Everest Base Camp Trek Day 3: Acclimitization at Namche

Climbing from Namche ( 3440m) to Everest View Hotel ( 3860) and back to Namche

When I’d  read “acclimitization day” on the itinerary given to us by Himalayan Expedition I had (naturally) assumed that it was just another word for “rest day”. To my great surprise last night we were told that we would climb up 400 m from Namche  to acclimitize our bodies to the higher altitude and the lower level of oxygen, which, according to one book I was reading, was down to around 60% ( and would continue to go down to almost 50% of what you’d find at the sea level).

To get used to this new situation, the mantra is to “climb high and sleep low”, and this is followed regardless of whether you are going to the summit of Mt.Everest or going up to the Everest Base camp. In fact, mountaineers who are climbing Everest spend the first month running up and down the mountain from lower camps to higher camps and back before they make the final attempt. We were doing a lower scale version of the same thing. In this process, when the body adjusts, the number of RBCs in the body go up dramatically, and suddenly your body’s transportation mechanism for oxygen gets better in a bid to adjust to the changing environment.

All this is happenning inside the body.  On the outside, you are still one panting gasping individual trying to go up a very steep hill so you can get a very good view of Everest.

By now our little group of 11 had a set schedule for climbing. Three of us , Satish, Sudhir and I ( sometimes accompanied by Aditya when he was not having a splitting headache from Acute Mountain Sickness, a condition that he was vehemently denying, saying it was the cold that got to him) would be leading the pack alongwith the indomitable head porter Om Bahadur Ji. Abhishek, Shweta and Ramesh would follow a distant second, Ali, Javed Bhai and Sachin would bring up the rear, and the very tail end would be dear Padmaja, coming up very slowly but very surely, acccompanied by Kiran, our guide.

One thing you learn on the mountains – sometimes slow and steady does help!

Here’s the whole group after we made reached to the Everest View Hotel – a climb of about 3 hrs.

Hyderabad Adventure Club Group at Everest View Hotel

The view from the Everest View Hotel was spectacular, as the day was bright and clear. Everest, with its ever present plume of snow, flanked by Lhotse ( an 8000+m peak, and the fourth highest in the world) and Nuptse were right there.

Sudhir and I walked up further to the ridge from where we could see Khumjung village. This village was adopted by Edmund Hillary who has done a lot for the Sherpa community here in the Khumbu valley. There is  a school and hospital set up by his foundation at the village.

Sudhir and I were rewarded for our efforts of going up a few hundred feet further than the others. On the hidden side of the hill after crossing the ridge is a lovely rhododendron forest of yellow and white rhododendrons. In the warm sunlight it was simply glorious.

Rhododendron flowers near Everest View Hotel

After having tea and coffee at the hotel ( where we were ripped off – the tea and coffee cost us Rs. 1700), we came back down to Namche and back to our lodge. The evening ended up being a lot of fun – we had a great music session with a guy from Pune.

Later on, I happenned to run up to get a cup of hot water, and found the sherpas sitting around the dining table sipping on some interesting concoction. I was invited to try, and, as happens when it comes to anything containing slightest traces of alcohol, I found myself unable to refuse. So here I was, sitting and sipping on “Tongba”, which tastes a lot like the “Chang” we have in North-East India. Its made of millet, and it warm, and the taste kind of grows on you with each sip, of which I took quite a few.

I slept well again, on a full stomach, with my limbs worn out from all the walking.

Coffee shop vignette from Namche Bazaar Everest Bakery

After a half-day of strenous climbing, a lunch followed by a nap, and some serious shopping for gear, its feels really good to enter the cozy atmosphere of a coffee shop. The walls of the Everest Bakery in downtown Namche are lined with delicious looking goodies – apple pies, chocolate donuts, strudels, danish, cinnamon rolls and muffins. The prices are atrocious – NPR 250 for a slice of apple pie – of course I did not know that I would be willing to shell out this and more on the way back. It has not gotten to that stage of desperation yet, so I settle for a hot chocolate, and immediately regret it when Cheekala’s coffee, complete with a little twirl of foam and a wafer, arrives looking way more inviting than my hot chocolate.  Meanwhile a pizza is baking and the delicious smell fills the bakery making the 4 of us sipping our drinks very very hungry. Padmaja puts back the magazine she’d been browsing ( called Voice of Women, or VOW, from which we had been reading out strange poll stats), and we head back for lacklustre dinner back at the hotel.

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Everest Base Camp trek Day 2: Phakding to Namche

Phakding: 2610m, to Namche, 3440m, elevation gain 800m

Today’s hike is supposed to be grueling. There is a fair amount of elevation gain, 800 m approximately, and this gain does not always suit everybody’s health. Here’s when the symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness start to show. Even the Sherpas stop consuming alcohol ( okay, not entirely) around this altitude.

The hike starts easy, with a slight incline near Phakding, and then the trail follows the river Dudhkoshi. Now my memory fades and I cannot remember the exact names of places ( and I was too busy putting one foot after the other to take notes).

We crossed picture perfect villages along the way. The scenery was soothing, green and clean.

Picture perfect view
Village women near Jorsale
Village women near Jorsale

We stopped at a place called Monjo for lunch. From here on, meals are not really worth the description, so I will skip that part altogether. Lets just say that it was wholesome, and I was hungry most of the time after a hike. So I’d wipe my plate clean, eating with my hands like I always do when the food is like home-food.

After lunch, the trail followed the river closely, leading up to a lovely bridge where the Dudh-Kosi was joined by the Bhot-Kosi river ( called BhotKosi because it came from the land of the Bhotias, from Tibet ). Soon after, steep steps appeared. With many a break  we reached Namche – along the way I became proud possessor of a stout walking stick. The walking stick merits mention because it is to hold emotional significance in the coming days!

Bridge spanning the Dudhkosi river
Bridge spanning the Dudhkosi river

Namche is a bustling town set up explicitly for tourists. There are lovely lodges set up all around the town, there are bakeries and cyber cafes and all kinds of creature comforts that you can dream up. Nestled on a mountain-side, a short walk up the mountain takes me to a lovely view point, and my first glimpse of Mt. Everest. There are towering mountains all around – I become familiar with them as the days go by and I walk deeper and higher into the heart of the mountains. Meanwhile, from Namche, it is still a distant but lovely view.

First glimpse of Everest
First glimpse of Everest

The lodge is pleasant. I’m warming up to the folks in my groups – having fun hiking with them, and spending time in the evenings at the lodge – chatting, singing and playing cards.

Everest Base Camp Trek Day 1: Little plane to Lukla

At Kathmandu airport, the size of the plane that is supposed to get us across into Lukla is enough to send my stomach churning. We’re getting into that? I wondered. And of course we were, all 19 poor souls, getting our collective brave fronts together.The air hostess did not even bother to smile when she handed out the toffees ( she, I think, has the world’s least demanding job – hand out toffees and cotton balls, that’s the job description). She knew what was coming up.

The view was enough to distract us, for a while.

View from the window

After that, we either pretended to sleep or pretended to be brave, while the pilot tried out many moves with his flimsy aircraft. I hate vehicles where I can actually feel the machinery working – the engine trying hard to give more power to climb over that snow-capped peak, the brakes trying hard to work on the small landing strip. You get the idea.

Mercifully, the flight landed successfully on the tiny runaway ( after circling endlessly over the clouds, looking for an opening, as it were) at the Tenzing Hillary airport at Lukla.

The 19 seater aircraft

We gathered at the cozy Buddha lodge ( whose ceilings are adorned with various clothings with scribblings of successfully completed treks, by people from pretty much every country around the world it seemed. And people of all tastes, including some girly group who thought it was cute to have a bra with their names scribbled on it). Anyway, we had what was to be the first of cup of the gallons of black tea we were to drink, repacked our bags so the porters ( poor guys) would carry most of it while we whistled our way up with a few kilos on our backs.

Trophies, self inscribed
Trophies, self inscribed

I was glad to be walking, glad I had great walking shoes, glad I had packed well, and glad I had a great guy back home who was taking care of the home front while I was traipsing up and down mountains. Life was good.

Lunch was good too. Daal, bhaat, aloo curry ( again, first of many similar meals). A long rest where most of us stretched out and lazed in the sun, and off again for a couple of hours until we reached our first nights stay at Phadking.

Sweet sleep after a steep hike
Sweet sleep after a steep hike

The lodge was nice, and I slept fairly well. My knee acted up ( miraculously, the one and only time I had a problem with it the entire trip).

Everest Base camp Trek Day 0 : At Kathmandu

An early morning flight from Delhi brings me to Kathmandu, capital city of Nepal. The weather is a balmy 21deg celcius – a relief from the sweltering 42 deg in Hyd! This is paradise, I am already telling myself.

Nepal feels quite like India, and Kathmandu is chaotic and littered like a number of Indian cities. I get picked up at the airport by  Himalayan Expedition’s rep, a cheerful guy who is quite conversant in Hindi. They put me up at the Marshyangdi Hotel at the Thamel area of Kathmandu. I relax in the room for a while, and in the afternoon head out to explore the area on foot.

I intend to go to the Swayambhu temple, a walk of about 45 min or so it seems. But I never get there! For the first time I am actually unable to locate something, thanks to the wrong directions I was helpfully offered. But getting lost in a new city is good, you always end up somewhere! So here I found myself in Durbar square, the place where everybody, young and old, seemed to go to stroll/while away time in the evenings.

At the Durbar Square in Kathmandu
At the Durbar Square in Kathmandu

A helpful rickshaw puller brought me back to my hotel towards evening. At the hotel I learnt that the rest of the group had landed from Hyderabad, but had gone out to rent jackets and sleepings bags. I made a brief search for the group, found nobody, and sat by myself at a nice coffee shop, looking out at the traffic on the street.

View from a coffee shop in Thamel - Kathmandu
View from a coffee shop in Thamel - Kathmandu

In the evening, finally, I caught up with the group. A motley group, and on first meeting, I wasn’t sure what to make of the folks in the group. Little did I know I’d be having such a great time during the trek, and make some good friends in the bargain too.

We’re starting our Everest Base camp trek tomorrow, and I am very excited!