Originally published July, 2010.
The clouds creep up the valley enveloping our little Nepali teahouse in its moist grip, rubbing their fluffy bellies along the tin roof causing it to creak and groan. These noises wake me in the mornings as we prepare to set off for Gorak Shep, the beginning stretch of trail on our way to our final destination: Everest Base Camp. We’ve been hiking for 2 days now, our path follows that of the river, re-tracing the ancient corridor it etched between the Himalayan Mountains. When the river descends, our path rises and when it rises we descend. We leave its side to hike higher to Namche Bazaar and Periche, but always we follow it higher until its gurgle transforms into ice and finally, at Everest Base Camp, into solid blue glacier.
The idea of this trip was birthed in my steamy South Korean apartment, with the noise of the busy town square mixing with the sound of the boiling Kimchi-jiggae soup on my stove-top. Two best friends and photographers, we had hatched many hair-brained plans before– like taking a year off after college graduation to teach English in South Korea – but non so daring or so grand as to trek to the top of the world. We made solid plans, purchased plane tickets to Nepal and one evening after work, we took the subway into Seoul to purchase purple hiking boots, “The best shoe!” our happy salesman proclaimed, and two durable packs to shove our one pair of clothes, 10 pairs of socks and random assortment of toiletries.
On July 17th, we began our 13-day trek from Lukla, Nepal to Everest Base Camp. However, getting to Lukla was no small feat, we got stuck for 4 days in the small, dungy Kathmandu airport waiting for the clouds to clear and our under-sized propeller plane to get the thumbs-up to take off. Our trip was no down to 9 days. I count my blessings that I hadn’t taken the initiative to research the Lukla airport, nestled at the base of the mountain it the #1 most dangerous airport in the world (or so I found out after landing). It’s dangerous because not only is there typically limited visibility, but the runway is too short to both land and takeoff and requires some creative guidance and amazingly good luck from the pilot to steer the plane NOT into the wall of a mountain that awaits you upon landing, but instead swerve the too-fast moving plane into the parking lot, a hard turn to the right.
I can safely say we underestimated the toughness of the path to Namche Bazaar. On the page, 200m elevation gain looks tame, but reality is something different. We hit the trail with a spring in our step and a smile on or faces, but an hour in we were sweaty, sitting on the side of the trail being passed by plodding Sherpa’s carrying their weight in huge packs strapped across their foreheads. Another hour and we were studiously trying to emulate the Sherpa hiking techniques, cutting an S shaped path across the straight trail. Finally, bend after heart-breaking bend we came around the corner and there perched on the side of a mountain, built in the shape of a U was the village of Namche Bazaar! We were greeted by two village children carrying miniature walking sticks who came running at us excitedly and proceeded to whack the back of our slow moving legs with their sticks while giggling uncontrollably.
After hours of hiking up a mountain we were ravenous, by the time we hit Namche Bazaar everything and anything was looking edible. My scrawny hiking partner even started eyeballing the poor yaks along side the road and made “friends” with the Sherpa boy totting 15 laying hens in his basket. I quickly located a teahouse serving lunch and we gorged ourselves on peanut butter and honey pancakes and garlic soup. You may think this combination sounds questionable, but priorities get wonky when blood sugars are dangerously low. We learned quickly to fill the pockets of our hiking packs with extra snickers bars.
On a snowy July morning, we reached the top having climbed to a mind-altering (literally) 18,511ft. Our fancy new purple boots stomped no less than two hundred thousand steps upwards, traveling approximately 80+ miles round trip and hiking up to 9hrs a day.We dropped out packs at the lone teahouse and took off to survey the terrain. Our raincoats were replaced with down jackets and after wandering the mountain-enclosed valley for hours we found a ridge strung with a million of prayer flags, plopped ourselves down and declared the ground “Base Camp.” We pulled out the jumbo-sized Snickers bar we had packed all the way up for just this exact moment, did a victory dance hooting and hollering in triumph from our perch at the top of the world.
For more posts from this trek, visit Nepali Travels.