A Travellerspoint blog

January 2019

Mad fools and Englishmen go out in the midwinter Himalayas

Trekking to Everest Base Camp

-15 °C

Our Christmas present was an unexpected upgrade on our Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong. Once we finally arrived at our end destination, Kathmandu, we got off the plane as quickly as we could to get in the queue for our visa. We had been warned to get there ASAP as queues soon build up and can take hours.

Kathmandu is typical of many Asian cities - a busy, bustling place with bikes, cars and people everywhere and lots of horn beeping! The electricity set up is a scary looking mass of cables hanging precariously above.
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The buildings look old and many are falling down (presumably a lot to do with the 2015 earthquake) but you can see that once upon a time they were beautiful and ornate. Behind decorative doors, tiny spaces on the ground floor of buildings sell masks, meat, cloth, veggies, musical instruments and more.
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We explored some of the area including Durbar Square with it's cows and pigeons.
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There were supposed to be six of us on our tour but one couple got some bad news and had to get the first flight back to Australia leaving just us and one other couple, Bianca and Luke.

Our tour officially began with an early morning flight to Lukla which was supposed to take off at 6.30am but due to fog was delayed until 7.25am, a very common occurrence apparently. The majority of the flight passed over the snowy tops of the surrounding Himalayas.
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We had a hard, abrupt landing as we set down in the world's deadliest airport with it's extremely short runway with a mountain one end and a brick wall at the other.

As soon as we were off the plane our trek began, there are no cars or motorbikes in this part of Nepal. All things are transported by people, mule or yak. The animals pass in convoy with jingling bells all loaded up with items such as gas tanks and sacks of food. We were encouraged to stand mountainside as they passed to avoid being accidentally pushed off the mountain. Some of the porters carry insane loads up the mountain, we saw men carrying tv's, armchairs, even a large fridge!
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We only hiked for about 4 hours the first day, finishing in Phakding at the Sherpa Shangri La. Along the way we passed many prayer flags, prayer stones and stupas.
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I didn't know it at the time but this turned out to be the last time I would get a shower for the rest of this trek! Thankfully we had an en suite at this stage of the trip as both Gerald and I some how picked up a bug and spent the night taking it in turns to visit the bathroom!

The next day we set off for Namche Bazaar in temperatures of about minus 5 but thankfully the sun was shining. We climbed about 800m over 12km which was tough work as we could already feel some effects of altitude. Along the way we managed to stop and find two geocaches and one of them turned out to be a First to Find for us complete with a gift inside of some buddhist items to keep us safe on our journey.
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Our room was very cold (this was to be the norm throughout the trip) but the view from our room was pretty stunning.
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We had an acclimatisation day at Namche Bazaar but this did not mean a rest day! We hiked up several hundred metres to a look out point with a statue of Tenzing Norgay who was the first to summit Mt Everest along with Edmund Hillary in 1953. We then hiked even higher to have morning tea in a cafe with 360 degree views of the mountains. This also gave us our first sighting of Everest. The altitude along with the steep climb meant we went very slowly, I think we averaged about 1.5km per hour! At least hiking up hill kept us warm in the minus 15 temperatures!
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Tengboche was the destination for our next day of hiking, another day well into the minus temperatures but with lots of uphill climbs we were soon removing layers. We crossed paths with many hikers returning from Base Camp and they all commented on the cold they had left behind!
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We stopped at a monastery just before arriving at our 'home' for the night. The monastery was very ornate and decorated in almost every inch of space but, unfortunately, photos inside were not allowed.
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As we continued we found snow on the ground and the river was completely frozen over.

The higher up the mountain we went the more basic our accommodation became, our guest houses were simply made with plywood. The only time we ever got warm was for about an hour each evening around dinner time when the heater would be filled with yak dung as fuel. As soon as it cooled down we would all head off to bed, the only other place you could keep warm.

On our journey from Tengboche to Dingboche we crossed our last suspension bridge and right by it were the remains of a previous bridge that was taken out by an avalanche. We passed fields ready to be planted and piles of yak dung waiting to be used for cooking and heating. A woman was doing her laundry in the almost totally frozen river! Even if we wanted a shower it wasn't possible as everywhere we stayed the pipes had frozen meaning there was no running water. Being above 4000m meant that everything was iced over and the trees no longer grew. One of the few benefits of trekking to EBC during winter is that the days were sunny and visibility was amazing - all the stunning scenery definitely made the difficult trek more tolerable.
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New Year's Day was an another acclimatisation day and began by waking up to find everything was frozen, the windows, our wet wipes, the suncream...we hiked up around 300m to 4700m. Our guide kept telling us that we were only walking up hills, apparently it's not a mountain unless you go over 6000m! We stayed at our viewpoint for about an hour to help us acclimatise, and mostly sat in silence admiring the 360 degree views of the surrounding Himalayas. We could see many mountain peaks including the mighty Everest.
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Our 7th day of trekking, from Dingboche to Lobuche, was tough. We trekked about 10km, ascended around 500m taking us over 5000m, the temperature was cold but felt even colder as there was a strong wind. We passed through an area full of memorials for those that have died attempting to summit Everest. The scenery became a lot more barren, first we trekked through a dry valley and then ascended a rocky ridge seeing very few people along the way.
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Finally came the day that we were to reach Base Camp. It was without a doubt the hardest thing I have ever done both physically and mentally. We set off early in the morning in temperatures well into the minus 20's. I had had yet another night of very little sleep - a lack of oxygen combined with the very dry environment made it hard to breathe and also made my nose bleed. You need to take a breath for every step you take so it is slow going, we probably went no more than 1km per hour! The journey entailed clambering over loose rocks and the glacier and we had to carefully watch our step the whole way. It was such a good feeling to finally reach Base Camp. We stayed long enough to take a few photos but being so cold we soon began the journey back to our guesthouse. When we got back I sat like a zombie for a long while, I had absolutely no energy left at all.
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The next morning Bianca and I decided to stay warm in our beds whilst the boys got up at 5.30am to climb Kala Patthar and see the sunrise over Mt Everest at 5548m elevation. As I lay in bed the wind howled so hard that it blew the bedroom window open! The boys had to crawl on all fours to reach the summit, took a photo or two and headed straight back down again as it was ridiculously cold and windy. My goal for this trip was to reach EBC and I had achieved that so I did not regret missing out on this extra challenge. As we packed, a couple staying in our lodge were rescued by helicopter. We had seen them heading to EBC as we were on our way back. They had returned well after dark and looked absolutely frozen. For the last few days we had seen many rescue helicopters flying above us - the altitude and the extreme cold seemed to be defeating many.
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We headed to Periche from Gorak Shep and for the first time it seemed like an 'easy' walking day as it was almost all downhill although it still required a lot of rock clambering.
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We had our longest day's walk on day 10 of the trek from Periche back to Namche Bazaar. We covered 22km and discovered that winter had arrived in the area since we had last been there. There was snow on the ground and the temperature had dropped hugely. Our coats and hats stayed on this time despite the fact that we still had a fair bit of uphill trekking. Going uphill this time was not easy but certainly different from the journey there, this time it was just general getting out of breath climbing a steep hill as opposed to fighting for oxygen and wondering how you are going to find enough energy to raise your leg up the stone step! A dog had joined us for breakfast and we gave it some scraps, this meant that it became our best friend and accompanied us on our trek until we had passed several villages.
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The next day was mostly downhill again, back to Phakding, we mostly saw porters carrying their insanely big, heavy loads but very few trekkers now that winter was well and truly here. A free flowing waterfall on the way there was now almost completely frozen.
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Day 12 of the trek was the first time we didn't see the sun, the day remained cloudy and there were tiny snowflakes falling but thankfully they never settled. We arrived in Lukla by lunchtime after an uneventful walk. With all the cloud no helicopters took to the skies, hopefully nobody was in desperate need of rescuing. It was our last night of the trek and we shouted our porter to a meal as he had carried our heavy gear each day with an unfaltering smile.
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By 6.15am we were walking back to the airport but once again, due to fog, our flight was delayed so there was a lot of waiting around in the tiny Lukla airport.
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Everybody on the flight had spent days on end in the same clothes, too cold to get undressed and unable to shower anyway due to frozen pipes. We must have smelt really bad because the air stewardess walked down the aisle of the plane spraying air freshener!

After about an hour on 'dancing roads' (so bumpy you get jiggled around the whole time) we finally arrived at Gokarna Forest Resort. I could not wait to get out of my stinky clothes and stand under a hot shower in a warm room - bliss! After lunch we has a complimentary head, neck and back massage, just what we needed after carrying our back packs for the last 2 weeks. The day finished with a delicious 3 course meal which was also part of our package.

The final part of our tour was a whole day guided city tour to four destinations, firstly Swayambhunath (also know as Monkey Temple) an ancient religious building on top of a hill in Kathmandu - it is a sacred pilgrimage site for Buddhists.
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Next was Patan Museum a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a royal palace of former Malla Kings.
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The third stop was far more emotional, Pashupatinath Temple, a sacred Hindu temple on the bank of the Bagmati River and another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The temple is where cremations are performed 24/7, whilst we were there every site had a cremation in various stages of progress. Once the body has completely burnt, the ashes are swept into the river to flow into the holy Ganges River.
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Our final stop was Shree Boudhanath, another World Heritage Site, and one of the largest spherical stupas in the world at 118 feet tall.
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Our three week trip was certainly a once in a lifetime experience. Trekking to EBC is no easy feat but doing it in the middle of winter takes it to a whole other level. I feel proud that I made it as it was the most difficult thing I have ever done and probably ever will do! It took huge amounts of mental and physical stamina and I have never experienced cold like it. It wasn't always a pleasant experience, there certainly weren't any luxuries along the way, but doing it in winter gave us beautiful, sunny days with amazing visibility. The cold temperatures meant that there were few people on the trek and we often went hours without seeing others. When we got to EBC there was only one other person there, in the peak season we heard you sometimes have to queue for ages just to get your photo taken. It was a challenging but amazing experience but I am certain that my mountain climbing days are over!

Posted by bumblebum 19:06 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

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