BootsnAll Travel Network

The Trek: Everest part one.


I am back in Polkhara. Kathmandu is, well, icky. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not horrible, but you just get the capital city ickies after a while and it doesn’t quite make a very good R& R place. So, that was the cause for the delay. Anyway’s, let’s get trekking, or at least reading about trekking.

The trek to Everest Base camp is the second most popular trek, but is probably the most recognizable trek in the world. I guess Machu Picchu might give it a run for it’s money, but how many people don’t know about Mount Everest. The Annapurna circuit that I did last month is the most popular in Nepal and by the pictures you can see why. The other reason is that it is a moderately easier trek being a gradual ascent to a pinnacle, and then quickly back down again. The route is a long gradual ascent that almost builds in the acclimization time just doing the round. Everest on the other hand starting from the entrance to the park is a quicker ascent in a shorter time period with a lot longer time frame staying at a higher elevation. Starting from Jiri, the end of the road requires an average of 7-10 days of non-stop ups and down because of the need to cross the finger valleys sprouting from the Himalayas. The Jiri portion would be considered the strenuous physical portion while the actual Everest portion is a lot less physical but difficult because of the altitude and lack of oxygen.

The trek actually started in Kathmandu with the usual prerequisites of getting a park entry ticket ($1000R), a micro bus ticket ($550R for the seven hour private micro-bus or the $475R Express big bus twelve-fourteen hours.) Originally, the plan was to take the Schwinn and ride to Jiri and then trek back and ride out again, but with the Nepalese fuel issues it just didn’t work out. The final pre-trek preparation was the re-supplying of my trekking gear. Since my standard trek pack never changes, I just added some budget saving supplies. One of the major issues everybody seemed to have with the Annapurna trek was the cost of food. It started off staggering and got quite worse the farther up the trail that we went. My solution was to pack up a load of stuff to supplement my usual meals. The added weight consisted of two 1.5 litre Cokes (yea, yea, yea, but Coke is life), two bags of Meusli, two bars of Snickers, and two cans of tuna and sardines. It just about doubled my pack weight, but just like trading my rain gear for a sturdy umbrella, you just gotta try new things.

Since I had bought my ticket the day before, the only thing that I had to do was figure out which mini-bus was mine. I was prepared for the worst but was pleasantly surprised, make that amazed, when I was led by a little kid to a sparkly new bus and shown to my pre-assigned seat. Amazing, we left on time, each person had an assigned seat, and we did not pick up any extras. I actually slept through most of the drive only getting up for our quick non-veg dal bhat at a road side food restaurant. The only discomfort was when we pulled up to a land slide about 11 kms before getting to Jiri. Like usual nobody told me what was going on as everything was explained in Nepalese. Everybody just filed out and started milling around. When things like that happen, I just follow along and try and ascertain what in the hell is going on. Looking down the road I figured out that the area which had slid down the hill and taken the road with it was probably as far as the bus was going to take us. The group surrounding the little kid was complaining, and I soon had thirty big rupees back in my pocket for the inconvenience of having to walk 11 kilometers to Jiri. Not quite a great compensation, but I didn’t really care because hell, I was going trekking so it wouldn’t seem pertinent to be bitching about having to walk.

Since it was coming on two’ish and I knew that every evening it would probably rain, as we were still in the monsoon season, I grabbed my stuff and started hauling ass. I’m sure I could have made some good friends with my fellow passengers whereby we could laugh and joke about our misfortune, but the thought of laughing and joking while getting pissed on just didn’t do it for me. The hike down the road and over three more land slides took right about three hours. A local guy with a guest house grabbed me and we were just at the front door when the sky opened up and the rain came. At that moment I did feel like a veteran trekker.

The Jiri walk in is the less common route to take as there are not a lot of snow capped 8000m viewpoints along the way, but as you are trekking along a path that takes you through the more farming and village communities, it makes for a totally different but just as enriching experience. Throughout the whole six days it took me to traverse I did not meet one other foreigner trekking in or out. It was a bit disconcerting, but also quite a relief as I knew that once I got to the Everest portion my solitude would be gone.

It may sound a bit treacherous, but it actually was not when you realize that the route is like the superhighway for locals. It’s basically one path that connects the whole region so it is used by almost anyone going from village to village or for those needing to get back to society (Kathmandu). I would say the major proportion of people that were also on the trail were commuters going either between villages or coming/going to Jiri for a road connection to somewhere. They were easily decipherable because they wore standard city clothes, carried small book bag size packs, and walked along just like people on their way to work. There was not a lot of sight seeing or strolling, but pretty much head down and scampering along the trail just like they probably have done all their lives. The other group were the porters/Sherpas. Yes, there is a different. Porters carry stuff. Sherpas are a classification of people, just like Americans or Canadians. They are the inhabitants of the Solu-Khumbu region and their name implies “people from the East.” We more commonly know them as the people that can carry a lot of shit really high up mountains. Whomever they were, these guys were carrying loads up to 120 kilos (264 lbs) each with an average of around 80-100 (2.2 k = 1 lb). Now, we are not talking linebacker sized 6 foot 200lb guys, but more like 5 foot 120lbs, carrying 200+ lbs up and down mountains. I guess the best way I could liken it would be to strap your refrigerator to your head (they don’t use back packs, but rather these baskets that are leveraged by a strap that straddles your forehead), and then walk to work. One thing people don’t understand is that they are slower than hell, only able to walk maybe ten steps (uphill) at a time before using their walking stick (a short thick cane that could be placed under the load to support it as they rested.) They would do this twelve to fourteen hours a day wearing these canvas old school boat style shoe that is all the rage for trekking groups and are now mass produced and sold to local porters. I did talk to one porter who did a three day transport and he got paid $25R (45 cents) per kilo for hauling the stuff up the mountain. Not bad but way out of my work range. Young kids and women were not excluded from this type of work and it was not uncommon to see a bunch of grade school aged kids hauling a load twice as tall and probably four times their weight up the trail. Talk about a work ethic.

Now, I can’t say that it was the most enjoyable thing that I have done, but understand that I have spent the last four out of five months up in elevation walking my ass off looking at snow capped mountains, so it definitely wasn’t going to qualify as a life changing event. Every step I took was like checking off a to do list with the joy of not having to trek anymore dangling just a few hundred thousand steps away.

Much like the Annapurna trek there were an abundance of “teahouses” or lodges spotted along the trail. They were geared towards the commuters and many were very westernized to accommodate the tourists and their big dollars. I had a warm shower and a nice bed every night of my travel which made things not so uncomfortable. A few even had satellite tv so I was able to see a few of the Olympic games as well.

One thing I do have to say was that it was a difficult hike in regards to the physicality of it. Each day was a three stepper depending where I stopped the night before. In the total of six days it took me to reach Namche Bazaar, there were probably three hundred meters of flat ground. The rest of it was up and down valleys. I mention the three steps because in one day my schedule would consist or waking up, stepping out of the guest house and immediately ascending or descending approximately 500-1000meters getting to the top/bottom, going the opposite direction on the other side and then repeat one more time before collapsing in another guest house. The whole trek varied from lows in the 1500’s to a high of 3500M. I think that they say counting all the ups you actually gain 9000m’s which is like climbing Mount Everest from sea level. Pretty brutal stuff, but thankfully all the prior trekking had gotten me into pretty good shape and I was able to make good time.

On my last leg to Namche Bazaar which is the main jumping off point to the Khumbu National Park, I ran into Jane a Cambridge Uni-student on hiatus. She was also doing the trek solo as was in want of a English speaking companion so we ended up doing the rest of the trek together. This was her first trip out of England and had just spent some time in India and was doing this trek before heading home. She had also done the Jiri section so we had that in common as well as she was a fast trekker having just left a couple of German guys she shared the bus with because they were carrying heavy packs and taking too long. Two minutes after meeting up we passed a waterfall swimming hole and she was game for a swim so she was definitely the adventurous type. My exuberance of getting the trek over with matched her fast trekking so it ended up working out rather well except my kind of non-chalantness to the beauties of the mountains which left her awe inspired and me tapping my fingers.

Leeches. Ever since even thinking about doing the Annapurna trek Leeches have been a huge source of dread. Supposedly the monsoon season brings out droves, hordes, packs, swarms, flock, pods, or whatever you call a bunch of leeches. There’s a rumor that whole yaks have been sucked down to the bones by these bunches of blood suckers (me starting a rumor.) People would buy special leech oil or carry bags of salt to ward off these evil parasites. I have a feeling that quite a large percentage of people who would normally do this trek don’t because of these little guys. Well, like most scary stuff, things got blown out of proportion. We ended up doing the whole trek without seeing one. During the Everest trek things did change when I actually got sucked on twice and had about another eight attempt to hitch a meal. After seeing them for the first time I was amazed to find that they are not the flat wide tapeworm that I imagined them to be. At first I actually thought that they were inch worms, those one inch, skinny little guys that inch along by scootching their backside up to their front side and then stretching out again. I originally caught on when one grabbed hold of the tip of my umbrella and I stopped in the middle of the trail and studied the little guy. First they are fairly indestructible as the studying only came about when I couldn’t whack the little guy off the tip of the umbrella. Once I got over that part of it I got the little one off and watched as it did the inch worm scootch. Further examination showed how they would grab hold of the rocks or end of a bush and then basically stand on end and sway around trying to latch on some blood filled species that would walk by. After attempting and failing to smoosh the little one between two rocks I decided that it was time to move on. Every day in the evening it would rain and I would spend the last few hours of my day treading through a stream of water running down the encased trail. In one particular area I looked down because of a little twitch on my leg to find two blood suckers inch worming their way up my leg. After a quick flick off and some more careful stepping I reached my guest house only to find two fat little happy inch worms attached to my socks or specifically my leg through the socks. Once removing the little guy that stayed attached I dropped it into a little plastic jail I constructed with some plastic bag pieces and medical tape. At the time I was too worn out from trekking to decide whether to torture or release the little guy. Following a nice shower I came to some new conclusions 1) there was no pain from their bite nor any following itchiness like that of my dreaded foe the mosquito. 2) The anti-coagulant they pump in causes blood to flow at a scarily drastic rate for quite a long time. It was not until after dinner that the blood actually stopped flowing. 3) Since they did not carry disease or cause any discomfort I was not going to put them on my “rat bastard” list. On a happy note depending on whether or not you are a leech lover, the little blood sucker somehow escaped sometime during the night and got away. Another humorous scenario occurs when you need to take a potty break along the trail. I needed to go so I took a little side path in order to take a dump. While doing the doo, I noticed that leeches were inching their way towards me. I assume they are attracted to the vibrations so I had to scootch along with my drawers wrapped around my ankles trying to get through before they could attack me. Nasty little buggers.

Leaving Namche after a two night acclimization period (something that we really did not need as we had already been bouncing above 3000M quite a few times since Jiri but wasn’t about to leave hot showers, comfortable bed, and yak steaks galore (tastes kind of gamey)). The actual Everest base camp trek is pretty straight forward and physically fairly easy. From Namche Bazaar at 3440M to Base Camp at 5364M is really only a two thousand metre climb, something that at lower altitude I could do in one day, but because of the risk of AMS it has to be spread out over a longer period. So for this reason the standard time frame is short days of low altitude gains with rest days intermixed to help the body acclimatize.

Our first stop after a fairly level and manicured trail was in the religious village of Tengboche (4 hours – 3860M) home to a pretty famous monastery. We got a chance to visit the monastery and sit through a little religious gathering by a bunch of monks who sat in the temple and went through a string of chants and music. It was definitely methodic and mesmerizing with the darkness, the heavily robed monks chanting from their ancient texts, and the smell of incense, tea, and mustiness. We were served some really good milk tea and offered little pastries. It was a very mystical experience. If you ever watch any of the Mount Everest videos you will definitely see this monastery. In the morning we got our first views of the Himalayas as it was the first morning that the skies were crystal clear. We were surrounded by snow capped mountains and didn’t even know it.

The next stop was Pheriche ( 3 hours – 4240M). Here is a designated rest/acclimation day whereby you should stay here for two nights with the full free day being used to do a day trip to higher altitude to boost the bodies ability to acclimatize. The tour groups were taken to a high ridge to about 5000M and then back down to spend the second night. Climb high sleep low is the general rule. An issue which I guess was more of an issue for me was that we had left the same day as a couple of big tour groups as well as a couple of smaller ones. There would be about thirty tourists and another twenty guides and their porters doing the same steps all the way up the mountain. Now, at some times I really don’t want to spend with other people and trekking is one of them. Although we met a lot of nice people, it did bother me being forced to spend all this time stuck with all these people in a place that just doesn’t justify the big city feel. After one night I had enough and suggested that maybe we could skip the acclimation day and hike up a few hours up to a place half way between our next stop and use that as our acclimation day. Like usual it didn’t quite work out that way and we ended up pushing on to our next day’s destination of Lobuche.

Lobuche (4 hours – 4910M) is usually past my ability to acclimatize, not so much in regards to getting sick, but because usually I have a hard time sleeping above 4700M. Freaky dreams start at around 4000M, but the disturbing sleep is what I really dislike. That is one thing about me, is that it doesn’t require the drastic effects to bother me, but just the discomfort level makes things unacceptable. I just don’t like feeling odd especially when I am doing stuff. I guess it could be that if things aren’t right, no matter how bad, they just aren’t right. I slept, but still not straight through, but skipping a day probably didn’t help. Now that we were a day ahead of schedule we were matched up with only a couple of other small groups that were heading up. That part made me feel better and made the trek much better. My original plan for the following day was to leave really early in the morning to catch clear weather for better views but also so that it would be possible to do the Everest base camp leg the same day so that the following morning we could climb the nearby mountain of Kala Patthar for a view of Everest and the surrounding valley and then call it a day and start heading back down “thank god”, and which would mark the end of my trekking “double thank god.”

Gorak Shep (2 hours – 5140M) is the last grouping of lodges. It’s surprising how nice the lodges were way up there but I guess there is enough demand to keep them busy and making money. Sleeping up above 5000M is quite unique and is the cause of a lot of misery. Neither one of us had any issues with the altitude up to that point so I figured that it was a good move. The walk in the morning was amazing because the prior night it had snowed so the ground and all of the surrounding mountains were covered with snow. It was also the first time I got to see the Khumbu Ice Fall coming down the valley, which are like the stepping stones to climbing Everest. The scenery was phenomenal. At that altitude most vegetation doesn’t grow so it is primarily just sand and rocks that have been pushed down the mountain. Running along the ravines below, ice pinnacles and glaciers formed with pools of emerald green water. Towering all around are some of the highest peaks in the world, all covered in ice and snow. Our day was cloud perfect with just a few bunches of puffy white clouds passing by. The views were truly spectacular, until the symptoms of AMS hit. We had dropped off our bags and were heading across to the base camp about another 3 hours away. At first it was like I lost all of my energy. I mean it was like a flick of a switch. After dropping to barely a five step crawl, the slight pulsing behind the eyes started to make me feel nauseous. It was disheartening and a bit scary to feel so incapacitated. Since we were so close I just rested and took it slow until we got down to the bottom of the landslides and the stretch of glacier and rock that extends across to the far side of the small valley to the other side of the ice fall. There is surprisingly little to see as it is just a pile of debris that gets turned out from the push of the glacier and the land slides dropping new rocks and dirt everywhere. After a few pictures we were out of there as there really is not much to see. At that point the trek was finally finished, well except for the Kala Pattar climb which is a viewpoint for Mount Everest as from Base camp you really can’t see it. We headed back to the lodge to rest up after a fairly long day.

That evening things went up and down for me with a little nap fixing a lot of it but the ickiness popping up if I moved around. For dinner I just didn’t feel like eating so that was not a good sign. Up to then I was feeding my face pretty heavily even to the point of mesmerizing the locals and other tourists on how much I was eating every day. A father and daughter offered me some of their Diamox which I figured I would try as I was expecting a fairly miserable night. Shortly after I went to bed and slept right through the night. The stuff really worked with the exception of a very nasty buzziness in my face and hands a normal side effect caused by the reduction of blood to the extremities which in turns helps to pump more oxygen enriched blood to the heart and brain. The next morning I was buzzing but still feeling extremely well ie. normal. We were up at 5:30am heading up the hill in order to get to the top by sun up in order to get a clear view. There was about twelve of us who started and only half made it to the top with the altitude taking its toll on the others. It was a pretty shit morning until the clouds parted and we got to see the valley. Jane was pretty amped about hanging out up there and was thinking of spending more time in the lower valleys as she had over a week before her flight and not wanting to spend it in Kathmandu. So, I took this as the perfect time to say my adieus and headed off down the hill. Now when I say headed off down the hill I mean I happily scooted my ass down that mountain back to Namche Bazaar in one thirteen and a half hour non-stop walk/jog. It was a brutal day, but I really got motivated when I saw a guy hauling up a basket full of meat. All I could think of was a nice yak steak at the nice hotel in Namche Bazaar. When I got there it had just turned pitch black dark and the locals were amazed to know what I had done that day. After a shower, a yak, and lying down, I drifted off smiling knowing that I didn’t have to do any more trekking.

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