Our first night of the Everest Base Camp trek was… eventful. We had the genius idea of taking a nap and going to bed at 6:30 p.m. with the hopes of catching up on some sleep, but after we woke up at 1:00 a.m. bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, it was impossible to fall back asleep. When we finally did manage to doze off, the sun was already coming up, haha.
We set out directly after finishing breakfast. One of the first things we noticed on the second day was the difference in temperature in the mountains. It was freezing cold in the evening and in the morning, but as soon as the sun rose up across the sky, the heat felt like a summer day at the beach. Who would have thought you could wear just a t-shirt in mid-November in the Himalayas?
When trekking in the Khumbu region (northeastern Nepal), you get a full picture of what the Himalayas truly are: a colossal and majestic landscape of mountains, glaciers, valleys and streams…
Prayer flags add a touching and spiritual element to the trails. It is said that the wind carries prayers and blows prayer flags to spread peace, strength, wisdom and compassion. What else do you need?
Lunch in the sun by the river gave us the dal bhat power we needed! The physical effort took a lot out of us and we found ourselves starving, so the free refills of dal bhat were a wise choice. It felt so good in the sun that we had to motivate each other to get up and continue on the second part of the trek, that included a 3-hour climb right off the bat to Namche Bazaar where we were due to spend the night.
The climb zigzags through a forest of pine trees that thankfully provide some much wanted shade to shield us (especially Tibo, haha) from the sun. About halfway up, we had our first view of Everest (next to a public toilet, you can’t make this stuff up).
This suspended bridge was a magical moment… The lower bridge, older and no longer in use, has been replaced by this one above it. In addition to providing a scenic view and being incredibly photogenic (you may recognize this from certain movies including Everest that came out in 2015), the feeling you get when crossing it is indescribable. We had the sun in our faces, the wind whistling through the valley and blowing prayer flags attached to the handrails of the bridge, every step, over the commanding noise of the currents beneath us, brought with it a new perspective of the beauty all around us. We felt a sensation of freedom like rarely experienced before.
Since our entrance to the Sagarmatha National Park (which is the Nepalese name for Mt. Everest), there were frequent security checkpoints where we just sat there and waited while Bhim, who somehow knew every single local along the way, presented the guards with our TIMS (Trekker’s Information Management System) permits that we had completed upon arrival with our trekking dates, our itinerary, and some other personal information. These permits and checkpoints were implemented in an attempt to prevent illegal trekking operations in the region and most importantly to maintain a record of those present on the trails. Trekking in the mountains is not a risk-free activity. Most recently in 2015, Nepal was hit by the deadliest earthquake in its history, killing almost 9,000 people, including 18 at Everest Base Camp. For this exact reason, it is essential to maintain an accurate database of trekkers and where they are. There were also reminders along the way to check for symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS, also known as altitude sickness) and what to do to limit the effects on your body.
Blue skies for days… November is one of the best months to trek in the Nepal Himalaya, the visibility was absolutely perfect. Over 12 days we saw no more than one or two tiny clouds in the sky.
One final effort and we arrived at our stop for the next two nights: Namche Bazaar, Tibo’s favorite mountain town. The village is located below the jagged Kongde Ri ridge (6,187m / 20,299ft) and is the unofficial capital of the Khumbu region. Namche earns most of its revenue from the trekking industry, which makes the Solukhumbu district, where Namche is located, one of the richest in Nepal.
Being the largest village in the region, Namche Bazaar is a paradise for trekkers heading both up and down the mountain. It is a cute mountain village with plenty of teahouses, restaurants, cafés, bars and shops, and one of the few places along the way where you can enjoy a brownie and caffè latte like you would at home. Most teahouses offer rooms with attached bathrooms where you can even enjoy a hot shower (and when I say hot, I mean HOT; you can kill two birds with one stone and seriously cook pasta while you’re trying to take a shower without burning your skin).
At 3,420 m (11,220ft), we don’t feel any symptoms of AMS. Tomorrow will be an acclimatization day followed by another night at Namche Bazaar. That should let our bodies get used to the altitude before going further upwards, a very important aspect of the trip since it is at this altitude that the symptoms of AMS begin to be felt. On the trail today, we passed by a young couple who had been with us every step of the way since our departure from London. The woman was being examined by a doctor who recommended she descend immediately since she unfortunately had water in her lungs. Pulmonary edema is one of the most frequent side effects of altitude sickness and can be deadly if untreated.
Namche Bazaar is a vibrant place, a crossroads of travelers embarking on various treks (Everest Base Camp Trek, Gokyo Ri, Three Passes, etc.). People warm themselves up around a tea or hot chocolate in the teahouses, share anecdotes or get advice from trekkers who are on their way back down to Lukla.
There are few things I like more than sunrises and sunsets, and luckily for me, we’ve come to the right place to see magnificent ones. I had to brave the cold (while Tibo stayed inside) to see the sun setting behind Kongde Ri and the mountains surrounding the village… Witnessing the last rays of sun reflecting on the white summits while the rest of the landscape fell into the darkness of the night was an absolutely magical moment of mine during this trip. Check out our next article for Day 3 and the first pictures of Everest!
Starting point: Phakding (2,610m)
100m descent / 930m ascent
Arrival point: Namche Bazaar (3,440m)