Everest and Altitude

Everest Base Camp


Kathmandu to Phakding

Highest Point 2850m

We’re sitting in the airport at 5:30 a.m. and the announcement tells us that our plane is delayed due to weather in Lukla. Lukla is the starting point for the Everest Base Camp trek. It’s a short 30 minute flight from Kathmandu into one of the more dangerous airports in the world.

We wait around five hours for the weather to clear and then the rush begins. We’re told to proceed to our gate and onto the tarmac to find our bus. There’s confusion, as two planes are going to Lukla, but we’re driving across the runway to out 14 seater plane. We’re rushed off the bus and onto the plane; the propellers already spinning.

There is no time for a safety demonstration. We’re strapped down, and the plane is on its way to the runway for takeoff. The window for weather into Lukla is tight. As we approach the small airport, the runway looks small. There’s no way that this plane will land and stop before the cement wall at the end of the runway.

Somehow we slow enough to turn towards the tiny terminal before striking cement. As the plane slows, the door opens and we’re told to get off. The passengers taking our place are in line and the propellers don’t stop spinning. The plane is taking off again before we move away from the terminal to meet our guide.

We have lunch and then make our move to Phakding, where we will spend our first night. When we arrive, it’s cold. You can see your breath in the rooms in the teahouse. We’re well equipped with -20 degree Celsius sleeping bags.

David has gotten increasingly ill as we make our way from Lukla. His diarrhea has turned into vomiting and he’s in bed early hoping to combat the illness. Between the two of us we’ve almost used the entirety of our antibiotic supply for combatting diarrhea. The Costco sized immodium that seemed excessive three months ago is dwindling.

We’re in bed early after some food and a few moments around the fire. We stay warm in the sleeping bags with blankets piled on top.

Phakding to Namche Bazaar

Highest Point 3443m

We are working our way up 600 metres today. The altitude is affecting us all. The headaches are more pronounced and our legs are becoming sluggish. I’ve loosened the chest strap on my backpack because it feels like I need to expand my lungs as wide as possible to get as much oxygen as I can

After our first steep ascent we cross the Hillary bridge. I’m clutching a camera attempting to shoot images of the prayer flags that wrap around the bridge railing. I’m trying not to look down.

Our arrival in Namche is cold. Colder than we had expected. I’m worrying that the layers won’t be enough as we reach the 5400 metre limit for this trip. I need warmer gear.

In Namche we’re meeting more trekkers. It’s a stopover point for many on the way up, with an additional day to acclimatize. It’s also a stop over day on the way back before a big push back to Lukla for a plane to Kathmandu the next morning.

On our acclimatization day we hike up about 400 metres for our first views of Everest. The proximity of the other mountains closer to us, makes Everest look small in comparison. The altitude continues to suck the energy from my legs. I’m slogging my way up the 400 metre ascent.

After the short hike, we have the day off. Namche Bazaar is the last chance for luxury. I find espresso and eat a brownie before picking up warmer gloves and more snacks for the trail.

Hillary BridgeRiverNamche BazaarHillary Bridge

Namche Bazaar to Deboche

Highest Point 3,870m

We’re up and off for another leg of our journey. Everest is again in sight as we walk along the trail. The ups and downs are gentle and several yaks on the trail cause traffic jams as hikers move in both directions.

There are multiple places to stop and view the mountain with Himalayan imagery: monasteries and prayer flags. We continue on the gentle trails until we hit the descent. We go down several hundred metres and stop for lunch.

After lunch we begin our ascent, over 400 metres up on switchback trails. We’re moving up and up. Along the way two porters are transporting five metal beams. It looks like painful work. Everything must be transported in the region by human porter or yak. Because of the onerous transportation network the prices are rising each day, the further into the Himalayas that we go.

We reach the top, and the group is unraveling. Legs are tired and the altitude is making breathing more difficult.

At the top is a famous monastery and we move inside. No cameras are allowed. Inside the monastery about ten monks are seated in the main chamber meditating. The meditation seems to take many forms. Some have their eyes closed. Some are chanting. Some are counting Mala prayer beads.

It’s getting very cold. We’re surrounded by ice in the Rhododendron Forest. We descend and walk about 15 minutes to arrive at the tea house. This is the last spot still attached to the power grid. Above here, they are on solar water. The price of a hot shower has risen to five dollars. After here, it’s unlikely a hot shower will be an option.

Inside the toilet, the water has been turned off as it would freeze if kept full. There’s a large bucket of water beside the toilet for you to flush with. It has a thick layer of ice on top you have to break through to reach the water underneath.

I’m loathe to go to my frigid room. We tuck into the common room beside the fire and enjoy all the warmth we can.

YakPrayer FlagsDeboche to Dingboche

4,400 metres

The morning surprises with clear views of the mountains. It’s cold as we walk. The cold is seeping through the many layers I’m wearing.

Today is a shorter day, but the 600 meter elevation doesn’t mean it’s an easy one. As we stop for tea in the early morning, I restock on some supplies. The prices continue to rise the farther we get from civilization.

The pine trees disappear as we hike past the tree line and the landscape ends up looking like a shrub-covered desert. The mountains are more imposing the closer we get to them. On the ascents, the thinning air is more prominent and the legs are moving slower and in smaller steps towards our destination.

The clouds are quick to descend in the Himalayas. We arrive at the teahouse and within half an hour it’s white outside. There are rumors of difficulties getting from Lukla to Kathmandu. Some people in the teahouse had been waiting for days to get up to the mountain.

At night it’s hard to breathe, and the cold is getting worse. I toss and turn, loosening all the clothing around my neck and the blankets around my chest hoping to get a full breath of air.

We have another acclimatization day in Dingboche. Today was a late start to the day. Our plan entails a 500 meter ascent up a mountain close to Dingboche. We are the last ones out of the tea house, our bodies continuing to move slower and slower in the thinning air.

As we ascend into the mountain, it’s hard to breathe. I’m taking slower steps and stopping often. The clouds are sitting below the valley, waiting to roll in so we can enjoy the view from the top.

YakMemorialMountain View

Dingboche to Lobuche

Highest Point 4900 metres

The sun has warmed us more than any other day on the trek so far. The wind is minimal and we’re walking along a rolling landscape. Even with the gentle terrain today is difficult.

After making the climb, we find a memorial to the trekkers and sherpas who have passed away during their trek up Everest and other mountains. After reading memorials, we are on our last leg. The day is short, which is needed with several long days planned. Tomorrow we’re headed to Everest Base Camp.

HikingMemorialLobuche to Everest Base Camp

Highest Point 5364m

We’re up at 6:00 a.m. The water in my bottle has frozen. After breakfast we’re out on the trail earlier than we have been before. It’s frigid. I have every piece of clothing I brought on. Five layers on top and three layers on the bottom. The sun hasn’t moved far enough across the sky to grace the valley below. It takes about an hour for the sun to reach us. We shed layers and stop shivering as we move across the glacier towards Everest Base Camp.

We stop after four hours in Gorekshep. We’ve been warned that this is the shittiest tea house we will come across. It’s close to Everest Base Camp, and it’s the furthest from civilization.

We stop for an early lunch, wolf it down and head to our rooms to ditch anything we can from our day packs. We’re off to Everest Base Camp.

The walk there is cold, the wind is blowing strong and the clouds have blocked out the sun. Then we spot the ice sheet and Everest Base Camp. Aside from a handful of tents, Base Camp is empty. It’s to early for climbers to be there. The site will be set up in a few weeks for people aspiring to summit the tallest mountain on earth.

We descend into the valley and to the ceremonial spot where Everest Base Camp is. We take pictures, hug the fellow trekkers we’ve come to know over the past few days and celebrate the physical challenges we’ve endured to get up here.

Everest Base CampEverest Base Camp