headlamps being your only guiding light. In addition to the darkness, the decreaing temperatures as night fell would mean that you would be trekking in the freezing nighttime temperature.
However, it was not an insanity-driven intention neither was it a masochistic tendency nor one to inflict self-punishment that made trekkers want to ascend Kala Patthar.
Which then… begs the question “why?”.
It was because Kala Patthar offered some of the most beautiful views of Mount Everest one could ask for! (From Base Camp itself the view of Mount Everest is not too great if seen at all). In addition, an evening hike meant being there for the sunset…the setting sun dancing across the highest mountain on earth, whilst bathing it in its glow of Golden light and russet reds, and then to watch the silent dark shadows of the night take over and envelope that golden beauty in total darkness…was deemed by many to be a totally worthwhile trek. So much so that it is advised that you get to the peak of Kala Patthar well before sunset and find yourself a ‘seat’ so to say from which you can watch this magical show of nature, because it gets quite crowded up on the peak!
However, lucky as we had been throughout our trek…Kala Patthar was not to be our destiny this afternoon. It was grey, gloomy, and cloudy when we reached Gorakshep with near-zero temperatures at mid afternoon. The skies continued to turn more threatening, angry and cloudy and by evening Gorapchep was being covered in a soft, white feathering of a snow storm. Goodbye golden sunset, welcome soft, white snowflakes!!!
Gorakshep in itself is a very small village, in 1952 Gorakshep had been the Base Camp for Mount Everest, then Base Camp was moved closer to the mountain, just below the Khumbu Ice Fall where it is situated now.
As the Kala Patthar trek was not to be, we had an entire afternoon and evening for socialising! Too tired, too lazy and too comfortable, the duration from lunch to dinner was spent by most of the group sitting around the tables, drinking cups of hot tea, hot lemon, coffee…and hanging out! Tired though we were, spirits were high as tomorrow was Base Camp- we had all made it past 5,000m, and were to a greater extent, more or less in-tact!
It was not just idle chatter that happened on that afternoon around the tables in Gorakshep, important patriotic work also ensued. Some poor group member had dared to add the weight of a pillowcase to his backpack! That pillow case now became the medium of expression for our public spirit, the channel for our civic responsibility…a black marker was found and whilst the snow quietly blanketed Gorakshep in the purest of white, the marker etched in deep inky black the rallying cry of the whole of our motherland. GGH.
Miles away in distance were we, thousands of meters away in altitude were we, yet in heart and spirit we were one with the rest of our country. The banner to be held up at Base Camp came into being at ‘Dead Raven’!
Day 10 D-DAY (April 19th 2022) of the journey….
Gorakshep(5,164m) to BASE CAMP MOUNT EVEREST(5,364m)
Finally, it was D-Day! All the trekking, all the challenges, all the pushing was to get to today’s destination.
On this last day of the trek to Everest Base Camp, one of our group was suspected to be showing signs of Hypoxia. He was having difficulty breathing, had a racing pulse even when lying down, felt dizzy, and was generally unwell. The symptoms and difficulties appeared the day before we were due to trek to Base Camp(on the day we arrived in Gorakshep). Luckily there was a doctor and a medical centre in the remote little town of Gorakshep! After a comprehensive examination, in addition, to starting him on medication(steroids), he was also asked to avoid coffee and to sleep elevated by the doctor. The very thorough and impressive doc also asked him to visit the medical centre in the morning before the trek to Base Camp started.
His being able to complete the trek to Base Camp would depend on his oxygen levels and the doctor’s clearance the following morning.
So it was a victory for the entire group, when next morning, the oxygen levels had risen enough for him to be given the green light to proceed on the trek.
As we started out trekking, like confectioners’ sugar sprinkled on a sugar cookie, the ground was still covered by a fine dusting of powdery-white snow, as it had continued to snow throughout the night.
Gorakshep to Base Camp was just a 3km trek, distance-wise, but, felt like 30km when trekking it. At this altitude, every few meters in altitude felt like a mountain! Every 100ft of elevation gain, slows you down by 6.6% of your average one-mile pace.
The trek to Base Camp was also very rocky, with loose stones and sometimes along steep mountain ridges.
The mere thought of almost having reached Base Camp, that sweet taste of victory at the tip of our tongues, is what kept us trekking over death traps of loosely piled rock, forcing one foot ahead of the other and pushing ourselves tirelessly yet again on the steep and narrow.
A little after we had set out from Gorakshep, the symptoms of Hypoxia kicked in again, with him feeling light-headed and dizzy whilst walking. Hypoxia being a grave condition, it was debated whether he should, in fact, turn back.
When you’ve pushed yourself to come this far, it is indeed heartbreaking to be told you cannot complete the trek…
This is often a battle that is also fought on the high slopes and especially on the ‘Death Zone of Mount Everest by even summiters. When you’ve come so close and pushed yourself so much and sickness strikes, its one of the hardest battles you’ll fight. A conflict between heart and mind, a war between life and death. Your mind tells you the wise decision would be to turn back, your heart tells you to push on and not give up….
Finally, determination and sheer will power triumphed and the ‘patient ‘ decided to continue…on horseback! Whilst Yaks and Mules are used in the Himalayan region for the transportation of goods and provisions, it is horses that are used most often for human transportation. Not just trekkers who have difficulty but even villagers in times of utter necessity would use a horse to get from one town to another in the Himalayas. It is very common to see signs posted at most Tea Houses along the trek saying ” Horse Available for Hire” . It is also not uncommon to see trekkers along the way especially, on the Gorakshep-Base Camp (last leg of the trek), riding up on horseback. The cost however at approx 100 USD from Tea-House to Tea-House/ village to village made it quite a costly affair to ride!
So, a Horse was found(it is indeed amazing to see the Sherpa network out there, in seemingly, the middle of nowhere!) and the journey continued.
Mount Everest has two Base Camps on the opposite sides of the mountain. The South Base Camp situated in Nepal at an altitude of 5,364m and the North Base Camp situated in Tibet, China at an altitude of 5,150m.
Base Camps are very basic camp sites at the bottom of Mount Everest used by those summiting the mountain during their ascents and descents. The South Base Camp is used when climbing from the Soueast ridge and the North Base Camp when climbing from the Northeast ridge.
Supplies to the South Base Camp are brought in by porters and with the help of animals, generally Yaks.
The trek to the South Base Camp is one of the most popular treks in the Himalayan region. This trek sees about 40,000 people trekking this route every year.
Visually, Base Camp can be a disappointment, especially if its the destination and not the journey that you’ve focused on. Mount Everest can just about be seen peaking from behind two peaks- if its not playing at it’s hiding game. Everest happens to be a very shy mountain! Brightly coloured tents where the summiters camp, can be seen scattered, beyond the area we trekkers come to.
There is a huge disparity between the mere trekkers who just trek 5,364m to Everest ‘s Base Camp and the Summiters that actually dare to brave the slopes of Everest right to the top of its 8,848m!!! It’s like a war between the mortals and immortals, if there can ever be one. Base Camp trekkers are not allowed within the hallowed camping grounds and are generally not viewed with anything except disdain by the summiters!!! Fair enough!
Then there is the popular marker of Base Camp…the somewhat large rock where ” Everest Base Camp 5,364m is written out in big, bold, red letters. In addition, hundreds of colourful prayer flags fluttering around and lots and lots of rock and stone greet you on your arrival at EBC!
Only if you have an expedition permit are you allowed to camp out at Base Camp. Therefore, there’s a quick turn around from Base Camp for all trekking groups as you need to trek all the way back to Gorakshep. However, that is not to say that it’s a quick stop and go, owing to the moments and memories worth a lifetime that each individual tries to capture here.
It’s a place you’ll probably never visit again for most people; it’s an achievement you’ve driven yourself to by pushing many boundaries and limitations; it’s a moment when you’re literally as close to the top of the world as you’d ever get; it’s a moment of celebration, of happiness, unbound, of thankfulness and gratitude…it’s almost an unreal moment in time, full of mixed emotions.
Therefore, it’s more than natural that one would want to capture every minute and moment up there in any and every possible way!!! Country flags, school flags, significant messages either personal or to the world at large are all displayed and declared here. The long-forgotten cameras, GoPros, phones, and every device possible of capturing and freezing time were now pulled out again!
Amidst the proud waving of the Lion Flag, a few particular moments of our brief time up on Base Camp stand out.
When the group stood up on the Base Camp rock and held out a banner at the top of the world, echoing the cries, thoughts and sentiments of all Sri Lanka’s citizens at that moment of time “Go Home Gota”!!!
When the ‘boys’ in the group, braved the freezing cold temperatures to pull off their jackets and Tees and display their six packs, kegs, beer barrels and whatever it may be …..posing and parading like a flock of peacocks in full display!
…and last but not least the circumstances that led to five Royalists paying homage to two Royal mothers holding the hallowed College flag! This comical display was the culmination of events when the five Royalists in our group forgot to bring a college flag up to Base Camp; and two Royal mothers with the help of our (always wonderful and helpful) Sherpas got a flag stitched all the way in Lukla(where we began our trek) and flown over to Gorakshep so that the Blue Gold and Blue would fly from top of the world!!!
…and so, after these and many, many other moments which will remain in our memories for a life time…we started our trek back to Gorakshep. We did not trek all the way back to Lobuche as initially planned, and spent the night at Gorakshep.
The doctor had recommended the Hypoxia patient descend to Lobuche to spend that night, at least 500m in altitude below where we were currently. Time and exhaustion however compelled us to spend the night in Gorakshep. Except for the concern of Hypoxia, spirits were high, even though the bodies were completely exhausted!!! Tonight we would fall asleep, exhausted but exhilarated, completely understanding the words of Sir Edmund Hillary ” It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”
The Return journey…(Part I)
Gorakshep to Namche Bazzar
Due to time constraints among other complications on returning from Base Camp, we decided to spend the night in Gorakshep. The initial plan was lunch at Gorakshep and then trek to Lobuche where we would spend the night.
However, darkening skies, threatening weather, and the lateness of the hour when we finished our lunch, would have meant that we trek back over that loose stone terrain in semi-darkness followed by total darkness, in a state of near physical and mental exhaustion.
However, staying on in Gorakshep that night meant that we would be one day behind our schedule. So, after much debate it was decided that we would take a helicopter upto Namche Bazzar making up for lost time and trek from there to Lukla via Phadking.
After many calls, negotiations and talking, a helicopter was found. We would be transported in groups of threes to Pheriche and from Pheriche to Namche in groups of fives. This had to do with the effect of altitude and weight restrictions for the helicopter.
What an amazing experience that was!
The view from the helicopter was unbelievable to say the least, flying just above the mountains with gushing rivers and deep valleys below us, it was like floating inside a glass bubble at lightening speed. The mountains were so near, the turns so close and so precise, the views so stunning, it was both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time!
The trek that would have taken us a full day to reach Namche Bazzar took a total of seven to eight minutes in the helicopter!!!
Batch by batch, group by group from Gorakshep to Pheriche and from Pheriche to Namche Bazzar we were ferried…with several delays in between when the same helicopter had to go in for an emergency evacuation to Base Camp.
Finally, we were all at Namache Bazzar and checked into a beautiful Tea House where the potato and oinion pakora was to die for! Plates of these were washed down with mugs of hot cocoa. Beer was now permitted, so needless to say like babies deprived of milk for many moons, a fair number of Everest beer cans were guzzled down too. The weather was cold and rainy in Namchè, spoiling our plans of an evening walk around town, but nothing could dampen our spirits now that we were back to hot showers and civilisation!
A very pleasant afternoon and evening was spent, with more plates of pakora, bowls of popcorn, card games and music. …Next day we would begin trekking again to the little town of Phakding.
The Return journey…Part II
Namchè Bazzar, Nepal to Colombo, Sri Lanka
After breakfast in Namche around 7.45am, we started on our trek to Phadking. The extra pair of shoes(sneakers)which had thus far travelled in our specific Duffel bags carried by the porters had to now be transferred to each of our backpacks. Even though the extra shoes were mainly carried in case a trekking boot broke or some such mishap, it was now shifted to the backpacks due to the continuous descend we would be doing. One of the main concerns in descents was the continuous scuffing of toes against the hard trekking boots. If the pain became unbearable as it does for some, it would be sneakers to the rescue!
We reached Phadking by early evening and stopped at an amazing French bakery in the town. Cups of cuppacino, Lattès and a few freshly baked chocolate croissants later we checked into the same Tea House we had stayed in, in Phadking our trek up to Base Camp.
As good as the many mugs of hot lemon tea and the steaming hot chapatis had been the last few days…it definitely felt blissfull and satisfying to taste a cuppacino and croissant!
Hot showers again…albeit a cranky shower! In order to have a hot shower it required two persons! One inside having a shower and one outside standing guard- ready to run down 3 flights of stairs to get the Tea House owner when the shower went crazy…sometimes it suddenly spewed out scalding hot water, sometimes it suddenly emitted ice cold water, sometimes all soaped and shivering you stood under a shower that stopped giving any water at all!
Showered and refreshed some of the group headed towards the Irish Pub in town, though still under strict instructions on getting hungover and also with curfews to get back by …as there was still another trek ahead.
The rest of the group preferred to sit round the warm boiler chatting and gossiping whilst having an early dinner.
Egg Sandwiches and French fries for breakfast and we were off on the last day of the trek. Our trek today would be from Phadking to Lukla. This was our first day’s trek in reverse, where we had watched trekkers returning from Base Camp to Lukla with sheer exhaustion on their faces, for the reason that while for trekkers starting their trek, Lukla to Phadking is a decent; for those returning from Base Camp Phadking to Lukla is an ascent all the way!!
Were we stronger?, were our lungs used to so little oxygen the past few days that they were now thriving more than ever?, was it the high of the achievement…we will never know…all we knew was that this day and this trek was almost a cake walk for the entire group!! Yes, it was a tiresome climb, yes it was steep…but the entire group kept a very steady and very quick pace, so much so that when we saw the entrance gateway to Lukla we were all in disbelief…thinking there was so much more to go!!!
Mid-afternoon and we were in all in Lukla! What a feeling of exhilaration that was! What a sense on achievement, what a sense of relief!!! …and what a celebration! Hot chocolate(for it was still very cold) and chicken fried rice- the two weeks of vegetarianism was done and dusted, for lunch.
Following lunch most of the group strolled the colourful street of Lukla picking up souvenirs and gifts to take back home! Yak milk soap, beautifully embroidered sling bags, Base Camp
T-shirts, spices, Khukri knives(the knife with a distinct recurve, associated with the Gurkas of Nepal and also the National weapon of Nepal) and Nepal’s very own Khukri Rum(borrowing its name from the Khukri knife)were some of the favourites on the shopping lists!
Khukri knives come in all shapes and sizes, available for sale were fake look alikes on the pavement and genuine knives from specialised Khukri shops that come with a serial number and certificate. The traditional knives have beautiful carvings along it signature curved blade and the handle is generally made of Yak horn. It comes in a leather sheath usually embellished with brass fixtures.
Dinner orders for most was
juicy, succulent Yak Steaks served with a beautiful thick gravy, sautéed veggies and thick cut fries…
That night, the final night of the trek was one of nostalgia and celebration. Two weeks of gruelling conditions and challenges had made a group of strangers into one family. Had broken down barriers of two distinctly diverse nationalities, breaking barriers of cultural diversity and language differences… Each and everyone in the group and all our porters and guides had by now bonded into one big family. Tomorrow we would board a flight back to Kathmandu and our porters and sherpa guides would headback to their villages.
For two weeks these wonderful and amazing people had had our backs, had carried the brunt of our luggage up and down the Himalayas, had encouraged us, had guided us, had laughed and joked with us, and most importantly had taught us so much about the incredible mountain range that was the Himalayas.
The music and Khukri Rum flowed in unison…and the party at Lukla rsn into the wee hours of the morning. We learnt to dance to Nepali music and they to our Sri Lankan baila! It was such an awesome night of good times, Khukri Rum, super music and dancing, that even the Tea House Aunty and other guests at the Tea House joined our party!
The next morning we boarded yet another Dash-8 on Summit Airlines and headed back to Kathmandu.
Two days of shopping, relaxing, good food and farewell dinners later we boarded our flight on SriLankan Airlines. We were welcomed on board by the two Captains operating our flight, who were none other than Gihan and his good friend Puji!
Landing in Colombo it was both a very proud and amazing moment to see a hoarding congratulating thr group on reaching Base Camp, at the Classic Travels office in Colombo.
A journey like none other we’ve ever done before, an experience that no amount of re-telling or explanations will do justice to, memories that will be relieved and remembered for a life time, an exposure that put life into a whole new perspective and challenges that were life changing. The trek to Everest Base Camp was all this and much more. Two weeks in one of the most beautiful natural landscapes, two weeks of being surrounded by one of the world’s highest mountains ranges, two weeks of being taught exactly how small we our in the presence of nature’s greats. An inspiring and humbling journey….that had now come to and end in a literal and physical sense but will forever live on in how it shaped, changed and affected all our lives.
” Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn.
CLIMB that goddam mountain!” Jack Kerouac.