Tag Archives: Himalayas

Seeking Oxygen

Post Kala Patthar, after a hearty breakfast, we began our rapid fire descent, flying down from Gorak Shep, past the memorials for Everest climbers who perished, in time for lunch at Thukla around noon. We said goodbye to Andrew as he ventured off to tackle Island Peak, and geared up for a very snowy walk down to Pheriche.

I never said I’d be the most attractive hiker on the mountain, but I hadn’t quite realized my cold, snowstorm outfit would be this sexy:

Pheriche, where we slept on our first night descending, was a surprisingly large town. I think a number of trekkers on the traditional EBC route stop here on the ascent. We were delighted to find that this tea house turned the stove on early in the afternoon and in the morning. Talk about living large!

The next day was a full day of “downhill.” In reality, I think we may have actually ascended more on this day than we ever did on a day of actual “uphill” climbing! I might be exaggerating, and my mind might have mentally checked out of trekking once we hit the “big four.” But, man, was it hard to motivate this day. I kidded with Rishi often, “so when do we get the helicopter?” Little did I know, it pays to be whiny! 😉

This day of descending brought us through much of the EBC trail, nearly all of which we hadn’t seen yet since we turned towards Gokyo slightly after Namche Bazaar. We passed a valley where we could see the path to Dingboche and Chukhung. After a while we came to the little village of Pangboche that had nice views of Ama Dablam, Lhotse, and Nuptse.

Later we saw the turn off to head right for Phortse, but we continued left all the way down to the river, crossing it before another steep uphill. The river was beautiful and flowing vigorously. Finally we were in Tengboche, a lovely little town where we had an absolutely fantastic lunch at Tashi Delek. I had to wait almost an hour for a pizza since they turned on the special pizza oven for me, but it was definitely worth the wait and probably the best meal I had in the Himalayas. Also, they had a western toilet (with a flush!!!), which was impossibly exciting after days of deprivation. By now it was much warmer (and greener! We’d made it back down past the tree-line) and we shed layers (I removed the second and third pant layers for the first time in over a week) and ate outside with a spectacular view of Everest, Ama Dablam, Lhotse and Nuptse, as well as the beautiful monastery here. To say we were pleased would be an understatement.

After lunch we briefly explored the monastery before continuing down (and up and down and up and down).

We passed a field of yaks being loaded up for hauling expedition gear to the top. And we also saw loads of sherpas carrying NBC Discovery gear for coverage of the BASE jumper (good luck to him, that sounds like a terrible decision…). [NB: The jump was canceled due to the avalanche.]

It was only about six hours of actual walking, but this day felt much harder than many of the others (even despite the fact that the oxygen levels felt indulgent to us at this point). I always find the downhill a bit of a struggle, between the impact on the knees and the inevitable blisters (by the end of the day I had band-aids on seven of ten toes), and the whole already being “done” mentally thing. Over the past two days we descended 7,000 feet, not to mention the ups and downs, which would make it probably closer to a figure around 9,000. That’s a lot of hills. (Also, the second day of descent was very dusty.)

We stayed at the same tea house in Namche Bazaar (in the very same room!) as we did on the way up. This time again we showered, and it was either much warmer or the higher altitudes gave us thicker skin because it was the most glorious shower of all times and I didn’t even complain about waiting for my hair to dry in the cold.

We had a celebratory dinner of meat! And apple pie! Eventually Jenni moseyed on up to bed, and while Alan was hanging out in the common room, Rishi wandered up to Alan and began a conversation with, “so, if you were serious about the helicopter thing…”

It was hard to believe. Very hard to believe. But Rishi informed us that another Himalayan Glacier client had hired a helicopter for the next morning because she was ill. Her guide was unable to go down with her since he was still taking the rest of his group up to Island Peak. Since she had the extra room in her chopper, and Rishi would be able to make sure she arrived safely at the clinic down in Kathmandu, we basically got to freeload rides in her rescue chopper. We were skeptical up until the last minute. Even walking up to the heli-pad. Even sitting there waiting with a sick woman who’d painfully made her way up there. But then there it was.

Sweet, glorious, helicopter in the Himalayas. Was that not one of the coolest things I’ve ever done! Alan had already been in a chopper, but this was Jenni’s first time. It took a lot of self restraint not to gush about how excited I was (out of respect for the poor girl sitting next to me), but knowing she was there also helped me to not freak out about the whole heights thing. I knew I couldn’t make it about me, when this lady was sitting in her generously shared rescue ‘copter fighting for air.

After a refueling stop in Lukla, we arrived in the Kathmandu airport and (no joke) took the ambulance with this poor sick woman all the way to the clinic (talk about overstaying your welcome and feeling a little awko taco). We grabbed a car back to Hotel Shanker and that night we celebrated our farewell dinner with the EBC trekkers from the other Himalayan Glacier group. Somehow, even with the loss of a day on the front-end, we finished our trek early! So our 14 day trek ended up being a jam-packed and adventure filled 12 day trek, but we wouldn’t change a thing. (Well, except maybe the headaches and nausea).

Practical Info

Accommodation: In Pheriche we stayed at Pumori Lodge. There are several accommodation options in this village, and others we saw offered WiFi. But the welcome was warm at our tea house, both literally (as noted, the stove was fired much of the time) and figuratively. In Namche, we stayed again at the Nest (in room 211), which we already covered in our previous post.

Food and Drinks: We had lunch in Thukla the first day of our descent…meh. The food at Pumori Lodge in Pheriche was fairly good. Lunch at Tashi Delek in Tengboche was great, both the food and the view from the large deck. It was glorious to enjoy milk in my coffee and soft butter at breakfast back in Namche Bazaar after a week plus of avoiding meat and dairy.

Activities: It was nice to see the monastery in Tengboche. There is no entrance fee but a small donation is recommended.

April 14-16, 2014 (Monday-Wednesday)

The Highest We Ever Got

An hour or two after leaving Dzongla for Lobuche, we rejoined the main Everest Base Camp (“EBC”) trail and it felt like coming back to civilization, seeing so many more people. We even bumped into the other half of the Himalayan Glacier trekkers, on their way down after summiting Kala Patthar. We bonded in our Lobuche tea house over altitude sickness, cold, and general lack of creature comforts. They continued on to more oxygen-rich environments and we spent the afternoon playing many rounds of dhumbal and chatting with our new friends Mike and Sandra from the Bay Area. It was here that we began seeing lots of Everest climbers, and I have to admit, this environment is really inspiring. Andrew recognized an IMG guide from a documentary he’d seen as the guy who helped break up the infamous 2013 EBC brawl between sherpas and foreign climbers.

The next morning we trekked to Gorak Shep (our “final” destination) where we ate lunch at our tea house before setting out for EBC.

This was perhaps one of my favorite moments of the whole trek. This big group of yaks came through, and they were all wearing bells and decorated with yak earrings and colorful sweaters. It just felt magical. Like a herd of Christmas yaks were coming back from the North Pole. Sigh. I love yaks. Andrew smartly pointed out that I’m probably a bigger fan of the animals than I am of the mountains. I can’t deny it.

Eventually we began seeing EBC and the Khumbu Glacier and Khumbu Icefall. (Just a few days after we left there was an avalanche there resulting in the deadliest day ever on the mountain. Terribly sad and even more personally impactful knowing we likely passed some of the stricken sherpas on our walk. Our hearts go out to them and their families.)

The walk to EBC took less than two hours, and while it was a bit of up and down, we didn’t find it too challenging (fortunately we all avoided some rock falls). I think by this point we were much better acclimatized and everything felt easier, even though we were above 17,000 feet. We enjoyed huge views of Nuptse on our right, Lingtren (conjuring extreme skiing images for Alan) and Pumo Ri. By the way, this area is very close to Tibet. We asked Rishi about a mountain we saw barely beyond the others, and he said “oh, that’s not ours.”

A lot of people say EBC is not terribly exciting; “it’s just tents.” But they are the tents of people gearing up to climb the tallest mountain in the world! Unless you know climbers or guides in the actual EBC tents, you will only view base camp from a short distance rather than really getting in the midst of it. So while we didn’t cover the entire area, based on what we saw we’d say the rumors of lots of trash are false. In fact, we saw several porters carrying down jugs of human waste and bags full of garbage, and thought this area was relatively free of litter (sadly, this was not the case for other parts of the trail, especially a small area near the village of Gokyo). We found it very exciting to be at EBC. Or perhaps it’s just that it was the first “big” destination we hit where I didn’t feel like dying from the altitude. Either way, it was a special moment.

We even got to witness Tibetan monks singing and dancing in prayer for a safe journey for the climbers.

After getting a few pictures in, the weather turned drastically, and I could barely get enough layers on to keep from getting snowy and cold. True story, Alan had to pull up my rain pants. We did manage to get in this picture for Alan’s mom, whose birthday it happened to be when we made it EBC!

For the final big push of the trek we woke early to summit Kala Patthar. I was on the fence about even attempting it given how I’d fared on Cho La Pass, but having felt so strong at EBC I gave it a go. We all felt surprisingly good going up. We lucked out with great weather again, and a slow steady climb with multiple stops for water (since the Camel-Bak kept freezing), brought us to the summit around 7:15. The last stretch is a bit of a beast because you traverse some large rocks that were covered with a fresh coating of snow. At times I could swear the summit was getting farther away. It’s a little bit shorter distance than the hike up Gokyo Ri, which also helped it feel easier for us. But the altitude was our highest of the trip at 18,200 feet!

We watched the the sun rising behind Everest, and from the summit we savored phenomenal views of the other big ones like Lhotse, Nupste, Lingtren and Pumo Ri towering directly above us.

Back at the tea house we secured our place in history by decorating a shirt and hanging it on the ceiling. It’s possible this brought me more pleasure than actually climbing those peaks ;). Go team Cali! We wound up using the t-shirt Himalayan Glacier gave us, but those coming from home who wish to do something like this might consider bringing a flag and/or photographs to affix. (P.S. I was impressed how well represented Turkey was in these tea houses! I think we saw at least one Turkish flag on every wall!)

Practical Info

We began our Kala Patthar hike at 5:30 am and summited at 7:15 am. Some start at 4 am to really see the sunrise from the top. I would consider starting more like 7 am. You want an early start to ensure the weather doesn’t turn bad, but if you start later than we did then I think you would enjoy better lighting for pictures. While we were at the top, Everest was so back-lit that it was hard to get good photos.

Accommodation: We stayed at Lobuche Eco Resort. It costs 350/hour to charge batteries and WiFi was an exorbitant 1000/hour. The common area was loaded with real mountaineers and we enjoyed the energy and excitement in the (thin) air. In Gorak Shep we stayed at Yeti Resort. We do not know if the alternatives are better, but we did not particularly like this place. It smelled bad, the toilet was on an incline which was treacherous when icy, and the construction was unusually shoddy leading to a door-lock-opening injury and walls that didn’t fully connect so you could sort of see your neighbor vs. the usual simply hearing her.

April 12-14, 2014 (Saturday-Monday)

Cho La the Beast

We woke at 4:40 for an early breakfast and start for the hardest day of the trek. By the time we got out the door it was 5:50 and there was no need for a headlamp, but the sun was blocked by the large mountains ahead (we were going east) and we pressed on against the biting cold. This was the first time I busted out the large down jacket that Himalayan Glacier loaned us and it was definitely necessary. The start of the walk was technically simple, still an upward climb, still cold and still at elevation, but easy footing. And it was long. I found myself employing various tactics to distract myself, resorting not so far in to “99 bottles of beer on the wall.” This soon failed, and I went to my happy place: dogs. I pretended in my mind that I was out in the backyard of my childhood home, playing snowball fetch with Beyaz (my family dog who recently left us).

After a bit of a climb we reached the top of a hill from where we could view the actual pass. It’s a decent downhill climb, and then a steep, rocky incline, followed by an even steeper, rockier, icier incline. I asked Rishi one final time, “you think I can do this?” He confirmed, I took a deep breath and on we went.

I don’t recall exactly when I began to panic, but I know it culminated in tears and me turning to Alan to say “Alan, I’m panicking. I’m freaking out!” Rishi said something along the lines of “there’s a lot of work to be done here,” and pulled me onwards, directing me in nearly every step as I tried to avoid slipping down to a rocky, icy, deathly fall. I wound up arriving faster than the rest, thanks mostly to the jet-like propulsion of fear and the most intense desire to not be there anymore. Also because Rishi pulled me up the last few steps. In fact, by the final several meters I must have looked on the verge of fainting because every time I looked up, huffing and puffing, there were at least a handful of men holding their hands out for me to grab on and get pulled up to the next boulder. So thank you, strange men and especially Rishi.

We had a mini feast at the top of the pass (5370m!), Rishi jovially handing out hard boiled eggs, Snickers bars, biscuits and fistfuls of toasted corn with soya beans that another porter had.

While Jenni would be hard-pressed to recall it, the views from the top of the pass were actually quite beautiful. We could see Nuptse, Cholatse, Taboche, Ama Dablam…

Crossing the snowfield to descend is by comparison a million times easier than the ascent, but it is quite a slippery path. I know it looks like I’m doing the robot in this picture, but I’m actually just trying not to slide down into the center of this giant ice field.

I wish I had known that our “down” side of the pass was by comparison super easy. I think a large part of my panic attack was the realization that “holy crap, even if I make it up this damn thing, there’s no way I’ll make it back down.” But thank my lucky stars, crossing from west to east as we did is a far more difficult uphill.

The whole day took us less than 6.5 hours, compared to the guides’ warning of 8-9. And this includes several stops on the walk down for me to puke behind rocks. Alan, the ever dutiful blog photographer on this trek, did not fail to capture evidence of my ailment…

Arriving in Dzongla, I was barely in a condition to communicate. I flopped down in the common room and proceeded to pass out while the rest of the team enjoyed lunch. Thankfully that ended up being the worst of my altitude sickness and it was much smoother sailing from here on out.

Alan adds: I think part of why crossing Cho La Pass was the hardest day is that the terrain made it nearly impossible to relax and take your time. With most of the trails and days, we are able to move at an awkwardly slow pace when ascending and thus help avoid headaches and greater shortness of breath. But much of the ascent to cross the pass was so steep and rocky/icy/snowy that we really had to scramble and expend bursts of energy.

Also, I admire Jenni for pushing herself and overcoming fear and sickness. It can be difficult to know when one’s altitude symptoms require descent vs. just tolerating pain and discomfort. Perhaps even harder only a month after being hospitalized following uncertainty about her ailments at the time. Jenni fought through like a champ and this allowed us to finish the trek with great success.

On the walk out from Dzongla, to Lobuche (where we joined back up with the main EBC trail), we peeped some climbers on their way to summiting Lobuche East. Incredible. Check out the zoomed in shot, and then for some perspective on the feat they accomplished, look at the next zoomed out shot of the mountain they are on.

We, on the other hand, were very thankful to have a much easier day post-Cho La. A quick couple hours leisurely walk brought us back to the EBC trail (and way more people!).

Practical Info

We did our loop hike by first going up the Gokyo Valley and then crossing the Cho La Pass from west to east. Some do it in the opposite direction. As noted above, we were happy to ascend the steeper and more challenging side of the pass and descend the comparatively easier side. The views on the descent were awesome, too, with Ama Dablam directly ahead of us.

You could leave from Gokyo and cross the pass in the same day, but it would be pretty hard. Crossing the glacier from Gokyo to Thangnag is not so easy, and you want to cross the pass early in the day to increase the likelihood of favorable conditions. However, if you are looking to save time, you could definitely make it all the way to Lobuche on the same day as crossing the pass. We were not in a rush and with Jenni’s altitude sickness we were happy to settle in Dzongla, but you could hike another 2-3 hours and get to Lobuche well before dark.

Accommodation: In Dzongla we stayed at the Hotel Zongla Inn. The location was breathtaking, with Cholatse towering above us.

April 11, 2014 (Friday)

Going Gokyo

The trail became steeper and narrower after we split from the main EBC route and headed up the Gokyo Valley. We were rewarded with a far less crowded area and some truly stunning vistas.

We glimpsed our first Himalayan tahrs (like wild mountain goats) with hair that Fabio would envy, as well as these beautiful birds that we swear our guide called Mountain Patricks, but Google knows of no such thing. Maybe they were partridges? Whatever their name, we began seeing and hearing them a lot. Especially as we huffed and puffed up the side mountains and high pass, these birds would always be squawking and we detected a hint of laughter.

While we’d planned to trek a bit further before stopping for lunch, the views from Mong La, a small village en route to our first night at Dhole, were too good to pass up. The weather was still warm enough for us to sit outside and so we enjoyed a tasty meal here with this phenomenal view.

The trails and trekking days became somewhat more difficult here, as the ups and downs increased. For example, I think our first day out of Namche had us starting at 3440m, ascending to 3980m where we lunched, descending to 3680m and then rising again to 4110m.

It was also here that the creature comforts began disappearing: no more free battery charging (only for a fee, and only when there is power, which often is generated from just a few solar panels), no more rooms with private toilets, and in general, say goodbye to western toilets. Hello holes in the ground and getting out of your warm sleeping bag and into your freezing cold boots to pee at night! At most tea houses there is no heat source except for a stove (yak pie fueled!) in the common room which is usually turned on around five at night and stoked through dinner. This common room is where we tend to spend most of our non-trekking waking hours as it’s warmed by the body heat and/or the fire. The rooms are far from the stove and have plywood thin walls (freezing. literally. your water, contact lenses and toothpaste all freeze overnight). Also, the common room is where we do the only three things we do aside from trekking: eat, drink tea and play cards. Rishi taught us how to play dhumbal, which is a Nepali game that’s easy to learn and a great way to pass the time. Lots of rounds were played over the next week and a half, lots.

Leaving Dhole the views up-valley became more expansive: Cho Oyu straight ahead, Cholatse and Taboche off to the right and Thamserku and Kangtega behind and to the right. A relatively easy day of hiking took us to our next destination of Machhermo (4470m). But there is acclimatization to be done, so the day wasn’t quite as easy after an afternoon hike up the ridge behind town where the winds were gusting and again we saw Everest beyond Cholatse plus great views of Cho Oyu.

Having been delayed a day due to weather canceling our scheduled flight into Lukla, we had to find a way to make up a day. We decided to wake early the next morning, get to Gokyo quickly and try to see as much as possible that day so we could skip our “rest” day there. Wikipedia says the Gokyo Lakes “are the world’s highest freshwater lake system comprising six main lakes.” We passed “first lake” on our hike and it was thawed though tiny. Second lake was mainly frozen, as was third lake (i.e. the Gokyo Lake), which is where the town of Gokyo sits. Bummer because the pictures we’ve seen of the turquoise lake look gorgeous.

Thus we decided to skip the optional hike up to fourth lake (it was higher and certainly frozen) that afternoon and instead we did a quick hike up to the ridge behind town from where we had great views of Gokyo Lake, the tiny hamlet of Gokyo and Gokyo Ri (to be hiked the next morning) to one side, and the Ngozumpa glacier (to be crossed after hiking Gokyo Ri) to the other.

Our tea house at Gokyo was another one of our favorites. It had lovely views, a warmish common area, and one of the toilets was western (although no western flushing mechanism, don’t get too excited now).

By now it’s getting colder but it’s still bearable. Neither of us wore multiple layers on the bottom until Gokyo. After that Jenni rolled three pants til Namche.

Our first of the “big four” destinations was Gokyo Ri. I call them the big four because they are the highest points on our trek, generally the most difficult to climb, and sort of the highlights of these treks. The big four are: (i) Gokyo Ri – a 5357m peak abutting Gokyo town and lake and which affords mind-blowing views of Everest and everything else; (ii) crossing Cho La Pass – maybe not so much a destination as a necessary evil to take you from Gokyo back to the EBC route; (iii) Everest Base Camp – self-explanatory; and (iv) Kala Patthar – the mountain near EBC and the highest point (5545m) on our trek. It’s clear that the altitude started getting to Jenni as she requested the “Call of the Mountain Goats” song as climbing inspiration (it’s In The Hall of the Mountain King).

It took us just about two hours to summit Gokyo Ri (and about an hour down). Damn these mountains for looking so easy next to the mammoth peaks around them, because it is not a walk in the park. The climb alone is not terribly difficult. It’s an ascent of a bit more than 1800 feet, which would normally be a pretty breezy hike, were it not for the fact that you’re going from ~15.7k feet to ~17.6k feet above sea level. You don’t realize how much you appreciate oxygen until you trek at these heights! Jenni was definitely feeling the altitude at this point, and to top it off she somehow managed to ram her head into a rock a few feet from the top. Needless to say she wasn’t the happiest camper up there. (Alan had in his notes: “She didn’t even take chocolate from Andrew at the top!!” So. You know it was serious).

Check out these views of Everest, Makalu, Lhotse, Cho Oyu, Renjo La pass etc… from the summit.

After relaxing over lunch, we crossed the Ngozumpa glacier to get to Thangnag. At about 22 miles, I think it is the longest glacier in Nepal. While the glacier doesn’t look wide (you can see the town of Thangnag from the ridge just behind Gokyo), it’s not so easy to traverse, made difficult by the up and down plus loose rock and snow. The surreal landscape felt lunar. Two hours scrambling across the moon later and we made it to Thangnag where we were literally the only guests in our teahouse. We watched the snowfall as we (what else) enjoyed tea, cookies and several rounds of dhumbal. It was an early night to bed so we could rise early and face the beast: Cho La Pass. (P.S. a “late” night while trekking is 8pm, so…).

Practical Info

Accommodation: In Dhole we stayed at Alpine Cottage Lodge. I think we saw a sign that a room costs 200, or 1000 if you do not take meals there. In Macchermo we stayed at Trekkers Lodge. In Gokyo we stayed at Gokyo Resort, one of our favorites. Our room #17 overlooked the lake and mountains. Here we charged batteries for 300/hour and the WiFi worked pretty well and cost 500/day. In Thangnag we stayed at Thangnag Guest House.

Food and Drinks: Lunch on the way to Dhole in Mong La was on the patio at Bouddha Lodge, next to Hill Top Guesthouse and near the Viewpoint Guesthouse. We thought the food at Gokyo Resort was some of the best. They actually seasoned dishes the way we might at home (much of the food served while trekking is uber-bland, requiring boatloads of assistance from the salt and pepper shakers).

Activities: We did not attend, but we saw signs for the free altitude talk daily at 3 pm in Macchermo. I think this is run by the International Porter Protection Group, whose website is http://www.ippg.net.

April 7-10, 2014 (Monday-Thursday)

Jam Jam!

The big day had finally arrived, we were scheduled to fly from Kathmandu to Lukla to begin our Himalayan trek! And Jenni was nervous (isn’t she always?). The suspense was killing us as we waited at the domestic terminal of the Kathmandu airport for nearly six hours, only to be sent home around 2 pm when they called off all flights for the rest of the day. (Flights to Lukla are often cancelled due to wind). This has got to be one of the craziest airports I’ve ever been to: hectic as can be, there does not appear to be any usage of lines, but people gather in large groups around the piles of expedition gear, waiting for their turn to check in, and there are even monkeys crawling round outside. Emotionally drained, we headed to a hotel in Thamel for the evening to try again in the morning.

Friday morning brought us success and we finally boarded the dinkiest of planes (I’m still nearly certain this thing is a toy, not a commercial vehicle) for an exciting journey to Lukla.

We grabbed seats on the left to enjoy the view of the mountains coming in. The views were pretty spectacular, if not a bit fear inducing. Luckily, a Swiss veteran of the Himalayas was seated next to Jenni and coached her through the ride. The landing is by far the most nerve-wracking part, approaching a runway that is maybe 500 meters long and uphill so the plane can stop in time.

Apologies for the lack of photos. Jenni had Alan’s hand in a deadlock grip. Proof:

::she was freaking just a little bit::
::she was freaking just a little bit::

Upon arriving in Lukla we met our porter, Sange, who quickly earned our respect, hauling our duffel bags up and down the mountains with incredible speed and agility. Like all porters, he carries his cargo using a strap that goes over his head. And we learned that unlike say the Inca trail, there is no government regulation of how much porters can carry. So those willing to earn more in exchange for more bodily abuse might carry as much as 80-100kg!!

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After our first of what proved to be innumerable cups of tea, we set out on our trek. In other words, we jam jam-ed. (Jam jam is Nepali for “let’s go.” Lots of jam jamming happened from here on out). The hike to Phakding was a leisurely walk over a mostly stone trail. We got our first views of some awe-inspiring mountains, though these were only ~6000m. To put that in perspective, most of these Himalayan dwarves would be the tallest mountains on every other continent except South America (Denali in Alaska is just under 6200m but many of these non-famous Himalayan peaks are higher). We had yet to peep the truly awesome 8000m peaks to come. We were also introduced to dzopkyos, a hybrid of cattle and yak, used to transport goods up and down the mountains (at and above Namche you mainly see yaks, but it’s too warm for the furry yaks down at this altitude). We learned right away that it’s not always easy to pass a dzopkyo (or yak) train and the traffic jams can be brutal.

Already we began passing Tibetan prayer flags and wheels, learning from Rishi (our guide) that we always had to pass to the left of the manis (i.e. clockwise, with manis to our right). We also observed that many locals have red cheeks from the cold weather.

We spent our first night in the happening (I kid you not) Himalayan town of Phakding. We checked out the Sherpa Liquid’s bar pool hall, bumping with some Guns N Roses, never mind that we (and our fellow Himalayan Glacier trekkers) were the only guests. (On this portion of the trek we were together with Michiel, Regina, Jarrod and Jenna from another Himalayan Glacier group, and their guide Dole. We parted ways with this group when we headed up the Gokyo Valley. Andrew and his guide, Shankar, were with us through EBC and Kala Patthar, and we parted ways when we continued down to Pheriche and Andrew went to climb Island Peak.) There was also a reggae bar and plenty of other bakeries, teahouses and restaurants.

Jenni was beyond pleased by the presence of dogs at this elevation. She definitely considered sticking one in her bag. Who are we kidding, in the porter’s bag.

The land is quite fertile at this elevation, and we passed several steep terraced hillsides, planted with potato, cabbage, bok choy and tomato (who would have thought we’d be eating fresher and more local up here than back home?). We walked along the Dudh Kosi River, which drains the Mount Everest massif, crossing our first of many suspension bridges. While generally well constructed, some of these bridges are a little scary for one with a fear of heights.

The walk from Phakding to Namche Bazaar was our first “real” trekking day, taking around six hours including a stop for lunch. We crossed a few checkpoints where we entered Sagarmatha National Park. While waiting for the guides to pass through the checkpoint we played with a few local kids. They succeeded in toppling Alan over and in the process his boot crushed the poor kid’s hand. A few tears later and the two of them were playing patty cake. Tough little nuggets, those Himalayan raised kids are.

The scariest bridge EVER was crossed: the Hillary Bridge. Newly built to replace the aging bridge Edmund Hillary sponsored long ago, which itself was up high, this one soars above at something like 200m high. Jenni was able to chant “it’s just a walkway” to herself and race across it without turning to a panicky mess. This is not to say that she was calm in doing so.

This day proved to be one of the worst weather-wise on our whole trek (luckily) and so we missed the chance to spot Everest from the first viewpoint.

After a few hours of steeper climbing past the bridge we arrived at the booming mountain metropolis of Namche Bazaar. Kidding aside, this hilltop village is impressively large. It’s nestled in a steep hillside shaped like an amphitheater, lined with stone staircases and countless tea houses trimmed in blue, green and red. Above and within are terraced farm plots.

We settled into what turned out to be one of our favorite teahouses, enjoying our 5 o’clock tea and cookies (a trekking ritual we already deeply miss) before a day we thought would be restful.

The “rest” day started out promising: the sun was shining, we climbed briefly up to the museum where we caught our first glimpse ever of the world’s tallest mountain (cue Jenni gleefully exclaiming “I’ve seen Everest! We can go home now!”), as well as other big and beautiful peaks like Lhotse and Ama Dablam. From there a few from our group made the smart decision to actually rest, while the remainder of us headed up for further acclimatization.

We viewed the old Syangboche airport (i.e. dirt strip), which is the closest landing strip to EBC but is rarely used. From there we continued ascending as the weather continued to decline. Through rolling fog we made our way up to the Hotel Everest View and got some sneak peaks of the spectacular vista when the clouds parted. Feeling the first effects of the altitude the mood declined for many of us. We did, however, eat lunch in Khumjung where we also saw our first yak, a “yeti” skull (recommend skipping this), and the Hillary school.

Back in town we had our last shower for over a week, something Alan enjoyed and Jenni regretted as soon as she realized her hair would freeze while she waited for it to dry. Also because those shampoo sheets are the worst invention known to man. (They do not lather, and they do not wash out. I had clumps in my hair for the next week.)

The next day we had about an hour and a half of trekking left with the half of our group going directly to EBC. The trail was lovely here, with fantastic views of Everest. We passed the Tenzing Norgay Memorial Stupa and saw some huge birds that I think were vultures. As the trail split we said goodbye to the others and turned left towards Gokyo Valley, leaving behind warmth and crowds.

Practical Info

Himalayan Glacier made all arrangements for us, but you could pick up guides and porters in Lukla or Namche Bazaar, I think. You can also find plenty of accommodation and some gear in these towns. We visited a store in Namche selling books, booze, SD cards, batteries, etc. It is a good idea to stock up on what you might need in Namche, as availability drops dramatically (and prices rise with the elevation)…especially if you’re heading up the Gokyo Valley and off the main EBC trail. Phakding is smaller than Lukla or Namche but still has several tea houses and some bakeries and bars.

Transportation: We took a Yeti Air flight from Kathmandu to Lukla. Try to sit on the left (when facing forward) of the plane for great mountain views. It is pretty neat to get off a plane and just start walking. Though it is far less common, you can begin your trek in Jiri and after several days join the trail between Lukla and Phakding.

Accommodation: In Phakding we stayed at Snowland Lodge. Our room had two twin beds and a private toilet, though there was a large square cut out of the wall connecting our bathroom to our neighbors. This was weird, and gave us flashbacks to our NYE experience in Agra, India. I think there were outlets in the room.

In Namche we stayed at The Nest and our room was much larger with a double bed and a nicer bathroom with hot water shower. We could walk out onto an unfinished balcony type space (I think rooms 210&211 have this feature). At The Nest there were outlets in our room and the WiFi for 500/day worked fairly well. There are several accommodation options in the villages at these low elevations, especially in Namche. Including the Hotel Hill-Ten.

Food and Drinks: All our meals were included in our tour arrangements, but generally breakfast costs 200-400 and lunch and dinner more like 300-700. Bottled water is readily available from Lukla to Namche for 80-120/liter. Beyond here, we used purification methods as water becomes more expensive and it is harder to recycle/dispose of waste.

April 3-7, 2014 (Thursday-Monday)