epic journey 2016: #EBCTrek2016 everest basecamp trek

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So I’ve done it again… yes that one too, I did fly Malaysia Airlines (and made it both ways, now just hackling over Qantas not recognising frequent flyer points).

A good year ago, a friend told me (or so I thought) that their parents did Everest base camp, which I always wanted to do, but never thought possible. Knowing their mum, I am secretly thinking if she can do, I should be able to pull this off. – Eventually it turns out it was only dad… but let’s not get fussed about details.

Most of 2016 was about #EBCTrek2016 and preparing for it. Interesting to watch yourself and your changing habits leading to something special and exciting. I did altitude training and own body weight core strength exercises, aka Calisthenics (yeap, me in a gym – never say never).

Nepal and the Himalayas are new territory for me. Given this is my first time in Nepal, I only have 2 weeks (need efficient trekking) and going in peak season (need reservations at tea houses), I decide to go with an agency. There are 2 types of agencies for tea house trekking, local ones, of which there is heaps, you can google them and try to find something suitable, but you can also just show up in Thamel (the tourist part of Kathmandu) and walk into any store… they’re all somehow related and associated, probably owned by 2 or 3 guys.
Then there are international agencies. They can be based anywhere… bizarrely enough, they all team up with local agencies, guides and porters for the actual trek, for the double price you get Western management and usually a Western guide on top of the local guides (essentially you fund someone’s Nepal trip).

Trekking in Nepal, especially in the Sagarmāthā National Park is easy, you walk between 5k and 15k per day, it does get really tough above 4,800m elevation (depending on your fitness) and, if you’re as skinny as I am, the -15°C is pretty full on (you can watch the water freeze in your bottle ). In summary it is doable for anybody with a reasonable level of fitness, training in an altitude chamber and “training” your immune system will make a real difference.

Note that altitude sickness is a real issue. You should only sleep roughly 300m higher every night (starting at Lukla 2,860m) with at least 2 acclimatisation days on your way up. So this takes about 10 days, you walk the 50k out in 3 days 😉 Some other words of advice:

  • Water: Use common sense and be careful with drinking water, I got usually boiled water. Drink a lot, 1l before breakfast, then 3l over the day and another litre at night.
  • Food: No meat above Namche. Namche gets a decent level of supplies, but use common sense again above Namche. Careful with anything fried, especially deep fried… the fat is only sooooo fresh. I had no issues, except the fried macaroni at Gorak Shep 5,164m (and I should have known better).
  • Cold: Get a good sleeping bag. Usually the days are nice until the cloud sets in (about 2-3pm). They heat the tea houses from about 5pm, 2 rounds of Yak dung (yes!), that’s it. A good down sleeping bag will keep you warm, especially if you fill your water bottle at night with boiling water and put it in your sleeping bag.
  • Tea houses: Better book or get a tour guide to do it for you. In peak season they get full. They are all similar, some have a bit more luxury, some are a better shed … note that showers above Namche are very creative (let’s say basic!), expect a full week without a shower (get merino).

Enjoy whatever you get up to, just make sure it’s #Epic!
#EBCTrek2016 #EpicJourney

Below you’ll find the diary and the gallery at the end.


Diary

Day 1: Sydney – Kuala Lumpur

This is going to be an epic journey (and a long day to start with), so I am starting the day with a wholesome brekkie at my favourite local café, Cooh. Ready to move!

Now there is a bit of unnecessary excitement… and scheduled, too. Trying to be smart, I ordered my foreign currency (trekking company is payable in USD) online and get it delivered to the local store. Turns out, they mix up the delivery dates… so they expedite it with the cash arriving the same day as I leave, their corporate office convince the local store manage to give me the cash before he receives it out of his own funds… and he does! Thank you OZ Travel Money Warringah Mall.

After the good old bus, ferry & train combo I make it to the plane station in time and have a good trip to KL then onto KLIA & teksi combo and eventually I make an exhausted arrival at the KL Novotel.

Day 2: Kuala Lumpur – Kathmandu (1,400m)

ebct-wordpress-3With the flight leaving quite late, I spend the day sightseeing – Menara KL (tower) being the highlight of the day. KL is a tropical climate and I am more prepared for -15°C, so I take it slow, have Din Tai Fung (you guessed it) for lunch and a few beers to cool down.

The flight leaving KUL at 8pm, arriving KTM at 22:30-ish, so another late night to adapt to. The passengers are a taste of what’s to come, trekkers and Nepalese locals, things on the plane less orderly than what they normally are. The runway in Kathmandu is also the first impression of the bumpy journey ahead (probably the first one I have seen with potholes).
ebct-wordpress-4Next is the airport… usual baggage carousel madness. Then I jump the visa queue (tip: buy before you travel, the queues to get it on arrival are long) and make it through easily. Like in India, only travelers are allowed into the airport building, so the pickup / driver mayhem is outside.

Find the driver easily (turns out it is the tour guide, not the driver – think caste). Now the other trekkers in the group arrive at the same time, which is great… except they are missing a bag, so I wait what feels like forever. Eventually they make it to the car, us to the hotel in Thamel and into bed.

Day 3: Kathmandu (1,400m)

ebct-wordpress-9Today is all for preparation and getting things organised in Kathmandu. Brekke in the courtyard, it’s still Indian Summer in Kathmandu. 10am pickup at the hotel to go the trekking company’s office (payment first, I am sure). Himalayan Glacier Trekking turns out to be quite professional an well prepared (they have done this before 😉 ).

Next we’re off to get the rental equipment (you can have down sleeping bags and / or down jackets), local SIM card, Nepalese Rupies, etc.

ebct-wordpress-12After a power nap (it’s been a short night), the afternoon is free and I explore Durbar Square. It’s already an adventure to get there through the lane ways of Thamel… the chaos is amazing (and that’s just traffic, electricity is just as fascinating, except there’s live wires everywhere, watch your head). Durbar Square itself is spectacular, but also pretty damaged from the 2015 earthquake.

We finish the day early-ish (5am pickup next morning). Except some people that have to pickup their bag from the airport…

Day 4: Kathmandu – Phakding (2,610m)
ebct-wordpress-38Our plans change very quickly… whilst we leave our stuff at the hotel and check-out, our guide is on the phone trying to organise flights – wait, weren’t we part of an “organised” tour? So plans change instead of going by plane, we hire a helicopter to take us into Lukla… we get to the airport and wait, eventually on the airfield and then wait, seeing everybody else leave, it’s a bit concerning. Then again there is only 2.5 hours of walking to do and mostly downhill, porters carrying your bag…

Turns out the heli ride is much better than the tiny planes: a/ you don’t need to land on the short airstrip that ends in a concrete wall (apparently the world’s worst “airport” and b/ on a heli you have 360 degree vision, front and sides are pretty much all glass. So our ride to Lukla is amazingly scenic.

First thing after we arrive is meet the assistant guide and the porter (think caste again), next tea house… the guides are very good at making you buy stuff and support the local business.

Then we get on the trail, which is much better than expected. The initial trail out of Lukla is pretty well built – considering where we are and that there is no infrastructure to get supplies in. The villages and settlements are nicely built up and we reach Phakding right in time for lunch (after checking in).

ebct-wordpress-41The afternoon we spent heading to a nearby monastery that has been rebuilt after being destroyed in the 2015 earthquake in a good half year (as you do). On the way down we can’t help ourselves and stop by “Hermann Helmer’s Bäckerei und Konditorei” for some coffee and strudel (what else)!

Then we settle in the trekking routine of getting afternoon cookie and tea, soon to be followed by dinner – and it becomes clear: the diet is not really healthy – make that minus the ginger tea! (I will end up just drinking ginger tea…)

Day 5: Phakding – Namche Bazaar (3,440m)

Given the accommodation isn’t much more than a shed (with an ensuite dunnie – you gotta have some luxury), we get an impression of the cold that’s going to hit us. We start along the river with various settlements and teahouses along the way. Have morning tea at some point (think cookies and ginger tea) and keep going along the river. Eventually we enter the Sagarmatha National Park border with way too many police officers, India style (where exactly would you escape to – so it’s obviously all about money).

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Then we get the warning, no more tea houses for at least 2 hours, go to the toilet, get some fresh water. Agreed in that there are no settlements, but it’s actually quite nice not to stuff yourself for 2 hours. So we keep following the river and eventually reach almost the bottom of the Sir Edmund Hillary Bridge, this only means one thing, it’s going to be straight up.

Up the hill we reach the first view of Everest. You can barely see the mountain – happy to report, I got a picture without clouds – if unsure you just look for the mass of people that argue which of those peaks in the distance is Everest (if unsure, the one in the cloud) 😉

ebct-wordpress-59We reach Namche, which means “hot shower” – yay! After that we hit town and spend the afternoon in a loungy cafe with awesome cake (yes, more food) and a good brew. Definitely worth a visit if you’re in town. It’s at the central intersection on the right looking up the hill, you can’t miss it.

Back to the teahouse for the drill: afternoon tea & cookies, pretty much alongside dinner. The climb (and Irish coffee) have taken their toll and we call it an early night.

Day 6: Acclimatisation – Namche Bazaar (3,440m)

ebct-wordpress-64We still get up early for brekkie and an acclimatisation hike in the hills behind Namche. Usually the weather is clear in the morning and it is a stunner. There is another drill (there are many routines for these guides) which is to go up to Everest View Hotel, a Japanese owned “proper” hotel between Namche and Khumjung. And everybody needs to buy tea on the veranda inviting their guides and porters – the Canadians and Swabians do the same thing (not that any of us have a choice).

ebct-wordpress-66One thing to note is Alan challenging the assistant guide for a trail run / race from Namche up the hill. Not quite sure what he was thinking there (not much), but he’s made it a few hundred metres before he gives up – running uphill at 3,500m against a local. Right.

We return for lunch, followed by the 3pm movie in the Liquid Bar (which is worth doing, it’s a nice place) and the film – “Sherpa – Trouble on Everest” – is awesome. More teahouse drill: afternoon tea & cookies, shortly followed by dinner. No meat and no shower for a week from here… not sure how we could possibly survive! 😉

Day 7: Namche Bazaar – Tengboche (3,860m)

Same procedure as the last couple of days… we settling into a routine. Early start, very well aware that we’re going on the post-shower-trail 😉 and exited to get closer to the big mountains. So the goal for the day is to climb to the monastery on the saddle we have seen the day before in the distance.

ebct-wordpress-79And it’s roller coaster day. First we ascent out of the “Namche bowl” and keep at level for a while. Then we descent into the valley to cross the river and climb up the other side. Along the way we do morning tea and have lunch somewhere – you don’t want anybody to loose weight.

Arriving at Tengboche early enough for a tour of the monastery – where some French man dares to take pictures and the monk grabs his camera to delete them (reading & respect help). Followed by a wander around the saddle which has some amazing vistas. Once the clouds set in, it becomes really cold and we move to the bakery for some strudel. Not considering that cookies & tea is waiting next door, so we pretty much just keep eating.

ebct-wordpress-80The night promises to be very cold, given we’re in a shed across the back yard of the building. So hot water bottle goes into my super down sleeping bag and I am actually too warm (windows are frozen though).

The entertainmain prize of the day goes to roomie Aaron who brushes his teetch, then holds the toothbrush with his mouth to go to the bathroom. He hits his head, toothbrush spectacularly falls… into the loo. This could not have been staged!

Day 8: Tengboche- Dingboche (4,410m)
ebct-wordpress-98Bit of a different routine today. We’re getting up to watch the sunrise over Everest given the protagonist is sitting right there and the clouds clear over night. It is beautiful… and incredibly cold, the ground and surroundings are frozen solid. This gets rewarded with a really good breakfast.

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Trekking is the same procedure as the previous day, we’re heading down to the valley floor and then follow alongside the river and around spectacular ebct-wordpress-103Ama Dablam into Dingboche. We arrive early and make the rest of the day a rest day (warming in our down sleeping bags). At this point even brushing your teeth becomes and issue. The only wash basin is outside and few by a bucket of water… which is course is frozen solid. Using your drinking water the only option left.

Day 9: Acclimatisation – Dingboche (4,410m)

ebct-wordpress-111ebct-wordpress-109Today we a sleep in, 30 additional minutes in the sleeping bag – yay! We take it slow (given the cold) and take the opportunity to climb 1,200m to Nangkar Tshang (5,616m) behind Dingboche with its amazing views. This is where Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) symptoms are “finally” kicking in.

ebct-wordpress-112The views are spectacular. Knowing this is a big call, but I am saying this is the most spectacular Saturday I have had – with Ama Dablam (6,856m – on the left), the “mother of all mountains”, it is unreal! Breathtaking – literally – at 5,600m we truly feel the altitude.

ebct-wordpress-120Going down is pretty quick… probably driven by hunger. We inhale a late lunch and head straight to the French bakery (espresso coffees and apple pie) with our books. The day has left its mark and we head back for cookie & tea, washed down with dinner and an early night. Probably just as much driven by the cold.

Day 10: Dingboche – Lobuche (4,910m)

ebct-wordpress-133Sunday it is and we get another 30min sleep in – could get used to this. Once the sun comes out, it starts warming up. We see the “pilgrimage” ahead of us… the hike to Thukla is quite pleasant, it’s a very slow climb. Half way we reach Thukla, which marks the lunch spot.

ebct-wordpress-136From Thukla it’s straight and steep 250m climb up the mountain to the memorials of the climbers that didn’t make it down from the mountain. Including Scott Fisher from the 1996 events that were the basis for a movie. The views are amazing and I get my annual “jumping joy pic” in front of Ama Dablam – epic.

ebct-wordpress-142Once you are at the memorials it’s a level walk to Lobuche. We have our cookies & tea and then head up to the moraine to view the Khumbu Glacier for the first time. It is amazing… and amazingly cold. So is the resort… down sleeping bag helping, but the dining room is still freezing even though the heating is on. Some “heat” their mobile phone batteries with herbal heating pads… anything to extend battery live. On that note, another early night with a hot water bottle together with the phone in the sleeping bag.

Day 11: Lobuche – Gorak Shep – Everest Base Camp (5,364m)

TODAY IS THE DAY! – And it’s going to be a long day, too, so we start early… and in the cold, the first part of the track (and early start not helping) is in the shadow until the sun makes it over the peaks. The track is high, steep and over sizeable boulders. We eventually reach Gorak Shep (5,164m) with its solar powered mobile phone tower (seriously?!) and stop for morning tea.

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ebct-wordpress-151Then it’s on and up. On the edge of the moraine of the Khumbu Glacier, eventually onto the Glacier, we make it to the Everest Basecamp site. It’s pretty much a pile of rocks, with a few memorial and prayer flags. Basecamp itself is only setup during mountaineering season (usually May) when people that seriously think they should go higher head for the Khumbu Icefall. We enjoy the view from a few kilometers away and snack lunch. A sweet sense of achievement kicks in 😉

ebct-wordpress-162Back at the teahouse in Gorak Shep we have proper lunch (the infamous fried macaroni – don’t), the teahouse is cold and stuffy and it’s a long time until they put on a fire (2 rounds of yak dung). At least it’s pretty packed so the stinky trekkers provide some warm.

One thing to note: You cannot actually see Mount Everest summit from the basecamp site.

Day 11: Gorak Shep – Kala Patthar – Pangboche (5,643m)

ebct-wordpress-167This is why “the day after” you get up early to climb Kala Patthar (5,643m) at the back of Gorak Shep to see the sunrise and the Mount Everest summit. We convince our guide to not start too early. Means 5am and it’s still dark, minus 20°C.

This is 500m up a gravel field, but you start at 5,100m, every single step is almost impossible, your limbs are starting to freeze solid. On that note, this is the only time I wore the borrowed down jacket – it was stuffy and stinky, but I didn’t care, really didn’t.

ebct-wordpress-170Now truth be told, I have seen the sunrise over Mount Cook in New Zealand (from Mueller Hut), that was spectacular. Kala Patthar in -20°C, not so much. But hey, you can watch the water in your water bottle freeze.

ebct-wordpress-180Back in Gorak Shep we have brekkie and pack quickly… from here it’s all downhill. Bizarrely enough it takes a week to walk in (acclimatisation) and 3 days to walk out. And off we are… we are a fast group (and no fans of the other groups with walking poles), reaching Thukla again for lunch. Here we decide that we’re not staying over night in Periche (which apparently is very cold, well it is in a dark valley) and rather head further to Phakding. Better teahouse and the next day will be shorter into Namche (think hot shower).

Day 12: Pangboche – Namche Bazaar (3,440m)

ebct-wordpress-185Today is probably the most relaxed trekking day we have… the prospect of a hot shower in Namche makes a real difference. What we haven’t quite thought through is that today will be all the ups and downs we did on the way up. And we’re covering almost the distance of 2 days in on our way out – so much for “lunch” in Namche.

ebct-wordpress-187We really push and get to Tengboche (hello toothbrush) by mid morning only to see some lazy people helicoptered out, but it wouldn’t be the same, it’s all part of the journey. We eventually make the long descent and reach the suspension bridge, up the other side, a long way up. Once the track levels out it’s only about 10 corners into Namche. We make it very “hangry”… time for a late lunch. What we forgot, we can eat meat again. That steak goes down rather nicely. Followed by a nice room and hot shower – bliss.

ebct-wordpress-188We head into town for – you guessed it – Irish coffee at the loungy place, a stop at the shops and a beer at Daphne bar, which turns out a really nice place.

A few more beers follow cookie & tea, then dinner, alongside a long philosophical discussion about the impending US election – our young American friend is concerned (and rightly so). It ends up a rather late night at the teahouse.

Day 13: Namche Bazaar – Lukla (2,860m)

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Today marks the last day of the trek… walking it out really. Starting in Namche after a long night, there is a long and steep descent, first to the Hillary bridge then down onto the valley floor and waling it out towards Phakding. A bit of up and down and past the military checkpoint where we’re apparently in trouble again – I don’t think anybody knows why, including the guys at the checkpoint 😉

We have a long lunch and it’s starting to set in that this will be the last section walking of the whole adventure. We’re enjoying lunch at the place where we stayed on the way up… which also means it’s a short 2 hour walk to Lukla where we stay for the night and get on an early flight (so we think) the next morning.

ebct-wordpress-191Now bizarrely enough we’re all pretty sick at this stage, the combination of “post achievement depression”, the cold and the worn out bodies makes the shorted of all treks appear really long. Checking into the reasonably equipped teahouse in Lukla (right above the runway) the “hot” (warm-ish) shower doesn’t really help.

The down sleeping bag followed by tea & cookie routine does help. Dinner time ends up being fun, at last it’s time to “tip” the assistant guide and porter who will be staying in Lukla.

Day 14: Lukla – Kathmandu (1,400m)

ebct-wordpress-194After a good nights rest at 2,860m (easy), we are getting up in time to head to make the 50m way (no kidding) to the “airport”. We check in quickly as we’re flying with one of the smaller airlines, then off to a looooong wait. Turns out the Indian prime minister is in Kathmandu and then off to Pokhara, which means they close the airport in Kathmandu twice during the time he is there. The airport gets that full with planes coming in, that they need to turn planes around on the end of the runway as they are running out of space. Interesting.

ebct-wordpress-197Eventually we get to go outside… still no boarding. At least there is sunshine… and we hope we make it out before the clouds come in… and then it all goes very
quickly, once KTM reopens, all planes board and head off in 2 minute intervals.

In Kathmandu we head to the hotel with out baggage (and where I am staying), then to the office to say “hi and bye” (they are not impressed with Alan’s feedback over the provision of food) and then have a celebratory and boozy farewell lunch. And then it’s off in all different directions – it is weird, you spend 24/7 with people and then you just walk away.

ebct-wordpress-200The guide is really upset over the feedback, so I settle him down over a cup of tea at the hotel. A proper shower and packing as I am flying out midday and want to make sure I am prepared. Then a long tour around Kathmandu, better Thamel – I am a tourist and it’s pretty wild, so happy to stick to the touristy part of town.

ebct-wordpress-204The travel book recommends OR2K an Israeli / Middle Eastern / Vegetarian restaurant that turns out such a gem. I treat myself to “the” platter and an Everest beer which sets me back US$10 (that’s 3 cups of coffee in Sydney) and I couldn’t have asked for a better feast to wrap up the journey.

Day 15 / 16: Kathmandu – Kuala Lumpur – Sydney

My flight being at 12:00h / midday, I have to be there at 10am, pickup at 9am. Good night’s rest, another good shower – even though the water is more “dangerous” / dirty in Kathmandu as it is in the mountains. Brekkie in the backyard, in the sun and ready to rock and roll. Sunday traffic chaos is lighter than during the week, which turns out well, as the queue at the airport is pretty long.

Eventually I make it through, get all checked in, bags off and heading to security (Nepal-style) and departure. Bizarrely enough there are not many shops, I get more prayer flags and Masala tea (for my sis) and head to the lounge. – Culture shock! 2 days ago we were heating with Yak dung and now in the airconditioned lounge (the airports power supply is uninterrupted).

The departure gates are havoc though. As flights get delayed, gates are re-assigned and gates being used for flights that are at another gate. Who says just because the plane is standing there that you have to use that door. What’s the fun in that?! 😉

The connection is pretty good, 4.5 half hours from Kathmandu into KL, short wait and the midnight flight to Sydney, arriving at 12pm the next day. Now except the 4.5hours is with and Anglo-Aussie Melbourne based couple that had their 1st kid (without a seat) in their fourties. For all of you that say I have no self control, reconsider.
This is followed by a full flight onwards, where they want me to move seats, to end up at the back of the plane (think engine noise) and the guy next to me explains that my seat was actually for his kids to sleep (the flight attended put me there).

Now Qantas doesn’t recognise any points, there is a reason Malaysia Airlines is on the brink of collapse. My last 3 times are not to be repeated… and I have a feeling they won’t.

Arriving in Sydney in spring is a treat. I get home early afternoon, and the beauty of trekking is that you’re packing light, so I unpack quickly, put the laundry on and enjoy a beautiful sunny Sunday.


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