Nepal Series: Trek to the Foot of the Top of the World (Part 1)

The Everest Base Camp Trek Diary of a Non-Mountaineer

I almost always bring with me my travel journal during out of the country trips. Before a trip, I write there every single place I want to see, flight schedules and fares, hotels, and other interesting things I find through research. During the trip, I usually write down expenses and then stick in the available space random things such as tickets, boarding passes or stickers from the trip.

For the 12-day EBC trek however it served as an outlet. At the end of every day I write down whatever I find significant, every frustration, self reminders, and learnings because I do not want to forget any of it. I find that this also allowed me to start fresh the following day. I haven’t gone through those same pages in the past 8 months and reading everything I wrote again made my mind wander, and made me laugh while realizing that, hey, I survived!

Below (except for day 0) is a more decent, more detailed and a little longer version of what’s in my journal to give you a glimpse of how the EBC trek was for the untrained, and how important it is to have great company and a great guide. Dedicated to the friends who have been asking me about the trek even until now and to those expressing interest in doing this. May you all learn from my mistakes. Hehe 🙂

Day 0: Kathmandu

Elevation: 1400 m

I have this annoying habit of worrying too much. Since I arrived in Kathmandu I kept on thinking of cancelling the trek as I think I cannot do it.

Yesterday, someone in the dorm just returned from their trek with a bit of bad experience and it was not something that I should be hearing at this point in time. She was flown by helicopter down the mountain as she suffered altitude sickness. Oh my gosh, all I can think of is, what if the same thing happens to me?!

Yesterday, I was also introduced by Uzol to Mark and Tyler and I told them with a lump in my throat that I may not continue with the trek anymore as I don’t want to have anyone waiting for me. I knew I won’t be able to keep up with them as they are all athletic guys and I was like at level negative 10 or lower in terms of athleticism. Mark said, it’s not a race anyway, and it gave me a little sense of hope that maybe I can do it.

“Mental toughness is the key.”

Today, we all met again to finalize things. To help my body cope with the thinness of air as we go higher and prevent altitude sickness Uzol adviced that I start taking acetazolamide tonight. A few hours after taking it, I felt sick in my stomach, feverish and weak. I took a nap hoping it’s all gone the moment I wake up but it wasn’t. It turned out, it wasn’t for me. With those side effects, I cannot exactly rely on acetazolamide to make me feel better during the trek and I can’t start the trek tomorrow feeling like this.


 

Day 1: Kathmandu to Lukla to Phakding

I woke up today feeling better. The four of us met at the airport and there I held in my hand the dopest boarding pass I have seen thus far.

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We were taken by an airport shuttle to our small 12-seater Tara Air plane. There were no designated seats so we took whatever was available. I was seated at the very back of the plane – to my left was the one and only flight attendant and to my right was Tyler. Uzol and Mark were able to get the last two seats on the right side of the plane, just in front of us. We took off at 9AM.

It was a short breathtaking plane ride. Although it was a bit cloudy, we were given a glimpse of the Himalayas, the rest of Nepal, and I am just glad that I was there to witness it with my own two eyes.

A few minutes later, we were ready to land. The plane was suddenly nose down, avoiding the mountain we just passed while aiming for the end of the 470-meter runway of Tenzing-Hillary Airport (also known as Lukla Airport) located just a few meters from the bottom of the mountain. On the other end of the runway is the village. You miss either way and it’s a disaster. No wonder this is listed as the world’s scariest and most dangerous airport.

At 9:30 AM we have safely landed.

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Elevation: Lukla, 2880 m

From the airport, we walked a few meters to one of the tea houses for breakfast before we start our trek to the village of Phakding where we will spend the night. Here I was introduced to what locals call the ‘Nepali flat’. We were to spend the night at a lower altitude so technically we were going down. But Nepali flat pertained to a terrain that is bumpy – you go a little bit up and a little bit down.

Elevation: Phakding, 2660 m

1:30PM and we were at Snowland Lodge, Phakding. I did not expect that lodges up here on the mountain would be this good. Rooms are more decent than I imagined they would be and is warmer inside even without heater.

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Upon arriving at the tea house we had snacks then took a rest for a while in our rooms. I wanted to take a bath but I realized how cold the water is up here. I resorted to using wipes instead just so I could freshen up.

At dusk, we gathered at the common area, the boys taught me to play cards and we had dinner. I think I drank about three liters of water today and I feel relatively good. Not feeling anything bad yet so that is a good sign.

iPhone Health App Data – Steps: 15226; Distance: 9.7 km; Flights climbed: 41

 


 

Day 2: Phakding to Namche Bazaar

Elevation: Namche Bazaar, 3440 m

I thought this day was going to be my death. Today, was not a Nepali flat day, my friends. Today, was more about a zigzag-uphill-trail-and-a-lot-of-suspension-bridges day. My legs and lungs are so goddamn tired. Some older people I think were doing it faster than I did. Uzol was usually on my side saying, “You’re doing good” but sometimes I feel like he’s so bored already because he can climb that up easily in less than half the time. All along I was just thinking of Monica’s advice to do it in my own pace.

Less that halfway through the trek, it started to drizzle. We crossed some of the many long suspension bridges we will be encountering throughout the trek and it was not that bad. The bridge was wobbly whenever someone stepped on it, a lot wobblier when a lot of people are crossing and a little more chaotic when the yaks start joining in but it was manageable. While on the bridge I cannot help but marvel at the beauty I was surrounded with and I was reminded that every pain was worth it. Though this is not for anyone with fear of heights or someone who gets dizzy easily. Upon crossing the bridge, I find it funny that the earth felt like it’s still moving whenever I continued walking.

After three hours, we arrived at the tea house where we had our lunch just in time when the rain poured. Then we were on the trail again to Namche Bazaar. The trail got a little steeper each time and the uphill terrain seemed unending.

At one point I stopped and told Uzol I felt uncomfortably cold. My hands felt like they were freezing and unknowingly my shirt under my rain jacket was already drenched in sweat. That was when I felt truly scared. I could be sent home a little earlier than expected.

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A few hours later, after seeing nothing but the trail, rocks and surrounding trees, we finally arrived at Namche Bazaar. Seeing the village gave me a sense of achievement. This was something I used to only see in movies and I am here.

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We had to climb a few flights up to Camp de Base where we will be staying. It was again another struggle but after what I have been through today, I told myself to just put one foot in front of the other because up there, at the end of the flight of stairs, my room is waiting for me.

Upon arriving at Camp de Base’s common dining area, we had some tea and Uzol instructed me to change my sweat-drenched clothes immediately. In this village we got to enjoy our first hot bath in our own room and it was so satisfying. I haven’t been more thankful for a hot bath in my entire life. Afterwards, I was in a better condition than when we arrived.

“Dal bhat power, 24-hour, no toilet, no shower.”

For dinner, we all ordered dal baht – a traditional Nepali meal consisting of lentil soup (dal), and steamed rice (bhat), served with vegetable curry. It was definitely one of the best dal baht I have so far tasted. We ate like there’s no tomorrow and asked for a few more servings of dal. The food was gone long before I could even take a photo of it. A mountain of plates was all that was left on our table.

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Then we spent the rest of the night playing cards. In the midst of our game, after laughing at the jokes of the goofy guys I was with, I felt my hands, arms and the left side of my face numbing. This normally happens to me when I laugh so hard that I have a hard time breathing. But up here, I did not have to laugh so hard for that to happen because of the already thin air. I am thankful for having these great guys as my companions but I could literally die here laughing. And I don’t know if that is funny or tragic.

 

iPhone Health App Data – Steps: 20911; Distance: 13 km; Flights climbed: 174


 

Day 3: Acclimatisation Day

Elevation: Khumjung Village, 3880 m

Today was our rest day, the EBC way. We started the day with a 2-hour uphill climb to Khumjung Village. I am more breathless with each step that sometimes I get so surprised when I get to where we’re supposed to be.

It is amazing to learn that even at this altitude there were still villages. Going up and down the mountain from one village to another is a part of the local’s lives here, no wonder they are so strong.

We passed by Sir Edmund Hillary School, had lunch in one of the tea houses, visited Khumjung Monastery and there we saw what they say is a yeti skull. Later on, we were on our way back to Namche Bazaar thru a different trail, which passes by the luxurious Hotel Everest View, one of the highest placed hotels in the world.

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Had the sky been clear, we would have probably seen one of the best views during our trek. It got so foggy afterwards that we could barely see anything. It was only when we were nearing Namche Bazaar that the clouds cleared up a little and we took delight in the bird’s eye view of the village.

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Back in Namche Bazaar, we watched the film ‘Sherpa’ in Cafe 8848 while sipping a cup of hot coffee, had dinner in Camp de Base and capped of the night by playing asshole.

It was relatively a good day.

iPhone Health App Data – Steps: 18842; Distance: 13.8 km; Flights climbed: 88


 

Day 4: Namche Bazaar to Deboche

Elevation: Deboche, 3820 m

We took a different trail today with a lot of straight downhills and straight uphills, like a sadistic version of the Nepali flat. Most of the time I did not have my jacket on as I’d feel warmer when trekking. But then my hands confuse me when they feel cold and I would put on my gloves or tuck them in my jacket pocket for warmth. I did this jacket on, jacket off routine a couple of times like I was training for Karate Kid.

For a little consolation, I told myself, at least today there were times I got to cope up with Tyler and Mark. And the most important part of it all, although the skies were not that clear, we were rewarded with some nice views. We were not able to see Everest, Lhotse and Ama Dablam from the trail because of the clouds but it would do for now.

This was the day I felt like crying while on the trail. Partially because the trek is hard and I do not even know why I am doing this to myself. Partially because I would rather be here than anywhere else and it hit me that I did not want to come back home yet. And we were already four days in.

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We stopped for a while in Tengboche for tea then headed to our tea house in Deboche. Along the way, we saw a man being carried by two other men to the nearest village where the helicopter could fetch him. He could barely stand on his own. I can’t even tell if he’s still conscious. All I could think to myself was, so this is how altitude sickness is.

The tea house in Deboche is so far the simplest place we’ve stayed in but it still is not that bad. There is a shared bathroom in both of the two floors. An additional fee would be needed for when you want to use the hot shower but with my condition today, I would not even dare take a bath because at this altitude, it is definitely a lot colder.

Tonight, I noticed that the numbing of my limbs were more frequent than before. And it only happens whenever we are at the common room. The heater is a central yak-dung burner. I just realized that our source of heat was stripping some of the oxygen in the room as it burns that’s why I am more prone to numbing.

The night commenced with our usual activities. It dawned on me that my water intake today was only 3.5 L when at this altitude I should be drinking a lot more. I’ve got to up my drinking game tomorrow if I do not want altitude sickness to kick in.

iPhone Health App Data – Steps: 21736; Distance: 15.6 km; Flights climbed: 110


 

Day 5: Deboche to Dingboche

Elevation: Dingboche, 4400 m

I slept well last night but my body felt more exhausted even as we were starting our trek. I could feel the cold air even with the layers of jackets I had on.

More than halfway our trek my head started aching. I immediately told Uzol and he lent me his extra beanie he had in the top pocket of his rucksack, saying that he was kind of expecting it would happen. I d to protect my head from the cold wind since.

Then, we were not too far from Dingboche when I tried catching up with the boys, walking faster than usual, and I felt a sharp pain through my forehead and right part of the base of the skull. There were times I felt like I was about to blackout. All along I was just thinking that with every step I make an effort to take, I am closer to our destination. I learned the hard way to take it seriously when they say do not exhaust yourself and do it in your own pace. One wrong move and you could mess yourself up.

Upon arriving at Everest Resort, I stayed in my room with my head still aching and it continued even after four hours later. Then, I figured out that the headache may have also been caused by insufficient water intake. At 5PM, I only consumed three liters of water since we left Deboche. That is already two consecutive days of low water consumption.

I tried to drink more water, took a nice hot bath and I felt better at 6PM.

iPhone Health App Data – Steps: 18398; Distance: 13.7 km; Flights climbed: 71


 . . . to be continued 🙂

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