Everest Region Trek 2009 – Jim Marx
April 20, 2009
While visiting my son Nick in Vietnam in November, I took a side trip for a 15 day trek in the Everest region of Nepal. I flew to Kathmandu, and on to Lukla to begin the trek. I hiked for 7 days to reach elevations over 5,000 meters or 16,000 feet. For the next five days I hiked around those elevations to the Everest Base camp, Kala Patthar at 5,545 meters or 18, 188 feet, over the Cho La Pass, and up Gokyo Ri. From Gokyo Ri there is a spectacular view of four of the world’s six highest mountains including a great view of Mt. Everest. The last three days were spent hiking back down to Lukla for a flight back to Kathmandu. It was a great experience that I highly recommend.
After completing the Appalachian Trail hike on October 10th, I began preparations for a trip to Southeast Asia to visit my son Nick in Vietnam. I spent the first week in November in Saigon with Nick, and then flew to Kathmandu for a trek in the Everest Region of Nepal. After an overnight in Kathmandu, I flew to Lukla (2,840 meters or 9,315 feet altitude) where I would begin a 15 day trek. Flying into Lukla is an adventure in itself. The short runway is carved into the side of a mountain, and if the plane does not slow enough to make a turn, it will crash into a wall in the side of the mountain.
I had my guide named Bancha for the trek. Bancha is from a village two days walk from Lukla, is married and has a new baby daughter. He is of the Rais ethnic group, not Sherpa. He has made many treks before in the Everest Region of Nepal as a guide and as a porter. Fortunately, in Kathmandu I was talked to Mr. Chet Bhatta Sr. Travel Manager of Himalayan Glacier trekking into hiring a guide for the trek. It worked out well because he provided insight into the culture of the Nepalese and information about the Himalayas I would not have otherwise gotten. Also, there were a few times I may have gotten lost without his guidance; there are very few trail markers, and no white blazes to follow. We started out about noon for a short hike, only a few hours, to Phakding. I’m not sure of the distance, it is not measured anywhere I could find; distance is measured by the locals in time to walk. As the crow flies, on a map it is about 3 miles, but with all the twists and turns and up and downs the trail makes, it could be twice that. Arrived at Phakding and stayed at the Namaste Guesthouse. “Namaste” is the greeting in Nepal when meeting people.
Guesthouses are all along the trail, so there is not need to carry a tent or food or stove. But I still had nearly 40 pounds with all the clothes and camera equipment and miscellaneous stuff that I took with me, plus water. And I always had a couple of Snickers bars in case of an emergency. Guesthouse accommodations were primitive. At the lower elevations they had electricity but the only heat was in the kitchen for cooking, and in the dining room a small stove usually burned yak dung for heat during meal times. At the higher elevations there was no electricity. Everything at these guesthouses was carried in by people or yaks. The food was similar at each place usually consisting of a selection of meals of potatoes, noodles, or rice. My breakfast usually consisted of two fried eggs, toast and mint tea. Lunches along the way were usually fried rice or noodle dishes. For dinner I’ve had yak meat a few times, but normally had lentil or tomato soup, potatoes or rice or noodles whatever I didn’t have for lunch, and local vegetables, and a beer at the lower elevations. I quit drinking beer as I got to the higher altitudes. Another common menu selection is Momo, a Nepalese dumpling filled with vegetables and served with tomato sauce. They can be very good, but it is dependent on the cook, I’ve had very good Momos and some not as good.
The next day we hiked for six hours to Namche Bazar. Along the way I had my first view of Mt. Everest from a spot on a ridge between an opening in the trees. It was not much of a view, but I knew I would be getting much better views of Everest later on. We arrived in Namche Bazar (3,440 meters or 11,283 feet) in the afternoon and settled into a guesthouse, the Thamserku View. We would be here for two days to acclimatize to the higher altitude to avoid AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). Namche is a larger village and sort of a base for Everest Region trekkers. It has many internet cafes, restaurants, souvenir shops, trekking supplies shops, and even has a bank, and a bar that claims to be the highest in the world. Trekkers stop here going both up and down, so the first question asked is: “are you heading up or down”. If you are heading down, then there are all the questions about how difficult it was at the higher altitudes, and how were the views of Everest from Kala Patthar or Gokyo Ri. The first evening I enjoyed listening in on a conversation of a couple of Aussies, one of whom had a failed attempt to climb Everest. He was stopped by cerebral edema and frostbite in his fingers. I was amazed at the detailed knowledge they have of the Himalaya Mountains and who climbed which peak when and details of those assents. The next day we climbed higher in the mountains around Namche Bazar, and then back for the night.
On the fourth day we headed out for Tengboche (3,860 meters or 12,660 ft). Along the way there was spectacular mountain scenery with views of Everest, Lhotse, Ama Dablam, and Nuptse. Ama Dablam and Nuptse were closer with amazingly beautiful views. We arrived in Tengboche in the afternoon but could not find a room. Tengboche has the most significant monastery in Nepal, and they were about to celebrate the most import festival of the year, Mani Rindu. So we headed on to Deboche were we found a room for the night. I had dinner with 3 Russians, one of whom lectured me on the accesses of American life style. He suggested we should learn from the Germans on conservation. I suggested I would go to Germany during Oktoberfest and study their conservation during the day, and drink their beer at night.
The fifth day was a trek to Dingboche (4,410 meters or 14,465 ft.) where we would spend two days again to acclimatize to the altitude. By now it is getting colder at the higher elevations, and the guesthouses are getting more primitive, and everything is getting more expensive. There is ice on the water during the day. Even though it gets quite cold at night I stay warm in my sleeping bag, and hate to get out of it in the morning. The toilets are the squat type, and are flushed by dumping a pail of water down them. The barrels of water to flush them have thick ice by morning that has to be broken through. At breakfast the next day a Dutch man said he had a very severe headache all night and would head back down, he would not go on. I wondered if I did not feel well, would I give up or try to continue on. I know he made the right decision. Fortunately I am still feeling well. I have noticed that many people have a severe cough at these higher altitudes.
On the seventh day we headed for Lobuche (4,910 meters or 16, 105 ft.). There are some steep sections, but we just take it slowly. The trail is still in quite good condition; better than the AT. I figured that they had a thousand years to work on these trails as trade routes, but only 75 years to develop the AT. I’m going half the distance, at half the pace, as I did on the AT; but it is just as difficult because of the altitude.
The next day as we neared Gorak Shep (5,140 meters or 16, 859 ft.) a person came by running, there is a race going on! I’m struggling to walk, and people are actually running. The course record for the Everest Marathon, 26.2 miles, is about 4 hours. After arriving in Gorak Shep, we headed on a six hour trek to the Everest Base Camp at 5,364 meters or 17, 494 feet. The trek was over the Khumbu Glacier which I thought would be on ice, but it was very rocky. Rock debris covers the glacial ice. At the site of the Everest Base camp there was no sign that it was used as a base camp, nor can you see Mt. Everest from the base camp. Bancha said that during the climbing season in the spring, it is very colorful with many tents set up. From this point, it is no longer trekking, but climbing for those trying to summit Mt. Everest. We turned back to Gorak Shep.
On the ninth day we climbed Kala Patthar. At 5,545 meters or 18, 188 feet, it is the highest I will get on this trek. It has a great view of Mt. Everest from about six miles away. In the afternoon, we headed back down and across to Dzonghla for the night. This place is very primitive; the bed I slept on is made of a pile of rocks with a blue tarp over them and a thick blanket for a mattress.
Day ten was a climb up and over Cho La Pass at 5,420 meters or 17, 778 feet. It is a tough rock climb near the top of the pass, and reminded me of the Presidentials in New Hampshire. At the top of the pass, it is a slippery packed snow field to cross. The hike down is difficult due to loose gravel on a steep descent. Spent the night at Thangnak
The hike to Gokyo on the eleventh day was over the Ngozumpa Glacier. It would be easy to get lost here because the trails are not as well defined. The active glacier keeps moving them around. This was a cold and windy day with a few snow flurries near Gokyo Ri. It was the first and only precipitation I had on the trek. In the afternoon we hiked out to Fifth Lake and a view of Mt. Everest. The hike was long and rocky, but not too much change in elevation. There were great views of the mountains and lakes all along the way.
My favorite view of Everest and the Himalayas came on the twelfth day as we climbed Gokyo Ri (5,360 meters or 17,581 ft.) It was another steep climb at high altitudes but so worth it! The views are spectacular. From Gokyo Ri you can see four of the world’s six highest mountains: Everest, Lhotse, Makalu, and Cho Oyo. There are also great views of the glaciers and lakes in the area. I can’t say enough about how great this viewpoint is, among the best I have seen in the world. In the afternoon, we started heading back down toward Lukla to finish the trek. That evening at the guesthouse in Machermo, a boy who also served the food, brought in a tray of yak dung and filled the stove with his hands. I wonder if he washed his hands before serving food again, or even the tray. Given that there are no indoor facilities here, I doubt it.
The thirteenth day was continuing on down. We are making much better time heading down, and the trails get better as we get to lower elevations. Still there are spectacular views of the mountains and steep valleys. We stop at Khumjung for the night. Here while walking around the town I run into a group of people in a yard. They are family of Doma Lama, a singer and comedic actress from Kathmandu. They are in Khumjung for filming a sit-com.
On the fourteenth day we pass on down through Namche Bazar. It is Saturday so they have the market going on. It’s quite interesting to see the locals at their market instead of the souvenirs shops. After lunch here we pass on through and down to Phakding. Here I run into the Doma Lama group again. They are walking back down to Lukla to do more filming. It turns out that the Namaste Guesthouse is run by the sister of her friend.
The final and fifteenth day of the trek is a short hike back to Lukla. We arrived by noon and found Doma Lama’s group filming near the Himalaya Lodge Guesthouse were I am staying. Doma gave me a copy of her latest DVD which is interesting, not as much for the music, but for the video that shows traditional Nepalese life. The next morning my flight back to Kathmandu was delayed due to weather, fogged in. Got out by late morning, again an adventure on the Lukla runway
I spent four days in Kathmandu before heading to India, but that will be another report. Kathmandu seems stuck, not only geographically, but culturally between the Himalayas and India. There are much of both cultures here. The city is also very congested with traffic and very polluted. It is in a valley, so air gets trapped here. One morning while walking to the post office I noticed that there was no vehicle traffic on the road that was congested the day before. As I got near the post office I saw that a group of protesters were holding up traffic. Someone with a motorcycle tried to get through and had it kicked out from under him. The protest was over three boys who were killed allegedly by the Maoists, and the government was not doing enough about it. The Maoist recently overthrew the Nepal Monarchy, and are in the process of forming a coalition government. As the protesters moved through the city, store owners were closing up shop. Some streets had tires and bonfires burning in them to prevent traffic from moving. Congested and polluted Kathmandu is a quite a contrast to the Himalaya Region. Still it has some interesting sights; but I was eager to move on after four days.
If you ever have a chance to trek in Nepal, I highly recommend it, it was an incredible experience. The biggest challenge is the altitude; but just slowing down and taking time to acclimatize will take care of that.
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