Everest Base Camp Blog
Cliff Medley, Leo Medley, Jim Aram and Nathan Willey.
Day 1 (Sunday 15/10/17)
We took off from Heathrow 9pm Friday and barely slept before arriving in Muscat 7.30am local time. 7 hours in airport then flew over some amazing terrain covering southern Iran, Pakistan, northern India and then eventually over Nepal. Arrived at the Hotel Tibet in the Nepali capital city of Kathmandu after a rather interesting taxi ride. It seems that despite darkness many road users don’t see the need for lights, even on buses!
We wandered the streets, finding a restaurant just before 10pm but a misunderstanding with the waiter meant Nathan and Jim didn’t get any dinner. Quick repacking at the hotel with a sandwich, then bed at about 1am. This was still only 9pm BST but with a 6am wake up call it meant we’d get another tired day!
Sunday’s breakfast was most welcome, then we met the tour company representatives and our guide, Pasang, for a brief overview of the itinerary and the route through the mountains. The taxi through the city of Kathmandu was a revelation! There are no visible road markings, no traffic lights, and frankly a complete free for all on a road big enough to fit 4 lanes. Motorbikes weave like the Red Arrows among lorries, buses and cars, pedestrians just saunter across the road and at any time you’ll spot a cow just sat in the middle of the road!
Once at the airport for the transfer to Lukla, we discovered most of Saturday’s flights had been cancelled due to poor weather, so we’re now waiting for what originally was a 9.30am take off...
The departures lounge was incredibly busy with a mix of domestic travellers and trekkers heading towards Lukla or the alternative rails around Nepal. Through check-in to the main lounge and conditions worsened. For us waiting to be called to our flight, there was only floor space for seating, and a large packed room with only fans, no air conditioning to reduce the stifling still heat.
After a while we heard cheers as flights to Lukla resumed. By 2pm we heard our flight was cancelled as the weather had worsened again. Bitterly disappointed, we trudged into the still haze outside, perhaps around 27°C, thinking what might have been. While clinging to dear life in the taxis through the infamous Kathmandu traffic, we could at least ponder one reason to be grateful: if Lukla is arguably the most dangerous airport in the world, perhaps we would prefer a delay to a risky descent into the tiny yet steep runaway in limited visibility.
Day 2 Blog (Monday 16/10/17)
“Kathmandu Ground Control, this is November Niner Alfa Lima Alfa, requesting take off from left heli pad...”. The most beautiful request we heard all week. Admittedly it took until the afternoon, but suddenly another 4 hours sat in the wretched conditions of Kathmandu airport were forgiven.
The pilot was a fearless New Zealander, usually operating the medical evacuations, but this time offering a favour to our expedition representative. He flew us through the valleys into the Himalayas, occasionally below the houses that were dotted, without roads or tracks, along the mountain sides. The mountains, covered in forests, were shrouded in a great grey vale of mist; beautiful to glance at, but a horror for any aeroplane pilots or passengers as that was the reason so many flights had been cancelled.
For a helicopter, the landing was relatively simple; approach the runway and touch down to the side at the heliport. Here were already a couple of helicopters on the rough ground, the only flat ground in the whole area. The runway looked every bit as dangerously incredibly amazing as the YouTube videos suggested. It’s only about 540 metres long, the length of Lindum Hill. With small aircraft, that’s still a challenge no ordinary pilot would ever consider. More shocking was its angle – it’s as steep as Lindum Hill too!
We landed in comfort and disembarked to walk a hundred yards or so to a small hostel which provided lunch of noodles, macaroni and teas and coffees. Within half an hour our guide, Pasang, announced out imminent departure. This was it, we were about to start trekking in the Himalayas to eventually reach Everest Base Camp!
The first day’s walk was a pleasant stroll from Lukla (2827m) to Phakding (2610m). We descended from the village to the Dudh Koshi river and reached Phakding inside two hours. The trek was relatively straight forward with wide paths, not many yaks to avoid, and just one steel rope bridge which did at least give an unnerving swing when Leo tried running a section! We arrived at our lodge in the dark, feasting on potatoes, cheese and pizza and yearning for an early night!
Day 3 (Tuesday 17/10/17)
Our first full day of walking was always going to be quite hard, and it was important to ascend slowly to ensure that we acclimatise to the altitude. The lodge in Phakding wasn’t bad, so long as you kept a headtorch on ready for the frequent power cuts!
Leaving Phakding we followed the Dudh Koshi river, views including blue pine and rhododendrum forests, and of course, the fast flowing light blue river. Several times we crossed using the steel rope bridges that brought dread, excitement and great photos with every passing.
We passed through a few small villages, Benkar, Moshi, and Jorsale included. There was a slight worry when everyone turned a corner and into a cafe for lunch, while Jim continued.... he was eventually found by Pasang, our guide and returned for a well earned fried potato lunch!
The route then led us to a huge suspension bridge, very bit as wobbly and windy as we could imagine; to make us really feel for our safety, the condemned bridge it replaced was still rusting below! The bridge must have been 80 metres above the water!
The bridge spanned a valley of trees, and on the other side we continued upwards and upwards then a bit more upwards and then upwards.
Climbing continuously, it was hard work on both legs and lungs, until about 9 miles in, Nathan and Jim were retrieved when the porters showed up, smiling as usual, and collected their day bags (containing basics required for the day including food, water and waterproofs, but still weighing about 10kg). They then marched on ahead, despite having just carried two full kit bags with a total weight 30kg!
We reached the “town” of Namche Bazar after about 7 hours, settled in for a good meal, an hour at a local bar (with a quick darts match) then a well earned night’s sleep!
Day 4 (Wednesday 18/10/17)
Once at Namche Bazar, we had reached an altitude of about 3400 metres above sea level, and by then, the amount of oxygen in the air is already greatly reduced. This makes it much harder to breath in the oxygen required, especially when walking steep uphill paths or steps. Above 2500m it’s reasonably common for some people to get a form of altitude sickness, which starts with headaches and if you continue to climb without treatment, it can lead to an emergency evacuation by helicopter back to the city hospital.
To aid acclimatisation we have planned two days where we don’t necessarily rest, but do return back down the mountain. The walk was to the Everest View Hotel, one of the highest hotels in the world, at an altitude of about 3880m. The trek was fairly tough, mostly steps built of stone or just shaped rockface. Once at the hotel, we were treated to the most incredible views of Mt Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse and several other huge snow-capped peaks. The walk back to Namche Bazar was relatively easy, where after lunch we visited the local monastery and museum to learn a bit about the history of the Sherpa people and local communities.
Day 5 (Thursday 19/10/17)
The path today took us up the hill out of Namche and along the valley alongside the Dudh Koshi river. The route gave us impressive views of several of the great mountains, including Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse and the ever impressive pointy shaped Ama Dablam. The path dropped us down to almost the level of the river, now nearly 200m below the altitude of Namche.
After lunch we then hit the zigzag trail up the hill to Tengboche. The path rose steeply, and took a couple of hours to complete just a couple of miles, but climbing over 600m!
The afternoon gave time for rest and for Cliff and Leo, a brief visit to the large monastery just up the hill from our lodge.
Day 6 (Friday 20/10/17)
Out of Tengboche we headed down the hill through a rhododendron forest then down to the Imja river. We continued along the river before crossing it, seeing a collapsed rope bridge – a sign of the earthquake damage from 2014. We then continued along the path in front of Ama Dablam, which was now quite close and showing its streaks of snow and rock in fine detail. It’s really quite surprising how anyone could climb to this mountain's summit, though the first ascent was relatively recent, around the Year 2000. The path then took us up the slopes to Dingboche, a relatively large village bustling with shops, snooker halls, and as it was Friday night, several parties as the locals tend to have the day off on Saturday.
Day 7 (Saturday 21/10/17)
Unfortunately this morning, Leo didn’t feel well. His symptoms matched some of those related to altitude sickness, and he felt it best to stay to recuperate a while in Dingboche. The original schedule suggested we would all stay there today as it would be another acclimatisation day, but we had agreed to try and make up our lost day by continuing to Lobuche. This would negate having to re-book flights from Lukla which would most likely cost $160 each!
So Cliff, Jim, Nathan and our ever helpful guide Pasang set off after breakfast on a fairly tough climb. We ascended the ridge behind the village, gaining stunning views of the Pheriche valley; from the top of the ridge we had excellent views of the peaks of Taweche and Cholaste. After a small lunch at a rest stop at the foot of the Khumbu Glacier (the one that flows from Mount Everest) we then climbed steadily. Along the ridge is an area with dozens of cairns (stone towers), each built in memory of a climber who had died on Mount Everest. The area was peaceful, despite there being perhaps 50 people visiting at a time. The cairns are dedicated to western climbers and Sherpas, including those who died in the 1996 climbing disaster which was later featured in the film Everest, and also climbers and Sherpas who lost their lives in the recent earthquakes.
The route then climbed steadily into the village of Lobuche, where we were able to relax and eat, welcome Leo who had made his way up alone, and also where we were able to add a little rock graffiti, spelling LCA under a big heart on the side of a hill!
Day 8 (Sunday 22/10/17)
We started with a walk from the rather cold Lobuche village where the pools of water animals were drinking from yesterday were now frozen over.
The trail headed up the Khumba valley, created by the great glacier as it flowered down from Everest. The path wasn't too hilly though we did encounter a few sharp inclines.
We dropped our bags at the lodge in Gorak Shep and had lunch, then set off for the main trip of the whole expedition. This was to be the trip to Everest base camp.
Unfortunately Jim was unwell within minutes of the start and was seriously considering turning round to stay at Gorak Shep. It did allow a joke about his Yeti impression though! After some chocolate and water he decided to try a little further and was able to rejoin the group, much helped by one of the porters who acted as a private guide.
The trail to Base Camp follows the valley edge and is mostly hard rocky path but offering outstanding views of the mountains. Everest is barely visible across much of the region as she is well hidden behind Lhotse, another 8000m peak which is usually climbed on the way to the Everest summit. We did catch a glimpse of Everest's peak about a mile away from Base Camp and she was as impressive as could ever be imagined.
Base Camp is nestled in the middle of the valley and is reached by dropping down then back up again. At this time of year there are no expeditions so there was no activity nor tents but it was still an awe-inspiring view. In the distance was the ice flow which must be crossed by ladder at the start of any summit expedition. Immensely dangerous for all, especially the local Sherpas who prepare the route (the ice is constantly flowing so permanent bridges are not possible), the sight of the region just brings a whole sense of respect to everyone who tries.
Having seen the memorial cairns yesterday dedicated to those who made the ultimate sacrifice it brought a whole new sense of respect and wonder.