Everest Base Camp Trek Days 9-12: Pherice to Lukla

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The final four days of the trek involved re-tracing our steps back to Lukla, stopping at Tengboche, Namche Bazar and Phakding.

These days also provided an opportunity to recuperate from altitude sickness and associated loss of appetite and lack of sleep. My mild case of altitude sickness disappeared as soon as we reached Tengboche – the headache I’d had for the past four days went and my appetite returned with a vengeance. I also managed to get my fist good night’s sleep for five days, and the following night in Namche Bazar was even better with almost 10 hours of blissful, uninterrupted sleep.

We celebrated the final afternoon and night in Lukla by playing pool with our guide (a Lukla native), as well as consuming several beers, at one of Lukla’s bars, followed by dinner with our guide and porter. A quick coffee at Lukla’s fake Starbucks (had free wi-fi and better coffee than the real thing) completed the evening and the trek.

There was one last item of “excitement” though – being the take-off from Lukla’s airport the following morning. There’s no messing around, straight down the hill and pray that the wheels have left the tarmac before the end of the disturbingly short runway. Surviving this we had one final night in Kathmandu (with a good dinner at K-Too Beer & Steakhouse in Thamel) and that was it, for this trip at least.

Overall, this was a hugely enjoyable two weeks and some of the best walking I’ve ever had the pleasure of doing. The issues with altitude didn’t detract in any significant way from the trek, and I vowed I’d be back to Nepal, which I am pleased to say I will be later in 2012…

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Everest Base Camp Trek Day 8: Gorak Shep to Pherice

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The plan for this day is to start very early with a side trip up to the summit of Kala Patthar before the beginning of the return trip which goes via Pherice.

The weather had changed the previous day and snow had been falling all night. When I got up at 5am it was still snowing outside and was very cold. I went to wash my hands and face and discovered the drum of water for washing had frozen over. Because of this weather, the start of the walk had to be postponed and in the event I didn’t commence the walk to Kala Patthar until after 8am and a very light breakfast.

I was still feeling a bit weak and tired from the lack of sleep and gastro; this combined with the altitude made the walking surprisingly hard work. The incline isn’t that bad but I found myself stopping regularly to get my breath back (I now have some understanding of how climbers on high peaks must feel). In the end I didn’t make it to the top, stopping about two-thirds of the way up as our guide was concerned to leave enough time to get to Pherice. I did take some time to take quite a few photos (including of course of Mt Everest – the photo above is as close as you will get on the trek).

After a quick lunch, the walk to Pherice commenced, retracing our steps from yesterday to Thokla but through a landscape that looked very different thanks to all the snow.

From Thokla a slightly different path is taken that leads to Pherice, a small village in the middle of a windswept plain. Our Tea House here was neat and tidy and I had my first ‘shower’ since Namche Bazaar (actually a large bucket of warm water and a jug) which felt fantastic – it was a bit chilly though running from the out-house to the lodge, past a large pool of ice…

Day 8: Gorak Shep (5140m) to Pherice (4240m) via Kala Patthar (net height loss 900m)
About 6 hours

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Everest Base Camp Trek Day 7: Lobuche to Gorak Shep and Everest Base Camp

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Day 7 and the day we finally would arrive at Everest Base Camp.

I started a little weary having hardly slept the night before and could barely eat anything at breakfast. Nonetheless, this was the day I’d travelled a long way to experience, so onwards and upwards, in this case alongside the Khumbu Glacier, before dropping down to the frozen lake at the southern foot of Kala Patthar. At 5550m Kala Patthar is a significant mountain on a world scale, but compared to the immediate surroundings is a mere pimple.

From the lake it is a short walk to Gorak Shep, the final village on the trail. We stopped here for a quick lunch before the final pull up to base camp. By this point the weather had started to change, it was much colder, the cloud base was a lot lower and it had started to snow a little. Nevertheless, we pushed on and in about an hour and a half reached our final destination. Visibility had by now reduced considerably, but as it happens this wasn’t really a problem as there is no view of Everest from base camp, which, out of season is just a large ampitheatre of rocks, snow and ice (in season it is festooned with hundreds of tents).

It was a great feeling to have reached base camp, but given the conditions we didn’t hang around for too long and after the obligatory photos set off back to Gorak Shep. I was glad to get back to Gorak Shep for some rest, feeling quite light headed from the altitude and a little weak from the gastro and not eating.

Day 7: Lobuche (4910m) to Gorak Shep (5140m) and Everest Base Camp (5364m) (net height gain 454m)
About 2.5 hours / 4.5 kms to Gorak Shep, another 1.5 hours / 3 kms (one-way) to Base Camp

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Everest Base Camp Trek Day 6: Dingboche to Lobuche

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Today was a fairly short day. Departing west from Dingboche before turning north-west, we passed through Dusa and soon thereafter arrived at Dughla, a village that sits in a valley at the southern end of the Khumbu Glacier. We stopped at Dughla for a tea-break before crossing a bridge to the west side of the Khumbu Glacier and then climbing quite steeply to the north. The track here passes some stone memorials built in remembrance of climbers who have lost their lives in the Himalayas. Views from here are simply magnificent – I found myself stopping quite often to turn around and take in the fantastic vista.

After negotiating the short Thokla (Dughla) Pass the trail continues north to the village of Lobuche. Lobuche was packed with trekkers and the room we thought we had booked was not available. Again our guide searched for an alternative, which ended up being in a half completed lodge near where we were supposed to be staying. Thankfully, the half that was completed included most of the roof and a bed, but there was no sealing between the doors and windows and the walls, and the floor was gravel, which made for a somewhat uncomfortable night.

I’d also started to suffer from gastro and as a result of the altitude had developed a headache that wasn’t to go away until we reached Tengboche on the way back. I slept only fitfully and at one point woke up feeling like someone was pounding a nail between my eyes. Paracetamol tablets helped suppress the headache but couldn’t get rid of it. The altitude also affects your appetite – despite expending a lot of calories I could barely eat a thing. Still, the next day was the day we’d reach base camp, so while tired I was still keen to keep moving.

Day 6: Dingboche (4410m) to Lobuche (4910m) (net height gain 500m)
About 3 hours / 7.7 kms

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Everest Base Camp Trek Day 5: Tengboche to Dingboche

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An early start after a quick breakfast and a coffee at the Tengboche bakery. Until the sun rises above the mountains, it is very chilly, and gloves and a beanie were required for the first part of the walk, a reasonably steep descent through a forest of conifers, birch and rhododendrons to Deboche. This trail was a bit muddy, although an overnight frost meant the ground was still reasonably firm.

After the first of several river crossings (this one across the Imja Khola) there are a series of chortens; one particularly good example also frames a fantastic view of Ama Dablam. The path then proceeds along the western side of the Imja Khola, through a landscape becoming progressively more barren and dusty. Not long after Shomare, where we stopped for an early lunch, the path forks. We took the right fork that initially drops down to a bridge across the Khumbu Khola and then climbs upwards to Dingboche (the left fork goes to Pherice which we would visit on the way back).

Dingboche was a very busy village, full of trekkers. Indeed the accommodation we intended to stay at was booked out, thankfully we (or more accurately our guide) were able to secure an alternative. The day was not over at this point though – after a short tea break our guide got us back on the trail to climb up to Nangkartshang Gompa, above and to the west of Dingboche, as part of our acclimatisation. The views from the trail up are simply magnificent, but we were not able to tarry as the wind started getting stronger and the weather looked to be changing.

That night we had a nice meal and our final beer until we reached Pherice on the way back from base camp; our guide strongly recommending that we not drink alcohol at the higher elevations. I wasn’t to know that this would also be the last time for a few days that I would get any real sleep, with altitude sickness and gastro about to set in…

Day 5: Tengboche (3860m) to Dingboche (4410m) (net height gain 550m)
About 4.5 hours / 12 kms

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Everest Base Camp Trek Day 4: Namche Bazar to Tengboche

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An early start and another short, sharp climb to kick things off – heading eastwards and then turning north-east to pass the Tenzing Norgye Memorial Stupa. The path from here through to Kyangjuma afforded superlative views of the Himalayan mountains.

There’s a steep descent to Phungi Thanga, where we stopped for a tea break, before another long slow climb to Tengboche.

Tengboche is a magnificently situated monastery, one of the oldest in Nepal. After climbing up a ridge to the east of Tengboche to visit a couple of Chortens and take in the views, I returned to visit the monastery for a service at 4pm which was open to, and indeed packed with, trekkers.

Once the sun passes behind the mountains it gets very cold, so in the evening I donned my down jacket and took a stroll around the area, again admiring the amazing views, including Mt Everest, before finishing the day at the bakery with another excellent coffee..

Day 4:
Namche Bazar (3440m) to Tengboche (3860m) (net height gain 420m)
About 4 hours / 6 kms

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Everest Base Camp Trek Day 3: Rest day at Namche Bazar

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There was no official trekking today, instead it was a rest day to explore Namche and adjust to the altitude. We did do a bit of walking though, visiting the National Park Museum and getting our first view of Everest from the ridge near the museum. After taking plenty of photos we then took a shortish but sharp climb up to the Everest View hotel, a Japanese owned facility with, as the name suggests, extensive views of Mt. Everest (the photo above shows Mt Everest reflected in the windows of the hotel). The outside dining area was an excellent spot for a drink and rest while admiring the truly stupendous views.

After climbing back down to Namche, I spent the afternoon exploring and enjoying a real (Lavazza) coffee and pastry in the Namche bakery.

Day 3:
No trekking – acclimatization

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Everest Base Camp Trek Day 2: Phakding to Namche Bazar

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Due to delays in arrival at Lukla, the previous day’s walking had been a bit of a forced march in gathering gloom. Day two of the trek felt like the first real day of trekking – we woke up to a beautiful but rather chilly morning and proceeded up join a lot of other trekkers on the path to Namche Bazar.

The trail first enters a forest of Rhododendron and Magnolia and then passes though a village called Tok Tok. From here a canyon is entered and the trail climbs moderately upwards to the village of Chumowa before crossing a bridge into the village of Monjo where we stopped for an early lunch.

Shortly thereafter, the official entrance to the Sagarmatha National Park is reached. We took the opportunity for a short rest while our guide dealt with the paperwork (permits are required to enter the park). From this point the path descends steeply for a short while before levelling out and following the Duhd Koshi (river) to Larja Dobhan. We had another short rest just below the Larja suspension bridge (see photo above) before beginning the final slog up to Namche.

The final slog is a climb of around 600m beginning after the bridge is crossed. The climb up is relentless and surprisingly tough, although I didn’t complain too much given that we kept passing porters carrying a lot more than a daypack. The weather by this stage of the day was very warm and this combined with the altitude made the walk thirsty work. At a couple of rest points along the way, enterprising locals were selling drinks and fruit, and one of these points also provides the first view of Everest – that is if it is not obscured by cloud as it was when we arrived.

Passing up through Blue Pine forest the path eventually reaches the bustling hub of Namche Bazar, where we very happily collapsed into our room for a rest before venturing out to explore Namche’s narrow streets.

Day 2:
Phakding (2610m) to Namche Bazar (3440m) (net height gain 830m)
About 5 hours / 7 kms

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Everest Base Camp Trek Day 1: Lukla to Phakding

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The first day began early, with us arriving at Kathmandu airport at around 7:00am, for a supposed early flight to Lukla. The scene at the airport appeared to be one of barely organised chaos, with hundreds of tourists and locals endeavouring to secure seats on their flights. Although we were allegedly leaving around 8ish, we didn’t actually get out to our plane until about 2pm. I’m not sure how the seats are allocated, it seemed to be based on whose tour guide shouted the loudest (our guide spent most of the morning hanging around the desk for Tara Air waiting for the opportunity to grab some seats).

The planes from Kathmandu to Lukla are Twin Otters, with capacity for about 18 passengers. After squeezing in, the hostess offered us a mint and cotton wool (to stuff in your ears). When we eventually got going, our plane taxied to the runway, stopped…and then taxied back to the apron – Lukla airport had been shut due to high winds. Although disappointed that we were going to have to spend even more time sitting waiting in the departure lounge, I was in no hurry to fly to Lukla in adverse weather conditions. I’d already been warned about the airport there – there’s a very short runway that runs uphill (when landing), with cliffs on all sides.

We eventually got off an hour or so later, for a fairly smooth 45 min flight. The landing was certainly “interesting” – there’s no room for error, you hit the runway immediately it starts and then it’s heavy braking as you rush up the hill, before a turn to the right and a small apron in front of the terminal building.

After meeting our porter and collecting our bags our small party began the trek. Lukla – which apparently means “place with many goats and sheep” – is, as the launching point for trekking in the area, a hive of activity. Because of the delay in getting started though we didn’t have time to tarry and so after a quick meal we proceeded down the main street, passing numerous stores selling outdoors gear (mostly knock-offs) along with a (fake) Starbucks and an Irish pub.

After passing through a gateway with a painted message telling you to enjoy our trek, the path is generally downhill, eventually reaching the village of Chheplung, which is on the junction of the main Khumbu trail from Jiri. The path soon crosses Thulo Khola on a suspension bridge, with good views of Kumsum Kangure peak. We didn’t spend too much time admiring the view as it was getting dark and we were in a hurry to reach Phakding. Thankfully, we managed to reach Phakding just after the last of the daylight disappeared, and proceeded to enjoy a hearty meal in a dining room packed with other trekkers.

Day 1:
Lukla (2840m) to Phakding (2610m) net height loss 230m
About 2.5 hours / 6 kms

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Coast to Coast Wrap-Up

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A great walk. If you enjoy walking then this long distance path should definitely be on your list of walks to do.

Stages:
We did the walk over 13 days, breaking the Rosthwaite to Patterdale leg into two by staying at Grasmere, roughly the half-way point between the two and would certainly recommend doing this to allow more time to enjoy the Lake district section and try the alternative high-level routes.

Although tired after some of the longer days, I found the walk quite manageable over the 13 days. The stages we did were as follows (all distances are approximate only):

1. St. Bees to Ennerdale Bridge – 14 miles
2. Ennerdale Bridge to Rosthwaite – 14.5 miles
3. Rosthwaite to Grasmere – 9 miles
4. Grasmere to Patterdale – 8.5 miles
5. Patterdale to Shap – 16 miles
6. Shap to Kirkby Stephen – 21 miles
7. Kirkby Stephen to Keld – 12 miles
8. Keld to Marrick – 15 miles
9. Marrick to Catterick Bridge – 10.5 miles
10. Catterick Bridge to Osmotherly – 21.5 miles
11. Osmotherly to Blakey Ridge – 19 miles
12. Blakey Ridge to Littlebeck – 17 miles
13. Littlebeck to Robin Hoods Bay – 12 miles

Getting there and away:
The walk traditionally starts at St Bees. Access to St Bees is pretty easy via train from Carlisle station which is on the West Coast Main Line – there are regular Virgin trains from London Euston to Carlisle. For example, during the week the 0958 from Euston will get you to St Bees at 1534 (with a 35 min wait at Carlisle); the 1113 will get you there at 1749 (but this requires a one hour wait at Carlisle).

If you are using a baggage service (as we did – see below) they may offer parking at a central point and transport to the start and from the end. Coast to Coast Packhorse offer parking at Kirkby Stephen and minibus transport to the start and finish points.

I had hired a car a week earlier so arranged a one-way hire (an extra ₤40), dropping off in Carlisle (I used National Car – I’ve used them a few times now with no complaints). The walk to the station from the garage was around 15 minutes.

Access to/from Robin Hoods Bay is a little more tricky if you are not using the services of Packhorse or equivalent. The nearest train stations are Scarborough or Whitby, both of which link to the East Coast Main Line. There’s a bus service, but it takes a while to make the trip. Probably the easiest option is to hire a mini-cab. We did this and got a lift into Scarborough (₤25) where we hired a car (I’d prefer to catch the train but the cost of one day car hire + petrol + one-way fee was less than two train tickets).

Accommodation:
This can be a bit tricky – some places do not have an over abundance of options, and the need to organise 12-15 consecutive nights, each in a different location, adds to the degree of difficulty. Nonetheless we met a few people on the trail who had organised their accommodation themselves without too many problems.

The other option, which we used as I didn’t particularly feel like trying to organise lodgings long-distance from Oz, is to use an accommodation booking service. I used the aforementioned Coast to Coast Packhorse, and have no complaints about the rooms they booked which were a good mixture of pubs/B&B’s, ranging from acceptable to excellent.

Of course, you can always camp – we met some walkers doing this, but as I didn’t camp I can’t really say much about how easy or hard it is to find acceptable campsites. Most of the walk is through cultivated land so wild camping is out of the question.

Baggage transfer:
Maybe I’m going soft as I get older, but the thought of humping a full rucksack for two weeks didn’t attract me at all. As a result, I arranged for our bags to be transferred each day, thus requiring only a day pack while walking.

Again we used Coast to Coast Packhorse and had a very good experience – they were quietly efficient and our bags were always at our lodgings when we arrived. Other options for both baggage transfer and accommodation booking are Sherpavan, Mickledore Travel, Contours Walking Holidays and Discovery Travel – I haven’t used any of these however, so can’t comment on their service.

Maps/Guidebooks:
I used the two maps from Harvey that cover the whole route and would recommend them. They were generally pretty good – although not up to Ordnance Survey map standards. This is a moot point though as the only other choice is to carry a case full of OS maps. They claim to be waterproof, but we didn’t get enough rain to test this out, and personally I’d carry a waterproof map case.

For the Lake District sections I also carried the two relevant OS maps (OL 4 and 5) as the extra detail offered is useful especially if you try the alternative high-level routes and/or are stuck in bad weather. They also provide a bit more context, if you have good weather and views and are wondering what you are looking at.

In addition to the maps we also carried the Trailblazer Coast to coast path guidebook by Harry Stedman. This was good for a bit of background as well as assisting in those places where the map wasn’t entirely clear (generally due to the scale of 1:40,000 being a bit too large for walkers – the OL 1:25,000 scale is much better). The hand drawn maps did leave a little to be desired in some instances (note we used an earlier edition – they may have improved in the latest edition).

The original guide by Wainwright is probably best for inspiration before you go and reflection after you return – the route information is going to be a bit dated now.

Gear:
Gear is very much a personal choice so for what it’s worth, I’ll simply list what I carried in my daypack, which was a Berghaus 64Zero, a very simple and light daypack:

* Beanie and/or sun-hat
* Gloves
* Thin long-sleeved top
* Windstopper Soft-Shell jacket (by Paddy Pallin – the current model is the Catalyst)
* Lightweight Gore-Tex waterproof jacket (Berghaus Extreme Light)
* Gore-tex waterproof over trousers (by Paddy Pallin)

In addition I carried a vacuum flask for a morning cuppa + water and food for lunch and some sunscreen. Round my neck was a Nikon D40 SLR camera fitted with Nikon’s superb 18-200mm DX VR lens.

All of this gear was used at some point during the walk. The soft-shell jacket and waterproof jacket were used quite frequently; the gloves got used once (up on Helvellyn).

I wore Brasher Supalite boots on days 2-5, the other days I wore a pair of Scarpa Enigma XCR shoes which also served as a pair of casual shoes for the rest of my holiday. I could have easily survived with just the Scarpa shoes, which come highly recommended. The extra ankle support and sturdiness of the Brasher boots was helpful during the Lakes sections but not essential for me – your mileage may vary.

I intend to write a bit more about the gear in future posts.