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5/30 Mike in Nepal … Trek to Everest Base Camp … Highs and Lows

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“Life is not measured by the breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away”.

5/30   By contributing author and photographer Michael Restivo –  Namaste everyone! Well after two frustrating days in Lukla waiting for a flight I’m back in Kathmandu, and here is, unedited, the 11 day journal I kept while trekking to Mt. Everest Base Camp.  It requires no further introduction, enjoy Mike in Nepal – EVEREST …

Day 1   5/17
Lukla 2840 m (9,317 ft) -Phakding 2610 m (8,562 ft)

So my trek to Everest begins today. I took an early morning flight to Lukla airfield in a tiny Twin Otter. Lukla is a small airport situated on the edge of a 3000 ft cliff. I never expected the plane to fly so low but when we came out of the clouds and saw trees whipping by dangerously close I was caught by surprise.

Lukla AirportOur first walking day took me and Ram, my porter/guide through small Sherpa villages to Phakding, about 3 hours of walking. The Sherpas are some of the friendliest, happiest, and hard working people I’ve ever met. This afternoon I took a mini trek into the hills just out of town and ended up exploring two beautiful monasteries perched high above the river. I got to sit in on a sort of band practice listening to chants, horns, and cymbals. Tonight after dinner I had a nice long chat with another trekker from Holland and spent hours and a cup of Raksi comparing travel stories. Tomorrow a long steep climb to Namche Bazaar and acclimatization days.

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Day 2    5/18
Phakding 2610 m (8,562 ft) -Namche 3445 m (11,302 ft)

Today was what is known as the “Namche Death March”. It was possibly, no, definitely the toughest climb of my life. We set off around 7 AM this morning and followed trails along the Dudh Kosi river. Our trail took us into crossing several suspension bridges each one higher and squeakier than the last. After lunch in Jorsale the last town for 3 hours we started a massive uphill climb. Occasionally stopped by yak herd traffic, we climbed an intense series of uneven stone steps for over four hours. The higher we got the harder it was to breathe. My body was aching and craving for oxygen i couldn’t provide and my breaths are short and hard. We’ve now arrived at Namche Bazaar, a large Sherpa village high up in the mountains. The village is constructed in several semi circular ring descending right off the edge of a cliff. Its cold, but after a steaming slice of apple pie and mint tea, I can think clearly. The town is like a mini-Thamel with trekking shops, internet cafes, and even a pool hall. We will be here for two days to acclimatize and tomorrow take a short trek to higher altitudes to help. At this moment I’m going to crawl under my yak-wool blanket and momentarily beat the cold.

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Day 3    5/19
Namche 3445 m (11,302 ft)

This morning I woke up with a startle. Looking out my window I was treated with the perfect view of Mt Kongde, a HUGE 6187 m (20,298 ft) peak towering right over Namche. I had no idea it had been there because of the fog the night before. After a hearty porridge breakfast we took a small two hour trek to the Everest View Hotel, a rather posh hotel for this region and at nearly 4000 m officially recognized by Guinness as “the highest hotel on Earth”. Our hopes to see Everest were dashed by clouds but we were treated to the spectacular peak of Ama Dablam (6812 m, 22,349 ft) known by many as the worlds most beautiful mountain and by far my favorite. Her twin peaks cut right through the clouds and the snow just sparkles. Coming down from the Everest View we passed through the Sherpa villages of Khunde and Kungjung. Edmund Hillary passed through here after becoming the first man on Everest and built the Sherpas an airfield, a school, and a hospital. Seeing the work he did is inspiring and literally following in his footsteps is exhilarating. We came back down to Namche and I spent the rest of the afternoon reading and staring at Kongde. Around late afternoon I found a pool table with two other American trekkers I met and had a great time. Apparently my lack of skill can be attributed to “the altitude”. So tomorrow we head for Tengboche and I can finally breather again. I feel part Sherpa….
PS: Saw my first yaks today!! Yakyakyakyakyak…

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Day 4    4/20
Namche 3445 m (11,302 ft)-Tengboche 3870 m (12,696 ft)

So the big news today was- I FINALLY SAW EVEREST!! We had a rainstorm last night and the clouds were gone so we could see Ama Dablam clearly and the dark peak of Everest (8850 m 29,035 ft) just sticking out behind Lhotse (8516 m, 27,939 ft) and Nuptse (7879 m 25,849 ft). Our trail took us out from behind Namches hill and we had the spectacular sisters in front of us the whole time. The trail then dipped to its lowest point right by the river and to reach Tengboche we had to repeat, yes, once again face that four hour uphill I had to climb to reach Namche! I’M SORE!! So finally we reached the famous monastery. A lama (high priest) predicted the monastery in the 16th century but it wasn’t built until 1923. The monastery burned down in 1989 but was rebuilt by Ed Hillary in 1991. I got to sit in on a Puja, a buddhist ceremony of cleansing and protection. It was filled with chanting, drums, horns, and incense. It was a deep and beautiful ceremony. The monastery itself is set among the backdrop of the sisters and is an amazing location. Tonight I played cards with Steve, an American, and Les and Bob, two colorful Aussies. So before I close out I have to mention an insane group of marathon runners who are running from Everest Base Camp to Namche in 7 hours (it usually takes 3 days) I just want to say good luck, and I hope you all get your heads when you’re done.

Day 5    5/21
Tengboche 3870 (12,696 ft)-Dingboche 4410 (14,468 ft)

Well I am officially at the halfway point to Everest. We have now climbed well above the treeline and have settled in a dry, arid valley just outside of the Khumbu glacier. Todays walk started with a nice straight path through the last forests we’re going to see for a while. Graced by Ama Dablam to our east and Everest constantly in view to the north we rose and fell through several villages. This afternoon though the scenery dramatically changed. A.D. was eventually covered up by the dry hills and Everest obscured by Lhotse and the path completely disappeared. We found ourselves in the windy, cold, Imja Khola pass. Following the everpresent Dudh Kosi river, the green trees were replaced by sand, rock, and juniper shrubs. After yet another climb (bloody hell) we are now situated at 4410 m in the town of Dingboche. We will be here for two nights of acclimitization and will make a day trek to Chhuking to get used to the altitude. The one thing I can’t get used to is the wind and cold. My sleeping bag has become my best friend here and the temperature is expected to dip tonight. Not that there is much to do around her anyway. I got my first glimpse at Pumo Ri (7165 m 23,507 ft) today way over on the Tibetan border. In three days we hit E.B.C. and Kala Patthar. A note on eating here. We are at about 55% oxygen level here and it takes double the effort just to climb. Thus I am drinking lemon tea and juice to make up for the large amounts of moisture we lost in the dry air and starting to eat double my share to make up for the excess calories i’m losing by the constant climbing. A climber on Everest will eat double the amound of carbs to keep up, but with the oxygen rapidly decreasing that high, the body starts to eat the fat, and then the muscle just to keep going. We’re only getting higher from here…

Day 6    5/22
Dingboche 4410 m (14,468 ft)

Today was acclimitization day in Dingboche before our climb to Lobuche tomorrow. A very simple day with included making a new friend, Jackie, from California, and a very pleasant hike down the Chhuking valley including the climbing of Chhuking Ri, a 5550 m (18,208 ft) peak at the edge of the valley which gave stunning views of Lhotse, A.D. and also Island Peak (6189 m 20,305 ft) its name famous because it appears as “an island in a sea of ice,” After the climb we headed down for lunch, and then cards the rest of the day with the other trekkers. -3 Days to E.B.C.

Day 7    5/23
Dingboche 4410 m (14,468 ft)- Lobuche 4930 (16,174 ft)

After a fantastic two days in Dingboche, we are on the road again and in the cold, lifeless town of Lobuche. We set off from Dingboche early this morning following the pass into the Khumbu valley. Today was cold and wind. Our plan was 5 hours and we spent 2 hours climbing an extremely difficult rise covered in rocks and boulders. At the top of the glacial moraine were the memorial chortens (Tibetan stupas) dedicated to climbers and sherpas lost on Everest. The memorials included Scott Fischer, an American guide lost in the 1996 Everest disaster. It was a silent reminder about the power of the mountain and the bravery of those who climb it. Tomorrow we are finally making it to Base Camp! I came into town today with a pounding headache and my fear was the potentionally deadly AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) but after hot tea, rest, and hydration, I’m feeling much better. 7 days from today I’ll be back in Kathmandu and almost home.

Day 8    5/24
Lobuche 4930 m (16,174 ft)-Gorak Shep 5160 (16,929 ft)

Today at 12.32 PM on 24-5-10 I finally and exaustedly made it to base camp in the midst of a blinding snowstorm. After a very uncomfortable and cold night in Lobuche we woke up to clouds, fog, and 5 inches of snow. We would have to do the trek on ice and rock. To get to Gorak Shep, one must traverse several hills, climbs, and walks along the already ice cold Khumbu Glacier. We arrived amid a throng of people crowded in the lodge dining room and were lucky to find a room (with a door that wouldn’t close). After a hearty noodle soup lunch we set out for base camp. Base Camp is a 2 hour hike north of Gorak Shep which itself was the base camp for the 1952 Swiss expedition.

Nepal - snow trek

We followed steep and narrow trails with the snow stinging and trying not to accidently slip off the side. In the distance we could hear landslides and avalanches from the accumulating snow and after 2 exausting hours of pure snow uphill climbs we spotted the large yellow tents of Mt. Everest Base Camp. We tracked down into a glacial ravine and climbed back up the other side to reach the official welcome sigh at 5360 m (17,585 ft).

To get to the actual base camp site another icy ravine must be crossed and climbed but at this point I was too cold and my legs were stiff so we took pictures and got views of the Khumbu icefall, the treacherous glacier that guards Mt. Everest and its responsible for almost 40% of deaths on the mountain. The other majority of deaths come from the climb DOWN from the summit as most climbers have hit peak exaustion by then. With this in mind I made my way back down the ravine and passed the glacial spires and headed back to the lodge. Walking downhill was easier but when I got back to the dining hall I completely collapsed.

Nepal - Slog

With a lack of energy and an oxygen deprived headache (at 5000 m you breathe about 45% oxygen) I struggled just to sit up and drink tea. After a long nap I now feel slightly improved and ready for tomorrow’s trek home. A climber once said “base camp is like the surface of the moon” and he’s right. Besides the multicolored jackets of the trekkers and the yellow tents of base camp, it’s a sea of white snow and brown rocks dotted with icy blue glacial sculptures. I’m longing to get back into some semblance of civilization. Objective complete, lets go home.

Day 8    5/25
Gorak Shep 5160 (16,929 ft)-Pangboche 3860 (12,664 ft)

I’ve decided I wasn’t feeling fit enough for the climb up Kala Patthar and we’ve weaved our way back down towards Namche. I am not disappointed at all about missing the climb, plus we had excellent weather today and all the peaks including Everest’s summit were in full view today. As we were walking down I noticed a larger than normal amount of search and rescue helicopters flying around including two very large army helicopters in the Khumbu glacier. This means this snowstorm must have turned out something major and I am hoping everyone out there is ok. The trek we took today was a new route taking us through the greener upper hills to the tiny town of Pangboche. We are now holed up at the interestingly named “Everest View Lodge” even though we are 15 miles south of Everest and only have green hills and the everpresent Ama Dablam keeping company. I’d really like to meet the man who came up with that marketing scheme. So tomorrow its back to Namche and a day walk to Thame on the Tibetan border and possibly back in the Kat a day sooner.

Day 9    5/26
Pangboche 3860 (12,664 ft)-Namche 3445 (11,302 ft)

Good news today! We had our last major climb and arrived back in Namche. After settling down in the same lodge and even same room, I was able to reconnect with Steve, Les, and Bob who I hadn’t seen since Gorak Shep. We headed down to the world famous Everest Bakery for tea and decent pizza. We played an Americans vs Aussies game of pool (the Americans won!) and then said our temporary goodbyes but we will find each other again in Kathmandu.

Day 10    5/27
Namche 3445 (11,302 ft) -Phakding 2610 (8,562 ft)

After saying goodbye to my Lukla bound friends we planned to stay another night in Namche and explore Thame, the hometown of Tenzing Norgay, one of the first two men on Everest, and other Sherpa climbers. In truth other then a small Monastery and an Austrian hydroelectric project there was nothing interesting about the town. So after a wonderful momo lunch we decided to pack up and fly out a couple of days early. When climbing down the Namche Death Hill I realized how big it actually was and the achievement alone in climbing it was astounding. We also saw our last yaks today because they don’t survive in low altitudes. But I’ll be “yak” someday (ok I’m really sorry for that) We proudly but sadly made our way through the Sagarmatha park entrance and lost our view of the mountains. After an amazing 10 days its time to get back to reality. Tomorrow Lukla and flight back to “Yak-mandu” (ok I’ll stop)…………..yak!

Day 11    5/28
Phakding 2610 (8562 ft)-Lukla 2840 (9,317 ft)
Well this is where it all started and where it ends. I’m in Lukla looking on cloudy skies envying those fresh faced trekkers just on their way out. When in the mountains you get a size that just can’t be described. Even the ones called “minor peaks” have an unparalleled brilliance and magnificence to any other natural wonder in the world. Everyone comes here to see the main attraction, Everest. But I fell in love with peaks such as Ama Dablam, Pumo Ri, Kongde, Makalu, Lhotse and Nuptse. They are the sisters of the Himalayas with Everest as the star.

I made amazing friends, pushed my body to a mental and physical limit I never knew possible and took myself to (literal) breathless new heights.

There are so many valleys and peaks left to be climbed and explored and I truly see myself coming back here. Climb a peak? Possibly. I come home having had an experience available to a select few and incredibly proud of myself. My guide Ram was top notch, and the friends and moments I made in these 11 days cannot be repeated anywhere else.

When coming to the Himalayas, don’t rush to see the big one. Enjoy the spiritual journey, the warmth and hospitality of the Sherpa people, and humble yourself in the brilliance of the range as a whole instead of viewing “Everest and the others”. Each peak has its own characteristic and charm and like a fine work of art should be appreciated individually. As the sun reflects off the foothills of Lukla and the monsoon clouds roll in I’ll cherish the most incredible 11 days of my life.

Namaste. See you soon.

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