Nepal and the trek to Everest Base Camp has to be one the most rewarding travel experiences I’ve had to date, and I apologise in advance for the long post. There is no short way to describe the sheer magnificence of this trip (And the views that went along with it!) but I am certain that by reading this post you’ll be inspired to lace up your hiking boots and hit the trails, so enjoy!
For this 3 month trip, I was keen to see some destinations that I’d always wanted to see and I wanted to incorporate something that would be physically challenging. I love being active and I’ve had my fair share of beach resort holidays that revolved around sun, surf and cocktails, so I wanted something different. I wanted to push myself towards a goal, which would therefore be more rewarding once completed.
Completing the hike to Everest Base Camp has been on my Travel ‘Lust’ List pretty much since I hiked Machu Picchu, Peru in 2009. It’s a big thing to tick off, and while I had the time to do it, it seemed perfect. Even though I’m not generally a keen hiker at home, there is almost no better way to get a first hand look at a new culture and their way of life, than wandering through towns and villages, Interacting with the people & eating local food.
Choosing to do the trip with Intrepid travel was also an easy choice. They are an Australian based company that specialise in small group adventure journeys all over the world and I’d previously travelled with them in Egypt, Africa and Peru, so I knew what to expect and the prices are fantastic. They get you up close and personal with the destination by staying in local style accommodation that reflects your surroundings. You generally travel on local transport (except in this case I was hiking!) and most importantly they have responsible tourism program’s set up all over the world, in the destinations they operate in. They also support local issues & ensure that they give back to the communities we visit as well.
So, Nepal it was…Now to prepare!
A trip like this does require a fair amount of physical preparation & there is a long list of hiking essentials that I didn’t yet own, but it was easy enough to pick up everything I needed. Looking into the trek I also knew that 13 days of hiking in the Himalayas wasn’t going to be easy, so I wanted to be as fit as I could be to enjoy it.
Other bloggers and trekking companies will try to tell you that you don’t need to be that fit… They’re wrong!
You definitely need a reasonable amount of fitness to not only complete but actually enjoy this trip. While we saw people on the trek of all fitness levels, sizes & ages (including kids!), I suggest trying to be as fit as you can be. The reality is, the fitter you are the more you’ll enjoy it and to be honest some of the hills on this trek are intense! I’m talking..3hrs of going straight up some days, and with the added altitude factor (there is up to half the oxygen in the air up there to what you’re used to at sea level), the stronger your legs, the more you can forget them and focus on your breathing (oh and the spectacular views!).
On arrival in Kathmandu it was hot, dusty, loud and the roads were mayhem… Exactly what I expected. I was excited!
We were checked into the Kathmandu guest house, which is located right in the middle of Thamel, tourist mecca of the city and the perfect base to explore. The hotel had a great restaurant & decent rooms to get your last comfy sleep before commencing the 2 week trek. (That’s if you don’t mind the sounds of stray dogs barking at all hours.. But hey, it is Kathmandu after all!)
Thamel is where you’ll find restaurants, bars, mountain wear stores, rickshaw drivers offering to take you to see the sights and all kinds of local wares like pashminas, rugs, silk, giftware and everything in between. It was here we met with our guide, the amazing Deepak Rai. The 23yr old Nepali local who was entrusted with leading our group to the highest point we’ll ever set foot… Everest Base Camp, and Kala Patthar. Sitting at 5610m above sea level.
Our group was small which was ideal and exactly what I’d hoped for. (No waiting for 20 other people to eat breakfast, shower, pack and hike). There were just 4 of us in the group. Myself (Australia), Scott (UK), CC (from the USA) and Marty (also from Australia), along with our guide Deepak, assistant guide Prem and 2 porters to assist us with our bags.
Before departing Kathmandu we had to stock up on a couple of essentials: Water purifying tablets (as bottled water gets pricey the higher you go, and it’s bad for the environment), baby wipes (knowing that showers would be limited, if any!) and finally chocolate bars!! This trek is very physical and would mean that we’d be burning upward of 8000 calories a day, and normal meals wouldn’t be enough to sustain, let alone replace the energy we’d be burning, so it’s the one time in my life I didn’t feel guilty that I was going to ‘have to’ eat at least 2 chocolate bars a day. Excellent 🙂
Next up, the white knuckle flight from Kathmandu to Lukla, voted as the worlds ‘scariest’ airport. The runway is just 450m (an average runway is between 2000-3500m) and has a sheer cliff at one end, and a brick wall at the other. Planes can only land if the weather is perfectly clear, and there is literally NO room for error. A mistake that we witnessed first hand when a helicopter, upon trying to land just after us, clipped a wire fence, sending the chopper to the ground, injuring 4 and killing a local Sherpa 😦
Fortunately for us, ours was a smooth flight where we got our 1st glimpse of the magnificent Himalayas.
Our arrival in Lukla, the mountains we’re epic. The temperature dropped, the air was clean and the sky was bright blue against the green valley & snow capped mountains. This was the Himalaya!
Arrival into Lukla, the scariest airport in the world.
Kids in Nepal.
Before setting off on our trek it was time to fuel up. We had our 1st meal in a tea house that gave us a glimpse at what life & meal choices would be like for the next 2 weeks. We’d be staying in basic wooden huts with a common dining area, twin rooms, with paper thin ply wood walls. There was no heating, other than the kerosene stove (conveniently located in the middle of the main dining room). Mostly only cold showers (unless requested earlier and a pot of warm water would be boiled for you) and the always delightful squat toilets. Basic? Yes but we were in the mountains after all.
The food looked just as basic, with the menu offering mostly Dhal Bhat, the traditional Nepali dish consisting of rice, vege curry and lentils. Other choices included roast potatoes, fries, spaghetti, rice, eggs and a few other local delicacies…. But in the end the menu proved to include all of the things the body craves when hiking for 8 hrs a day… Carbs!!
The blog post will be as long as the trek itself if I try to recount it day by day, so ill spare you the specifics, but ill try and paint you a picture …..
Day 1 to 4 involved hiking from Lukla at 2800m to Namche Bizaar, at 3440m, the biggest Sherpa village in the region. It was here that we caught our 1st glimpse of the spectacular Mt. Everest! While it was off in the distance and the scale was hard to judge, you could sense the grandeur of the mountain as she stood proud & tall amongst her equally impressive neighbours. (Did you know Nepal has 8 of the worlds 10 highest peaks, all surpassing 8000m? Madness!)
The hike to Namche Bizzar itself involved steep climbs and narrow tracks, leading through small villages, across rivers by suspension bridge and up the green valley and farmland, away from Lukla and deeper into the mountains. It was magnificent! The sun was shining and as we walked we passed countless porters travelling with loads of up to 70kg on their backs between villages, all still managing to exchange a friendly greeting of ‘Namaste’.
There was also the unmistakable sound of cow bells, which were worn by yaks as they also passed by with their loads. Porters and Yak Trains are what keep these Himalayan villages alive with the delivery of food, fuel, building materials and anything else you can imagine. There are no cars or even roads for that matter… so villages can only be reached and goods transported, by foot.
We also quickly learnt that ‘flat’ in Nepal, is definitely not flat! (More like a hill climb program you’d find at home on your local treadmill!), but the tough days were compensated by the fact that there was always something new to see & the ever changing landscape was a sign of just how high we were climbing.
Namche Bizaar was the 1st of our 2 acclimatisation days, which were required to get our bodies used to the altitude. We spent an extra day here (and at one other village) and the acclimatisation days were in no way a rest day. They involved steep climbs of at least 400-500m, then we’d turn around and hike back down to sleep. Mental torture, but luckily there was the amazing scenery to take in, as well as other sites like a Sherpa museum, and the worlds highest airport (Syangboche airstrip, but no longer used for passenger flights) sitting at 3750 metres.
After Namche Bizzar, it was another 6 days of climbing to reach Lobouche, before our push to Gorak Shep sitting at 5140m (one of the original villages where mountain expeditions used to set up base camp) and finally Everest base camp (5364m).
During those middle 6 days we hiked from 3500m to 5364m to reach the point where so many expeditions have come to tackle the mother of all mountains…. Everest Base Camp.
While the hiking was tough, and the air became more difficult to breathe as we ascended, for me it was almost like meditation. Where I’d normally have a million thoughts running through my mind, I found that when hiking along the trails for hours and hours on end, all you are doing is trying to get your breath into a rhythm, and not trip over…. so there is literally nothing else to think about and by the end of each day I was somehow more relaxed, It’s amazing what a still mind can do for your energy levels.
Sadly, the day we made the ascent to base camp it was snowing and foggy, so the visibility wasn’t very good. We had no idea what the mountains surrounding the glacier looked like, but the snow sure did make the hike a little more interesting when snowball fights broke out between our group and some random porters! Lots of laughs.
Despite the fog, we first caught a glimpse of the Khumbu glacier on which base camp sits, and the treacherous Khumbu Ice Falls, which all the expedition groups (led by local Sherpa) have to navigate to get to the second stage of their Everest quest….and we were on a high as we crossed the glacier to the marker that welcomes you to base camp. We’d made it!!
While normally most trekking groups end their trek here, take a photo and turnaround (the oxygen in the air is down to 50%, compared to 100% at sea level, so it’s recommended to stay only a maximum of 20minutes), we were in good shape so we wandered around base camp, onto the ice fields and we enjoyed a chapatti next to an expedition camp. They were Italian climbers, set up and living at base camp for up to 2 months, acclimatising before attempts to summit Everest would be made after the monsoons in September/October or again in May.
After a small break we ventured to the edge of the ice falls for a couple of photos, then the classic group shot once our gang were all together and back to Gorak Shep we hiked, Triumphant & exhausted.
Weather permitting we still had our climb to Kala Patthar to tackle the following morning, so we hit the sack, praying the weather was clear for our 4am hike up to 5610m, for a panoramic view of Base camp, Mt Everest and the other magnificent mountains that make up the Himalaya. (Sleeping at altitude is tricky in itself! Your breaths are short and sharp, so sleep was always broken as you often woke to find that you are struggling for air).
Prem, our always smiling, ever energetic assistant guide had the task of getting us awake and up the mountain. His normally positive demeanour was a little off, as we woke to the fog and snow lingering, and I think he was hoping we’d all decide to stay in bed!
We knew it was a long shot….. We could climb all the way up there (a gruelling 2.5hr hike, straight up!) and the fog be so bad that we didn’t see a thing or we could luck out with good weather above the cloud line. It was a chance we wanted to take. We were only going to be here once after all, and if it paid off it would be spectacular! So, we set off with our head lamps and crossed our fingers.
I’m not going to lie. For the 1st hour, I struggled. It was dark, cold, snowing, foggy and with only 2 headlamps between 4 of us you couldn’t see much. I think all the hiking from the last 10 days had taken its toll too. My legs were tired and a headache from the cold air was starting to pound, so my energy levels were low, and I didn’t have much hope for the views.
Then, as we reached the top of a ridge and climbed higher, I caught a glimpse of star. One solitary star, surrounded by fog, but it was visible! It was enough to lift my spirits slightly, and my headache seemed to lessen. As we rose higher to the summit of Kala Patthar, the fog became lighter and out of the shadows behind us came the triangular outline of 2 mountains. They weren’t exactly clear, but they were there, we could see Everest!
Taking a couple of pics in case this was as clear as it was going to get, I felt a surge of adrenalin kick in, and my legs no longer felt tired…. I was about 150m from the top and I knew I had to get there! I climbed as quickly as I could, looking back every few steps in awe of the landscape around me, and as the mountains became clearer and clearer I was almost running to get to the top before the sun made it’s appearance.
With a massive push of energy we reached the peak just as the last of the fog had lifted, and the sun was peaking its head over the worlds highest mountain! It literally took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes. Not only Mt. Everest, but all of surrounding mountains were visible, and I was astonished at the size and beauty of all of the snow capped mountains that were glistening in the morning sun. Mountains, we had no idea were there the day before, as the fog had been so thick.
The view was one of the magnificent sites I’ve ever seen, and literally brought tears to my eyes! Knowing that we had hiked 10 days, and gained almost 3000m in altitude to see it almost seemed surreal.
There were plenty of photos taken, cheers and hugs once we’d all made it to the top, and as the weather that morning had been iffy, there weren’t too many people up there to spoil the serenity. We thanked our guide for making the effort to wake up & lead us up there and after about half an hour or so at the peak we headed back down for breakfast. We still had a 7hr hike to complete that day, as a part of our 3 day journey back to where it all began in Kathmandu.
The remaining 3 days of hiking went by in a blink, and I think I almost liked going uphill more than down, as it was tough on the joints, but we made it.
As we descended we passed fresh faced groups who’d ask if the hike ahead of them was worth it, and we could do nothing but reply absolutely!! (Except poor CC who was plagued by headaches the whole way, so we soon told her she wasn’t allowed to reply to them negatively! Lol)
We had a beer to toast our success and back in Lukla we bid a very fond farewell to our wonderful assistant guide Prem and the porters. Then it was a harrowing downhill take off in the light plane, and back to Kathmandu for one last group dinner with Deepak and our new friends.
Sitting here now, and looking back at the trek I can certainly say that it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done and right now I can’t see how any other trip will top it for sheer beauty and reward.
Yes, ill hopefully see other iconic sites the world over, but little could compare to the pride I feel for completing such a physically demanding hike and to see something as beautiful as Mt. Everest at sunrise. Most other destinations and sites that I’ll likely see and visit in future will be more accessible, so that’s what adds to uniqueness of this trip.
Yes, the hike was tough at times and even though each day proved to be tougher than the last, with little or no flat / downhill sections for reprieve, I was genuinely looking forward to each day. I would strongly recommend to anyone with an active/physical nature, an interest in natural beauty/mountains/hiking or anyone looking for a travel experience that will reward you like no other (that I’ve yet to experience), DO THIS TRIP!
Of course, the people you meet along the way and share the memories with are also what make these travel experiences memorable, so I am grateful that we travelled with Intrepid and lucked out with the great group and guides that we we’re teamed up with. It’s certainly an experience I’ll remember forever.
So, until my next adventure,
Hiking to Base camp.