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.

Coast to Coast day 13: Littlebeck to Robin Hood’s Bay

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The final day! An easy walk through a wood then across the moors, with an early lunch at the Arnciffe Arms in Hawsker before a nice walk along the coast and then a steep descent down the cobblestone streets of Robin Hood’s Bay.

The first section goes through Littlebeck Wood and down to Falling Foss waterfall. The path then follows May Beck before a bit of road walking and then across the final moors of the walk to Hawsker. From here the path drops down through a caravan park to join the Cleveland Way on the cliffs above the North Sea. An enjoyable walk along the cliffs south to Robin Hood’s Bay completes the walk.

As expected, arriving at Robin Hood’s Bay was a bit of an anti-climax. But still, a great feeling of accomplishment and a terrific walk. Following tradition we stuck our boots in the sea, and I tossed in the pebble I’d carried from St Bees. We then retired for a truly well-earned beer.

(Total distance approx. 12 miles)

Link to Coast to Coast Summary

Coast to Coast day 12: Blakey to Littlebeck

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Almost there…just two days to go. This was another pleasant if rather grey day, we got the first (and only) real rain for the entire walk, it bucketed down not long after we left Blakey Ridge.

The route starts with a bit of a road bash across the moors – there wasn’t much traffic thankfully – and then follows a vehicular track into Glaisdale. From here there was a very muddy section through East Arncliff Wood before entering Egton Bridge. A short walk then leads into Grosmont on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, with plenty of steam trains operating to keep both young and old enthusiasts happy.

A steep climb afterwards before levelling out and providing the first views of the east coast and north sea, with a fine prospect down towards Whitby. After this, a short walk downhill into Littlebeck. We didn’t go right down into the village as we were staying at Intake Farm, along with another seven c2c’ers making for a packed dining table that night.

(Total distance approx. 17 miles)

Link to Coast to Coast Summary

Coast to Coast day 11: Osmotherly to Blakey

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A great day, especially after the boredom of the previous day. Great views from the edge of the moors across the moors and valleys, particularly fine views across to Roseberry Topping, and Cook’s monument was also visible. The moors were quite bleak, but I like this. The heather was brown but will explode into purple during Autumn – this area protects the largest expanse of heather moorland in Europe.

From Osmotherly, rather than tracking back to Arncliffe Wood to meet the official c2c track, we took a slightly different route along the road that leads north out of Osmotherly, past the Cod Beck reservoir, eventually picking up the official path as it crosses this road and enters Clain Wood. If staying in Osmotherly, this variation can be recommended.

The path follows the high ground for most of the rest of the day with continual good views if the weather allows. The Lord Stones cafe can be recommended as a good spot for morning tea or an early lunch.

The final part of the day, along a disused railway alignment, did start to drag towards the end – moors very bleak at this point and the weather had become very dark and grey, threatening to rain although it never did (that would come tomorrow). Thankfully, Blakey provided both an excellent B&B, with magnificent views from its en-suite room across the moors, and a lovely old pub where I had a nice curry (actually that’s all Blakey is, a pub and a B&B).

(Total distance approx. 19 miles)

Link to Coast to Coast Summary

Coast to Coast day 10: Catterick Bridge to Osmotherly

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A very long day of over 21 miles, and the most boring of the walk – an endless series of roads, tracks and footpaths through fields. Also included a particularly unattractive but mercifully brief section along the A167, and a dangerous crossing of the A19. To top it off, the pub at Danby Wiske was shut, and there were no other options for lunch.

It was a relief to enter the Arncliffe woods and the final part of the walk with the promise of a more interesting route over the last few days.

We stayed just off the path in Osmotherly, an attractive little village at the edge of the North York Moors National Park. Some people break this stage into two, but I was very pleased to get it over with in one hit.

(Total distance approx. 21.5 miles)

Link to Coast to Coast Summary