Day 1: Arrival in Kathmandu
I arrived in Kathmandu on a Friday evening after a long sleepless flight. Kathmandu airport is basic at best and something of a sensory overload for the lone traveller. It takes me over an hour to get my tourist visa but I pass the time by chatting to other people in the line. I organised for a taxi to take me to the Kathmandu Guesthouse, which is in the heart of Thamel, the backpacker district and where I’m scheduled to meet up with the rest of my group.
The streets aren’t well lit but the dark doesn’t disguise any of the poverty or pollution I see while in the taxi. Half finished buildings and small street vendors dominate the streets. It is not so much of a culture shock for me having been to Delhi recently.
Day 2: Meeting the Group
I wake up early and head to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. Kathmandu Guesthouse prices are considered expensive but I decide it would be better not to risk a poor tummy right before the trek starts. After breakfast, I head to the nearest trekking shop to buy a waterproof goretex jacket, fleece, rucksack, kitbag, extra water bottle, head torch and -20 sleeping bag all for the bargain price of £70. Amazing!
I head back to the guesthouse where I meet my roommate for the first time. Her name is Charlotte and she is an English Rose. At 18, she is the youngest member of our group. The lucky girl is on her gap year and has just completed a two week trip from Delhi to Kathmandu. After this trek she will be spending another month in Delhi before heading to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Bangkok, KL and Singapore.
Despite the age gap, we get along really well. At 1pm, we meet up with our group leader and the remainder of the group. The group is made up of an equal number of Australians and British with one Dutchman. Everyone seems really nice and easygoing.
That evening, I have dinner at the hotel restaurant with Shelly (from Brisbane), Henk (Dutchman), Chris (works in London but is from Sydney), Will (from Reading) and Nadeem (East Londoner on a world trip). We spent the evening exchanging travel stories. The others are incredibly well travelled and I listened for the most part, thinking about how I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else at that point in time.
Later that evening, Will and I headed out for a walk around Thamel. We really didn’t get very far as all the lanes we walked down led into dark, poorly lit areas where little kids begged for money or drug dealers tried to offer us hash. We ended up having a drink at an Irish bar opposite Kathmandu Guesthouse where we traded more travel stories. Listening to other people’s tales has made me realise that the travel bug never really goes away.
Day 3: Flight to Lukla and our first day of the trek
At 5.30am, Charlie and I packed and dressed for our first re-group at 6.30am. I was surprisingly alert having not slept a wink the night before. I’m not sure whether it was jet lag or nerves but I couldn’t think of a worse start.
We loaded our luggage and headed to the domestic airport for our flight to Lukla which is 2800m. I felt like a zombie but I forced myself to keep awake and alert. Shelly had barely slept a wink either which made me feel abit better as I wasn’t alone in my fatigue. For the first 3 hours, there seemed to be lots of waiting around. Domestic flights tend to be unreliable and are often cancelled.
We flew by Tara Air, which had a 16 seater plane. I sat right at the front. I could have reached into the cockpit and tapped the pilot on the shoulder.
The plane was so small yet there was still an air stewardess, squeezing down the aisle with a basket of toffee sweets and cotton wool. I figured the cotton wool was something akin to facial towels until the sherpa who was sitting next to me grabbed 2 pieces and stuffed them into his ears. I could not hide my astonishment and the air hostess laughed at my bemusement.
I have a habit of sleeping on planes and this was no exception. Many of the group was worried about how safe the engine was but all I was concerned with was not falling asleep on the sherpa’s shoulder. Luckily he woke me up when the 30 min flight ended and I was able to partake in everyone’s astonishment at our plane landing unscathed on a short 16 metre runway on top of mountain.
Once we got off the plane, we headed into the first teahouse for breakfast. I had a full American breakfast and it was there that I got a chance to talk to 2 Australian ladies who had been travelling in India prior to this and suffering from a tummy bug for the past week. One of the ladies didn’t sleep the night before because she spent most of the night on the toilet. I felt really sorry for her and it made me realise there is always someone worse off and all things considered, I function quite well without much sleep.
After breakfast, we trekked for 3 and a half hours to Phakding which is 200m lower than Lukla.
It was all part of the acclimatisation plan. The trek was easygoing with some ascents but the main challenge was negotiating the uneven and rocky terrain.
We took it pretty easy the first day, walking at a good pace with quite a few short water/photo breaks.
It was a nice easy introduction and it didn’t take long for the crisp cold mountain air to wake me up.
At Phakding, we stopped at the same teahouse for lunch that we were to sleep the night at. The teahouses make very little money on our accommodation so it is frowned upon for us to eat elsewhere other than where we are staying. I had chicken noodle soup and momos (dumplings) for lunch. It was rather chilly so I changed into thermals, a long sleeve top and my fleece.
Our guide Bim recommended that we avoid taking any naps so some of us passed the afternoon playing cards while others watched TV. For dinner, I had a Nepalese Thali set (rice with vegetable and dahl) along with 3 or 4 cups of hot chocolate. Bim made it a habit for us to order our meals in advance to avoid delays.
We finished dinner at 7pm and sat around talking and relaxing. By then it was raining quite heavy and we could all hear thunder. I remember thinking, despite my exhaustion that I felt incredibly alive. Weird huh!?
Charlie and I turned into our small cabin at 7.45pm where we brushed our teeth with clean bottled water over the towel bowl. Our cabin was very basic, two beds with an ensuite sit down toilet but no sink.
I think it was about 8.30pm when I finally turned out the lights. I don’t even remember falling asleep. Charlie said I was asleep within 5 minutes tucked deep into my sleeping bag. I slept solidly, only waking up once in the middle of the night from the sheer cold.
Day 4: Namche Bazaar
After breakfast at 7.45am, we settled our bill with the teahouse. My bill for lunch, dinner, breakfast and my drinks came to £9! As soon as we left Phakding, we headed straight into higher terrain. It was a hell of a way to wake up and was certainly very invigorating.
It wasn’t long before I shed my layers and stripped down to a T-shirt. I cursed not taking off my thermal leggings when I last had the chance to.
As we made our way through the first 3 hours of trekking, I started feeling very optimistic about the rest of the day.
We were scheduled to trek 9km to Namche Bazaar where we would spend 2 acclimatisation nights there.
We were walking at a pace where we could all enjoy the magnificent views.
It was a day where the group walked closely together, took lots of happy snaps and generally got to know each other.
My fitness levels were certainly high enough and I felt good all the way to the teahouse where we stopped for lunch.
For lunch, I had egg fried noodles and promptly took off my thermals. We were encouraged to take the pace down a notch and to drink more fluids. I definitely wasn’t drinking enough. It was recommended that we drink 5 to 6 litres of water/tea/soup each day.
The afternoon trek to Namche Bazaar was supposed to be harder and it was!
Our total altitude gain for the day was 800m, the singular biggest gain in a day, with 600m of that gained in the afternoon across some steep and rocky mountain passes.
Some of the inclines would have been no problem if it weren’t for the altitude but we were all feeling the effects of the shortness of breath, with the exception of Will whose lungs were accustomed to working with less oxygen.
It never ceased to amaze me how easily and rapidly our porters and season guides were able to ascend. There were 5 porters who carried 11 bags and 3 season guides to assist our group leader.
Some of the group are experiencing headaches. It was a hard slog to the finish line but we all felt a sense of achievement.
As soon as we checked into our lodge in Namche Bazaar, I had a gloriously hot shower complete with a window with a view of the mountain ranges. It was my last chance to wash my hair.
Namche Bazaar is the administrative capital of the Khumbu region and our last chance to hire/buy gear.
The rooms of our teahouse were small but they were cozy. There were two sit down toilets on our floor that actually flushed.
Namche Bazaar had a bakery that made the best hot chocolate and also sold scrumptious cakes.
For dinner, I had a Swiss Rosti with egg followed by 1/2 fried mars bar roll. So far Charlie and I have not been in any danger of suffering from a loss of appetite. Bim mentioned again at dinner that we trekked quite fast today and that tomorrow we should slow down to give ourselves the best possible chance at acclimatisation.
After dinner, Bim, Linda, Chris, Charlie, Will and I headed to the bar next door for a couple of drinks. There was something so unreal about sitting in a bar in a remote mountain town so far away from work. I loved it.
Day 5: Acclimatisation Day in Namche Bazaar
It’s 6am and I’m starving. My hunger pangs have woken me up. I know Will was so hungry the first night that he ate a peanut butter bar in the toilet at midnight so he wouldn’t wake Henk up. I decided not to go to that extreme. I haven’t slept that well either. Lots of strange nightmares about my failure to calculate how much oxygen I need in my lungs to deal with this attitude, not to mention a nightmare about whether a second hand mahogany table is subject to VAT (think GST in Australia). How very wrong!
Maybe it’s the altitude or perhaps it’s the vodka from last night but I feel dehydrated. Today the plan was to take an ‘easy’ walk up to 3800m and then back down to 3440m again to sleep.
Heeding Bim’s advice, I slowed my walking pace right down. It made a world of difference to how I felt. We climbed quite a fair way but the views were worth it.
I didn’t find myself out of breath or sweating. Our leader was adamant that we not push our bodies today so we took plenty of rest stops and photo ops along the way.
We climbed a total of 300m over some steep steps and grassy mounts. It felt more like a workout rather than tough exertion.
I approached it as if it were training. Granted I wasn’t entirely sure what I was pretending to train for but it helped.
Each time we climbed and rested, the views got better and better. I felt so at peace on the mountain top. It felt like I had no cares in the world.
From the top, we had views of Everest which looked mighty far away.
It was an amazing sense of achievement reaching the top of a mountain that initially looked so high.
I found the way down more difficult than going up. The steepness of the descent hurt my knees and was made more difficult because the path was muddy. Linda lent me one of her trekking poles which helped immensely. Once we were back in Namche Bazaar, I hired a trekking pole.
We played cards in the teahouse till dinner then Charlie and I decided to turn in early. There are quite a few sick people in our group and I’m worried I’ll catch something. Definitely need all the rest I can get.
Day 6: Trek to Phortse Gaon
This morning I woke up feel refreshed after an 8 hour sleep. I woke up once during the night from overheating in my sleeping bag. At least my sleeping bag is very effective.
I had a swiss rosti with egg & cheese for breakfast. Big mistake! I felt full and heavy, not exactly how you want to feel when trekking at 8am in the morning. It didn’t take long for me to start feeling exerted.
The first 4 hours of the trek was reasonably tame. It was mainly steady so if we went uphill, it was a gradual climb and if we went downhill, it was a gentle descent.
At 1pm, we stopped for lunch at a teahouse that was at 3975m. By that point, I was feeling weak and light headed from the altitude. In hindsight, this was the last point where I felt normal until after we began our descent.
After lunch, we mainly made our way downhill with one final 400m climb to 3800m. That took quite alot out of me. I had to slow my pace right down and conditions were slightly slippery.
Our accommodation at Phortse Gaon was warm, cosy and basic. Our toilets are pretty much all squat toilets now and it is taking much more exertion to go to the loo.
The highlight of my stay here is that the person who runs the lodge has summited Everest 4 times and has run the Everest marathon in 4 hours and 15 minutes.
That is 42 km from Everest Base Camp down to Namche Bazaar. How incredible!
Day 7: Trek to Dingboche
Today was a hard 7 hour slog, even more so for me because I’m really feeling the effects of the altitude. Every step I take knocks the breath out of me and when I’m climbing uphill, I have to stop every 30 secs to catch my breath.
The first 3 hours involved walking along a narrow trail followed by a teahouse stop for refreshments and then a further 2 hours till lunch. The overall gain today is 600m.
I have taken to walking at the back of the group with our guide. I feel constantly light headed. In a way, it’s fun to walk when I’m dizzy as it gives me something else to think about other than my pounding head. I finally arrived in Dingboche at 4.30pm. Charlie, Chris, Will and Nadeem come out to meet me. I’m shattered. I can’t remember the last time I was so happy to see a run down building.
I can barely get dinner down and give most of it to Will. Everything seems foggy, including other people’s faces.
Day 8: Dingboche Acclimatisation Day
I slept badly last night. Somehow I’ve developed a persistent chesty cough and that coupled with the continual nightmares makes me very sleep deprived. My headache is crippling and the smallest bit of light hurts. I curse the day I’m allergic to aspirin.
Today is acclimatisation day and the group walks up to 4900m before walking back down to 4400m. I only climbed to 4600m. Bim was adamant that I take it easy and he has given me a strip of Diamox to take to help with the altitude sickness.
I spend the majority of the afternoon in bed and don’t even bother eating lunch.
Day 9: The Push to Lobuche
I’ve made it to Lobuche. Just barely. I feel completely exhausted. I thought the day before yesterday was hard, who was I kidding? It took me 6 hours to get to Lobuche and the altitude here is 4900m.
Each 3 hour slog started off with a huge uphill with plenty of large rocks and boulders to climb over. I kept telling myself to keep going, climb behind that boulder to see what is on the other side. The answer is always another bloody boulder.
Today my mental state suffered. It was hard to stay focused and I’m running out of optimism. My only surprise is that I’m not yet a blubbering mess.
Within the first 30 mins of walking today, I was unlucky enough to get the runs for the first time this trip. I was fortunate there was a boulder big enough to cover my ass. I took an immodium straight away.
Kumar, one of the season guides and my trusty porter are always near, ready to steady me when I stumble, which is happening more often than not. I will make sure to tip them both generously.
Day 10: Everest Base Camp and Gorakshep
I didn’t make it to Base Camp. I learnt today that sheer willpower and desire will not always see you through if faced with external factors beyond your control. Either that or I don’t have the discipline of a Shaolin Monk.
These inner reserves of strength that I have failed beneath the might of the mountain. It took me 5 hours to travel from Lobuche to Gorakshep, the highest village in the world. There I collapsed in bed, passed out from the exertion of going to the toilet. The journey from Lobuche should have taken 3 hours but it took me 5.
Base camp was a further 3.5 hours away but I was oblivious. The diamox was no longer helping with the headaches and to make matters worse, my left eye was hallucinating. I kept seeing a black shape made out of gunpowder smoke, shapeshifting randomly. The most common form it took was a rat, cat or lobster.
I slept for most of the day, only waking when Charlie returned from Everest Base camp. Half of her face was black and I got scared. Bim wanted to get a few porters together to carry me down to Lobuche that night but that would have been the ultimate humiliation and I was afraid of being separated from the safety and support of the group.
Just hearing their voices through the thin walls reassured me. I slept poorly that night. Charlie, the dear girl was attentive and chatty, make me feel calm and showing me photos. By all rights, I should be looking after her. She is such a trooper.
I thought I would feel a twinge of loss or envy when seeing photos of base camp but instead I revelled in their success. You really can share in the happiness of people to whom you have no obligation to. The more of us that make it the better. I’m self assured enough to know that not reaching base camp is not something that I will dwell on or be disappointed with. I don’t waste time on regret and frankly I like everyone in our group so much that I would hate for any of them to be disappointed.
Since I’m unable to describe with any clarity the surroundings of places that I walked through, I can only offer what I thought about. All I had up there was self reflection. I was stripped bare of my ipod, books, phone and laptop. It’s amazing what you think about when you are delirious or pushed to the extreme.
For example, Kumar, one of the season guides who had been delegated the very dubious honour of looking after me offered to carry my day pack, along with his. I gratefully accepted and in that instance, I imagined my sister next to me. She was walking next to me, struggling like myself and it made me wonder. If she were really here, would I offer to help her carry her bag if she needed me to? The answer was no.
Shame on me! My beloved sister, whom I supposedly would do anything for. That’s what altitude sickness has done to me. It’s made me completely selfish.
I’m so happy I signed up for this trek. It has enriched my life, made me happy and proud and more sure of what I am capable of. I may not be able to fulfil a plan or goal in the exact way that I wish to but I will still take something away from it.
Day 11: The descent
I spent a fitful and sleepless night at Gorakshep, 5200m above sea level. I woke up several times in the night, panicking, hyperventilating and struggling to breathe. I’m not normally prone to anxiety or panic attacks but I will not take anyone who does lightly again.
At high altitude, the strangest things enter your mind and set you off. I had to repeat to myself over and over again that I was a rational person and that I was not going to die in my sleep.
Today we dropped a whopping 1000m to 4200m. I felt the benefits immediately. The pounding in my head disappeared and I could walk more than a few paces without panting. My left eye was still hallucinating but I was confident that would fade as we descended further.
Day 12: Tengboche
Today was a short 4 hour descent to Tengboche and we were allowed to sleep in till 10am. It’s given me the opportunity to pamper myself so I spend the morning scrubbing the dead skin off my face. My appetite returned today with a vengeance.
I started off with a big breakfast. My first major step to recovery.
I decided to take it easy today and walk at the back of the pack with Henk who has pneumonia. He is in a real state. He made it to base camp but it took everything out of him.
Now that my head is so much clearer, I make up for lost time by taking as many photos of my surroundings as I can. When else will I be able to wake up in the morning with a view of the Himalayas?
After lunch, I decided to walk with the rest of the group. Strangely I’m in a better state than some of them. It’s chest infections all around.
Now we are at 3800m and staying at a teahouse opposite the highest monastery in the world. Seems everything here is the highest something in the world.
I’m at the point now where I can’t stand having not had a shower for this long. I pay £2.50 for a bucket of hot water and wash my body and hair. It feels glorious and gives me something to write home about.
Day 13: Descent to Monjo
Last night’s teahouse was the most uncomfortable yet. The walls were so thin I could hear everyone moving. It sounded like someone was moving house. The beds were so hard. I had the most vivid dream. I dreamt I was in Croatia with Katrina, sailing from Split to Dubrovnik. We were lying on deckchairs. The sun was shining and the water was a beautiful azure colour. I kept complaining about how hard the deckchairs were and Katrina suggested that I may be lying on something. In my dream I sat up to check and woke up in that little dark room on the hard bed.
At least I know what kind of holiday I want next!
Today we made our first real descent day. It was a tough walk downhill as I had changed to thinner socks and the trail was dusty and full of loose rocks.
There were a few near slips/falls in the first hour. Then all of sudden, the trail took a nasty turn and we began to climb uphill for an hour. Not just a slight uphill but a major gradient, made all the more worse because I wasn’t expecting it.
I was stupidly wearing a long sleeve top and it was my thermal jumper no less. The uphill before lunch seemed to go on forever but I derived some satisfaction from seeing how much better I was handling it.
After lunch in Namche Bazaar, we walked downhill to Monjo for another 1.5 to 2 hours. It was a tough walking day and I was extremely happy to have a HOT running shower at the end of it, complete with the most comfortable and cosy beds/rooms we’ve had the entire trip.
Day 14: Descent to Lukla
Today was our last walking day. It wasn’t as tough as yesterday and it was extremely scenic. It felt bittersweet walking today as I knew everything was coming to an end. I walked with Shelly and treasured her company. I feel strange now that I know its time to leave.
I see the faces of the young porters in my head. They were never too far away from us today. They couldn’t have been more than 16 years old. I’m here for an experience, for a personal challenge and this is their life. They don’t go to school, they work to help raise money for their families yet are always ready with a smile for us. One of the them has blue fingers from the cold.
It is humbling to be here and I am so grateful to have met them.
Tonight we had our last meal with them and presented the 5 porters and 3 season guides with a tip to show our appreciation. The others went out to the local bar but I decided to stay in and sleep early. My chest infection is getting worse and my glands are swollen.
Day 15: Back to Kathmandu
We wake up at 5.30am to get ready for the first flight back to Kathmandu. Whether the flight goes depends on the weather. We play cards till about 8am when we see with relief that the first flight from Kathmandu has arrived. It was quite foggy this morning so we were afraid we were going to be stuck in Lukla.
Charlie and I checked into our rooms immediately and promptly proceeded to shower and unpack our gear. To our dismay we were put on the 5th floor of the guesthouse. There’s no lift and lugging our big packs up was a mission. We’ve been so spoilt by our lovely sherpas.
After lunch, Charlie, Chris, Will and I head to Durbar Square for some sightseeing. We decide to take a rickshaw there and I nearly wet my pants.
The road has potholes and is bumpy and there is no order to the traffic in Kathmandu.
Durbar square was a letdown.
I expected an enclosed area filled with temples but it was more of a large busy marketplace with lots of vendors, beggars and some ill kept temples. Nothing like the photos in the Lonely Planet.
We did however, find a Grasshopper cafe where we spent the rest of the afternoon.
We caught another rickshaw back to Thamel and I’m happy to report that it was a much smoother ride hence our very cheesy smiles.
We had a drink in the hotel restaurant while waiting for the rest of our group.
Tonight was our last group dinner and we went to a really nice steak house around the corner.
Unfortunately both Nikki and Rachel were ill with gastro. It was Henk’s birthday today. Happy Birthday Henk!
After dinner, we headed out to the Irish bar for a few drinks.
Then we headed out to another bar for more drinks. The long island ice teas were incredibly strong there.
The girls called it a night by 2.30am while the guys tried to party on at a nightclub called Fire which reminded me of all the seedy nightclubs I used to frequent.
The next day, Kali, Will and I paid a visit to the Monkey temple. Another very overrated tourist attraction.
I suppose we went at the wrong time. The place was overrun by tourists and we only saw 8 monkeys.
We arrived back at Kathmandu Guesthouse in time for me to say farewell to Charlie. Both of us wished we were staying in Kathmandu for longer with the others. It’s amazing how close you get to people on a trip like this.
I said goodbye to Charlie with a heavy heart. Then I hung around the hotel restaurant with Kali, Will and Chris, waiting for the time to come when I had to go to the airport.
I was really happy to get a chance to say goodbye to the rest of the remaining group as they all surfaced around 1.30pm. We met as strangers and parted as friends. Though I may not cross paths with some of them again, I thank them for sharing one of the most amazing few weeks of my life.