Nepal – Treking to Everest (a viewpoint, not base camp!)

Sometime earlier this year, my friend and I were talking about planning a trip together where we would meet up somewhere in the world – she was coming from Cambodia, I was coming from D.C.  In one of our conversations, she said, “What do you think about Nepal?”  To which I replied, “I’ve never really thought about Nepal.”  Of course, when you’re a planner like me, I dove right into researching options.  With my New Years resolution hanging over my head to take a photo of myself in five interesting places, Nepal sounded perfect because a photo in front of Mt. Everest could easily be one of those five.  But, if you know anything about me, while I feel that I’m quite adventurous, I’m definitely not recognized for being “outdoorsy,” despite growing up in the Pacific Northwest.  So, when searching for Everest options, I wanted to find the shortest amount of trekking possible.

My research led me to Intrepid Travel’s Everest in Full Picture – Basix group tour, a 4-day trek out from Lukla to Namche Bazaar where you can see the top of Mt. Everest from three different viewpoints.  Compared to the 15-day roundtrip base camp alternative, this trek seemed like a breeze!  We signed up and I started to gather all of my supplies for my first multi-day hike ever.  I went to REI thinking I needed to buy one of those huge backpacks, and after describing the hike to the salesperson in the backpack department, he just looked at me funny and explained that I only needed a school backpack sized bag.  Well, we compromised and I got one of the bigger daypacks because there was no way I would wear the same pair of pants for 5 days!  Here are some of the other trek-based things I packed/bought, and whether or not I actually used them:

  • Camelback (3L) bag and bladder – removed the bladder from the bag and stuck it in my camera backpack.
  • Treking conveniences:  trail food, biodegradable TP, sanitary wipes, hand sanitizer – YES!  No toilet paper is ever provided anywhere, nor soap, so all of this was used!
  • Water purification tools: UV sanitizer and iodine tablets (backup), plus extra batteries – there was bottled water for sale everywhere on the trail, so you didn’t need to bring purifiers if you didn’t want to, though not sure what the availability of bottled water was beyond Namche Bazaar
  • Solar iPhone/iPad charger – I used this once to charge my phone, but ended up paying for a full charge (200 Nps.) of my iPad in Namche at our guesthouse
  • Packable down jacket – fortunately it was warm enough I didn’t need this, but good to have and compact/lightweight so didn’t feel I needed to leave it behind.
  • Waterproof lightweight rain jacket and pants – used the jacket on one sprinkle event and when it got windy and I was cold because I was sweaty
  • Dry bag for electronics – ended up just being a storage bag because it didn’t rain enough
  • Non-cotton long sleeve shirts – used all of them because they don’t dry in the cold weather
  • Yoga pants – these worked really well for the hikes, just warm enough and stretchy
  • Thermal gloves – used them once on a windy/cool day
  • Silk thermals – didn’t need to use because my friend got me a loaner subzero sleeping bag, but didn’t feel bad having them in my bag as a backup
  • Body glide for the potential chafing – always good to have!
  • Blister prevention and repair – good to have, but fortunately my shoes behaved
  • Microfiber towel – showers are a challenge, but worth it, so you need a compact towel
  • Hydration powders – not needed
  • Backpack waterproof covers – used
  • Hat(s): baseball cap and winter cap – used the baseball hat for the hike and the winter cap at nights, especially when I couldn’t dry my hair after showers
  • Flip flops for tea house bathrooms – used and definitely needed because the showers were not ideal
  • Physical book – my iPad worked up to Namche because it wasn’t too cold
  • Inflatable mattress pad (Thermarest) – this was my luxury and I loved it.  The guesthouse beds are just plywood with a very thin mattress.  Having an extra layer of cushion was fantastic.
  • Leatherman tool – didn’t use it, probably because I think it fell out of my bag on the trail on Day 2
  • General antibiotic – didn’t need it, fortunately, but it’s good to know what I learned: Nepal is a Cipro-resistant country, so pack a Z-pack or two (Zithromax)
  • Acetazolamide for altitude sickness prevention – took it and had no problems, not sure if I would have had problems whether I took it or not.
  • Some thin rope and carabiners – I left these with my luggage back at the hotel

The day before we were scheduled to depart, our tour group met at the Kathmandu Guest House where Intrepid’s Nepal office is located.  We met our guide and talked about the schedule for the upcoming days and last minute packing strategies.  Our flight was one of the first to depart in the morning, so we kept it an early night, mainly with me trying to pare down my baggage weight to a combined 15 kg – my camera equipment was not helping!  

 

The next morning, we were picked up at 5am and taken to the Kathmandu Domestic Airport to catch our plane to Lukla.  I took a Dramamine just in case because I had heard sometimes the flights can get rough with the mountain winds.  We were told to do whatever we could to get on the left side of the plane because that is the side with the best views of the Himalayas.  I also wanted to sit right behind the cockpit so I could see the approach into Lukla, which is a small, uphill landing strip carved into the mountainside.  The flight was very quick, maybe 45 minutes, and we were finally at our trek starting point, along with many other trekking groups with various destinations, mostly base camp.  

After a quick breakfast at a guesthouse in Lukla, we were off on our short 3-4 hour hike, mostly downhill, to Phakding.  We arrived around mid-day, and I opted to take a nap (due to lack of sleep the night before) rather than do a strenuous hike around the area.  That night, we gathered in the main room and played cards before making it an early night to facilitate getting up early the next day, which was going to end up being the worst day of the four, physically.

 

 


Day 2 kicked my butt.  There’s really no other way to put it.  We had about 4 hours of undulating pathway – uphill, downhill, back up, back down – that included four cable bridges across the rushing glacial waters coming down from the Himalayas, each bridge getting progressively higher.  After that final bridge, I was faced with my 2 hour nightmare – all uphill to Namche Bazaar.  I struggled to take a photo that accurately captured the trail conditions, but suffice it to say, I felt really pathetic taking a break to catch my breath, with my 15 lb daypack, when the local porters were beating me up the hill carrying upwards of 200 lbs of goods (primarily beer, soft drinks, canned fruit juice, and fruit for foreigner consumption) on their backs with only a head strap for support.  You haven’t seen anything until you see a man carry a metal door or a load of lumber up a hill – jaw dropping!  That whole ascent I looked forward to any sort of animal train to go by, preferring the donkeys over the yakows (half yak/half cow) because the number of donkeys was maybe 10-20 per train vs. 3-5 of the yakows.  Pack animal trains meant we had to stand on the uphill side and wait for them to pass.  Finally, after 7 hours (including lunch), we made it to about 11,300 feet to our destination at Namche Bazaar.  While I got settled and took a shower before the hot water was gone, my friend and our other group member scouted the area and came back with good news…we were booked for foot massages at the one licensed massage therapist in the small town.  We are such trekking brats, I know!

The morning of Day 3, our goal was to ascend some more to reach a small hotel on a ridge above Namche.  Before we hiked that trail, we went above the town just 25 minutes to a viewpoint where I was able to get my first glimpse of Mt. Everest.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but Everest wasn’t as large as one would imagine.  Perhaps it’s because it was mostly hidden, except for the rounded peak, behind a ridge (that’s actually a mountain – Nuptse), or maybe it’s because Lhotse to the right, at 27,940 feet, is only 1,100 feet shorter and makes Everest that much less impressive.  Regardless of first impressions, it’s still unbelievable to be in the vicinity of the world’s tallest mountain!  From the viewpoint, I could see the trail that leads trekkers to base camp.  I could also see the incredibly steep trail that we were meant to take to reach the next viewpoint.  Since I was happy with my photographs and the views from higher up would not differ much, I opted to not slow the group down on that 1-2 hour climb and return to the guesthouse.  It actually worked out well because it gave me time to look through my photographs and make sure I got all the shots I wanted before we left for the downhill trek back towards Lukla.    By the way, we were incredibly lucky that it had rained the night before in Namche so that we got beautiful blue skies in the morning.  No other day had better skies than the morning when it all counted, when we saw Everest.

Mt. Everest with snow blowing from the peak (mid-photo, behind the ridge – Nuptse – and to the left of Lhotse)
Kongde

When everyone was back at the guesthouse, we gathered our gear and returned to the same trail we ascended the day before.  It’s interesting because you would think that an hour of going downhill would be really easy, but you start to realize that it’s actually quite challenging stabilizing your downward steps on the rocky path and that your muscles right above your knees get tired after awhile.  We pushed through our original destination for the night of Monjo and ended up in Benkhar to shorten our final day’s journey by about a half hour.  The guesthouse was family run, and I caught the attention of their toddler granddaughter who wanted me to play with her as I sat close to the wood stove in an attempt to dry my hair after my shower (little house of the prairie style!).

Our final day of trekking included passing the spot of our first night, Phakding, then quickly remembering how the majority of our first day of hiking was downhill, which means uphill on the way back.  Our guide played a trick on me when we stopped for lunch, saying we had another hour to go, which was met by my playful grumbling, but very quickly after lunch we rounded a corner and I spotted the white entrance gate to the trail at the top of the next hill.  Such a welcome sight!  Our last night in Lukla was fun because we finally got to let loose and not worry about what was in store for us, physically, the next day.  We went to the fake Starbucks and enjoyed our first espresso drinks in a long time, then went to the Irish Pub below the Starbucks for some happy hour specials and a couple games of very poorly played pool!

Of course we couldn’t let loose completely because we had a very early morning wake-up call in order to catch one of the first planes out of Lukla.  It’s always better to travel in and out of Lukla in the morning because the weather is more stable and the winds are lighter, so I was told.  I was really happy to be heading back to Kathmandu because this non-outdoorsy girl wanted to return to the simple comfort and convenience of a hotel.  What are these simple comforts?

(1) Toilets – First trail toilet I encountered was a wood floor with three slats missing.  That’s where I first started to question my sanity and my decision to do this trek!  They weren’t all that bad, but I found it annoying that it was bring-your-own-TP everywhere and that the toilets don’t accept paper, so you have to put everything in a bin next to the toilet.
(2) Indoor heating – None of the guesthouses were heated.  Thank goodness my friend knows people who are outdoorsy and loaned me a super warm packable sleeping bag that would have probably cost me over $300 at REI.
(3) Hot water – most guesthouses have hot water available, but at a price.  And there are no guarantees that the hot water will last for everyone, since often it is solar heated.

The end of the trek was also the point in my India/Nepal travels where I was also missing some of the simple comforts of home:
(1) Ice – I hadn’t had a piece of ice in almost 2 weeks because of water contamination concerns
(2) Not worrying about food I was consuming – I wanted a big ol’ salad and a bowl of fruit by this point.  Honestly, though, I didn’t have an issue with most of the food in Nepal.  Most of the options were pretty bland (e.g. noodles, rice, veg), which works well for trekking and for my stomach/taste preferences.  I’m pretty sure that at some point I consumed the milk products of non-cows (water buffalos in India and yaks – technically naks – or yakows in Nepal).
(3) Brushing my teeth without bottled water
(4) Soda that tastes the way it’s supposed to taste

I’m sure I’m missing others on the list, but now that I’ve recovered back at home and dropped back into my routine, some of the memories of discomforts and inconveniences have slipped my brain. I’ve also distanced myself in time and mileage to have crazy thoughts in the back of my mind of going back and trekking in the Annapurna foothills…always planning, I tell ya!

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6 responses to “Nepal – Treking to Everest (a viewpoint, not base camp!)

  1. Hi Julie,Thank you for posting your story about your experience in Nepal. In it you mentioned that you brought your iPad. Was you know if it is possible to use a iPad with cellular services in any cities there, such as Kathmandu?

  2. I did bring my iPad, but mine is a wifi one, so I was limited to hotels mostly for my internet service. Even on the trail to Namche Bazaar, we were able to get internet at the tea houses.

  3. This trip was run through Intrepid Travel and we did overnights in teahouses along the trail, so no camping gear is needed. I brought everything with me from home, but there are lots of shops in Kathmandu where you can hire or purchase things like winter jackets and sleeping bags. My concern would be that they aren't the real thing, and especially if you are going in January, you want to make sure the down is real down!!

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