Quiet contemplation … Om Mani Padme Hum
Quiet contemplation … Om Mani Padme Hum
Just a reminder that Nepal is not all about mountains. This photo was taken at the Chitwan National Park on the fringe of the Indian plains. We rode on top of this fellow into to the forest in search of rhinos, tigers and deer. They are magnificent creatures, aren’t they?
Not part of our original travel plans in 2013 but after turning back Continue reading
Last year in Nepal “connecting” started with learning a few words of Nepalese at the small hotel we stayed in Kathmandu. People always respond well if you have a go at speaking their language, they love it. My choice of words might seem strange. I learnt Continue reading
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.
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.
Acclimatisation Walk on Dingboche Ridge-Top
I could not agree more Gustave.
On April 25 a 7.8-magnitude quake devastated parts of Kathmandu and rural Nepal. Two weeks later on May 12 a second 7.3-magnitude quake hit. It is the anniversary of the first quake this week.
In the last six months two films were released about climbing Everest. One Everest about the fateful climbing season in 1996 when rival trekking company leaders lost their lives climbing. More recently the documentary Sherpa-Trouble on Everest was released. The film covers the 2014 avalanche when 16 Sherpas were killed. In an interview with director Jenny Peedom, she said that the Khumbu Sherpa community were very pleased with the film. A key message is the risk Sherpas take in working on the mountain to enable tourists and climbers to summit the peak. Put simply without the Sherpas the tourism around the climbing season would not be possible. Another message is the exploitation of the Sherpas in terms of pay and conditions.
This film may have affected the Everest Base Camp Trekking season. A work colleague of the Trainer, a keen Australian bush walker announced that he was planning a trip to walk the Inca trail. The Trainer suggested to him he should trek to Base Camp and his reaction to this was negative and he said no way. He had recently seen the Sherpa documentary and he didn’t want to be part of such an exploitative adventure. I think there may others who are turned off because of the film.
Trekking to Mount Everest Base Camp to climb Everest is one thing. Trekking to Base Camp to trek to that point is quite another. The trail does not have the same commercial pressure. People pay a lot of money to climb Everest. There is a huge pressure on the climbing companies to deliver. This pressure does not exist trekking on the trail to Base Camp.
Most of the people living along the trail would rely largely on the trekking tourism either directly or indirectly. The Khumbu region has had three quiet seasons. If you are planning to trek to Everest Base Camp or the Annapurna or any of the other areas please don’t change your mind because of a film. Nepal needs tourists. Be part of the rebuild.
Not convinced ? – 25 Reasons to Trek to Everest Base Camp
Phew back down the from mountain. Feels like I’ve trekked to Base Camp again. Reliving the trek via the blog has been great.
Plenty of more posts planned including a few from the first trek some posts one on Pokhara, Chitwan and Kathmandu of course. And a video to make. Lots more to come. Lots of technical, behind the scenes stuff planned and we all know how long that takes.
And I have to get training again …
Hello I’m Louise
In 2013 the Trainer and I trekked the Main Mount Everest Base Camp Trail. It was the Trainer’s idea not mine. I really didn’t want to go to Everest Base Camp. I was worried about an endless list of things – getting robbed, murdered, lost, breaking an ankle, the trek being too difficult, getting sick, getting altitude sickness, freezing, oh and being tipped off a mountain by a yak. But I didn’t want to be left behind to worry about the Trainer either. Given I met him on a felucca on the Nile and he later dragged me across the Sahara when all I wanted was to relax on a Thai beach, well, after 30 years I should expect these things.
The optimistic Trainer had been to the Annapurna area in Nepal years ago and saw no problems with trekking to EBC. But I wanted to be reassured by someone else. Talking to a few people helped. YouTubes helped get a sense of the trail experience. But I really wanted to hear from a woman like myself – in her fifties and not a veteran trekker, who had been there. I searched for a blog but at the time I couldn’t find any.
The time came to decide to go or not. I didn’t want the Trainer to go by himself. We flew out in late November 2013 and we nearly made it to Everest Base Camp. Could have and should have. But didn’t. We were disappointed and it felt like unfinished business and amazingly I was hooked. Addicted to thriving on the challenge and the place. Yes that’s me standing there, almost at Namche Bazaar with just a couple of steep hills to go.
We returned to Australia and I wanted to tell everyone how special the trail to EBC is and how alive and incredibly fit I felt from the experience. I was the fittest I had been. Ever. I wanted to tell everyone that a not particularly fit middle aged woman, with training, could trek to Everest Base Camp and love the experience. We planned to try again and this time get there. I decided to share my training journey and the experience of Main Everest Base Camp trail in a blog.
We trained and trained, me and the tireless Trainer. We bought our flights to Kathmandu early 2015. Two weeks later Nepal was hit by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake. That changed everything. The following months the Trainer researched, trained and was optimistic. Me, I trained and well of course, worried. Finally we agreed to believe the reports the EBC Trail was ready, it was business as usual and we flew to Kathmandu in late September. And on 2nd October 2015 the Trainer and I, with our porter made it to Everest Base Camp.
I discovered that the important thing was, it wasn’t just about getting to Base Camp it was about the whole journey. The training journey was big lifestyle change for me. It was a fitness first. 2013 was also the year I touched my toes for the first time. Ever.
Above: The tarmac at Lukla airport and the parking spaces for the four planes that fly back and forward to Lukla every day.
We were up early for one of the first flights out. The Paradise Lodge where we stayed the night is a one-minute walk to the airport. The owner of the lodge said goodbye to us and presented us with the traditional cream scarf to wish us well.
The departure hall at the airport is a bit crazy and we were glad to have someone with us to direct us where to go and in which order. We very quickly passed through the tickets and security checks and into the hall to wait boarding where passengers are always keen to watch the planes landing. The unloading of passengers and baggage is amazingly quick and the same goes for loading and boarding.
Being our fourth flight, we were relaxed. I was more relaxed about take-off rather landing at Lukla.
As we flew back along the line of the Himalayas I wondered if it would be our last trip as I was hooked on this magnificent part of the world.
Missed the beginning of the 2015 trek? Here are the first five days to get you started.
and here is the 2015 Trek Itinerary with links
The first photo for the day was of a dog sitting expectantly outside the kitchen of our lodge. The Trainer had taken it because “everyone loves a photo of a dog.” The dogs we saw on the trail appeared well cared for.
On the last day of both our trek it was with a feeling of sadness that we made our way back to Lukla. Lingering on the trail as we went. Standing aside for the last lot of the donkeys and yaks, crossing the last bridges which on the way up were the first scary bridges. Savouring the last of the views of green fields of vegetables, mani walls and stupas as we would back down through a string of villages.
We saw groups of trekkers fresh off the plane new to the trail and not sure quite what to expect. I pointed at the brand new boots of a young woman and I pointed to my boots all covered in white dust and told her that her boots would look like mine after Base Camp.
I smiled a woman we passed who pointed behind me indicating there was someone behind me. I think she thought he was trying to get past. I wanted to say yes, he has been behind me for 16 days, he’s my porter. Although he wasn’t always behind sometimes he was ahead and leading. But he was always there walking beside me in essence, keeping an eye on where I was stepping. Only a short time before he had pulled me out of the way from a donkey, because I turned around and wasn’t paying attention.
In the end, despite not wanting the trek to end we were glad to get to Lukla’s entrance gate. The last of the hills seemed endless. And we had just walked 130 kilometres.
We walked through the streets of Lukla which we very quiet. Lukla would normally be a bit of a party town with people celebrating the end of their treks. It is always a place people stay at the end of the trek not at the beginning.
At the lodge we were happy to have a shower, do some washing and explore the town a bit more. Basanta came back later in the afternoon. We had a few beers together and said thank you and goodbye. He was going to have three days’ rest and then going to back on the trail again with a group.
After dinner and a chat with the woman who owns the lodge we were ready for an early night. We had the first flight out in the morning.
Leaving our lodge in Namche Bazaar was a bit sad. We had stayed there four times and a total of six nights with the acclimatisation days. It was in the middle of Namche, the owners and staff were lovely, the menu and food good and the hot showers wonderful.
Leaving Namche Bazaar and the Kwangde Range
Not long after we started out, Basanta our porter guide pointed out a Danfe or Danphe Nepal’s national bird, a beautiful large black pheasant with a metallic green head and a chestnut tail.
We had our last look of Everest at the resting spot on the way down. We crossed the high bridge again across the Dudh Khosi gorge. The fourth time over it I was still glad to get off however The Trainer stands in the middle looking over at the view.
Back down on the old river bed we posed for a photo together and watched some of the porters with huge loads of building materials slowly make their way up to cross the bridge.
We stopped at Monjo Lodge where we had stayed on the first trek and another place that I felt a connection to. Waiting for lunch in the garden in the sun we took some more happy snaps feeling relaxed, fit and happy. The Trainer, yes, my husband Sam looked really relaxed in the photos, his job was done. His training and planning had got us up and back without mishap. Following the no more than 300 metres increase in altitude a night had been a key factor I am sure.
Porters carrying building materials up the trail
Waiting for lunch in the garden at Monjo Lodge
The lodge we stayed in Phakding on the way up and on the way down
We had reached our goal of Everest Base Camp and Kala Patthar and now our focus was getting back to Lukla for our flight out while savouring the final days of our trek. Descending in altitude is easier than ascending as you don’t need to worry about gradual increments of altitude. The plan for Day 13 was to walk to Pangboche.
The photos remind me that the trek looks different in reverse. Generally you look in the direction you are going and don’t look back at where you have come from which usually it quite a different view. The memorial cairns above Dughla looked different with the mountains behind.
We crossed the small bridge at Dughla. Sam turned around to help me step up and over the gap between the side of the rock and the bridge. I momentarily froze looked at Sam’s outstretched hand and thought I’d better not miss the large step onto the low rock bridge.
With the trail to Dingboche above us we walked through the Khumbu Khola valley into Periche. The small settlement had been badly affected by the second earthquake in May 2015 but had been rebuilt and only limited damage was evident. The medical centre and the daily talks about altitude sickness were operating business as usual.
We stopped in Periche for a drink and toilet break and Shomare for lunch.
Above is a small yak enclosure before Pangboche.
The following day the annual ultra-marathon started the next day from Everest Base Camp and our lodge in Pangboche was a medical check point and drink station for the event. Three doctors from Kathmandu were staying the night in the lodge and to check the vital statistics of the runners.
The walk into Everest Base Camp took me by surprise as I hadn’t read the section in the guide book. 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. But that’s getting a little ahead.
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. And following our trusty Porter Guide, of course. 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. Most trekkers visit it in the afternoon when the mountains can shade the area. We took the advice to visit in the morning and with the 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 about the training before hand, getting all the right gear and training with it, the research and preparation and then the trek itself. 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.
People who have trekked to Everest Base Camp, or have friends that have, or are busy planning and researching the trek themselves will know the highlight of the trek is not Everest Base Camp but in fact, is climbing to Kala Pattar above Gorak Shep to view Mount Everest from the closest and highest viewpoint on the main EBC Trail. Many climb the hill in the darkness of early morning to see the sun rise on Everest or in the evening to see the sun set. Climbing in the afternoon after first arriving in Gorak Shep and after an early lunch is also an option. But more about the options in another post.
Unlike our first trek in 2013, when we had no porter a notebook would have been considered excess weight.
During our prolonged packing planning phase, every gram was weighed and assessed and rationalised. More on that later too. On our recent trek I did take a small notebook and I kept a very short diary. My last entry to this diary was in fact the previous day (Day Ten Dughla to Lobuche). Why? Because day eleven and the following two days are big days and you are very tired, as a result. I came back down from Kala Pattar, exhausted and was fast asleep at 5:30.
Most treks go from Lobuche to Kala Pattar. You start off early from your lodge and the walk out is quite flat initially, over turf sometimes with very small streams and little puddles of water which reminded me of rock pools. Not far out of Lobuche is the turn off to the Italian Weather Pyramid. Sam had been there the afternoon before to explore and take photos. I had taken the soft option of resting up for the next day.
Part of his research back home in Melbourne had often looked at the weather on the webcam on the pyramid. The closest thing to the Bureau of Meteorology at Base Camp. The building looks spectacular from the photos. And more amazing when you realise what a building like that means in terms of getting the materials there to build it.
There is a very short steep climb not long after setting out but after that, most of the walk is flattish. The trail crosses the moraine of the Changri Glacier. There are mountains on both sides of the long valley and the landscape is stark, stunning and like a moonscape.
You move ever closer to the conical peak of Pumori another mountain fairly easy to identify. That’s it, peeking out from the left of the hill in the photo above.
The flattish path is strewn with rocks and often becomes rutted turf. It was relatively easy for us because we were managing the altitude well with half a Diamox tablet taken twice daily. I had started taking them in Dingboche. This was part of the advice we took from Lhakpa from Khumbu Adventures in Kathmandu the day before we flew to Lukla. We had different advice from different sources, different doctors, including some very good advice from a GP in our group of doctors who had been there on several occasions. Firsthand experience is always good but at the end of the day Lhakpa has led many treks to Base Camp and many other mountainous regions so we decided to take his advice which was to take the Diamox at 4,000 metres, regardless of how we were feeling.
The bridge above takes the prize for being the smallest of the many bridges you cross on the trek to Everest Base Camp.
I felt a huge sense of achievement arriving at Gorak Shep and a great sense of anticipation. Pumori towers over Gorak Shep with it’s dry lake bed and seven or eight lodges. We decided on which lodge we would stay in, even though we did this quickly, retrospectively precious time was wasted doing it. I will write a separate post about lodges.
After lunch we walked across the dry lake bed to the brown hill behind me in the photo above. Looks innocent enough compared to the huge ice-covered mountains surrounding it but at this altitude Gorak Shep is 5170 metres, the climb to Kala Pattar and 5545 metres requires effort and pre-training to make that effort achievable.
The sky was almost cloud free and we had decided after talking to two people on the trail that we would climb there in the afternoon and leave the walk to Everest Base for the next morning when the morning light gives life to what is often viewed as a dull area. Most people generally decide to trek to Base Camp after lunch on the day they arrive.
The mountains of Lingtren, Khumbutse and Changste are in clear view and Everest begins to appear.
Kala Pattar means Black Rock named after the black rocks at the top of the hill. Some hill. The climb to the top or more precisely to the flag pole, took two hours. At one stage I was ahead which made a change, but then was overtaken by The Trainer. I waved him ahead because there were clouds behind us and we wanted the view and the photos without them. Basanta our wonderful porter guide stayed with me.
The climb was hard. In some ways it was easy in that there are not many rocks to watch for tripping etc and no stone steps. I could stop easily and find lots of perching spots and I didn’t have to worry about dodging yaks or porters with loads. I had to stop frequently to catch my breath and my legs were burning which I hadn’t experienced.
The hard bit was the large boulders we had to scramble over to get to the flag pole with the prayer flags. Quite close to the point where the flag pole was I thought I couldn’t go any further. Puffing, legs burning and exhausted I was ready to give up on the final bit and be happy with the view from there. Who said I had to climb to the top anyway? I yelled out to Sam who was at the top. “Do I have to come to the top?” And what were the Trainer’s last words? “Come on Louise this is what you trained for!” he yelled back. And it was. So, with one last effort and with the help of Basanta pulling and pushing me up the last enormous boulders I made it to the flag pole. A very short video captures the moment I reached it, almost too exhausted to even wave for the camera and to the trainer who had his photographer hat on.
It took me a while to get my breath and then of course we stood and did the obligatory photo shoot being careful not to step backwards off the boulders. The afternoon clouds started to roll our way.
And yes, then the wig appeared. The yellow wig. It had been purchased back home in Melbourne with the statement that the trainer intended to wear it at Base Camp. I told him what I thought of that idea and then forgot all about. It had been hidden in the luggage and then his bag and then in the day pack and the next thing, there it was. Two young Japanese boys up there with us thought it was hysterical. They loved it and borrowed it for some of their shots and it had a popular showing and sharing the next day at Base Camp. Basanta also liked it and he can be seen in some of those photos wearing it.
So, a series of triumphant photos and videos where shot in different ways on different cameras with different photographers. Of course, the Open Door Singers sign appeared for the big moment.
We had made it. Safely and without any blisters even. The training had been spot on to getting us there without drama and worth it in many ways. Trekking in Nepal and trekking to Base Camp hadn’t been on my grand plan. Hadn’t been on any of my lists originally but I wasn’t going to be left behind and after the failed attempt to reach Base Camp in December 2013 it had felt like unfinished business. If you don’t succeed the first time, try again. I haven’t forgotten that if it hadn’t been for Sam the Trainer pushing me on, encouraging and teasing me and having the travel wanderlust I would have never have had the wonderful experience. Of course, I had an inkling on my honeymoon that I was in for a ride, when he dragged me across the Sahara.
And of course, the view was magnificent. Magic. Stunning. Many people cry at this point after the anticipation, the huge trek, the training, the preparation, the effort, for some maybe the pain, certainly the beauty and the grandeur. You are standing in the most enormous, magnificent landscape. You realise how insignificant you are in the scheme of things and how enduring and ancient the place you are privileged to be in, is. Astronauts experience this looking at earth from outer space. For those of us not aspiring to space travel this will be our astronaut moment.
Of course, I cried. I allowed myself that. I cried many times on this wonderful life changing trek. I can honestly say that except for a few tears on the way up to the top of Kala Pattar which I quickly stopped, telling myself it wasn’t that bad, none of the tears shed were in anger, pain, frustration or desperation. They were tears of happiness, tears of triumph, tears of disbelief and the very happy tears of relief of arriving in Lukla, fresh off the plane and being grateful that we had rethought our decision to cancel the trip due to the fear of a landslide or tremors after the earthquake.
We stayed up the top for quite a while after the photos just taking in the view. We were lucky there were only five people up there. One, because most people choose to climb to Kala Pattar early in the morning, two because it was very early in the second season after the monsoon and three due to the earthquakes, there were hardly any trekkers.
Retrospectively writing this post, it is worthwhile remembering the privilege to be able to do this trek with relative ease is thanks to the Sherpa people and all the other Nepalese people who work hard to bring food and gear up the trail every year so people can have this wonderful experience. It is particularly important to remember the back- breaking work of the men who carry building materials up the trail even all the way to Gorak Shep so that lodges can be built for people to stay in. Without them such an experience would not be possible.
I don’t have a bucket list, but if I did, climbing Kala Pattar would be on it. But I wouldn’t consider it ticked off because I had done it. Trekking in Nepal is addictive and I would like to think that I would do this trek again, at least one more time.
Other posts to read
Dughla to Lobuche 1 October 2015
I had a shocking night’s sleep 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. It was a steep climb up from Dughla. After the climb we saw 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 for a walk to see the Italian weather pyramid. Inside our lodge was very warm with lots of laser-light in the roof letting the heat in. I was happy to stay in and 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.
The hard slippery climb to 4,700 metres is worth the magic view. Continue reading