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See Everest and survive!

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Author: Oleg, 37, г. Moscow, Russia
Teamleader: Oleksandr Pavlov
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In October 2017, my wife and I trekked to Everest base camp via Gokyo Lakes and Cho La Pass. And it was the most memorable experience of our travels. Why? That's what I'd like to talk about. But to be consistent, we should probably start from the beginning, how we decided to go on this trek in the first place.

A couple of years ago we watched the movie “Everest”, which tells about the tragic events of 1996, when at the dawn of commercial tourism on Everest, 15 climbers from different groups were killed during the ascent. At the end of the movie, of course, my wife’s eyes were wet, indeed, even I shed a man’s tear, but it was the movie that made us dream of Everest. When we shared our dream with our friends who watched the movie with us they twisted their fingers: “Did you watch the movie carefully? They all died in there, actually! Why would you want to do that?” It’s hard to give a logical answer to this question, it’s all on the level of feelings and emotions. But anyway, we were not ready for Everest climbing, neither physically nor financially, so we limited our dream to just seeing it and being in the Base Camp.

There are a lot of offers on the Internet for trekking up Everest, and our choice was based on two factors: financial (price difference is 2x, sometimes even 3x) and time (we have a tradition to celebrate wife’s birthday in some kind of trip or journey). As a result of the choice we stopped on the tourist club “Couloir”: they have one of the most affordable offers, and the trek fell exactly on the birthday, moreover, as it turned out later, right on this day is the culmination of the trek – a visit to Everest base camp. The route through Gokyo lakes and Cho La Pass was chosen by us because according to the reviews it is more picturesque, though more difficult than the classic route.

Намче Базар

Well, the decision has been made, the advance payment has been made, and we have to get ready. First of all, of course, to buy tickets before they are sold out. For our dates the best offer was Air Arabia with a connection in Sharjah. Not a bad airline, and a good flight schedule, which allowed for a little tour of the UAE.

The most important thing in the preparation is of course its physical component. The trek passed at the heights of 3-5 thousand meters with ascent to 5400-5600 meters, which is quite a high altitude, especially for such beginners as we had never been higher than 2800 meters and we had never been in multi-day mountaineering. The maximum of our achievements are one-day long-distance hikes in the Caucasus and other mountains. At such altitudes there is a lack of oxygen in the air: at the level of the base camp it is twice less than at sea level. Accordingly, it is fraught with hypoxia, and in order to reduce its effect on the body, you must intensively train your lungs, giving good aerobic loads. It is optimal to run, running at least every other day (or better every day) for 10 kilometers. Swimming or nonrhythmic aerobic exercise is also welcome. I can’t say that we strictly followed these rules of preparation, we didn’t train that much and regularly, but even a little is better than nothing, and this allowed us, though with difficulty, but to do the track.

Preparations also included acquiring the equipment necessary for the track. We already had some of it, but we had to buy some more. As the organizers of the trek write on their site, almost all of the equipment can be bought just before the trek in Kathmandu. But if you buy both brand-name and original equipment, there is almost no difference in price. And what costs pennies is sometimes sewn in the same store where it is sold, so the quality is, shall we say, questionable. So, some not very important things, of course, you can buy in Kathmandu, but boots and backpacks, I would advise to buy only at home, and only good ones. But we did not want to spend too much time in Kathmandu and bought almost everything necessary at home.

While getting ready it is important not to forget to take out a good medical insurance and a possibility of evacuation by helicopter. The mountains are treacherous and it is difficult to predict the body’s reactions at altitude, and altitude sickness and illnesses in general can develop very quickly and lead to very serious consequences. So you should not neglect it.

Трек к Эвересту

So we arrived in Kathmandu. At the airport we were met by our guide Sasha, and we were very glad that we took advantage of his kind offer to meet us, because in the chaos of Kathmandu airport it is not easy to get your bearings. We checked into the Arts Hotel. The next day we met some of the group who had arrived earlier. We strolled around the city, bought souvenirs, lacked equipment. The next day we flew to Lukla.

The airport in Lukla is quite remarkable in itself, the runway is only 500 meters long, there is a cliff on one side and a wall on the other side, the slope is 12%. So only small planes with a short takeoff and landing distance for 12 passengers fly there, a sort of air shuttle. Takeoff and landing is in manual mode, and flights take off and land only during daylight hours and only when the weather is good. Because of this, flight delays are not uncommon, and there is no exact schedule as such. Flights start at dawn at 6 or 7 a.m. and end around noon, when the weather turns bad and visibility drops. Those who don’t make the flight are left waiting for the next day. Sometimes even longer.

Аэропорт Луклы

We were lucky, we had the second scheduled flight, so we got up at 4 am to be at the airport at 5:30. And we took off easily and without delay, and in 25 minutes we were already on site, at an altitude of 2700 meters, where our trek began.

The first day was an easy trek to Phanding, we dropped about 150 meters, went for an afternoon walk to a nearby monastery.

The next day we had our first serious climb, we were going to Namche Bazar – the capital of Sherpas, and we had to gain 800 meters. At first the path was quite gentle, but after entering the national park and crossing Hillary bridge it was a long and steep ascent. In fact there was nothing difficult, the main thing was to catch your rhythm and walk at your own pace so that you didn’t lose your breath. There is also a rest spot on the ascent, where through the foliage you could see Everest for the first time in the distance. We reached Namche at lunchtime. Actually, the whole trek was organized in such a way that even at quite a slow pace of the group we had to reach the next overnight stop by the lunch time. Firstly, it gives us reserve for unforeseen delays, secondly, it insures from absence of places in the lodges, where we spend the night, and thirdly, it gives us time for acclimatization trek after dinner. It is quite an important point, because the rule is: climb higher – sleep lower, and for the right acclimatization at altitude you need to go to small radials, so the body gets used to it easier. So, no matter how tired you are before lunchtime, do not neglect the radiations afterwards. Of course, nobody will make you do it, but it is for your own good.

Поселок шерпов Намче Базар

The whole third day was devoted to just such a radiation trek, we climbed to the Japanese hotel with a view of Everest, and then walked through the village of Kumjung to the Hillary Stupas, set up in honor of Edmund Hillary, the first Everest climber and his wife and daughter, who died in a plane crash here in Nepal. The stupas are at 4000m, and this was our first 4000m in this trek, and in life in general. On the way back we went to the monastery, and we were lucky enough to pray. Monotonous chanting of monks together with playing drums and hot tea poured for us by a friendly woman, put us into a nearly meditative state.

Namche was the last lodge where we could enjoy a normal hot shower, a real warm bed, buy relatively inexpensive ($1) water, charge our gadgets and use the Internet also for a relatively inexpensive fee. Farther and higher conditions awaiting tourists become much worse: the temperature is lower, food and water are more expensive (2-3 times), the Internet is also more expensive and slower, electricity from solar panels, and as a consequence, also more expensive, the shower as a thin stream of boiling water in the cold. There’s not much connectivity up there either, for about a week straight my phone had no network reception at all. So people with an internet addiction will have a hard time. On the other hand, there is an opportunity to finally get away from the civilized world, clear your head from the news and quotes, and be alone with nature, the mountains and their beauty. After all, that’s what we came here for.

Навесные мосты в Непале

A small digression about the living conditions. Overnight stays on the track are called lodges – these are small houses made of stone and plywood, where only the dining room is heated, sleeping rooms without heating, respectively upstairs, where temperatures at night fall to -5-15 degrees to sleep very cold, I strongly recommend taking a good sleeping bag with the appropriate comfort temperature. Electricity upstairs from solar panels, so charging phones and other gadgets costs from $ 3 per hour to charge the phone to 10 for the tablet. To save money, I recommend getting powerbanks that are more powerful, and better with a solar panel that can be recharged on the trek during the day by hanging it on your backpack. Internet up there is also expensive, you can buy a card from the local provider for 256 meg for 3-5 dollars. Food and water prices go up from Lukla to Gorak Shep 2-3 times. The whole point is that all the food, building materials and generally everything you need to live is taken upstairs by porter and yaks, which is why everything gets more expensive with altitude.

Доставка продуктов в верхние поселки

The next three days were passages from Namche to Dole (4200 m), from Dole to Machermo (4500 m) and from Machermo to Gokyo (4800 m). The crossings have been intentionally chosen not so big and difficult for better adaptation, after all the altitude is approaching 5000 m. In Machermo, besides another acclimatization raid, we went to the seminar of local volunteers on mountain sickness. There were so many hikers willing to listen to the seminar that we hardly could squeeze into the small room. It was interesting, but in principle most of the information about mountain sickness Sasha had already told us. At the end of the seminar we measured the level of oxygen in the blood with a professional device.

By the way, we measured oxygen twice a day, morning and evening. Sasha had a special device, and at every breakfast and dinner we competed to see who had more oxygen. At the bottom the normal level can be considered as 96-98%, but the higher the level falls, at the altitude it can easily be 90, or 80, or even 70. It is important that overnight the body has time to rest and adapt, and that the morning rate is better than the evening rate. Unfortunately, this was not always possible. Because of the drop in oxygen the heart rate goes up, because the heart needs to pump more blood, so if downstairs a healthy person’s normal heart rate is 60, at the top it can easily be 90-110, even at rest. That’s enough boring numbers, let’s move on.

Путь к перевалу Чо Ла

On the approach to Gokyo, the Gokyo lakes themselves begin, the first and second, with the village on the shore of the third. To the fourth and fifth we went the next day, which was an acclimatization day, with a return back to Gokyo.

Reviews of this route as the most scenic were true, the Gokyo Lakes are indeed the pearl of the trek, with azure water, stunning views of the mountains around, and the views from the summit of Gokyo Ri, which we climbed the next day, are generally some of the most impressive on this trek. Words still can’t convey it, it’s better to see the photos. And even better, live, of course.

Озера Гокио

Gokyo Ri (5,360 m) is the summit at the foot of which is the village of Gokyo. The ascent traditionally begins at night, after dark. We got up at 4 a.m., drank tea and set off for the trek at 5. It was still dark and we had to light the way with headlamps. The ascent itself is pretty steep, we had to gain 500 meters with a 20-25% grade, but when you walk in the dark and only few meters in front of you you can illuminate, it is even easier psychologically, you just move your legs step by step. It is more difficult, when you see the summit, and it seems to be right there, ready to reach it, but you are still walking and walking, and cannot reach it in any way. We met the sunrise on the way, and it was beautiful! When we reached the summit in about three hours, the sun was already quite high and it was getting warmer. At the top we congratulated each other on the mountain, took a group photo and took pictures of everything around us. We could not stay there too long, because after the descent we had to go to the next point of the route – the village of Dragnak. In order to do that we had to cross the Ngazumba glacier that separated us. The path seems not to be difficult, there are no steep climbs, we even go down a little compared to Gokyo, but the trail is very loose and it is necessary to be constantly on guard. The next day we were to assault the Cho La Pass.

Вид с вершины Гокио Ри

Sasha started to prepare us psychologically for the pass a few days in advance; according to him, it was the most difficult part of the route. And looking back I probably agree with him. From Dragnak we had to gain 700m and drop back 600m. The first 300-400 meters of ascent is quite gentle. And then the view of the pass opens up. It seems from afar that this is a steep wall and it is impossible to climb it, but this is just an optical illusion. When you get closer you can see the path, it winds between the rocks and stones and goes up little by little. The trail is quite loose, so you have to be extremely careful, if you move incorrectly there is a risk to fly quite well. And the constant stream of descending towards us from above does not make it easy to pass. But step by step we overcame this climb and updated our elevation record on this trek – 5420 m.

After the pass we reached a glacier, not a degraded one like Ngazumba on the way to Dragnak, but a real one with ice and snow. In Kathmandu Sasha had given us the crampons for exactly this case, although it was possible to pass these 500 meters along the glacier without them, I decided to wear them on principle – we had dragged the whole trek for a reason. What can I say – of course with the crampons it is much more comfortable, the foot does not slip at all. Anyway, we indulged and that’s enough, the ice is over, it’s time to take them off.

Переход по леднику

After the glacier it was a long descent, and we came to the little village of Dzongla, spent the night in a lodge, the owner of which had been on Everest. It seems like a trifle, but this is the first person who has been on Everest, which we saw alive 🙂

The next day was quite an easy hike to Lobuche, we took the classic route to the base camp again, and again we encountered crowds of tourists, porters and caravans of yaks. Still, what else is good about the route through Gokyo is the remoteness and fewer people on the trek.

After Lobuche the next point of the route was Gorak Shep, our highest overnight stay. From there we had reached our destination, Everest Base Camp, within a few kilometers. As I wrote in the beginning, by happy coincidence my wife’s birthday fell on that day. We walked quickly to our lodge in Gorak Shep, left our things and went to base camp. The way to it was similar to the way to the fifth Gokyo Lake or the trail over the Ngazumba Glacier, it looked like there was no great climb, but it was very exhausting. There were only tourists in the camp, like us, who came to look at the camp itself. There were no climbers, preparing for the conquest of Everest – it was not the season. Usually they climb in the spring. So we noted down the photo with a sign at 5364m, congratulated the birthday girl once again and went back. The next day our highest ascent on the trek and the beginning of the descent back waited for us.

В базовом лагере Эвереста

We started climbing Kala Patthar even earlier than Gokyo Ri, at 4 am, after the traditional tea, we were already walking in a single file along the trail, in the company of similar tourists, lighting our 3 meters in front with a headlamp. The dawn came closer to the summit. To be exact, how it came – the sun had already risen, but the rays themselves had not illuminated us because of Everest and Nupe. So when we finally reached the summit, 5650 m (by the way, it’s higher than Elbrus), and congratulated each other, we could not get warm, it was terribly cold. We drank tea from thermoses, jumped on rocks in pursuit of a beautiful shot and in an attempt to get warm, and, without waiting for the sun to shine, went down. At the end there was still a hard day ahead of us – we had to walk downhill for 20 kilometers and drop 1500 meters. Not a small load on the knees. In the afternoon the weather turned nasty, and in Periche, where we were to have lunch, rain and snow were waiting for us. In the afternoon it intensified and we had our first real snowfall during the trek. We arrived at Pangboche, where we planned to spend the night, after dark, soaked and covered in snow. But here it was warmer and almost civilized.

Кала Паттар

In the morning a real winter fairy tale awaited us, yesterday’s snow had not yet had time to melt and diversified our photos with winter landscapes. On the way down we stopped at Tengboche Monastery, and by evening we descended to Namche, where our beloved lodge with hot showers and warm beds was waiting for us, and where we could finally afford to relax with a bottle of beer over dinner. There were no more serious challenges, the next day was the last crossing to Lukla. The next morning the plane was waiting for us back to Kathmandu.

Свежевыпавший снег

This time we were not on the second flight, and we didn’t arrive at the airport until 9 am. Lukla airport has its own atmosphere, nothing is clear, lots of people, no flight display, just a man from the airline periodically comes out, checks the next group on the flight and leaves. When he wasn’t there, there was no one to even ask any information, whether we were going to leave or not was still an open question until the last moment. Even when we were checked in, even when we went through security control (ridiculous by today’s standards, when an airport employee just opens one of the backpacks and looks what’s on top), even when we were already sitting in the waiting room before boarding – there was no guarantee that we will take off. We had already started to get homesick because we were dreaming about warm Kathmandu, and its comfortable hotel with a real shower, internet and electricity, but we were still lucky, literally on the last flight we made it out of Lukla. As we found out later, the delay was due to a thunderstorm in Kathmandu and the fact that the airport there was not accepting. That’s why when planning a flight back home from Kathmandu, it’s worth setting aside 1-2 days for such an eventuality. We set aside 3 days for that, and since we left immediately we had 3 more days in Kathmandu to get cleaned up, eat something off, see the local sights and buy all sorts of souvenirs. It was a real relaxation after the hard trek, and it was really needed. By the way, a little advice on buying souvenirs in Thamel (the district of Kathmandu where we lived) – be sure to bargain, it is a tradition. Depending on the product and the seller, you can get anywhere from 15% to 50% off.

Группа Кулуар на треке к Эвересту

Our trip was coming to an end, the guys from our group started to leave one by one, we hugged each other and said warm words goodbye, the hike and the harsh conditions really bring people together. And I know I would love to go with them to the mountains again. And I would like to say a special word about our guide – Alexander Pavlov. He, of course, is a terrific guide and a very good man. Thanks to his support, wise advice and experience we were able to pass this trek successfully. After all, if we make an analogy with sports, then from him, as from the coach, depends, probably, the most part of success of the sportsman. And how many interesting things we learned from him about the mountains and mountaineering! And when (exactly when, not if) we will go hiking with Kouloir again, I would like him to be our guide. Thank you guys, you gave us the most exciting adventure of our lives!

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