A friend and fellow trekker asked a question — why are you going on this trek? Such a simple question — but one to which everyone has a unique answer. Each person’s EBC journey is their own. Our answer included 3 goals:
Enjoy the journey and fully immerse in nature along the way.
Spend quality time with each other (Miten and Ushma), with our dear friends, and walk the journey with them, making so many memories.
Push our bodies and minds through challenges to find and stretch our limits.
For Ushma and me, the joy and daily experience of the journey was more important than the destination. In that spirit, it was not important to reach Everest Base Camp (EBC), which was the final destination of the trek. We were ready to stop and return whenever our bodies signaled that our limits have reached.
It was an 8-day long grueling journey, not only because of the high elevations we traversed or the difficulty of ascending and descending the terrain, but also because of cold temperatures and high altitude, its impact on our energy levels, lack of appetite, and lack of proper sleep. I’ve often joked throughout this trip — we are going to put ourselves through a lot of self-inflicted pain on this journey!
7 out of 12 members of the group made it to EBC although some of us (including me) had to take the aid of a pony to complete the final stretch from Gorakshep (17,000 feet) to EBC (17,600 feet); that being a unique experience of its own — we are so glad we got that help. A little assistance from the pony not only helped us conserve our energy and keep us in high spirits the entire day, but also helped us successfully complete a long trip from Lobuche to Gorakshep to EBC, then from Gorakshep to Periche to Lukla — all in one day and on time. On the last day, some of us wanted to avoid staying overnight in Gorakshep at 17,000 elevation in the severe cold, at very high altitude, and with frozen water in toilets and taps :-)
Although we went from 9,000 feet elevation of Lukla to 17,000 feet elevation of Gorakshep, we actually ascended and descended much more as is evident in the table below.
Including the entire journey from Lukla to Gorakshep and the acclimatization hikes of Namche Bazaar and Dingboche, we ascended more than 22,000 feet and descended 14,000 feet total on our journey in just 8 days. On an average, we climbed 3,000 feet and descended 2,000 feet almost every day. And, all of this activity is happening at 9K, 12K, 14K and 16–17K feet elevation where oxygen levels are between 75% and 50%. Our bodies had to continually adjust to higher elevation, lesser oxygen, colder temperatures, and diminishing appetites. “Ante is upped” every day, as one keeps getting closer to their limits — physical as well as mental.
Daily oxygen measurement is just one way to identify whether the body is coping or not. Every step we took, every puff of air we gasped in and out, every bit of physical power and will power we brought into play here, propelled us to the next step— these are their own indicators as well.
This was once in a lifetime adventure which we thoroughly enjoyed. We loved being in the Himalayas, the grand views and met all of our goals. Enjoy the journey to Everest Base Camp with us!
I signed up for EBC very early on with AdventureTripr, a Seattle based travel start up. I had several additional weeks of training than Ushma, who joined in early September and could only manage about 45 days of rigorous training.
Our prep involved multi-hour walks on high inclines on the treadmill during weekdays, hiking progressively difficult trails on the weekends, yoga and stretching, as well as strength training.
We also shopped early for all of our trekking gear, hydration powders, other food, and tried all of it while hiking our local trails to ensure nothing we take on the actual hike is untested. This is a very important aspect of the prep because anything that doesn’t work on the actual trek in Nepal will not have an opportunity to course correct and can lead to serious issues.
We flew Qatar Airlines on the Seattle-Doha-Kathmandu route. Travel to Kathmandu was fun — we said goodbye to our own Mount Rainier towering high above the clouds, were welcomed by a beautiful sunset at Doha, explored the FIFA 2022 exhibits at the airport, and of course, Ushma found a Starbucks and got a taste of her favorite coffee.
We had an 8-hour layover at Doha airport, so we tried something new. We rented a sleeping room at the airport and got a solid 5-hour shut eye for a reasonable price!
The flight time was quite convenient. We left Seattle on 27th afternoon and reached Kathmandu on 29th morning. That gave us three full days in Kathmandu to relax and address jet lag before we start trekking.
We received a warm welcome by our local tour operator, who promptly transferred us to “Hotel Thamel Park”, located in the heart of the busiest, very touristy, and the most happening place in Kathmandu — Thamel.
After settling into our room and lunch, we headed on foot towards Durbar Square which was an approximately 30 min one-way walk from the hotel. The goal was to stay awake until about 9 or 10PM to avoid jet lag. Along the way, we got a glimpse of the local Nepali life!
We walked around “Durbar Square” for a couple of hours without much context. We did explore the place in greater detail with a guide, on our last day, during the Kathmandu city tour.
After a good night sleep, the next morning, we headed to nearby Chandragiri Hills, for an early morning half-day exploration. This is a viewpoint located at the top of a mountain, around 20 mins driving distance from our hotel.
We got so lucky with the weather! A clear non-cloudy day gave us breathtaking views of the entire Himalayan Range from the top of the mountain.
Afternoon Lunch was at Hotel Majestic in the Thamel area, not too far from our hotel, where we had the best Nepali food. Highly recommended for food, ambience, and service. Several members of our trekking group had arrived before we did, and others arrived during the day today, so we got together as a group for dinner at Hotel Moonlight. Another great place for hotel stays, food, ambience, and service.
Our trekking duffel bags were packed this morning and we moved from Hotel Thamel Park to Hotel Moonlight, which was the gathering place for our entire group. The plan was to leave early tomorrow morning from this place to begin our trekking journey.
Today, all 12 members of our trekking group assembled at the Moonlight Hotel’s rooftop conference room. Our local tour planner, Deepak, gave us an overview of what to expect in the days ahead and introduced us to our trip guides. We were going to be accompanied by two lead guides (Avishek and Anant) and one assistant guide (Ranjan). We also found out that 7 porters (who will be carrying our duffel bags) will be joining us on our first stop, Lukla. So, we will be a group of 12 + 3 + 7 = 22.
As the sun set for the day, we took a few pictures of the city from the hotel roof top and headed off to a welcome dinner at a Nepali Thali restaurant — Bhojan Bhumi — where we enjoyed traditional Nepali food and live Nepali dance.
Tomorrow was the big day! We were to be up and about, bright and early, ready to leave the hotel at 4am.
Here we are, geared up, leaving Hotel Moonlight, headed towards Kathmandu airport, ready for the experience of a lifetime!
After a wait for approximately 2 hours at the airport, our Sita Air flight finally arrived. Of note in Nepal — one has to be very patient with flight schedules as they can be delayed or canceled at a drop of a hat and with very little notice, depending upon the weather conditions.
We were transported by bus to a corner spot of the terminal where the aircraft parked, existing passengers got off, the tiny airplane refueled, and we all packed into the aircraft one by one, in a single file line. Not including a pilot and a co-pilot, this was a small 14-seater plane carrying all twelve of us, our lead guide, Avishek, and a flight attendant.
A 30-minute thrilling but very scenic flight dropped us all to Lukla Airport. This airport is considered one of the most dangerous airports in the world with a super short runway, located at the top of a mountain. It is the only airport whose runway is at an incline to quickly allow incoming flights to slow down and outgoing flights to speed up. Upon landing, within a couple hundred feet, the pilot has to make a sharp U turn to park the plane in its spot for passengers to offboard.
After getting off the plane, all of us gathered on top of a hill and patiently waited for approximately an hour, to watch one plane land and another one take-off … quite a feat to watch…a must see!
We walked a hilly road to get to our first “Tea House”, where we were introduced to “garlic soup”, a staple item on the food menu throughout the trip, which is supposed to help our body improve circulation, and help combat altitude sickness.
We were all set to start walking at around 11:30AM, after a hearty carbohydrate-loaded lunch! Here we are, at the entrance of the gate that is the starting point of the “Trek to EBC.”
Day one is supposedly a “comparatively easier hike”, we were told. Though we were going to have a net elevation loss today, we went up and down on roads that are famously referred as “Nepali Flat”. Note that we ascended and descended about 2,000 feet over 7km on this so-called flat road. 😀
Enjoy the pictures and the sights that our camera lens captured — by no means doing justice to the real beauty of this place that our eyes captured — and today is just day one!
After traversing twisting and turning roads, climbing up and down paved paths and rocky steps, walking over sturdy and suspension bridges, passing through prayer rocks and prayer drums, sharing the road with other trekking groups, luggage porters, and transport animals, we finally arrived at our resting place, “the tea house”, in Phakding, at approximately 4PM.
The plan for the evening was to settle into our rooms, eat a hearty dinner, and rest to re-energize for day two which was supposed to be the hardest day of this entire trek.
A choked nasal passage due to the cold and severe breathing difficulties hit Ushma right on day one, which prevented her to get a solid night’s sleep. Her issues lasted well into wee hours of the morning. She could not lay flat in bed nor could she sleep well with propped up pillows. Every time she would drift off to sleep, she would wake up with a jolt after experiencing either a sinking feeling or claustrophobia (first time ever!). She barely got 3–4 hours of shut eye.
On the days we were trekking, our goal was to wake up around 6am, repack our duffel bags, finish eating breakfast around 7:30am, gear up, and start walking around 8AM.
So, here we are, all 12 of us, ready to conquer day two.
Day two was one of the hardest days considering the amount of distance covered and elevation gained. Over 10km, we climbed more than 5,000 feet while going down 2,500 feet, gaining net elevation of 2,500 feet. Especially excruciating was the second half of the climb, post lunch, as we walked over the Hillary suspension bridge and then only kept climbing upwards on a very steep incline. It seemed like a never-ending slope unlike any practice hikes we had done in Seattle. The last couple of miles were nothing but a robotic walk as we pushed our bodies up the slope, aiming to reach Namche Bazaar before nightfall. Counting every step and stopping after every few hundred steps to get a breather helped some. The body was exhausted, and the mind was giving up. Gamification of when to stop and how much farther could we push ourselves kept it interesting and motivating — so did self-talk.
Even after reaching the town after sunset, the climb didn’t end. Getting to the tea house brought along its own difficulty level and hard climb. But it did finally end as we reached our hotel in the dark, with the help of our headlamps, around 7pm, after a grueling 10-hours of walking.
The couches in the tea house, warmth of the dining hall, and smiling faces of our team members who had already reached the tea house certainly brightened up our mood. When reality sank in and the day ended, we realized that this hardest day was now behind us.
Here are pictures from Day Two.
Day three was deemed as “relaxation and acclimatization” day but soon we were going to figure out that the acclimatization hike planned for today was anything but relaxing. We climbed up more than 2000 feet to reach the same height as Tengboche where we would be going the next day. It was a part of the plan of the “climb high, sleep low” trekking philosophy to help the body get a taste of higher elevations, and get an opportunity to react and adjust. This hike was not only important as it was going to help our bodies adjust, but also invaluable as we got to see Mount Everest clearly in front of us — a feast to our eyes and minds. The world’s highest point, right there in front of us. Its base camp was our destination, but the peak was already giving us a peek into where we were headed over the next few days.
After thoroughly absorbing and enjoying a gorgeous view from our tea house room in the morning, and breakfast, we set out around 9am with a goal of completing this hike and back as soon as possible so we can relax and explore Namche Bazaar.
It was a short hike comparatively, but by no means an easy one.
Enjoy these pictures.
Most people hiked up to an interim location, a couple of them ventured further and hiked up to Everest View Hotel. After coming down, we were in no position to explore Namche Bazaar, so we stayed at the tea house and rested. The journey over the past 3 days was a good representation of the 5 days ahead of us — from a hardship perspective as well as views. We would be seeing more or less the same mountains but closer, and from various different angles.
Ushma was content with what she got to enjoy until now and did not want to put her body (that was recovering from a recent chronic condition) through any further strain or pain. Around dinner time, Ushma decided to go back to Kathmandu with the satisfaction of having enjoyed the journey so far, the spectacular views, and great company. It was a very hard but a courageous, and a correct decision she made for herself. Another group member also decided to join her — so tomorrow, two people short, the rest of us will continue forward to Deboche.
Two members of the group returned to Kathmandu this morning via a helicopter ride, which first took them on an ariel tour of the remainder of the EBC route, all the way up to the Kala Patthar 360 viewpoint, before returning to Lukla. From there, they got on the little plane and reached Kathmandu by lunch time.
The remaining group of ten started the journey towards Tengboche. Since we had already reached a similar elevation during our hike yesterday, our bodies felt confident to cope with today’s trek. The journey was still very hard as we climbed up about 4,000 feet and climbed down 3,000 feet.
Tengboche monastery was a feast to our souls as we got there at a good pace that allowed us to join the afternoon meditation. Monks in their red robes and their serene sound chanted buddhist prayers; the walls echoed this chanting across the big hall and into our hearts. Our minds and souls got refreshed and our muscles got re-energized. From here, we took a quick downward hike to Deboche, where we were going to stop for the night.
Today was another milestone day as we started walking towards Dingboche. Another hard day with a destination situated at 14,000+ feet elevation. Our guides mentioned that many trekkers end their journey here due to severe altitude sickness. This is when lack of oxygen starts impacting our bodies in a measurable way. Most of our team didn’t take Diamox pills that help combat altitude sickness (due to its side effects). So, it was also a trying time for us as we were all unsure about how our bodies would react at this altitude.
On this day, we noticed another team member having trouble keeping pace on steep inclines and the issues continued even on flat level ground. He slowly made it to Dingboche, somehow.
Meanwhile in Kathmandu, Ushma visited the Namo Buddha Stupa and Monastery, and Kailashnath Mahadev, which is the tallest Shiva Statue in the world.
Today, we will do our final acclimatizing hike to help us cope with the higher elevation of Lobuche tomorrow. We climbed to almost 15,500 feet altitude and spent an hour at the top. I slept very well last night, and my body seemed to be getting a hang of this altitude and adjusting properly. However, more layers were needed to keep my body warm as I reached to the top.
The day started with all 10 of us ready to start our trek to Lobuche — another high-altitude town and one milestone closer to EBC. Our team member who was having challenges yesterday reaching the hotel in Dingboche found the practice hike very challenging as well, and was debating whether he should continue today or turn back. So far, his “mind over body” grit fueled his will power, which propelled him further up to this point. But today, as he started the day with a climb, he realized his limit, and decided it was time to go back. He had achieved an amazing feat by making it so far, but it took him some time to understand that turning back from here was not a failure. Rather, it was the right thing to do — to listen to his body. His accomplishment to reach to this point was way beyond a point many would even dare to think. He took the same helicopter route back to Kathmandu as Ushma did, while the remaining nine members slowly continued pacing towards Lobuche.
The first half of this trek was yet another Nepali Flat with amazing views, but the real climb was waiting for us after Thukla (lunch town at 15,000 feet altitude). The steep climb ultimately ended, and we reached a memorial hill that had many structures built to remember those brave souls who lost their lives climbing Mount Everest. It was a somber place and even clouds showed up as if nature too wanted to shed a tear or two for them.
Another run of Nepali Flat took us to Lobuche.
The day ended with an unexpected twist. As I was checking into the tea house, I realized my duffel bag was switched with the bag of my friend who already reached Kathmandu. My friend’s bag did have a sleeping bag but change of clothes were out of reach for me. Not knowing how good that sleeping bag was, I put two hot water bags in it along with two blankets on top in order to stay warm. It turned out that the sleeping bag overheated, and within the hour, I woke up with a toasty and suffocating feeling. I quickly removed all blankets and hot water bags under duress. In the next hour, I woke up feeling cold and in need of warmth. The rest of the night was spent in fighting with cold and gasping for air with some difficulty. This broken sleep pattern was certainly not setting me up for a successful final day. ☹️ 11–08–2022 | Lobuche to Gorakshep to EBC; Back to Gorakshep and Lukla
I woke up tired, as expected, and not fully recharged. Today was going to be a busy day as we were going to trek to our final tea house in Gorakshep, eat lunch, immediately go to EBC, and return before nightfall when the bitter cold takes over. A team member’s asthma issues from the past two days flared up today, as higher elevation and cold made it worse. She and her spouse decided to return to Periche, which was at a lower elevation near Dingboche, and wait for the remaining team members to join them tomorrow.
Two other team members and I had another plan in the works. What if we rode ponies from Gorakshep to EBC to save some time and upon our return, fly back to Periche, pick up the other two friends who were waiting there, and return to Lukla on the same day? Seemed like a moonshot for one day, but if we can pull it off, we don’t have to stay overnight at Gorakshep at such a high altitude and extremely cold weather. The prospect of getting to a lower altitude of 9,000 feet in Lukla, with a hot shower, and a warm bed seemed very enticing. 😀 Our tour operator approved this plan and arranged for a helicopter on a very short notice. So that’s what we decided to do!
The group started our journey towards Gorakshep knowing this was our last day. This did inject some enthusiasm which was severely needed considering the horrible sleep from last night and my body was just not ready. And certainly, the lack of readiness was evident in the slowdown as we walked more and climbed even further. Precious need of stopping after every few hundred steps was now happening after every twenty to thirty steps. Each breath was taking me one step further, but also sucking much energy away from my body, as if my batteries needed a severe instant recharge. Imagine compiling a world source code on a laptop with minimal memory and disk that is running out of space. 😀
And that was not the only challenge. The terrain today was very different and difficult to navigate compared to that we had walked on in the past. It was very rocky with big and small uneven rocks along the way. No dirt road, no paved steps. We had to bounce from one rock to the other as we continued to climb up. Around 20% into this climb, an opportunity showed up to give us reprieve. Two ponies showed up as a God-sent way to help us finish the remaining 20-minute climb. There was no reason for us to let go of this opportunity as it would make up for lost time and help us finish the final stretch to EBC with minimum effort. Without this, there was a big chance that we will not be able to get back to Lukla before nightfall. So, we grabbed this opportunity in a blink.
We reached the Gorakshep tea house in 15 mins and tried to eat lunch. Yes, “tried” is the key word here. It was hard to eat because the body didn’t have enough energy to digest the food, and hence was rejecting it. I forced one bowl of garlic soup that was helping my body to deal with lack of oxygen, and also had some potato chips which helped me get some energy for the rest of the day. This was yet another sign that my body was reaching its limit. Since the rest of the day did not involve much effort — thanks to the pony — I mustered up the energy somehow to continue on.
We were almost there!
The maneuvering act of the ponies was commendable. They were smart, skillful, and fast. They knew which path to take, which stone to step on, and which way to go safely. Although each pony was directed by a skillful human, ponies had their own minds, and resisted the guide when they felt unsafe. It was amusing to see the battle between human and ponies, where ponies would mostly win. 😀 The ponies took us near the EBC rim where we would walk our last hike from the rim down and back up to reach EBC and then return to the rim to take the pony ride back to Gorakshep.
Of course, because our bodies were ready for this final adrenaline rush, it didn’t take much time to finish that last part to get in front of the EBC stone that proclaimed we made it to the endpoint of this journey at an elevation of 5364 meters (17,594 feet).
The rest of the journey was a return trip, with a pony ride back to Gorakshep and then a helicopter ride back to Lukla via Periche. We enthusiastically danced back to the ponies, who further pranced back to Gorakshep with us on their backs. We had to create harmony and rhythm with the ponies as they climbed up and down — moving our bodies front and back to keep us stable — that was not an issue after so much hard work we did over the last 8 days. It was like dancing with the stars — staying in tandem and ensuring we don’t mess up the performance.
We made it back to Gorakshep and then waited for the helicopter ride back. We thought the hike to EBC was our last one, but that was not true. The helipad was at an even higher elevation, hence we had to do one final hike to that place amidst severe cold and brutal wind. Even worse, we had to wait for the helicopter for 15 mins in that weather which seemed like eternity. Five layers of clothing was not enough, and we could certainly see ourselves dropping here like flies if we had to wait any further, but the helicopter came just in time and picked us up. 3 humans (not counting the pilot), 4 duffel bags, and 3 day packs were shoved in a helicopter like bags stuffed in the boot of a car. We flew to Periche where 2 more humans, their 2 duffel bags, and 2 day packs were further shoved into the same space that we thought was already filled up to the brim. There was no space to move or remove the phone from pocket to take a picture. Fortunately, I could still see a bit of the view from my side window and got an ariel glimpse of the many towns, roads, rivers and suspension bridges we walked on in the past few days. It was truly like a movie replaying and as if someone was rewinding our play.
Before we knew, we were in Lukla, where we stayed at a nice tea house with warm beds and hot showers but even more importantly, at an elevation where our body got its appetite back. We had many food choices, but everyone made sure that we didn’t eat any of the food we had been eating for the past 8 days. Although food was good for past days considering its nutritional value for elevation, we were so done with garlic soup, veg Momo’s, veg spring rolls, pasta, noodles, pizza, and Nepali dal bhaat.
With a nice night’s sleep despite prolonged cacophony of dog’s howls, we were hoping for day 9 to start with refreshed body and spirit.
Meanwhile in Kathmandu, Ushma visited the Museum of Nepali Art (MoNA).
Four teammates who spent night in frozen Gorakshep, joined us in Lukla this morning. While we rode ponies yesterday, they walked from Gorakshep to EBC, and one of them even trekked to the Kala Patthar viewpoint and captured some amazing pictures of sunset over Mount Everest. He returned to Gorakshep late in the evening, in the freezing cold and darkness — but so worth it.
That evening our tour operator hosted a celebration dinner. We dined at Third Eye restaurant — one of the best food places for Indian food. The food at Third Eye was better than any restaurants we have eaten in Seattle. It was probably as good as any of the restaurants in India.
Today was our final day in Nepal, a day of wandering in Kathmandu. A public bath, Durbar square, Kumari (living goddess) home, Pashupatinath temple, Boudhnath Stupa, and Swaymbhunath stupa (aka monkey temple) were not only great to see but also have us a chance to spend time with each other without any rush, low oxygen conditions, or any tiredness.
During the day we pampered our taste buds by bravely eating the street food of Nepal without a care for potential diarrhea outbreak — fresh squeezed sugarcane juice, samosa chaat, pani puri, and much more.
We left for Kathmandu airport the same night after a traditional Nepali goodbye scarf handed to us by Deepak.
As we departed, our hearts were happy, and we not only packed memories of all the hardships we endured, but also packed memories of joy, laughter, teasing, encouragements, our experiences, and an overall sense of accomplishment.
Not only did we conquer EBC, but we also conquered our limits, our fears, and ourselves.
We will be back again, soon!
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