EBC and Island Peak Trek – Day 16

Namche (3440m) to Lukla

It was a tough long day and we got absolutely soaked to the skin by cold rain during the last hour of the walk up to Lukla. Good party that night though to make up for it.

Next morning we flew back to Kathmandu.. Spent the next few days eating, drinking, getting food poisoning and recovering.. Plus planning our time in the Philippines

EBC and Island Peak Trek – Day 15

Pangboche (3930m) to Namche (3440m) via Phungi Thanga (3250m)

We’ve now completed nearly 3000 metres of descent in 3 days, between Island Peak Summit and our stop for lunch today. My left knee is really beginning to feel that much pressure. By lunch tomorrow it will be 3580m descent over 4 days. The upside is that we feel really fit at these lower altitudes.

Plus, now we’re back in civilisation, we have 3G coverage and got to take our first shower in 2 weeks!

EBC and Island Peak Trek – Day 13

Summit Day – Island Peak base camp (5050m) to Island Peak Summit (6189m) and back

We did it!

Our wake-up call was at midnight. It took some time to get properly dressed for the cold temperatures, have some breakfast and get our kit together – we left camp at 0120.

The first 4 hours hiking was in darkness with head torches. There had been snow the previous evening, so we were hiking in snow from the start, although the weather was clear and calm by the time we left. It was difficult in the dark to understand where we were in the surrounding landscape as we climbed, except that it was steep. At around 0400 we passed the high camp that some groups use to spend a night on the mountain before summiting – it was little more than an 8ft ledge on the side of the mountain at 5600m. People usually can’t sleep well at this altitude so it is a little pointless, so our trek company no longer use this approach.

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About 4 hours in, the sun started to lighten the path but it would be another 60-90 minutes before the sun broke through to warm us!

By this time progress was painfully slow because of the thin air and steep slope – I could only take 8 or 10 steps before stopping for 30 seconds to get my breathing under control. If I pushed too hard, I started to feel nauseous. I really felt like those people you see climbing Everest with their painfully slow progress and laboured breathing. For sure this was our Everest! Stef was very very cold, I had totally numb toes and was worried about frostbite, constantly trying to clench my toes as hard as possible with every step.

We finally reach “crampon point” at 0530. I couldn’t even guess what the temperature was there, maybe -15C. We desperately needed the sun – we could see the sunrise splashed on the highest peaks and slowly descending towards us. It took us about 45 mins to get into our climbing gear – everything is so slow at that altitude and in that much cold. Taking our gloves off led to numb fingers within a minute or two, but was necessary for some of the tasks – we had to get into plastic climbing boots (even worse for the toes, as the boots were at ambient temperature), crampons, helmets and harnesses – plus we carried ice axes. Luckily for us, one of our porters (Moti) carried the heavy gear to crampon point for us – our own packs were about 8-10kg, but would have been over 20kg with all the climbing gear. Big thanks to Moti and Kesa (who carries it back down) for their help!

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On the final stretch! We can see the summit!! But it’s another 2 hours before we get there

With our gear fitted and attached together via “main rope”, we climbed up onto the glacier just as the sun hit us and began to warm us a little.. Then we got our first view of the summit – and we realised we could do it!

There were a number of crevasses in the lower part of the glacier that we had to weave around to find a point narrow enough to jump across. We had been taught how to do this so that the rope wouldn’t snag us as we jumped, and in the unlikely event that we fell, we would be held up by the others in the group (we had a climbing guide at the front and our trek guide, Netra, at the back – with just the two of us in the middle). The rest of the glacier hike was a relatively shallow climb, but again painfully slow because we were now approaching 6000m. It took us about 1.5hrs on the glacier to reach the fixed rope point.

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John took this picture of me from the edge of the summit

We then had a tough 150m extremely steep ascent up the ice face to a point on the left hand side of the summit (around 30m below). It probably averaged around 70 degrees of slope, but there were a few points where it went vertical or almost vertical for a few metres, at least once with sheer smooth ice. We had been taught how to use the zoomer and crampons to climb up, and there were a number of anchor points up the slope to swap ropes and have a rest. With the altitude, it took at least 1.5 to 2hrs to complete this part. As the sun was shining on us strongly now, the cold was no longer a problem and my toes had thawed out. We even removed 2 layers in an attempt to cool off! But the slight dry cough which I’d had for a day or two had quickly developed into a chesty, painful cough by the top of the climb, and I was wheezing when I breathed deeply. Stef was definitely stronger at this point and didn’t get any negative symptoms until we started the descent. Of course I was worried about some severe AMS symptom like HAPE, but we were so close to the summit and just had to continue to the top. Besides, the first treatment for AMS would be to descend, which we would do anyway very soon.

Getting to the top of the face was an incredible experience. Reaching the top we saw that we had climbed on top of a knife-edge ridge with the Island Peak glacier plateau beneath us on one side (and the big Ama Dablam mountain beyond), and on the other side it plunges straight down to the Lhotse Glacier over 1000m below – backed by the huge Lhotse mountain (8516m). It’s amazing to see that after all this effort to get to such a high point, there are still mountain peaks 2500m+ above us.

The final push to the summit wasn’t far, but took at least 30 mins because a previous group of 6 people were coming down on the fixed ropes from the summit while we were trying to go up. We had to wait for then at each anchor point so that we could pass by.

We finally reached the summit around 10am (I was in front of Stef so I waited for her a few feet from the top). It was incredibly satisfying and the views were remarkable – so many 6, 7 and 8000m peaks all around us. The face of Lhotse, just 3km away from us, towered above – so much so that I couldn’t fit the whole thing in frame for my panorama shots. We hugged and took pictures, but didn’t spend more than 10 minutes on the summit – the weather was perfect (sunny and luckily no wind) but could change at any moment. So we started the descent down the ridge to the fixed rope down the face.

We had to wait a while because of slow traffic on the ropes going down the face. At this point Stef started getting a bad headache, probably from the altitude, which persisted for the rest of the day. When it was our turn we started to abseil down, using a figure-eight belay – not exactly a foolproof method, but our training and practice the previous day kept us safe.

We then made as fast as possible off the glacier, as it was approaching midday and so increasing risk of shifting ice and crevasses opening up. We were totally exhausted by the time we got back to crampon point – we had spent all of our energy on the goal of reaching the summit and left little for the descent. So the descent was nearly as tough as the climb, and we finally got back to base camp at 1515.. Nearly 14 hours after we set off. We were exhausted, dehydrated and starving.. We forced ourselves to drink and eat something, then collapsed into our tent.

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Waiting to repell down the face to start the long haul back to base camp

It was an incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience, which is what our rtw trip is about. And, I think it’ll stay that way – I think that expedition mountaineering is not really for us – we can save that kind of suffering for when it’s really required to achieve something long-lasting – not just 10 mins of the most incredible view ever.

Island Peak Summit 6189m, 20,305ft – Lhotse South Face in the Background

EBC and Island Peak Trek – Day 12

Rest day and mountain climbing training day at Island Peak Base Camp (5050m)

We didn’t sleep very well due to te extreme cold and uncomfortable thin mattress with stones underneath. The only good thing about camping here is the food, which is surprisingly good for camping-stove preparations in a small tent. We spent plenty of time resting and keeping warm in our tent, and in the afternoon we had the “climbing clinic”. We learn how to zoomer up steep inclines and abseil down again, plus fitting crampons and what to do when climbers are roped together on the shallow ice sections.

We have a wake-up call at midnight to start our climb at 1am, so we had an early dinner and now we’re in bed by 6.45pm – hope we can get some sleep!

EBC and Island Peak Trek – Day 11

Dingboche(4343m) to Island Peak Base Camp (5050m)

I woke up feeling much better and we had both slept well at the lower altitude, so we set out around 9am for Island Peak base camp.

We stopped for lunch in Chukkung (4700m) about 2.5 hrs hike up the valley. We also picked up my plastic mountaineering boots, as the ones I tries out in Kathmandu were too old, with broken inner binding. Chukkung is a very small settlement of 8 or 10 buildings that appears entirely dependent on Island Peak – lodges, climbing guides and rental equipment.

After lunch we left around 1pm for the 3 hr hike to base camp. It started snowing soon after we left, and hasn’t stopped since. Luckily the wind was behind us, and we pushed on to base camp to arrive shortly before 4pm. Facilities here are extremely basic – we have a two-man dome tent with some thin mattresses. There’s a rock underneath mine on one side so i need to sleep around it! There is a kitchen tent where we sit for our meals (surprisingly good food considering) – good to get warm from the gas cooking equipment. Normally for larger groups there would be a dining tent, but we’re glad for the warmth of the cooking tent. Then there’s a hole-in-the-ground toilet (but men just pee around the camp whereever they want), and that’s it.

I reckon it’s about -10C outside and could be -15C overnight. We have some good down sleeping bags and an extra blanket, but staying warm is always a challenge – the mattresses are thin so cold is transmitted from the ground, and going outside for anything involves alot of effort getting out of the sleeping bag and into our down jackets and boots.

So, let’s hope we sleep OK – climbing training tomorrow then early sleep for a 1am or 2am start on the summit.. Weather permitting of course, which doesn’t look good right now!

EBC and Island Peak Trek – Day 10

Kala Patar climb (5550m) and hike back to Dingboche (4343m)

Today was pretty tough – we woke up at 5.30 and set out shortly before 6.30 to climb Kala Patar. It had snowed during the night and it was very cold before the sun got high enough to warm us up. Stef in particular was suffering from the altitude, and it was a very slow ascent. But the views from the top were spectacular – particularly the Khumbu glacier and Everest Base Camp, frame by the vast bulk of Everest behind the even more impressive looking Nuptse. The climb down was much quicker and we were back in Gorak Shep for breakfast around 0930. We took our time and set out on the long hike down to Dingboche (which took 2 days on the way up) around 1100. Stef was having a bad headache again, and it took us over 3 hrs down to Thukla for a late lunch. I started feeling really nauseous there, which made the remaining 1.5 hrs to Dingboche in the freezing cold wind really uncomfortable.. Stopping occasionally to dry-heave but never successfully throwing up.

Now back in Dingboche, we are both extremely exhausted from the days of trekking, the altitude and the cold. I’m still feeling like I might get sick, and while Stef is fine now, she is worried about how she’ll feel going back up to high altitude and the cold.

We’re supposed to hike to Island Peak Base Camp tomorrow.. I’m really not sure if we’re going to be up for it, probably I will be the limiting factor if I get sick in the night. We’ll discuss with our guide in the morning – we also have concerns about staying warm enough sleeping there when we’ve already needed to use the extra blankets supplied by the lodges up here, in addition to our sleeping bags.

I’m really keen on doing everything possible to complete the climb, but I need to be healthy and I’m not currently feeling it!

EBC and Island Peak Trek – Day 9

Lobuche (4900m) to Gorak Shep (5180m). Excursion to Everest Base Camp (5364m)

Made it to Gorak Shep at 5180m! There is supposed to be a 3G base station here, but it’s broken so we still have no mobile reception. So we’re using the (very expensive) wifi here for 10 mins to get these posts uploaded. It probably means that we won’t be able to upload posts again until we are back at Pangboche in 6 days time, with a tale of success or failure on Island Peak!

The hike from Lobuche today only took 2hrs 10 mins but it was quite tough due to the altitude and the terrain – we climbed onto the Khumbu Glacier, which is covered in rocks and boulders, with some streams running through the glacier underneath the rock cover. At one point we climbed onto the top of a ridge in the glacier and got an incredible view up the remainder of the Khumbu valley to Everest Base Camp and the base of the mountain they climb from there. Everest Summit isn’t visible from here – we’ll have to climb Kala Patar (5550m) tomorrow morning for that view.

We’ll feeling pretty good, but I’ve still got a very slight headache and Stef has lost her appetite.. Both to be expected. If we can get a good night’s sleep here – probably the highest altitude night’s sleep of our lives – then we should have cracked the acclimitisation needed for Island Peak.

Our hike to Everest base camp was a little tough but very interesting terrain.. Mainly we were on the glacier, which poked through the rocks in places.. There were a few narrow and slippery points. As it is early in the season there were only about 40 tents.. Apparently it expands to hundreds in the peak season. It was interesting to see the route climbers would take across and up the icefall towards the higher camps. I definitely have alot of respect for anyone prepared to live in this place for months and undergo the physical and psychological suffering necessary to climb Everest. I would never want to do it though, not just because of the suffering and the significant risk of death – but it is such an industry now, with so much support from so many other people – the achievement belongs as much or more to the porters and the sherpas (and the yaks!) who make it possible for the average person to attempt it.

We both have headaches after our hike to EBC, but at least we are back early enough to spend some time getting properly rehydrated and rest.

Tomorrow after our Kala Patar climb, we hike all the way back to Dingboche.The day after we hike to Island Peak base camp to spend 3-4 nights in tents there for our climbing attempt. Probably my next updates won’t be until after that.

EBC and Island Peak Trek – Day 8

Day 8 – Dingboche (4343m) to Lobuche (4950m)

Today was our first really tough day altitude-wise, and we’ve got two more tougher ones to come.

We set out at around 9.15am, climbing out of the valley onto a bleak looking plateau that leads towards the Khumbu valley. After only climbing 200m or so, the headache from the altitude started again. Plus we’re now at altitudes where the breathing rate required to sustain forward motion is significant, and any amount of climb causes extremely fast and deep breathing. It’s like doing 7 minute mile pace at home, but from all this effort you’re only creeping forward up the hill. These days are like running a marathon every day from a breathing-effort perspective – quite a contrast to the first few days of the trek where leg strength/muscles were the limiting factor – now we don’t even notice any leg tiredness as we are limited by the rate at which we can get oxygen on board. We started taking Diamox this morning – it helps prevent some of the symptoms of altitude sickness, but of course it’s not a miracle worker and won’t reduce the effort it takes to move around up here.

We stopped for lunch at a place called Thukla, just at the foot of the 400m rocky moraine climb up into the Khumbu valley. By the time we got there I was feeling pretty rough, with a headache and “fuzzy head” feeling. We had only taken our first Diamox 3 hrs before, and this evening I’m feeling much better, so I think it just took a while to kick in. Stef handled the altitude change much better than me today.

After lunch we made the climb very slowly, taking our time to admire the stunning scenery. In many ways it is bleak – nothing grows up here (grass can hardly maintain a hold here, and we passed the last of the scrubby small bushes on our way up today). It’s also stunningly beautiful, with the scale of the peaks around us and the flow of the landcape carved out by glaciers. At the top of the climb – the entrance to the Khumbu valley – we looked around at the memorials to climbers who died on Everest. Then we completed a relatively flat section along the valley to Lobuche – a tiny settlement which appeared out of nowhere from behind a ridge, in an environment of rock and ice where you would never expect to find a village.

Our challenge tonight is to get a good night’s sleep to set us up for the hike up to Gorak Shep and Everest Base Camp tomorrow. Our highest altitude night’s sleep will be spent at Gorak Shep, so hopefully after that we will have broken the back of the altitude issues and have set ourselves up for solid acclimitisation for our Island Peak climb.

EBC and Island Peak Trek – Day 7

Day 7 – Rest/Acclimitization Day in Dingboche (4343m)

And we sure needed it! By yesterday evening I had a mild-moderate headache which continued this morning. Stef slept very badly due to shortness of breath causing a feeling of claustrophobia. We were supposed to do an acclimitisation hike 200-400m above this altitude, but as we were feeling so bad all we managed was some napping and a walk through the village to the bakery for a brownie and tea. This evening we’re feeling better, although Stef is apprehensive about the night to come.

We still haven’t taken any diamox, which is regularly used to treat altitude sickness – and indeed many trekkers take it prophylactically even as early as their arrival in Kathmandu. It’s supposed to speed up acclimitisation, but some people disagree on taking it prophylactically due to the side effects (mainly, increased probability of dehydration) and the possibility that it may mask the onset of AMS symptoms. We are following the advice of our guide, Netra, in all things on this trek. He has medical training and many years experience leading groups and treating trekkers at high altitudes, and his advice has been not to take Diamox so far. Because we’ve had some mild symptoms possibly caused by the altitude during the last 24 hrs, then he says he may recommend we take it if the symptoms recur as we ascend tomorrow.

Tomorrow will be a tough day – gaining ~500m up to Lobuche (4930m). We are nervous more about how we will react to being there (and how we will sleep) than for the actual hike up, which shouldn’t be too bad as the distance is relatively short ~(6km) so we can take it as slowly as we need. Lobuche is close to the maximum altitude that we will sleep at (the highest will be at Gorak Shep the night after -5140m – Island Peak Base Camp is slightly lower than this) so being able to tolerate it will be a key achievement to get us as far as Island Peak.

So, it’s crunch time for us now, with the most difficult, but most exciting, 6 days of the trek ahead of us!

EBC and Island Peak Trek – Day 6

Phortse (3935m) to Dingboche (4343m) via Pangboche and Somare

No phone signal at Dingboche! We’ll continue to write posts but the opportunities to upload them might be inconsistent in the next 7-8 days.

We started a bit earlier today as we had a long day ahead of us- 6:30am tea and on the trail at 7:40am. It was a chilly start but the sun warmed our faces as the 5 of us trudged up the mountain side behind Phortse village. We made it to Somare for lunch ahead of schedule and ate our potatoes/veg and noodle veg soup before midday. Until this point, we had the trail pretty much to ourselves (aside from the occassional yak) as we were off the main trail. The trail was “nepali flat” witha few steep sections, but they didn’t last long.

After lunch, it was only another 1 1/2 hrs to our lodge – we arrived around 1.30pm which is pretty good going as we had budgeted until 4pm. The scenery now is even more beautiful than before- panoramic mountains and clouds which appear to be at the same altitude as us. It really does look like proper high himalaya now. It was easy to track our progress as we hiked alongside Ama Dablam mountain approaching the base of Everest and Lhotse – which look much closer now, although EBC is still 2 days hike away.

The hike felt pretty good and we maintained a reasonably quick pace without problems. Definitely the biggest challenge is maintaining body temperature! In the sun without wind its hot but a minute later, in the shade with a breeze its freezing! We’re now passing the ends of small glaciers and there is frozen ground and water in the shady spots, so it’s beginning to feel really chilly.

Our lodge is OK for the remoteness of the location. I was happy to see the hole-in-the-ground toilet because at least it was of the sit-down variety – what a luxury! But the “hot shower” turned out to be a bucket of hot water served in a freezing cold outhouse – but at least we had the chance to wash properly for the first time in days. Now were warming up in our down jackets and sleeping bags!

We have a rest day tomorrow to solidify our acclimitization before 3 tough days ahead of us – hiking up the Khumbu valley onto the glacier, making it to everest base camp, sleeping at 5100m and climbing Kala Pattar (5535m). Very excited, but I hope our resilience to the altitude holds out and that we can stay warm enough!

EBC and Island Peak Trek – Day 5

Day 5 – Khumjung (3840m) to Phortse (3935m) via Mongla (3980m) and Phortse Thanga (3675m)

We set out at a reasonable 8.45am to make the climb up to Mongla, where we rested at just under 4000m. After our rest we descended to Phortse Thanga for lunch. It was quite a steep descent and Stef didn’t really appreciate the value of this and the subsequent ascent as training for the following tougher days. Lunch was really nice by the blue mountain river. We left around 1pm for the 260m climb to Phortse, arriving at our lodge around 2pm – plenty of chillout time – we are now huddled around the stove in the middle of the dining room.

Lodge conditions have lowered during the last two nights – no running water and squat toilets, this time little more than a well-framed hole in the ground. However the hiking has been nice on this route, as it isn’t the main route to EBC so it’s been quiet (we only saw two or three other groups of trekkers). Maybe it will be better tomorrow when we rejoin the main route in Dingboche (or maybe worse as is the trend for the more remote you go).

Tonight we sleep only 100m above last night so again we expect no problems from the altitude. I was feeling alot better and stronger in the legs today and took 8+ kg on my back with no problems. That’s not saying much though, considering our porters joined us at the same pace, carrying ~30kg each!

Tomorrow will be a tough day with around a 10km hike to Dingboche, up to 4410m – but the day after we have a rest day before proceeding on to the really tough altitudes!

View of Phortse Village (our lodge is on the top right

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The valley between Mongla and Phortse with river:

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EBC and Island Peak Trek – Day 4

Day 4 – Namche (3440) to Khumjung (3840)

Today was another relatively easy day with a 2.5hr hike up to Khumjung via Khunde. We said goodbye to our travel companions this far – Roy and Lenson and their guide Ngima – as they are taking a different route to EBC via Gokyo lakes and Chola pass which takes 3 days longer.

We stopped at Khunde to see the hospital (set up by donations) and then walked down into Khumjung to our lodge for lunch. After lunch we had some relaxation time and then went to visit the monastery – a small local one which had a “yeti skull” which we were able to look at after making a small donation.

We continued walking around the village and looked at the school and a statue of Sir Edmund Hillary, who originally set the school up. Then back to the lodge by 5pm, playing some cards and then some dinner. And easy day but I’m still quite tired!

Tomorrow should be an easy day too – the hike to Phortse tops out at 3990m, so we will have to wait until the day after to break 4000m. These focus now is on good acclimitisation – and it seems to be working as we’ve still has no adverse effects from the altitude.


Our lodge in Khumjung – very quiet here!

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View of Khumjung village from our lodge

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EBC and Island Peak Trek – Day 3

Day 3 – Acclimitization Day in Namche (3440m) – morning hike to Everest View Hotel (3880m)

Today we hiked up to the Everest View Hotel, which is a 1.5hr 440m climb from Namche. We did this without day packs today (we usually carry about 5-7kg) and it felt much easier on our legs. On the way up the hill we got to see a large helictopter come in to land at Syangboche airfield, just a few feet above our heads! We got blasted by the downdraft which threw lots of dusty all over us (and we are getting dusty enough already without that!)

The views from the hotel were stunning and we enjoyed a (rather expensive) hot chocolate in the outdoor cafe. The temperature out of the wind and in the sun was very pleasant. The weather was fantastic with clear views of Everest, Lhotse and surrounding mountains. I was a bit cold on the way back so I went fast to keep warm, and did the descent back to Namche in 34 mins. Overall we are happy with acclimitisation so far with no bad effects of the altitude, although of course it’s much harder work to hike uphill with much more breathing needed for the ascent rate.

After lunch back at our lodge, we went shopping for the remaining equipment we need for the higher elevations and Island Peak climbing that won’t be provided by Mountain Monarch. We bought windproof overtrousers, thermal base layers, gloves and and an extra hat for Stef – all came to about $85 – obviously all chinese rip-offs, but OK for use on a single trip.

Then we found some real Illy coffee and toblerone and went to watch a movie about Everest and Tenzing Norgay/Peter Hilary called “Touching my father’s soul” that was showing in a bar nearby. Unfortunately it is strongly recommended not to drink any alcohol while on the ascent phase of a trek and/or at high altitude, so we had to skip the beer and have some lemon tea (and popcorn). The movie was very interesting but reinforced my opinion that I’m not interested in climbing Everest!

First view of Everest on the way up

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Hot chocolate at Everest View – Everest is in the background on the left. Lhotse is to the right, and the sharp peak further forwards on the right is Ama Dablam

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EBC and Island Peak Trek – Day 2

Day 2 – Phakding (2650m) to Namche Bazar (3440m)

Our day started with a wake-up call at 7am – quite civilised given that we went to bed by 9pm last night. Breakfast was good and filling, I had omelette and Stef had apple pancake. We set off on the trail at 0815, heading alongside the river on relatively gentle gradients (the term “nepalese flat” is used to describe the undulating trails, which are never really flat for any more than one pace). We crossed the river on one of the many steel cable bridges to Jorsale (2700m) for lunch around 10.45, in time to have a leisurely long lunch for about 1.5 hrs. Then we set out on the hardest part of our day – the 700m+ climb up to Namche. After about 30 mins and two more river crossings we hit the steep gradient and it was really tough with the altitude – particularly the last hour where leg-burn and breathlessness really kicked in. But we arrived in Namche by 2.15pm and found our lodge another 15 mins up the hill at the back of the village.

Again the facilities here are good.. We have a corner room that was nicely catching the afternoon sun and so was even warm when we got here. And the dining room is warm all afternoon too. And I even took a shower (costs 300 rupees – around $4). So again we are glad for the relaxation time.

We spend two nights here because tomorrow is an acclimitisation day (required as we ascended to sleep more than 300m above our previous sleeping altitude). We also need to buy various items such as gloves, windproof overtrousers and other clothing that we will need as we get to higher altitudes (our guide told us in Kathmandu to leave these items until Namche as they are cheaper here as they bring them over the border from China). In addition there is a planned acclimitisation hike to the Everest View Hotel, around 400m elevation above Namche.

Our first view towards Namche village

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View from Namche.. The snow-capped mountain in the background is arouns the same height as Island Peak!

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Namche Bazaar see from the trail at the bottom of town:

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Our lodge overlooking Namche Village – the white streak down the mountain is a frozen waterfall:

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The dining room has lots of windows with a great view over the village and the mountains beyond:

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EBC and Island Peak Trek – Day 1

Lukla (2860m) to Phakding (2650m) – 6km

The day started fairly early with a 5.30am wakeup call for a 6am departure to Kathmandu airport. The usual chaos and waiting around followed, we’re quite used to that now, so we just waited patiently and ate our packed breakfast. A little before 9am we boarded the smallest commercial flight I’ve ever been on – I think it was a twin otter seating 14 in a 1-1 formation! We were lucky to get seats on the left hand side of the plane, so we had great views of the mountains (particularly thanks to the high-wing design).

The flight only took about 40 mins, cruising at around 150 knots/12000 ft before a modest descent to Lukla (2860m/9380 ft). There was no “ladies and gentlemen please prepare for landing” – just noticing the mountain rising up towards before a surge and bump of a sudden landing. The landing point was so close to the end of the runway that there wasn’t even time to see it before we hit the ground – just houses, stone walls and a fence flashing by a few feet below us, then bump, we’re down! The ground run is very short (it needs to be as the runway is only 460m long) and assisted by the fact that the runway has a 12 degree slope (but it looks like more!) so gravity helps slow the aircraft down (in fact it seems like usually they have to put power back on to taxi off the runway in order to stop rolling backwards down the runway!). So, no wonder this place features top of “world’s most extreme airports”.

Because we had a short trek today, we didn’t have to rush anywhere so we stopped at a hotel/lodge in Lukla to sort our bags out and have an early lunch around 11am. Some of the Everest Base Camp (EBC) treks go right through to Namche Bazaar on the first day – an extra 6-7hrs and an 800m climb beyond our gentle 3hr walk this afternoon to Phakding. So we were glad of the easy pace set by our trekking company (Mountain Monarch) and our guides, particularly as Stef still has a cold (she’s taking a nap right now since we checked in to our lodge early). The easy pace is one of the reasons we chose Mountain Monarch – not just for comfort, but for safety, as correctly planned acclimitisation is essential minimise the chances of Acute Mountain Sickness (= severe altitude sickness – which can and does kill people every year in Everest region). It also gives us the best possible chances of reaching our goal – Island Peak Summit at 6189m/20,305ft.

So far the scenery has been very nice, but it’s been more built-up and populated than I expected, with lodges/buildings every few hundred metres along the trail. I expect that to be the case at least until we get beyond Namche. The trail here is very easy to walk, and our guide says it will stay that way until EBC.

The lodge we’re staying at is fine – and better than I expected – flushing sit-down toilet, wooden twin rooms with firm but useable mattress (on which we sleep in sleeping bags). Of course no hot water, but we didn’t expect that. Probably further up the trail the quality will go down (and then we also have the camping around Island Peak). It sounds like all of them are always freezing cold – the only heating is a stove in the communal area in the evenings for dinner, so the rooms are freezing cold – and we’ve not experienced anything yet, with temperatures of -10 to -20C possible at night towards EBC. We have very warm sleeping bags (currently we’re in them, keeping warm before dinner time), but otherwise I think it’s going to be a constant challenge to stay warm in the lodges. I can’t help thinking that a wood-fired central heating system couldn’t add a huge amount to the cost of these places, but it would add to the comfort so much.

Stef is a bit unhappy with this given her cold, hopefully she will cheer up once she’s better. We have a rest day on Thursday in Namche so hopefully that will help!

Approaching Phakding:

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Crossing the bridge towards our lodge:

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View from the lodge dining room:

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Our room:

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