20/12/07 Singapore – Katmandu (1,337m)
Seeing the Himalayan mountain peaks from the plane during our approach to Kathmandu made us realize that we were really approaching a country at the top of the world: Nepal. The views on the hills and the distant mountain range were absolutely stunning.
After checking in at Ganesh Himal hotel in Thamel district, it was time to decide which trek to do – a decision we couldn’t take for two months (it was hard to choose from so many fantastic trekking opportunities in Nepal). After long discussions and some advice from the locals, we decided to go for the biggest challenge: the 12 day Everest Base camp trek that reaches up to 5,550 meters! The decision was hard, as it was in December and temperatures at that altitude can drop to -20° C.
But the weather reports and forecasts were good and we had a spare couple of days in case of bad weather, so we thought we should give it a try. Next step was to buy/rent the right gear: duck-down sleeping bags and jackets, thermal underwear, hats, gloves, UV sunglasses, backpack… We had to be careful not to bring too much, as we would have to carry every gram up the mountain!
21/12/07 Kathmandu (1,337m) – Lukla (2,840m) – Phakding (2,610m)
We took a morning flight on a small plan from Kathmandu to Lukla and it was spectacular. As this season is not very touristy, we were the only passengers and the 40 minute flight provided fantastic views on the mountains. During the flight, we could look straight through the cockpit and it seemed like we were going to crash into a mountain several times and Diana was scared to death! The approach was quite bumpy and took us within meters from steep cliffs, before landing on one of the world’s steepest runaways (about 10 degree angle up to a mountain) in Lukla (2,840m)
After a nice lunch in Lukla, we packed our gear and started the trek! First destination was Phakding (2,610m), and it took us 3 hours to get there. All guide books recommend spending the first night here, so we checked into a lovely lodge called Prince of Everest. The trek itself was an excellent start with a good path, fantastic views through the valleys and on towering mountains all around. To our surprise, it was actually really warm in the sun, and we could walk just in a long-sleeve thermal shirt (probably 20°C in the sun, although there was ice in the shadow). But we were happy for our warm cloths in the late afternoon when the sun disappeared behind the mountains …it suddenly got quite chilly. The drop in temperature is impressive: from warm summer weather in the day to subzero winter weather in the evening. It was the first chance to test our sleeping bags, but they looked warm and comfortable!
22/12/07 Phakding (2,610m) – Monjo (2,835m) – Namche Bazar (3,440m)
After a good breakfast and with lots of energy we started on the 2nd day of our trek: via Monjo to Namche Bazar. Most of the trek was through pine forests, and the first part to Monjo was quite easy and very scenic. We even spotted an antelope in the valley. There were multiple hanging bridges and we just couldn’t stop taking pictures of the magnificent scenery.
But don’t come here if you are afraid of heights: sometimes the bridges hang 100m above a raging river with icy water. The second part of the trip was TOUGH! We already found it more physically demanding than running a half marathon in the tropics…Especially with our 15 kg backpacks, it became quite hard in the end. But were happy and proud not to use porters – this is the real deal!
After an exhausting 7.5 hours trek, we finally arrived in Namche Bazaar, where we found a great hotel (with hot shower!) called Khumbu Lodge. This lodge was the first in Namche Bazar, and even Jimmy Carter and Robert Redford stayed here. Namche Bazar itself used to be a trading hub between Tibet and the Nepali valleys. Trade dwindled after the Chinese invasion into Tibet, but trekking and mountaineering now provides a decent living for the local sherpas.
23/12/07 Namche Bazar (3,440m)
We spent two nights in Namche Bazar to acclimatize. On the rest day we made a beautiful walk to Thamo with splendid views. Unfortunately Sjoerd fell sick (some food poisoning) and we were scared that our trip will have to end early.
24/12/07 Namche Bazar (3,440m) – Phunki Tenga (3,250m) – Tengboche (3,860m)
Even the next morning we had doubts, but by 10am we thought we should give it a try and continue the trek according to the original plan. Sjoerd pulled his strength together for this challenge. But when we saw Mount Everest after a few minutes into the walk, closer than ever before, it was real a motivation!
The first half of the trek was relatively flat, but the last part absolutely brutal: two hours straight up a high hill to Tengboche (3,860m). For this kind of climb, it’s very important to find your own rhythm – we did 15 min walk and 5 min break. It worked for us. We made it and we were just so happy to arrive to a small guest house with a warm dining room! From Tengboche the views on Mount Everest and surrounding mountains were stunning!
At this point, we were taking it one day at a time, every day is an achievement. We felt that it didn’t matter if at the end we make it to Base Camp and Kala Patthar, or not. The journey so far was already amazing, and well worth all the efforts!
25/12/07 Tengboche (3,860m) – Pangboche (3,930m) – Dingboche (4,410m)
When we left at 9am, it was very cold with ice everywhere. We had to put on warm jackets, gloves, hats and mouth protection to stay warm. Until Pangboche we walked together with Taro, a nice Japanese guy who took a couple of months off to travel the Subcontinent. We had a long lunch break in the lovely village of Pangboche, with some of the typical food here: potatoes, cabbage and momos (kind of dumplings). The next 1.5 hours were good with a flat trail and good views. Unfortunately our destination (Dingboche at 4,410m) was on top of a high hill. Our 15 min walk / 5 min rest rhythm worked for this climb as well. We checked into a lodge at the end of the village, and prepared to spend two nights here (as Dingboche is again an acclimatization stop). Biggest plus point: they prepared excellent rice pudding with cinnamon!
26/12/07 Dingboche (4,410m)
In the morning we took it easy and after lunch we made a two-hour walk up to a nearby hill to help the acclimatization process. We needed to do this, as tomorrow we would go up to 4,910m. We were acclimatizing quite well, but we can feel we’re high up in the mountains whenever we have to walk upwards (you’re instantly out of breath). By now we miss a decent shower, and hope to find this in Lobuche…
27/12/07 Dingboche (4,410m) – Dughla (4,620m) – Lobuche (4,910m)
After a good breakfast we left at 8 :30am for Lobuche. This time we could really feel the altitude right from the start, when we started to climb the hill next to the village. The first 2.5 hours to Dughla were OK with a moderate ascent all the way. We had lunch in Dugla, and it was very hard to motivate ourselves for the tough climb we knew was coming (we could already see the steep hill)… And it proved to be as bad as expected! Climbing uphill at 4,900 m high, carrying our own luggage – it wasn’t great! We again applied our 15 min walk / 5 min break rhythm and we eventually made it to the top. The views were again stunning! There are no trees, no bushes, just some grass, rocks and ice. And some beautiful and friendly yaks, of course!
Again we came to the conclusion that this was one of the toughest challenges we have ever done. Finally we arrived to Lobuche, a small village with some simple lodges (no shower!). It feels colder up here and we hope our sleeping bags will be warm enough!
28/12/07 Lobuche (4,910m) – Gorak Shep (5,140m)
After a sleepless night (due to high altitude and dry air) we started our ascent to Gorak Shep, the last village before Everest Base Camp. We quickly found out that the ascent at 5,000m is quite different from ascending at 2,500m and we frequently had to stop to catch our breath. The backpacks didn’t make it any easier.
The worst part was just before Lobuche Pass (5,110m) when we first had to climb a steep hill and then carefully balance on glacier rocks, for an hour. We were tired, had a headache, and felt nauseous and dizzy. We weren’t sure if we should push on just a bit more, or turn back to lower altitude – tough question. But with several long breaks, we finally made it to our destination Gorak Shep, where we found a remarkably comfortable lodge.
It’s clear that the altitude takes its toll, and we now have a real admiration for the physical fitness and the mental persistence of those people that climb all the way to the top of Everest. When we reach Everest Base Camp we’ll turn back, but for them it’s just the beginning…We believe that in the end, it’s all about willpower and mental strength to push your body when it wants to give up (every minute or so!). As Sir Edmund Hillary, the first one to be on top of Everest, said: “It's not the mountains that we conquer but ourselves”.
But don’t worry we don’t intend to ever climb to the summit of Everest!
29/12/07 Gorak Shep (5,140m) – Everest Base Camp (5,364m)
Another day that was much harder than expected! We woke up at 6am, hoping that we would be able to do two treks today: first to Everest Base Camp (EBC) and in the afternoon to Kala Patthar for the Everest view. But after we came back from Base Camp we realized that our energy levels were too low and that it was not going to happen…
We left at 7am in the bitter cold from Gorak Shep and we didn’t feel the sun until we reached Base Camp at 10am. The trek itself was impressive and hostile: you are walking all alone over very uneven glacier rocks, surrounded by the world’s tallest mountains, no sign of life anywhere (not even a bird), and it’s very cold when you are not in the sun. But we were getting closer to Base Camp and the views were spectacular!!!
We had some ideas about how Everest base camp would look, but reality was quite different. Firstly, there was hardly a flat piece of land in sight and it’s hard to imagine how all the mountaineers put up their tents here. Secondly, we expected it to be rocky, but we didn’t realize that those rocks were just the cover of the huge Khumbu glacier…there was ice everywhere: below, at the sides, above you… everywhere you looked.
Thirdly, EBC is very remote. We expected it to be relatively easy to reach, but you need to trek for 8 days from Lukla, climb over 3,000 vertical meters, and in the end climb over huge rocks on a glacier. It’s amazing to think how every year hundreds of mountaineers, thousands of and porters and tons of material move up to EBC during the trekking season.
Although we have no desire ever to climb Everest, we have real admiration for those that do. Trekking to EBC was the toughest thing we’ve ever done – we can only imagine how hard it is to climb to the top!
You don’t play around with nature, as we’ve hard from locals: “the Himalayas are there to change you, not for you to change the Himalayas”.
30/12/07 Gorak Shep (5,140m) – Kala Patthar (5,550m) – Pherice (4,270m)
We started the day with a climb up to Kala Patthar, which has magnificent views on Mount Everest. But what a tough climb that was! We were not sure if we would be able to make it, as the oxygen level is half compared to sea level! You really have to take every step at a time. We reached the peak in 1hour and 45 minutes, and we were lucky that there were no other people on top (as only one person can be on top at any given moment).
At the top it was extremely windy, it felt like we make one wrong move and we would be blown down. But the magnificent views on Mount Everest and the other peaks made it more than worth it!!!!
Mount Everest (8,848) is the high high peak on the left, Base Camp is at the bottom left. The peak on the right is Nuptse (7,861m) which looks higher as its closer...
It was certainly one of the highlights of the trip. The descent was much easier and after a long lunch we packed our stuff and prepared to leave for Pherice. Downhill - more oxygen!!! We left at 12:30 and we reached Pherice by 6pm, covering the same distance that took us two days to climb. We saw a lot of people struggling to go up, and we were happy and proud to be on our way dawn!
One special special things we saw here was a memorial site for all people that died on Mount Everest. In the picture you can see the stone constructions built in memory of the victims - over 250, and counting... It was a very impressive place.
31/12/07 Pherice (4,270m) – Namche Bazar (3,440m)
As we were going down we expected this part of the trail to be very easy and fast. But it wasn’t! Even though you are going down, the trail doesn’t go straight down: it’s a lot of up and down… By the time we reached Namche Bazar, it was already dark. But this was also due to the fact that we stopped very often to take pictures and to absorb all the beauty of the Himalayas! We always stopped to have a good last look on Chomolungma (Mount Everest)!
When we reached Namche Bazar we were exhausted, but happy that we managed to make it in one day. Of course we returned to Khumbu Lodge, where we could take a hot shower!!!! Finally after 6 days, it was very refreshing! It was a good fresh start for the New Year! We were so happy with this place that we decided to take an unscheduled rest day and spent two nights here!
01/01/08 Namche Bazar (3,440m)
We have spent the whole day in the dining area in the warm sun, reading books and articles about famous mountaineers and Sherpas and their adventures on Mount Everest. And what a fantastic and well-deserved rest day that was!
02/01/08 Namche Bazar (3,440m) )- Lukla (2,840m)
This was the last day walking on the trail. We felt sad and happy at the same time: sad that we were leaving these beautiful mountains, and happy that we made it without any serious health issues and we got to Everest Base Camp and Kala Patthar as planned.
At these lower altitudes, you see a lot of beautifully carved 'mani' stones (like in the picture). They are covered with the text Om Mani Padme Hum, an i buddhist phrase meaning "heal the jewel in the lotus."
But some more energy was still needed to get to Lukla, which was a long walk. But even though we had to walk the last half hour in complete darkness, we made it from Namche Bazar to Lukla in one day!
So far we only had crystal-clear skies and no snow-fall, and this was the first day that there were some. But it was our last day, so we really didn’t mind. The local people were looking forward to some snow finally, as it it’s normally already snowing by this time of the year… unfortunately we suspect that this is due to global warming.
03/01/08 Lukla (2,840m) – Kathmandu (1,337m)
Due to bad visibility in Kathmandu, most of the flights got delayed or cancelled this morning. There were almost a hundred frustrated tourists waiting in the tiny airport! But we were very lucky as our flight did not get cancelled. And we were lucky that we didn’t need to wait in the airport, but that we could stay in our room (the hotel staff told us when to go to the airport, so we avoided all the frustrations in the airport). The flight was fantastic again with incredible scenery all around! We said good-bye to Himalayas, but we know that we will return for another trek!
In Kathmandu we checked into a nice hotel in Thamel and we did some great shopping! In the afternoon we visited Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, which is a cluster of ancient temples, palaces, courtyards and streets that date back to the 12th century. The Palace Complex was the royal Nepalese residence until the 19th century and is the site of important ceremonies. The palace and temples are decorated with elaborately-carved wooden windows. It is really incredibly beautiful!
04/01/08 Bhaktapur (Kathmandu Valley)
Today we decided to visit Bhaktapur, which is an impressive and very well preserved medieval city in the Kathmandu Valley. The city was once the capital of Nepal during the great Malla Kingdom from the 12th to the 15th century. Walking through this city makes you feel like walking through a medieval city – small shops everywhere, lots of traditional art and architecture; women are making clay-pots, weaving, and sun-drying crops and vegetable products. It is amazing how it was all preserved are the temples and palaces, as well as the small streets where everyday life unfolds!
Our last destination for the day was the famous Swayambunath temple in Kathmandu, which is one of the symbols of Nepal. It is also known as the Monkey Temple, as there is a big colony of macaques living here.
It is an impressive stupa with great views on the city (it’s situated on top of a hill).
05/01/08 Kathmandu - Singapore
Unfortunately we had to leave Nepal today. We were sad, but we know that we’ll return to this beautiful country with its spectacular treks, warm people, great food, historical cities (and great shopping of course)!!!!!!
For more pictures, click here