Nepal Series: Trek to the Foot of the Top of the World (Part 2)

The Everest Base Camp Trek Diary of a Non-Mountaineer

In case you missed the first installment of this article, you can read it by clicking this link.

Day 6: Acclimitization Day

Elevation: Nangkartsang, 4850 m 

We woke up to a beautiful day today.

As we gathered in the dining hall for breakfast, we noticed through the window that the sky was clearer than it was the days prior. I excitedly grabbed my camera, went outside, and took delight in the panoramic view before taking a few shots. It’s the first time since we started our trek that I was able to see the vastness of the Himalayan mountains surrounding us.

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After breakfast, we then commenced our trek to Nangkartsang. We weaved our way through the village and I was already breathless even if I was just walking at my normal pace. There were minimal bumps on the path we were in yet I can feel my lungs struggling. I thought to myself, as long as the headache doesn’t kick in again then I’m still okay.

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Taken on our way up Nangkartsang. On the right is the trail we were in, and on the left in Dingboche Village where we came from.
By the time we reached the uphill trail, I already had to stop every now and then just so I can cope with my breathing. I rested when needed, took a few deep breaths, then walked again. I was frustrated as my feet would like to keep on walking since I’m not even tired yet, but my lungs are not feeling the same. Uzol told be that being upset about it would not help so I tried to concentrate on my breathing instead.

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After a few stops and and a lot of deep breaths, I didn’t realize how high we’ve climbed. By the time I glanced at the village we came from, I was stunned when we were already staring at the massive Ama Dablam in the face. To Uzol, it was not the clearest of days, but it was enough for me for now. Tyler, Mark and I can’t help but be amazed.

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We climbed a few meters more and paused every so often, not to catch with my breathing, but to breathe in the view. Anywhere we look, everything was simply astonishing that I know it could make any non-believer believe in a higher power.

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We continued to climb up, then Uzol and I stopped when we reached about 4850 m as going higher than that may trigger again my headaches. We sat on the ground and stayed there for a few minutes to allow my body to adjust to the altitude. Tyler and Mark, on the other hand, proceeded to clamber up about 200 m more to the peak of Nangkartsang.

 

We were literally in the clouds that I could barely see a thing. There was a point when I could hear a helicopter and asked Uzol if they really still fly even if there’s zero visibility. He just laughed and reminded me that we were so high up, they were flying low where there are no clouds. As we were walking our way down from the clouds, the view became clearer and I was able to see the mountains and the valley again.

 

Back in Everest Resort, during lunch we were treated by Uzol with french fries after our meal. It’s funny to think that last night we were just devouring two bowls of popcorn in the middle of the Himalayas and then today we were able to feast on french fries. FRENCH FRIES! IN THE MIDDLE OF HIMALAYAS! Mark even thought of dipping it in his bowl of dal, saying it’s like poutine, while the rest of us imitated him, and we were in a whole new kind of heaven. This Himalayan poutine Mark invented in the middle of our Everest Base Camp Trek I think will remain as the only and true poutine I know, years from now.

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Afterwards, we had the whole afternoon free to do whatever we feel like doing. I spent an hour or so reading the book I brought with me then we headed to The Himalayan Bakery to join Mark and Tyler for coffee. There we ordered a slice of apple pie and moist brownie with a hot cup of coffee. It’s not anymore new to us that there are cafes in the villages but I did not expect pastries here to be this good.

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We stayed there for some time playing cards while the boys charged their gadgets in the cafe for free. The rest of the night proceeded as usual except for the fact that I actually cried before we went back to our own rooms. I was just overthinking again.

iPhone Health App Data – Steps: 10647; Distance: 7 km; Flights climbed: 63


 

Day 7: Dingboche to Thukla to Lobuche

Elevation: Thukla, 4680 m

We woke up to clearer skies today. We followed half of the same trail we took yesterday then diverted to the left of Nangkartsang. The trail to Thukla was relatively easier than the previous ones we took but breathing was still an effort for me. It followed and traced the side of the mountains we were passing by.

 

After a few hours, we arrived at Thukla and stopped for a few minutes for snacks. From there, I saw Ama Dablam again in all its glory. This has been my favorite mountain to photograph so far. I am just so amazed by it.

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That was the easy part.

Elevation: Thukla Pass, 4946 m

We then had to make our way up to Climbers Memorial from Thukla. I have never loathed a trail in my life this much. From the village, we had to trek up a short slightly inclined trail, which was okay. But after that, was a steep 200-meter climb to Thukla Pass. I stared at it from where I was standing and I was speechless. From afar it looked more like a wall than a trail to me. It was like a giant flight of stairs made of soil, stones, and boulders. Every step I would glance up and see how far I still am from the top, and I fatigued already.

“Put one foot in front of the other.”

I eventually had to remind myself again to just put one foot in front of the other and it will be over. My head ached whenever I forced myself to continuously climb but the ache fades aways when I catch up with my breath. After a lot of stops, a thousand of deep breaths, and tons of encouragement from Uzol, we finally made it to the top.

 

As we rested with the rest of the trekkers, we walked around and looked at the memorials of Rob Hall and Scott Fischer, to name a few. I got shivers down my spine knowing that some memorials are for those who perished as a result of the 2015 earthquake.

 

Elevation: Lobuche, 4800 m

We carried on and made our way to Lobuche. The views were spectacular and it was like that all the way to the village.

 

After that grueling climb to Thukla Pass, the trail to Lobuche seemed a lot easier but since we’re higher, breathing became more of a struggle. I know I can walk for hours still but my body is striving to adjust to the thin air at this altitude. For most of our final stretch to Lobuche, my head has been aching nonstop. Unlike before, it did not fade away when I rested and breathed.

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Mark, Tyler and me, posing for the camera. Shot by Uzol.
Thankfully, we arrived at Lobuche safe and sound. My head was still aching even after we had our lunch but eventually went away after an hour or so.

At dusk, our attention was caught when the setting sun hit Nuptse. It set Nuptse ablaze with a bright golden hue and it was so amazing to watch. We got to enjoy that view for only a brief moment, then the clouds started to roll in.

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After dinner and a short card game, when Tyler and Mark already left for their rooms, I was told by Uzol that he recommends that I do not continue anymore to the base camp because of my condition during the trek today. I will be more at risk to getting altitude sickness if I did. I was only one day away from the base camp and I was so upset as I was already this close only to not get to what I came here for. All my efforts will just be put to waste. The hardheaded person in me contested as a reflex. He then gave me the condition that if I was able to make it to Gorakshep tomorrow without headaches, then he will allow me to proceed to the base camp in the afternoon.

I headed to my room thinking, I should not get a headache tomorrow, I will not get a headache tomorrow.

iPhone Health App Data – Steps: 16658; Distance: 11.4 km; Flights climbed: 46


 

Day 8: Lobuche to Gorakshep to Everest Base Camp (and back to Gorakshep)

Elevation: Gorakshep, 5180 m

I had a hard time sleeping last night due to the cold wind gusting through the crack of the window of my room. My sleeping bag was no good and I don’t think I would have been able to sleep if it wasn’t for the bottle of hot water tucked under the thick layers for warmth.

I woke up just before 6 AM. My room was tangent to the shared bathroom and with the wooden floor, I could literally hear every step everybody makes on their way to the loo. I groggily got out of bed, looked out the window and got thrilled when I saw clear cloudless skies. I rushed outside the tea house and was welcomed by the view of Nuptse being hit my the morning sun.

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After munching a hearty breakfast, refilling and chlorinating our water bottles, and putting on a thick layer of sunscreen on our exposed skins, we were on our feet again to head to Gorakshep.

The trail started with a rocky valley, which was not the hardest but still challenged my lungs every time. Vegetation in this area is close to none. The surrounding was painted with only gray, white, brown, and blue. I never bothered taking my camera out for a few shots in the beginning our trek. All along I was just trying to concentrate on breathing and monitoring my water intake so I would be allowed to proceed to the base camp. I kept reminding myself to take my own pace if I do not want this trek to end badly.

Along the way, I apologized to Uzol for debating with him the night before about continuing to the base camp. He is after all here as our guide to ensure our safety.

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The rest of the trek was spent scrambling through rocks. As we got closer to Gorakshep, the trail became more challenging as we had to cross a hill while walking on that rocky terrain. Some parts of it were okay but some parts were sloped to a 50-degree angle. I was ecstatic when we got to cross that area unscathed.

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Upon arriving at the village, we were welcomed with a beautiful view of Mt. Pumori. On the valley were a group of children playing ball. Throughout this trek I was breathing effortfully while walking, and then I saw these kids still running at this altitude. They’re crazy strong!

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We arrived at our tea house in Gorakshep just in time for lunch. After completing the first part of our trek today surprisingly without headaches, I was given a go to continue with our afternoon trek to the base camp.

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A helicopter seen from the window of the tea house at Gorakshep having a hard time taking off due to thin air.
After lunch was our final stretch to the Everest Base Camp. Before we left, we had to buy bottled water as adviced by our guide because tap water up in this altitude is not as clean that not even our chlorine drops would be enough to make it potable.

After crossing a portion of the sandy dry lake bed, we came across a signage pointing us to the direction of the base camp. I got chills seeing this!

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All I could say about this trail is boulders, boulders, and more boulders. After scrambling our way up, we reached the top of the ridge and traversed through the spine of the mountain. On our right was a panoramic view of the Khumbu Glacier and the Himalayas, and at some point we even saw the peak of Everest peaking through.

Near the end of the ridge, we could already see the base camp down below. The way down was hard because it was steep and narrow. We had to manage passing through it while also allowing those coming back up to pass by.

Elevation: Everest Base Camp, 5364 m

After scrambling through boulders and passing steep, rocky terrains, we finally made it to the base camp! Two nights ago, I was told I should not proceed yet I was able to make it to the base camp safe and sound, thanks to Uzol.

For our guide, EBC may be nothing but rocks. But for someone who has never been there before and who went to do the EBC Trek to actually see it in person, everything was simply breathtaking. Although, it was also when we were already standing there that it dawned on me how risky being there is. The base camp was just below the Khumbu Icefall and anything could move anytime, and the glacier we were on could be swept away in the blink of an eye.

At the base camp, we again met two female trekkers we have been stumbling across for the past days during the trek. We stayed there for a few minutes basking in the view and taking photos, then we had to make our way back to Gorakshep.

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Going back meant we had to again pass through those rocky sloped terrains and scramble through boulders to get to the village. While we were on our way back, we came across this Asian guy who was making his way to the base camp while carrying with him a flag hung from a pole tucked in his rucksack, which made him truly noticeable. After passing through the lake near Gorakshep, that same man hurriedly walked past us with some sort of tissue blocking his nostrils. Out of curiosity, I asked Uzol what was that about and he said most probably the guy’s nose was bleeding due to altitude sickness as he was going way too fast on his way up. There, for the second time during this trek, I was reminded why pacing is important especially on the way up.

As we rested our tired feet in the tea house, for the first time after eight days, I felt my knees truly and absolutely sore. Since I already got what I wanted, which was to go to the base camp, I decided that it may not be the best idea for me to proceed to Kala Patthar for sunrise tomorrow. I told Uzol that if in the morning I wake up with my knees feeling better, then I will do Kala Patthar. Otherwise, I will have to save my knees for the rest of our way down.

Just by climbing a flight of stairs to the second floor where our room was, my knees were already hurting. Our rooms here were the smallest and the most basic in all of the tea houses we stayed in but having a room with a bed where we can lay our heads and tired bodies on is better than nothing at all.

iPhone Health App Data – Steps: 24166; Distance: 16.2 km; Flights climbed: 44


 

Day 9: Gorakshep to Pheriche to Pangboche

Elevation: Pheriche, 4200 m

My knees were a bit better when I woke up today, but I knew they still weren’t in their best condition. I heard Mark and Tyler in the other room preparing for the day, and I just dozed off again since I won’t be trekking with them this time.

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Mount Pumori and Nuptse on a cloudless sky.
I woke up again when the sun was already illuminating the village. I went outside of the tea house and just stared at the beauty surrounding me even if it was freezing cold. The heat of the sun had nothing on the cold Himalayan wind.

After the boys came back from sunrise viewing in Kala Patthar, we started our trek down to Pheriche. From Gorakshep, we again had to cross the hill and claw our way through some rocks before we were able to reach the valley near Lobuche.

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From the trail, we saw the village with the Himalayan mountains in the background. After about an hour and a half, we stopped by the same tea house we stayed in Lobuche for a while to refill our water bottles, then left again.

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180-degree photo of the Himalayan mountains as viewed from the trail to Climber’s Memorial.
This trail was one of my most favorite parts of the trek as it gave us spectacular panoramic views. I can’t help but stop and stare in awe at the gorgeous Himalayas.

About an hour or so later, we reached the Climber’s Memorial.

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The clouds were a bit clearer when we were here a few days earlier, but the views are beautiful just the same. Then, of course from here we had to go back down to Thukla through the steep giant flight of stairs. As Tyler and Mark were hating the way down, I was not entirely loving it but I can do it faster than the way up even with my sore knees as I wasn’t bothered with headache.

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We then took a different trail not too far from Thukla to get to Pheriche. We passed by this lovely valley filled with shrubs everywhere, and I think it’s the only time again that we got to see the surroundings painted with greens. As we were nearing the village, I stumbled as I was crossing the stream by stepping on rocks. I did not hurt my ankle but there was a discomfort on the base of my left foot after that and it slowed me down.

We stopped by Pheriche village for lunch then we were on the trail again to Pangboche.

Elevation: Pangboche, 3985 m

We headed up, back to the trail we previously took on our way to Dingboche, to get to Pangboche where we spent the night. We reached the village about two hours later, rested in our rooms, played cards, and satiated our hunger with a few servings of dal bhat.

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iPhone Health App Data – Steps: 33443; Distance: 21.9 km; Flights climbed: 51


 

Day 10: Pangboche to Namche Bazaar

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It was another long trek day. I woke up with sore knees still and with a discomfort on the base of my left foot.

Today, we got to see the sights we were not able to see when we passed by this trail a few days ago. The sky was so clear that we could see every mountain even from a distance.

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View of the bridge we have to pass through to get to Tengboche from Pangboche.
While we were on the trail, I was reminded of how high we’ve climb up every time I glance down. Bridges we passed by before while on our way up seemed so small and so low from where I was standing.

Upon reaching Tengboche, we went to visit the monastery then spent some time basking in the view.. When we were at this village days ago, it was so cloudy that we could barely see a thing. This time, with clearer skies, we were able to marvel at the sight of Nuptse, Everest, Lhotse and Ama Dablam.

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Afterwards, we were back on that sadistic trail to Namche Bazaar. I noticed that breathing is a lot easier now that we’re going down. The trek today was still tiring but I was able to go on longer without stopping. I was still breathless but it wasn’t that much of a burden for my chest.

After a lunch stop, crossing suspension bridges, and conquering the uphill/downhill terrain, we were back in Namche Bazaar. It’s the third time we got take a bath and can I just say how gratifying it felt. When night came, we drank beer after dinner to celebrate a successful trek to the base camp.

iPhone Health App Data – Steps: 29233; Distance: 21.7 km; Flights climbed: 118


 

Day 11: Namche Bazaar to Phakding to Lukla

After exiting Namche Bazaar, we had to drop by the check post where I got a trek certificate.

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It was still a long way down to Lukla. We had to again pass by a lot of suspension bridges before we arrived at Phakding for lunch.

Our flight was scheduled two days from now instead of tomorrow so we will have to spend a day in Lukla doing basically nothing. Uzol made some calls and if we were able to get to Lukla early, we may be able to catch a flight to Kathmandu today. We all hurried to get back to the airport and halfway through, the fog started rolling in. All flights were later on cancelled as they cannot fly in that kind of weather. We just ended up limping when we got to the tea house because of the stress our knees and feet underwent while we were on our way down.

Once in the tea house, our first agenda was to get some hot tea and to bathe. At night fall, everyone was at the dining hall for dinner. The four of us as usual played cards before and after dinner to pass the time. Later on, the rest of the trekkers started singing and dancing in the middle of the dining hall. A crazy party already started before we know it.

We went to a pub not to far away to escape what was going on in the dining hall. After a  couple of beers and the night was over.

iPhone Health App Data – Steps: 38315; Distance: 29.8 km; Flights climbed: 153


 

Day 12: Lukla

Some flights were still cancelled today.

It was such a lazy day as we had nothing else to do. We just went to the ‘Starbucks’ in Lukla, watched movies, drank coffee and munched on cakes and pizza.


 

Day 13: Lukla to Kathmandu

After almost two weeks in the mountains, we finally got on a plane back to Kathmandu. We were so lucky the sky was clear today. A lot of people were still waiting at the airport due to the cancelled flights the past days.

Upon arriving at Kathmandu, we all got on a cab to our hostels and said our goodbyes.


 

I may be one of the few crazy ones who braved the EBC without much experience in high altitudes. It was not the wisest decision one will ever make but I assure you it’s worth it if you get to successfully complete the trek.

 

I was just lucky I had one of the best guides there is in the mountain that’s why I got to survive. After discussing some details of the trek with Uzol long before we even personally met, I decided to do the trek with him because quite frankly, that time, he was the only guide I know. Since he was still a stranger back then, while I was researching about which agency to book my trek with (for other options hehe), his name would usually appear in reviews from sites such as Tripadvisor. Every time they would say he’s the best guide there is. After our trek, I understood what they meant.

 

Aside from the fact that he’s one of those who fluently speaks English (so communication won’t be a problem), he would always advice what’s best for you and tell you the truth if he has to. When we first met in Kathmandu he already gave me other trek options and warned me about the difficulties I might face if I continue with EBC. When the hard-headed me decided to continue, all along he was encouraging and even corrects whatever I was doing wrong. And as you already know, he knew when he had to halt my crazy desires of going to the EBC when my safety was already at risk.

 

During our trek he was not just a guide to Tyler, Mark, and I but he was also our friend. When we were at the tea houses, he wouldn’t be just someone who would sit and shy away at the corner when the trek is over. He would be there with your group joining the fun. To add to that, he gave us a lot of treats in the mountain when we needed them the most. Come on, who would give a bad review about a guide who suddenly gives your group bowls of popcorn, and french fries in the middle of the Himalayas?! hahaha

 

I was also fortunate that I was with Mark and Tyler during the trek. I never planned this trip with companions (other than the guide) but having these two made the trek extremely fun. I appreciated a lot every encouragement they gave me and all those times they asked how I was doing after each day. In general, it’s not a good idea to arrange treks with people you hardly know as you will have differences in strength, speed, and attitude and that eventually leads to conflict. This was an exception as these two Canadians are the coolest and craziest people you can ever trek with.

 

I will forever be grateful for this wonderful experience and to all the people who made it possible.

 

So, have you decided when you’re gonna go? 🙂

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