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There’s one main way up to the Nepalese side of Everest, and this is it – and out here you can forget about roads, cable cars or trains. Every single item in the Khumbu – from the cornerstones of Western trekking (bottled water, Coke, Snickers, Pringles and toilet paper) to the bed you sleep on and the toilet you, er, go to – has to come up this two-metre wide dirt track, on the back of man or beast.
Everyone, and everything, starts out in Lukla, and we were no exception. The airport here is a slab of tarmac slowly falling off the cliff edge; it’s got a reputation. Planes literally take off down the runway, sliding out of sight and off the cliff, relying on morning updraft to give them a boost in the thin air. There’s no such help barrelling out of the sky, fully laden out of Kathmandu – as terror firma looms you can only cross your fingers, or yourself.
Hearts in mouth, we bumped to a halt. The doors of our tiny aircraft were thrown open, and the warm, diesel-scented fug we’d carried up from Kathmandu drained out, replaced with cool mountain air. We clumsily disembarked, blinking in the clear light. Our adventure had started. The next week would see us to Phakding (2,610m), the Sherpa capital of Namche Bazaar (3,440m), the monastery of Tengboche (3,860m), the outpost of Dingboche (4,410m) and the desolate Lobuche (4,940m) before striking for Everest Base Camp at 5,364m. After Base Camp we’d head back to Gorak Shep (5,140m) before having a crack at Kala Patthar, weighing in at 5,550m.
Finding our pace up Lukla’s dirt-packed high street, there was a sudden lull in conversation. Everyone was silently taking stock: were these boots broken in? Was twice-a-week at the gym enough? What the hell was going on with this trekking pole? “Jam Jam,” exclaimed Raj, which appeared to translate as: “Enough looking at the view, let’s walk.” But that was hard – this is a land with a lot of view. From Lukla we snaked up the course of the Dudh Kosi River, via a night at Phakding and into the Sagarmatha National Park – gradually climbing through rhododendron forest to reach the high Sherpa citadel of Namche Bazaar. Namche could be straight out of Lord of the Rings – bright buildings cling to the side of a mountain, centered on a large white Buddhist temple – and it’s all about shopping (provisions for those on the up, souvenirs for those heading down), a first view of Everest and a last hot shower.
After an acclimatisation day (walk high, sleep low) we found ourselves on the move again, zigzagging through more forest to reach Tengboche monastery. If Namche was Lord of the Rings then this was Tomb Raider. When we rolled up, the sky was storm-dark; young monks in sleeveless, dark-red robes skidded around on freshly-fallen snow as we retreated, shivering, into the wooden lodge for dhal bat and vivid dreams.
The next day brought an incredible sight – described by banker Eric as, “the most breathtaking morning of my life”: the snow was still on the ground, but the storm had passed, replaced by clear, blue sky and a perfect view of Everest. We made quick progress, sliding down the track, pointing at the Big One and dodging volleys of snowballs from our good doctor. As the day warmed, the snow faded, to be replaced with the looming presence of Ama Dablam. The trail would take us directly beneath its western flanks, to Dingboche – a town on the very edge of existence.
Later, admiring the moon rise over Ama Dablam, the cold, clear night drove us inside to seek sanctuary beside the lodge’s yak-dung burning stove. Battened down for the night, the lodge felt more like a moon colony than a tea house, with one-metre thick granite walls, narrow corridors and dim, solar-powered lighting. Woollen Nepali hats had sprouted on the heads of most team members and Sigg bottles had finally come into their own – as makeshift hot water bottles. After a second acclimatisation day we left our little moon base, weaving uphill before breaking out onto a high plateau and passing through the field of memorials to those who have never returned from Everest; here are a lot of monuments. Above us lay Lobuche – at nearly five thousand meters it was our final night’s stop before Base Camp.
Other blogs for this trip
- Everest Base Camp
- Everest Base Camp Trek - March 2010
- We made it!
- Everest Base Camp 11th March 2011
- Everest Base Camp Trek - 4th November 2011
- Everest 2011
- India: Exploring the great north/south divide
- Everest Base Camp: Experiencing the real Nepal
- Everest Base Camp 2nd April : Anyone going ???
- All the hard work is worthwhile on the Everest Base Camp tour
- everest base camp 'base camp buddies'
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