(word of warning: get yourself a cup of tea, put your feet up as this blog post goes on and on)
We are sitting in a fabulously comfortable hotel/guesthouse in Namche Bazaar watching the snow absolutely pelt it down on this incredible town. We are on our rest day which has so far encompassed a three hour “short” hike up the hill to the airport above Namche in the snow. A rest it is not. We have been given the afternoon off so are going to try and write up the first eight/nine days of this incredible trip…
Having now arrived at Namche it definitely puts the first seven days in perspective before we saw the crowds arriving from Lukla airport (a day’s walk from here) in their neatly pressed, clean clothes. No limps or awkward walks to avoid blisters earned over the previous 100km. From Jiri in to Phakding we were lucky enough to experience the incredible camaraderie amongst those stupid enough to walk in to Namche rather than fly in via Lukla. It also meant that by the time we were marching up the final hill to Namche itself we were feeling pretty fit and took it easily in our stride even able to chat to Michael the German who has been travelling for two years.
The first part of our trip has been a simply breathtaking trek through some glorious countryside all the while climbing the equivalent of Mount Snowdon every single day and on several occasions scaling Ben Nevis. In tropical heat it has been a dusty, sweaty time but we have hated loved every second of it.
Jenny: Day -1… Kathmandu
We first saw the narrow streets of the Thamel in Kathmandu lit by the Nature Trails van’s headlights as it took us through the deserted city at 11.30pm at night, after a full day of plane travel from Saigon. The next morning, whilst we could see more of the colourful, dusty and incredibly chaotic old town, we did not have a great opportunity to explore as we had only the one day to source pretty much our entire kit for the trek. It was a bit like trying to do all your Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve. We managed it though –helped by the fact that Thamel is stuffed to the gills with knock of North Face gear where you can get all your expedition needs at a snip of the price.
After a long time packing we sat back and surveyed the damage – a day pack each for us and a HUGE (bright orange) duffel bag for our porter, who we’re able to give a whopping 25kg. It’s big but we reckon it just falls short of 25kg. Although I could probably get in there myself , it really is big.
Our last dinner of meat was had at the fantastic YAK restaurant where I indulged in a roast chicken with gravy, very Nepalese. I had a lovely Skype with Sal that left me reassured, emotional, nervy, scared and excited all at the same time. We couldn’t quite believe that we’d got to this point – after all the planning, anticipation and training (ha), the trek was finally upon us. Bring it on.
Nick: Day Zero… The drive to Jiri
We left early to head over to the bus station in advance of our 7.30 bus to Jiri which should take about 7-8 hours. At 6.30am there were hundreds of kids playing cricket, football, practising karate on these huge parks before school started. It was a pretty frantic start to the day. We loaded up into the bus, met our porter Nima Pasan and received the encouraging news that he thought the bag we had packed was actually light. He seemed pleased.
The drive itself was as uneventful as a drive through the foothills of the Himalayas in a public minibus driven by a garrulous entertainer and filled with Nepali people can be. There was banging Bhangra music, long stories told, lots of jokes and quite a few close shaves as bigger buses overtook us on the narrow mountain roads. We started to get something of an idea of the scale of our challenge as we drove up and down valley after valley.
We had lunch and our first dal baht which is rice, lentil soup and curried vegetables. It is the food of the mountains and what all guides and porters eat all the time. Dal power twenty four hour. We finally arrived in Jiri and just had time to walk up to stupa before dinner (dal baht). We slept fitfully as we realised just what lay in store for us.
Jenny: Day 1 – Jiri to Deurali, approx. 15km, altitude at Deurali 2724m.
Within 15 minutes of leaving Jiri this morning I was questioning my fitness! Today, our first day of trekking, was very much a day of ups and downs. Most literally. From Jiri (1955m) we trekked up to 2600m, then down again for a spot of lunch at Shivalaya (1800m), then up to Deurali where we are now, at 2724m (as a point of comparison, Mt Snowden is just over 1000m).
The views were lovely. To begin with, the freshness of the air and the rusty colours of the landscape really reminded me of an autumnal Western Isles of Scotland, but the sun was hot enough to soon do away with that notion. After a steepish climb to the first pass we soon had our first snow-capped mountain view, and at over 7000m this mountain was the biggest I have ever seen, ever. Not bad for a first day.
After that it was a lot of down to colourful Shivalaya, and a humungous lunch that would sit heavy throughout the afternoon uphill slog. Rookie error. I distracted myself from the brick of food travelling down my gut and the rising panic building in my head (which mainly focussed on the fact that oh god this was really hard and I’m not sure I can do any more of this and oh god it’s only the first day) by looking at the pretty Nepalese buildings that we passed on the way – all of them brightly painted with white walls and gorgeous blue window frames and doors.
We arrived at Deurali in time to rinse the salt (that had started life as sweat) from our faces in a lukewarm shower before catching a rather fine but chilly sunset. As darkness dropped so did the temperature and we were soon all huddled in the clapboard dining room of our lodging house, which was rather snug thanks to a woodburning stove in the very centre of the room. We were joined by two very different groups of French trekkers – 3 retirees with a guide and 2 porters (each of the porters carrying a whopping 45kg of luggage) and Margot and Ben, a young French couple trekking sans guide, sans cash and sans change of clothes. Now we are heading for an early bed (it is only 7.30!), we are going to need all of our energy for tomorrow!
Nick: Day 2… Deurali (2724m) to Kinze (1,600m) to Sete (2,580)
A bit of a monster when you look at the numbers… 22km covered, over 2 vertical kilometres and walking for 6 and a half hours. Thankfully the sun stayed behind the clouds today and we were able to walk in pretty pleasant conditions.
We started off straight down the Eastern slope of the hill. This is the hill that we had just climbed up the Western side of in so much pain yesterday. This would become something of a pattern – walk up a hill, walk back down it and repeat ad infinitum. After about four hours we had reached the bottom and tucked into veg curries at Kinze. Dharma at this point pointed up this massive hill and said we are heading up there.
Just under 1km of height to gain in an afternoon. Unfortunately we would soon be very used to this sort of equation. After about ten minutes, the sweat is trickling, breaths are shorter and more urgent and you daren’t look up in case you trip over the scraggly rocks. After twenty minutes it is one steady panting plod with the occasional glace at the gorgeous views that are so easy to miss as you focus on left foot right foot. After two and a half hours we had made it and ensconced ourselves at the teahouse in Sete.
Here we met a large number of folks who were also crazy enough to walk to Namche from Jiri. None would then be walking back out we found! There was an antipodean group, a chap from the Maldives and two Swiss girls who we would end up spending a lot of time with over the next few days as all the others dropped off behind.
Jenny: Day 3 – Sete (2580) over the Lamjura pass (3560m) to Jinbesi (2700m), 18km.
Alhough Dharma had told us that today would be ‘easy peasy lemon squeezy’ it turned out that he was LYING. The morning, at least, was pretty bloody hard as we had to climb another 1000m in 2.5 hours, and the sun had come out, meaning it was a hot plod up.
As we got closer to the top of the pass however, the bright sun was replaced by heavy, heavy mist and our rest stops got considerably chillier. Passing rhododendron forests heavy with fog was certainly atmospheric, and we look forward to seeing them in fuller bloom when we return this way in a couple of weeks.
The atmosphere in the teahouse where we stopped for lunch was certainly cosy as we were joined by hordes of by now familiar trekkers including Fabien and Olivia the Swiss, the Antipodean group, and Old Man River who had been roaming the mountains now for around 60 days and certainly looked like it. Lunch was cooked very slowly (we were there two hours!) over a big stone fire that billowed smoke out into the dark wooden room, making it hard at times to distinguish the smoke from the mist that relentlessly seeped under the door. We all ended up crowded round the fire – trekkers, dogs, cats and chickens alike.
After lunch it was just another half an hour up and we’d made it to the Lamjura pass at 3560m. We couldn’t see anything through the heavy clouds but we were happy to hear that we had now conquered the steepest ascent that we’d experience – at least until we return the same way in a couple of weeks’ time (we must be flipping mad).
Am now sitting in the guesthouse in Jinbesi and my entire body hurts. There are gaping wounds where my heels used to be, my toes are actually bruised, my joints feel decidedly dodgy and my muscles seem to be waking up purely in order to complain. Also I seem to have a knot the size of an egg growing out of my neck/shoulder muscle, and I have no idea why. Hopefully all of this means that my body is getting stronger! Ha ha ha….
Nick: Day 4… Jinbesi (2,700m) to Upper Nunthala (2,194)
Joy of joys we had an easy day. A veritable stroll of under six hours down and around the valley with very little up and very little panting. Oh the joys of walking in the foothills of the Himalaya. We saw beautiful flowers and more rhododendron forests. We walked through Red Panda habitat (we heard shuffling but didn’t see anything) and lunched in a town called Ringmo where we met up with walkers and donkeys from the other side of the valley.
Before lunch it was a slow ramble with the tantalising prospect of a glimpse of Everest if the skies were clear. They weren’t. We will have to wait a little longer to see the roof of the world. Lunch was another two hour wait but with beautiful views of snow capped mountains we weren’t complaining as donkey train after donkey train rolled through.
After lunch it was a quick hour and a half climb up to Tragshindo pass at 3,070m before we descended to Nunthala at a lowly 2,194m. The real problem we discovered though was that we are now in donkey country which means we have to walk through their dried, dusty poo and very smelly urine deposits on the narrow path. This has led to me picking up a blocked nose and a bit of a cough. Fingers crossed it passes quickly I have written in my diary. Sampled the Highland Park 18 years today having carried it for five days. Was excellent.
Jenny: Day 5 – Upper Nuntala (2194m) to Kharikola (2040m)
A not such a good day that was mercifully short at only 5 hours walking.
It was so so beautiful! Gorgeous valley views and snowy distant peaks under an incredibly blue (and sunny) sky, but Nick’s cold is much worse and of course it’s always going to be at the front of our minds that any little (or big) thing affecting us now could be hugely multiplied at altitude.
Last night in Upper Nuntala turned into a stormy one (making my 2am trip to the windy toilet outhouse quite the adventure) which didn’t help us sleep much. From Nuntala we headed downwards for a vertical kilometre along knee-jarringly rocky donkey shit-strewn paths until we crossed a suspension bridge and headed up again to picturesque Gorkhall. Deciding 10.30am was too early for lunch (even for us) we decided to press on to our final destination – Karikhola, a steep vertical kilometre upwards.
We stopped here for the rest of the day, and the timing for our afternoon off felt pretty good as Nick’s cold had really set in. We ate lunch with a friendly Israeli family (who had to walk in due to their Lukla flight being cancelled) and a grey cat who kept trying to eat our feet. We relaxed in the afternoon after washing away the day’s donkey dust in the most luxurious bucket shower, and then before dinner had a quick pootle up to the monastery on top of the hill from where we had commanding views of the valley before us. We feel spoiled tonight as there is a western style toilet in the guesthouse, mere steps from our bedroom door. Sheer decadence indeed.
Nick: Day 6… Kharikola (2,040m) to Paiya (2,600m)
This will be mercifully short, much like the walk today. A brisk five hours, 15km, with a 1km climb in the middle. Was feeling horrible as the cold clamped down hard and made breathing difficult. Coughing and wheezing we made it to Paiya by 2.30pm so it was a nice short day.
Jen slipped over today which scared the bejesus out of me as she was walking along behind me and all I heard was a big crash. She was up and smiling pretty quickly and claims all is well. It was one of the smoothest sections we’ve walked on but reminded us that one false step and we can seriously bugger up our chances for the days to come.
Bit of a nothing day today and our shared Fanta and Bounty was probably the highlight. Piss off cold.
Jenny: Day 7: Paiya (2600m) to Phakding (2600m), 10.5km.
From a tough morning to a most comfortable evening!
Fairly flat for the first hour or so which was great as Nick is still recovering, but then the inevitable down and then UP UP UP. Way too hot for UP UP UP. We stopped for lunch at a place that I think was called Chakung and which is the first village after Lukla on the way to Namche Bazaar.
Lukla is where ‘the most dangerous airport in the world’ is, according to Dharma. For the last few days he’s been telling us horror stories about the short flights between Kathmandu and Lukla, and repeating how glad he is that he does not have to take the plane this time. I, of course, have always had a preference to ANY form of transport over flying but even I had to remind myself of why oh why we had taken the crazy route of walking for an extra two weeks, over the option of 40 min flight. We stopped and watched the (surprisingly frequent) tiny planes zoom over our head a few times on the way, and I have to admit it did seem the easier option.
But then came the crowds. From our lunch spot on, the path became increasingly choked with more and more trekkers, all clean faced and freshly-washed hair and shiny white walking trousers, striding past from the airport on their short way to Namche Bazaar. We very quickly became nostalgic for the familiar faces of the handful of Jiri-originating trekkers we had gotten to know in the last week, as well as for the empty viewpoints and the peaceful paths. Our long trek from Jiri once again became more than justified, especially when we saw the clogged teahouses full of customers – a far cry from the struggling teahouses between Jiri and Lukla, many of which have had to close in the last few years due to the increasing number of flights and private helicopters going directly to Lukla.
However, right now, at this very instant, I’m not really complaining. It seems that with crowds come amenities, and we have just discovered that our room in Phakding tonight has an ENSUITE WESTERN TOILET. Luxuries untold. Thoughts of struggling teahouses between here and Jiri out of the window.
Also we have wifi for the first time in a week and I have just discovered that my horse won the Grand National! Maybe I will treat myself to a trip to Beckenham Spa on our return. Nick is not so sure.
Nick: Day 8: Phakding (2,600m) to Namche Bazaar (3,445m)
We have finally arrived in the place that most Base Camp treks start. And thank Bobby for that. The day’s walk started with the incredible (for us) sight of a traffic jam on the trekking route. Donkeys were pouring one way across a bridge whilst about 50 (I kid you not 50!) trekkers waited patiently to cross in the other direction. A few sideways glances at each other and we were soon laughing at just how different this would now be.
The walk itself was pretty unremarkable with about three flat hours before lunch and then a slow steady climb up tp Namche itself. After the mission from Jiri it was a nice stroll up the hill for us spent in the excellent company of Michael from Munich. His full name is Michael Myers! Seriously. It was just under two hours straight up and across an awesome suspension bridge that was 300m above the flowing milky river.
We caught sight of Namche and allowed ourselves a moment of smug satisfaction that we had walked all the way here without too many complaints.
We had a few firsts on this walk, not only the early traffic jam but also we heard American accents for the first time. From one of their mouths we heard the following phrase which had me searching for breath far more than any hill climb “one of my personal personality goals of this trip is”. I didn’t hear what it actually was because I was trying my hardest not to burst out laughing in her self-absorbed ear. She was panting seriously hard on the climb to Namche and Schadenfreude has never felt so apt.
There were some incredible views of snow-capped mountains on the walk up and some beautiful peach blossoms along the path.
When we arrived in Namche these were swiftly replaced by the wonderful amphitheatre of this incredible town. We wandered up to the market and picked up some oranges, some mango juice and a few chocolate bars as the shops try to charge you the earth up here. It’s rest day tomorrow and I’m feeling significantly better with just the last remnants of my cold hanging around.
Jenny: Day 9 – TODAY! Namche Bazaar (3445m).
Today is our rest day in Namche so we are writing this from the snug dining room of our guesthouse as snow swirls past the window.
We had a lovely lie in until 8am before Dharma really put the meaning of ‘rest day’ to the test by taking us on a 3 hour walk up a steep hill above the town. Apparently it is for our own good, and has we have had no problems with altitude so far (touch wood) we’re inclined to agree with him. During our walk up the hill we visited a viewpoint that afforded us the most sensational mountain views we could imagine. We are literally encircled by giants here in Namche, and it is only in the brief moments that the cloud lifts that they reveal their true might. Unfortunately, Everest itself is still in hiding, so we must wait a while longer for our long awaited glimpse.
We paused on our walk at the Sherpa museum that had some interesting pictures of what we’ve got to come, and then continued up to what Dharma described as ‘the highest airport in the world’. It looked pretty empty (we couldn’t even distinguish a runway) and as the snow was beginning to set in we deduced that it might have shut down for the day (or the week). Our slow climb back down to the hotel gave us some vertigo inspiring views of Namche, and as it got colder and colder and snowier and snowier we hastened to the warm room where we are now ensconced.
So that’s all for a bit folks (well done if you’ve made it this far – what a hefty blog post!). Hopefully by the time we post again, Everest Base Camp will be conquered and we will be stumbling our way back to Jiri and to you lovely people. All the very best and see you soon.
Jenny and Nick