It’s been a month since I first set foot on the soil of Nepal. After many hours of travel, I arrived at KTM excited to see a sign from Embark Explorations greeting me. I was also welcomed with a traditional marigold garland which I thought was really cool. I tried to save it but it ended up getting moldy.
After seeing Shannon (a friend from Sacramento but someone I consider a mentor after she helped me prepare for Kilimanjaro and get through other life stuff) and settling in for the night, we woke up the next day, April 1, for a day out in Kathmandu to see a few cultural spots. It was actually Easter at home but that wasn’t being celebrated in this country. First we had a briefing on what was to come with the trek schedule. Then out with the group for a long but still very interesting day seeing beautiful stupas, cremation areas along the polluted Bagmati River, and we were blessed for a good trek by the sadhus.
Monday morning, April 2, we got packed up for our first day of trekking. We had to make sure our luggage was under 26 lbs for the flight and then off we went to the chaotic airport for our short 27 min flight to Lukla. I had read the Lukla airport was the “world’s most dangerous airport” so part of me was anxious, but once we were in the air I was so excited. The views were beautiful and we were about to embark on an incredible adventure. It was exhilarating. When we arrived to the very tiny airport, facing the mountain with a “welcome” sign ahead of us, it all became very clear we made it and this was the beginning of an 11 day journey.
Since you are likely not going to know or recognize the names of the towns we stopped in each night or know where they are, I’m not going to bore you with those details. I’ll include a map of the trail as this will give you a better idea of the route. What I will go into is how magical each day was. And some of the things I experienced trekking in the Himalayas, something I never thought of doing until it became an opportunity with Team in Training.
Every single day felt like a dream. Just pure awe and amazement as we trekked through these gigantic, picturesque and snowy mountains. Who knew I would fall in love with mountains? I’m a beach girl. It sounds so cliche, since I’m from California. I do love being outside, being active and being in the mountains, but the Himalayas were pretty stunning. The first couple days were warmer, green and lush. A gorgeous, crystal blue river flowed by us. I actually felt like I was hiking in California for a bit. We went across several suspensions bridges, one of them being about 2,500 ft high. You definitely don’t want to be afraid of heights for this. And so did donkeys and yak. Yes, these large animals carrying packs on their back also crossed these bridges. Some of the buildings and hotels or tea houses reminded me of chalets in Switzerland, Austria or those sort of countries. As we hiked further up the mountain, the landscape changed and so did the weather. Less trees and bushes. More clouds and cooler temps. Fluffy snowflakes. Then no trees and just rock, mountains and snow. It definitely was magical.
Each day we would hike to a tea house for lunch, fuel up on dal bhat or noodle soups, Sherpa stew or rice or whatever carb heavy items they had on the menu, then continue on to our tea house for the evening. Most every place had the same variations of foods. Some people got bored after a while. I just looked at it as fuel needed so it didn’t bother me. I just eat. We also had lots of tea…black tea, green tea, mint tea, ginger tea, ginger lemon tea, lemon tea, Sherpa tea…all kinds of tea.
We hiked for several miles each day. It wasn’t as structured as Kilimanjaro was. What I mean by this was the guides weren’t telling us to slow down, “pole pole” or to keep the pace slow each day. So sometimes we hiked pretty briskly if it was flat. There were definitely times where we had long durations of inclines and it wasn’t necessarily easy, so we had to slow down. We also didn’t have vitals taken as routinely as we did in Kili. But we did casually use the oximeter for several days just to get an idea of our heart rates and oxygen.
We would go to bed around 7:30pm after a long day of hiking and eating dinner. It seems so early but we were tired. Dinner also consisted of the same types of items as lunches. More potatoes and eggs but pretty much the same carbs and veggies. Basically we were on an all veggie diet for 11 days.
Going to bed early meant I always woke up early (like I do at home, except even earlier) and would itch to see a sunrise. Depending on where we were, it was difficult to see one. But on Day 6, I got up at 5:30am and knew I’d get to see a glimpse. Kelly got up as well and we stood out in the brisk snowy morning air and watched as the sun rose over the mountains and it was just a gorgeous sight. I couldn’t even capture it in pictures.
On Day Two, I had a mini anxiety attack. There were plenty of donkeys and yaks carrying items up the hill and would pass us frequently. Well, actually, it was proper etiquette to let the animals pass you. This particular day there was a porter leading his donkeys and the one at the end of the line was moving slow and he kept hitting it. The noise of the stick hitting the animal was making me cringe. Then the donkey would make noise. I was having a hard time. Then a porter coming down the opposite direction pushed the donkey out of the way and it caused the donkey to fall to its knees. I lost it. Seeing the porter abusing the animal and then it falling and him still wanting the animal to push up the mountain, I just couldn’t handle it and took off. I couldn’t be behind them any longer, witnessing this treatment. So I bolted to get away from it. Kelly went with me and we marched ahead. I just couldn’t stop because I didn’t want the animals to catch up. So one of our guides went with the two of us and we headed off on our own. Later that evening, one of the other gals in our group told us that porter kept hitting the animal and it stopped moving. The animal collapsed. She even got mad at the man. He kept hitting it and it was bleeding. So one of our guides asked him to stop and feed the donkey and give it water. I am so glad I did not witness that. I was almost in tears as it was.
Our guides and porters were amazing. It was a much smaller group than the 40+ crew we had at Kili. We didn’t need all those people because we were staying in tea houses and didn’t need personal tents, food tents and bathroom tents set up each day. Everything was in each tea house. We had small rooms with a bed and blankets, some had private baths and some didn’t, and all the tea houses had a large dining area with a wood stove inside, that they used dried yak poop as fuel for the fire. It was all very simple. They also all required us to order our dinner an hour to two hours before it was served. With breakfast, we had to order the night before, right after dinner. It was almost like Groundhog Day each day…the same eating routine daily. The few porters we had carried our bags up the mountain each day and it was like a breeze for them. They each carried 3 large duffels. We also saw many porters each day carrying supplies, food, large pieces of furniture, mattresses, huge pieces of wood, heavy rebar, pretty much anything that needed to be taken up to tea houses or villages as well as all the way to Base Camp for the village there.
A point of interest was Namche Bazaar. We stayed here for 2 nights going up to acclimate and then 1 night coming back down. Namche has a salon, coffee shops, restaurants and bars. It’s a little town but has plenty for everyone to relax and do some shopping if they need literally anything for their trek. Wifi was a huge thing here too. You could get high speed internet for cheap. We also had the most delicious coffee drinks and pastries at the Sherpa Barista. On the way down, a few of us went to the Irish bar and had some shots and local beers to celebrate and, boy, does that altitude get to you! It also made us want to shop at the local Sherpa brand apparel store across the way. It was a great, silly night.
So you probably want to know how my body felt and acclimated to the altitude. With Kilimanjaro, I felt amazing the entire time. Never felt sick; no headaches…nothing. But I did take diamox the entire time. And we did hike slower. With this trip, the guides didn’t make it part of their daily routine to ask if we had taken it or give too much advice about it. They kind of left it up to us. So I decided to just not take it until I felt I needed it. I don’t like taking drugs in my normal life (I know, if you asked me in the 90′s, I’d have a different story), so I preferred not to take the diamox until I felt symptoms. It wasn’t until April 7th, Day 6, after lunch that I started to feel a little bit of pressure, if that’s what you want to call it, in the front of my head, but I toughed it out and hiked the rest of the way to the tea house in the cold and snow. I wasn’t sure if it was altitude related but I decided to take diamox the next morning, which was the day we were heading to Base Camp. By this time most everyone was already taking it and had symptoms already. I didn’t want to risk feeling super shitty, so I took it hoping I would feel better. Now, at this point I didn’t feel terrible. Maybe I was at 90-95%, but you never know what can happen in altitude and I didn’t want to find out. The next morning, we set out on our trek to EBC in the cold, snowy air. A lot of other groups were on their way as well. I was fine all morning til after lunch after we had noodle soup, well, they called it RaRa noodles with veggies. I thought maybe it was the soup, but honestly altitude can really screw with you. I was a little slower going from the Gorek Shep tea house to Base Camp, but made it. My stomach was feeling a little funky so I took my personal pictures, pics with the group, was as excited as I could be, and then I took off back to the tea house with John and Mark. All three of us were struggling with stomach issues. We thought it was the soup, since we all ate the same thing, but I’m sure it was just a symptom of being in altitude. I had to stop several times to use the rocks as a toilet (yeah, I know…gross, but what else are you going to do when you’re in the wilderness?). We made it back to the tea house and I was beat. The altitude can be nasty. I’m just glad I didn’t feel nauseous or have terrible headaches. I didn’t eat much that night for dinner, but I did snuggle up with a dog that was sitting next to me in the dining area. I literally laid down on top of him because I needed some dog lovins to make me feel better. A lady from Iceland next to me seemed grossed out when I laid on top of it and said “The dog is so dirty!” and I said “I’M dirty! Who cares?” I honestly didn’t care. I had been hiking without a shower for days and lying on top of a snuggly, friendly dog made me feel better.
That night was tough, not just for me, but for almost everyone. We had a hard time sleeping and our hearts were racing and I couldn’t catch my breath. I woke up several times to go to the bathroom and each time you go back to climb in bed, your heart is beating so fast. It’s kind of crazy. I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I then had to prop up some balled up clothing behind my head so I could try sleeping straight up. By the next morning my appetite was coming back slowly and then we started our trek back down the mountain. Once you start hiking back down you almost immediately feel better.
A few tidbits -
Showers…so I never had a shower or washed my hair for 11 days. Wet wipes work great. You wear the same 2-3 outfits the entire time because you can’t bring much. Yeah, to do this type of adventure you have to be very ok with being semi-dirty and sweaty and not really ever being clean for several days.
Water: We were told to drink 3-4 liters of water each day. I tried very hard but probably only drank 2-3 liters, which included electrolytes. You can pay for bottled water along the way, which gets more expensive the further up the mountain you go, but I decided to use aqua tabs to purify water from the tap and it worked!
Bathrooms: Well, if you are squeamish about dirty, stinky bathrooms, you won’t like this. Most are not western toilets…just holes in the ground that you have to squat over. Some would make you want to gag, especially when you aren’t feeling good. And we had toilet paper and tissues on us at all times. Can’t leave “home” without those essentials!
Dogs: So. Many. Cute. Dogs. Seriously.
Honestly, if you like camping or don’t mind getting dirty, you will be fine on this type of adventure. It’s just a long camping trip.
Everest Base Camp
I probably would never have gone on this trip (or Kilimanjaro) without Team in Training. I mean, maybe at some point I would have done Kili, but EBC was never on my radar. Also, Embark was a great reason for me going on another trip with them. They’re such a great organization. I highly recommend them. www.embarkexplorationco.com
We were told “The mountain has magnetic power and energy” which now that I’m back and even while on the trek, I believe. I can’t really explain how incredible the trek and journey was. I will definitely hold it close to me for a long time. Even though I wasn’t feeling 100% when we reached EBC, it was still pretty amazing what we all did. Not only did we do this individually, but as a group, all 19 of us made it! And a lot of money was raised for Climb2Cure.
I learned a lot about myself on this journey. There’s a spiritual discovery that happens if you allow it. I feel like I am still amazed by the things I can accomplish. I didn’t earn a medal at the end of this trek, but I definitely took home much more. It’s a beautiful thing.