Everest Base Camp & Kala Patthar

 

I have obviously been rather quiet on the blog of late, fear not however for it’s not because i’ve had nothing to say, I have instead been rather occupied with slogging my way 180km up to Everest base camp and back.

Trekking is one of the undeniable draws of Nepal, and my intention upon coming was to strike out into the Khumbu region to soak up some of the beautiful scenery, and see if I couldn’t just sneak up to Everest base camp while I was there.

While most trekkers heading to Everest start from Lukla, which requires a short flight from Kathmandu, I decided, through a combination of young naivety and first time trekking bravado, that if I was going to do it I wanted to do it properly so extended my trek to include a 6 day trek from Jiri to lukla, in place of the 45 minute flight.

                         Start of the trail at Jiri

Stepping off the bus in Jiri with my large rucksack full off trekking essentials, and a few other items I would come to loathe lugging around, I checked into my first lodge and prepared for my first day of trekking ahead of me.Having done only a few days trekking in Thailand which is obviously a completely different environment, I was sure neither what to expect nor how I would handle the 17 full days ahead of me, I slept with a mix of trepidation an excitement for what lay ahead.

               Being chased by kids with goats on my first day

Now, to describe my first day as anything less than a navigational disaster would be rather untrue, I started well but despite my best map reading efforts I took a wrong turn around halfway through the day and ended up climbing 1300m uphill which I needn’t have done, something to which my already exhausted legs objected to greatly.

Finding myself with dusk approaching and having only a rough idea of where I was I was luckily rescued by a passing farmer searching for his lost ox, and who instead stumbled across a lost westerner, he ran a cheese factory nearby and said he had a spare room which I could stay in, so it was that my first night on the trail was spent staying with a charming local family. The young daughter was at first suspicious of this odd man carrying a large bag who had invaded their home, and insisted on following me around to make sure I wasn’t up to no good, after a while her suspicion abated and she instead concentrated on combing my hair and styling it for me to her great amusement.

                       Girl at the cheese factory 

The next day, after being pointed back onto the right path by my kind hosts, I made my way down the hill and continued on my way, luckily I spent the rest of my trek navigating more sucessfully, learning the art of reading
contour lines distances and routes more effectively.

The trail from Jiri, unfortunately for me, doesn’t follow any valleys, instead it cuts across them,meaning the path is a constant series of steep climbs followed by equally steep descents, with almost no middle ground or flat sections. The Nepalis it seem prefer taking the direct route, and if there happens to me a mountain in the way, well so be it.

                            Trail near Kinja

My next 5 days then were a series of gruelling climbs and knee crunching down hills , I made good progress spurred on by the beautiful scenery through which I passed, as is changed from misty hillside forests, to dusty sandy tracks and on to towering pine forests peppered with bubbling streams, all spanned by idyllic wooden bridges. Occasional interuptions from larger rivers flowing angrily with melt water from the mountains were overcome with a series of alarmingly wobbly metal bridges which allowed me to scamper quickly over the bubbling rapids below. Stone staircases laboriously laid along some of the steeper sections provided a smooth path but were particularly taxing on my legs.

                    One of many flights of stone stairs 

Along the path to Lukla I met very few trekkers, it appeared only a few added this extra section on, those I did meet however were invariably freindly and I chatted with many of them and even walked with a few for a while.
Sporadically placed lodges and restaurants catered to all my food and accommodation needs, the lodges were basic but provided all I needed to crash out after an exhausting day on the trail. As I went on I became more accustomed to the daily rigours and began to cover more distance, soon fiding myself within striking distance of Lukla.

My 6th day on which I reached Lukla was my longest up until then and I eventually crawled into Lukla at 7pm in the dark, well and truly famished and tired, I had been motivated by the lure of a shower, warm bed and even he potential luxury of an internet cafe! I was rewarded with all 3 and spend a very enjoyable evening in Lukla followed by a lazy morning in town as I ran a few errands and stocked up on food and supplies for the rest of my climb.

Leaving Lukla I had a short days climb up to Phakding, halfway between Lukla and Namche. Walking through a picturesque valley bordered by pine forests and centred around a river tumbling its way southwards the trail beyond Lukla was noticeably much busier than it had been from Jiri, with large groups and tours making their way up and down, often supported by a small army or porters and guides, it was quite a change after my quiet 6 previous days!

                            Valley below Namche

A climb from the river through shady pine forests along a steep sandy track full of switchbacks brought me up to Namche the next day, despite being just a small village Namche acts as a major thoroughfare for trekkers with most spending a day here acclimatizing to the altitude on their way up. Imagine my surprise then as I checked in to a lodge to find a full wedding group there celebrating, the Nepali groom (who lived in England) and the Swedish bride had, after their ceremony in Kathmandu, led a group of 15 guests from around the world up to base camp, having just returned they were in high spirits and after being invited to join them in the pub it seemed rude to refuse.

Now perhaps the Irish pub wasn’t the best place to spend my acclimatization day but these things happen, the friendly group ensured I had a great and very memorable couple of days in Namche, and it was with a heavy heart we parted ways, I kindly declined their invitations to abandon my attempt and join them back in town for more celebrations and left town the next morning on my way up.

 Namche

With the added disadvantage of a hangover I made slow and steady progress towards Tengboche, climbing my way to almost 4000m, staying a night in Tengboche by the famous monastery. The next morning gave me my first clear view of Everest, rising up between its Himalayan neighbours, funnily enough the perspective makes Everest look smaller than many of the surrounding peaks taking away from its grandeur slightly.

      Everest from Tengboche (its the barely visible central peak)

Above Tengboche the altitude really begins to take its toll, hills which would previously have posed no major challenge become serious battles and the thinness of the air ensures you are constantly fighting for breath. By the time I reached Periche that evening the landscape had changed drastically, gone were the lush pine forests and green meadows, replaced instead with ghostly stone valleys and scree sided slopes, glaciers and steep sided snow topped peaks dominated the surrounding views and eerie moon like scenery covered the trail up to Lobuche.

                              Valley by Periche 

After a freezing cold night I awoke to find my waterbottle frozen solid and was naturally rather hesitant to climb out of my warm sleeping bag, when I eventually got going I found myself walking up more glacial valleys. Before Lobuche I also crossed a number of steep passes, one of which had a collection of chortens and shrines on top, dedicated to the climbers who have lost their lives on the regions peaks, surrounded by towering white sentinels and with eagles soaring overhead the prayer flag topped stone shrines were a stark reminder that beneath the exquisite beauty of the mountains lays mother nature at her most ruthless.

                   Chortens and shrines atop the pass

From Lobuche I broke through the 5000m line and climbed up to Gorak Shep the last settlement on the trail to base camp. I spent a night here gathering my strength as I planned to reach basecamp and summit Kala Patthar at 5500 the next day.

I awoke next morning having slept terribly due to the altitude, as well as being woken at 4am by a rowdy German group getting up. I got going feeling rather unenthused and extremely tired, and with snow on the ground I began crunching my way up Kala Patthar. The problem is, at that altitude the air contains just 50% of the oxygen it does at sea level, so even to stay still you need to breathe twice as fast as normal, factor in climbing a deceptively steep slope and the amount of oxygen your body craves and the amount you can breathe in simply don’t add up. The feeling of suffocation as your body works to get more oxygen can become alarming as your lungs and legs burn. After a good two hours of climbing the summit eventually came into view and I staggered my way up the final boulder slope to the prayer flags on the summit. The views form the top were reward enough for my climb; beneath clear blue skies Everest lay framed beside the impressive Lhotse face, both standing defiantly as a prisitne example of nature at its most beautiful. A full 360 turn on the summit is met with soaring white peaks in all directions, rising up from stony valleys and icy glaciers which twist together in a white and grey mess for as far as the eye can see.

                   View of Everest, and me, from Kala Patthar

After the obligatory photos and with one last marvel at the unearthly panorama spread before me I began my descent, which was luckily much easier than the climb up. Midway through my descent I was stopped in my tracks by the terrifying sound of a large avalanche plummeting down the steep ice slopes on the other side of the valley, the grating rumbling noise carried easily and it felt almost as if I was standing beneath the great wave of snow as it came to rest on the rocky floor. This was the first of many avalanches and rockfalls I saw and heard on my last couple of days, as the sun rose and heated the snow avalanches would roar down with alarming frequency.

 The beautiful Ama Dablam

After an hour of easy downhill walking I found myself back in Gorak Shep for some much needed lunch, and an hour later, refuelled with chips and soup I left the warmth of the lodge once more for my next challenge of the day- basecamp.

After the exhaustive climb up Kala Patthar the route to base camp seemed gloriously flat, after a couple of hours traipsing across glaciers and boulder fields while dodging yak trains and porters I finally came down to the entrance to base camp; guarded by a pair of huge boulders daubed with Mt Everest base camp and adorned with all manner of messages and flags. While most people seemed content with a picture at the rocks over looking camp, I was nosy and wanted to have a look around the camp itself, and get up close to the great Khumby Icefall, which tumbled down to the edge of camp. The camp itself was not how I had imagined it to be; it was spread across a large area on an uneven and hilly glacier, pockmarked with frozen lakes which were surrounded by steep rocky slopes covered with stalactites and dangling ice shards.

                                 Overlooking base camp

It was too early in the season for climbing but the camp was abuzz with porters preparing for the imminent arrival of the climbing teams, levelling ground and bringing in supplies. It was a fascinating place to wander through, a sense of a determined little settlement in the middle of such a hostile landscape was admirable and only exacerbated by knowledge of the battles that would be fought nearby in the weeks to come as teams battled fiercely to summit.

                                   Path to the icefall

As the late afternoon chill descended I began my trip back towards Gorak Shep, retracing my steps over the rocky slopes and icy paths. I arrived back at the lodge with a sense of accomplishment and a contentedness at having completed the goals I set out for so many long days before. That night I slept soundly through pure exhaustion, revelling in the warmth and comfort of my sleeping bag.

 The Khumbu icefall

My work was not done however and a considerabel distance remained to be covered before I could get on the plane back in Lukla and head back to civilization. Thankfully the return trip was almost all downhill and could therefore be covered at a much quicker pace. I made great progress down the first day, covering 23km and spending the night in Tengboche where I had a very enjoyable evening with an Exodus tour group I met, most of whom were English and very friendly to me the solo traveller, and we spent the night playing cards in good spirits.

 Mules crossing one of many bridges

From here I spent two more days descending, the first spend amid light snow flurries as i trudged my way back to Namche, after a night here I set off on my last days walk back to Lukla. Here the trail was packed with trekkers on their way up, huge groups filled the trail, making me glad I had started a few weeks earlier and thus avoided the majority of the crowds as the season proper got under way. My last day walking was spent with an Australian guy I had met a few days earlier, making a fitting end to my 17 days on the trail.

Arriving back  in Lukla signalled the end of the trek and brought a sense of relief but also of acomplishment, I had completed the trail and I had survived, had I not been so tired, smelly and and starving I may have even felt a pang or two of pride.

                                  Everest 

After a long hot shower, good food and a blissful sleep in a warm doublebed I awoke feeling slightly more human and emabrked upon my next challenge, trying to get a flight out.

Arriving at the tiny airport- its so small I actually walked past it the first time! I found to my great dismay that no planes were flying due to the weather. However all clouds, even Himalayan storm clouds, have a silver lining.

After asking around the airport for a while I decided to wait there in case the weather cleared and flights resumed, I sat in the dinky waiting area asking every passing Nepali, pilot porter or mere passer-by if there were any flights going and if I could get on board. My tenacity was rewarded as I managed to get my way down to the runway with the promise of a potential seat of a helicopter due to depart soon.

 Lukla airport

Probably due to my annoyingly insistent asking they decided to get rid of me and I found myself plonked in between 3 Dutch guys in the back of a helicopter. There is it seems something about being in the back of a helicopter as the rotors start up that turns grown men back into kids, as we gently lifted off all the passenger, myself included, were grinning like children, snapping away with our cameras, eyes darting round with glee like little boys on Christmas day.

 Taking of from Lukla

Unfortunately the cloud was very low so the visibility wasn’t great but this did not diminish from the great feeling as we whizzed towards Kathmandu, skirting over treetops and passes, watching small villages fly by beneath us.An hour or so flight saw us drop down and zoom across Kathmandu, the pilot bringing us down safely inside the airport, having the sense to avoid the huge jets which were landing and taking off on the runway nearby.

 Me and my ride

Arriving back in Kathmandu was a definite relief, after being driven through the maze of runways in the back of a truck and having our names written down in lieu of customs we soon found ourselves outside and free to go. For me, after 17 days of filling by simple food the temptation of cheap and plentiful chicken was too great to resist and I set off from the airport, spirits high from my accomplishments, with my heart set on finding and devouring the biggest tastiest chicken burger I possibly could,                                                                                I think I had earned it.

Backpacking Jack

Comments
5 Responses to “Everest Base Camp & Kala Patthar”
  1. Jill Firman says:

    That was an amazing blog. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and could even feel the cold and my legs were hurting!!! Well done Jack you deserve to be proud of your accomplishments.

  2. Eliz Gilford says:

    So glad that things haven’t changed so much in 25 years. I remember to this day the ups, to go down nearly as far . Great achievement, and I promise you will remember it all for ever.

  3. aviewfromagreenfield says:

    You’re literally the coolest person I know! I love reading your blog, I hope you find your way home safely!

  4. Sebastien says:

    Thanks for sharing this. Quite a communicative feel to travel.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: