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…
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
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
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
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
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..
Namche Bazar (3440m) to Tengboche (3860m) (net height gain 420m)
About 4 hours / 6 kms
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.
No trekking – acclimatization