Himalayas (Nepal): Everest Base Camp, 2011

Himalayas (Nepal): Everest Base Camp, 100 miles, 14 walking days, March/April 2011

Jiri – Kenja – Junbesi – Kharikhola – Surkhe – Phakding – Monjo – Tengboche – Dingboche – Phakding – Lukla

This was my third Himalayan trek with Mark, this time accompanied by my wife Carol. Our plan was to trek for 18 days from Jiri (1,905 m) via Lukla (2,800 m) to the top of Kala Patthar (5,500 m), a mountain overlooking a valley with Mount Everest and associated mountains on the other side, and then trek back to Lukla for a flight back to Kathmandu. In the event, we had to turn round at Dingboche (4,500 m) on Day 12 and return to Lukla because Carol got Altitude Mountain Sickness (AMS) plus it was very cold, the weather was bad and I was feeling the strain. There is no medical cure for AMS. Either you descend or you die! We were only 10 crow-fly kms (equivalent to two days extra walking) from Kala Patthar but Everest is not visible from Dingboche. So, not meant to be!

High Spots of the Trek, in no particular order.

Getting up and down the big hills (what Mark calls ‘Big Bastard Hills’) – anywhere up to a 1,000 m up or down and taking up to 2 hours depending on the state of the trail – straight or zigzag, smooth or stepped, with or without big boulders; managing to live out of stuff bags (everything in its place and a place for everything); coping with tired legs and aching kneecaps; a primitive hot shower in some of the tea houses and, on one occasion, an en-suite hot-water shower – bliss; finding a western-style toilet in the tea-house instead of the more-usual Asian squat toilet – more bliss; teaching Santos and Biras, the porters, to play Patience (they loved it); learning how to stuff a very large fully-lofted sleeping bag into a very small stuff bag (max score: 8/10 – Carol); the evocative smell of Deep Heat when it was applied to knees in the early morning; finding an occasional flat or at least smooth part of the trail (or not too steep – what is called ‘Nepali Flat’); soaring eagles; taking off from Lukla’s Tenzing-Hillary airport (2,800 m) to return to Kathmandu – 460 m long, 20 m wide and with a 12% gradient; being addressed by Santos, one of our porters, as ‘Ben Sir’, Mark as ‘Mark Sir’, and Carol as ‘Mum’; finding a restaurant with meat (chilli chicken and buff burgers); meeting a Sherpa mountaineer who had climbed Everest six times (the record is 20 times held by a Sherpa called Apa Sherpa who was attempting his 21st ascent); seeing Mount Everest for the first and, as it turned out, only time from a viewpoint some 30 km away; walking over high suspension bridges (‘Ben! Stop making the bridge sway.’); the very welcome German Bakery we found in Namche Bazar on Day 9 (lots of different types of biscuits, cakes, apple strudel, doughnuts, bread and real coffee – yum yum); the views of the mountains, especially Ama Dablam (6,812 m) as we approached Everest.

Low Spots of the Trek, in no particular order.

Asian squat toilets (especially me because I cannot squat – don’t ask – but ask Carol about the one down which she dropped and retrieved her sunglasses!); walking up big hills (hard on thigh and calf muscles if the path has been stepped or there are lots of boulders); walking down big hills (hard on knees – you definitely need trekking poles); the cold once the sun went down; AMS (Carol had blue fingers, blue lips, a thumping all-over headache, breathlessness and nausea: we had to get her down to a lower altitude); primitive food (okay if you like rice, potatoes, eggs, noodles and chapattis); coping with sleeping bags (okay if you don’t twist and turn all night as I do); Tail-End Charlie (my new nickname as I was always last on the trail); other trekkers and their sometimes trendy, sometimes funny and sometimes highly unsuitable trekking garb; primitive showers (the tea-houses didn’t always have washing facilities in which case we didn’t wash!); dodgy stomachs and even dodgier bowels (thank goodness for Imodium); coping with power outages; getting to a safe spot when donkey and yak trains approached (especially the yaks, surely a most beautiful shaggy bovine but they are big (up to 1,000 kg in weight), have heavy side loads and huge horns and they are not sensitive to your presence); shaving in cold water (me, not Carol!); watching a girl scooping yak and goat dung with her hands into a stove and knowing that she was about to cook our evening meal.

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