Landing in Kathmandu was like transferring into a colourful, fumey delight. After taking an hour to get out of the airport, through 4 different queues to get our visa, we met our guide Kashi to travel through the city to our hotel. The hazy sunset and taste of car fumes really was like a Turkish delight to the face. We sat watching dusk become night from a stoop outside one of the local shops, guessing what was real or fake North Face from the milling hikers and locals passing by.
We tasted the local delicacies that evening with our friends we were joining on the trek, Madeleine, Manolis and Ed, before a day to explore the just some of this vast city before meeting with our Lead guide Shankar back at the hotel that evening. All thoughts of the trek were banished for the day before the utter panic of, how can 2 weeks’ worth of trekking gear weigh including plenty of snacks less than 10kg!!
Day 1: Going nowhere
One last sleep in a warm bed, before a quick, but thorough 4:45am shower and straight to the airport for our 6 am flight…… the day started sleepy and apprehensive. 6 hours later, we’re still at the airport. One lonely cloud hovering over the runway at our destination, Lukla, the worlds most dangerous airport and the gateway into the Himalayas. All flights were being cancelled. This was supposed to be the ultimate time of year to travel into the mountains…. but luck was not on our side. It was decided that we would head back to a hotel closer to the airport fly the next morning. The guides seemed to think we’d still be ok to make basecamp but would lose a day that we’d have to make up for on the way down. More walking in less days. Again, we had an early night, and a shower for good measure.
Day 2: Still going nowhere....
Back at the airport, 4 hours waiting, all flights into the mountains are called off again due to ice on the runway. We consider the option of paying for a helicopter, but even they can’t fly. Our hope of even getting to the mountains after months of planning and training were dwindling! The guides take us out for dinner to their friends local restaurant that evening. This is feeling like a waiting game.
Day 3: Kathmandu – Phakding (2,610m)
Another shower and a slower morning at the hotel. Just as we think it’s all over, Shankar gets a call, and we’re off! To the airport at least. We feel like veterans, we get prioritised, we’re straight in and then…… we wait. FINALLY they call us, we practically run to the gate, onto the bus, and onto the tarmac… where we wait.
The plane is tiny, a twin otter as a client had told me. We’re at the back of the plane, and I’m not a good back seat driver, even for a 27-minute journey. It felt like we were flying in a paper plane! The Himalayas were in sight, somewhere I thought only Michael Palin could go, and then the runway. We land with our guides heads in their hands. What do you mean this isn’t Lukla!?
We’ve been forced to land at an airport the guides have never been to before. A 4-minute flight, 2 day walk from Lukla. Practically round the corner and yet so far away.
So, we sit and wait again. Practicing our juggling skills, napping, playing horseshoes with some metal… and generally getting to know the group. After the longest 2 hours of all these hours, we’re back on the plane. “Jam Jam!” our top gun pilot shouts, let’s go! A weather window has opened and time is limited. Within minutes we’re landing in Lukla, the airport that my Dad enjoys watching planes take off and land on YouTube to pass the time, bet you’re not chuckling any more are you Dad!
To make our accommodation for the night we’re going to have to trek in the dark. Fuelled up with lunch and plenty of lemon, honey & ginger tea, the first of many. We hand our luggage over to the porters and set off into the mountains, with just a head torch to lead the way. The sunset has the same hazy quality it did back in KTM, but with a clear crisp air.
We walk for about 4 hours, Nepali flat, up and down, over rope bridges with the sound of rushing water below. Stopping for pitch black pee breaks, safer than having your head torch on! We arrive at our first tea house for the night, with more lemon, honey & ginger and Dahl Bhat, a local curry dish, known to provide power for 24 hours.
Day 4: Phakding – Namche Bazaar (3,440m)
After a cold night barely sleeping we wake early, again, to see the sunrise. Although it’s funny in the mountains that you can see the sunlight, but not be able to reach the warmth.
We start to wind our way through the valley, removing layers quickly as that sun reaches us in the forest, and we share the path with not too many other hikers, but plenty of mules and yaks carrying goods up into the mountains. There are porters carrying up to 30kg, possibly more, on their back. We give all of them priority, they are on the M25 into the mountains. The day is split with tea breaks, water breaks and pee breaks, as well as rope bridges covered in prayer flags meandering our path through the valley. Just as we are approaching our lunch break, we get the first glimpse of the beast, Everest. The summit seeming so empowering in the distance.
As we near hour 5 of walking, we arrive at Namche Bazaar, the largest market town into the mountains. Even if you only make it here, you’re extremely lucky. The colours, the light, the tea houses, the prayer wheels (traditional Buddhist cylindrical wheels to only be turned with the right hand, to the left), a horseshoe shaped hive of activity overlooking a frozen waterfall. We have the afternoon to explore, we split into our smaller groups and head to a café, feeling like we’re here for the après ski…. And the Wi-Fi.
Day 5: Namche Bazaar – Thyangboche (3,860m)
We should have had a day to acclimatise in Namche, instead we were moving straight on to keep to our already shortened schedule. The view of the mountains from our beds, and the 7am lie in, made us want to stay put. But after a good breakfast, we were again winding our way slowly up out of the shady town and again into the sunlight. Taking in views of Everest, Lhotse, Ama Dablam from a stupa, one of many mini temples, used as a place of meditation, on the path into the mountains.
Our lunch break was welcomed, at altitude you don’t realise how hungry you are until you stop. We had a tough incline to get to Thyangboche that afternoon and we were hoping to make it in time to see the monks that live there during their prayers. Unfortunately, we were a little too late, but sat in the monastery for an hour or so, taking in the most incredible and detailed paintings and wood work. That night the clouds cleared and the mountains were illuminated by the moonlight, and the stars… THE STARSSSSSSS.
Day 6 – Thyangboche – Dingboche (4,410m)
Dan, my husband, was really not feeling very well by now. Not only is the air thinning, and the cold uncomfortable nights making us all tired, but he’d started the trek with a cold, turning into the flu. Another of the boys has been poorly overnight too, perhaps down to food. We’ve also missed that all important acclimatisation day, so Shankar wants us to go slowly to make the next town, before a very much welcomed rest day.
Lots of rest stops for water breaks, which of course leads to lots of rest stops for wilderness loo breaks too! Plenty of lemon, ginger and honey, and the all-important Snickers bar (and Coca-Cola for Dan). He can’t stomach the food anymore, the choice of dhal bhat, eggs, chapati’s, garlic soup (very good for altitude sickness), and beans can quite quickly wear thin. In order to get some acclimatisation in, we trekked higher before descending down into the town of Dingboche. We asked to put some wood on the fire… but to our surprise it was powered by yak dung, plenty of it in the mountains. And the water was heated by solar energy.
Day 7 – A well welcomed rest day.
It’s snowed overnight and when going to the loo, we had to smash the ice in the flushing bucket!! Although we are going nowhere today we still have to do an acclimatisation walk. We take a short hike in the morning and spend the rest of the day exploring the town. Ending up in the one café playing chess and reading books.
Day 8 – Dingboche – Lobuche (5,030m)
We’re starting to battle with the freezing wind now, and the open plateaus seem flat, but are on a steep incline. Despite that, this was probably my favourite day, surrounded by the mountain peaks. This misconception that we were barely getting higher would not account for the lack of breath. It was here that you could truly feel the air thinning. We