Days spent – 25 days (18 November 2016 to 13 December 2016)
Places visited – Kathmandu
Books read – A Day to Die For, Distress Signals
Things done – Everest Base Camp trek, Swayambhunath Temple, India visa application
Highlight(s) – Trek
Lowlight(s) – Kathmandu
Cost – £563.07 (£22.52 per day)
Firstly, a note on cost, it really is that cheap but they do rob tourists for the flights to and from Lukla (not included). A different format for this blog for this is no ordinary country visit!
Pre-trek – 18 November 2016 to 21 November 2016
I arrive at Tribhuvan Airport, Kathmandu. I thought all capital international airports were the same, I was wrong. This airport, confusingly, seems to have somehow been built before planes were invented. No screens, no clocks, no duty free. Praise god, there’s coffee though. The visa-on-arrival process is surprisingly painless except for the bit where I have to part with forty dollars. A group of us share a taxi to Thamel, the tourist hub of Kathmandu, and a couple more dollars disappear. I intend to trek so I start to plan for it. This consists of deciding where to go and how to get there, obtaining the permit and getting the gear I need. The first bits are easy, the second is wondering which knock-off North Face merchant will rip me off the least…
Kathmandu is crazy, minibuses that are designed to carry sixteen, carry forty. The lucky ones have their heads out the window breathing the dust and the pollution, the unlucky ones are inside breathing the sweat and body odours. I try to start my Indian visa application process so that it won’t take so long when I get back. The day before flying to the trek I wait for over two hours only to be told they won’t accept my form because my middle names aren’t on it. Livid. After getting a few final things I realise I forgot to get Diamox (anti-altitude sickness medication), back out I go… In the main ‘square’ of Thamel, I get hit by a motorbike. It sounds dramatic but it isn’t and I’m fine. It had to happen at some point! I feel like it’s almost at right of passage for a traveller in Asia.
A crowded bus in Kathmandu
Trek day one – 22 November 2016
Morning, it’s 04:30, ouch. We’re on the first flight to Lukla. I say ‘we’, we are myself, Carolyn and Mark. Carolyn is British by birth and has lived in Canada for seven years, Mark is Australian. We all have been, or will be, travelling long term. We met at the hostel, trek together and never really left each others’ sides. Lukla is one of the most dangerous airports in the world. Lukla is at 2,800m, twice the height of Ben Nevis (the UK’s highest mountain) and twice the height of Kathmandu. A quick Google will bring up the disasters that have occured there. Anyway, let’s not dwell on that and off we go… We take off in this plane which is more akin to a washing machine with wings. Somehow we get off the ground and have stunning vistas of the Himalayas to our left. All passengers can see into the cockpit and through the windscreen. About half an hour into the flight a runway appears carved into the mountainside. We’re going to land there? Okay then. The tiny piece of tarmac slopes to slow the landing planes and speed up the departing ones. This is good because it finishes with a wall that has backup in the form of a Himalayan peak. After a much needed breakfast in Lukla we’re off. A six hour trek with Monju being the target. It’s not that easy a day as we cover quite a distance. We arrive at a guesthouse which seems quiet as does the trail, the benefits of shoulder season. The water is beautiful, the sky is blue and we’re happy if a little cold. At dinner we check our maps and I make an observation… “Hey guys, how much do you think we climbed today?” Carolyn and Mark were unsure in their responses. “We descended five metres!” We all had a good laugh at that whilst secretly maintaining our own thoughts about what was ahead of us.
The view from the washing machine with wings
Photos cannot do justice to the colour of the water
Trek day two – 23 November 2016
We’re in a triple room and I’m in the middle bed. Carolyn and Mark are awake before me, they sit up every few minutes or so and look at each other. This goes on for a couple of hours, I’m a really good sleeper! The legs feel ok first thing which is encouraging. We aim for an early lunch because it’s the only place on the way to our target, Namche Bazaar. Before we know it, we’re climbing the infamous hill to Namche Bazaar. Due to missing lunch, snacks are the order of the day. We’re effectively zig-zagging up the valley which means we cross the river repeatedly. Some of the bridges are quite high and test my nerve once more. Part way up this hill is our first view of Everest and here she is…
The roof of the world
Namche – main town of the Khumbu region
Trek day three – 24 November 2016
It’s our first acclimatisation day, we’re now at 3,400m. For acclimatising we climb to 3,800m to Everest View Hotel which has a nice view of, yeah, you guessed it…! Unfortunately, Carolyn is unwell. She comes on the hike but, err, feels a little nauseous half way up. Oddly enough she wants a photo to remember this occasion! She does really well to make it there and back. At the guesthouse I decide this is probably the last good opportunity to wash my clothes so I set about the task. The only problem being, I accidentally wash my clean pants! They’ll now take about eighteen hours to dry…
Photobombed by this cheeky thing
The view from close to Everest View Hotel (with me ruining it), peaks left to right: Taboche (6,542m); Luri (the snowless one straight above my head); Everest (8,848m or 29,029ft); Lhotse (8,516m – fourth highest in the world); Ama Dablam (6,812m)
Hike day four – 25 November 2016
Hash brown with cheese for breakfast, mmmm. Meals for the day are varying combinations of potatoes, rice and noodles. After having just a day pack yesterday, my full pack seems such a burden once more. I say goodbye to such luxuries as free wifi and free showers (you pay for both up here), meat (above a certain altitude it has to be carried up altitude and is therefore less advisable to eat), beer and coffee (both are diuretics which dehydrate you which isn’t clever at this altitude). Must these mountains take everything I love and hold dear?! It’s a bit of an up and down day which finishes with a big climb to Tengboche. Carolyn is still feeling unwell but manages to make it with us. Quite incredible, because if it were me I know I’d still be lied up in Namche! Then again, these illnesses hit us harder, right fellas…?!
Back down the valley the other way isn’t bad either…
Hike day five – 26 November 2016
Our target is Dingboche, which is 4,400m where we need to acclimatise once more. On our way today we pass three times the height of Ben Nevis. The days are getting repetative, they go as follows: wake, eat breakfast, hike, eat lunch, hike, find somewhere to stay, eat dinner, sleep, repeat. The landscape is changing, we’re now above the tree-line. The wind has picked up so the jacket has had to come out whereas previously just a shirt was fine. The main issue with the wind is that it makes the dust a problem. Thankfully, we all seem to be coping ok with the altitude and none of us are exhibiting the unhealthy coughing habits of our fellow climbers on the way down.
Hike day six – 27 November 2016
It’s cold here, so cold that I get my sleeping bag out for the first time. As a result I don’t sleep well because I can’t move my feet and apparently I like to sleep in the foetal position which I obviously cannot get into. Perhaps that’s to try to get warmth also. We climb to 4,800m for our acclimatisation trek. We are now beating our own altitude records each and every day and will hopefully continue to do so. The owner of the guesthouse here is very funny. Each evening she goes around with a massive container of hand sanitiser. As she squirts a bit into each persons’ hands she says “Washy, washy!”
No trees so this is the fuel, it comes out the back end of a yak
The method for heating water during the day
Hike day seven – 28 November 2016
So the morning of this day was very eventful. At 05:23 we had a five-point-four Richter Scale earthquake and the epicentre was close to us. It must have been quite serious because I woke up! Mark jumps out of bed exclaiming “What the hell was that?!”, I reply “Earthquake…” nonchalently and go back to sleep. I’m a really good sleeper. I listen for a rockfall, nope, ok we’re good. According to the locals they keep getting these aftershocks after the big 2015 quake. The staff run out to tell us everything is fine but most people stupidly misinterpret the running as panic! Unfortunately, a sherpa was making a summit attempt on Annapurna I (8,091m – tenth highest in the world) at the time of the quake and he lost his life. The weather is slightly different today. Instead of the wall-to-wall sunshine and blue skies we’ve been enjoying thus far the morning starts out very misty. The mist moves with the breezes and mountains can literally disappear in seconds, it’s very strange to see. We finish for the day in Lobuche, which is at 4,800m, and sleep there.
The mist chases us…
Hike day eight – 29 November 2016
To start the day we head for Gorak Shep, which is at 5,100m. We find a place to stay, it isn’t great but nowhere will be up here. The toilets are blocked because it’s too cold for running water. We dump our stuff and sort our day packs as we are going to climb Kala Patthar for sunset which we’re informed is the best time. The peak is at 5,550m (about 18,400ft), this is the highest we will go and is over four times the height of Ben Nevis. I partly wish I was Dutch though, it’s seventeen times their highest point (Vaalserberg)! It’s also a 1,150m climb in the two days since we last acclimatised and we’re starting to struggle. Who’s taken the oxygen? The oxygen levels are the same up here but the pressure is lower which means you can’t breathe in as much. At the start of the trek we were losing about a third of the oxygen that’s at sea-level, at these heights we’re losing about half. But don’t feel too bad for us, at the peak the climbers lose two-thirds of their oxygen as they can only take in an effective percentage of below seven, at sea-level it’s twenty-one percent. This is why the real climbers spend a month acclimatising at Base Camp… On this climb I think about how far we are below the peak of Everest (over 3,000m and about 10,000ft), we’re nowhere near it and struggling! It’s so worth it though, such amazing views with Nuptse competing with Everest for the tallest mountain crown (Nuptse looks higher because it’s closer – in fact it’s only 7,864m – the twentieth highest peak in the world). As the sun sets, it throws the last of its light over the top of Everest, proving its title.
Everest (with light) and Nuptse on the right without it
Myself and Carolyn on the Kala Patthar summit. Ross – I’m sorry but my arm is around your girlfriend’s waist. We’re scared of falling off as the drops either side aren’t funny. The truth is I can’t fall off because Carolyn is sat on my foot! In the background is Pumori (7,161m).
The panorama isn’t bad either… Peaks left to right (ignoring the very far left which is just close): Khumbutse (6,640m); Changtse (7,543m); Everest West Shoulder; Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse
Hike day nine – 30 November 2016
After breakfast, our first task is our mission objective, we’re going to Base Camp. It’s just over 200m higher than Gorak Shep and not as high as Kala Patthar, easy right? Wrong! The problem being that we have to climb higher and then descend to the camp. I thought after yesterday we’d be coping better with the altitude and its associated difficulties, we aren’t. Everything is a real struggle up here, this is also the first time the path hasn’t been clear and we don’t go as directly as we could have done. Apparently, everything over 5,000m is just hard. We get there though, we’ve done it, we’ve made it. No guide, no porter. The truth is, it’s a little anticlimactic, more a photo opportunity with the stone than anything else. But that doesn’t matter, it’s more the immense feeling of self-achievement that makes it worth every minute and second of arduous climbing, torturous effective oxygen levels and fraying tempers. The other main highlight is how close we are to Khumbu Glacier, this is the glacier the actual Everest climbers must ascend through (repeatedly) in their efforts to summit. We arrive at about 10am. The sun is just starting to work and we can hear the glacier creaking, cracking and melting. We are even fortunate enough to see a small avalanche. We are just a few miles from the Chinese border, will someone please just take me to China? I wonder if they’d notice if I snuck in? After the photo formalities are done, we start our long descent. We go from Base Camp to Pheriche which is like going from the Moon to Yorkshire (credit: Carolyn!), it really is quite odd! It’s a long way as well, Pheriche is visible from quite far away but it seems to take an age to reach it and it’s a relief when we do.
Proof of the achievement!
It’s chilly up here…
… Ok, I’ll do a proper one!
Hike day ten – 1 December 2016
Today we head all the way back to Namche Bazaar. After lunch the weather turns misty and cold. My hair gets wet and then the water freezes, it makes for a funny selfie. I’m looking forward to arriving because I can have beer, coffee and meat again. In fact, we stay at the same place we stayed on the way up. I can remember seeing the yak steak that someone else has ordered, it looked good. Carolyn and I order it, we can hear them tenderising it meanwhile I’m salivating… It was worth the wait. I’m still not allowing myself pizza because that’s what we’re having for our celebratory meal in Kathmandu. On arrival in Namche we have a problem, the wifi and phones are down, this means we can’t contact the airline to rearrange our flight. Luckily, it starts to work again a couple hours later. That’s good because we’re exhausted and didn’t really want that hassle. We celebrate our return to Namche with a beer in the world’s highest Irish Bar!
Apologies for the selfie overload
Hike day eleven – 2 December 2016
The long, long, long jaunt back to Lukla. It seems further on the way back. There are no worries or trepidation about what’s to come except perhaps some nervousness regarding the flight. In the morning, I skid on some dust and I’m down. I guess that had to happen at some point. It’s annoying because although I’m unhurt I’m more dusty than I was before and I was quite dusty anyway! We’ve all had enough now really and start to get a little tetchy. This wasn’t helped by ordering lunch, which took over an hour to come, ordering momos was stupid. On arrival in Lukla we celebrate with cocktails. We just have to make it to the airport tomorrow (in theory), that can’t go wrong can it?!
A short word on these guys: they’re incredible. The loads they carry are immense and I’m complaining about my backpack. Get a grip Strawbridge…
Hike day twelve – 3 December 2016
Just the flight to go, our flight is scheduled for 08:30 but we’re advised to get to the airport for 07:15… Ok. This isn’t your usual airport, there are no departure boards, no flight numbers. Just a guy in a high-vis jacket pretending to know what he’s doing. Ok, we go next, we take off at 10:30. That sounds bad but it’s better than waiting for days like some people have to. We were so lucky with the weather at all times more or less. But that’s it, over, done.
Post trek – 4 December 2016 to 13 December 2016
Unfortunately, we fly from Lukla on a Saturday morning. That means I have to wait until Monday before I can even apply for my India visa again. It’ll be the following Monday before I can collect it. I don’t like Kathmandu that much so that means time to kill. I read my book, A Day to Die For, a book about Everest which I’m glad I read after the trek! Everyone else is reading Jon Krakauer’s version of events which is well documented in Into Thin Air, but I’m not one to follow the crowd. If you want to really know what happened (regarding the 1996 disaster on Everest) I’d suggest reading A Day to Die For. I walked past the cemetary on my trek, the names are now familiar to me before the reading of the book. Graham Ratcliffe’s conclusion to the book is brutal. Personally I thought it was a little over the top, although I can see from his point of view why he used those words. I hope Rob Hall’s family hasn’t read it though… On handing over my passport for my India visa I have a problem. They’ve only granted me a single entry visa. I need at least double entry because I’m going home for Christmas. Damn, this application really isn’t going well. I end up having to get another separate visa which costs sixty dollars extra on top of what I’ve already paid (which was also excessive because I’m British). Why did I book the flight home from Mumbai? This is not a good start India…
Cheeky monkeys at Swayambhunath Temple
Strawbs – written 24-27 December 2016, published 19 January 2017
These damn photobombers…