Everest Base Camp Trek – Part II

If you haven’t already, take a spin through Everest Base Camp Trek – Part I. If you can make it through that entire post, take a quick nap and then continue reading below…

Day 8 – Dingboche (14,500 ft) to Thukla (15,200 ft)

Miraculously, around 2am that night in Dingboche my headache went away and I was finally able to fall asleep for most of the night. Feeling renewed but wanting to minimize brain cell damage, we chose to take two days to reach Lobuche instead of one. This would ease us up the valley more slowly and also allow us to acclimatize by climbing higher each day and sleeping at a lower altitude.

The trail to Thukla from Dingboche is really more of a wide open valley, providing spectacular 360 degree views and free reign to hike anywhere in the valley and away from the yaks. This was a welcome change as the constant need for proper yak positioning on the narrow trails is annoyingly stressful. A small bump, kick, or gore resulting from placing oneself on the wrong side of the trail between a yak and a canyon gorge could make for some difficult phone calls. The one disadvantage of the wide open valley was that there was nothing to stop the howling wind, which roared at our backs and had us pulling out our down jackets during the day for the first time.

En route to Thukla with Ama Dablam behind us

En route to Thukla with Ama Dablam behind us

Horrible scenery

Horrible scenery

We climbed up another 1,000 or so feet above Thukla to acclimatize and then back down to settle in next to the yak dung furnace around dinner surrounded by 6 or 7 Sherpas. Since we were the only trekkers in Thukla that night and no English was being spoken by the Sherpas, I tried to finish No Shortcuts to the Top, a mountaineering book about American Ed Viesturs, who climbed all fourteen 8,000 meter peaks with no supplemental oxygen, and Alison had her nose buried in Into Thin Air, the famed book about the 1996 Everest disaster by Jon Krakauer.

A few minutes later, we introduced ourselves to one of the Sherpas next to us named Phunuru Sherpa. In perfect English, Phunuru told us how he’s summited Everest nine times, counts Ed Viesturs as a very close friend from their days guiding Mt. Rainier, and that Jon Krakauer had actually taught him how to climb. We were blown away. Here we were in the highest mountains on earth, enthralled by the literary tales of two legendary mountaineers. Meanwhile, we were sitting right next to a legend in his own right, one with close ties to the very two climbers we’d been obsessively reading and talking about.

Phunuru Sherpa

Phunuru Sherpa

Phunuru is the climbing Sherpa sirdar (head climbing Sherpa) for the International Mountain Guides Everest expedition this year, made up of 40+ clients and 60+ climbing Sherpas. He was an incredibly nice guy and even invited us to have tea in their tent at the Base Camp when (if) we made it up there. Meeting Phunuru was one of the highlights of the trip for us and gave us some extra motivation for getting to Base Camp.

Day 9 – Thukla (15,200 ft) to Lobuche (16,200 ft)

The route from Thukla to Lobuche starts with a steep climb up to a quasi-cemetery, where make-shift graves commemorate deceased mountaineers, mainly victims of nearby Everest and Lhotse. Then up the start of the valley that leads to the Khumbu Glacier, the famed glacial formations and deposits of rock and ice that mark the broad trail that leads all the way from here to Everest Base Camp.

At this point, new 7,000 meter peaks were coming into view every 10 minutes as we approached Lobuche, which marks the location of the final right turn up the valley of the Khumbu Glacier where Everest awaits.

Cool glacier in the background

Cool glacier in the background

Hiking up a hill near Lobuche

Hiking up a hill near Lobuche

Lobuche from above

Lobuche from above

En route to Lobuche

En route to Lobuche

Once again we hiked up another 700 or so feet on a nearby mountain to get our bodies acclimatized for the long hike the next day that would lead us past Gorak Shep and finally to Base Camp. That night all we could talk about was how close we were and the anticipated excitement (and sheer relief) that would hopefully come the next day. I felt like a kid on Christmas (Hanukkah) eve, which would normally mean no sleep, but the exhaustion kicked in, and both of us got some much needed rest.

Day 10 – Lobuche (16,200 ft) to Everest Base Camp (17,600 ft) to Gorak Shep (16,900 ft)

We woke up rejuvenated and ready to finally end the grueling ascent. I strapped on a fresh pair of boxers I’d been saving for this day, Alison lathered on a few extra swipes of deodorant, and off we went.

The lack of living things at this point was obvious. We were hiking on the ice, rock, and snow of glacial deposits and surrounded by jagged mountain peaks. It was beautiful but also begged the question – what the hell were we doing up here?

Up a big hill and then “Nepali flat” up and down for another 3 or so hours brought us to Gorak Shep, the last village before Base Camp.

Gorak Shep is a dump. No one likes it there. It’s cold. There are only a few guesthouses, everything is expensive and there is no incentive for the guesthouse owners to clean anything, especially the bathrooms. And basically everyone is sick from the altitude, food poisoning, stench of human feces, or some combination thereof. At 16,900 feet, it’s just shy of the magic “17,000 foot” mark above which scientists have yet to find evidence of any permanent human establishment because humans are just not supposed to be up that high.

I had no appetite when we sat down for lunch, not an infrequent occurrence during our journey due to the effects of the altitude. Mahesh literally stood over me during the entire lunch until I ate what he deemed a sufficient amount of calories to carry on to Base Camp. Between him and Alison, I felt like I had 2nd and 3rd mothers. I owe them both a lot for putting up and sticking with me. We sprinted off to Base Camp a little before noon.

As we inched closer to our goal, the summit of Everest snuck into view. For most of the trek after Tengboche, Everest is hidden by Nuptse and Lhotse. We were both in awe of everything at this point. We were so close to the base of Everest and had put so much into getting there. And yet the summit seemed so incredibly far away. It was humbling.

Our focus was snapped back in place as Mahesh suddenly told us to move faster through a steep section of rock just a short distance from Base Camp. Here there was a high risk for rock avalanches and we even saw some stones falling from up above, providing a very small feel for what it’s like to deal with the avalanche risks the Everest climbers face.

First look at the Khumbu Icefall in the distance

First look at the Khumbu Icefall in the distance

Getting closer to Base Camp

Getting closer to Base Camp

A few minutes later we were surrounded by the colorful Buddhist prayer flags that designate Everest Base Camp!

Standing in the valley at the base of the highest mountain on Earth, we soaked up the moment, taking in the beauty, mystery, and desolation of the place. At the very end of the valley, on the border of Nepal and Tibet, 7,000 meter peaks surround the Base Camp of Everest’s famed southern climbing route, as if to create a theatre for the brave souls who gather in the valley below every spring and risk their lives attempting to summit the world’s highest peak. I couldn’t help but chuckle – no architect could have created a more fitting design for such a magnificent place.

Mission accomplished

Mission accomplished

Peaks (L to R) - Lola, Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse

Peaks (L to R) – Lola, Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse

The infamous Khumbu Icefall, the massive glacier that moves 4-5 feet per day.

The infamous Khumbu Icefall, the massive glacier that moves 4-5 feet per day.

After Alison and I celebrated, I turned to Mahesh to give him a big hug. As if mocking our achievement, Mahesh was on his cell phone talking to his girlfriend. So in case you were wondering, you can get cell reception from Everest Base Camp.

Maybe it's impossible to get off the grid after all

Maybe it’s impossible to get off the grid after all

While most people end their journey here, we wandered into the mix of rocks searching for Phunuru amongst the sprawling mess of tents that were scattered around the Khumbu icefall. We arrived in Base Camp on April 1, roughly 5-6 weeks before most Everest climbers make their summit attempts and about 1-2 weeks before they typically arrive at Base Camp. Given our timing, there were a lot of tents being set up by the Sherpas but virtually no climbers. We found the IMG tents and were kindly offered some Sherpa tea by two of the climbing Sherpas and the assistant cook for the expedition.

Pemba Sherpa (all of their names seem to end in “Sherpa”), Phunuru’s cousin, was climbing Everest for the first time at 20 years old. Mima Sherpa had summited Everest twice. We hung out with the Sherpas for a good 30-40 minutes, mainly conversing with Pemba, who spoke the best English. I joked if they needed another climbing Sherpa they ought to hire Alison.

Pemba Sherpa, Brian No Sherpa, Cooking manager, Mima Sherpa, Alison Sherpa

Pemba Sherpa, Brian No Sherpa, Cooking manager, Mima Sherpa, Alison Sherpa

In case you were wondering what a kitchen looks like at Base Camp

In case you were wondering what a kitchen looks like at Base Camp

Still riding the high of reaching Base Camp and meeting all the Sherpas, we floated back to Gorak Shep, soaking up the views of the highest mountains in the world.

Celebrations were in order at this point

Celebrations were in order at this point

Later that evening, when the yak dung ran out, we retired to our room, put all of our clothes on, and tried to get warm in our sleeping bags.

Day 11 – Gorak Shep (16,900 ft) to Tengboche (12,700 ft)

For ambitious trekkers, the option of a final hike up to Kala Pattar (18,200 ft) presents another viewing opportunity of Everest. We considered making a run at it. However, when the 4am alarm went off after tossing and turning all night, the imaginary nail that seemed to be penetrating my brain and the bitter cold made the decision a bit easier.

A Chilean woman said to her guide that morning, “I will go no more up.” Couldn’t have said it any better.

There is a small climb before the long descent from Gorak Shep down the Khumbu valley toward thicker air. It’s maybe a 200 foot climb but I swear it felt like 2,000 feet that morning. Every few steps I’d stop to rest, my lungs begging for more oxygen.

Soon enough we were passing through Lobuche. Going down felt like a walk in the park. The air felt thicker with each step and we were getting closer to the safety and comfort of lower altitudes. We pushed all the way down to Tengboche from Gorak Shep, a stretch that had taken us five days to complete going up.

Pheriche valley

Pheriche valley

In Tengboche, we met Dan, an Arkansas native that was climbing Everest. Three monks from the Tengboche Monastery came over to our teahouse to bless Dan on his journey.

Monks from the Tengboche Monastery blessing Dan

Monks from the Tengboche Monastery blessing Dan

Day 12 – Tengboche (12,700 ft) to Namche Bazaar (11,300 ft)

Back in the forest region, we welcomed the sight of bees, flowers, and the occasional muskrat on our descent to Namche Bazaar. “Things live here. We are ok now.”

We took our time getting to Namche, snapping some extra pictures and just soaking it all in.

Back in the forest region where it was much warmer

Back in the forest region where it was much warmer

Almost to Namche for a shower

Almost to Namche for a shower

We finally got our second showers of the trip in Namche, where the water pressure was weak but hot. We each showered for a good 30 minutes.

Day 13 – Namche Bazaar (11,300 ft) to Lukla (9,300 ft)

At this point it was just a victory lap. We stopped in Phakding for lunch, where I ordered a heaping plate of fried chicken.

As we got closer to Lukla, Alison and I joked about the ambitious trekkers, fresh off the plane from Kathmandu and in good spirits about the weeks to come. “They have no idea” was a common thought. We laughed at the role reversal from just two weeks ago when we were, in fact, the ones who had no idea how physically and mentally draining the next two weeks would be.

Dudh Kosi River

Dudh Kosi River

Crossing one of the rinkety bridges over the Dudh Kosi

Crossing one of the rinkety bridges over the Dudh Kosi

We finally got to Lukla around 3pm. It was over. We did it. Thank God.

Obligatory jumping pic

Obligatory jumping pic

We dragged Mahesh and Jonuk to a bar in Lukla that afternoon, where they drank Coca Cola and we drank more than enough alcoholic for the four of us.

Day 14 – Lukla to Kathmandu

After thinking we were going to be stuck in Lukla for at least a day, we managed to get on one of the last flights out to Kathmandu. Although the views weren’t as clear as before, we couldn’t care less.

Relief. Exhaustion. Joy. These were our feelings, and in that order.

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11 thoughts on “Everest Base Camp Trek – Part II

  1. vicariously a trip of a lifetime for us all vicariously , a trip of a lifetime. beautifully written and photographed. a travel story as good as any written by professional travelers. Impressive and joyous. good luck on the rest of the trip,

    michael schmerler

  2. Brian and Alison, you are incredible! What stories you’ll have for your children and grandchildren! And I can hear a familiar theme in your future parenting style…”well if I could climb to the base camp of Mt. Everest, I think you can manage to clean your room!” Ha ha! Lots of love, Aunt Suzanne

  3. Congratulations! Such an accomplishment, and you should be proud. As Suzanne said,you will have great stories to tell your children and grandchildren.

  4. Pingback: Everest Base Camp Trek – Part I | Beaches & Backpacks

  5. Hey guys! I’m super stalking this trip and love reading about your travels!!!! It is so exciting that you guys were able to make it to the base camp without any extreme situations! Your timing seems like it was impeccable and i’m curious to see what you guys think about the Everest avalanche and the sherpas considering boycotts, any insight?

    • Hey shimmy! What a terrible disaster, absolutely devastating. Luckily the three climbing Sherpas we met were not in the icefall at the time of the avalanche and are ok.

      Here are some general thoughts on the tragedy and resulting blowback from the Sherpa community:

      The opening and expansion of the everest region has created a bit of a double edged sword for the Sherpa people. The Sherpa are indigenous to the Himalayas and their bodies are more accustomed to the altitude, which is what makes them so skilled and valued for their ability to climb, set up camps, etc. Everyone agrees it would be
      next to impossible to climb any 8,000 meter peak without them. So if they are willing to climb they get paid handsomely, typically $5k for two months of work, which may not seem like enough for risking their lives, but keep in mind this is 10-12x the average annual wage in Nepal. Additionally, all the sherpa villages we talked about visiting in our posts are run by sherpa families, who make a ton of money from trekkers hiking up to base camp.

      So on one hand the Sherpas have greatly benefited economically from everest climbers and trekkers. On the other hand, their livelihood is now tied to it. Climbing everest is the pinnacle achievement and job opp for them and there are few other opportunities for them to find work (I wouldn’t want to be a porter, either) and none that come close from a pay scale perspective. Meanwhile their villages are invaded by Trekkers every spring and fall.

      With that background, I think the tensions with the government and western climbers stem mainly from the following:

      1. The Sherpa are a deeply religious (Buddhist) people. Everest is sacred to them. When 16 of their friends and brothers die on the first climbing day of the season, they think the gods are telling them something. They believe this deeply. Westerns call it superstition.

      This has happened before. In Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer talks about how one of the Sherpas continued to blame the tragedy that year on a couple of climbers who kept having sex on the mountain.

      2. Everyone in Nepal hates the government, which is in a constant state of flux. The infrastructure here is terrible, they don’t even have electricity in Kathmandu for half of the daylight hours. The roads are shit. School systems just as bad. This is in spite of having a wealth of resources, esp water. So there is already tension between the govt and all Nepalese ppl, not just the Sherpas. The tipping point for the Sherpas is that the govt makes loads of money on climbing permits for everest every year while the insurance and other benefits for the Sherpas are laughable, despite risking their lives to allow those fees to be earned by the govt. So the climbing strike is a reflection of frustrations about pay and benefits but also has underlying roots in a general frustration, even hatred, for the govt there.

      3. So what’s going to happen?

      IMO the show will continue to go on. It will be more limited this year but there will be Sherpas who want to get paid and clients who don’t want to throw away the $65k they threw down for a shot at climbing the worlds highest peak. In the coming years the Sherpas will probably get better pay and better benefits, mostly shouldered by western climbing expeditions and resulting client fees along with token, limited support by the Nepalese govt. Sherpas and westerners alike will continue to risk their lives scaling everest. Sherpas because it is their lifeline. Western guides and clients, in the words of famed climber George Mallory, “because it is there.”

      Sorry for the novel ha. Maybe should have just written a post on this.

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