Get ready folks, this is a long one. I wasn’t sure how to put all this together. It is so hard to generalize this trip as it is so different from most adventures most people will ever take. I decided to do a day by day account, and here it is! However, if you prefer the coles notes version, take a look here.
(Please keep in mind, these are my personal feelings of the trek, based on my thoughts and physical experience, others may have viewed this completely differently)
Day 1- Monday, May 13/13
Kathmandu to Lukla
Tara Air (30 minute flight)
Lukla (2840m) to Phakding (2652m)
6.4k m (3hr Trek)
Day one was Great! Everyone was amped and ready to go. After all coming off a quick flight from Kathmandu and landing at what is considered one of the most dangerous airports in the world, you come to realize that it really was not as frightening as some had mentioned previously. For myself, I had been up since 2 AM in anticipation and anxiousness of this whole trip (not too far off from the 4 AM wake-up call). I will not lie though…for those hours that I laid awake, my only thoughts were “Did I bite off more than I can chew?” There were some serious doubts rolling about and the fear of not making it and quitting were really taking over.
Nonetheless, the day was here, and we were there and off we went- everything was coming to fruition. Day one is really just very deceiving, as it is the one day where you are going forward, yet going down in elevation. That gives a quick illusion of ease- but three hours later we were there, forgetting that day two would be soon upon us. You quickly gain friendships amongst the group, and you quickly pick out those at your pace. Nothing brings you even closer together than a rather small room, a torrential downpour and a couple pots of ginger lemon tea. With that, an early bedtime had followed (pretty much every night was an early bedtime 8 pm was usually pretty good), and so came the anticipation of day two.
Day 2- Tuesday, May 14/13
Phakding (2652m) to Namche Bazaar (3440m)
10.25km (7hrs) with break in Jorsalle (2900m)
Hotel Camp de Base (2 nights)
I cannot stress how deceiving day one is; it is almost ridiculous. That is because day two was my nightmare! I can honestly say it was the worst day I have ever had; just a mental and physical battle! The first 3 hours were moderate, with a lot of ups and downs and suspension bridges and general trails. This first portion kept up with my general expectations of the trek; gradual ups with a few downs with moderate strenuation. Then came the second half. That portion was 500 vertical meters up, and in my perspective it was all up, a very steep, never ending up at that! I get it, we’re going to Everest, but that was beyond what I had imagined, especially on the second day. I had not anticipated having a breakdown on day two, but with a bad knee acting up already, anxiety and generally being overwhelmed, it all went very poorly. In hopes of reaching the end, every corner you turned, another hill or steps would emerge. I had never realized how such a physical challenge can have such an emotional effect on a person. There were moments of tears, and thoughts of quitting- too bad it is not in my personality to do so. Eventually, after about 4 hours of plucking along, and swearing like a sailor, there it was, Namche Bazaar was in plain site- too bad there were even more stairs to get to the tea house. On this day, I officially got my ass kicked (excuse my wording)- the bright side is, this was meant to be the most difficult day of the whole trek- and I am one to always loving the silver lining.
Day 3- Wednesday, May 15/13
Free day in Namche Bazaar/ viewpoint hike
Namche Bazaar (3400m)
View point (3860m) 4 km up and down (3hrs)
After the nightmare trek of day two, I am to this day very thankful for day three’s free day. Although still doing acclimatizing treks, it was really a very necessary break. The break wasn’t even for the physical, but for the mental aspect after cracking the day before. This day was incredibly uplifting after the day before. Although still having some reminiscing moments from the previous day, the quick trek over to the viewpoint gave a great reminder as to why we were all there. This was the day we got our first glimpse of Mt Everest! All the feelings of tiredness and defeat were gone, and everyone was all smiles! This was such a great feeling, everything seemed to be back on track! Oh and lets not mention our stumble upon Reinhold Messner (the man who summited all the 8000 meter peaks!), who was in town doing a 60th anniversary documentary. What I have to say to those doing this trek is, just let day three get there and it will all get better- I promise!
Day 4- Thursday, May 16/13
Namche Bazaar (3400m) to Tengboche (3860m)
9 km (6hrs) + monastery visit
Tashi Delek Lodge
After a relaxing free day on Day three, and calming my emotions, Day four seemed like nothing. This was a reasonably enjoyable day. A lot of ups and a lot of downs but we got there. The weather was miserable though, nothing but fog in sight and rain as well. It was unfortunate as the views are meant to be incredible on this day. Even with the fog and rain, we were walking in the midst of the fully bloomed rhododendron forest, which seemed so magical. For whatever reason, the poor weather and lengthy day had not bothered me, tunnel vision led me right through. After a good 5 hours (with a break), the remaining hour or so was again all up hill. The rain and humidity were really the most challenging at that point. On the top of the hill was Tengboche, and it was such a relief to finally see it! Cold, wet and miserable, yet it was such a good day, almost a success!
After a nice pot of hot chocolate with the girls, we visited a Buddhist Monastery for their afternoon prayer. It was a very surreal experience, until the horns started blowing. Beyond that it was definitely time to relax, play some cards and go to bed.
Day 5- Friday, May 17/13
Tengboche (3860m) to Dingboche (4410m)
With break in Somre (4040m)
8 km (6 hrs)
Peaceful Lodge (2 nights)
Trekking from Tengboche from Dingboche was for the most part fairly calm. It was foggy and rainy yet again, which always brings the mood down. The trekking day its self though was fairly easy (in comparison to previous days). This is the day you pass the tree line and the geological landscape completely changes. When starting the day, you are still surrounded by rhododendron forest and as you walk, and as the hours pass, the trees turn to bushes, and bush into rock, and rock into dust. That is the point you come to realize you are really walking towards the top of the world. This day amongst others seemed fairly quick, and perhaps because of the weather, you just walk- no pictures, no stopping, just going. It is always a relief to see where you are staying from a distance; light at the end of the tunnel. In this particular case, it was just warmth that you strive for. On this day I vividly remember the tea house, primarily because after a long day of trekking, it seemed to have the largest steps I have ever seen, which led towards the communal area. Those steps didn’t matter though, as Dingboche was a nice cushy 2-night stay…and again, yay free day!
Day 6- Saturday, May 18/13
Dingboche free day (4410m)
Hike to view point (4900m)
As per the previous day, Yay free day! And on this day…we awoke to clear skies and we saw MOUNTAINS!!!, and not just any mountains, we were surrounded! The day before, you wouldn’t even think there were any with all that fog! It was really the first day you come to realize how vast the Himalaya region really is. It was a great time for a free day. Although still doing another acclimatizing trek to a view point, it’s always good to know you really don’t have to do much. My biggest issue with these free day treks, is that they seem to be a road to nowhere. I get their purpose, and I understand that the view is great… but after days of trekking in the past, and days of trekking for the future, the motivation just isn’t there. I would have been happy relaxing, healing my knee, and mentally prepping for the upcoming days. Regardless, it was a beautiful day to begin with, and it was another tough trek all the way up, and in the words of my fellow trekker , “this is F*@%ing hard!”. That is no word of a lie, it really is. Thankfully the viewpoint was not too far, because at this point you start to get towards real altitude. Some continued beyond the view point as they wanted to officially reach 5000m, I was more than willing to wait till the next day to do so, after all a pot of hot chocolate was awaiting back at the lodge.
Day 7- Sunday, May 19/13
Dingboche (4410m) to Lobuche (4910m)
7 km (5 hrs)
Today was a very difficult day. Unlike the others, it had very little to do with the physical. This trek started off fairly well, was primarily a flat road, however you can really start to see the effects of altitude hitting people. Personally I didn’t have symptoms other than the standard shortness of breath and mild headaches. Today was tough for people, and in turn it really turned into a mental day. One of my fellow trekkers fell very ill, it was terrible to see her down for the count, but I stayed behind and stayed with her. This is not a journey you take alone, and I was not about to leave someone behind. We attempted to continue onwards together, however at some point the guide made the final call that it was time for her to stop, and go down. It was absolutely terrible to watch someone defeated, and it was even more terrible to have to leave them behind. For many people this is a dream, and to get so far, and have to turn around, I can only imagine how defeating it is. For the next hour and a bit my walk was fairly lonely to try to catch up to the others, which really shook me emotionally. Luckily at some point I had caught up to another fellow trekker who had waited for me to re-join. The remainder of the day was a little somber and the break in Tukla was more than necessary. After Tukla it was all up-hill (My favorite…NOT!). The view at the top was amazing though; some of my favorite photos came from this place. This was also the time when reality struck of how serious this trek really was. Passing by memorials of those who passed trying to conquer this menacing mountain, as well as passing by those being carried down. The remainder of the day was fairly steady, walking through desolate landscape, although another long day, it felt seemingly short, perhaps it was just the forth-knowledge of the very long upcoming days.
Day 8- Monday, May 20/13
Lobuche (4910m) to Gorak Shep (5180m)
4.4 km Gorak Shep (5180m) to EBC (5364m)
8 km round trip
Total-12.4 km (10 hours)
This day was the biggest day of them all! After all previous days, laughing, crying and struggling, this was the day we would finally get to Everest Base Camp. Essentially beyond all the amazing views and sites along the way, getting there would be reaching the goal. Getting there is not a quick process though. It is the longest day of the whole trek, and though not incredibly difficult, it is quite tiring. The first 3 hours or so takes you to Gorak Shep which is generally a Nepali Flat of up down up downs. The rocky, mountainous backdrop made for quite the scenic walk, but on this day, ironically, I don’t think the focus was on the mountains as much as it was on finally getting there. Don’t get me wrong; although you really want to enjoy every moment, and look up and embrace the scenery, tunnel vision supersedes what is around you, especially when you capture the first glimpse of base camp. A quick brunch break is taken in Gorak Shep in preparation for the onwards journey. At this point it is a great time to lighten the load and only take the absolutely necessary items, as the next 6 break-less hours are long. There are no tea houses or break spots along the way. It is very much an up and down, up down kind of walk, which gets very tiring but keeps the pace steady. At this point the closer you get, the rougher the terrain, you are crossing through a rocky terrain, most of which is supported by a glacier like base and glacial lakes surrounding. After 3 hours of straight trekking it is finally there, the trek has come to fruition, and many people’s goal/dream/challenge has come to a completion! I can’t quite put into words what it is like to get there. Perhaps a feeling of pride, mixed in with feelings of relief, appreciation, completion etc. When you get there, all your feelings of tiredness quickly turn to excitement. Everyone is happy for one another, and clapping and cheering at the accomplishment, after all. you have completed something epic together. You are literally standing on top of the world (or at least as close to it as most people will ever get in a life time). The previous 7 days seem so inconsequential after getting there. It is such an amazing feeling, one only those who have been there can relate to. Like all feelings though, and all experiences, they do come to an end. You don’t spend a lot of time at base camp (no more than an hour), you take a walk through, take lots and lots of photos and hope to get a glimpse of someone attempting to summit, or come down, but you have a remarkable amount of respect for the folks at base. We are achieving a small goal in their grand scheme of things, and it is very inspiring to see. The way back seems longer, perhaps it is because the adrenaline is now dissipating, and because now there is no more goal at the end of it. Now it is just a way down to go home, which is a very somber feeling after this kind of experience. 3 hours later you arrive back in Gorak Shep; and that first seat down after 6+ straight hours is probably the most gratifying seat you can have. On an interesting side note, at this altitude, it is possible to get internet, and although I typically remove myself from the home front while travelling, there is something gratifying about sending a quick message about 5300m above your own home.
Day 9- Tuesday, May 21/13
Gorak Shep (5180m) to Pheriche (4240m)
10 km (5 hours
Going back down is a very interesting walk. You do about double the distance in half the time (8 days up, 4 days down). As you walk down, you are almost awestruck at your own capability, as you look behind you and you realize you just walked this same path, the other way around. Perhaps the extreme motivation to get there makes everything seem doable, on the way down, it seems unfathomable. Those steps leading to Tukla are remarkable. It is a very steep way up, and seemed moderate on the way up. This walk is fairly balanced, practically down the whole way through. Once you reach a valley leading to Pheriche again the geology is completely different. It is all flat ground and grassy fields in the midst of hillside and mountain ranges. Although an easy walk, it was windy as ever. A long walk, and a tired one at that, it was great to get to the lodge. By comparison to some of the others, which are all basic as to be expected, we were spoiled by this place! It was warm, large, had a bar and we even had ensuite washrooms! After 8 days of sharing a toilet with 20 people, and in certain areas mastering the art of squatting, it is such a simple luxury you did not realize you missed. It was almost like re-visiting civilization that us trekkers were more accustomed to. It was great- good food, warmth, good people, card games (which got rather vicious might I add), and a sign of the end- just what we all needed after a long trek.
Day 10- Wednesday, May 22/13
Pheriche (4240m) to Khumjung (3780m)
12 km (7 hrs)
Amaya Dablam GH
Apart from day 2, where we walked up towards Namche Bazaar, this was one of the hardest days for me. It was a very steep down, followed by a steep up, followed by some more down. Today we were back within the tree line, and one step closer to what seemed like reality. My knee took quite the beating this day. It was such a frustrating day, you just walk and walk and hope you’re getting somewhere, but it almost seemed endless. Half way through I was already limping through, and it was only going to get worse. It is funny the thing you put your body through when you have motivation. I can just imagine myself at home, having a similar pain, and likely staying at home and tending to my wounds. It is interesting what you will learn about yourself. Just like the previous day, you have an almost narcissistic feeling of being so impressed with yourself, doing the same walk in reverse. I still can’t believe it looking back at it. If anyone handed me a set of stairs at home, I would laugh and just say no. To see that you have accomplished such a great climb is just ridiculous. Speaking of ridiculous, this day was ridiculous. Painful and deceiving, you just push through it 10 steps at a time. I mean that literally. 10 steps and stop, 10 steps and stop- eventually you will get there. When I finally got there, I was incredibly bitter. It was likely from the tiredness, the pain and most prominently the frustration with myself. Luckily that was another day done, and another day closer to completion.
Day 11- Thursday, May 23/13
13.5km (7 hrs)
This day went a little bit differently than originally planned. On the original itinerary, the plan was to go from Khumjung to Monjo. However, due to being end of season, our typical lodge in Monjo was ongoing renovations, so the two moderate lengthed days, turned to 1 very long one, and 1 short one as we continued through to Phakding (where we had our first night). It was a relatively quick walk from Khumjung to Namche as it was primarily down hill with a few ups. It was incredible gratifying to be able to go down. Once passing Namche you then just go straight down for about an hour, and it was fantastic to just look back at the same thing that defeated you just days ago. Still not a complete breeze as walking down is incredibly hard on your knees. Eventually it all plateaus, and you start to recognize familiar sites you saw upon ascent. You cross the same suspension bridges, and see the same streams with the same teahouses along side of them. It is a very long day, which then turned into a very rainy day, but like every other day on this trek, eventually you get there, and again, it was great! Nothing like a good pot of hot chocolate to kill the rainy blues, and then you realize it actually is almost over and there is one day left.
Day 12- Friday, May 24/13
Phakding (2610m) to Lukla (2840m)
6.4 km (3 hours)
This was the last official trekking day. On the one hand you are so excited that the actual trekking is over and you have almost completed the task at hand. On the other hand, you are going through a mixture of emotions as you realize this crazy trip is almost over. It is meant to be a quick day, and it is, as it is only three hours. Only issue with today, is that you really forget it is 80% uphill to Lukla. It feels like such an unnecessary struggle to the finish line, but I guess it is that final reminder of the things you went through to get there originally. Leaving early in the morning, it was rush hour, which meant lots of sherpas, cows and donkeys which made for an interesting trek, especially when trying to cross bridges. Let me just say, donkeys are vicious, and I strongly suggest you wait it out and don’t try to walk past them. We learned this the hard way when crossing a bridge. I made it out ok, but others had a close encounter that wasn’t exactly welcome. At this point your legs are jello, people have blisters and you’re aching all over. What would have been an easy climb on day one has turned into a struggle. However 2 hours and 45 minutes later, you see the archway where it all began and it is the most exciting feeling out there! At that point, past the arch you are in Lukla, you walk past tea houses and shops, even a Starbucks and its great to be back! At the lodge again we got spoiled with great rooms, good food and hot showers (another luxury). It was an exciting day as it marked the completion of what we all set out to do. With that came a wonderful dinner, where I had a Yak steak (my first piece of meat in 12 days!!!) and it was delicious, best meal of the whole trip!! Everyone had fun, had drinks and reminisced on their last 12 days together. Once dinner had completed we set off to a Scottish pub (yes there is one, and its right next to the Irish pub and Starbucks-go figure!). Not very Scottish in my opinion, but hey, it was our first real night out in almost two weeks, so we were all happy to just be out!
Day 13- Saturday, May 25/13
Lukla (2840m) to Kathmandu
On this day we really set off back to reality. Although our flight was scheduled for 8AM, due to fog and poor weather, we didn’t actually set off till 2PM. However, had it not been for G Adventures, who chartered us a flight out, we may still be stuck there. I am very thankful they did because at that point, myself, and I think everyone else was ready to get off the mountain. It was awesome getting on that tiny little plane and flying off the edge of a cliff, one step closer to home I was very happy to take.