I decided on this trek on a Sunday afternoon of February 2017 at the pub, yep at the pub, a month before the actual start of this -spoiler alert- amazing 14 days trek. No need to state how unprepared I was. Apart from my futsal games twice a week, and some `intense' walking in November 2016 in Sri Lanka, I had no training. But (over?) confident I was.
After reading a lot on internet, and not confident enough that I could follow a group without trouble (remember, no training?) I went alone with a porter. I contacted a rather small company `Inland Expedition Nepal' as my Nepalese friend knew the owner and so I had the hope that everything would go well. It did! My porter/guide carried my 8-10kgs bag and I carried my small backpack of 6-7kgs (camera, 3L of water, jacket, food for the day). Do i regret my choice? Not at all.
Having a porter/guide is I reckon the way to go. I've crossed path with people who were carrying heavy bags, and even though they felt good at low altitude, they were wrecks over 4000-5000m, not looking like they enjoyed their days very much as I was. Of course not everyone is the same, and some people do enjoy trekking with their bags.
I also met and chatted with people every night so do not be scared of being alone if you don't belong in a group. Plus? You go your own pace all day, you can stop whenever and wherever you want to enjoy the view, take photos, reflect on your life and much more. You do not depend on others and have nobody to pressure you (as I've read some company/guides can put on trekkers). I loved it and would recommend it, but if you are someone that cannot stay alone for a few hours with your own thoughts, then maybe go in a group!
Every website about trekking in the himalayas will pretty much say the same thing. Some of them will even scare you a little about NOT forgetting this or that crucial thing. The thing is: you can buy anything you need in Kathmandu, and even in Namche Bazar, day 2 of the trek. So no stress.
I mainly used the 24-105, the surrounding mountains are relatively far and the wide angle was clearly overkill, except in Gokyo where the lakes are very close and the wide angle was appreciated! I chose to carry all the 4 batteries I had, mainly because I wasn't sure about the opportunities to recharge them during the trek, especially on the Gokyo part (the EBC part is supposed to be well supplied). Turns out that I only used 2 batteries in the end (charged a few times). When the GPS of the 7dmii is not turned on (I couldn't pick up the signal the first day and I didn't try further), the battery life is quite good and I managed to keep the same battery for 2days or more (some days I wasn't taking more than 20photos).
Tips I found online: sleeping with your battery (in your sleeping bag). I did, but I can't confirm it's useful as I would need to try again several times (you know, as a statistician, I can tell you you need more than a few observations to compare two groups :)
Early morning start for my porter and I with a flight scheduled at 7.20am from the Tribhuwan International Airport to Tenzing-Hillary Airport at Lukla. Kathmandu airport is hectic (under-statement) and even though we booked a flight on Sita air, we ended up leaving around 7.40am on another company. The first few flights of the day were delayed due to unfavorable weather conditions, and as soon as it cleared, the race was on.
Here we are on this ~10seats biplane, tension is starting to build up as you remember all these videos you watched and all these articles you read about one of the most dangerous airport in the world, your destination Lukla. You are sitting confortably with a direct view of the cockpit, a way to remind you that if something goes wrong, you'll be made aware preeeetty fast. On top of that, you realise that even if you make it, there's still 14 days of trekking that await, with several days over 5,000m when the highest you've been all your life was on a ski piste at probably 2,500m (flying in an airplane doesn't count), and a flight back to Kathmandu. Still a lot of chances for something to go wrong, or at least not go according to plan.
Everything went fast and the plane was in the air in a matter of seconds. At that moment, all your worries go away; you're starting an amazing adventure that is gonna stick with you forever.
The flight is a 35-minute scenic flight, and you do see lots of mountains (if you're on the right side of the plane, which in this case is the left side). Closing in on Lukla is pretty terrific as the tarmac is barely visible whereas the mountain gets bigger, and closer, a lot bigger and closer. Eventually, the 527meters-long runaway appears and everything is over in a matter of seconds -again. And that is definitely a good thing as there is no time to double think, and the pilots know it: once they commit to an approach, they go to the end or that's the end. The mountain touches the runaway: there is no turning back, no flying away if the wind becomes too strong, no nothing. Pilots are professional, they do that dozen of times a day, and looking at the tarmac when you're off the plane, you need experience to do what they do!
Our bags were waiting for us as soon as we got out of the plane, no time to waste for the pilots. Lots of porters and guides are waiting at the airport for trekkers. If you don't have one, now is probably the last time you can get one.
We then began the trek by descending towards the Dudh Kosi River where we join the main trail to Namche Bazaar, located just above Chaunrikharka (2,713m). The walk is easy and after passing through the small village of Ghat (2,550m) it is a short walk to Phakding.
After a good night of sleep, we woke up early morning for what is supposed to be one of the first difficult day of this trek. There is at least 800m of climb, which does NOT take into account all the ups and downs of the path. According to my phone, we walked 16.5km (~24K steps) and 273 floors (~900m climb) which is by far the longest walk of this trek. However, it is at relatively low altitude and do not really compare to a climb of 300m around 5,000m.
Although people I met that night in Namche were exhausted and people I met further up told me that day was really hard, I didn't have the same experience. The weather was beautiful, I was wearing shorts, it was the first real day surrounded by mountains and the first real day of trekking (day 01 was very short). Our pace was good, we were faster than some people but not too fast and some were faster than us. I quite enjoyed that day as we saw a lot of typical things: crazy porters carrying so much that I probably couldn't even have taken their load up the ground, some nice flowers, etc (check the photos!).
The trek goes along the banks of the Dudh Kosi, crossing the majestic river many times on exciting suspension bridges laden with prayer flags. You will find yourself in front of a bridge that is super high over the river and that is quite impressive. If you have vertigo, make sure to not look down as this will most likely be too much for you to handle. The bridge I'm speaking of is famous as you can find several shots of it online; the shots are usually showing two suspension bridges as the lowest one seem to be not used anymore.
Eventually, you get to Namche Bazaar. This is clearly an exception on this trek, you will never find another town that is so populated with so many restaurants, hotels, souvenir shops, coffee shops, etc. There's even an ATM (a couple I think)! The only place you will find some on this trek, so use it if you think you may need the cash later on.
Acclimatisation day. That sounds like a rest day, doesn't it? Well.. Sorry to disappoint but it's far from it. The point of acclimatisation is to give time to your body to adapt to the high altitute, especially since you had a huge climb of over 800m on Day 02. Of course, you can choose to acclimatise by resting, visiting the town, enjoying the shops and the pubs. However, a more interesting way to do acclimatise is to trek to the Everest View Hotel at 3.880m. The hike there and back is totally worth it. There is a museum on the way to the hotel, there you get first direct view of Everest! There is also a statue of the first sherpa to trek Everest Summit (Tenzing Norgay). Concerning the museum in itself, I couldn't tell you anything about it as I clearly don't remember. Even if you are happy to see Everest and only want to go back to Namche and enjoy a slice of apple pie, I advise to keep on going to the hotel. There, you are rewarded with a great panorama of Everest and the surrounding mountains. The hike to the hotel from the museum looks impressive, but it's worth it. I had some tea there, it think it was quite expensive, but I guess it is expected from the "highest hotel in the world".
Beware, Day 04 is the first day you go above 4,000 meters, and it took a toll on me. I was too confident when I looked at the plan for the day: going from 3,400m to 3,700m in 5hours? easy peasy. Especially afer going to 3,900m on Day 03. Actually, these altitudes are only the starting point and the end point, there are a loooot of ups and down on this day. Maybe that's what killed me (not literally). Everything was fine during the trek and I didn't feel sick as long as I was hiking, although I had a light headache when we made a brief stop at 4,000m (there is a restaurant there). When we arrived at the lodge around 12-1pm, I ordered lunch and when lunch was served, it came with my downfall for the day. I started feeling sick in my stomach, headache became a bit more intense (although still relatively light) and I started thinking that it could mean the end of the trek for me if the symptoms would stay or get worse. Lucky me, everything went back to normal after I took a pill (paracetamol) and I went to rest for a couple of hours. If I had awaken in the same condition, things would have been concerning and I would have needed a serious talk with the lodge and my porter. Fortunately for everyone -as in me-, it didn't happen and I continued the most amazing trek of my life so far.
The trek in itself is wonderful, you go through a lot of trees and flowers, as rhododendron, juniper, conifers, etc.
This is also the day where you leave the motorway to Everest (not literaly) and go through the much less populated route to Gokyo. At some point early in the day, you are on a 4*4 road and there is a little path that goes on the left, with a tiny sign "Gokyo". On this path, you cannot be 4 people walking side by side; a single line is the maximum you can do, and sometimes it's even too much! However, you don't see a lot of people going the other way as it's almost a deserted path. It could be a little scary if you're alone, but it can also be revigorating to be alone in the middle of almost nowhere. The views are wonderful throughout the day.
Uneventful day of hiking. It sounds boring, but it only means that everything went well, that surroundings are still amazing, that yaks are everywhere, and that we are getting higher! The weather was cloudy and I didn't take a lot of photos..
We are starting to get serious. Today is the day we reached the main destination of the trek, a.k.a Gokyo. The path is still empty of people and that allows you to take in where you are, your surroundings and two of the several Gokyo lakes you see on the way. Both photos are of the main lake, the one close to Gokyo town.
We arrived quite early, settled in the lodge and had some time to kill, so we went for a walk! I know.. in the middle of a 14 days trek, how do you kill time? You go for an extra walk.. Crazy. We ended up hiking the small hills surrounding Gokyo and looking at the Glacier on the other side of those hills. The walk was refreshing as it was without a bag and really felt like a good thing to do to kill time. Plus, you go higher than the altitude you will spend the night at, which is supposed to be one of the best way to acclimatise yourself.
Today is the day. Over 5,000m fort the first time in my life. What a feeling to be above the clouds! Look at those photos, simply stunning. The day starts very early with a super steep climb to the top of Gokyo Ri at an elevation of 5,483m. This is a rewarding although hard hike as the higher you get, the better the view of your surrondings, which include stunning views of the Gokyo valley, the massive Ngozumpa glacier and an incredible panoramic view of the whole Khumbu Himalayas, with the giants Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse, Makalu, Cho-Oyu and Gychung Kang. In my opinion, this the best view of Everest you'll ever get on this trek, so don't miss out!
This is supposed to be an acclimatisation day, so the afternoon consists in chilling at the lodge, and because I was lucky (I guess), in looking at the snow following and covering the town! That raised a few questions as to whether we'll be able to cross the pass (Day 09, spoiler alert, we did) as the weather forecast was more snow. We planned to stay an extra day in Gokyo if it was still snowing the next morning. In any case, the snow transformed Gokyo and I went for a walk to try to capture the relaxing feelings I had -to no avail even if the photos are impressive.
Trek to the foot of Cho La pass. We left early to dodge possible bad weather and arrived at our accomodation in Thangna around 9.30am after crossing the glacier, which left a lot of time to kill. This day was quite boring and the lodge was very basic (but the fried rice was super good and filling). Nonetheless, looking back on it, it was probably necessary to have this relaxing (and boring) day to prepare my legs and my mind to what was to come.
Early start for what turned out to be the most difficult, dangerous and long day of the trek, topped by bad weather conditions. The cross of Cho La pass is reputed tricky at best and dangerous sometimes, and as such it is usually advised to not be alone for that day. Perfect for us as two other persons (a guide and a trekker) were staying in the same lodge on Day 08 and we decided to team up to cross the pass together. It was nice to talk to someone for a bit more than the usual evening talk, even though Day 09 was clearly not the best to talk as it is a bit too far from a balad in the park.
We started before sunrise at around 5am; the idea is to reach the pass by 9 - 10am to dodge the bad weather conditions that usually develops around noon. Unfortunately for me (I guess over 14 days you can't only be lucky), wind, snow and more importantly ice were present way before noon that day. However, it could have been much worse and if you put aside the 5-6 times I slipped and was caught up by my porter who eventually held my hand until the top, the climb was easy :)
The pass is at an altitude of 5,300m and we had a lunch break before going down the other side. This was very welcome and at that point, I was very happy to have made it to the top (especially when you remember the few slippery slopes where it could have been worse than just putting a knee in the snow..). As you can see on one of the photos, the other side was not very welcoming and instead was covered in snow and clouds were making it harder to see more than a few meters ahead. It sounds quite bad and dangerous, especially when you're wearing old and weary trekking shoes, but I had some training in Tasmania and New-Zealand about trekking in the snow under-equipped (thanks Benoit). Moving on. Going down was somewhat worse than going up.. It was snowing, windy, and the way to go down is to jump from rock to rock until the bottom, rocks that are of course very wet and slippery.. I was looking at the time and hoping the next town would be soon cause I really needed to rest and relieving my face from being slashed by the snow and the wind. As you can except, that did not happen until a few hours later! Once you reach what looks like the bottom, there is still a few hours of trekking to reach the next village. This part was very exhausting and the surroundings were inexistant as wind, clouds and snow were the only things traveling with us. We eventually made it to Dzongla and resting was a necessity.
Relaxing and easy trek to Lubuche. Nice surroundings as the mountains are much closer than the first few days of the trek. Nothing to report, and after crossing Cho La Pass, that is good news.
There we go. The day that is supposed to be the cherry on top of the cake (as frenchies would say).
We first trek from Lobuche to Gorak shep (~2hrs), find a place to stay, drop the bags, and then direction EBC (1.5hrs)!! The part to Gorak sheep is interesting and the excitement is building up as you are getting closer to the iconic Base Camp. We dropped the bags in a nice lodge and after resting a few minutes, started the journey there and back from EBC. At that point I had met with two nice Chilleans with whom we trekked the major part of these 1.5hrs. After a while, I started experiencing headaches and decided to let the youngs and beautifuls go ahead and let myself go my own slower pace. Sitting down on a rock to take in what I was on the way to (and catch my breath), a young Italian used that opportunity to catch her breath as well as she was feeling terrible. We motivated each other and joked about our "conditions" before trekking again. What a sweet feeling to see other people experiencing short of breath after trekking with the Chilleans who seemed to be walking in a park! I eventually made it to the entrance of the Base Camp where thousands (if not more) prayer flags are laying down (see photo). I became entangled in a mixed of joy and achievement and couldn't stop smiling and looking around. Base Camp was crowded with lots of yellow tents as it was the first opportunity to hike Everest's summit in a couple of years (following the earthquake of 2015). I chose to not wander around the camp for too long and too deep as I believe that if I was on my way to the summit (which I will never be, let's make it clear) I probably would not feel like being observed like an animal in a zoo. This feeling is obviously my own and I have nothing against other people doing what they feel comfortable doing :).
More than a hundreds photos and a couple of hours later, we were on the way back to Gorak Sheep, and the feeling of achievement travelled with me for a while.
Highest altitude over the 14days trek, as well as highest altitude difference in a day with more than 1,300m. The sunrise from the top of Kala Patthar is amazing and unforgetable and that is why the day started super early to leave us time to hike and reach the top before sunrise. Equipped with a headlamp torch, some water, camera and spare batteries as there was no way on earth I would climb that high in my life and not take a photo of it, we begin our ascension as did dozen and probably up to a hundred of other trekkers. That morning, I realised that the quiet and lonely days of the Gokyo Valley were defintely over; we were back on the motorway.
The sun started its own journey and finally pointed out behind Everest. Everest is surrounded by the other giants, Nuptse, Pumori, Chagatse, Lhotse and countless others. I have to confess I was a bit disapointed as the sunrise felt somehow dull as it was just a big ball of yellow going higher up in the sky. I've experienced more impressive sunrise in Australia where colors range from deep red to light yellow with some pink and orange. It probably just wasn't the best day for sunrise, and it surely does not mean that if you go or if I go again, it will be the same. Nonetheless, this was an interesting feeling to be up there for sunrise and to realise that I made it! I made it to Everest Base Camp, I made it to the highest point of the trek, I made it I made it, and alive! Then was the start of the trek down and on that Day 12, we did trek down a lot.
We picked up our bags in Gorak shep and enjoyed a filling lunch. The way down was without troubles and I kept being amazed at my surroundings until Namche Bazar on Day 13 when we rejoined with the path I started on before going to the Gokyo Valley. I'm assuming it is a bit different from people who walk back on their tracks but the mountains are so perfect that maybe they still feel awed(?).
The plan was to spend the night in Periche, but we felt great so we pushed a bit further and spent the night in Pangboche.
Down and down we go. Namche Bazaar here I come again! This time, the irish pub will see me for more than a single beer, and this time I will take it in and still feel awesome! This was for me the start of over a month of unlimited energy. Scientifically it's linked to the amount of red cells produced that is way higher when you come down from a stay at high altitude (I've been told). This phenomenon should be know to you as it's what lots of professionnal do to train for serious competition.
Finally we return to Lukla where we started our trek, which might seem like a lifetime ago. Pub in Lukla and some deep reflection on the past 14 days. I also met the Chileans youngs and beautifuls from Day 11, as well as the Italian from that day too. Nice opportunity to finish the trek playing some pool, drinking some beers, and some more!
Early flight back to Kathmandu where I went to see my Nepalese friend who got impressed I made it out alive!