November 29, 2016 by lucyhames
What started as a casual desk chat at work, led to yet another mountain adventure. This time Everest Base Camp (EBC) with my work mate, Nic. Once again the run up to the mountain largely consisted of work overseas (9 weeks out of 12), but you got to pay for it somehow! It’s hard to train overseas when the work hours are long and the jet lag is biting, but Kilimanjaro is a relatively fresh memory, so the pre-5am alarm is set daily (although never heard) and I’m at the gym before the clock strikes 5. At the end of working in the U.S. and my last training walk back in the UK I can safely say, with heart felt assuredness, that I’m probably running at about 30% of fitness compared to this time last year.
We arrive in Kathmandu and are welcomed by the lovely people of Kandoo, the company we have booked through. I instantly remember my time here 2 years ago, on my way to trekking the Himalaya in the Annapurna Region, and I’m reminded how much I love this beautiful country and the gorgeous Nepalese people. Nic and I settle in to our hotel and unpack absolutely everything, then repack like for like to ensure that neither of us has too much or too little….needless to say, neither of us have too little.
I do have one additional thing I absolutely could do without, and that’s a stinking cold. The pollution and dusty streets of Kathmandu are making it worse and it doesn’t matter how many hot rum’s I neck, it gets worse by the hour.
The day before the off we have our briefing. We meet our guide Dorchi and our team mates; P.K from Thailand and David from the UK. There are seven of us on this quest: the four trekkers, Dorchi our guide, and our Porters – Hira (meaning Diamond) and Chirring….Ah the Fellowship. One of the biggest considerations when taking sea level dwellers to EBC at 5364m, is health and the effects of altitude. We are told that every morning and every evening without fail, we will have our pulse rate checked and blood oxygen levels taken. At home my resting heart rate is around 56 and I am shocked to see that already its risen to 76. It could be the altitude, or lack of current fitness but I put it down to my cold which is without doubt taking it’s toll on my physical wellbeing. My blood oxygen level is 97%.
For this blog I have listed starting and finishing altitudes, but I have to say they give zero indication of the ground we cover. We have no idea whether we are going straight up, or up then down a hundred times over. All these numbers tell you is where we start and where we finish, the bit in between can be vary so dramatically and 200m higher can involve going up 500m and coming back 300m. I hadn’t really thought about that….
A couple of things to note,
- None of the photographs have been edited in any way – straight from my iPhone SE.
- I look utterly ridiculous in trekking gear.
- The weather was incredible, bright blue skies every single day.
- It may be worth just scrolling through the pics rather than reading this blog.
- Dorchi, Hira and Chirring are the best team I could have wished for. Dorchi’s kindness and humour is something I will never forget.
- The trek cost very little once we were there. Probably spent about £100 on food, charging, one shower etc. over the 12 day period.
- This was the best trek of my life.
DAY 1 – Kathmandu to Phakding (via Lukla)
Starting Altitude – 2800m at Lukla
Finish Altitude – 2610m
Trekking Duration – 3.5 hours
Difficulty rating – 2/10
Heart Rate – 83
Blood oxygen level – 93%
It’s an early start and we are both awake before the alarm goes of at 5.15am. I’m nervous but seriously excited. I actually feel a bit better today too; think its probably adrenaline but although my nose is red raw from excessive blowing, I’m feeling upbeat. I didn’t sleep particularly well, largely due to the Diamox (pills for altitude) side effects, which consist initially of headache, pins and needles and an excessive need to pee. After weighing our bags, (a strict 10kg for duffel and 5kg for day pack) we load up the van and at 6.15am we are off. Incidentally about 5kgs of my stuff is solely toilet roll and snacks.
We head to the airport which is the same one we arrived at but the plane is way, way smaller. There are 17 passengers and I make sure that I am the first one on board and able to pick the least claustrophobic, freak out seat. This is the part of this entire adventure that has worried me the most. The thought of this tiny tube in the air on it’s way to land at the worlds scariest airport, with the world’s shortest runway, has been giving me sleepless nights.
What happens though, so completely unexpectedly, is that it turns out to be one of my favourite parts of the whole adventure. The flight is absolutely incredible. I’m on the left side which is the best for the views and wow are they some views. Initially it’s the city giving way to lush green mountains and then eventually the snow covered Himalayas. Of the fourteen 8000m peaks in the world, eight of them are here. I take pics constantly as the horrendously noisy plane pitches on, but I know pretty quickly that you can’t capture this, the Stegosaurus like mountains, the candy floss clouds, the snowy peaks and Everest itself. The way we fly through a passage between two mountains so close I can almost touch it, the way that we don’t even point our nose down to land but just head straight into the mountainside….absolutely mind blowingly awesome… Here’s a couple of pics of the flight.
We arrive in Lukla, grab our bags and head to a restaurant for a drink and a reshuffle of belongings. Within the hour we are ready for the off and begin our trek to EBC. Within one more hour I know this is going to be the trek of a lifetime. We say goodbye to the sounds of our normal existence and say hello to cow bells, mountain breeze, animals and birds, fast running rivers and flapping flags. The scenery on day 1 already takes my breath away. The sun is shining, the skies are blue and I am in the wonderful transition from city me to mountain me. There are a number of times I think I might cry, it’s just the sheer beauty of this place and the overwhelming joy of being able to witness it. We walk ‘bistari bistari’ slowly slowly, crossing the milky river over suspension bridges that once terrified me, but apparently not so much anymore, and within 3.5 hrs we arrive at our first lodging at Phakding. I tuck into my first Dhal Baht. Locals have Dhal Baht for lunch and for dinner and wherever you eat it the rice and soup will keep coming until you say no more (my kinda food). The biggest shock for me here is the standard of accommodation. This is not the tents of Kilimanjaro but actual hotels and aside from the lack of hot water and the fact its bloody cold, it really is a very comfortable first night.
DAY 2 – Phakding to Namche Bazaar
Starting Altitude – 2610m
Finish Altitude – 3450m
Trekking Duration – 5 hours
Difficulty rating – 4/10
Heart Rate – 86
Blood oxygen level – 95%
Despite the relative comfort, I did not sleep well. My cold has got worse and has headed to the one place I really can’t afford it to go, my chest. Having a bad chest is not good at the best of times but when you are trekking and heading for altitude, it’s the pits. I’m taking so many pills right now I can’t keep up. In fact last night I just caught myself in time before I swallowed my earplugs mistaking them in my hand for more pills…auto pill pilot. After a 7am breakkie we are off and begin our zig-zag across the river on the suspension bridges. The colours here are incredible. The river is this icy blue coming straight from the glaciers, it’s like nothing I have seen before. The flags that you see so much here are everywhere and the flowers are beautiful oranges against the bright green trees and blue skies…it’s something else. We come up to two suspension bridges, one on top of the other. The lower one was declared unsafe so the higher one was built over it, just a cool 200m up. I’m using one walking pole and I don’t tend to use poles unless I have to but seeing as Dorchi has one, I think I will follow suit. The suspension bridges are metal grates that you can see straight through. It’s pole up and go for it. You have to make sure that there aren’t any yaks or donkeys coming the other way or you won’t have a hope in hell. The view from the bridge is insane.
This is the day that we get our first view of Everest. I hadn’t really thought about this trek before I got off the plane in Kathmandu and for some reason this first sighting surprises and excites me massively!
The trails vary and there are some nice wide safe stretches but also some very narrow paths with sheer drops. We are advised to always go mountain side when animals head our way. I’m pretty sure footed these days but the yaks scare me half to death. While most people just stop mountain side to let them pass, I literally rock climb the mountain to get out of their way…I mean look at them and imagine a posse.
The trail is really dusty and after a good few hot hours of uphill climbs ‘bistari, bistari’ we arrive in a chilly Namche Bazaar. Namche is huge, and a real bustling town. People stay here on the way up and the way down so it’s a mix of excited and weary faces. We are staying at the Hill-Ten (not to be confused with the Hilton for many reasons) but named after Sir Edmund and Tenzing….love it. The view from our room is staggering as we watch the sun set on the mountains.
This is the night that my chest switches to full on infection mode and I use the last chance of wifi to ask Dr. Miles if I can take the handily packed antibiotics with the pee inducing Diamox……patiently await answer whilst coughing up a lung.
DAY 3 – Namche Bazaar Acclimatisation Trek (day off)
Starting Altitude – 3450m
Finish Altitude – 3450m via 3800m
Trekking Duration – 4 hours
Difficulty rating – 5/10 (felt like 8/10 due too chest issues)
Heart Rate – 86
Blood oxygen level – 94%
Slept in all my clothes including wooly hat. Even though we are in actual buildings rather than tents, it’s still chuffing cold. I think it was -2 last night. My chest is really bad and I’m wheezing whilst eating my breakfast. Fortunately today is our ‘day off’. We are only going on an acclimatisation trek, so going up to come back down – climb high sleep low. The best thing about this is that we don’t have to carry much and Hira and Chirring are coming too, seeing as we are staying at the same lodge tonight they don’t need to go off ahead of us. I like it when we get to spend time with them as well as Dorchi. We leave Namche and there is no flat or down on this trek it’s just straight up. We trek to the Everest Hotel which some rich buggers just heli up to for a cuppa….view of Everest is pretty special though. This day turns out to be a toughy for me. Although it’s a short day, I’m struggling with my breathing and I’m tired. The views though on this mini trek are fantastic.
We are back down at Namche by 1pm for an afternoon off, but upon our return I take a turn for the worse, grey face, cold sweat, nausea, weak… and have to go to bed. Dorchi checks on me and I frantically message Miles for the go on the anti-biotics which thankfully I get….phew.
DAY 4 – Namche Bazaar to Tengboche
Starting Altitude – 3450m
Finish Altitude – 3864m
Trekking Duration – 7 hours
Difficulty rating – 5/10
Heart Rate – 91
Blood oxygen level – 90%
This is day 4 without hot water and my hair is showing the distinct signs of missing it’s daily wash. It’s a challenge to keep clean when you can’t bear to remove your layers but so far we are managing to have bird baths enough to be able to share a room without nose pegs. I woke up super early probably due to the 7.30pm bedtime, but there really is nothing to do after dinner than get yourself into the next days trekking clothes and get in your sleeping bag fast. It’s our last wifi possibility so I message Miles and get ready for signing off from the digital world for a week. I’m leading today so we head off ‘bistari, bistari’ up and out of Namche.
The first 3 hours are totally gorgeous, rolling hills but nothing too strenuous. The views are breathtaking. I had no idea that we would have such amazing views of Everest so early on. I have to admit though, I have no idea which one Everest is until someone tells me!
The weather is amazing, warm and bright and we are in short sleeves. It’s busy on the trail and I’m shocked that even though this is the end of the season there are so many people here heading up and down. I keep a constant ear out for the yak bells and drink in the natural beauty. We all trek at our own pace so there’s not much chat, which is how I like to trek. I was worried about trekking for so long, that I would get bored, but there is no way that can happen when there is so much to see and hear. We stop for lunch and catch our breath soaking in the early afternoon sun. Dhal Baht for me and a much needed toilet stop. Diamox is a nightmare for me and I need to pee constantly. I can’t even have my pack tight as it makes me need to pee even more. In addition to that there is no such thing as a quick pee, I’m literally peeing like a horse. They are squat toilets here, which quite frankly by now I should be pro at, but I still manage to pee all over my trouser legs which when you only have 2 pairs of trousers for 12 days is unfortunate. Sun dries it pretty quickly though.
I’m really pleased with how my body feels, despite the chest and cold I’m feeling pretty strong and the old legs are feeling good. The bag is pulling my shoulder a bit but it’s early days and I think it’ll be fine. The last 2 hours are uphill, a steep incline thorough the woods up to the highest buddhist monastery in the world – Tengboche. It’s hot, sweaty and dusty and porters skip past us – ‘Namaste’ we greet them. This is my favourite day so far. It’s like every picture postcard you could imagine from Switzerland, Canada, New Zealand all magnified and in one spot. Incredible. It’s also the perfect physical level for me. Tough enough to get a sweat on but not drawing on any reserves – perfect. Nic and I are on our own now having broken away from the group and we arrive at Tengboche in good time. The view from here is well worth the hike and we wait for PK and David to arrive and for the Monastery to open.
The crowd waiting for the monastery to open is pretty big and I am shocked when the doors open. Like the January Sales the tourists pile in. Nic, PK and I are so shocked at this tasteless disrespectful show, that we immediately turn around and walk away. We wait for David for a while and realising he could be some time Dorchi calls Hira to come and meet us and take us to our lodge. Within 15 minutes Hira is seen running up the hill. He has to be seriously seriously fit. The route from here is all downhill now and we carefully work our way down to our hotel Rivendell. We arrive not long before sunset and it’s really cold here. You can feel the temperature dropping the higher we go. For me this is a big part of the challenge. Everyone knows I’m happiest in a bikini on a beach so this cold can be a real shock to my system. The view from our hotel though takes the edge off.
View of Everest from our room – Tengboche.
I watch the most incredible sunset from Rivendell where Everest glows orange. After sunset the stars are brilliant and the moon lights up the mountain making it glow.
Nic has now got my cold and I feel awful knowing what’s heading her way. My chest is still bad but I know that the antibiotics are doing their thing. I hope that both of us will be well enough to tackle the altitude of the coming days. It’s so cold now that I can barely function. The warmest part of the lodge is always the communal area so we huddle up in there and try to get warm. There are a lot of people coughing here and you can see the toll the trek is starting to take on people. We meet one guy who is thinking of heading down the next morning rather than continuing as he’s starting to feel the altitude and is so worried about the effects. There is a still a long way to go. Whenever we get our stats checked my pulse rate rises, it’s just the site of the gage that sets it racing. I get scared that the results are going to send me home. So far so good though. Dorchi can’t believe that Nic isn’t felling the altitude at all and asks her the questions over and over again. I can believe it, she’s hard as nails.
DAY 5 – Tengboche to Pheriche
Starting Altitude – 3864m
Finish Altitude – 4252m
Trekking Duration – 6 hours
Difficulty rating – 6/10
Heart Rate – 98
Blood oxygen level – 86%
Had such an awesome nights kip, slept better than I do at home. The only inevitable is the three times a night need to pee which in less then zero degrees and a walk down a dark hall is bloody awful. Where oh where are those lovely heated toilet seats of Japan?! We wake up to a coughing chorus. It’s becoming the norm now to have a constant background noise of coughing and Nic and I are part of the orchestra. I can smell my feet badly today and it aint pretty. We head off on day 5 down to the river.
The paths are getting noticeably narrower and the traffic is still pretty high. Yaks, donkeys, porters with large loads and tourist trekkers file past and you have to watch your step. In fact we haven’t walked far before Dorchi tells us some very sad news. A 38 year old French trekker has gone missing. It appears that he may have fallen off the mountain side. I recall the extra sightings of helicopters and army personnel yesterday and this makes sense now. It’s so sad to hear this, to imagine that someone just like us, having the same incredible experience has fallen to such tragedy. My heart goes out to those trekking with him and of course to his family. It’s a real wake up call for us and we are on high alert from now on. I don’t listen to music at all unless I’m struggling with the uphill, you really have to pay attention.
We continue on in a sombre mood, you can’t help but reflect on what we have heard. We really are here at the invitation of Mother Nature and we have to respect that. No one says much but we keep our heads down until we reach a lunch stop and a welcome break. We are heading up over 4300m and I can really start to feel the altitude here. The shortness of breath means that I’m breathing way quicker than usual and that in itself is tiring. We are trying to drink around 5-6 litres of water a day to counteract the extra respiratory work. It’s a relief when we see Pheriche and finally arrive at Himalayan hotel. The communal area here is toasty and we unpack, unroll our sleeping bags, have as much of a wash as we can manage and try to get warm. Nic’s cold has gotten worse and my chest is still painfully bad so we try to rest up in the knowledge that we have 2 nights here.
DAY 6 – Pheriche Acclimatisation Trek
Starting Altitude – 4252m
Finish Altitude – 4252m via 4600m
Trekking Duration – 4 hours
Difficulty rating – 6/10
Heart Rate – 95
Blood oxygen level – 89%
It was -5 last night and you could feel it. It’s also pretty high and last night I woke up about 8 times just gasping for breath. This is quite normal but bloody annoying when you are tired and desperate for a good nights kip. As least we aren’t packing up this morning which always involves sleeping bag packing, which I will liken to wrestling an alligator. Between the cold, the lack of warm water and no chance to wash, I’m starting to feel pretty gross. In fact my socks smelt so bad today that Nic sacrificed a pair of clean ones. I don’t think either of us could put up with it any longer. My nose is raw from blowing and my skin hurts to touch, all in all I am not looking my model best. Although these acclimatisation trek days are supposed to be rest days they are becoming my least favourite. Maybe its because you are putting a lot of hard work in only to find yourself back where you started, it can be quite frustrating. It’s a steep climb straight from camp and to me it feels like rolling out of bed, stuffing your face then immediately sprinting on a treadmill, it’s nausea inducing. Still at least Hira and Chirring are with us which always brightens the day. That and the views which are knockout. I will never take these for granted and each day that passes fills my head with adventure and nature at it’s best.
We arrive back at the hotel at midday which is pretty good going and Nic and I decide to treat ourselves and pay for a hot shower. I am beside myself with excitement at the thought of washing my hair!!! It turns out to be a pretty bracing experience but I emerge with clean hair and it feels amazing!! The sun is out and whilst it’s still cold we sit outside drying our hair in the sunshine. As we are sitting there relaxing out of nowhere a team of Skydivers rock up. It’s like Top Gun just arrived. We could not have picked a better day to get clean. Turns out it’s the Everest Skydivers Team and they are here to break some world records – like you do. They are attempting the highest ever landing as well as some other records. It’s fascinating talking to them and one guy at 34 has already completed 5500 jumps – incredible. What a place to skydive. We asked how much it is for a commercial jump here and it’s a cool $20,000 (errr maybe next year). It’s so weird when you see helicopters take off at this altitude, they don’t so much as take off as drop off. They lift briefly then drop down into the valley, it’s then that you really appreciate how high we are.
At 3pm we are requested to go to the Himalayan Rescue Association Clinic for a talk on AMS Acute Mountain Sickness. On the way we pass a monument to all those who have been lost on Everest. It was made and donated by British mountaineers and is a cone split down the middle with names inside. It is silver and was made to reflect the mountains that surround it, it’s simple and beautiful and holds a staggering number of names.
The Himalayan Rescue Association http://www.himalayanrescue.org is a clinic entirely funded by donations. It was built by locals and rebuilt following the recent earthquake. The local gentleman who runs the HRA has led the recovery mission for the last 3 huge disasters. He ran the recovery mission for the Annapurna disaster where 43 people died in one night and over 300 suffered from hyperthermia. The HRA led the recovery and search mission for the recent earthquake, locating bodies and going through every single checkpoint list to ensure that all names were accounted for. I literally can’t imagine the scale of these disasters, how impossible it must be to deal with disaster at this altitude with no roads, no vehicles and helicopters only able to fly to a certain height. I can’t get my head around how it can be dealt with in such a hostile environment. The more I hear about the HRA the more flabbergasted I am at what it achieves. There are only 2 centres in the entire Himalaya. Depending on the severity of patients conditions they are either evacuated by heli or by horse. We are here for a talk to help us spot the signs of AMS and know what course of action we should take.
What I realise pretty early on is that when I climbed Kilimanjaro I was without doubt suffering from H.A.C.E – swelling on the brain. I discuss this with the 2 British Doctors here and they immediately guess the mountain I am referring to. Apparently Kilimanjaro has the worst ascent profile of any mountain and as I listen on I quickly come to appreciate how well organised the EBC trek is. I can see how incredibly important the acclimatisation treks are and how the people here respect the environment enough to work with it rather than around it. I learnt more about altitude at this talk than I had ever understood, and I found it both fascinating and informative (and slightly scary). Nic asks if my brain swelling on Kilimanjaro is the cause of my short term memory loss – every day starts with me saying ‘I’ve lost my…’ and finishes with ‘I can’t find my’ but no, I think that was happening pre-Kili….it’s me age.
We spend the evening round the Yak poo fuelled stove trying to keep warm, we literally can’t bear the thought of going back to our freezing cold room. I am however getting more and more excited as each day passes and we get closer to our goal – Base Camp.
DAY 7 – Pheriche to Lobouche
Starting Altitude – 4252m
Finish Altitude – 4930m
Trekking Duration – 8 hours
Difficulty rating – 9/10
Heart Rate – 99
Blood oxygen level – 84%
Dorchi slept in this morning and comes running in to breakfast with a wild mane and a sheepish grin. It’s cold when we leave but at least it’s flat (and not just Nepali flat which is basically a 25% incline) for a while anyway. We step across stones over streams, make way for yaks and it’s a relatively straight forward walk to our lunch stop. It’s the last place before Lobouche so we need a good lunch before we hit the majority of the climb. We go slow but for me this is the hardest part of the trek so far. It’s uphill all the way, huge steps and dusty thin air. My chest is screaming and my pack is killing my shoulder. The wind is picking up and I’m really starting to feel the elements. After what feels like an age we breach the ridge and arrive at the Everest memorial ground. There are memorials here for Rob Hall, Scott Fischer, Yasuko Namba and so many other climbers and sherpas lost on the mountain. It’s a beautiful place and we spend a bit of time here. I’m exhausted.
The terrain really starts to change here. There is very little green now, more rocks, more dust and a lot more wind. As we continue on towards Lobouche we hit the rock section. These are the biggest rocks I have ever seen. It’s knackering to walk the rocks, so knackering I don’t even take photos. There’s no ground in-between so you step from one to the other, hardly ever looking up. The wind smashes into your face and rattles your brain. Eventually we arrive at Lobouche at 4930m. We arrive not a moment too soon as I start to crumble.
We rush into the lodge for a hot drink, relieved it’s over, but only to be told by Dorchi that in 30 mins we have a bonus trek. He is taking us up another 100m to 5000m – climb high, sleep low. I have to say, I really would rather not, but Dorchi gives us that smile and we know we have no choice. In the howling wind and low light we head off up the hill leaving the warmth behind us….brutal but I’ll give it to Dorchi, he knows what we need to do and he’s getting us to EBC no doubt about that.
We get back, try to get warm and I’m in bed my 8pm. I can’t sleep though. Tomorrow is a very big day and it’s all I can think about. I’m nervous and excited, my head hurts and we are just below 5000m – sleep aint gonna happen.
DAY 8 – Lobouche to Gorak Shep to Everest Base Camp
Starting Altitude – 493om
Finish Altitude – 5184m via 5364m (EBC)
Trekking Duration – 9 hours
Difficulty rating – 10/10
Heart Rate – 88
Blood oxygen level – 85%
Air Oxygen level – 53%
Today is THE day!! We leave early as there is a lot of ground to cover. We are heading to Gorak Shep first, dumping our bags then heading to Base Camp and back to Gorak Shep. We have to do all of that before the sun goes down so we know today means business. It’s -6 out but the sky is bright blue and the sun is shining so we can’t complain (although obviously I do). The first section is nice and flat which is perfect, means you get a warm up before you push your body to the max. It’s cold and dusty and we cough our way along. When we start the uphill back on the rocks my heart pounds and my breathing is so laboured. You have to breathe twice as fast here to get the oxygen that you need which makes sense when you think that the oxygen level here is about 52% of that at sea level. The best thing though about reaching these heights is how close the mountains are, right there in front of you. Helicopters no longer fly above us but along side us. Its kinda crazy. We can’t see Everest from here but we know it’s there somewhere. After 3.5 hours of arduous rock walking we arrive at Gorak Shep with the wind battering my sails.
It’s taken way longer than we had hoped to Gorak Shep so we are now up against it time wise. The last thing we want is to be out there when the sun goes down and EBC is a 4 hour round trip. We eat although our appetites have waned dramatically. All I can face is a plate of boiled potatoes. We dump our bags and pack only the essentials – water, sunblock and a few snacks. I have to admit this is where my nerves kick in. I know from Kili that 5200m is where I got hit with the altitude sledgehammer and my head is already pounding. I try to put the thought and the pain to one side and get cracking with the job at hand.
The terrain has changed dramatically and I feel like we have just stepped onto the moon. The ground is a fine sand, the rocks are now granite like, the wind is brutal and all I can hear is my own breathing. We walk so slowly it’s like I’m taking moon steps. It’s not long until we hit the ascent and the rocks. The views are otherworldly, black sands against white mountains against blue skies. Rocks so ginormous, the size of a house. We can see the peak of Everest behind the closest mountains. We follow Hira as he negotiates the safest way across the rocks choosing from hundreds of different options. It’s getting colder as time passes and my headache is getting worse from a dull thud to a constant explosive pounding. We know where base camp is, we can see the glacier it sits next to and to be honest it looks too far off.
We start to see a lot of people coming back in the opposite direction. ‘Not too far now’ they tell us, ‘keep going’, ‘you can do it’. Its always encouraging although you know it’s always a fib. As we get closer we can see it’s a descent to Base Camp so we are currently at about 5400m. I do start to consider what it is we are actually doing and it fuels me again. 40,000 people a year trek to Base Camp, seems like a lot but really it isn’t. The air crackles here with a sense of adventure, personal challenge, dreams, of spirit and soul and it drives you on. Eventually we start a crazy rocky hazardous decent. We are so close I can feel it.
After one final push Hira takes a seat on a rock and says ‘welcome to Base Camp’. WE MADE IT!!! Nic and I hug and I feel relief and happiness wash over me. The plus side of arriving to the party a little late is that there is hardly anyone else there. It gives us a chance to take it all in. It’s a very strange place but it’s easy to imagine all of the tents and the climbers ready for the 2 weeks of the year it is possible to summit Everest. You can’t actually see Everest from down here which is a bit weird but of no consequence. The ice fall/glacier is absolutely incredible, like standing on Krypton. The scale of this place is unfathomable. No words can describe it, it absolutely blows my already blown mind. Base Camp is full of memorials to those lost. People write names on stones and attach photographs and reading the messages you get a sense of how impossible Everest is. Everest has taken so many lives and in fact there are 200 bodies resting up there as we stand here contemplating it. These bodies will never be recovered but you certainly get a sense here that these incredibly adventurous people’s spirits live on.
I have a walk around Base Camp and have about 10 minutes on my own to let everything sink in. I feel awesome, totally invincible, thrilled to be alive, privileged to have this opportunity, proud to add another notch to my adventure belt and then like my head might explode. The temperature is dropping and as we wait for the rest of the team to arrive I’m keen to head back and hopefully beat sundown.
We leave camp about 25 mins after arriving. My energy and motivation is dipping massively knowing how far we have to go back, but I am still pumped that we made it so drawing on my reserves we head up and out and back on the rocks towards Gorak Shep. We arrive after an arduous return trek just as the sun is setting. It’s freezing, way below freezing and my head is exploding. We are coughing so badly, I’m out of breath and after a hot drink I drag myself upstairs and collapse on my bed. I am broken. My brain feels like it’s leaking out of my ears. There’s no way I can make it down to dinner and to our medical checks, I’m in hell. Dorchi comes up to check on me and my stats are really good. Blood oxygen is 88 (high for this altitude) and my pulse is 84, but it’s my head that is the problem. It literally feels like its going to explode. I bail on the next day sunrise trek to Kala Pattar knowing that I cannot go any higher without serious pain. All I need is to get lower. Dorchi tells me that if it gets worse in the night I should wake him. I sit out the night, it’s around -10 and I wait. Every fibre of my being is screaming at me to go, to leave and get lower as soon as possible. I know that I am at risk, that something not so good is happening inside my brain but I have to weigh up the options. The reality is that it’s pitch back and freezing cold out there. Even if I wake Dorchi now and tell him I need to go, it would be incredibly dangerous for us to try to do it. So I have no choice but to wait. Headaches are super common up here, and I know I’m not in immediate danger just agony. It’s a terrible terrible night for me.
DAY 9 –Gorak Shep to Dingboche
Starting Altitude – 5184m
Finish Altitude – 4300m
Trekking Duration – 7 hours
Difficulty rating – 9/10
Heart Rate – 94
Blood oxygen level -87 %
Fortunately the rest of the team are as keen to get lower as I am and after a quick and small breakfast and in the early morning cold we get the hell out of dodge. My legs are tired but I’m on a mission and I’m hot stepping it across the rocks as quickly as my little legs will take me. The relief at just knowing I’m heading down is absolutely massive. As my head thumps uncontrollably I’m willing my chest and my legs on. Dorchi and Nic lead the way.
It’s not too long until we are back at the Memorial ground which I think is about 500m lower and then its the steep rocks down. I fly down 100m of rocks, jumping from one rock to the next, barely hesitating. It’s the quickest I have moved this trek. Nic says I’m like a mountain goat (I’m hoping in terms of speed rather than the rear view she has) and I love it!! It’s surprising how the motivation of thicker air can move you. It’s also good to be back with these softer views.
My head is already starting to feel better, less like its in a vice. Everything becomes easier and it happens fast. It’s a reminder of what you put your body through when heading in the opposite direction. The last stretch to Dingboche is exhausting. I think the adrenaline of getting to EBC and of getting out of Gorak Shep has left me feeling done in. When we finally see Dingboche I could cry with relief.
Our arrival at Dingboche coincides with the Super Moon and we have the most awesome view on this clear night. Stars shine brightly and the Super Moon (closest to the earth for 68 years) lights up all of the mountains like humungous glow in the dark stickers. This is my favourite night of the trek. The relief at being at a reasonable altitude is so huge for me. That and the fact that my chest seems to be a lot better means that I have the best nights sleep of the trek.
DAY 10 – Dingboche to Namche
Starting Altitude – 4300m
Finish Altitude – 3450m
Trekking Duration – 9 hours
Difficulty rating – 8/10
Heart Rate – 77
Blood oxygen level – 93%
We are heading down to Namche and I am excited. When we get to Namche we will have wifi and I can let my family know I made it! My head is way way better, a mere 5/10 pain rather than the 16/10 of Gorak. This is also the terrain I love the most and even though I know it’s going to be a long day I know it’s going to be a beautiful one
The thing with going down such a huge chunk of metres is that there really is a hell of a lot of down, never ending in fact, and my toes are constantly hitting the end of my boots. I can feel a couple of toenails shifting – hang on in there my little friends.
Eventually just before sunset and after a mammoth day of trekking we arrive at Namche. I am massively relieved. The phones are on and we see what contact we can get. I am straight online to Miles but my hands are literally so cold that I can’t text, its so painful!!! I do get a couple of messages out though and post on Facebook and it’s a massive lift to receive congratulations. I mean we are cold, dirty and weary and a little love from back home goes a long way. We are in the communal area in Hill-Ten which is a real crossroads for those going up and down and I’m so smug we are on the down. One guy (obviously on the up) walk in and exclaims, ‘its like a f*cking typhoid clinic in ‘ere’ and storms back out. You wait my friend, it won’t be long until the Khumbu cough gets you, it gets everyone in the end. Tomorrow is our last trek. Mixed emotions about that, but I do know I need some kip. Night Namche.
DAY 11 – Namche to Lukla
Starting Altitude – 3450m
Finish Altitude – 2800m
Trekking Duration – 9 hours
Difficulty rating – 9/10
Heart Rate – 87
Blood oxygen level – 97%
It’s our last trekking day. I am very happy at that fact. I’m done. It’s not so much the physicality of trekking but more the discomfort. I just want to get to Lukla now. Dorchi tells us it’s another long day and I can’t help but audibly grumble. I guess before EBC you are driven to achieve it, after EBC that drive seems to disappear for me. Although that said the thought of a hot shower back in Kathmandu is enough to get me started. The good news is that it’s getting warmer and I know that halfway through today we will be back in t-shirts (smelly long sleeves discarded). Before too long (like 4 hours) we are back over the 200m high suspension bridge which with my new fearless state I swagger over, and I know we are on our way home.
View from Suspension bridge – 200m high.
After lunch I realise I have made a terrible mistake. Because we are on the last stretch I treated myself to a bottle of coke and a huge huge feast but now we are back on the up and I think I’m going to puke. It was a very silly thing to do and the next few hours are all green and very sweaty….bad times. The last steps (1 hr up to Lukla) almost finish me off. This seems like the right time to mention that as the (2) avid blog fans will know, I have never ever done anything, been anywhere, without having the shits accompanying me, but miraculously this trek that hasn’t happened. I really don’t want to break that spell on the last steps to Lukla. Hold it together Hames. One last push. By the time Nic and I reach the top of Lukla steps I’m finally broken. I literally can do no more.
We high five and drop our bags (and my guts). That’s it – the trek is over!! A celebratory dinner later and we are back in our room counting down the hours until we can get back to our fancy treat of a hotel in Kathmandu.
We wake early and wait to be called for our flight, it’s later than expected due to cloud cover but at least I am not terrified this time. I’ll post the video of takeoff from Lukla onto Facebook but its pretty incredible.
Well that’s it, my longest blog of all time but it was a long old trek. It has been a truly incredible experience. The beauty of the Himalaya for me is unchallenged by anything else that I have seen. The scale of everything makes it impossible for me to wrap my tiny head around it and the beauty here literally takes my breath away. I love trekking and I accept that now. Despite the discomfort I have suffered on previous treks and on this one, there is something about being in the mountains that makes me feel whole. We are all equal here and everything becomes so simple, so basic. I have worn the same clothes for days and days, I haven’t washed, I haven’t watched telly or been on my phone, I haven’t spent money on stuff I don’t even see, I haven’t laid awake at night worrying about my life, I haven’t been ticking off a never ending to do list, I haven’t eaten crap out of boredom, all I have done is be and its the most refreshing feeling in the world.
I have loved trekking with Nic. We are very similar I think, and it’s been great to walk with someone heading in the same direction with the same adventure and wanderlust running through their veins. Sharing the experience makes it all the sweeter. I have struggled as I always do with the cold and the altitude and I’m not sure if I will go above 5000m again, but I do know that I want to do more of these treks, to spend more time in the mountains and I feel so incredibly lucky that I am able to make it happen. I need the reminders of how simple life can be, of what little I actually need to be happy. It isn’t just a reminder of what I don’t need of course, but also of what I do need, and having such incredible people in my life cheering me on and supporting me in my adventures, makes me feel truly happy. It isn’t just the support when I head off on an adventure, but the support when I am working away earning the money to make it happen. It’s a selfish choice I know but Miles, my best friends and my wonderful family put up with me and my dissapearing ways and for that I am endlessly grateful.
If you have to pick one trek to do in a lifetime – please pick this one, it’s thrashed anything else I have ever done hands down.