Our morning started while the moon still hung high up in the night sky.
The air was crisp and everyone was jittery with excitement. We all gathered around the hotel’s entrance and ate our to-go breakfast in the dark while we waited to load the bus in order to head to the airport.
The airport to fly from Kathmandu to Lukla, where we will begin our trek, can honestly only be described by two words: cluster fuck. The earlier the arrival is, the better chances of actually being able to fly out are. Being nestled in the Himalayas, Luka is known for having the world’s the most challenging airports to navigate into as the runway is extremely short and weather plays a huge part in whether or not you can fly. Pilots operate solely on visibility and barely rely on their instrument panel.
As we pulled up to the Kathmandu airport, we were not alone. Every other trekker (and their moms) also had the same idea of arriving early in hopes of securing the first flight out of Kathmandu. The airport entrance was in an unfinished warehouse with dirt floors, tattered pieces of scaffolding and homeless dogs looking for leftovers from breakfast. All of the trekkers made one organized line outside of the doors but then scrambled to squeeze in first once the doors were opened. We all rushed to catch up with our guide, Mahendra, who had pushed his way to the front of the line of Sita Airlines in order to purchase our tickets. Everyone threw their bags into one pile to get weighed collectively, as there was a weight restriction on the total amount of luggage since it would all be going along with us on a small, sixteen-seater, twin engine jet.
After having to pay an a over weight penalty on our baggage (must have been those high heels that someone packed), we waltzed through security to wait for our flight. With flying to the Himalayas being incredibly unpredictable, the status can change within in an instant. One minute we were unsure how long we would be inside the airport and within a matter of seconds, it became a stressful rat race. THE FLIGHT IS READY. IT IS NOW OR NEVER. GET TO DA CHOPPAAAAA. Just like clockwork, once we had poured ourselves a cup of coffee and Dam had gone to the toilet, the plane was ready.
Again, chasing after our guide, we grabbed our bags, sprinted towards the gateway and hopped on a bus to shuttle us to our plane whose size resembled a go-kart with wings.
The boarding process was incredibly quick. As we entered with crouched heads, we were instructed to throw our bags in the back of the plane, find a seat and prepare for a slightly rocky yet breathtaking ride. The flight attendant came around with a tray consisting of Nepali candies, similar to a jolly rancher, and cotton for your ears should you choose to muffle the unfiltered noise of the engines. After watching the pilots stare at what appeared to be the plane’s manual for ten or so minutes, we were off!
As we scooted our way through the clouds at roughly 10,000 feet, we looked over fields throughout the Kathmandu Valley and as as we got closer to Lukla: Mountains. The majestic peaks lit up like gold as the sun began to peer over the east and beautifully highlighted the elevated tips and valleys. It was breathtaking.
Just as quickly as it began, the flight had come to an end. We saw the teeny-tiny runway beneath us and immediately started our descent. A big kudos goes out to the pilots who make this jaunt every day, as they have no room for error and navigated flawlessly for one of the smoothest landings I had ever experienced.
Once on the ground, we each gathered our packs and headed towards our first “group meeting” held inside of a guesthouse right next to the airport as we waited for the remaining team mates who could not fit on the plane to arrive.
The guesthouse was massive yet cozy and served us some delicious lemon tea and milk coffee while we waited. Dam and his newly-established Aussie-bromance, and soon to be cocktail-drinking companion, Luke, cozied up to the bar to buy the first, of many, bottles of vodka for the trek.
After a brief introduction to Lukla (and I taking my first “trip” down a small flight of stairs due to some moistened moss, not the vodka), we were ready to begin the journey by trekking down from Lukla (2880 meters or 9,448 feet) to Phakding (2740 meters/8,989 feet).
trek was easy as we had incredibly beautiful scenery and small talk with our new trekking buddies along the way. Along the way, we experienced our first sharing of the trail with yaks, crossed over suspension bridges, spun prayer wheels for safe passage and stopped to fill our water bottles at a natural spring. Before we knew it, we were in Phakding.
The guesthouse was great! Perfectly comfortable for everything we needed. As the cold wind started picking up, Dam and I dropped our bags off in our room, read a quick chapter in our books (I was secretly being cliché reading “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer), then headed down to the main “living room” to hopefully wrangle our new friends in for a card game.
All of the research I had done on high altitude trekking, as well as just plain common sense, stated that it is very important to stay hydrated as you trek in order to prevent altitude related illnesses. In one of the many sources I had come across while planning had recommended lemon tea as it was both a tasty treat and naturally, very hydrating. Thinking with the mindset that “more is better”, I ordered the largest thermos on the menu for myself; little did I know it would be over 4 liters of liquid. No matter how hard I harassed, no one wanted to join be by substituting lemon tea for the Everest beer they were indulging in.
The guys (from left): Mark, the lodge owner, Sonom, Dam and Luke were engrossed in a fast-paced game of cards and inside jokes (“DIIIIIIIING”) as the rest of us made small talk and after much convincing, were forced to drink my endless vat of lemon tea. We all nodded off fairly early as we were warned that Day 2’s trek would be much more arduous than Day 1.
started fairly early with some milk coffee, lemon tea and breakfast consisting of porridge (cream of wheat) and toast. The air was still crisp but with the way the sun rose quickly, we could tell that temperatures would be rising quickly later on.
We started to make our way along the valley of the Himalayas, crossing over more suspension bridges and making pit-stops for photo ops. By the time we stopped to sit down as a team for lunch, we noticed someone was missing. One of the older men in our group had lagged behind and neither he nor his travelling companion had remembered the “buddy system”, so he wandered off away from the group as we continued on. Frantically, our guide informed us he had sent a boy that worked in the tea house to go look for him; the only problem being that the boy did not know what he looked like. Dam sprang into action and offered to go help, leaving his backpack and lunch behind.
The group waited approximately 45 minutes to an hour before we decided we would carry on and try to collect Dam, the boy and the missing teammate along our trek to Namche. Carrying both his pack and mine, as well as a leaky plastic grocery bag containing Dam’s noddle lunch, we trekked along the river until we began our uphill journey.
There were two options for crossing the river – neither being very clearly marked as to where the actual trail is supposed to go. The first option is to climb a set of stairs that to cross a higher suspension bridge whereas the second option traced along the river, up a few switchbacks to cross the lower of the two bridges. With our guide lagging behind, we discussed as a group to decide which way was best. Everyone had their own opinions as to which path to take and some members of the group, who were a little more reliant of the guide’s leading, were hesitant to make any decisions at all and persistently stayed put until Mehendra caught up with us.
Luke, myself and a few others, decided to continue on the lower route, which we soon found was the correct way as the higher suspension bridge was currently under construction. We called for Dam and the missing trekker along the way but with no answer. Once we had hiked up to the suspension bridge, we saw a familiar red jacket that belonged to the older man just on the other side. As we got closer though, we noticed that Dam was not with him.
What we later came to find out, Dam had taken the steeper, more extreme route, by climbing the rocky staircase by the trail split and had somehow safely crossed the higher suspension bridge that was under construction.
As we continued on to Namche as a group, we finally were able to get in contact with Dam via the porters. He had safely met up with the group of porters and continued the trek onto Namche together, making it in record time at least and hour and a half before the rest of us arrived.
That night, we relaxed and ate dinner as a team, played a few card games and nestled into what would turn out to be a very nauseous night.
I’m not sure if either the altitude had caught up with me and a few other teammates, or if we had eaten something along the way to make our stomachs unsettled, but our first night in Namche was a pretty long and sleepless one. Though we would be staying two nights at this elevation in order to assist with acclimatizing, about half of us were too ill to join the others for the acclimatization hike up to the Tenzing-Hillary Airport on Day 3.
As I had suspected, Dam’s iron stomach was immune to all food, altitude and even tap water, so he went trekking along with Bromance for the day while I slept under both his cozy blanket and mine. By mid-afternoon, I was ready for some fresh air, and the breakfast I had not finished earlier, so I crept downstairs to try and attempt eating while I waited for the boys to return.
While soaking up the majestic scenery surrounding the town, I realized that Namche was quite the bustling as it is has the largest import/export on the EBC trek due to the close proximity of the Tenzing-Hillary Airport. As I breathed the fresh mountain air, I observed the various types of trekkers from all walks of life along with long-haired yaks and their wide loads melodically shuffling through the busy cobblestone streets.
After an hour or two people watching, my people finally returned back to the guesthouse. Dam and Luke had said the visibility was pretty bad by the airport so they were unable to see their first glimpse of Everest.
Again, we all ate dinner together as a team but were ready for some fun come nighttime. All of our porters stayed at a relative’s house down the street but had invited Dam, Luke and myself for a nightcap, cards and momos. We walked along the dark path, following our nimble co-guide, Bibek, trying not to stare at the incredible star-lit sky at the same time.
Once we arrived at the house, the porters were playing pool and drinking some homemade rice beer. They poured Luke and Dam a tall glass but since I had been feeling sick earlier in the day, I opted for hot tea. The woman who owned the house served us the most amazing chicken and vegetable momos, a Nepalese dumping, that were hands down the best we had eaten on the trek. We shared some good laughs as we taught the crew a few card games and sipped our warm beverages until it was time to return to the guesthouse and prepare for Day 4. Before leaving, Dam gifted the two porters, whom he had befriended on their way to Namche the day prior, some jade and onyx mountain beads signifying safe passage and protection.
started in similar fashion as the previous days: breakfast with coffee and tea, filling up water bottles and lathering on the sunscreen.
The trek began with a brief visit to the Tenzing-Hillary Airport again, since many of us had missed it the day before. This time, the weather was outstanding. All of the clouds from the day prior had lifted and we could see each peak with crystal precision. The catchphrase between the trio (Dam, Luke and myself) soon became, “Hey, take your sunnies off and look at that (Ama Dablam) mountain.”
It only took once for Dam to teach us all that sun + snowy mountain – sunglasses = scorched retinas.
As we trekked from Namche Bazaar (3,445 meters/11,302 feet) to Thyangboche (3,800 meters/12,467 feet), we had stunning views of Ama Dablam or “Peen Mountain” as we so lovingly referred to it, along with Lhotse. A few hours into the trek, we met a very weathered, elderly man whose family had built and cared for the portion of the trail which we were travelling on. We learned that every day, he sat in the sun and informed travelers about the history of the trail. He had translated the history into four different languages and any donations that were made went towards the labor to continue clearing the path.
We traveled in the hot, hot sun, remembering to drink extra amount of water and lather the sunscreen along the way. As we got closer to Thyangboche, the trail got steeper and the switchbacks became more tiring. One member of the team (the one who packed the heels), became increasingly ill due to the altitude gain, as she had never fully recovered from the sickness she experienced in Namche. By the time we reached our lodge in Thyangboche, she was was not able to carry her pack, let alone stand on her own. With the help of our porters and guide, we transported her to the lodge and tucked into bed in hopes she could rest up enough to continue on the trek.
Along our way to Thyangboche, we had met a young travelling nurse from north of Seattle, and just so happened to be staying at our guesthouse for the night. When we arrived with our ill teammate, she took great care and checked in multiple times throughout the evening, only to conclude that her condition was worsening and she would need to be airlifted out of Thyangboche first thing in the morning.
A few of us were still not 100% but with some hot tea, pancakes (so easy on the stomach), and uncontrollable laughter from a few good card games, we rested and waited for our bodies to catch up as Dam and Luke enjoyed some spirits at high altitude.
That night was another restless night and the first time we did not have running water for toilets inside the guesthouse. I woke Dam up around 2:00 AM to escort me outside (it was really dark!) and as we set foot outside on our way to the outhouse, we stopped dead in our tracks – completely in awe of the celestial sky that seemed so close you could reach out and touch it. The stars were the brightest I had ever seen and being a bit of an astronomy nerd, all I could do was gaze upward: paralyzed by the beauty.
greeted us with more lemon tea and pancakes along with the sound of a helicopter landing to take our ill traveler down to lower elevation. I chose to sleep in a bit longer instead of touring the Thyangboche monastery with Dam and the rest of the group, although from their photos, looked like I really missed out!
We packed our bags again and hit the trail to Dingboche (4,300 m/14,107 ft). The trek was relatively easy this day, as the elevation gain was very slight. Per usual, there was a plethora of beauty surrounding us and this time, we were greeted by a few stray dogs that chose to help guide our way. Mahendra played some classic-rock on a small speaker and as we slowly made our way to Dingboche, sang along.
The guesthouse in Dingboche was newly renovated and extremely comfortable. Once Dam and I got situated, we invited Luke and Mark in for a top secret meeting: finally opening our treats of chocolate, trail mix and meat sticks that we had brought from home to share. After a quick snacking session, the meeting concluded and the four of us headed down to the main lodge to play cards by the warmth of a yak dung fire. By this point, we were smelling pretty great: still opting to not take showers and sleeping in our trekking clothes, as it was too hard to rewarm if we changed into cleaner threads.
That night at dinner, the unification of our team shifted heavily as a few members had become irritable from the altitude and made an unnecessary scene regarding their dinner choices: loud enough for other trekking teams to hear. The volume and tone of voice quickly changed from some-what upset to very confrontational and less thankful for the hard work that the chef had put forth in order to make their meal. It was disheartening to watch and Dam and I felt embarrassed to be part of the table. Soon after the tantrum, we packed up our cards and retired for the evening: hoping that a good night of sleep would change the attitude and outlook for the duration of the trek.
started again with pancakes, lemon tea and a bit of tense small talk as we gathered around the breakfast table. We would have another “rest” day, meaning we would embark on a day trek up to higher altitude and return to Dingboche to sleep at lower elevation. The team set out with a few snacks and headed for the hills. The views were spectacular. There was not a cloud in the sky and the mountains surrounding us stood bold and bright. We made our way through Imja Tse valley with clear views of Lhotse, Ama Dablam and Chooyu to entertain us as we trekked straight up from 4,300 meters/14,107 feet to 5,000 meters/16,404 feet. Dam and Luke opted to continue climbing up to about 5,200 meters with Bibek and Mahendra, but once I reached that day’s goal of 5,000 meters, I popped a squat and waited for the group: again in awe of nature’s splendor. After a few photo ops at the peak, the boys returned and we made our way down the steep hillside back to Dingboche where again, endless lemon tea and cards awaited us.
By Day 7
we were ready to continue marching on. Base Camp was much closer and we were eager and anxious to reach it. As we prepared our packs, we were informed that another teammate would end their journey due to altitude sickness. The initial member who got lost on Day 2 had a restless night and was feeling the effects of altitude sickness, so he thought best to descend to Khumjung, where he would wait for the rest of our team to meet up with him in the coming days. We said our goodbyes and headed towards the valley.
The beginning of the trek from Dingboche (4,300 meters/14,107 feet) to Lobuche (4,900 meters/16,076 feet) was not bad at all. We joked back and forth as we waltzed along the valley: snacking on meat sticks and protein bars as well as taking photos by a house that was perfect size for me. When we stopped for our team lunch, I was beginning to feel worse and worse: fighting a headache, loss of appetite and an upset stomach. As I sipped my tea, Dam made friends with another guide outside of the restaurant who had a blood oxygen monitor, which was used to decipher my oxygen levels. Surprisingly enough, even with how terrible I felt, my oxygen levels were in the high 90’s and I got the green light to continue on. As our group left the restaurant with full bellies, we all stared at the next portion of our trek: a trail with 45 degree switchbacks leading straight up to Lobuche.
It was by far the shittiest portion of the entire EBC trek. Battling the high altitude and bodily fatigue, each switchback felt never-ending and mentally, I wasn’t feeling very strong as in previous days. I fed off of Dam’s energy levels and was so grateful to have him cheer me on, especially towards the middle of the incline when my sunglasses became a little “steamy”.
As we approached the top, the triumph was very bitter-sweet. I let out a huge sigh of relief that the worst was now behind us, yet the overhanging prayer flags signified that we had made it to the Everest Memorial site: a field of marked cairns for those who had lost their lives in attempt to climb to the summit. We walked solemnly through the rows of stacked stones, reading each tag and remembering the previous years of climbers and Sherpas who had risked it all to achieve a life-long dream or support their families.
Due to the higher elevation, the temperature had also turned colder. The wind increased, piercing the little portion of cheek we had not covered, and the sun quickly tucked behind a thick layer of fog. We continued on: walking through a light dusting of snow next to a few glaciers on our way to Lobuche. With all of these elements crashing together, my irritation also increased; however, due to Dam’s warm smile, cheesy jokes and a random carton of Pringles he produced from his pack, I was able to keep pushing on.
By the the time we reached our guesthouse in Lobuche, I was feeling pretty lousey. Dam quickly escorted me up to our room for a stern, yet loving, come-to-Jesus pep-talk as I was beginning to have doubts in my ability to make it to Base Camp, even though we were less than 24 hours away. I let out a few wimpy sobs as he untied my shoes to put warmer socks on my feet, then pulled myself together to join the rest of the group for some hot tea, cards and maybe another slice of pancake.
By nightfall, I was beginning to feel much better. My headache had finally subsided and my appetite had somewhat increased. We went to bed that night, together crammed in a twin-sized bed, excited to know that our goal was insight and that the hardest portion of the trek was behind us.