Our departure date for our next adventure, Nepal and Mt. Everest Base Camp, is rapidly approaching. We have spent the last six months at home training for our trip. Idyll Time has been safely tucked away for the winter inside a large storage shed in Grand Haven, MI. This is the longest time that we have ever been off the boat. Instead of cruising the waterways, we have been spending our days training for our climb. We typically exercise between 4-6 hours per day alternating between the treadmill, stair machine, elliptical, and bicycle. Many days we will hike around the neighborhood with our backpacks loaded with 50-90 pounds of weight. Over the years our neighbors have grown accustomed to our training routine but they still think we are a little weird. We have also run several half marathons and spent time in the Smoky Mountains climbing every peak we could find.
After climbing Kilimanjaro (see 2007 log) we realized that acclimatizing to altitude will be our most difficult factor. Here in the low- lands of TN, we can only climb as high as 6800 feet in the Smokies. For our Nepal trip, we will spend almost 10 days above 16,000 feet. Our climb of Kala Patar at 18,800 feet will be our highest altitude with Everest Base Camp at 17,700 feet our second highest climb. For this trip, we have decided to rent a high altitude tent. For the past two months, we have been sleeping in this tent each night.
The tent sits atop our bed and comes with its own generator to remove oxygen from the air. We can adjust the altitude from 6000 to 21,000 feet. Each week we increase our sleeping altitude by 1000 feet. It has been extremely difficult to sleep in this thing above 12,000 feet. The tent gets very hot and our sleep is extremely disrupted. We continually have strange nightmares along with sleep apnea while sleeping in the tent. Once in the tent, we monitor our blood oxygen level using a small pulse oximeter which fits over our finger. In addition to sleeping in the tent, we also spend at least three hours per week exercising at higher altitudes using a face mask connected to the generator. Only time will tell if all this extra effort aids our acclimatizing.
We just returned from our final week of intensive training in the Smokies. We did several long days of hiking, some as long as 20 miles and climbing up to 5400 feet per day.
For one of our long hikes, we climbed Mt. LeConte, the second highest peak in the Smokies at 6500 feet. We are very familiar with this hike as the lodge atop Mt. Leconte, is an annual trip for us each November. For the past 15 years we have hiked up the same weekend to spend two nights in the lodge.
It is accessible only by foot as there are no roads. All supplies are brought in by lamas or helicopter. Just by luck, we arrived here as they were beginning their annual helicopter resupply for the 2010 season. They were short on help and we happily volunteered to assist with the airlift.
For the next two days, we became sherpas unloading box after box of food and supplies as the helicopter delivered load after load.
In return for our labor, we received free food and lodging in one of their cabins. It was really hard work but we felt that it contributed to our overall fitness plan.
EVEREST BASE CAMP TREK:
Day 1: Arrival Kathmandu
Today we arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal after almost 34 hours of travel. We flew from Atlanta to Los Angeles where we boarded Thai Airlines for a flight to Bangkok, Thailand and then another flight to Kathmandu. It certainly isn’t easy to get here. Somehow we lost two days in the process. We are met at the airport by Mountain Travel Sobek, our tour company, and are soon at the five star Yak and Yeti Hotel. Now time for some much needed sleep before beginning our adventure tomorrow.
Day 2 and 3: Kathmandu
The next two days are spent exploring Kathmandu and its many temples. Just before leaving the US, we had received a travel warning from the State Dept. advising Americans in Kathmandu to stay in their motels today and not to venture into the city due to a Maoist protest. We learned this morning that the protest has been canceled and it is O.K. to go out. Surprisingly, we find the city completely safe and never feel at all uneasy while touring. Driving through the city is another story. It is utter chaos. Cars, motorcycles, rickshaws, and people walking are going every which way. Horns are constantly blaring. There seem to be no traffic rules what so ever. Thrown into this mix are cows just meandering down the middle of the road. What a zoo! It is quickly apparent that this is a third world country. Trash fills the streets. Goats and chickens ready for slaughter are tied up to street posts. Raw meat and all sorts of other goods are lying in the sidewalk for sale. It is extremely crowded with multi story buildings occupying every square foot of land. There are very few single family residences.
This afternoon we have a trek briefing and get a chance to meet the other trekkers on our trip. There will be seven of us hiking to Everest Base Camp. Brian and Jen, William and Hannah, and Mike are all from California although none of them knew each other before the trip. The group seems very compatible and we look forward to getting to know everyone over the next few weeks. Our trip leader, Sanjeev Chhetri, has been leading treks in this area for over 25 years and seems to be very knowledgeable of the country. We should have a good trip. We are hoping for good weather tomorrow. Our mountain flight into Lukla is scheduled for 7:00 AM. We need clear weather for this flight. The plane will only fly into the mountains with clear visibility.
Day 4: Kathmandu to Lukla
We receive our wakeup call this morning at 4:00 AM. By 6:00 AM we are at the airport ready for our mountain flight on our small 20 seater Twin Otter aircraft. It looks like the weather will cooperate, the skies are clear. We soon find ourselves flying into the Himalayas with tall mountains rising all around us. Mount Everest appears in the distance. Our destination, Lukla, is at 9238 feet. There is no descent for this landing. The short 1300 foot air strip is on a tilted uphill gradient to help stop the plane before reaching the mountain wall at the end of the runway. The Dudh Kosi Valley drops precipitously on one side of the runway. After a nail biting landing, we are safely in the mountain town of Lukla and are soon having tea in one of the local tea houses. Sanjeev, our trip leader, spends the next few hours organizing our porters, Sherpa guides, and pack animals. For our trip we have 14 sherpas and 11 Zopkyos carrying our gear. Zopkyos are a cross bread between a cow and a yak. Yaks do not do well below 11,000 feet so this cross breed has been developed for carrying supplies up and down the mountain. From Lukla to Mount Everest there are no roads or cars, only hiking paths. Everything must be transported by either animal or human body. By noon we are on our way to Phakding. It is a beautiful day with temperatures in the 80’s. Our first evening is spent at the Sunrise Lodge in Phakding.
Total Hiking Time: 3 hours
Total feet Climbed: 600 feet
Total Descent: 1550 feet
Altitude at Destination: 8900 feet
Day 5: Phakding to Namche Bazaar
Today starts off not so great. Mike, Brian, and I all seem to have gotten some sort of stomach bug. All three of us are thankful that our rooms at the Sunrise Lodge have toilets inside. We will not have these creature comforts as we get higher on the mountain. Mike seems to have the worst of it and has been throwing up all night. It must be something we ate. We have all been very careful not to drink the water and we wash our hands before every meal. Mountain Travel Sobek prepares all of our food. They cook all of our food using the kitchens of the local tea houses but do not purchase any food from these lodges as it can not be guaranteed safe. We must have gotten some bad food at the hotel in Kathmandu.
We begin our hike at 7:30 AM. The trail continues along the Dudh Kosi River (Milk River) passing through several small villages. We hike though a deep winding canyon with lots of steep up and down’s. We reach the Sagarmatha National Park entrance at 10:00 AM. Trekkers are required to have permits for hiking within the park boundaries. We continue following the river with several high suspension bridge crossings. Prayer flags are strung across the bridges. We enjoy a nice lunch along the river banks before beginning our climb up the “Namche Hill”. It is a long 2 ½ hour climb with many switchbacks up the steep hill. The trail is busy with lots of porters carrying supplies up the mountain. The loads that these porters carry up these steep passes are amazing. Everything which goes up the mountain must be carried by sherpas or pack animals.
We reach the Sherpaland Hotel at Namche Bazaar around 3:00 PM. Namche Bazaar is built in a steep amphitheatre of hills and is the biggest town in the Khumbu area. The town is full of activity with many shop vendors selling their wares. Zopkyos, chickens, and several horses are also wandering through the town. There are many internet café’s and two bakeries in the busy little market town. We have tea and biscuits at 4:00 PM. This is one of the nicest lodges of our trip. We have hot showers and toilets in the rooms. There is no heat in the rooms but the lodge does offer electric heaters for an extra $10.00 per night. Everyone opts for this option. Internet is also available here at the lodge. Dinner tonight is mushroom soup, mo mo’s, pasta with vegetables, green beans, and fruit for desert.
Total Hiking Time: 7 ½ hours
Total Feet Climbed: 3620
Total Descent: 1040
Altitude at Destination: 11470 feet
Day 6: Namche Bazaar
We wake up this morning to some outstanding views of the mountains from our room. They form a steep ice and granite wall all around us. We will be spending a second night here in Namche Bazaar to aid in acclimatization. So far no one has experienced any problems with the altitude. This morning, we have a short hike to the Sagarmatha National Park Visitor’s Center and Museum. Here we get our first views of Mount Everest along with good views of Lotse and Ama Dablam, also two very famous mountains of this region. They seem very far away from here. We spend the afternoon walking around the little town. Namche is very busy with hikers constantly passing through. We purchase some Everest Mountain Hardware Jackets as a memento for our trip. The shop owner offers to sew on patches of Everest Base Camp for us. She even delivers them to the hotel this evening. Now we just have to make it to base camp in order to wear them. Dinner tonight is soup, spaghetti, mashed potatoes, and eggplant. Everyone seems to be feeling much better and we are eager to continue on the trail tomorrow. Can we all continue to adjust to the higher altitudes and rigors of the trail?
Total Hiking Time: 2 hours 41 minutes
Total Feet Climbed: 490
Total Descent: 490
Altitude at Destination: 11470 feet
Day 7: Namche Bazaar to Thame
Cool Duze, our head Sherpa, and Kyla bring hot drinks to our room at 6:00 AM. At 6:30 we enjoy a great breakfast of porridge, pancakes, and fried eggs. Before leaving town, we visit the local Saturday market. Anything and everything from chickens to pots and pans can be found at this local market. People walk from miles around to shop here each Saturday. Their purchase must then be hauled up the mountains in straw baskets atop their backs. No roads or cars here.
We begin our hike at 9:00 AM and are soon hiking through a beautiful Blue Spruce Forrest. Today we are taking a side trip to the village of Thame and are not on the main hiking trail. We see hardly any other trekkers along this route. Sanjeev feels that this side trip will aid in our altitude acclimatization and we also get to see some areas that other trekkers never hike to. We again pass many prayer wheels, mani stones, and Chortens. Chortens are small white prayer temples with 13 layers on the top peak. These 13 steps represent what Buddhists believe to be 13 stages of life. The Bhote Kosi River is many feet below with steep granite cliffs on both sides. We see many terraced farms along the hillside. Potatoes are the main crops planted in this area. The granite from these steep cliffs is used to construct the Mani stones along the trail. Most of these Mani stones are inscribed with the prayer “Om Mani Padme Hum” which translates into “Hail to the Jewel of the lotus Flower”. Buddhists believe that just as lotus flowers grow out of muddy stagnant water, we too can grow out of our fear, ignorance, and delusions by placing the jewel (or teachings of the Buddha into us). Saying this blessing invokes the blessings of the Buddha Chenrezig.
We enjoy lunch at a local tea house. All of our food is again fixed by our kitchen staff. Many hikers purchase meals that the tea houses cook but Sanjeev warns us that the food quality can not be guaranteed. He has arranged with all the places we stop to use their kitchen facilities. Our porters are carrying all of our food and will prepare each meal. We have a hot lunch of potatoes, cheese sandwiches, coleslaw, and sardines.
After lunch, we continue on a narrow rocky path paralleling the river. It is again very hot with temperatures in the 80’s. We descend down to the river and once again cross the river via a long suspension bridge. After a long uphill climb into the village of Thame we soon reach the Valley View lodge which will be our home for the evening. Thame sits in a bowl with 20,000 foot mountains rising all around us. From Thame one could continue on the trail into Tibet. This is a centuries old trade route between Tibet and Nepal. Today, many Tibetan refugees use this trail. The rooms in our lodge are very basic with plywood walls and two small beds. There is no hot water or showers but we do have a toilet in our room. These rooms are not heated so we will use our sleeping bags tonight.
Tea is served at 4:30 and dinner is at 6:30 PM. Our dinners always begin with a soup. As we climb to higher altitudes it is important to drink as much liquid as possible. We also enjoy rice with lentils, mixed vegetables, and fruit for desert. The tea house is burning yak dung in their fireplace. They vent the fireplace outside so the smell is not bad at all. Before turning in, our water bottles are filled with hot water. We put these into our sleeping bags to help stay warm during the night. Even though our room is cold, we stay nice and warm all night long.
We have brought along a pulse oximeter and are now measuring our % of oxygen each morning and evening to see how well we are adjusting to the altitude. At sea level one’s % oxygen is about 98%. Tonight, Jeff is at 91% and I am at 92%. We are at 12, 4000 feet. This is right on track as to where we should be. Hopefully we can keep it around 90% as we go higher. Our resting pulse is also starting to creep higher. Jeff is at 76 bpm and I am at 59 bpm. This will probably increase at higher altitudes as our bodies try to pump more oxygen into our systems. Everyone is still handling the altitude well. We have had no headaches or loss of appetite.
Total Hiking Time: 5 hours 46 minutes
Total Feet Climbed: 2060
Total Descent: 850
Altitude at Destination: 12400 feet
Day 8: Thame to Khumjung
Cool Duze once again brings hot drinks to our room at 5:30 AM. Hot washing water is then brought to us at 5:45 AM. We have our standard breakfast of porridge, eggs, and toast at 6:00 AM. While we are eating breakfast, the Zopkyo’s are being loaded with our gear. These animals don’t like having the heavy packs put on their backs. So that the sherpas are not gorged by their horns, the Zopkyo’s heads are tied together while they are being loaded. Once loaded, they are untied and they slowly start their trek along the trail. They sometimes head off on their own ahead of the Zopkyo driver. They seem to know where to go.
Before leaving Thame, we climb 800 feet to visit the Thame Buddhist Monastery set high in the rocky hillside. Sanjeev has arranged with the Monks for us to tour this 400 year old monastery. Shoes are not allowed inside the building. The monastery is beautifully decorated. Sanjeev does a great job of explaining to us the history of Buddhism and also the meanings behind all of the intricate paintings on the walls and ceilings.
We have a long hike this morning down to the valley floor crossing the river along another suspension bridge. Lunch is along the river banks amongst the many rhododendrons in bloom. Our cooks again fix a hot meal of potatoes, fried spam, homemade Nepali bread, and coleslaw. After lunch, we have a long climb to 13,000 feet. Here we cross a grass airstrip which is said to be the highest airstrip in the world. The small grass and rocky runway falls right off the mountain. I don’t think I would want to land here.
As we reach higher elevations, the trail becomes very rocky and dusty with only small juniper bushes. We are now above the tree line. We have seen many Sherpa’s today carrying hay, lumber, plywood, and metal roofing up from Namche Bazaar. The loads that these people carry are amazing. Most of the Sherpa’s are young kids and they can’t weigh more than 120 pounds. These guys are carrying more than their own weight on their backs, sometimes as much as 220 pounds. We have also seen some girls and older women carrying very heavy loads. It is quite impressive. Reaching Khumjung, we pass along the longest Mani wall in Nepal. These stone markers stretch for over 1000 yards and the wall is over six foot high.
Tonight we are staying at the Khumjung Tea House. The facilities are becoming more primitive as we go higher up the mountain. Our room is again a basic 10 x 10 plywood room with two small twin sleeping platforms. Nothing else adorns the room. Sleeping bags will be needed as there is no heat. There is a shared bathroom down the hall. We are pleasantly surprised to find that the tea house does offer a shower for 350 rupees (about $4.00 US). Everyone signs up for this luxury as we don’t know when our next shower will be. We wait about 30 minutes for the tea house owner to heat the water for showers. Several of our group ended up with cold showers and the others were only warm. We again have tea and cookies at 4:30 PM and dinner is at 6:30PM. Tonight we have soup, mo mo’s, vegetable chow mein, green beans, and pineapple for desert.
Total Hiking Time: 7 hours 56 minutes
Total Feet Climbed: 2470
Total Descent: 2920
Altitude at Destination: 12500
Day 9: Khumjung to Debuche
Hot drinks and washing water are delivered to our rooms at 6:00 AM. We check our pulse oximeter again this morning. Jeff is up to 93% and I am at 91%. We still feel no effects from the altitude. It was cloudy when we arrived here yesterday. Today the weather is clear and we enjoy some outstanding views of Ama Dablam from the tea house. This is considered by many to be the prettiest mountain in the region. It has a near perfect pyramid shape reaching 22,494 feet.
We are on the trail by 7:30 AM. After a 45 minute hike we arrive at the Everest View Hotel at 13,000 feet. This 10 room motel was built by the Japanese and even has several rooms which are pressurized to 6000 feet for guest who fly in and are not adjusted to the altitude. We enjoy tea and hot chocolate on the back deck while marveling at the great views of Ama Dablam, Everest, and Lotse. Back on the trail, we descend almost 2000 feet again to the Dudh Kosi Gorge. Lunch along the river banks consist of beans, sausage, slaw, and home made bread. We get our first close up view of yaks grazing in the pastures nearby.
This afternoon we climb out of the gorge regaining the 2000 feet we had descended earlier today. It is very hot with temperatures reaching almost 90 degrees and the climb is steep. We arrive at the Tengboche Monastery at 12,000 feet around 3:00PM. Many of the expeditions climbing Mount Everest stop here asking for the Lama’s blessings before climbing Mount Everest. This is the spiritual center of the entire Mount Everest region and is considered one of the most beautiful monasteries in Nepal.
Today we have a special ceremony to attend. Unbeknownst to Jen, Brian has arranged ahead of time for him and Jen to be engaged and married here in the monastery. After our quick tour of the monastery, Brian gets down on one knee and proposes to Jen. She says yes, and we then have a Buddhist wedding. The monks have come from all around the area to perform their ritual. It is a special treat for everyone to witness this ceremony. Brian and Jen are dressed in local wedding attire. The monks serve us tea and cookies after the ceremony.
Once the ceremony is completed, our wedding party has a short downhill hike just below Tengboch to Debuche and the Rivendell Lodge for the night. We enjoy a special wedding dinner of soup, pizza, dried buffalo, cauliflower, and wedding cake. Although alcohol at this altitude is not recommended we make an exception and everyone enjoys one glass of wine in celebration of Jen and Brian’s wedding.
Total Hiking Time: 7 hours 45 minutes
Total Feet Climbed: 2390
Total Descent: 2890
Altitude at Destination: 12140
Day 10: Debuche to Dingboche
We are up this morning at 5:30AM. We did not sleep well last night. Both Jeff and I have come down with colds and I have a really bad sore throat. Jeff’s oximeter is 93% and mine is 90%. Both are still good. After a breakfast of porridge, apple pancakes, and eggs we are soon on the trail once again. We have a mostly downhill hike this morning through a beautiful forest of pine trees. We soon cross the Imja Khola River and pass through the village of Pangboche. We continue following the river with the mountain peak of Ama Dablam looming directly overhead. Lunch is at a small tea house in the village of Shomare. We enjoy homemade nan bread, beans, hot dogs, and coleslaw.
This afternoon finds us climbing once again. We are soon above the tree line and the winds pick up to about 20 mph. The terrain is very barren with the river raging below. With the Himalayan peaks in clear view ahead, we cross the Khumbu Khola River and make our way to the remote village of Dingboche. This will be our home for the next two nights as we acclimate to the higher altitude. We are now at 14,500 feet.
Tonight is our first of five nights in tents. Our two nights here will help the bodies adjust to the higher altitudes. So far no one seems to be having any problems but it is standard protocol for a rest day after gaining more than 2000 feet. The tents are set up in the back of a local tea house. Our Zopkyos are corralled in one corner. We also have two toilet tents and a dinning tent. Dinner tonight is soup, fried rice, mixed vegetables, fried eggplant, and mango fruit for desert.
Total Hiking Time: 6 hours 42 minutes
Total Feet Climbed: 2350
Total Descent: 460
Altitude at Destination: 14500
Day 11: Dingboche
Cool Duze brings hot drinks and washing water to our tent at 6:00 AM. Breakfast is at 7:00 AM. Today we have a rice porridge, homemade bread, and tomato and egg omelet. Sack lunches are prepared for our morning acclimatization hike. Today we are climbing Nangkartsang Peak at 16,850 feet. The skies are clear with temperatures around 40 degrees and a 10 mph wind. We have been very fortunate with the weather. It has been crystal clear every day of our trip so far.
The 2400 foot climb up Nangkartsang Peak is very tough. The trail is steep and dusty, especially near the top. At these altitudes our lungs are struggling for oxygen. It is a long slow climb up the mountain stopping after each step to regain our breath. Sanjeev says that by climbing this peak we will have a much easier time with the climbs yet to come. Our efforts are rewarded with great views of Lhotse, Makalu, and Cho Oyu. These are three of the six highest peaks in the world. We enjoy our sack lunch of yak cheese, hard boiled egg, pound cake, cookies, candy bar, and juice before heading down the mountain. We are back to camp at 3:00 PM, tired and dusty.
This afternoon everyone in our group takes advantage of a shower which we found at one of the local tea houses. Attached to the outside of the tea house is a small metal shed with a hot water shower inside. For around $4, we consider it a deal. By U.S. standards, one would not dare go in this thing, but as dirty as we are it seems like a luxury. It feels really good to be clean once again.
Tea is at 4:00 PM. Everyone seems to be adjusting well to the altitude. Tonight dinner consists of macaroni and cheese, potato pancakes, vegetables, and peaches for desert. We all turn in early as today was a tough day.
Total Hiking Time: 6 hours
Total Feet Climbed: 2480
Total Descent: 2480
Altitude at Destination: 14500
Day 12: Dingboche to Lobuje:
I wake up this morning with a really bad chest cold. Before getting up, we both check our oximeter readings. Jeff is doing really well at 93 % but mine has dropped down to 89%. This is still not bad and is probably lower due to my cold. We are again on the trail by 8:00 AM. Outside of town, we are hiking through the wide open Khumbu Valley floor. It is very rocky and dusty with no vegetation. The dust really aggravates my lungs today and I have very difficult time breathing. We cross the Khumbu River over some narrow wooded bridges to reach our lunch spot at 15100 feet. Our kitchen staff again does a great job cooking us a hot meal of potatoes, Tibetan homemade bread, sardines, and cucumber salad. It is amazing that they are able to pack up camp each morning after we leave and then pass us along the trail, beating us to the lunch spot and having a hot meal ready when we arrive. They repeat this process after lunch and again pack up lunch and pass us along the trail beating us to camp and having everything set up before we arrive. They work incredibly hard.
After lunch, we have a steep climb. I find this very difficult and am struggling to get my breath. Having a cold at 15,000 feet is not a good thing. This afternoon we pass though a memorial area. Many of the climber’s bodies who have died while climbing Mount Everest are brought to this area for burial. It is somber seeing all of these memorials of the climbers who have lost their lives on the mountain.
We camp this evening just outside of Lobuje. Our tents are in a boulder field near a ridge. It is very rocky, windy, and cold. The presence of Mount Everest can be felt even though we can’t see the mountain from our camp. A stray dog has followed us from lunch and is now asleep outside our tent. We have named him Khumbu. Tonight’s dinner is rice with lentils and vegetables. Today was a tough day and we are to bed soon after dinner.
Tomorrow we hope to reach Everest Base Camp. It will be a long day so we need to be on the trail by 5:00 AM. Our bags are packed tonight and we will sleep in our hiking clothes so that we will be ready to go for our 4:00 AM wake up call. It is really cold tonight with the temperature hovering around 15 degrees. We each put two hot water bottles in our sleeping bag for extra warmth.
Total Hiking Time: 6 hours 11 minutes
Total Feet Climbed: 2290
Total Descent: 410
Altitude at Destination: 16200
Day 13: Lobuje to Everest Base Camp/Gorak Shep
Today we hope to reach our goal of Everest Base Camp. My oximeter reading this morning is only 83% but Jeff’s is still good at 92%. My cold has gotten worse and I think this has something to do with the low oximeter reading. Can I make it today? I am coughing up hard green slugs of phlem mixed with dirt. Cool Duze brings hot tea and coffee to our tent at 4:00 AM. Breakfast is at 4:30 and we are hiking by 5:30 AM. Our stray dog disappeared sometime during the night. It is really cold outside this morning with temperatures around 10 degrees. Everyone is struggling to stay warm. We have a long hike along the boulder fields to the edge of the Khumbu Glacier. We then climb steeply and reach the small village of Gorak Shep at 8:00 AM. Here we have lemon tea at the local tea house. Besides two small tea houses, there is nothing else to this village. Because the winters are so severe here, the locals leave their tea houses during the winter months and move to lower altitudes until spring arrives. It is a very desolate place.
Just outside Gorak Shep, we have a steep climb through boulders up onto the Khumbu Glacier. My lungs are really struggling for air and are filled with congestion. My throat is incredibly sore and I can barely swallow. The high altitude and dust are making my cold a lot worse. Breathing at 17,000 feet is not easy, even in good health. I am really having a hard time today. Several yak trains pass us on their way back from taking supplies to Everest Base Camp. Once we reach 18,000 feet, we have a long ridge walk atop the glacier. The ice underneath pops and cracks with the glacier’s movement. The landscape is barren and seems almost like we could be on another planet. We have great views of Everest and Nupse. We meet several Everest climbers hiking down to Gorak Shep for the day. It is fascinating chatting with them. After a long descent, we reach Everest Base Camp at 17,700 feet around 12:30PM. WE MADE IT!! There is a plaque here and many prayer flags strung to some boulders. There are 100’s of climber’s tents just down the hill nestled along the Khumbu Ice Fall. We enjoy our pack lunch of yak cheese, boiled egg, buffalo sausage, and candy bar as we watch some climbers going through the ice field just outside of Everest Base Camp. Traveling through this ice field is one of the most dangerous parts of climbing Everest. We can see why. The ice field is massive with huge crevices all around. The climbers we see in the ice field look like ants. The scale of things here is so large that it is hard to describe.
After spending about an hour at base camp, we decide to head back down the mountain. The wind is starting to pick up and it is getting cold. We have a hard two hour hike climbing up and down over huge boulder fields. We are very relieved to finally reach our camp just outside of Gorak Shep. Everyone is really wasted. It has been a long day. We have been up since 4:00 AM and have been hiking for almost 9 hours at 17,000 feet. For the next hour we collapse in our tent, too tired to even unpack our sleeping bags. Instead of having tea in the dining tent, Cool Duze brings everyone hot drinks to their tents. We are all too tired to even move. We are surprised at the low readings of our pulse oximeter. I am at 79 % with a resting pulse of 80 BPM and Jeff is at 81% with a pulse of 80 BPM. Our camp is at 17,900 feet and our bodies are certainly showing the effects of the high altitude. Today was very hard.
Dinner tonight is tomato soup, spaghetti, potatoes, and green beans. It is really cold here at Gorak Shep. Our camp is on a barren area of glacial sand at the base of Kala Pathar. We are all wearing our big goose down jackets to dinner. My toes are frozen even sitting inside the dining tent. We have another hard day ahead of us tomorrow so everyone is to bed soon after dinner. Our wake up call tomorrow is again 4:00 AM for our climb of Kala Pathar.
Total Hiking Time: 8 hours 51 minutes
Total Feet Climbed: 2540
Total Descent: 1270
Altitude at Destination: 17000
Day 14: Gorak Shep to Kala Pathar/Lobuje
Cool Duze brings hot drinks to our tent at 4:00 AM. It was really cold last night with temperatures around 5 degrees. My lungs and throat are really hurting this morning. I was coughing up green phlem again all night long. My oximeter reading is still very low at 79% but Jeff’s body seems to have adjusted to the higher altitude and he is back up to 91%. Neither of us have any headaches or loss of appetite. I think our training in the altitude tent has really helped us adjust to the high altitudes. We have a breakfast of porridge, eggs, and toast at 4:30 AM.
We begin our climb of Kala Pathar at 5:00 AM. Hannah and William have decided to stay in camp and skip this climb. They are really tired from yesterday’s long trek. We have another clear day with no wind but it is very cold. My toes and fingers are completely numb. After about an hour, the sun comes up and things start to warm up. The hike is really steep with lots of zigzags as we work our way up the mountain. At these altitudes we are hiking very, very slowly. We basically take one step, stop to regain our breath, and then take another step. At 6:30 AM we hear a loud noise. We turn to see an avalanche occurring in the ice field just above Everest Base Camp. We watch in amazement as the snow plummets down for the next 30 seconds. We had met several climbers yesterday who were planning on traveling through the ice field this morning. We hope no one was hurt.
After 2 ½ hours, we reach the first summit of Kala Pathar. Here we leave our backpacks before continuing our climb to the second summit. This climb is short but there are huge boulders which we must scramble over. Prayer flags are flying at the summit. From this second summit, we have great 360 degree views of Everest and the surrounding mountains. Base Camp is now below us and we can also see the north and west ridges of Everest along with the South Col. After a few quick pictures, we decide to head down. The wind is starting to pick up and we want to get down the mountain and away from the dust before the winds get too strong. They are already gusting to 20 MPH here on the top.
We are back to our camp at Gorak Shep by 11:00 AM. It is certainly a lot easier hiking down than up. We have a hot lunch of tuna fish, bread, and cucumber salad before continuing down the mountain. Our day is far from over and we have another long/hard hike to our camp at Lobjue. We have a very strong 25mph head wind and the dust is blowing right into our face. Everyone has bandanas covering their mouth and face. These help somewhat but it is still pretty miserable with the wind blowing the dust all around. We reach camp around 3:00 PM and again collapse in our tents for the next hour. It was another exhausting day.
Our camp site once again sits in a bowl with mountains surrounding us in all directions. The landscape is still pretty barren and rocky. It snowed this afternoon while we were in our tents. Dinner at 6:30 PM consists of macaroni and cheese, fried rice, mixed vegetables, and apple pie for desert. Everyone is tired but happy to be back down at this lower altitude of 15,300 feet. We are asleep by 8:30 PM.
0Total Hiking Time: 9 hours
Total Feet Climbed: 2010
Total Descent: 3720
Altitude at Destination 15300
Day 15: Lobuje to Debuche
We wake up this morning to find frost inside our tent. Although not as cold as the higher elevations, it was still cold last night with temperatures around 15 degrees. We stayed warm in our sleeping bags with the hot water bottles. My oximeter reading is a still a low 78%. Jeff is at 90%. Our bodies are really tired from the last three days. We are underway this morning at 7:00 AM. We stop for tea in the village of Pheriche. Here we get a tour of the Himalayan Mountain Rescue Association. There is a volunteer American doctor here who provides medical care to the local Nepali people along with trekkers who come down with altitude sickness.
After leaving Pheriche, we again climb through a mountain pass at 15000 feet. Our trail winds its way along the mountain side with a huge gorge and Imja Khola River hundreds of feet below. We stop for lunch in the little village of Shomare. It is again very windy and dusty. This afternoon we pass many sherpas carrying huge loads. They have been to the Saturday market in Namche Bazaar and are bringing their purchases up the mountain.
We are all very happy to reach the Rivendell Lodge around 2:30PM. We had stayed here almost one week ago on our way up the mountain. The hot showers, indoor plumbing, and beds are a welcome sight. No more tent camping on this trip! Dinner tonight consists of chicken Mo Mo’s, chow mein, fried cauliflower, mixed vegetables, and fruit cocktail for desert.
Total Hiking Time: 6 hours 35 minutes
Total Feet Climbed: 570
Total Descent: 3310
Altitude at Destination: 12140
Day 16: Debuche to Namche Bazaar:
Cool Duze is outside our door with hot drinks is at 6:00 AM. My oximeter reading is 90% and Jeff’s has risen to 94% this morning. Breakfast of porridge, homemade cinnamon rolls, and omelet is served at 6:30 AM and we are again on the trail at 7:15 AM. We have a short but steep hike up the hill to the Tengboche Monastery. We stop here today at the monastery’s gift shop to buy souvenirs for family and friends. From Tengboche, we have a long downhill hike. It is really steep and we take it slowly, careful not to fall or twist an ankle. It is amazing that the Zopkyos can manage on this steep and rocky terrain. We again cross the river on a huge suspension bridge before beginning another long climb up the other side. Sanjeev calls this “Nepali Flat” which translates into lots of steep climbs and steep descents over and over. We have many beautiful views along the way. We reach the Sherpaland hotel in Namche Bazaar at 2:30PM. This is the nicest lodge along the trail and we are happy to be back here. Tonight we have showers and toilets in our room along with a room heater. What luxury!!
Total Hiking Time: 6 hours 48 minutes
Total Feet Climbed: 2090
Total Descent: 2990
Altitude at Destination: 11470
Day 17: Namche Bazaar to Lukla
Today is our last hiking day but it will be a long one. Sanjeev wants us to be underway by 6:30 AM. Our oximeter reading is coming up; we are now both at 93 %. Even though we are still at 11,000 feet it almost seems like we are back at sea level after the high elevations we have experienced over the last week. After a 5:30 AM breakfast of porridge, homemade bread, and omelet, we are underway. We again have a long descent to the river gorge and cross yet another suspension bridge. We stop for hot tea in the little village of Phakding. While passing through Phakding, we befriend two dogs who decide to hike with us. These two dogs, which we name Gorak and Shep, stay with us the remainder of the day. As we pass through different villages, the dogs make stops at various houses. It seems they know these people. They always catch back up with us and pretend to belong to us for the day. We stop for lunch at a local tea house and the dogs are quickly asleep patiently waiting for us to continue. After exiting the Sagarmatha National Park, we have a long climb all the way to Lukla. As we hike through the village of Lukla, some of the local dogs quickly jump on Gorak and Shep. The local dogs clearly don’t want these two outsiders in their town. Gorak and Shep disappear and we never saw them again. I wonder if they hiked all the way back home today.
Tonight we are staying at the Lukla Numbur Hotel which is right beside the airstrip. It starts raining just after we arrive. Boy did we luck out on the weather. We never had the first drop of rain while we were hiking and it was crystal clear almost every day. Tonight we have a farewell dinner with our sherpas and porters. We are served a feast of roasted chicken, chop suey, green beans, and chocolate cake for desert. Along with tips for the porters, we have all donated some of our hiking gear for them. Sanjeev has everyone draw numbers to determine who gets what. They all seem very appreciative and end the evening with dancing and singing.
Total Hiking Time: 8 hours 40 minutes
Total Feet Climbed: 2280
Total Descent: 4040
Altitude at Destination: 9200
Day 18: Lukla to Kathmandu
The weather was again clear for our flight out of Lukla to Kathmandu. Sanjeev had arranged for us to catch the first flight out at 7:00 AM. Over the past few days he has worried that we could get trapped in Lukla due to overcast conditions. Luckily, we woke up to another flawless day. We all pile in to the twin engine Otter and rocket down the runway and off the edge of the mountain. Soon we are back in Kathmandu. It is quite a culture shock to be back in such crowded conditions. We spend the afternoon enjoying the luxury of our five star Yak and Yeti Hotel. This evening we have a farewell dinner at the famous Rum Doodle Restaurant. This restaurant has been a favorite meeting place of Everest Climbers for many years. We all enjoy one last meal together before heading our separate ways tomorrow.
Over the past 18 days we hiked 130 miles and climbed over 29,600 feet (more than Mount Everest is tall). This was one of the hardest trips that we have ever done. The dust and high altitudes were very challenging. The scenery was continuously amazing. The scale of the landscape is hard to adequately describe or catch on film. Likewise, the Nepali people are similarly hard to describe. The tremendous loads that the sherpas carry, their cheerful attitude, and quiet demeanor are difficult to put into words for those who have not personally come in contact with these people. For a country so poor, these people display a true spirit that is hard to explain. We always felt safe and welcome in their beautiful country. We feel much richer for this experience. With all that said, would we do this again? Ask us again in a couple of months.