Something I’ve been wanting to do since I was a teenager was to hike to Everest Base camp before I was 30. I’m happy to say, that two months before my 30th birthday, along with five of my friends, made it.
Most of us shared the same level of excitement, but by far, I was the most excited. Having spent a few years researching when to go, what company to go with and my favourite part, what to take!
What we saved on the trip by booking early with Intrepid Travel, I’m sure I spent on hiking clothes and associated paraphernalia. In my defense I always bought things on sale, so in my mind, I saved half as much again 🙂 I must admit though, I didn’t need everything I bought, but don’t tell anyone.
The best part, was not just sharing the experience with my partner and close friends, but also 6 “strangers” who were on the same tour. By the end, or even after day one, we were no longer strangers, but buddies walking six or seven hours a day, up a bloody big mountain, all for the exhilarating 30mins of photo snapping, hugs and a shot of whiskey at the base of the worlds highest mountain.
The trek itself was hard, but amazing all at the same time. Growing up in Australia, I’m not exactly used to the cold, and there was some pretty cold days and nights, with little heating, basically no lighting and for all but a couple of nights, no hot water. I believe “basic” is the description of this style of holidaying.
Here’s a brief run through of the trek:
- Day 1: Meet at Kathmandu Guesthouse in Kathmandu. Here the whole group met for the first time… the six of us (Jenny, Conor, Brendan, Nick, Hans and myself), Kristen from Queensland, Bassam and Kenny from New York City, Mike from England, Stephen from Wollongong and Mark from Melbourne.
- Day 2: Take the 45 minute flight to Lukla – one of the world’s highest airports and definitely one of the most dangerous. Perched 2,840m above sea level and tucked in amongst the Himilaya, the flight was one of the most exhilarating moments of me life. But no rest for the wicked, after arriving to a hearty breakfast, we hiked around 3 hours to our first night’s accommodation on the trail in Phakding.
- Day 3: A big day of hiking, gaining 830m in altitude, we crossed a number of suspension bridges across the milky-whote Dudh Kosi River to spend the night at Namche Bazaar (3,440m). Even in the guide, it said this was “the last chance for a hot shower”.
- Day 4: Known as an acclimatisation day, it ended up “acclimatising” us to these shorter treks taking us up nearly vertical inclines so we could get used to the altitude, then hike back down and spend the night at a slightly lower altitude. It also gave us a chance to explore Namche Bazaar and it’s surrounding a bit better. There was a local market on and it really made you realise that so many people live without shops they can duck into when they need something or a convenience store to pick up some milk and bread. In the Himalaya, basically everything gets carried in by person or by beast.
- Day 5: After around 6 hours of hiking, we arrived at one of my favourite places on the trek, Phortse Gaon (3,810m). Here you really got a taste of local life on the farms. Everything is done by hand, but there was still an internet cafe! Albeit, the last one we would see until we were back in Namche Bazaar.
- Day 6: Watching the sun rise in Phortse, was a most memorable experience (and not because, i’m not normally up that early), but because of it’s stunning beauty. On this day, we climbed above the tree-line about 8kms to Dingboche (4,410m). While 8km doesn’t seem far, once you’re 4,000m above sea-level, everything takes longer to do.
- Day 7: Another acclimatisation day. Probably the hardest, but the destination was absolutely amazing – Amadablam Base Camp (4,570m). The weather was perfect blue skies and reflecting against the crystal blue lake, the whole area belonged in a National Geographic photo special.
- Day 8: I don’t know how everyone else felt, but upon reaching Lobuche (4,900m), I started to feel the effect of altitude around this time. I thought it was wise to start taking the anti-altitude sickness tablets, so I’d be fine to trek to Everest Basecamp the next day. It wasn’t anything too bad, just a niggling headache that was my brains way of saying, “hey, it’s cold and you’re up really, really high”. The key was to stay hydrated and fed. Nothing like bowls of carbs to help with this.
- Day 9: D-Day. Everyone was in fine spirits on this sunny day. Our goal was in reach and after dropping our stuff at our accommodation in Gorak Shep (5,140m) we followed one of the few signs… the one directing us to Everest Base Camp. And in the early afternoon, we reached the coveted rock with “Everest Base Camp 5,364m” scratched in to. Not as pretty as the Amadablam Base Camp, but the feeling of achievement was far greater. For me, it meant I’d achieved a goal at least 10 years in the making. After some happy snaps, some celebratory Everest whiskey and affixing some prayer flags, together, we hiked back to Gorak Shep to spend the night.
- Day 10: Over night the snow had pelted down, turning the rather dry, brown landscape into a complete white out. That didn’t stop 7 of us getting up around 4am to attempt the Kala Pattar ridge (5,545m). It was a bit cold for the Queenslander, but 6 of us continued on. One foot after the other, climbing up in the dark and the snow. Brendan and I slowed down. The cold air (and I’m sure the altitude) was nipping at my lungs, making it hard to breathe. I figured at the very slow rate I was walking, I’d never reach the ridge by sunrise and even if I did, the complete white out, meant there was nothing but a metre or so in front of you to see. So Brendan and I headed back to the lodge. But, Jenny, Nick, Bassam and Conor all made it to the top of the ridge and joined us for breakfast a couple of hours later. This was definitely one of the harder days. Not only was I up at a ridiculous hour, it snowed all day. The decent back down the mountain was harder than it needed to be. It was cold, icy and incredibly slippery. Even some of the yaks had trouble.
- Day 11: As if there had never been snow, this day had clear blue skies again and in good spirits, we were more than excited to visit the Tengboche Monastery. Plus there was an awesome bakery there, which gave us a break from dahl, sherpa stew and various incarnations of potato. We finished up in Namche Bazzar and most were delighted with having a hot shower for the first time in a week. Although, because the lodge ran out of water, a few of us had to wait until the next day.
- Day 12: Today, as group we made a decision that would alter the ending of this trek. Due to an Australia vs New Zealand final in the Rugby World Cup and there being both Aussies and a NZ’er in the group, we decided to stay an extra night in Namche Bazaarand watch the game. For some, like myself, it was a nice day not to be walking and enjoyed a little piece of luxary (a hot chocolate in a cafe). It also meant another hot shower – woo hoo!
- Day 13: We had double the amount of walking to make it back to Lukla in time, but at the lower altitudes, going down instead of up and us all being fresh from a day of rest, it was no problem. On our way back into Lukla, we were able to get a glimpse of Mt Everest itself. Up until this point, it was either cloudy or obstructed by other massive mountains. To celebrate the end of the trek, we took the guides and porters out for dinner and drank late into the night (some a bit more than others).
- Day 14: An early flight back to Kathmandu, this time leaving behind the world’s most dangerous airport, we landed just after breakfast.
Back at almost sea level I remember thinking to myself, wow, I am going to keep working out and stay fit. That night began the first of many meals gorging on non-potato oriented foods. Before I knew it, I had lost my fitness level and was back to where I started… trying not to throw up during a work out.
Above all, this life-defining trip couldn’t have been completed without Bhim, Pasam and the rest of the crew. For them, we were probably just another tour group during the busy trekking season, but I’m sure, for the group, it was a most memorable time and I’m proud to have been able to meet amazing people and complete the infamous hike to Everest Base Camp.
I couldn’t put all the photos here, so check out the Planet Lew Flickr page.