Ticking Everest Base Camp off the Bucket List

 

Blogger Arun Prerna

 
 

Last Christmas, I got a message from my colleague asking whether I would be interested in going to Everest Base Camp (EBC) in April. I instantly replied with a ‘yes’ as EBC has been on my bucket list for a fairly long time and wrote back saying that this is by far my best X-Mas gift. 

 
 
Gradually, a twelve member team from India, Singapore and Vietnam came together from my organisation to go for this trip.
View from Kalaphattar
 
We were fortunate to have some members from the procurement team. They took up the responsibility of finding the travel operator, insurance and other nitty-gritties. Surprisingly, there is no company in India which provides insurance for EBC trek for Indians as it is considered as an adventure activity. However, after a lot of search we found World Nomads which was willing to offer insurance to Indians.

Based in different time zones, my team used to send fitness updates like climbing more than 100 floors, running 10kms, etc. on a daily basis.  I was the aberration who continued with my regular fitness regime of a morning walk. I wanted to go to EBC to not only check my current fitness level but also see with how much ease/difficulty I would be able to do this trek. So, improving my fitness level before the trip would not result in accurate assessment. 
Two of my friends had been to EBC earlier, advised me to walk slowly (brisk walking can result in altitude sickness) and rest should be fine. So, I took this advice seriously and followed it.
 
Go Nepal
We arrived in Kathmandu and bought a pair of trekking poles. Later in the day, we sought  blessings at Pashupatinath temple and later also visited the beautiful as well as historic city of Patan. A local festival was being celebrated and we witnessed a group of local people pushing the heavy wooden chariot.
 
 
 
Day 2: Kathmandu-Lukla-Phakding
We took an early morning flight from Kathmandu to go to Lukla (2804m). I was excited about this flight as I had seen on television regarding how Lukla airport has the distinction of being one of the most dangerous airports in the world. It is a short picturesque ride and the experienced pilot ensured that we did not experience any jerk.

The aircraft was really small and the check-in baggage allowance is 10kg per person and hand luggage limit is 2kg. All of us had packed our bags accordingly. 

Once we landed in Lukla, the first realisation was that it was quite windy and chilly. After having a hot cup of tea, we started our trek to Phakding (2610 m). Lush green mountains, frozen waterfalls and peekaboo snow clad peaks made the journey quite interesting. It was the first day of trek and in our excitement we took a lot of photos. It’s a relatively easy trek that takes about 3-4 hours.
 
View from the flight

I had seen a video regarding what’s the correct way of trekking downhill and realised that my walking style was incorrect. Till now, I have been using the front part of the foot to take a step downhill but ideally the heel of the foot should be used while climbing down. I was inclined to correct myself and consciously used the correct technique to walk downhill. At the same time, I used the trekking poles and took help from some of the experienced trekkers in my group on getting the technique of using the poles correctly. I had once used trekking poles in one of my trips and had a wrong notion that it is only helpful for the elderly. In this trip, I realised that trekking poles can take off the pressure from your knees by up to 30 per cent which I felt was incredible. Since I was trying two new things simultaneously, I was struggling but I knew I had to learn the right techniques so that I could benefit from them throughout the trek. And I am glad that I was at ease from next day onwards.
 
We reached Phakding by lunchtime. Since the last two days, I had woken up early to catch morning flights which had taken a toll on me.  So after a hearty meal, I took a refreshing nap. I was suddenly woken up by my colleague and all he said was “let’s go”. I assumed that all of us are going for a cup of coffee as that was the last conversation I heard at the lunch table. But a later conversation which I missed was about trekking to a nearby monastery. I stepped out without my trekking shoes and trekking poles, so after walking for a while in the rocky terrain I realised that it would be sensible to retreat. So I returned with another colleague who wanted to take it easy while the rest of the group continued to climb up the mountain.

I spent my time near the river and enjoyed the serene atmosphere.
 
Day 3: Namche Bazaar (3441 meters) 
Next morning, I woke up to see fresh snowfall on all the surrounding peaks that were visible. We did some stretching exercises before having our breakfast. From here onwards, our long endless treks were to begin and there was no looking back. After crossing a hanging bridge (crossing these swinging bridges was my favourite part of the trek. It was like a refreshing joyride). The view of the valley was phenomenal. It reminded me of the beautiful Betaab Valley in Kashmir, India.
 
 

On most of the days, we were having lunch by 11am and then resume walking. We entered the Sagarmatha National Park and after crossing all the hanging bridges (last one is known as the Hillary Bridge) the steep ascent to Namche starts. The sun was strong and gusty winds were blowing dust. I somehow missed the first view of Mount Everest and continued my journey. We reached Namche Bazaar in the afternoon. It is a relatively big town and one has to get past really steep rocks to reach the place and even within the city wherever you want to go to need to step over huge and narrow rocks.

Day 4: Namche Bazaar 
We stayed another day in Namche Bazaar for acclimatisation. I was under the impression that acclimatisation day would mean a bit of trek but generally a free day. But that surely was not the case.

We all thought that we could start trekking a little late but were told by our guide that leaving early would be better as the weather changes and is not conducive for trekking. So, we left around 7am to go to a museum from where one gets a good view of Everest. We trekked to Tenzing Norgay Memorial Stupa and I got my first view of Everest. We spent some time out there to soak in the views. There is a museum within the complex and some of us went in to have a look. I was engrossed in looking at the photographs and artefacts and soon realised that I was alone in the museum. Hurriedly, I exited and saw my group at a distance. I was able to catch up with my group. We had three guides and only a group of 12 members, yet they were not able to track whether or not someone is getting left behind.
 

We climbed one mountain after another to reach Hotel Everest View. It has an over-priced Café offering amazing view of the Everest and surrounding Khumbu mountain ranges. 
Once we came back to Namche Bazaar, we had lunch and I wanted to grab the last opportunity to have a hot shower. After this point, it is advisable  not to bathe in higher altitude.
 
Day 5: Tengboche (3860 meters)
Snow clad impressive peaks like Lhotse and Ama Dablam kept me captivated. I felt that all of these mountain peaks are worthy of more fame. The trekking trail was more uphill than downhill. On reaching Tengboche, the feel of the place was very different. The town is situated on a green pasture overlooking towering peaks including Everest from all sides. In the evening, we went to the monastery and post dinner, we decided to raise our spirits by going to a nearby bakery and ordered pastries. The sky was star-studded and at the same time, it was really very cold.

 

 


The morning sun left a striking glaze on the snow covered peaks. I just wanted to sit outside for a while to capture the beauty of the place in my mind forever. However, it was difficult to sit for a long time as it was extremely cold. Slowly, my colleagues were out of the lodge and we kept talking about the ravishing beauty of Tengboche.
 
Day 6: Dingboche (4350 meters)
The initial trek is through a forest which is interesting. While all of us were walking, we saw a shirtless guy running fast in this terrain. What was that was our reaction. Soon, we saw a board that Breathless Run- a marathon which is also referred as the world’s highest race was taking place from Kalapathar to Syanboche covering a distance of 22 kms. It was really impressive to see such fit people and we had a long journey in front of us (both in terms of fitness and our trek destination).
 
 

We had lunch at a scenic place and after crossing a hanging bridge, we experienced snowfall. Gradually the snowfall increased and it was getting difficult to trek. Finally, I could see Dingboche right in front of me. Unlike me, a lot of my team members were experiencing snowfall for the very first time and they stopped to take some photographs while I thought of walking and waiting for them under some shelter. There was a snow storm and the visibility became poor. Everyone who was walking along with us came but my team was nowhere to be seen. I waited for almost an hour in the snow and then I realised that I needed to contact the travel operator to find out the name of the lodge so that I can reach there. I went to Khumbu Resorts and spoke to the manager at the reception. He told me that only what’s app message and calls are working, so if my operator has what’s app he can try. So I shared the operator’s number based in Kathmandu and to my horror he did not know where we were staying. None of the other numbers were reachable and this got me worried. After a while, I saw my travel guide from the window walking on the street. I hurriedly rushed out to catch him. I was annoyed that he wasn’t even enquiring about me and just felt that he will find me on the road after such a long time. Then, I came across Kumar, an elderly guide of our group who looked seemingly worried for me. I was glad that I could reunite with the group but at the same time felt that our travel operators (Odea Service & Go Nepal) were so unprofessionally managed. I was with the tour guide and my team before we separated, neither did he tell me that there are two routes (we were staying behind the main street) nor did he realise that I am not there. Unfortunately, my misadventures with this travel operator did not end here.

Once I reached the lodge, I came to know that my colleagues did go out to look for me and then they spent the evening trying to keep me in good humour. I could hardly sleep in the night as the chill had gone into me as I stood outside in snow for a long time. The saving grace was that we were staying back another day which gave me time to recover.
 
 
 
Day 7: Dingboche acclimatisation day
We had to climb two mountains to prove that we were fit enough to reach Base Camp. I did that and came back fast. Then, I went off to sleep in the lodge. I wanted to go and thank the manager at Khumbhu Resort but by the time I woke up, snowfall had started and I did not want to take a chance.
 
 
 
Day 8: Louche (4910 metres)
Next day, we commenced the trek and by the time we had lunch at Thukla, snowfall started accompanied by gusty winds. We also realised that our so- called waterproof trekking shoes did not turn out to be as waterproof as they were meant to be. And wet shoes are a sure shot recipe for disaster but that’s where frugal innovation came into play. We borrowed a candle from the lodge where we stayed and rubbed our shoes with wax and believe me it works.

I got the first glimpse of the Khumbu glacier which is surely the biggest glacier I have seen. Finally, all of us reached Louche.
 
 
 
Day 9: Gorak Shep (5180 meters) and Everest Base Camp (5365 meters)
This is the day  which we were all waiting for and we were all excited. The trek is marked by stones and large boulders and if you are not careful, it’s easy to get injured. I saw a lady and a gentleman bleeding following a slip on these rocks. By lunch time we were in Gorak Shep. We asked our travel guide as to how much time would take to do a to-and-fro trek to Everest Base Camp. Don’t know why he said that it would take 3 hours only (it took us 5 hours). Suddenly the weather changed for the worse and snowfall started. We were basically walking along the Khumbu glacier. The terrain was super rocky and one could see the Base Camp but the situation could be summed up best by saying ‘so close no matter how far’.

 


 

But the moment I reached Base Camp, it felt as if I got an energy booster and all the tiredness vanished in thin air. It was a proud moment that the entire team made it. We spent an hour or so at the Base Camp. This was as close as we could get to Everest (with our current fitness levels) and we were fortunate to get a view of the highest peak of the world. Then, it was time to leave. The return journey was more about mental strength than anything else.

 

 
 
 
Day 10: Kalapatthar (5555 meters) early in the morning and trek down to Periche (4200 meters)We were told that the higher we will go in terms of altitude the less we would be able to sleep as oxygen levels are low. I slept the best in Gorak Shep and decided to continue sleeping though some of my colleagues woke up at 3am and went to Kalapatthar where the temperature was -10 degrees Celsius.
 
 

At 8am, we began our return journey. Again, snowfall started and this time it refused to stop.  Surprisingly, I was super excited as I was looking forward to reach home as soon as possible. After reaching Thukla, we took a different route to go towards Periche. It was extremely windy but the place reminded me of a fairy tale setting. I was walking and day dreaming at the same time.
 
Day 11: Trek to Namche Bazaar (3441 meters) & Day 12: Trek to Lukla (2804 meters)
Now it was all about doing more kilometres which was more downhill than uphill. Keep walking was the simple mantra and to reach your destination. After a week, I managed to take a shower at Lukla. Finally, we celebrated with a lavish dinner and everyone shared their experiences.
 
 
 
Day 13: Lukla to Kathmandu & Kathmandu-Delhi
We were asked to report at 5.30am. It was raining and as we reached the Lukla airport suddenly there was zero visibility. Even after getting the boarding passes, we waited for couple of hours but none of the flights were taking off due to bad weather. We checked the weather forecast for the day and the next day and it provided little hope of any flights taking off. We decided to hire a helicopter to reach Kathmandu. The view from the helicopter was quite nice. The moment we landed at the Kathmandu airport, I realised that the adventure was not over yet. My travel operator forgot to load my luggage in the helicopter. We had a flight in the next 3 hours to Delhi and I did not know how I would get back my luggage. We contacted the operator in Kathmandu and he said that he will try to get it delivered as the earliest. I was not convinced as regular flights were not flying and the time was less. Well, the operator contacted a rescue helicopter and my luggage came in that heli and landed at a hospital. Then, the luggage was picked from the hospital and delivered to me at the airport.


It turned out to be quite an adventurous trip but all is well that ends well. 

 
 

During the trek, I came across some real life superheroes: a blind lady and a man with no legs who was crawling his way up the mountain. They were not only pushing the boundaries but life’s way of telling us that if you set your eyes on a particular goal, nothing is impossible.
 
(Photo courtesy: David Teng, Nikhil Bhargava, Rakshit Punetha & Prerna Arun)
 
 
 
 

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