Top of the World Trek Oct 8-21

Trip Start May 04, 2011
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Trip End Oct 08, 2012


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Flag of Nepal  ,
Friday, October 7, 2011

ITINERARY
 
Day 1 Lukla (8520 ft.) -Monju (9301 ft.) 6.67 miles, 500 ft. elevation gain

Day 2 Manju-Namche Bazaar (11,300 ft.) 3.44 miles

Day 3 Namche Bazaar-Thame (12,467 ft.) and Thame-Khumjung (12,474 ft.) 12.64 miles, 5:50 hr. moving time, 8:35hr. total, 360 ft. gain, cal. 3,754

Day 4 Khumjung-Dole (13,295 ft.) and Dole acclimatization walk to (14,041 ft.) 7.8 miles, 3:53 hr moving time, 1,567 ft. gain, 3,580 ft. total ascent, cal. 2,750

Day 5 Dole-Machermo (14,494 ft.) and extra ridge hike to (155,517 ft.) 5.86 miles, 3:01 moving time, 2,847 ft. gain, cal. 1,980.

Day 6 Machermo-Gokyo (15,585 ft.) with Gokyo Ri (17,590 ft.) 7.34 miles, 4:00 moving time, 3,785 ft. gain, cal. 3,300

Day 7 Gokyo-5th Lake (16,368 ft.)

Day 8 Gokyo-Thangnag (15,380ft.) 2.59 miles, 1:118 moving time, cal 787
 
Day 9 Thangnag-Labouche (16,147ft.) 9.76 miles, 5:25 moving time, 4,066 ft. gain with peak height at Cho La Pass (17,630 ft.), cal. 5,225

Day 10 Labouche-Kala Patthar (18,576ft.) -EBC-Labouche 12.2 miles, 6:08 moving time, 5,282 gain, cal. 4,666

Day 11 Labouche-Tengbouche (12,695 ft.) 11.2 miles, 4:17 moving, 1,551 ft. gain, cal. 2,303

Day 12 Tengbouche-Namche Bazaar  (11,299 ft.) 6.45 miles, 2:38 moving, 1,588ft. gain, cal. 1,503

Day 13 Namche Bazaar-Lukla (8,520 ft.) 10.78 miles, 5:25 moving, cal. 4,433
     
SUGGESTED PACKING LIST FOR EVEREST BASE CAMP TREK IN OCTOBER 
Comfortable, durable hiking boots preferably waterproof and with ankle support
-         3 pairs of wool socks
·         Down jacket
·         Waterproof/windproof shell
·         Fleece thermals
·         Wool hat
·         Neck gator
·         Water bottle with built in filter
·         Sleeping bag if not provided and silk or fleece liner
·         Minimum 2 pairs of hiking pants (convertible and of varied thickness)
·         Minimum 3 base layers: thin wool, 260 wool and or fleece and a silk layer
·         Minimum 7 pairs of underwear
·         Jog bra or workout tops (min. 2)
·         Glove liners and full snow mittens
·         Earmuffs optional
·         Camera and minimum 2 batteries
·         Chapstick
·         Electrolyte replacement
·         Snacks/energy bars
·         GPS optional
·         Toilet paper·    

I arrived in Kathmandu at 9:40AM after a six hour flight, six hour layover in Delhi at 2:30AM and another 2 hour flight from there. Visa on arrival proved to not be as easy as 1,2, 3 since the Chinese Yuan is not an acceptable currency and the ATM machines rejected my card. This was the moment to break out the one $100 bill I had stashed in my suitcase. Thank God the pocket size airport in Kathmandu made it possible to pass the custom counter, retrieve my suitcase and resurface to collect my passport without hassle. I was happy to have pre-arranged pick up at the airport and dodge the unsolicited taxi drivers waiting to prey on tourists like me.
After six months of traveling I've finally succumbed to the idea of "going with the flow." I arrived to Nepal with absolutely no plan other than to do one of the big treks. At first I was leaning in favor of doing the Annapurna range over Everest Base Camp (EBC) mostly based on feedback from others along the way who swore that it is equally if not more challenging and offers more diversity than EBC. But the draw to say “I hiked to EBC” ultimately won out once I spoke to Faiz, a fellow Travbuddy.com user. He had pre-booked a package to EBC with an agency called ITrek Nepal and within 15 minutes of speaking to Faiz and the agency I was signed up to join him the next morning at 8:00AM. I couldn’t believe how quickly it was all unfolding.

In need of thermals and a new raincoat, I was looking forward to picking up the necessary cheap North Face and Mountain Hardware knockoffs which Thamel is notorious for. But due to their big Dashain festival, vendors were closing early, leaving no time to shop. Fortunately. Thank God ITrek supplied a sleeping bag, gloves, waterproof duffle and a walking pole.

Day One (Oct. 8) I met Faiz for the first time in the Kathmandu airport where we boarded an 18 passenger plane to Lukla, one of the busiest airports in the world. It was a clear day with views of the Himalayas as we approached the range but the view of the smallest landing strip I’ve ever seen had me saying my prayers.  With no door on the cockpit I could see us approaching the mere 1,500 ft. long by 65 ft. wide strip and then making an abrupt stop before hitting the mountain in front of us. I guess the 12% gradient helps the plane at that speed. The adventure had begun.

We were greeted by our guide Lama and two porters, did a quick debrief, and then started the trek. I learned that the porters are paid roughly 60 rupees per kilo and often carry equal their weight, around 50 kilos. They have a system of carrying the bags supported by a plastic strip along their foreheads. It is quite painful to watch them hunched over and many look like young children. From watching the National Geographic documentary I learned that the weight load reduces the size of their spines which is why they look much younger than they actually are. But sadly there were still plenty of young ones on the path. In addition to the porters hired to support the tourists, there are plenty of Sherpa carrying event heavier loads to the local villages. We saw men carrying huge plywood planks (2’x6’), steel plates and one with an 8 ft. long pipe forced to walk sideways up the mountain. Yaks are not immune, they are used predominately for the larger tour groups and at a value of $500 per yak the Sherpa keep a close eye on their trains.

The scenery in every direction was absolutely breathtaking. Day one was a moderate climb passing a string of villages, walking along the pine forest and rhododendrons, crossing several long suspension bridges and waterfalls leading to a milky blue roaring river running below. All the while we had a view of the snow-capped mountains in front of us. Honoring the Tibetan Buddhism we were directed to walk to the left of all the Mani stone piles which inevitably make me pause and reflect for that split moment. Not to mention they make for wonderful photo opportunities.

Our guide wanted us to stay in a town called Phakding before proceeding to Namche Bazaar the next day, but we felt strong and were eager to be that much closer to acclimatizing that we pushed on until Monju for the night. Of course the final ascent into Monju was a steep row of stairs. 
 
Day Two I arrived at our next destination, Namche Bazaar nearly 45 minutes before Faiz and the guide. The extra time gave me time to speak to other trekkers and quickly learn that the trek I had signed up wouldn't include some of the "not to be missed" highlights such as Gokyo Ri, Cho La Pass and Kala Patthar. These are a couple of the most challenging and beautiful destinations along the Khumbu valley. Although I was unsuccessful in persuading the others to reroute the set itinerary, it turned out that the agency had another couple in Namche at the same time doing exactly the route I wanted to try and it would only take an additional two days to complete.

Once all was cleared back at the office and worked out between the guides, I joined Jan, a nurse and Rick Welch, a financial planner from Eugene, Oregon. An extremely fit couple, 56 and 51, respectively. Our first day of walking together reminded me how unconditioned I had become after five months of travel without an exercise routine. I managed to keep up at their rapid pace of 2.16 mph for a total of 12.64 miles to Thame and Khumjung, making for an 8.5 hour day. Lunch at Thame was a treat especially since the lodge was predominantly dedicated to the local hero Tenzing Norgay. Norgay also known as Apa Sherpa has summited Mt. Everest 21 times consecutively since 1990.

After lunch, on our way to Khumjung, the day seemed endless due to a couple of mechanical failures. For starters my Merrell boots from home which I had been schlepping  around  for the past 5 months specifically for the purpose of this trek, decided to give out. Not only did the reinforcement rubber fall off the heels, but the soles on both shoes separated from the body of the boot to the point of having to Super Glue them back together. Unable to fathom that the boots would be the one thing that keeps me from reaching the summit and completing the trek, I somberly continued walking. But combined with bonking and the borrowed stick malfunctioning, I finally broke down crying. It didn’t help when Kumar went beyond his responsibility as guide, in an effort to reassure me that all would be OK, and tried to kiss me. I had been warned about this behavior and unfortunately it made for an uncomfortable environment on more than one occasion. Ultimately, as Kumar promised, the boots lasted the full trek,until I finally tossed them back in Kathmandu. All in all I can now look back on the trek with an even greater sense of accomplishment after coping with the additional challenges.

As the trek progressed I was happy I went with a guide and that included in the tour price were all meals and hot drinks. What wasn't included and easily added up the higher up you got were any extra amenities i.e. water, toilet paper, candy bars and electric charge fees. 

To give you a feel, accommodations aka tea houses are in abundance in the lower towns.As you get higher and higher up the mountain they are fewer and far between, giving new meaning to the word "basic." The small lodges with an average of 10 closet size rooms are mostly made of plywood. Beds are a wooden plank with a thin hard cushion, toilets turn into squatters and a hot shower is replaced with a basin of hot water. I can honestly say that this was the first time in my life I had gone eight consecutive days without bathing. Aside from the one day I washed my hair outside using the cold hose. Let's just say we looked forward to 5:00PM when the proprietor would finally fill the kiln with yak dung to heat up the room.
 
The plan was always to hike high and sleep low, so even on shorter days we would drop off our bags and then set out on an additional acclimatization hike. More often than not the clouds would roll in come afternoon dropping the temperature by a good 10 degrees.

On day five we arrived early to the town of Machermo. Situated at 14,500 ft. is a conveniently located Porter Clinic offering daily afternoon lectures on altitude sickness. We were among 30 plus people from all over the world who crammed into this small classroom to learn about the common health issues related to HACE or HAPE. 

Immediately following the lecture Jan and I declared that it would make sense to start on a ˝ pill twice a day of Diamox as a prophylactic.I proceeded to take it until we returned to Tengbouche, back down at 13,000 ft.

I spent the remainder of the evening playing Gin Rummy with a group of men. Among them was a very generous American from Colorado gifted me his extra box of pop tarts, a bag of spice drops and water purifying pills when I told him that the $100 Steripen failed me on Day 2. Yep, even after paying almost $10 for new batteries, it turned out the bulb in my brand new Steripen resulted in an unhappy face on the monitor and was of no use. With water at $4 a bottle, this was a God sent.

The next day proved to be my strongest day on the trek. With a 7:00AM start across the lake we attacked the 2,000 ft. ascent up the switchbacks to the top of Gokyo Ri reaching 17,600 ft. Still feeling like I was moving at a snail’s pace panting and relieved to be the first to the top, I was more in awe of the lovely Swiss couple in their early and mid-70s decked out in Vaurnet sunglasses and a rainbow snow cap, then I was of the stunning view. Actually seeing this older couple reminded me how important it is to challenge yourself and stay fit throughout life if I want to be able to maintain endurance at their age.

I found such peace on this peak while staring out at the 360 degree view of the Himalayas; Everest, Nuptse and Lohtse in front of me and Cho Oyo at my back. I looked down to find snow at my feet and the blue lake below. Everything combined made it easy to pass the next four hours chatting with Kumar and reading my Kindle. A pink caste set on the mountains at around 5:00PM. This was a sign for us to make the slow, careful descent down the steep hill; only possible with the help of a borrowed headlamp.

The itinerary slotted a second night at Gokyo and an opportunity to walk to 5th Lake. It was just Kumar, Jan and I since Rick was nursing a bad respiratory infection. Then we had the remainder of the day to relax. That afternoon Jan introduced me to Beth. Beth is a young English woman who proved to be exceptionally strong, fit and brave for taking on this route alone with just the help of a porter

The next highlight was on Day 9 when we departed from Thangnag at 3:30AM for the difficult boulder climb to Cho La Pass and across the glacier. We were on a mission to make it all the way to Lobouche today. Prepared for a very cold walk I layered on everything I had including plastic bags for my feet and gators for once we reached the ice. It actually wasn’t so bad since the ice was predominantly hard packed and the sun was shining by the time we hit the peak. But three and half hours in and already exhausted we still had another four hours of walking.  After lunch in Dzongla the final stretch was a pleasant walk among scattered juniper and edelweiss similar to what you would see in the high desert.  

The view that was least interesting was the crowd of people we encountered once we entered into this side of the valley. There is no denying that is peak season at Everest Base Camp (EBC). Luckily the porters had run ahead this afternoon to reserve rooms at the Mother Lodge, probably the nicest accommodations in Lobouche; one of the benefits of joining Rick and Jan on their package. Kumar wasn't so keen on splurging the 1,000NPR for a cheap room for me until I suggested that Beth and I share. 
 
Day 10 turned out to be an equally long and difficult day. Originally the plan was to reach Gorek Shep, the hub for treks to EBC, where we would drop off our bags and then walk to Kala Patthar or EBC depending on the weather. However, after only 45 minutes of walking we were at a crossroads. It was here we learned that there were no available rooms in Gorek Shep and we would ultimately need to return to Lobouche for the night. We were faced with the dilemma to walk to Kala Patthar and never see EBC or try to squeeze them both in today, keeping in mind we would have the journey back to Lobouche.

Ambitious and determined to not miss out on reaching Base Camp, we endured the hardest day yet. Lagging behind Rick and Jan by fifteen minutes which seemed like eternity, it took me 1.5hrs to reach the peak of 18,192 ft. Barely able to withstand the fierce wind and cold at the top we quickly refueled, snapped a bunch of photos and then followed our fearless leader down the mountain. The “shortcut” to EBC may have been slightly shorter in distance but ultimately required double the energy to scale the boulders via Pumo Ri Base Camp. Along the way we met one of the insane hikers acclimatizing there in prep for the big trek.

By 3:00PM we reached Old Everest Base Camp which is basically a large rock marked “Everest Base Camp 5,364 meters.” Unfortunately, with nearly four more hours of hiking ahead of us we did not have time to go the extra hour there and hour back to visit the actual base camp. It was enough to see the Khumbu glaciers in the near distance though, giving me a good sense for how dangerous the expeditions must be.

Later I learned from Beth that there was a Spanish expedition camped out there at the moment. She mentioned that the vibe was everything she imagined with music blaring and everyone excited about having just set up Camp II.

Absolutely drained and freezing cold, I was miserable making the four hour walk back to Lobouche and sad that it took away from the high of the day’s accomplishment. But like a horse to stable I looked like the professional speed walkers I watched in China as I couldn't get home and warm fast enough. Rick was my savior that afternoon, providing me with his emergency mylar space sheet to wrap around my core. Inevitably, I still ended up with the dreaded Khumbu cough, which lasted a week.

The remainder of the trek to Tengbouche on Day 11, Namche Bazaar on Day 12 and back to Lukla on Day 13 was nearly a piece of cake with just a few random hills and lots of dodging crowds.Eager to get back to Kathmandu, I bid farewell to my companions and made my own way back to Lukla on Day 12. I arrived back in Lukla in three hours in hope that I might catch an afternoon flight. Not so lucky, I spent the remainder of the day indoors at the Himalayan Lodge where I had the fortune of meeting Dot, a lovely English woman escaping her volunteer work in Kathmandu. I finally departed Khumbu Valley at noon after a five hour delay in the airport waiting for the weather to clear. Mission accomplished.

 
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Comments

JEN BYRNE on

hey stacy - just wanted to let you know that i'm having a BLAST reading your updates ! Keep them coming !!!!! Seems like you are just having an experience of 10 lifetimes !

Arnold Bloch on

It is fantastic reading about your wonderful and courageous journey. You are one in a million!

Jeff Manson on

Hi Stacy! Thank you for sharing all the pictures and stories. I love reading about your travels and am so happy you are having the best time.

Keep enjoying!! :)

Kelly Grief on

Thanks for sharing. Truly epic!!! My favorite entry.

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