Rule Number Two : Give Way to the Donkeys on the EBC Trail
On a trek to Everest Base Camp the first rule of the trail is to give way to the yaks on the trail and stand to the mountain side, unless you want to be accidentally pushed off the side of a mountain. The second rule is to give way to the donkeys
I posted this video on Facebook on our first trek in November December 2013. It was taken on my iphone and shows the number of donkeys on the trail and why you don’t want to be on the bridge at the same time as a donkey herd. It also shows that the bridges you regularly cross can be areas for a little bit of congestion and turn taking. One way flow is definitely the safe way.
I had travelled through the Sahara and had explored Timbuktu, had marvelled at Iguazu Falls and the Perito Moreno Glacier. I had lived and experienced life in Milan and Buenos Aires. I was about to set out on a trek that would be the travel adventure of my life, but I didn’t know it.
I sat crying on our couch. My husband and trekking partner wanted to go out on a final training session. I was exhausted from training five times a week and I wanted to cry even at the thought of it. So I cried. He’d pushed it too far. He designed the training plan so we would make it to Everest Base Camp without feeling pain all the way. I had named him The Trainer he had trained us so well.
He had also researched, planned and organised the trek. Now he was weighing my pack and contents and being tough like the The Trainer could be. I could take 5.5 kilos in my back pack and my little pot of lip moisturiser had not made the cut I cut. I would be carrying it up the hills. So I sat on the couch crying with exhaustion and at not being able to take my only luxury item on a trek I didn’t want to go on in the first place.
He met us at the baggage collection at Lukla airport. After a cup of tea and sorting our packs at the Paradise Lodge we were ready. He tied our bags together with his ropes, positioned the load on his head and led us out of Lukla, stopping every now and then to check we were following.
At first from his lack of response to our questions and attempts at conversation I thought he had limited English. But as he tuned in to our accents and we started to get to know each other, he spoke more.
On the second day he seemed a bit more relaxed and he started to teach us some Nepalese words. Jum jum, let’s go and appropriately on the hard climb to Namche Bazaar bistari bistari, slowly slowly. Jokingly he taught us quickly quickly. When we climbed to Khumjung the thick cloud forced my focus to my feet and the spider webs covered in dewdrops, he told me the words for spider and spider webs too.
Familiar with the trail, he pointed out things I would never have seen without him. He pointed out birds and bee hives hanging in the crevices of rocks on the other side of the river. Sometimes he sang his Nepali songs. We watched fascinated by his animated conversations with others along the track and picked up his sense of humour and friendly nature.
At the end of the day when I wrote in my small diary, he reminded me of the things we had seen on the trail. He spelt out the Nepalese words I had learnt during the day and I helped him with some new English words in our guide books.
In Dingboche, surrounded by magnificent mountains he taught me their names. He helped while I practiced naming them in order, like a child reciting their abc, learning the Himalayan range spread before me.
Many times we waited together for donkeys and yaks to pass. Once I was caught in a tight spot and I turned away when I shouldn’t have. Fortunately Basanta was watching. I turned around in time to see him pushing a donkey away from me. If he hadn’t of done this the donkey’s side load would have pushed me over the small wall.
He pulled me up the huge black boulders to reach the top of Kala Pattar. Took photos of us together and celebrated with us at Everest Base Camp.
He called me Louise, sometimes jokingly Mom and sometimes Didi – Big Sister.
Sometimes he led. Sometimes he followed. And sometimes we walked side by side.
On the last day, walking back to Lukla a woman coming the other way silently pointed at the porter right behind me as if she thought I needed to move aside and let him pass. Yes I know, I thought, he is my porter and he has been close by for sixteen days. He has carried our load making our trek to Base Camp easier. He guided, pointed things out and watched out for us. He was our companion, Nepalese friend and shared his country with us. Thank you Basanta.
The walk into Everest Base Camp took me by surprise. The track isn’t much of a track, making the walk a little crazy. At the end you just clamber over boulders and slip everywhere.
The photo shows the middle section of the trail which had lots of boulders and scree. A defined path becomes non-existent, so we headed in a general direction picking our way as best we could, following our trusty Porter Guide. Because of clambering over boulders, I developed blisters on my toes. Applying band aids before setting out is probably a good idea.
EBC has the reputation of looking very dull as most trekkers visit it in the afternoon when the area is in shade. We took the advice from some trekkers we passed on the way up a few days earlier, to visit in the morning when the area is in full light. It was quite lovely.
I plan to write a post about the runners and the marathon as they were a feature of our trek. We bumped into them several times along the trail much to the Trainer’s delight.
The Main Everest Base Camp Trail’s highlight is the view of Mt. Everest and the Himalaya Range from the top of the hill Kala Patthar. Not everyone has heard of Kala Patthar. However, Everest Base Camp is famous, so it’s a must do. Or is it? I felt uneasy at Base Camp, being directly underneath where the 2015 avalanche came off Mt. Pumori into Base Camp (or so I was told). If I go back I would climb Kala Patthar twice, climbing it once in the afternoon and again the next morning at sunrise.
The triumphant team of three, lined up to take the obligatory photo by the sign and flags.
The sign for my choir had its big moment here. 130 people sang Climb Every Mountain to me before I left Melbourne. It was very special.
The round trip to EBC from Gorak Shep is 8km and takes 6.5 hours. Back at Gorak Shep (the end of the trail and starting point for Kala Patthar and EBC) we had lunch at the lodge where we had slept the night before and left. We headed back down to Lobuche (a 2.5-hour walk) through the long valley that feels like a moonscape. Back in our lodge in Lobuche we ate and went straight to bed. Exhausted but very happy and very pleased with ourselves.
All the training had prepared us well. The trek to Everest Base Camp is more than the walk to that point. It is a long journey in many ways, for which you are rewarded in just as many ways.
Now we just had to get back down to Lukla in one piece.
I slept badly because of Diamox the altitude sickness tablets, which make you pee all night. We left our lodge quite late as we did not have far to walk and also wanted to wait for some of the cloud to clear. The trek out of Dughla was a steep climb. After the climb we spotted some very large quail type birds called the Tibetan Snow-Cock or Snowbird on the slopes.
Above that there are many cairns or chortens, memorials to the mountaineers who have died on Everest including Scott Fisher’s memorial. Some of the climbers made it to the summit and then died on the way down. The area is quite beautiful.
The clouds cleared above the chorten area. The landscape became very much like a moonscape with a small stream and reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands.
The walk was only two and a half hours. The Trainer went to explore the Italian weather pyramid. Inside our lodge was very warm with lots of laser-light in the roof letting the heat in. I stayed in bed happy to rest up for the next two very big days.
We retraced our steps into the town for the initial part of the walk and then took a trail along the side of the hills past yak pastures and herders’ huts. A few big trekking groups were walking out probably groups doing the trail in fewer days along the main trail.
It was great walk across flat plains, slowly going uphill with great views of Periche below. On the way we saw some teenagers carrying large baskets of dung and Basanta had an animated conversation with them.
After we arrived at Dughla we decided to stay at the Yak Lodge. One of only two lodges there which is probably why people don’t stop there. We had lunch in the sun with the beautiful blue skies and watched as trekkers came down from Gorak Shep. We met the group who had flown on the same flight into Lukla with us including a mother and daughter team from Queensland who flew on the same flight from Kuala Lumpur.
After a rest we walked up behind the lodges for a view of Dughla Lake which was almost completely hidden from view at the lodges. It was a two hour walk and wasn’t really a trail so we picked our way carefully to a good sitting spot. There were lots of juniper bushes growing on the hills. My wind jacket protected me from the cold wind which is why you should pack one even if it is a dry season.
We stayed at Dughla to make sure we stuck to the rule of not ascending more than 300 metres. We didn’t want to risk altitude sickness and not make EBC.
Updated post January 2020 with photo of bridge at Dughla.
Too Many Bridges or Bridge Love
Love them or not, the Everest Base Camp Trek has many bridges to cross. The first one is scary and they get easier to cross as you go. For the personal trainer it was Bridge Love. He stood in the middle of the bridges looking over the edge enjoying the wind and the rush of water underneath. He put on his documentary maker’s hat and strolled across filming, making his commentary against the roar of the water underneath. One time he threw the camera at me and asked me to video him crossing the bridge. Not my idea of fun especially when he started jogging on the bridge while I was on it filming.
Yes bridges weren’t my favourite part of the trek. I remember the first bridge at Chheplung, being nervous and very glad when I was on the other side. It does get easier as there are quite a few bridges and then you cross them again on the way back down to Lukla.
In a nutshell – one very high bridge and one big mountain.
Most treks do Phakding to Namche Bazaar on day two. Before we left Australia, the Trainer decided to add a day to our itinerary and walk to Namche Bazaar on Day 3 instead.We had time and it would be easier on our legs and lungs. I was happy for him to do all the research and planning and trusted his judgement. From my minimal research and a friend’s first hand experience I knew the infamous climb to Namche Bazaar was a hard one. The friend had trekked with group and had been one of the earliest to arrive. He sat in a cafe and watched others from his group walk into the town. One very tough character from their group finally arrived, absolutely exhausted. He came up to my friend with tears in his eyes, hugged him and said that it had been the hardest day of his life. So when we set out from the tea house in Monjo I was mentally prepared and planned to take it slowly.
Just outside of Monjo is the entrance to the Sagarmatha National Park the checkpoint where Trekkers’ Information Management System (TIMS) card details are recorded. TIMS cards no longer exist as such (2018) however there is a permit and a process for registering trekkers.
The Sagarmantha National Park entrance outside Monjo
I realised I wasn’t quite up to the local speed when an older Nepali woman with a load of 40 kilos of cabbages on her back passed me.
The bridge to Jorsale festooned with prayer flags
A rest before the climb to the higher bridge at the Dudh Kosi Gorge and famous bridge.
Almost off the high bridge across the Dudh Kosi Gorge
Fruit sellers at the resting place on the climb to Namche Bazaar. there are toilets here and ….
your first view of Everest – one of rewards for the strenuous day’s climb
The trail around the mountain
The infamous climb to Namche Bazaar almost finished.
Phakding to Monjo Day Two Treks to Everest Base Camp
Follow the Pumpkin Coloured Backpack
This day was a short walk. For many trekking tours Day 2 is Phakding to Namche Bazaar. The climb to Namche Bazaar is a big day so the Trainer added a day to our itinerary so we didn’t need to rush and allow time to acclimatise to the altitude. Groups were leaving our lodge for Namche a good hour before us. Setting out we looked forward to a leisurely day taking our time and taking in the views around us.
Before leaving Melbourne our plans to trek the Everest Base Camp by ourselves and without a guide or porter had a few people concerned. Me as well. The Trainer explained to my mother before we left that trekking the trail is not like trekking a in remote location, well in the lower part of the trail anyway. He explained the trail is through villages with small tea houses dotted all the way, with lots of people trekking, porters and Nepalis going about their daily business including school kids walking to school. We did in fact see many children walking to school along the trail. Small children in small groups without adults running to school had my herd mother radar working on overdrive at times.
Kids walking to school
Vegetable gardens and stone walls line the trail through the lower villages along the trail. Note the Donkey train coming up the path.
Different types of prayer wheels are all along the trail. The important thing to remember is to turn them clockwise.
Cable hanging bridge across the Dudh Kosi river after Benkar. I got off the bridges as quickly as possible.
Doing a bit of traffic duty and keeping the slow donkeys moving from the safety of the sidelines. Chuk Chuk!
My choir sang Climb Every Mountain to me last night to wish me luck. It was magic.
Thank you Open Door Community Singers. Thank you Shaun Islip.
Acclimatisation Walk Above Dingboche Ridgetop over 4000 metres
Resting in front of Pumori not at Everest yet!
At 5643 metres on Top of Kala Patthar and pointing at Everest – we made It !
Below is from a shot post in January 2016.
A great way to start the week, singing with a choir, in this case a very big choir. Our version of The Prayer is taking time to perfect but starting to sound good. The interesting thing about singing with the choir is, my training seems to help my singing and my singing helps my breathing when I train. Mutually beneficial one might say.