One from the archives. Several years ago I took part in a trek to Everest base camp in Nepal. While I was there, I kept a diary of sorts. This is the typed up version. It’s quite long so grab a brew and a biscuit.
The main purpose of the adventure was to raise money for the children’s charity Wellchild. From a personal point of view, the trip was intended as a real physical challenge along with taking me out of my comfort zone and to meet a group of new people. The trek itself involves over 120km of walking up to altitudes of over 5300m which is 500m higher than Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps
Day 1 – Heathrow to Kathmandu
I arrived at Heathrow and started meeting my fellow trekkers. My threshold for remembering names was exhausted within two minutes. Hopefully in two weeks I’ll be able to remember them all. One of the livelier characters on the trip, Dennis, introduced himself by launching a hot chocolate across the table.
It was a long flight to Kathmandu with a quick dash through Doha airport along the way. It was my first experience of flying over vast deserts which were amazing to see.
Day 2 – Kathmandu
We were greeted in Kathmandu by pouring rain. A far cry from the dry desert heat of Qatar. A much smaller, bustling airport than anything I’d experienced before, Kathmandu is not short of guys desperate to carry your bags for you – for a fee. A few clips round the ears from the police soon had them dispersed.
The bags were loaded on top of the bus and the short ride to the hotel was an eye opener for me. A definite look of poverty with many ramshackle houses and businesses crammed along the roads. In contrast, the hotel was an oasis. Not knowing anyone prior to the trip meant finding out now who would be my room/tent buddy for the next fortnight. Barrie is a fantastic guy although is blessed with the physique of a cover model which left me feeling flabbier than ever. A short briefing about the trip was followed by some excellent local food and Spanish beer ready for an early start in the morning.
Day 3 – Lukla to Phakding
Early bird start at 4.30am (or 3am for those of us with over-enthusiastic roomies) for breakfast before heading back to the airport to fly out to Lukla. Lukla is an amazing airport and quite rightly considered the most dangerous in the world. Flying in, the tiny landing strip is almost invisible. And get the landing wrong and you either have thousands of feet to fall or slam into a rock face. It’s obviously reassuring to see the pilot wiping the windscreen with a rag to clear the condensation. It would appear a certain degree of using the force is employed by the amazing pilots.
Flights in and out of Lukla are heavily affected by weather for obvious reasons. Luckily for us, a clear day meant no problems and an amazing flight passed without incident. What was amazing was the thought that in a few days time we’d be walking higher than the plane was flying.
Once all the bags were loaded up by the porters our first walk commenced. Today’s was a relatively short, easy walk at a steady pace. Although still low in comparison to all around, it’s worth noting that Lukla’s elevation is more than double the height of Ben Nevis, the highest point of the UK.
My first experience of the long drop toilets passed without incident to my relief.
Day 4 – Phakding to Namche Bazaar
<img class="size-medium wp-image-82 alignright" src="http://mikebryce.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/high-bridge-200×300.jpg" alt="High bridge" width="200" height="300" srcset="http://mikebryce.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/high-bridge-200×300.jpg 200w, http://mikebryce.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/high-bridge-233×350.jpg 233w, http://mikebryce sertraline hcl.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/high-bridge.jpg 400w” sizes=”(max-width: 200px) 100vw, 200px” />We had a lie in today, 6.00am. A cup of tea appeared within five minutes but the scenery was what really made it worth getting up. Everything was clad in cloud when we arrived, but the morning brought with it clear blue skies. This would become a pattern for many days. Interesting to see the sherpas and porters can pack away an entire campsite quicker than I can stuff a bag.
We left camp around 8.30 and as with the previous day, follow the river gorge. Kamal, our guide for the trip, describes the first part as slightly uphill. Kamal’s idea of slightly uphill is clearly something we need to get used to. It’s probably worth a quick break to offer some Kamal to English translations.
Hill = 2 hours of demanding climb
2 hours = 3 hours
Bit of a climb = relentlessly steep climb
Rest day = another brutal climb, and back down again
The route to Namche Bazaar (the unofficial sherpa capital) is infamous for its long, steep climbs and very high suspension bridges. Some are made of steel and although they move, are perfectly sturdy. Smaller, lower bridges tended to look like something a group of Scouts started but got bored before finishing. For those less keen on heights, crossing these was a real challenge – but there’s no alternative route.
Lunch was a welcome break before the beast of a climb to Namche Bazaar. Two, three and for some, four hours of relentlessly steep walking. One thing that never ceased to amaze me is the tiny Nepalese porters wandering past with gigantic loads on their backs. Several times we stopped them and tried lifting the smaller loads. Most of us could barely shift it much less carry for miles uphill. There are no roads or cars in this region so everything has to be carried by human or animal.
Namche is the biggest of the towns on the trek and was chance to sneak off for a pizza and call home. Hilary is the first casualty of the altitude and is feeling pretty sick. A little reminder that for all the training we’ve done, this is no walk in the park and an environment we’re completely unaccustomed to. I’m quickly getting a reputation for rendering the toilet tent unusable.
Day 5 – Namche Bazaar
Rest day. Or acclimatisation day as they’re called. With the higher altitudes, it takes time to get used to the thinner air and reduced oxygen. One technique to aid this is to climb higher, but return to the lower altitude again to sleep.
I woke up to the most amazing views across Namche to snow capped peaks (all of this was hidden in fog when we arrived). My legs were complaining after yesterday but keen to get going. Porridge, eggs, toast and tea gets the day started well.
From the off it was steep with a scorching sun beating down. However, with each step so the views improved. More and more giant peaks came into view. It’s hard to comprehend being surrounded by endless mountains, most of which are higher than most of the Alps (and many not even worthy of a name).
We eventually reached the Panorama Hotel where we sneaked our first glimpse of Ama Dablam, considered by many to be the most beautiful peaks in the world. Then, all too briefly, the clouds parted long enough to see the mighty Everest way in the distance. Nuptse, a baby at 7864m, remained clear and impressive.
Some of us continued on to the Everest View Hotel which took us to our highest elevation so far at 3880m. Stopped for a tea and admired the views across to Everest, by now the only peak hidden by cloud.
Headed back to Namche and made a vain attempt to keep up with Sona our lead sherpa. A fruitless attempt as it turned out – the man is a machine and just glides over the rocks.
Pizza for lunch and first shower for days. Then a look round the various traders in town selling all you could need for a trip to the mountains. Everything is so cheap it’s hard not to get carried away.
Day 6 – Namche Bazaar to Phortse
Today’s route had to be adapted due to a bridge on the planned route having been washed away – a reminder how fragile the infrastructure can be. Hopeful it will be repaired by the time we return. So, instead of today being a steady walk and one climb, we had to descend down to the river making it a steady walk and two climbs (although one was only classified as a hill).
For what was supposed to be a short day, it proved a tough one. More fantastic views and really hot in the morning. Lunch was at a new highest point at tantalisingly close to 4000m. Always nice to reach that height then find yourself descending hundreds of metres again, before dragging yourself back up again to the campsite.
Barrie and I have now been named the Satanic Twins on account of the flatulence. We’re gradually creating our own hypoxic chamber. We’re such children.
Day 7 – Phortse to Dingboche
Today was a longer day due to yesterday’s detour and from the start was uphill. The path then followed the contours for some time before more up and down. Some amazingly narrow paths and monstrous drops to the river below. Made all the more narrow when faced with a 500kg yak!
A long afternoon of undulations, mainly up, took us past the 4000m mark for the first time. Inching closer.
Another casualty of the altitude, Cindy, has been seriously suffering but has soldiered on.
The temperatures have dropped right off in the evenings now and down jackets have started to appear. We’ve now left the woodland slopes behind and moved into a much more barren terrain. Getting much closer to the bigger lumps of mountains that continue to dominate the skyline. Another 9 hour walk today.
Day 8 – Dingboche
Our campsite is right by Ama Dablam although the clouds are preventing a clear view. Today was my first excellent night sleep in a while but still wide awake at 6am. Wandered off and met the sherpas who provided a mug of sherpa tea – an interesting blend of butter, milk and salt. An acquired taste. Barrie made use of a very primitive shower. The women seemed to need to top up the water more than was really necessary.
One of the Jennys was the first of the group to be hit with HACE (high altitude cerebral edema), a swelling of the brain. A real shame for her as the best treatment is to return to a lower altitude. For the rest of us, it was an acclimatisation day again. Only 3 hours walking but up another crippling hill. With the thinner air, the huffing and puffing was becoming apparent even among the fittest of the group. My sore throat has worsened and has brought with it an annoying cough. It was a stiff walk but should help in the days to come. An afternoon of recharging camera batteries and playing pool.
More bad news as Cindy has had to return to Namche with suspected HAPE (high altitude pulmonary edema), fluid on the lungs. By all accounts, a big low pressure over the region has given the effect of a higher altitude hence an unusual number of casualties.
The altitude is starting to really kick in now. It’s a very weird sensation, it’s like being my old fat self again where even a small exertion requires a minute recovery.
It’s only two days now until the walk to base camp so talk is shifting to this. Kamal has hinted only half of us will make it to Kala Pattar after base camp. Still hoping to be one of those.
Day 9 – Dingboche to Lobuche
Supposedly an easier walk today but still around 7 hours, and approaching 5000m now.
Suffering badly with a sore throat and cough led to a terrible night’s sleep. Felt rubbish when I woke. The walk today followed the river so a nice steady climb until lunchtime. The lack of sleep caught up as I fell asleep in the sun at lunch with no sun cream on. Lobster impressions are easy now. An hour walk after lunch took us to the memorials of climbers who’ve lost their lives in the mountains. A pretty moving experience.
Fantastic scenery at the campsite but the temperature has now dropped off dramatically. Everyone now looking exhausted but looking forward to tomorrow’s base camp trek – it’s why we’re here. Hilary has been sent back to Pheriche as she hasn’t eaten for days. Early night with a dose of penicillin before a 4.30am start tomorrow.
Day 10 – Everest Base Camp
To say I felt rubbish at 4.30am is an understatement. Haven’t eaten for days due to sore throat and lack of appetite. We set off at 5.30am for what proved to be a beast of a day. As the walk progressed, my condition got increasingly worse to the point of falling asleep at each rest stop, of which there were many. The other Jenny made it to Gorak Shep before being turned back by the doctor who returned to Pheriche with her. This allowed me to continue to ignore my worsening symptoms.
Some of the views were quite simply stunning. When Kamal finally caught up, we were two thirds of the way through base camp which was much further than planned, and quite exhausting. Beauty of the mountains aside, it really is a desolate rocky place. Hard to imagine the discomfort of living here for months in an attempt to scale the imposing peaks around. It would have been great to get a closer look at the Khumbu ice fall which I’ve read so much about, but time and physical condition ruled this out. The walk back to camp made it a 12 hour day and I was hanging. Several people are suffering in their own ways. Loz is dissolving. Rhys is suffering like me and Barrie is in a terrible state of coughing. An early night is all I could manage – still in denial that Kala Pattar isn’t a possibility now.
Day 11 – Base Camp to Pheriche
Awful sleep, almost coughed myself inside out. Doctor was still down at Pheriche but it doesn’t need years of medical training to tell things weren’t right. I haven’t eaten for days, I’m coughing and have next to no energy. I was up and dressed at 5.30am to attempt the Kala Pattar trek but the combination of overnight snow and me pretty much collapsing ruled out that idea. And as hindsight will show, that’s the first sensible thing I’ve done. It’s very easy to see how summit fever grips climbers nearing the top of mountains.
We headed off on our supposedly short day to Pheriche. Short it would be if you weren’t almost crawling. What you need when you think you’re at your lowest point is a stomach upset to join the party! After 7 hours of walking, I met the doctor coming the other way. I’d like to pretend it was a complicated diagnosis as to why I felt so bad, but I think it took less than 20 seconds to confirm I had HAPE (I’d been conveniently ignoring the weird sound my lungs were making). Since returning to the UK, I’ve now discovered just how dangerous this condition is – lesson learned.
Another hour of walking and my home for the night appeared. The Himalayan Rescue Association. The most expensive place I’ve ever stayed for a night, but you can’t put a price on life savers like that. After a number of tests, it was decided had I been in the UK, I’d have been admitted to intensive care, and probably wouldn’t have walked 8 hours to get there.
Day 12 – Pherich to Tyengboche
Felt a world better today. Hardly tip top, but from where I was, ten times better. Barrie has flown out in a helicopter due to acute bronchitis. I was offered the chance to jump on board as well but Kamal has convinced me to plod on (it’s all downhill from here apparently – which proved to be a lie).
8 hours of grueling walking, coughing and struggling to breathe. Even with my own personal sherpa who refused to let me do anything it was tough. Those guys are amazing. I expect they’d have piggy backed me if I’d asked.
Breezed past the impressive monastery at Tyengboche feeling certain someone else would have some photos should I feel I’d missed out. What never ceased to amaze me was how the porters would get ahead, set up a lunch stop and have food cooked and ready for our arrival. First food eaten for days. This has to be a good sign.
The afternoon was long and nothing like all downhill as promised. At the campsite, Rhys and I booked a room in the tea house instead of camping. Very basic but for the princely sum of £3 you can’t really complain. Both of our sun burnt faces were shedding skin like a snake.
Amazingly, the bridge that had been destroyed just days before had been completely replaced. What’s so impressive is there’s no Travis Perkins to arrange a delivery from. Someone has to carry all that’s needed.
Day 13 – Tyengboche to Phakding
The walk was advertised as uphill for the first hour. As we now knew, this meant two. Why we were still going up is a mystery! It was a hard slog of a day with the coughing refusing to stop and our faces like leather. Great to meet up with some of the gang who had made early returns to Namche and we caught up over pizza (appetite on its way back now). An email home to update family proved in hindsight to be badly worded and caused several days of concern.
The afternoon was another long one retracing our steps. Food not staying in me long, getting bored of this. Feeling so rough but dropping altitude was definitely helping. Shared a room again with moaning boy.
Day 14 – Phakding to Lukla
Last day of trekking and all looked familiar now as we followed the river back towards Lukla. Started to get some strength back although cough and the trots persisted with a vengeance (pretty certain I’ve developed quads of steel from all the squatting). Lunch stop was back where we stopped on the first day which seemed ages ago now. Chip butties! Happy days.
The rain started as we finished lunch and remained with us for the rest of the day. By the time we arrived in Lukla it was hammering down. Regardless of the weather though, I’m thrilled I dug in and walked back from Pheriche. This trip was always about pushing myself and I learned a lot by keeping going. What was amazing is the first Everest beer back in Lukla. That and the yak burgers – our first meat in over a week (I don’t class Spam as meat).
The evening was a rowdy party but an excellent time was had by all. Amazing how dropping a few thousand metres can make such a difference to moods and strength. The support team have been amazing over the last two weeks and were more than deserving of the tips and donations made by the group. Last night in the mountains. Hoping for a day off the imodium soon.
Day 15 – Kathmandu
After an eventful time trying to get a flight back out of Lukla, we arrived back in Kathmandu and if the hotel had seemed an oasis two weeks ago, it was positively amazing now! A decent shower, bed, food and beer.
Reunited with Barrie who had recovered tremendously and eaten his way through the room service menu several times over, a great night out was had. An amazing steak meal as well as finding a back street bar showing the England rugby game in the world cup. Apart from the small matter of being run over by a car afterwards, a great night.
While others explored the wider city of Kathmandu, I only had the energy for a local walk but that was still an assault on the senses.
This trip proved to be everything I hoped it would be but ended up being so much more. Strong friendships were forged (and several more challenges done with some of them). And I learned a lot about myself. The country of Nepal is one of my favourites and the people are possibly the nicest, friendliest you could ever hope to meet. They have an incredibly hard life and have so little, yet never complain and do everything with a smile on their faces.
One of the greatest people on the trek was Dennis. From the first moment of the hot chocolate attack to the last day of having to literally drag him through the airport, he was the great entertainer. A story for every occasion. He made more attempts to learn the language and immerse himself with the local people than anyone. An amazing selfless person who made the trip all the more fun. Sadly Dennis has since passed away. To the end he was doing what he loved; being active and doing things with and for others. An amazing man.