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Journey to Everest Base Camp

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Author: Yuri Stetsik, 27, Odessa, Ukraine
Teamleader: Maryna Ruban
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In Nepal, Mount Everest is called Sagarmatha, which means "the Face of the World. As the highest peak in the world, Everest attracts thousands of travelers. Everest can be seen from the base camp, located at an altitude of about 5,300 meters in Nepal. The route to Everest Base Camp is one of the most popular and beautiful trekking routes.

Kathmandu is a very atmospheric city. The streets are literally imbued with the spirit of travel. There are people wandering around who have been to the mountains or who are just going there. Nepalis are very open and friendly people. They literally absorb the general spirit of adventure, making the city even friendlier and more open. They don’t grab tourists by the hand and try to lure them in. Only kind, sincere smiles and endless “Namaste”!

The last briefing before the day of the start, where we will get some not very pleasant news. Because of the congestion at Kathmandu airport it was decided to fly from Manthali airport. It is about 130 kilometers to get there. Departure was planned for 3:00, which meant that we would have about three hours to sleep. That is ok, we thought, we can sleep in the car, after such a busy day in the new city it is no problem. It was a problem! After the relatively smooth roads of the capital there was a bumpy road that quickly turned into an endless serpentine. We must pay tribute to our driver who, instead of the planned five hours, reached our destination in three and a half, thereby depriving us of any hope of sleep. At dawn we stopped at the Tama Koshi River.

The first day is a crossing from Lukla to Phading. From the first steps we are introduced to the concept of “Nepalese plain”: a sharp rise and loss of elevation, due to which the route can generally run at the same level, as on a level road. On the first day, the trail goes down to the Dudh Kosi River. The elevation difference: about 2,800 meters at Lukla and about 2,600 meters at Phading. Today’s hike is the easiest, warm-up hike. There is a riot of green colors, jungle, and vegetable gardens on small terraces. For now, the majesty of the mountains remains somewhere above, behind the clouds. It rains almost daily in the afternoon. We make it to our destination just in time for lunch. The distance for the day is only about 8 kilometers.

Each day of the route gave us new views, introduced us to new climatic zones, and surprised us with relief and weather. The passage from Phading to Namche Bazar, which we crossed on the second day, can be called one of the most photogenic and vivid. The path was still upstream on the Dudh Kosi River. Frequent villages alternated with waterfalls, forest glades, small caves, and most importantly, lean-to bridges over the river. Crossing from one side of the river to the other over the drawbridges is a thrilling attraction and the hallmark of all Nepali treks.

Not far from Phading is the entrance to Sagarmatha National Park, and a little further on, already after the Hillary Bridge, is an observation deck with a view of Mount Everest. The summit of the world from such a distance is not yet impressive, it is still a full week of travel to its foot. The Sherpa capital, Namche Bazar, is impressive. It is located in a steep gorge, at an altitude of 3400-3500 meters above sea level. Because of the terrain, all the buildings are built on peculiar terraces. On the other side of the gorge is the six-thousandth Kongde Ri, which is traditionally hidden in the fog closer to lunch. The first floors of colorful houses occupied by stores, souvenir shops, bars, even a bathhouse! At the same time, the town is incredibly cozy and the streets are filled with a spirit of adventure and mountaineering!

I was familiar with the symptoms of mountain sickness after climbing Kilimanjaro. I had hoped that a smoother climb would avoid problems this time. No way. On arrival in Namche Bazaar I felt great, but after lunch and a short walk around town the situation changed dramatically. The headache was beginning to turn from mild to something like a migraine. Shortness of breath and palpitations were faithful companions. My face was swollen. But, hand on heart, the slowness and motor problems frightened me the most. A short nap before dinner didn’t make up for it, and at dinner I lost my appetite and felt really lousy. At dinner we had our first pulse measurement and blood oxygenation. Subsequently, it became a tradition in the mornings, evenings and after difficult radiations. By comparing the readings we could assess the risk of developing severe mountain sickness and decide whether it was worth continuing the trek. Evening readings in Namche Bazar: oxygen 87, pulse 90. Going to bed I conditioned myself that in case my blood oxygen saturation was less than 70% I would start descending. In the morning my readings were better, which was encouraging. At the same time, I felt a solid three: disorientation and nausea were gone, but my body refused to perform any feats.

The third day of the route was a day in Namche Bazaar to allow the body to get used to the lack of oxygen. No one promised to sit still, so we had a full program: a radial ascent to a height of 4000 meters to the Hillary Monument, a visit to the village Kumjung, which lies off the popular trails, a visit to the monastery, where the “scalp of Bigfoot” is located. The road to all the sights began with a steep staircase in Namche Bazaar and ended at the airfield, on the plateau. If we had flown here instead of to Lukla, the effects of the mountain sickness would have been many times worse, which would have made it questionable to go further. The ascent to the plateau was difficult. For the first and last time on the trip a question came to mind: was it worth it? Thoughts that it was only the third day, more than a week ahead, and my body was already showing signs of fatigue that hindered the enjoyment of the scenery. Will I be able to recover? How hard would it be next?

The 4,000m mark was reached after an hour and a half. During that time I did not utter a word, I had no energy to waste on words. On the ridge of the mountain we had spent over an hour on was the Hillary family memorial. The monument was erected in 2009 – a year after Edmund Hillary’s death, near the memorials to his wife Louise and daughter Belinda, who died in a plane crash in Kathmandu on March 31, 1975. In the background are views of the summits of Everest, Lhotse and Ama Dablan. The time spent at a new altitude went a long way. After the descent down to Kumjung village and a hearty lunch, life began to come back to me.

The road from Namche Bazaar to Tyangboche can be divided into three parts. The first is a surprisingly smooth and picturesque road over the gorge, with an excellent view of the beautiful Ama Dablam and Everest. On the left are steep cliffs, on which you can sometimes see mountain goats stuck in textures. On the right is a cliff, about 500 meters high. Every now and then we remember the rules of local traffic and press against the rocks, giving the caravans of yaks and donkeys a pass. The second part is a long descent through the forest, so much like the native Carpathians. Coniferous trees, moss, a little bit of humidity, as if you were going down from Hoverla to the shelter of Kozmeshchik. After the descent, obviously, there should be a climb. Hell of a climb. The third part is a two-hour climb up a rocky serpentine. If we remember that Namche Bazar is situated at the altitude of 3400 meters and we had just recently went down 500-600 meters in the local Carpathians, then by simple calculations, knowing that our final point, Tyangboche, is at the altitude of 3800 meters, we could understand that during those two hours of suffering we had gained about 1000 meters upwards. We were happy that our acclimatization was successful and besides the fatigue we did not feel any side effects. By the way, our crossing was one of the shortest of all days, only about 10-11 kilometers.

The fifth day of the hike was notable for a gradual change in climate and terrain. Immediately after leaving Tyangboche, the rhododendron forest begins. If the inhabitants of Ukraine rhododendron is known more as a flower or a small shrub, in Nepal the height of the trees reaches several meters. In the spring all this beauty blooms in pink and white, but in the fall, on the contrary, it reminds of the “Forbidden Forest” from the Harry Potter books. Climbing higher and higher? the scenery becomes more and more cosmic? and the vegetation becomes more ascetic. Already after the village of Pangboche, the forest zone ends and the weather turns bad. In Pangboche, by the way, we will spend the night on the way back, just after climbing Mount Kala Patar, 4 days later. The main attraction today is Mount Ama Damblan. I’ve mentioned it several times, and it’s worth it. Check out some of the short time-lapses we shot that day. This mountain is rightfully considered one of the most beautiful peaks in Nepal!

The end point of our journey today is the village of Dingboche, at an altitude of 4,360 meters. This is the last rather large settlement on the way to Everest. From here there are only a few hostels for tourists. In Dingboche the natives still live, there is a kind of cinema, a bakery and several small cafes. The village is literally sandwiched between high mountains: from any point there is a great view of Ama Dablan, opposite is Chukung Ri, the five thousandth peak that we will storm the next day, five kilometers away is the base camp of Island Peak, a relatively simple six thousandth peak. In Dingboche we will spend the second (and last) day. Two nights in Dingboche? begins to prepare for the harsh realities of the route: the conditions become even more ascetic. The relative inaccessibility and remoteness from the center of tourism, Namche Bazaar. The weather is getting quite capricious. On the first day we were lucky to reach Dingboche under the accompaniment of sunshine and cloudless skies. The next time we would see the sun would be three days later. As soon as the sun disappeared, the temperature plummeted below zero and it got downright cold. The most frustrating thing is that all the beauty around, all the majesty of the mountains and the cosmic landscapes are hidden in fog or snowy haze.

With a little snow we began our acclimatization trek up Chukung Ri Mountain the next morning. The 5,000-meter ascent is a great excuse to test my strength and get used to the next frontier of fighting mountain sickness. While I had already suffered in Namche Bazaar and acclimatized normally, the rest of us had a hard time that day. Without making any sudden movements and evenly distributing the load anyone can climb, although physically the ascent is quite difficult. I remember an unhappy British lady who hunched forward for the longest time and told me that her husband told her she didn’t need trekking poles on this climb. Without trekking poles such climbs are much more difficult, and the risk of injury increases on the descent. At the altitude of about 5050m we spent about 30-40 minutes trying to see the neighboring summits in the fog. The way back down took about an hour and proved once again: going down the mountain is not as easy as it may seem. Train your quads, that’s all I can say.

In the meantime there are two days left before Everest Base Camp. And if the previous day we climbed 5,000 meters to acclimatize, on the seventh day we would spend the night in the long-awaited Pyramid at 5,050 meters. The Pyramid is a functioning Italian scientific laboratory with a hostel for tourists on the first floor. The way to the Pyramid was the most difficult for all the group members, except for the lucky me – a man who had time to acclimatize and get used to the altitude. In the morning it snowed a little, it was perceptibly cold, and the neighboring summits were hidden behind clouds. A couple of hours after the summit we had to climb Dughla Pass, the summit of which at 4,800m (Mont Blanc’s height, by the way) holds the Everest Memorial. Passing by several dozens of plates, it is as if you are charged with negative energy. In addition to the consequences of the hard ascent to the pass and the general state of ill health at such an altitude, the emotional state of the group seemed to falter.

The rest 2-3 hours passed under the accompaniment of sepulchral silence and dense fog with visibility 15-20 meters. Every step was made with titanic efforts and the group stretched a lot. Looking at our tired comrades piling heavily into the doors of the Pyramid, it was hard to imagine that in the next few days these same people would heroically assault even higher peaks and feel perfectly well on the way down. In turn, not the best news waited for us in the Pyramid: in connection with the fact that the sun did not show here for three days, the electric power stored in solar batteries was coming to the end, and it was necessary to save it. Water in the shower, in such cases, is the last to be heated… In the absence of alternatives, most of the group went to bed, having agreed to go on a radial trip closer to the evening.

The second part of the seventh day was the exact opposite of the first. After a good night’s sleep and some rest we went outside and found that the sun was shining outside the window, the mountains were incredibly beautiful and the Pyramid really looked like a pyramid! 50 meters up and 15 minutes on the traverse of the mountain, and we saw the Khumbu Glacier. The glacier originates in a basin bounded by the southwestern slopes of Everest, and Lhotse and Nuptse peaks. The glacier is 22 kilometers long! One of my main goals on top of Kilimanjaro was to see the glacier on top of Africa before it finally melted. It was well worth it! Here, however, the glacier is so massive and gigantic that no photo can capture this breathtaking scale. A most photogenic day that I want to share:

The long-awaited eighth day, the culmination of the Everest trek. A visit to Everest Base Camp is planned as part of the day’s radial hike. The last high-mountain overnight stay is scheduled at a lodge in Gorak Shep, which translates as “dead crow”. We are not even talking about any kind of vegetation or wildlife. I think even the all-powerful yaks are feeling lousy. Landscapes around don’t even resemble the earth – it’s space! This was the base camp of the Swiss Everest expedition of 1952. A little later the base camp moved to its current location, closer to the foot of the mountain. The journey from Pyramid to Gorak Shep takes about 2 hours. It was funny that when we went out in the morning in all the warm clothes we had, we already had half an hour to get to the sunny plain stretching along the moraine of the glacier and we wanted to undress to a T-shirt. The Khumbu Glacier moraine looks like a kilometer-long bobsledding track, like a tunnel in a section. Again, it is impossible to convey the scale of such a grandiose natural phenomenon in photos or videos.

The final march to Everest Base Camp from Gorak Shep takes about two hours. Winter (fall) ascents of Everest are not very popular, so the EBC is more like a remote tourist attraction than a mountaineering camp. Perhaps because we didn’t get to look into the eyes of future conquerors and feel the spirit of adventure, the end of our route was not as uplifting as we all imagined. Yes, we were glad that we had reached our goal. Yes, the beauty all around was breathtaking. Somewhere in the clouds, another 3500 meters up was Everest. But something was missing! For us it was the furthest point of the route, and for some it was just the beginning of the main journey of their lives.

What does a person who has been to Everest Base Camp miss? The feeling that you have conquered the summit. That you climbed up and overcame yourself. That there are only clouds and birds above you. The mountains surrounding EBC, Pumori, Nuptse, Changze, and Everest are so close and so out of reach for the average tourist. Fortunately, directly from Gorak Shep begins the trail to the summit of Mount Kala Patar.

The summit of Kala Patar was planned for the eighth day of the trail. More precisely, on the early morning of the eighth day, because after the assault we had to drop a little less than 2000 meters, moving towards Namche Bazar. After returning from Everest Base Camp we had attempted to fall asleep at 6:00 p.m., the alarm clock having been set for 03:30 the next day. Sleeping at about 5100 meters is torture. The day before in Piramida the guys complained that no one got a good night’s sleep except for me. In Gorak Shep the problems affected me as well. Imagine trying to take a breath, but somewhere in the middle of it, they sharply put a gag in your mouth. This is what breathing at this altitude is like. The body subconsciously begins to panic, and it is almost impossible to sleep under such conditions. After a couple of hours, your body and head start to shut down, waking up every 2-3 minutes. Oh yes, I forgot about the cough. Because of the lack of oxygen, a dry cough hit absolutely everyone. Going out on the assault at 4 in the morning in such conditions was not even particularly stressful – I wanted to wake up as soon as possible and not experience the inconvenience of lack of sleep.

The ascent to Kala Patar takes 1.5-2 hours. On the menu: everything you need to be happy! Sharp and hellish climbing – available! The cold that takes your breath away is there. Headlamps and driving on a narrow and winding road in complete darkness – available! Rumble of avalanches descending somewhere far away – you got it. Crazy beautiful sunrise above the highest mountains in the world – sign here! All that remains is to find the strength for the last hundred meters of ascent, which is really difficult. What’s at the end? What we missed yesterday at Everest Base Camp. The feeling of being on top of the world. It is at the peak of Kala Patara that the thought appears: I did it. It’s time to go home!

Physical training for trekking in Nepal

I will say very little about physical preparation. There is an opinion that a person going on a hike must be able to run for an hour without stopping. I did not prepare myself for the trek in any way. But I prepared myself for the marathon, which I ran 2 weeks before my flight. Such preparation was quite enough.

Mobile communication, Internet on the trek ЕВС

Yes, there is internet on the mountain. Almost all the way up to Dingboche there is mobile communication. 3G, and sometimes LTE, work almost as well as in any big city. Starting from Dingboche, the cell phone service disappears, and Everest Link, a card-based Internet access system, comes to the rescue. The principle is simple: you buy a 1 or 10 gigabyte card and use it for 30 days. The card is tied to areas and to the device. The cost of 1 GB of Internet at an altitude of 5000 meters – 700 rupees ($ 7). The speed is sufficient for audio calls, downloading voice messages and sending photos in messengers. I saw that late, sleepless nights the guys were even able to watch YouTube.

Living conditions on the trek to Everest

All overnight trekking to Everest base camp takes place in lodges, mini hotels. A mandatory attribute of each lodge is a common dining room, the only heated room. The rooms, in turn, are not heated. Moreover, the higher we lived, the more spartan conditions characterized our “hotels. On the first day we were put in rooms with two beds, a toilet, shower and (even) a socket in the room. A little later, you can only dream of such refinements. A night in a lodge costs from 1000 rupees per person. Interestingly, the lodge owner will add another 1,000 to 1,500 rupees to the bill if you eat dinner or breakfast somewhere else. The lodges are cold. This is especially felt on the first day, for unfamiliarity. The main hikes start early in the morning and end in the afternoon. In the afternoon the weather can please with sunshine and absence of wind. Even at 5000m altitude there was a section that I wanted to walk in a T-shirt. But in the evening the temperature drops sharply closer to zero. Electricity is only available through solar panels, gas is on the yaks, and it is too expensive to heat all the rooms. A down jacket and a sleeping bag with a comfort temperature of -7 degrees will come in handy. A little rest after lunch, and we go out for a hike, a radial.

Meals on the route ЕВС

All breakfasts and dinners, as already mentioned, are held in lodges. Even before starting the route, I was pleased with the organizers who informed me of the variety of menus along the entire route. Different kinds of eggs, pasta, soups, rice, potatoes, as well as sandwiches, burgers, and pizza: you have to agree, not the kind of luxury you think of when you mention hiking in the mountains. The average meal check goes up as you gain altitude. If it would cost about $5 for one meal down below, at the top the prices multiply by about 3. Bottled water is worth a special mention: in Lukla you can get it for 70-80 rupees (60-70 cents) and in Gorak Sherpa, the last settlement before EBC, for 400-450 rupees (3.5-4 dollars).

So, back to the food talk. Despite all the variety and the fact that the same dishes in different lodges may be cooked differently and completely different in taste, a week later about the next meal is a little sick to remember. Of course, it affects the lack of appetite – a characteristic sign of mountain sickness. But repetitive mix of eggs and bread for breakfast, soup for lunch and rice or pasta for dinner, made of dry, preserved and tasteless food makes you feel more and more bored by the end of the route. How many conversations we had about food! What’s worth discussing and comparing the German donner, Russian shawarma and Ukrainian shawarma. By the way, most of the Nepalese are vegetarians and there is not much meat on the menu. It is not for nothing that the organizers recommended taking some sausages and meat products with you. The main interesting things you could try from the local cuisine was yak steak. Another benefit of these cute animals! Second – Momo, a dough dish with meat or vegetarian filling. How momo differs from Chinese jiaoji, Russian dumplings or Asian manti – only the Nepalese know. And, perhaps, the main dish of the local cuisine – dal baht. Again, there are almost no differences from the Indian “pkhali. There are many variants of cooking, but the main elements that are always present are rice and lentil soup.

Total cost of the trip to Everest

The main expense items for a trip are three. These are plane tickets, the cost of the tour, and the purchase of necessary equipment. Depending on your closet and experience of previous climbs, you can spend the lion’s share of the entire budget on missing clothes, shoes, backpack, sleeping bag and the like. On the other hand, you can borrow almost all items from friends or use them on your next trips.

Full review on the author’s blog at  Medium

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