We have left New Delhi now and landed in Kathmandu, this was an unplanned stop on the journey due to there being a WordCamp that Mike could attend (and sponsor, and speak at), but more on that later.
When planning how long to spend in Kathmandu we all looked at what there was to do in Kathmandu, and an Everest Trek was high up on the list. So we researched the options and how much time we had and signed up for the “short” 5 day trek to Namche Bazar.
But, why only 5 days.. well first up, Mike’s speaking gig was at the weekend and if we tried to do longer, the unreliability of the flights due to weather meant we might miss the conference. We also weren’t sure how these two would get on with the altitude, it’s the highest they’ve ever been and AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) can kick in from Altitudes of 2,500+
Before I get into the fun on the trek, I want to talk a bit about Kathmandu itself.
Kathmandu – the capital of Nepal
After spending time in India, we thought Nepal might be similar, with mental roads, too many cars and masses of people. We were wrong. Kathmandu was really pretty and felt a lot more chilled out than India. We saw a higher proportion of women out and about and there were families and groups in various boutique bars and quaint restaurants.
The downside was the dust from the roads. They are putting in water pipes under the city and a lot of the roads are either dug up, or have been dug up and not resurfaced – so everywhere has lots of dust which is kicked up every time bikes, scooters or cars whizz past.
We stayed in the Royal Penguin Boutique hotel because Wendy loves Penguins and well, there’s no stopping her when it comes to a Penguin Themed hotel. The hotel was amazing and the breakfast was one of our best so far. Not to mention there was plenty of entertainment for Mike as our room had both a Leopard and a Penguin stuffed toy. They didn’t get on as you can see 🙂
Trekking (part way) to Everest
So, we spent a couple of days in Kathmandu before our trek began. It was exciting but also scary as the documentation for our trip eluded to “you take an early morning, exotic flight over the mountains before a spectacular landing” and boy they weren’t kidding.
Our trek started by picking up Purna (our guide) at 5am in a side street and then onto the airport via bumpy roads. These two clever clogs decided to get a couple of coffees with their packed breakfast but the bumpy roads meant it went everywhere and burnt Mike on his fingers (🎻).
We had to wait around Kathmandu Domestic airport and those two stuffed their faces with the pre-packed breakfast. Then we got shuttled onto a tiny plane (only 12 seats) and hoisted up over the mountains by two skilled pilots to land in Lukla for our 5 day short Everest Trek to begin.
Here’s a video of a plane landing on the runway (halfway up a mountain, with a brick wall to stop any over-runs) which we filmed just after landing.
But, we got there safe in the end and were ready to begin.
Trek Day One: Lukla (2,800m) to Phakding (2,600m)
We started in Lukla, and called into our first tea house for a black tea (no milk) and to settle our nerves after the flight. This was also to meet the porter who would be carrying up our 8kgs of baggage. This was great news for him, most porters are tasked to carry up to 30kgs.
Our Guide told us later in the trek that the heaviest he’d carried up to Namche Bazar was 142kgs.. insane (and he didn’t once offer to give Wendy a piggy back!). It’s a good job those two did 3 weeks of Muay Thai in Thailand just before this, otherwise, it would have almost killed them. Wendy hit the wall after a small set of steps not long after the trek began. This was clearly the impact of the altitude as breathing was hard and we’d not really gone up that much of a hill – it soon passed after I let her have some of my snickers bar 🙂
Lukla is around 2,800m elevation and you can get Altitude Sickness from being anywhere above 2,500m above sea level, so Day 1 of the Trek was going from Lukla (2,800m) to Phakding (2,600m). This was a distance of 8km of walking on day 1. While 8km doesn’t sound much, and it seemed like it is 200m downhill, in reality, it was a mixture of ups and downs through amazing scenery and dodging yaks and donkeys (we learned later that they weren’t Yaks, but a cross between a cow and a yak), Yaks only really inhabit the level of Namchee and higher…
We got to Phakding at about 1pm after landing at about 9am, so a good 4hrs hike. This was when we had lunch. The plan for today was to get used to the altitude a little before going higher. We were told dinner time would be around 5.30pm onwards, and we had the afternoon at leisure. So what did these 2 do? They went and had a NAP, only intended for an hour but the room was soooo darn cold they ended up napping until the guide came and woke them up at 5.30pm to go and have more food. Hey, I’m not complaining 🙂
The dinner was their choice from a menu. Mike had Mo Mo’s and Wendy had a cheese sandwich.
Day Two – Phakding (2,600m) to Namche Bazar (3,440m)
We always knew that day 2 was going to be a biggie. Covering 10kms and climbing an elevation of 840m this was going to be tough, and boy was it. We set of at about 8 am and the plan was to have lunch part way along the way to Namche.
We made great grounds on the first part of the walk and got to the lunch stop at 10.30am, well before lunch time so we had a black tea (our second of MANY) and a chat with our guide.
Namche was another 3hrs or so we decided to keep on truckin’ and gun for the highest we’d get. This was a long and slow climb up as the elevation got higher. Breathing was hard but we didn’t have any symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness yet. We passed a girl at about 3,100m who was crouched at the side of the path, dry heaving and looking rather unwell – so we were glad that we didn’t struggle like this.
Talking to our guide, it was clear that this group of people had tried to climb too high, too fast (potentially from Lukla all the way to Namche Bazar in a day). Distance wise, that would be 18kms to cover which isn’t too far and would take around 6 to 7 hours of hiking. The issue with this is the altitude gets you and you start feeling unwell. That’s why these two smart cookies went up slower, with an expert guide and took the necessary sleepover at Phaking before going higher.
This part of the trek was particularly beautiful, we would cross high suspension bridges covered in colourful prayer flags and large rocks covered in scriptures (called Mani stones) all while dodging incoming donkeys and yaks. The final suspension bridge we crossed was called the Hilary Bridge – named after Edward Hilary who was the first person to summit Everest (along with his Sherpa Tenzing Norgay). It’s a spectacular bridge. If you don’t like heights – don’t worry – it’s completely safe and quite sturdy and the views down the valley are breathtaking.
This took us a solid 3-4hours of hiking but we made it. We’d made it up to Namche Bazar. The craziest thing about this was we climbed higher than the clouds on the way and high fived our guide as we reach the entry to the small town.
Recapping, we flew from Kathmandu (1,400m), to Lukla (2,800m) on the side of a mountain, then walked 8kms to Phakding (2,600m) before hiking another 10km to Namche Bazar (3,440km), and what did we find? A busy, bustling little town with lots of tea houses, little shops, coffee shops, ice cream (they had Baskin Robins) and even a pub with a dartboard.
It was truly amazing to be up this high and still have the cosiness of everything around us. We slept over day 2 at Namche Bazar and ventured out to walk through the little town. This is the second time Wendy and Mike got breathless – there was a set of about 100 big steps up through the town and these really took it out of them. So they trudged back down to the tea house, and ordered the worlds biggest mug of black tea and settled down with their books (which they bought up in a bookstore, 3440m in the air…)
Day Three – Namche Bazar (3,440m)
Day 3 we had to ourselves to explore Namche, and we hiked up about 100m to the highest on our tour with our guide first thing. This took us to Sagamartha National Park / Museum where you could get a view of Everest in the distance. We weren’t lucky though, almost as soon as we got up there the clouds rose up quick and any chance of seeing anything quickly evaporated (quite fittingly, into clouds and we couldn’t see a thing).
So we headed back down to the lodge, had some more black tea and carried on reading our books. We decided that today we were going to see the 3 pm movie at the Liquid Bar.. this is where the dartboard was and we watched the documentary “Sherpa” which was made in 2014. It covered the lives of the Sherpas who go up to the summit of Mount Everest and centred around a sherpa who had summited 22 times and this year would be going for a record-breaking 23 times.
It wasn’t to be though as on a routine trek through the treacherous icefall, an avalanche came down and wiped out a full team of 16+ Sherpas and rocked the community with such a sad and tragic event. This resulted in all expeditions that year being cancelled – at the dismay of many high paying clients (the mountain pass for higher than base camp alone costs $30,000 USD, full equipment and tour guides takes the cost of climbing Everest to $100k+ USD – a crazy expensive endeavour, especially when the number of deaths on Everest exceeds 250!
The movie both enlightened us and saddened us after what had happened to the Sherpas, who in contrast get very little money for risking their lives. While clients go through the Icefall (one of the most dangerous parts of the summit route) only twice, Sherpas can be going through 30+ times carrying equipment and supplies for the clients – all for very little money (the wage of Sherpas has been known to be as little c$1,000 for those who go higher to the summit)
After the film, we all went back to the lodge, ate our food and finished reading our books (Mike read “Into Thin Air”) further improving his understanding of how dangerous and challenging trying to summit Everest would be.
Here is where Wendy also learned that the full trek to Everest Base Camp (5,380m), which takes an extra 7 to 10 days of hiking, culminates in a quick photo then turn around and trek back down. Not to mention the way down has lots of LONG hikes covering 20km per day.. something these two were about to experience on their very own walk down…
Day Four – Namche Bazar (3,440m) to Everest Viewpoint (3,550m) back down to Lukla (3,800m)
Day 4 was a bit of a killer mentally for Mike, we started the 18km trek back down and Mike knew that the final stretch would be going back up the 2,600m (Phakding) to 2,800m (Lukla) which we walked downhill on day 1. We started from Namche early (8 am again) and headed down.
Now this bit was fun, our first 10km back down to Phakding took us about 4hrs and was fun slipping and sliding down through sandy paths which we’d hiked up a couple of days before. This was LONG and it really started to sink in how much climbing up we’d actually done.
We carried on skirting down the route and made it to Phakding where we stopped for a quick breather and a drink before carried on to Lukla. This next part was particularly draining as we pushed on and somehow managed to hit our fastest walking pace of the whole hike. Wendy thought great, this must be the end, we’re putting a spurt on, but no. We were still a good 2km away and her little legs were struggling to keep up.
When we finally made it to Lukla, we high fived our guide again and went back to the first tea lodge that we briefly visited on day 1. This would be our stay for the night before our early flight back from Lukla to Kathmandu in the morning.
This tea lodge was COLD. We were the only ones in but the room was much nicer than Namche, which Wendy didn’t like one bit. There was even a badminton court outside our window where the locals met and played badminton for a couple of hours each night – our guide told us this is because there’s not really much to do after the day’s work – and it’s their way to let off steam.
Day Five – Flight back to Kathmandu
Today was nothing special and Mike felt slightly cheated that the “5 day short Everest Trek” was really only 4 days as day 5 was just the flight back.
After a 5 am rise again and heading to the airport for 6 am, we waited around (flights were delayed due to bad weather in Kathmandu) and finally boarded the plane around 9 am for the flight back. This was also described as an exotic take off and it really was – here’s the video
We’d love to go higher towards base camp, but after knowing what you do when you reach there, and how the standard of accommodation gets worse the higher you go – we were quite happy with the trek we chose to do. These two are also quite close to plenty of nice places to hike around Europe, so watch this space (not to mention hikes coming up on their epic honeymoon journey).
Back in Kathmandu
We’d made it, completed our trek and both of us were tired and glad to be back at the hotel. We had booked another 5 nights at the Royal Penguin following the trek as Mike had his speaking gig at WordCamp Kathmandu. Not only was this Mike’s first speaking appearance, he was also first up on stage (eek).
This was a great experience to be able to give back to the WordPress community in Nepal and share some of the ways Mike is able to work from anywhere while growing his online business. Here are some photos from the conference.
I wasn’t invited to this (they didn’t get me a ticket), so you’ll see me next when we land in our next destination, Mumbai