Starting Out On A Trek
Trekking Poles – Don’t Leave Home Without Them
A good friend walked part of the Camino a few years ago. I remember word for word his comment about trekking poles. I must admit they do help but it does look like you have an affectation.
The Trainer (my husband) put it more succinctly. You look like a wanker. He said to me. Lots of wankers on this trail then. I replied to him and took off down the trail. With my trekking poles.
I am a big fan of trekking poles and wouldn’t leave home without them. For this trek it helped us with some very tricky parts of the trail where it was quite dangerous getting down onto the Ngozumpa Glacier. But I am getting ahead of myself.
If you watch the video you will see at a certain point I start to trip and right myself. The reason this happened was because I was trying to watch exactly where the porter guide was stepping and trying to step on the same steps he did while I was watching where I was stepping too. I learnt by watching the porter they always find the easier way to follow a path. They find the steps that have the lower rise etc. You watch a Nepalese person walk the path and see what I mean.
The Number of Days on a Trek and the Amount the Altitude Increases Each Night is Critical
The Trainer designed our trek to sleep no more than approximately 300 metres higher each night. Every 1,000 metres you should have an acclimatisation day. Climb higher on the second acclimatisation day on a day walk but sleep at the same altitude for two nights. Of course there is an anomaly with this, on the lower part of trek when you are starting out. It kicks in around Namche Bazaar.
You will read different advice and opinions about how much altitude you can safely increase daily. Ascending no more than 300 metres in a day at the altitude of Namche Bazaar and above seems to be the critical altitude. With 300 metres altitude increase is conservative and safe and you are less likely to experience altitude headaches. That’s what we went with after extensive research. You should go up slow but you can come back down quite fast with longer walk days if you are up for it.
Unfortunately trekkers being “time poor” or wanting cheaper options keeps the trekking market offering shorter treks. A trek shorter then 14 days can make the trek more dangerous for you and increase your risk of getting altitude sickness.
You hear many stories of trekking groups having members of the groups turn back or being medevacked out in helicopters. Certainly there are helicopters going up and down the valley all the times.
Many trekking companies sell treks to Everest Base Camp that are 10 and 12 days some are really only 8 days because they start counting your “trek package” starting from your arrival in Kathmandu and your sightseeing day there.
Our Flexible itinerary to Gokyo and over Cho LA PASS
- Day 1 Kathmandu – Lukla (2860m) to Phakding (2640) / Benkar/ Monjo (2820m) (stayed at Monjo)
- Day 2 Phakding / Benkar/ Monjo – Namche Bazaar (3440m)
- Day 3 Namche Bazaar and acclimatisation walk (3440m)
- Day 4 Namche Bazaar to Thame (we went to Khumjung due to my cough) (3780m)
- Day 5 Thame to Khumjung or Mongla (we went Khumjung 3780m – Mongla) (3975m) At this point our trek broke off from the main Everest Base Camp trail. We could see the trail to Tengboche below us on some parts of this track.
- Day 6 Mongla to Dole (4090m)
- Day 7 Dole to Macchermo (4410m)
- Day 8 Macchermo to Gokyo (4750m) Climb Gokyo Ri (4470m)
- Day 9 Acclimatisation Gokyo & trek to Fifth Lake (we climbed to Gokyo Ri instead) (4470m)
- Day 10 Gokyo to Dragnag across Ngozumpa glacier. (4650m)
- Day 11 Dragnag to Dzonglha (4843m) over Cho La Pass (5420m) could go to Dughla(4620m) (Dughla what was he thinking!)
- Day 12 Dzongla/ Dughla to Pangboche/Debouche/Tengboche (we did Dzongla – Pangboche) (3930m)
- Day 13 Pangboche/Debouche /Tengboche to Namche (3440m)
- Day 14 Namche to Phakding / or Lukla (we chose the slower option.) (2640)
- Day 15 Phakding to Lukla (2860m)
- Day 16 Fly Lukla to Kathmandu (1400m)
Start Your Acclimatisation in Kathmandu
We had arrived at Kathmandu and had two nights there before we left. This is a very good idea in case your plane is delayed and more importantly as Kathmandu is at 1,400 metres or 4,600 feet you start your acclimatisation here especially if you are usually live at sea level.
Getting on Flight to Lukla at the Domestic Airport in Kathmandu
At Kathmandu airport on our departure morning, the guy processing our luggage asked us to please put my trekking poles inside our luggage. It caused a moment of tension. Highlighting another difference between us. My patience and the Trainer’s lack of it. Getting my poles which are big and sturdy type rather than a lighter version into an already full duffel bag was going to be a challenge. I thought the bag was going to end up ripped apart stuffing the poles in, but we managed. The Trainer’s hatred of my sticks clearly showing.
We were quickly processed through security and sat down with our packed breakfast the hotel had arranged for us. We had no sooner eaten it than we were called to the gate, on the bus for a short wait there and on the plane in record time. This is not always case as the weather must be clear at Lukla to fly out. Sometimes there are no flights out on a given day because of the weather and sometimes this can be the case for days. I have read one blog post where there were no flights to certain region for two weeks one year.
We have always been lucky on our three treks that we flew out on the scheduled day and have three times been in the first four planes out to Lukla as a group. In some ways I guess it may be because Our “group” is only the two of us, so it means we can fit on the plane with a larger group of trekkers. Our first flight in November 2013 we did have to wait for about four hours for fog to lift for the planes to leave. For our second trek in at the end of September 2015 we very nearly missed our plane because of the bus driver arranged by the cheap hotel we stayed in had slept in and seemed to be in no hurry to get to our hotel when we he was woken by the call from the hotel reception. He had his breakfast and took his time getting to the hotel. Fortunately, our Kathmandu contact was waiting at the airport and had everyone waiting on stand by at the critical points waiting to process us and shove us through. It was very nearly a disaster. Not something I wanted to repeat and why we will always be careful about taxi arrangements to the airport and where we stay for future treks.
Flying into Tensing Hilary Airport Lukla
We set out after a short wait, the all clear had come from Lukla. Presumably someone phones Kathmandu with the conditions at the Tensing Hilary Airport. After boarding the fourteen-seater plane (that’s my counting) you are in the air in no time. The flight attendant in traditional dress hands out boiled sweets and cotton wool balls for your ears before take-off.
We flew above a thick blanket cloud all the way with the large mountains popping their peaks out through the clouds. I had my eye on my watch thinking it must clear soon. I felt us starting to descend but still there was no break in the cloud. I was getting a little worried. At the last minutes there was a hole in clouds and the short Lukla runway was visible. In a minute we are on the ground engine turned off and being directed off the twin engine plane and into the small building to wait for our luggage. Although an old hand now at flying in and out of Lukla it is still good to be back on the ground. We later found out that the four planes that arrive in our group are the only planes to fly that day. And for another four or five days after.
Meeting Our Porter Guide and Our Traditional Start at the Paradise Lodge
Our Porter Guide, Dilip and the two of us found each other among the huddle of Nepalese men, probably all porters, waiting outside the small building where the luggage is distributed. We waited while they unloaded and started throwing backpacks and duffel bags into the middle space behind the counter. Our bags were not there. We were told they were on one of the planes still to land. That was first. Fortunately, they did arrive on the next flight. Lost baggage takes on a whole new meaning if you are about to trek off up a mountain.
The three of us headed off past the departure building where presumably the only people to leave would have been those luckiest to be on the first group of four flights out.
We walked the short distance to the Paradise Lodge. For our three treks we have always started the morning here and stayed here the last night of our trek before flying out. The owners know our Kathmandu contacts who book our flights and organise our porter for us. We’d already eaten breakfast this time it was a brief stop to have tea/coffee, use the toilet and organise our packs. We booked our return accommodation and left our air tickets for safe keeping with the owner and in case changes needed to be made to our tickets. They would do this for us. This had happened on our first trek because we turned back before Everest Base Camp and needed to fly out earlier than our scheduled flight.
Trekking with a Porter Guide is Enjoyable and Safe Option for Your Trek
I should point out we trekked independently on our three treks in Nepal. By independently I mean not with a group trekking company. For our first trek my husband didn’t want to take a porter. It wasn’t about the cost, he was worried we would get stuck with someone we didn’t like. In a way this decision cost us not getting to Base Camp on our first trek, but that’s another story, see the link at the bottom if you are interested. On our second trek I insisted we take a porter guide and he was great. For our third trek it was no brainer.
Every Trek Is Different
Leaving Lukla and Setting the Scene
On our first trek in 2013 it did feel odd starting out from Lukla. With my trekking poles and my orange pack on with 5.5 kilos of weight. I felt like I didn’t belong just because it was such a new experience. That feeling soon changes. Give it a couple of hours. Of course, I was also worried about a list of things for trekking to EBC.Very worried. But once you are there, you just get on with on it.
For our second trek in 2015 the year of the earthquakes I was very emotional on arrival in Lukla. We had almost cancelled our trek and, I was not sure what damage to expect to see and was nervous about aftershocks and potential landslides on the lower part of the track. I got teary when I saw the owner of the Paradise Lodge Dawa and as we left she zipped up my fleece and patted me on the shoulders and said we’ll see you in two weeks. The only thing that really proved problematic on this trek was the stupid purple day pack which was not comfortable and gave me shoulder pain. I should have bought a new one. Bad decision not to. Our best decision was hiring a porter guide. Unlike the first trek when we should have.
On our last trek in 2018 I was feeling happy about the trek up to a point. That point being Cho La Pass. Play a bit of dramatic piano music here. I was most unhappy about the Trainer’s persistence in his plan to cross over Cho La Pass. Where clearly, I was going to die. It was on my worry list. Cho La Lou he was calling me. Queen of the High Pass. And I wasn’t keen about crossing the glacier either. With the Pass put out of mind until we got to that part if the trail, we trekked out of Lukla with our lovely porter guide Dilip on the most perfect day.
Day One to Phakding / Benkar / Monjo
We were on the track in record time at 8:00 with the plan to stay the night in Phakding, Benkar or Monjo. It was a seriously glorious day. Blue sky and no clouds and the slightest breeze. It was a perfect washing type day and the fringes on the stupas and different prayer flags fluttered and the cosmos flowers waved slightly in the breeze.
One of the important factors to how far you trek on the first day will be what time your flight lands in Lukla
The Lower Trail to Monjo including Phakding
I really enjoy this part of the Main Everest Base Camp trail. All the small villages, settlements and lots of lodges along the trail. A variety of types of bridges to cross and the milky, fast flowing noisy rivers below. The odd water wheel too. Plots of vegetables and gardens, trees and flowers.
People walking and working along the track. School children, shop keepers in their shops, Buddhists monks, people carrying baskets of dung, people drying vegetables, older women going about their business. Porters carrying all types of loads from food to building materials. New lodges being built along the track. Donkeys, yaks, lots of dogs sitting in the sun. There are stupas, mani stones (keep on the left-hand side) and prayer wheels to turn and sometimes monasteries on the hillside to watch out for. Last but least are the donkeys, yaks and horses (watch out for them) and the dogs sitting in sun at their lodge watching the parade go by. Which includes us, all the trekkers.
What I haven’t said was this experience wasn’t quite the same feeling on the first-time trek. No two treks are the same I have decided. I was totally mentally prepared for the day because I had done it before. But in 2013 it was my first time. The description of the day’s walk from Lukla to Phakding was a short 4 hour downhill walk. What you will discover is you must go up a lot to go down. Up, down, down, up, up, up, down, down, up, down. I wasn’t mentally prepared for it and it felt like we were never going to get there. And of course, we didn’t have a porter guide to ask. But that was the first trek and the one I just described was our third trek when I was totally blissed out and knew exactly what to expect. Being mentally prepared is everything.
I could do this part of the trek and never tire of it. It was so familiar to me after the fifth time (counting in and out) that it feels like home away from home. I was so full of it this time around with such a beautiful day that I felt like bursting into song. The earworm stuck in my head was not climb every mountain but oh what a Beautiful Morning from Oklahoma. Go figure it was probably the corn growing along the track at one point that put that song in my head.
We happily walked up and down the hills to Phakding and had lunch at a lodge Dilip recommended. It had table and chairs outside which meant we could sit in the sun. The menu doesn’t really vary from lodge to lodge, so it doesn’t make a lot of difference. And if there were other people there at least we knew the kitchen was in action already.
Making Good Time on the Trail to Phakding
We had arrived so early in Lukla (8:00am) and made good time to Phakding (12:00) We had taken our time and not rushed, had lots of rest stops and taken photos along the way and we were feeling good, so we decided we would just keep going. Of course, we checked in with Dilip our porter guide to see if he agreed and he did, so we headed out for Monjo and stayed there the night.