After a few posts on other travel topics, I am returning to my series on Mount Everest. Here, I take a look at days four through seven on the trail. (If you want to earlier posts on our Everest adventure, they are listed on the Nepal page.)
Day 4: Namche Bazaar (10,960 feet) — Tengboche (12,715 feet)
5.5 Hours of Trekking — 4 miles
“First view of Mount Everest!”
After the difficulty of barely making it to Namche’s sherpa museum on day three (check out my post on days one through three here), I was a bit worried about how day four (and really how the rest of the trek would go). We kicked off day four taking the same walk uphill. Slowly, huffing and puffing, we made our way up and out of Namche. It was difficult. And, I definitely had to stop a few times on the way out of the village to catch my breath…but, we made it and were on the trail to Everest.
On the positive side, the day started out sunny and clear. We had had a few cloudy days where we weren’t able to see the amazing views around us, and this was the first day that we would be able to see Mount Everest. So, we were really hoping for clear skies. Plus, hiking in cold, drizzling rain is never fun so we also hoped to have a bit more sunshine along the way! As we headed along the trail, the weather was perfect, and it wasn’t long before we rounded a bend…and there it was – Mount Everest! Among a number of other tall, snow-capped peaks, Everest stood tall. A pyramid against the clear blue sky.
To see the mountain in person was very exciting. The tallest mountain in the world. Wow. Pictures don’t do justice to seeing Everest…even from afar. We, along with others who had departed Namche that morning, all stood along the side of the trail snapping pictures and just staring in general excitement at the mountain that had called all of us on this adventure. Most of the hike, and even at Base Camp, Everest is not visible. So, it was great to have the chance to see it fairly early on in our trek and spend a few moments staring up at its peak.
Inspired by our first view of Mount Everest, we continued on the trail with a jump in our step, not to be deterred by the hills that we encountered along the way. The memories of struggling to climb out of Namche quickly faded away. Mount Everest was far away. And, Base Camp was high up there. But, we could do this. As I wrote in my journal, “So far, this day was definitely the best of the trip. The peaks…and waterfalls flowing from [the mountains] were beautiful. It’s days like today that make this whole trip feel so surreal.”
In addition to the majesty of Everest that morning, we were reminded of the dangers around every bend as helicopters cut through the mountains. Their whirring blades a warning to those who dared hike the trail. “There is danger. One misstep could result in a devastating fall, not heeding the symptoms of altitude sickness can really put you in bad shape, and a number of other things could go wrong,” I wrote in my journal. As you hike, you are reminded just how far from help you are and the importance of taking care in each step. Coming this far, you don’t want to have to return to Kathmandu because you weren’t watching where you were walking or you didn’t take time to rest when you felt altitude sickness hit you. Each day on the trail, we saw people who had to turn back. Determined to make it to Base Camp, I didn’t want that to happen to me.
The rest of our morning hike was what our guide Samir called “flat.” However, we quickly learned that this doesn’t mean a flat trail. This means smaller hills that don’t take hours to go up. So for several hours, we walked up and down small-ish hills toward Everest. By the time we stopped for lunch, I was already exhausted. But, the fun was just beginning. For the afternoon, we had three hours of “up, up, up” to get to Tengboche. I tried to mentally prepared myself for the difficulty ahead. As we were higher in elevation, breathing would be even more difficult. And, as we climbed, it would get colder.
We wrapped up lunch, crossed a suspension bridge, and we were on our way up! Honestly, about five steps into the climb, I was already struggling to breathe. “Ugh,” I thought, “this is going to be a
long climb…” But, despite how tired you are, how much your legs ache, or your lungs burn, you continue. The “new normal” takes over. And, while it isn’t always pleasant, you know that you can continue. For me, it was about taking one step at a time. Put one foot in front of the other. Over and over. Looking too far up the trail could be discouraging. One step at a time…up, up, up. As we continued, I would try to walk about 30 minutes before stopping to sit, drink water, and catch my breath. Giving myself a target made it easier as I found myself constantly wanting to stop and rest.
As the four of us (me, Craig, our guide Samir, and our porter Bibi) climbed, we were joined by a few others going up the trail: a young Nepali woman—wearing just jellies!—carrying a large backpack full of drinks and snacks up to guesthouses along the trail, as well as a male porter carrying up goods. Craig and I seemed to be doing well, keeping pace with the porters—all of us resting about the same time. However, we were lucky in that we weren’t carrying much on our backs, just small bags with water bottles, rain gear, and a few other items. The porters carried kilos and kilos of goods up the mountain. I don’t know how they did it.
As we walked along, with every step, I looked for ways to conserve energy. I sidestepped rocks rather than stepping up over them and stepping back down. I climbed the shorter stairs rather than the tall ones, which took more of my energy to pull myself up. I’m not sure if it worked at all, but in my head it made sense.
Somehow, despite the slow motion pace that I felt I was walking, we made it to Tengboche an hour earlier than anticipated. While it was great to be at our destination, we were exhausted. As we chatted with Samir, he noted that it seemed like we were rushing a bit. He encouraged us to not push ourselves to go too quickly and make sure that we were drinking more water. (We had read along the trail that each person should drink 3-4 liters of water per day!) We checked in to our pretty basic lodge, took a short nap, and then headed over to Tengboche’s monastery to observe an evening prayer ceremony.
For nearly an hour, we sat in the monastery with other trekkers, listening and watching the monks chanting and prayers.
A small side note… When we arrived to the monastery, I had one of my most uncomfortable moments of the trip. Samir led us over to where we should enter for the ceremony. It had already begun, but people came and went so it wasn’t an issue to enter while chanting was happening. However, just as we opened the door and entered the room, the chanting stopped. The monks sat in silence before starting the next chant. As we looked around, all of the space around the sides of the room was occupied with people observing. For what seemed to be a very long, awkward moment, we just stood at the front of the room as the monks silently prayed and all of the other trekkers stared at us. It was so uncomfortable! But, we finally found a space to squeeze in and stop drawing attention to ourselves!
As the ceremony went on, more and more trekkers left to head back to their lodges for the evening. We stuck around for a while and were rewarded with some bread and sweets to eat that had been part of the offerings at the altar but were later distributed between the monks and guests. After eating the shared snacks, the ceremony continued, but Craig and I decided to head back to our guesthouse. The incense started to get to me (allergies!), and dinnertime was quickly approaching. To our surprise, we arrived to a dining area with heat! A small fire burned in a stove at the center of the room so we warmed ourselves and ate before heading back to our cold room for the night.
Day 5: Tengboche (12,715 feet) — Dingboche (14,470 feet)
5 Hours of Trekking — 5 miles
“The Easier Day?”
After a day of crisscrossing up and over hills on Day 4, Day 5 was set to be an “easier” day on the trail. However, when your guide tells you this, take it with a grain of salt. As I wrote in my journal that night, “I’m not sure how much easier it was.” Add to that the fact that this day, in particular, was supposed to have beautiful views, and we woke up to clouds and cold that continued throughout the day…
The morning included a lot of “ups” but rather than being continuous as in Day 3 and Day 4, they were broken up by flatter sections of the trail and lots of photo taking by both me and Samir. I loved having a guide who loves photography as much (or probably even more!) than I do. I never felt rushed when I stopped to take photos along the way, which I greatly appreciated. And, many times, Samir made sure to take photos of Craig and I hiking along the trail to give to us at the end of our trek.
After getting through the “ups,” the trail leveled off a bit, and we made our way along the beautiful river. The milky white water rushed down the mountains and over boulders. While it wasn’t exactly clear, the scenery around the river was stunning. After crossing the river, we headed up again. This time, following Bibi, our porter, up from the river on a small path that crossed the ridge. While clouds and fog swirled around us, obscuring most of the mountain views, the scenery was nevertheless beautiful and a bit magical.
After walking a bit longer across the ridge, it was time to descend to the river and cross again. This time, we crossed just past the meeting of two rivers. Roaring down the mountain, their milky white waters collided. It was unlike anything I had seen before – pure, natural, raw beauty.
Across the river, we began to climb up again. While it wasn’t that far, we had passed 4,000 meters (13,120 feet), and the altitude’s impact was more severe. After just a few minutes…or even just steps…uphill, my chest would tighten, and breathing would be more difficult. Samir let us set the pace, usually walking behind me and never making me feel that I needed to speed up what I felt to be an extremely slow pace. I felt like I was walking so slow. But, I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, pressing on as the wind whipped around us.
We eventually made it to Panbuche (13,450 feet) to stop for lunch. The view from the restaurant was beautiful. From our table, we could look out onto the milky white river as it rushed through the valley below us.
After lunch, we hit the trail again. I always found the afternoons to be more difficult than the mornings. Even on days with good weather, about 1:00 pm, clouds began to roll in. Temperatures drop. Energy levels were lower. And, in general, I would get tired more quickly. In the mornings, the weather was usually a bit better, my energy levels were higher, and spirits were higher, as well. But, despite these things, I didn’t let the afternoon parts of our hike keep me down. I kept focused on the goal—make it to Base Camp, safely.
On the afternoon of Day 5, I felt fatigue begin to set in as we approached Dingboche. As we pressed on and climbed up, I begged that the town be around each bend that we came to. Just hoping that we were there or at least to be able to see our destination to know how much further I had to make it. And then, I saw it, Dingboche! I scanned the lodges for ours and quickly found it, the Good Luck Hotel, not too far away. As we wound our way down the hill, I silently cheered that we had reached our destination for the day. We checked in, and I promptly fell asleep until dinnertime where once again we (thankfully!) found yak dung burning in the dining hall, keeping us warm (during dinner, at least) in the cold night.
Day 6: Acclimatization Day in Dingboche (14,470 feet) (trekked up to 15,420 feet and back down)
3 Hours of Trekking
“The Road to Nowhere?”
Day 6 was an acclimatization day so we decided to sleep in a bit, which meant until about 8:00 am. After getting all of our gear on, we had a quick breakfast and then hit the trail with Samir. Acclimatization days are important because you increase your altitude to prepare for the next day on the trail, but you return to where you started to sleep so that your body has time to adjust, and you don’t ascend too quickly. However, the downside with acclimatization days is that they are a lot of work and walking on the trail, but you really don’t make any progress toward Everest. Yes, there may be amazing views. But, at some point as you drag yourself up, it seems a lot of work for really a road to nowhere.
By the time we hit the trail on Day 6, the clouds had already rolled in. Dingboche is surrounded by beautiful mountain peaks, but, unfortunately, we really couldn’t see them because of the weather. While views would be nice, the purpose of our trek that day was to acclimatize so we pressed on, taking a steep and twisting path straight up the mountain. Along the path, we stopped at five stupas. At each, we took a short rest and waited for the clouds to move across the sky and let us see the snow-capped mountains hiding behind them.
By the time we made it up to the last stupa we would visit that day, the clouds were moving fairly quickly across the sky. Samir, Craig, and I found a spot to rest away from the wind and watched for the mountains to appear. As they did, we would quickly take a few photos. And, as fast as they appeared, they were re-covered by clouds. We sat together just taking the peaks and valley views in for almost an hour. Other trekking groups came and went. But, particularly as we had no plans for the rest of the day, we took our time sitting at the lookout point watching the clouds roll by. As lunchtime approached, we made our way back down to Dingboche. The trek down was much easier and quicker than the way up!
Craig and I spent the rest of the day in the warm dining hall reading on our kindles and letting our bodies rest. I caught up on journal writing and began to mentally prepare myself for the next two days, which would be some of the most difficult yet. On the eve of my 30th birthday, there was nowhere that I would rather be!
Day 7: Dingboche (14,470 feet) — Lobuche (16,110 feet)
4.5 Hours of Trekking — 4.35 miles
“My 30th Birthday!”
Almost there! It’s hard to believe at this point that we had been trekking for a week…that’s a long time and a lot of walking! We woke up ready to hit the trail, knowing the Everest Base Camp was in our reach. And, to add to that, we had sunshine! After an acclimatization day full of clouds, we were happy to have sunshine for our day of trekking to Lobuche. Samir had told us that the morning trekking would be pretty easy with beautiful mountain views and that the afternoon would be more difficult. However, five minutes into the morning hike, I was already struggling. But, slowly but surely, I walked on.
Despite fatigue early on in the day, the views were inspiring. As I wrote in my journal, “It’s hard to even put into words the wonder of the mountains here. As we get closer and closer, you feel you can almost touch them…The peaks are razor-sharp, piercing through the clouds.” It was truly beautiful.
At one point, Samir and I had stopped to take a few photos, and we noticed a figure standing out on a cliff high up in the mountains. It was amazing to see someone so high, standing out against the wilderness around him. We stared in wonder at him until he disappeared into the clouds as they covered the mountain where he stood.
After a quick break for lunch, we tackled the difficult afternoon hike. It started off with one hour of hiking straight up. No flat stretches. Just up. I felt that I was moving in absolute slow motion as we climbed up. Each step felt as if it took all of the energy I had. We ended up walking behind a large group that made frequent stops (as in every 10 to 15 minutes). Luckily, we ended up stopping when they did. This helped to break up the climbing a bit. We likely wouldn’t have stopped this much on our own, and it was great to be able to rest each time I got super-winded from the climb.
We eventually made it to the top of the hill where the Wall of Memories is located. Here, a number of memorials have been put up to remember those who died on Mount Everest, a stark reminder of the danger in the journey. Among the memorials was one for Scott Fischer who was part of the 1996 accident that is documented in Into Thin Air, which I read during the first few days of our trek. Some of the memorials that struck me the most were for those who made it to Everest’s summit but perished descending the mountain. I found their stories to be particularly tragic. It’s hard to imagine the victory and triumph of reaching the summit and then the pain and anguish that family and friends must feel to hear that their loved one died on the way down the mountain.
After some time to take in the beauty of the surrounding mountains and reflect on the Wall of Memories, it was time to continue on our journey.
The remaining walk was much easier. The path was flatter, and the mountain views were beautiful. We knew that we weren’t too far from where we would spend the night and launch our hike to Base Camp the next day. This helped to push us onward to Lobuche.
One of the most exciting things about this day of our trek was arriving to our room at the lodge. None of the places that we stayed had heat in the rooms. As we got higher, most had a stove in the dining area to warm the room (somewhat), but we stayed bundled in our many layers throughout the trip. Earlier in the trek, Craig was saying that he couldn’t get me a gift for my birthday, and I told him that I wanted to be warm for my birthday…
As we opened up our room at the lodge in Lobuche, I felt a rush of warmth come my way. “You got me heat for my birthday!” I exclaimed. And, while it wasn’t exactly heat, the way the lodge was positioned, the sun shone in the rooms and really warmed them up. So much so that I was able to take off my fleece and long-sleeve shirt for the first time in days! We napped and basked in the heat that afternoon. But, unfortunately, by dinnertime, the cold had returned. So, we bundled up and headed to the dining hall. After dinner, we received a sliced up apple, which I think may have been because of my birthday, but we aren’t sure. Regardless, none of the other tables had apple slices!
While I never expected that I would spend my 30th birthday climbing to Everest Base Camp, I can’t imagine doing anything more incredible. If you had asked me last year, what my 30th birthday would looked like, I probably would have guessed that it would involve a few friends, a tiara, and a margarita in Baltimore. Well, let me tell you, hiking to Everest Base Camp is pretty much as far from that as you can be. However, I was incredibly happy and incredibly blessed to spend my birthday on the trail. I concluded my journal entry for the day with the following:
“Life is definitely different than…my last birthday (which I spent working on an event in Indonesia). While the last year has had its ups and downs, I’m happy where I am now. I’m on the road, exploring the world with my husband and my best friend by my side, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Tomorrow, I [reach] Everest Base Camp and that is one of the most awesome things I could ever ask to do in my life. Everest, here we come!”