Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay and especially that mountain were on my mind as I was drinking my morning tea in Darjeeling, Tenzing’s hometown. I too was longing to see the highest mountain in the world, Everest – or Sagarmatha in the Nepalese language.
And before noon, I was already sitting in a shared jeep, driving to Siliguri, Nepalese border, where I got a visa stamp in my passport around 5 pm. Little did I know, I was going to live a great adventure before even departing on the hike …
An unexpected adventure on the way to Kathmandu
The only road, the Nepalese highway turned out to be inaccessible because a mighty river Koshi had torn down a bridge that connects it, and the monsoon season was coming to its end. My chances to get to Kathmandu were not looking bright unless … unless I travel like the locals. They always find a way.
So I trusted their advice and hopped on a bus that took me to a village called Dharan, then changed it for a jeep that cruised over the countryside with straw houses and little creeks, all the way to a village called Chatra. And this is where we all crossed river Koshi – in a small wooden boat.
Happy to have survived the boat ride, we crossed a piece of land, only to find out that we were only halfway through the river crossing. And so getting into the river almost to the waist, every passenger had to crawl into the boat that would finally take us to the other riverbank.
Not having the slightest idea what would await me there, I finally discovered, that the next way of transportation would be a tractor. Everyone hopped on its trailer and cheerfully started a 15 km journey to Rampur town, this time passing through rice fields, and views of true Nepalese countryside. And from there I could finally get a bus that took me all the way to Kathmandu. 2 days after leaving Darjeeling!
The Everest Base Camp trek (and more)
After getting a Sagarmatha National Park hiking permit, I finally boarded a small plane that carried me over the mountains to Lukla’s short runway, well we managed to land. And so my hike had started, on this rainy day …
Day 1: Lukla (2,860 m) to Phungi Thanga (3,250 m)
The beginning of the journey was very easy, smooth and in relatively low altitudes so I put on my backpack and bravely walked on, not minding the rain, crossing the first deep river gorges over the typical swinging Nepalese bridges. I only stopped for lunch and then at the entrance gate to Sagarmatha National Park to fill out the necessary paperwork and show my permit.
The trail steepened up just before Namche Bazaar and many travellers showed their first signs of tiredness and lack of oxygen. But because I already spent two months in much higher altitudes, could happily pass them all. Reaching Namche Bazaar (3,440 m) at 3 pm that day, I decided to keep walking till dark to be able to see most of this wonderland.
The trail uncovered a deep valley with Dudh Kosi river and occasionally my journey crossed a yak or two. It was already 6 pm and the night was slowly falling upon us when I reached a village called Phungi Thanga with only a few houses. I was the only guest in one of them.
Day 2: Phungi Thanga (3,250 m) to Lobuche (4,940 m)
I left the village at dark so that I could enjoy watching the surrounding mountains lit by sunrise while struggling up the steep hill to Tengboche. Tengboche monastery (gompa) is occupied by monks and one needs to get a special permit to be able to disturb them and take a look around. In the end, I even got a blessing for good luck and long life.
I decided to eat my breakfast here while enjoying the view of the snowy beauty of Ama Dablam (6,812 m).
And so I set off on my journey, saw a few more monasteries, met some more yaks, had lunch in Pangboche (3,985 m), took photos with some mountain guides (there were not many people on the trail), walked through Pheriche (4,371 m) and Dughla (4,620 m) and walked all the way to Lobuche (4,940 m) while admiring the surrounding giants lit by the orange setting sun.
I chose a lodge with a smoking chimney – a sign of a warm temporary home – and although I tried to go out and enjoy the most beautiful night sky I have ever seen, the cold air made it almost impossible to enjoy it very long.
Day 3: Lobuche (4,940 m) to Gorak Shop (5,164 m)
A trail alongside Khumbu glacier led me all the way to Gorak Shep where I left my backpack and went on exploring. A small mountain called Kala Patthar (5,643 m) offers beautiful views of Mount Everest (8,848 m) and Khumbu icefall, dropping down to Everest Base Camp and turning into Khumbu glacier.
The Everest Base Camp (5,364 m) is basically just a group of tents from various climbing expeditions. It’s setting on Khumbu glacier doesn’t allow to have anything built here permanently.
I started a conversation with one French climber. He told me that the sherpas just started setting up the way over the icefall with ladders and soon they would be able to start their first acclimatization climbs to Camp 1. In only 4 weeks he should be standing on top of the highest mountain in the world. He pointed to the top of Lhotse (8,516 m), which was peaking just above the Khumbu icefall, barely showing its true magnificence.
In only 3 days, though each of them walking 12 hours, I managed to reach EBC. I still had 6 days left to explore this beautiful land where nothing grows. I wanted to explore the next valley and a set of turquoise Gokyo Lakes …