Day 7 – Dingboche to Lobuche

Our day started early and cold, which seems to be a theme, with the steep incline out of Dingboche village and then taking the long flat valley path in the shadow of Mt Tabuche (6362m) and Mt Cholatse (6335m) and above the river valley that flows off the Khumbu Glacier at the foot of Mt Everest. Every direction gives rise to spectacular mountain panaramas but we bid goodbye to Mt Ama Dablam, the sentinel that towers over Dingboche.

The trail to Everest Base Camp is quite busy at this time of year and many trekking parties Zig zag pilgrim like along the path that leads to the sacred mountain. There are no roads or vehicular traffic in this high region of the Khumbu valley and only footpaths for people and yaks (and of course naks and dzopas) join the little villages. The Himalaya are ever changing and rock falls and erosion give up the mountains’ prizes and glittering crystals can be seen on and around the trails.

After a brief lunch stop at Thukla we embark upon the main climb of the day up to Lobuche. All of Cayman Turtle Trekkers are beginning to feel the effects of altitude and progress up the hill at almost 5000 meters is reduced to a slow Turtle like plod, which at average speed of 2 km an hour may not sound speedy but slowly and surely it allows us to climb the 643 meters of ascent to Lobuche.

At the top of the climb we pass through the Sherpa memorial grounds which honors the heroes of Mt Everest, the sherpas and guides that make it possible for mountaineers from all over the world to climb the worlds highest mountain. The top team of Sherpas are called the Ice Doctors as they are highly skilled climbers who set fixed ladders and ropes and carry heavy loads through the Khumbu Icefall, which is the gateway and key to the route up the Western Cwm to the Lhotse face and on to the South Col and the final ridge to the summit. Sadly, climbing Everest is a dangerous proposition and the stone memorials draped with prayer flags on the plateau-below the world’s highest mountains sit as a fitting memorial of the men and woman who died on Everest but whose names live on for ever in mountaineering folklore.

We arrive exhausted at the small town of Lobuche situated at 4,920m by the side of the Khumbu Glacier under the watchful gaze of Mt Nuptse and Mt Pumori. Our reward for reaching our destination is a later afternoon hike up to just over 5,000m to help us acclimatize for the days ahead. The view over the glacier is spectacular but the sun sets over the valley and the bearable warm sunny days gives way to the frigidly cold night and we scurry back to the tea house for dinner.

Our daily routine ends with dinner in the communal dining room with our Sherpa guides and other Trekkers. Everyone gathers around the yak dung fueled fire to get warm before retreating to the very basic bedrooms. These seem to be made of plywood and are unheated so in other words arctic cold. Mingma, our head Sherpa, ends our dinner with the plan for tomorrow. It’s our big day as we head out at 6.00am to start the 12 kilometer round trip trek to Everest Base Camp and Gorak Shep. Our first expedition goal is within touching distance.

Day 5 – Debuche to Dingboche – Do you believe in the Abominable Snowman?

We awoke this morning to a frosty start at -6 degrees C so it was a case of all layers on at least until the sun worked it’s magic. First stop today, by unanimous vote, was a slight one hour detour to visit Pangboche Monastery. The Monestary is quite small but is the oldest in Nepal and very peaceful with the unique attraction being a scalp and hand from a Yeti on display. Over the years these items have been subject to much controversy with the hand being stolen, a replica being displayed and a finger having been stolen and subject to DNA testing. The local Sherpa people tell a story of a Buddhist monk who lived in a cave in the mountains and made friends with yeti. The yeti would bring food and fuel to the monk and keep him company. One day the yeti went to fetch food for the monk but a huge snow storm happened and the poor yeti perished. The monk was very sad but to honor the yeti he promised to display the yeti’s scalp and bones in the monastery. The mystery of the yeti remains but is much revered in the valley.

From Pangboche, the trail wound it’s way through the pine forest to the river past several Buddhist Stupa and temples. As we climbed up along the river bank the trees started to thin out and the terrain gave way to alpine style meadows with low shrub like vegetation. In fact, we passed the last tree we will see for two weeks as all the high altitude trekking coming up is above the tree line. The trail was quite dramatic often being only a few feet wide and on the edge of a precipitous drop to the raging river swelled by the monsoon rains which have just ended for the year.

Dingboche is a relatively large village in Khumba, located between Pangboche and Chukhung and being above the tree line lacks the greenery of the villages. It sits at the foot of Mt Ama Dablam and the mighty south face of Lhotse and Nuptse ridge which guard the famous Western Cum and the route up to the South Col and the summit ridge of Everest.

At 14,300 feet the nights are freezing cold and the Trekkers are all feeling the altitude and the wear and tear of daily 10 km treks and climbs. But the prize of a visit to Everest Base Camp and scaling Mt. Kala Pathar are within touching distance only a few days away now and that is keeping the morale of the party high.

Day 4 – Namche to Tengboche and Debuche

The trek this morning retraced our steps of yesterday up the grueling stair climb out of the village. We were promised, following the initial stair climb, a “Nepali flat” trek taking us to lunch. Nepali flat turns out to be seriously undulating but not a constant ascent or descent. The terrain today was wooded along the valley where we enjoyed even more spectacular mountain and woodland views.

Most of the morning we could see the giant mountains that will be our backdrop for the next week or so and we stopped for tea, all very civilised, with an amazing view of Ama Dablam before a steep 400m descent to the river for lunch.

The lunch menu is now very familiar to us and seems to be the same in every restaurant, not surprising given all provisions have to be brought in by yak. The restaurant was by the suspension bridge across the Dudh Kush river and we watched quite a jam build up as a baby yak was trying to cross his first suspension bridge and was terrified (we all know that feeling) so would not move and blocked the bridge. Finally our Sherpa guide, Mingma, helped the yak driver persuade the baby yak to cross and the bridge traffic started to flow again.

After lunch we faced probably our toughest climb to date a relentless 600 meter march through the pine forest from the river valley up the hill to Tengboche. This was an intense experience as the climb is hard and hot work when the sun is out but as we climbed in to the clouds it started to snow and we all began to freeze. The trick to being in the mountains is to layer clothing and we all often stop to layer on or delayer as you get hot or cold.

Tengboche (Thyangboche) is a village in Khumbu Pasanglhamu rural region located at 3,867 metres. The village is famous for it’s important Buddhist monastery, Tengboche Monastery, which is the largest gompa in the Khumbu region.

Tenzing Norgay was an inhabitant of this village, and his notoriety being one of the first to reach the summit of Mt Everest in 1953 had a profound effect. Thereafter, the monastery has acquired international interest, as it is on the route to Everest base camp for routes made via the Khumbu icefall and west ridge. Everest expeditions visit the monastery to light candles and seek the blessings of Gods for good health and safe mountaineering.

It was cloudy and flicking with snow when we arrived at the monastery but we were lucky enough to get there in time to see the Buddhist monks start their prayers. Inside the monastery the monks were lined up on platforms in an ornately decorated prayer hall honoring the Buddha. With the red and orange robed monks chanting their mantra and ringing bells and cymbals and gongs and the burning insense it made for a truly authentic and timeless experience. The courtyard of the monastery closely resembles Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.

The monastery is considered the gateway to Mount Everest. After overnighting in Debuche, approx. 100m below the monetary, with a last hot shower for two weeks on offer, we will cross through that gateway and continue our climb to Dingboche. Mount Everest and Island Peak are getting closer.

A question we have been pondering all day is considering that a female yak is a nak, what is yaks milk?

Day 2 – Phakding to Namche – Suspension Bridges and Rivendell

Today we trek to one of the famous names in the Himalayas, Namche Bazaar. Whilst a modest 11km distance, the trek takes us from 2,600m to 3,440m (11,250ft) but as we traverse the valleys the total ascent for the day turns out to be a tiring 935m (3,067ft).

Shortly after we leave Phakding, down the Dudh Koshi valley, we are dwarfed by Thamserku an impressive 6,608m peak which apparently is rarely climbed as it is too difficult. We follow the line of the valley, up and down, alongside and crossing the fast paced Duhd Koshi river. The terrain is straight out of Rivendell and we feel like Hobbits on an unexpected journey not quite knowing what dangers we might encounter around the corner. The stops for morning break and lunch were both spectacular, deep in the valley with the ever present mountain backdrop. At lunch we watched the yak trains crossing the bridge we had just used.

The five river crossings today were all using suspension bridges with the longest and highest saved for last. Whilst the bridges look scary and do bounce somewhat they do feel remarkably safe. We haven’t yet encountered a yak train coming the other way on a bridge but decided if we do to simply turn around and go back!

The afternoon was one long 3 hour steep upward stretch from the river up and across the high suspension bridge and on to Namche. It was a relief to arrive in Namche where we had been promised a hot shower at our lodgings The Friendship Lodge. Sadly the water varied from arctic cold from the cold tap to very cold from the hot tap but tomorrow we understand the water will, in true friendship fashion, be back to hot.

Tomorrow is a rest and acclimatision day so only a three hour trek in the morning to a viewpoint from where we can see Mt. Everest.

Picture credits throughout the blog to Craig Burke, Michael Testori and Barry Yetton with thanks.

Day 1 – Kathmandu to Lukla to Phakding

After an early 3:30am start and swift passage through a chaotic Kathmandu airport the short 27 minute flight to Lukla lived up to all expectations. Following the line of the Himalayas the view of the high mountains was spectacular with us weaving between the lower peaks where at times we felt we could touch the hillsides on either side. The descent was short lived having basically climbed up to cruising altitude and then just landing. Not unlike a large noisy chair lift.

Although it isn’t the highest airport in the world, it is certainly one of the most dangerous. The runway is situated at 9000 feet and is flanked by the rugged Himalayas on all sides. The 1500-foot runway sits on a 12 degree slope and abruptly drops off into the river valley below with the pilot landing into the slope and taking off down the slope somewhat like negotiating an aircraft carrier. The airport, when the weather behaves, is abuzz with small aircraft and helicopters. The turnaround times for the aircraft landing, unloading, loading and taking off is less than 10 minutes.

Our merry band sighed a collective relief, not just at landing, but more as we were finally going to start our trek following so much preparation.

Breakfast in Lukla was the Nepalese staple of fried potatoes and eggs then it was, guess what, repacking and sorting out before our relatively short trek to Phakding. Lukla is the stepping off point for all Everest expeditions and is a lively town catering predominantly to climbers and trekkers.

It was fabulous to get out on the trail, which proved quite busy with Trekkers, donkeys and yaks. The yaks with their bells tinkling proved stubborn beasts and we were reminded several times to stand uphill when they passed so that they didn’t accidentally knock anyone over the edge.

The temperature started off very chilly early morning but rapidly warmed with the sun. The trek today took 4 1/2 hours up and down through a forested terrain with many small villages with an overall descent from 9300 ft to 8,500 ft. The villages provided a glimpse of times past with cobbled paths, yak trains with what appeared a delightfully simple and peaceful way of life. It was wonderful to finally be in the mountains but concerning that given the path ahead, what goes down must go up so we have today’s descent to make up tomorrow!

Accommodation tonight is the Beer Garden Tea House and currently we are huddled in the common room, which is somewhat heated (not as cold as outside) as opposed to our fairly basic rooms (colder than outside) enjoying supper and talk of tomorrow. Onward to Namche Bazaar.