On My Way to Everest Base Camp
It was late 2018 as I got off from a FlyDubai's Boeing 737 airplane. A cold breeze of the evening Himalayan air struck my face as I walked along the familiar old rustic hallway towards the arrival hall.
The dusty red brick walls of this airport reminded me of the first time I arrived here back in 2013. The confusion and the excitement that swept over me the moment I arrived, did so the same again 5 years later.
The moment my senses engaged with the sound, the sights, and the aroma of the city as I walked out from the airport, I knew right away that a grand adventure awaits, just like it did in 2013. I was finally back in a country where it all began, where the trajectory of my life spun upward and shaped the person I am today, I'm finally back in Nepal again.
It was the month of my birthday when I arrived at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, and I had my goal set on an adventure I had always wanted to do on my birthday.
Ever since I started traveling back in 2013, I have always made the effort to do something distinctly untraditional. I spent my 2014's birthday skydiving in New Zealand, 2015's birthday dancing to a German rap battle in Dresden, 2017's birthday trekking the Santa Cruz Trail in the Andes alone, and 2018 was no different.
For 2018, I had my sight set for Everest Base Camp, a supply camp on the south face of Mount Everest standing at 5,364 meters above sea-level and the route there is no walk-in-the-park.Table of Contents
- Watch Never Everest Travel Video
- The Route to Everest Base Camp
- Flying into Lukla: One of the Most Dangerous Airports in the World
- Everything was Now on Me
- The Disappearing Camaraderie on Hiking Trails
- Early Birds Get the Worms
- Sharing the Trail with Animals
- The Ascension to the Sherpa's Capital
- The People of the Mountain
- The Sherpa's Capital of Namche Bazar
- The Culture of the Sherpas
- Meeting the Thai Hikers
- My First Sight of Everest
- Visiting the Hometown of Tenzing Norgay
- Finding My People
- Altitude Sickness at Four Thousand Meters and Beyond
- The Everest Disaster of 1996
- The Day I Reached Everest Base Camp
- The Highest I Had Ever Been
- Standing on Thin Ice
- Gokyo Lakes and Gokyo Ri
- On Giving Up
- Running Out of Money
- Getting Out of the Mountain in One Piece
- The Why of It All
Watch Never Everest Travel Video
The Route to Everest Base Camp
The route to Everest Base Camp is a journey that requires not only commitment and dedication but a razor focus of willpower and determination that one would need to get themselves through 4 - 8 hours of hiking each day.
To get to Everest Base Camp, one would need to fly into Lukla Airport, one of the most dangerous airports in the world (you will see why soon), trekked along Dudh Kosi River to the Sherpa capital of Namche Bazaar at 3,867m, before heading up to Dingboche (4,260 meters), Lobuche (4,930 meters), Gorakshep (5,140 meters), and eventually to Everest Base Camp (5,364 meters) all in a span of 7 days.
Instead of coming down the same way, I decided to go even further and added a side-trek to Gokyo Lakes (5,000 meters) which takes 3 extra days before heading back to Namche Bazar, Lukla, and eventually Kathmandu. In total, it would take me around 15 days, just in time for my birthday.
It was the ultimate challenge I set up for myself on my 30th birthday, a big day for anyone who knows the feeling of entering the infamous 30s age-range, and there is no better way to convince yourself that you are still young at heart than to do something crazy like trekking to Everest Base Camp solo 😁.
Flying into Lukla: One of the Most Dangerous Airports in the World
And so my journey to solo-trek the Everest Base Camp trail began. The first thing I had to do to prepare for the terrifying flight from Kathmandu to Lukla airport is to shed some weight off my backpack.
As I have mentioned earlier, Lukla is one of the most terrifying airports in the world. Due to its remote location atop a mountain at 2,860 meters above sea-level, surrounded by the foothills of the Himalayas, and with its limited area, the airport's runway had to be built on top of a small cliff.
The runway of Lukla Airport is 527 meters long and 30 meters wide with 11.7% gradient making it one of the shortest runways out there. This means that if the aircraft came in too fast, it would hit the mountain and if it is too slow, it would hit the cliff before it landed, which is why it is only accessible via helicopters and small aircraft.
The DHC-6 Twin Otter 300 aircrafts operated by Yeti Airlines which can carry up to 22 people has a luggage allowance of 10kg per person, and in order to meet that limit, we backpackers had to be quite creative than usual.
Since they only weigh your backpack at check-in, you can reduce weight by wearing some of the clothes you are taking and carrying on board the rest. That is exactly what I did, walking into the waiting area with my daypack and a crap ton of camera gear in a plastic bag like a scavenger.
My flight was scheduled at 9:30 AM but if you have been dealing with the weather in the mountains before, you know that time means nothing at all. It was mostly just a guestimate of the time an airplane can take off safely.
Due to several variables that are impossible to control, there is a high chance that the flight might get canceled. I knew deep down that I could get stranded at some point since the flight from Kathmandu to Lukla is notorious for that, often leaving people stranded for days and weeks some times.
As the hour hand ticked from 10 to 11 to 12, my heart started to sink. "My journey hasn't even begun yet and I am already stranded", I thought to myself, and then I shook the negative feeling off as I realized I have been prepared for this.
A friend once told me that "Nothing works the way it should be in Nepal. Prepare for the worst and leave wiggle rooms for when that happens". He told me a story of what it was like to be stranded in Kathmandu due to protestors shutting down airports preventing him from leaving the country.
With that horror story embedded deep in my mind, every time I planned a trip to Nepal, I always arrange a few buffer days in case something goes wrong. This trip was no different.
I decided not to book my flight out of Nepal and instead leave it until I get back from the mountain so that I do not have to stress out in such a situation.
By 2 PM, I finally heard the announcement I had been waiting for for 5 hours, my Yeti flight 153 was finally commencing and ready to take me to Lukla. I heaved a sigh of relief as I lined up to get on to a small double turbine aircraft among 20 other excited backpackers, fully geared up to a tee, ready to trek the Himalayas.
There are 3 tiny seats on each row and 20 something people packed inside the small aircraft. The ceiling of the aircraft was so low that not even the flight attendant could stand up straight as she went around checking and giving us candies for take-off.
Within minutes, as the howling engine shook the entire aircraft and the deafening turbines spun vigorously, we were off the ground. Like with any small turbine aircraft, it was impossible to hear anything, not even your own nervous breathing of anticipation and fear.
As the aircraft pierced the sky, the scenery from the rustic bustling cityscape of Kathmandu shifted to the rolling hills of the Nepalese mountains. Within 30 minutes, snow peaks started to appear out the aircraft's window. "Finally", I thought to myself. "This will be the best birthday gift I have ever given to myself."
As my excitement soared, the announcement came through the telecom of the open-door cockpit, we were about to land. As the aircraft pointed its head down towards the mountain, I got a glimpse of the infamous runway of Lukla airport.
I knew the runway was short but I didn't realize how short it actually was until I saw it with my own eyes. The runway was so short that I was able to see the entire length of the runway through the small cockpit windows.
My excitement turned into fear as I let out a little gasp as my hands thrust out and clutched the armrest. "If it comes into too hot, we hit the mountain, if not we hit the cliff", every scenario my mind could conjure, it did in a split second. My mind often loves when my mind wanders but this was not the time.
As the aircraft decelerated and descended down from the clouds to the runway, there was a moment of silence, a split second of quietness, and solitude, right before it hit the ground and I was brought back to reality as the aircraft's wheels glided along the runway, fighting against its own acceleration.
The aircraft shook violently while the spoilers on the wings activated reducing the aerodynamic lift and increasing the drag of the aircraft as it continued to stop itself before the aircraft came to a stop.
The whole landing procedure probably took a few minutes but in my mind, it felt like it took forever. As the aircraft came to a stop, I among other backpackers let out a giant sigh of relief. I did not realize I was sweating so much until I let go of my armrests and saw how sweaty my palms were.
Everything was Now on Me
As I got out of the aircraft, the wind struck my face again, but this time it was different. The air felt fresher, the aroma of the city was replaced by the rich vegetation of the Himalayas, and the sight of the colorful prayer flags flapping against the wind was a welcome change from the dusty streets of Kathmandu.
And there at that moment as I settled into my room at a teahouse called Everest Lodge in Lukla, reality struck again. It was the realization that from this point on, everything was on me. I would be responsible for my own life, for accidents, and mistakes from this point onward.
To be honest, to be realizing that you and you alone are responsible for your life from now on is both scary and rewarding at the same time. On the one hand, you can no longer blame anyone for your mistakes which is something we humans often do, intentionally or unintentionally otherwise, to make us feel better about ourselves.
On the other hand, relying on yourself and being able to accomplish what your mind is set out to do is one of the most rewarding feelings you can have in life. It is that intoxicating feeling of natural high on all the possibilities, accomplishments, and the sense of growth and progress that set me out on this journey to the top of the world.
The Disappearing Camaraderie on Hiking Trails
As I was sitting at a dining table in the common area of Everest Lodge hanging out with the owner of the place and plotting my itinerary to tackle the Everest Base Camp, a group of Italian hikers entered the room, sat at the large table and started ordering dinner.
One of the things that got me hooked on trekking mountains is the camaraderie you get from the people you meet along the way. It is the sense of sharing a goal, like we are all in this together, that helped people to connect with each other on a much deeper level than those you meet elsewhere.
I remember the first time I trekked in Nepal, it was the 7-days trek to the Annapurna Base Camp, and as I dragged myself body up the mountains, I met so many great people who had kept me going to the end.
A couple of Israeli hikers and me hiked together for the most parts of the trail, encouraging each other, arranging to be at the same teahouse, and they even went as far as to offer to share a room with me as the teahouses were running out of rooms that day.
Five years later and I still remember them to this day. This is why I enjoyed hiking so much. People living in society these days often focus too much on themselves. They forget to look around and see a potential friendship inside other strangers.
As the Italians walked in, I was certain that they would strike up a conversation with me and a few others sitting around the dinner table, just like my experience before, but as they came in, they chose to isolate themselves, sit on their own pre-arranged table, and spent that night ordering pizzas and socializing among themselves.
Apparently, they were in a large tour group and everything was pre-organized so there was no need for them to socialize with anyone except themselves. Unfortunately, This was going to be a recurring theme I would see repeatedly in many of the teahouses I would be staying throughout this journey.
The beauty and the camaraderie that made me fall in love with trekking in Nepal is now disappearing and being replaced by these large tour groups that occupied most of the dining tables in teahouses, leaving very little rooms for us independent hikers to exist.
That night, I retreated to my chamber early in the night as I completed my plan for the next day. My plan was to wake up as early as I could and trek a 2-days worth of trail (17.7km) all in one day from Lukla to Namche Bazar.
Early Birds Get the Worms
Most people often start their trek the same day they arrived in Lukla and stay overnight in Modjo before heading to the sherpa's capital of Namche Bazar but my flight was late and we arrived a little too late to start the hike, and so I decided to stay in Lukla that night.
6 AM and the alarms on my phone started buzzing. As I opened my eyes, confused as to where I was at first, the peaceful sound of birds chirping and prayer flags flapping to the morning breeze of the Himalayas brought me back to the real world. "Today is the day I start my journey", I thought to myself as I jumped out of bed, and prepared my gear.
I left a bunch of unimportant things with the owner of the guesthouse, had delicious fried eggs and masala coffee for breakfast and by 7 AM, I hauled up my 10kg backpack and was on my way to Namche Bazar.
Even though the sky was clear, it was still quite early and most of the trails would be under the mountain shade for the most part before midday. I started off walking through the quiet street of Lukla. It was early but many hikers were already preparing for the day.
Waking up early, as I have found, is a common trait among the mountain people like us. When the weather is this good in the morning, it would be unwise not to take advantage of it and start the day early. You never know when the weather would turn in the mountain, and that is why I am a morning person. We get the good weather and the whole trail for ourselves.
The trail started out with a descent into the valley as I sped through it, trying to create enough body heat to keep myself warm while hiking in the shade. It was a long easy first half of the day. The first 3 hours of the trail was somewhat easy, but with a destination that is 1,000m away vertically, I knew in my mind that the more I went down, the more I would have to hike up to gain altitude. My mind was ready but my body definitely didn't get the memo.
As I passed through Phakding at record speed, the sun started to come out a little from the mountain. From the empty trail that I experienced in the early morning, it had now turned into a nature highway, with porters and their livestock flocking along the trail, trying to make their ways to Namche Bazar.
Sharing the Trail with Animals
Trails along the Everest Base Camp are often quite large as the trail became more and more commercialized over the years. There were over 40,000 tourists in 2019 traversing this trail alone in Nepal. As more and more people travel the route, businesses in the Sherpa's capital of Namche Bazar also grew, and in order to sustain the booming tourism industry at 3,800 meters above sea-level, supplies and logistics are the lifeblood of the economy up there.
These porters and their mules handle the logistic part of this economy. Many times on my way to Namche Bazar, the trail often came to a complete halt as the porters slowly led their livestock along one of the many suspension bridges across the valley one-by-one.
As an observer and an outsider, it was fascinating to see the organization and management required to put this livestock in line, but as a hiker though, it can be quite dangerous sharing the trail with several mules strapped with 2 large gas tanks on their sides.
As with most animals tamed in this way, when they walk, they are often unaware of the objects they are carrying and so when they pass you, it is your responsibility to dodge whatever that comes your way.
I learned this the hard way a few times when I was in Nepal 5 years ago as there were several occasions I got bumped by gas-tank-equipped mules as they were climbing up the trail with me. Thankfully, I was on the mountainside of the trail when that happened. Imagine what would happen if I was on the cliffside of the trail. That is why whenever I am sharing a trail with an animal, I will always stick to the mountainside no matter what.
As I left Phakding, seeing Modjo on the horizon, I rushed on trying to make it in time for lunch but as I was hiking on a flat sandy trail along the cabbage field, I felt a sudden thrust behind my back so fast, I almost flew up into the air. It was one of the leading gas-tank mules, that ran forward from the pack hitting right on my backpack, and threw me off the trail. I was able to land on my 2 feet after it happened.
I was bewildered and a little shook up as I gained my senses and stared toward the porter in charge of that flock. He stared right back at me, unsympathetic, almost as if he was blaming me for being in the way, and not a single apology was ushered from his mouth. He continued on as nothing happened and disappeared into one of the villages before Modjo.
As I was having lunch in Modjo, the thought of that little accident came back to me. I was pretty lucky considering that I was hit by a running mule on a pretty wide trail nowhere near a cliff. It was a hard hit but my backpack absorbed most of the force allowing me to be able to recover mid-air and landed without a scratch.
Here is the thing about nature, you can never really plan 100% for anything when you are hiking or trekking in the mountains. Whenever you share a trail with animals like this, things might go south even if you have taken all the precautions there is. Things just happened for no reason.
That was the case for me. There was no way I would be able to avoid that incident, heck, I didn't even know it was coming until I was already off the ground, but at least it didn't end up a total disaster, and that, I am gladful for.
The Ascension to the Sherpa's Capital
By 1 PM, I was already out of Modjo and on my way to Namche Bazar. From Modjo, it is another 1 hour of easy stroll and then a 2-hours of an extremely steep climb before I would be in the vicinity of the final area of comfort that is Namche Bazar, the last big town before complete isolation from civilization.
As I had already been hiking for 6 hours that day, the last 2 hours of an steep climb that came after I arrived at one of the landmarks of the trail, the double suspension bridges named Hillary Bridge after Edmund Hillary, was no easy task.
I was starting to feel my 10kg backpack weighing me down a bit as I strode on, one step at a time. There were a lot of people along the trail now at this point as everyone is scrambling their ways up the dusty trail to Namche Bazar.
The trail zig-zagged through the forested hills, as I saw more and more people, resting, catching their breaths along the way. I continued on as I often do, always moving, never rest for long to keep my engine going, and focus on my footing, not my destination.
After hiking for several years now, I have come to realize that everyone has their own hiking pace. Some people might go fast and rest often, some might go slow but never rest. I have come to learn that I am in the latter camp as I found it easier for me to manage my breathing that way, which is extremely important when it comes to hiking in high altitudes like this trail.
That is why I like hiking alone. I do not feel the pressure to follow or to slow down for others when I hike. I just do what I do best, pacing myself out until I reach my destination, eventually.
The People of the Mountain
After 3 hours of scrambling my way up the trail, I had finally reached the end of the trail, or so I thought. Right before I entered Namche Bazar, I saw a long queue and several backpackers sitting and waiting in a hut of what looked like a checkpoint. This was where every hiker has to register before one can proceed.
As the line was quite long when I arrived, I decided to take a rest a little, dropped my backpack to the ground, and I immediately felt like I was a 100 kg lighter. It was a good feeling, not having to carry my backpack for the time being.
As a bunch of us were lining up to be registered, we all started sharing our itineraries with each other. As I had come to learn, many people were doing the Everest Base Camp, some were doing Everest Base Camp and Gokyo Lakes as I did, and a few were tackling the Three Passes Trek, which is a longer and tougher trail that takes you to both Everest Base Camp and Gokyo Lakes but through 3 of the high passes.
That was the first time I had heard about the Three Passes route. I would be lying if I said I had come prepared on this trip but if you know me, planning is not what I often do.
As I talked more and more with these hikers, I had come to enjoy their brief company. There was a hippie couple from Australia whom I found were 2 of the best listeners I met on this trip. They were extremely chill and listened to everyone's stories with open hearts.
There was also a Singaporean guy who had recently completed Annapurna Circuit, another 15-days trek in the Annapurna region, a few days prior before coming to tackle Everest Base Camp. If only I had the same energy as he had 😅.
The feeling of camaraderie I felt many years ago swept through me like a warm summer breeze. This felt right. This was the mountain culture, where everyone is everyone's friends by default, where everyone said hi to everyone. It felt like the place I fall in love 5 years ago again.
After 30 minutes of waiting in line, we went separate ways as we continued up for about 10 minutes before we arrived at the Sherpa's capital of Namche Bazar.
The Sherpa's Capital of Namche Bazar
Namche Bazar is the main trading city of over 1,500 people on a sloping hill at 3,440 above sea-level within the Khumbu region. You can find mountaineering shops selling knock-off Northface jackets, you can find a French bakery and an Italian cafe, you can even find a hair salon. They even have a working ATM which had saved my life as you will soon see in a few days.
One of the most dangerous things about hiking in high altitude is the risk of getting AMS or acute mountain sickness, a negative health effect of high altitude caused by the rapid exposure to the low amount of oxygen from being in a high altitude environment such as what I was experiencing.
AMS does not pick its victims. Even the fittest of us all might get it one day if they are not careful. The key to keeping this in control is to slowly expose yourself to low oxygen gradually over time so that your body can acclimatize.
Since I was just coming from Kathmandu the day before which stood at 1,400m eters above sea-level, slept at 2860 meters in Lukla, and hiked the entire day to 3,440 meters to Namche Bazar. I was gaining altitude a little too fast and it was wise for me to stop in Namche Bazar for 2 nights to acclimatize before heading further up.
As I settled into the Khumbu Lodge teahouse, I got to talk with the owner of the lodge. He is a big fan of Thailand and always visited the country during winter months when the town is closed. He was a quiet but friendly man who runs his lodge and his customers like a family.
We talked about the highs and lows of the tourism industry up in 3,000 meters above sea-level, the shifts and changes the city was undergoing due to the explosive growth of tourism in recent years. How he enjoyed going on holidays in Thailand, away from the freezing winter of the Himalayas. He was fun to talk to and was able to give me great insights into the people living in Namche Bazar.
At dinner time, as I was expected, many of the large tables were occupied by tour groups, and only a few tables were left for those of us solo hikers. I was seated with a German girl that night and as her blonde hair brushed up against her red sunburned cheek, I got to talking to her.
As I had come to learn through her stories, she did not take the plane up to Lukla as I did. She hiked from Jiri, a town half-way between Kathmandu and Lukla, all the way to Lukla on foot. It took her 2 weeks!
As if that wasn't awesome enough, she continued on and shared that she would be doing the Three Passes trail, the hardest route one can take to Everest Base Camp. "Damn, this woman is awesome", I thought to myself. If only I had the gut to do the Three Passes as she was.
As each of us was about to retreat to our own rooms, we decided not to say goodbye that night but instead, we said "see you later", as if we would cross paths again somehow in the near future. You never know when it comes to travel friends like her. We might meet each other again in 3 months' time in some other cool places, who knows.
Right before she went to bed, she asked me if what I was wearing was all I had. The night in the Himalayas is cold, even more so than during the day when you are sweating from hiking, and as I was sitting there with my t-shirt under a fleece jacket under a bright orange light-weight Columbia outer shell, I nodded reluctantly.
"You better get another jacket before you leave Namche Bazar because it just gonna get colder from here on out", she commented and I nodded silently as she turned back and walked out from the dining room.
To be honest, I was a little skeptical at her suggestion at first as my ego told me that I knew what I was doing, but as my ego deflated, my reasoning reminded me of the one fact I learned after years hiking in the mountains, that no one mountain is the same.
I may have hiked the Andes, the Upper Caucasus, and the Himalayas before, but all those trips went well only at the mercy of mother nature. Things could go wrong at any moment in the mountains, and it would be unwise not to heed the warning and prepare for the worst.
The next morning, I went out and bought myself a down jacket and a pair of warm padded long pants which would come in handy very soon as I gained elevation, as she had foretold.
The Culture of the Sherpas
On my acclimatization day in Namche Bazar, I decided to spend the day hiking around the region, checking out the mountain villages of Khunde, home to a hospital founded by Sir Edmund Hillary and Khumjung, where he also commissioned a school.
This was a great chance for me to learn more about the culture of the people in this region. Both villages are located on the slopes of the Khumjung Valley at about 3,800 meters - 4,000 meters above sea-level making it a perfect day trip to acclimatize my body with the ever-increasing altitude.
I set off as early as 8 AM that day just as the roosters crowed while the sun came out of the mountain. I went up north, climbing out of Namche Bazar effortlessly. It was the first time that I did not have to carry my full backpack while hiking. It sure was a welcome change as I continued to have a love-hate relationship with my backpack throughout my journey.
The ground was damp and the grass glistened in the early morning dew as I stepped foot on the trail towards Khunde. It took only 2 hours before I arrived at the gate of Khunde village and greeted by the Eyes of Wisdom, a symbol of wisdom and compassion that are seen often on a stupa in Nepal.
The Eyes of Wisdom and a curly question-mark-like sign that symbolized the nose is a common sign one often sees on stupas and temples in Nepal. The Eyes of Wisdom represents the unity of all things existing in the world as well as the path to enlightenment through the teachings of Buddha.
The town streets were quiet but as I marched down the dusty trail passed the white stupa and into the town center, I started to notice a slight hum of sound emanating from the west side of the village. The closer I walked into town, the louder the humming sound got.
I continued west, following the curious sound, and as it got louder and louder, it became clear that the mysterious sound was, in fact, a chant that was emanating from a monastery located on top of a mountain west of the village.
I climbed up to the monastery and went inside discretely to see what the sound was all about. As I entered the wooden prayer hall filled with colorful prayer flags strapped on the pillars that were supporting the temple, it became clear to me what the sound was.
It was the sound of monks chanting as part of their morning ceremony. On one side, 4 monks were chanting from the Sanskrit Buddhist manuscripts, while on the opposite side, 2 monks were playing the Dunchen, a traditional Tibetan long horn often used in Tibetan Buddhist ceremonies.
While the monks chant echoed the wooden hall, the bass sound that resembled the singing sound of elephants produced from the Dunchen that was so powerful and deep that it shook me to my core, and a percussion sprinkled throughout the ceremony, it created one of the most peaceful sounds I have ever had the opportunity to witness.
As I walked out of the monastery on to the balcony, I looked at the landscape surrounding the valley. The clouds were covering where Mount Everest was supposed to be but as I gazed along the horizon, I noticed a uniquely shaped peak towering over the rest of the valley. As the chants ramped up in the background, I asked one of the monks sitting by the balcony what that peak is called, and he looked out into the horizon as I did and said, "That's the Ama Dablam, my friend".
Ama Dablam is a 6,812 meters high mountain peak so unique with its soaring ridges and steep faces, it is often referred to as the "Matterhorn of the Himalayas". This mountain peak, as I would have come to realize, is a peak that would become a common sight throughout the journey as it dominated the skyline for several days to come.
After spending a few hours walking around the peaceful Khunde village, I continued on the dusty trail along the foothill of the valley east from Khunde where the twin village of Khumjung is located.
Khumjung, a heritage site located at an elevation of 3,790 meters above sea-level, is home to the colorful Khumjung Monastery and a school built by Sir Edmund Hillary for over 1900 people living in this village.
I did not stay very long in Khumjung as I spent the good part of the day witnessing the morning chants of the monks in Khunde and as the day passed, thick clouds that were looming over Mount Everest a few hours ago, started rolling into the valley.
From my experience, when the clouds come, it is time to go. My mission to see Mount Everest for the first time that day failed but for the most part, it was a great acclimatization day. The weather was good up until late afternoon which was more than I could have asked for and being able to witness the morning chants of the monks was something that would be with me for the longest time.
Even though it was supposed to be a slow day, the whole ordeal took almost 6 hours and since I planned to continue on to the next town the next day, I decided to end the day a little earlier and went to bed at 8 PM.
Meeting the Thai Hikers
Usually, by the time you arrive in Namche Bazar, you should be able to see Mt. Everest from the trail to Khunde and Khumjung but since it was cloudy the day before, I was unable to see the tallest peak in the world while I was in Namche Bazar.
I sprung out of bed at 6 AM that morning, started packing all my stuff, and went straight to the dining room for a quick breakfast. Like every morning, the dining room in teahouses was often jam-packed as people, preparing for the day.
As I was sitting at the table by the window eating my delicious omelet and a masala coffee, a group of Asian hikers asked if they could sit at the same table. "Sure, grab a seat", I told them and they excitedly proceed and went back to their conversation. The language they were speaking sounded oddly familiar from afar and as they sat next to me and started conversing, my brain registered.
They were my fellow countrymen and women from Thailand! I started conversing with them as they were taken by complete surprise. You see, depending on the environment I was in, I always get mistaken for being a local, even in Thailand, where many people thought I was Chinese or for example, on this trip in Nepal, other Nepalese thought I was one of the porters, which was kind of hilarious.
As I had come to find out, the Thais were all teachers in their mid to late 30s and they were able to take a week off work during the school holidays and they decided to come to Namche Bazar. Since they do not have the luxury of time as I did, their plan was only to hike to see Mt. Everest from Namche Bazar and back.
"Why don't they take more days off?", you are probably wondering. You see, most Asians who have jobs do not have as many days off as the European counterparts. Most companies operating in Asia only allow 8 - 10 paid annual leaves, unlike in Germany where you might get around 30 - 40 days per year.
This required us Thais to be a little more conservative about the days we go on vacation. Since these 4 do not have the luxury as I did and they still managed to come all the way to Namche Bazar, they have nothing but respect from me.
After a small exchange of contacts and a mandatory selfies of my countrymen and women, I said goodbye to them and to the owner of the guesthouse before reluctantly hurled up my backpack, and I was on my way to the next town, Tengboche.
My First Sight of Everest
As I was hiking up the Namche Bazar's hill to get to the trailhead, a black diamond peak with its iconic jet stream pierced out from the mountainscape along the horizon. As I continued on, I was startled by the sight of maybe around 20 people standing straight along the trail, staring at that black diamond peak in wonder. At that moment, I knew exactly what it was. It was Mt. Everest.
I stood there for a good 5 minutes as the peak pierced the blue clear sky, showing its dominance even to the formidable Ama Dablam peak. It was the first time I had ever seen Mt. Everest with my own eyes. I had to nudge myself out of the trance to remind myself to get some photos before making my way forward to Tengboche.
The trail started out with a slope down from Namche Bazar along the side of the mountains with the view of Everest and Ama Dablam looming behind always reminding me of how close and how far I was at the same time. For about an hour, I was walking along the mountainside until I arrived in Sanasa where the trail continued northeast mostly through thick forest.
It was another hour until I arrived at Phunkiu Thanga where I decided to stop for lunch. Right before I arrive in Phunkiu Thanga, I saw another checkpoint where I was to pay 500 NPR at a fixed cost for any accommodation I would be staying in Tengboche on the spot, which was something new to me and this would be repeated until Everest Base Camp.
At first, I thought it was a new rule to prevent teahouses from undercutting each other with discounted prices but the more I researched about it after I got back from the trip, the more I realized that it was the sherpas taking the issue into their own hands and the checkpoint was not officially sponsored by the government.
Basically, right before I entered these villages, I would pay a fixed rate price for a coupon where I could then redeem it at any teahouses in the village to get a bed. It is a sound strategy but the price varied too much from village to village. It was 300 NPR per night in Namche Bazar, 500 NPR in Tengboche, and over 700 NPR in Lobuche, which begs the question, who came up with the price if it wasn't the government.
Anyhow, I followed the rule, confusingly as it may be, and continued on my journey from Phunkiu Thanga. From there, the trail shot straight up for almost 3 hours before I arrived at an opening where Tengboche is located.
Visiting the Hometown of Tenzing Norgay
Tengboche is a small mountain village located at 3,867 metres above sea-level, it is home to one of the largest Buddhist temple in the area, the Tengboche temple. Tenzing Norgay, the first people to ever summitted Mt. Everest with Edmund Hillary, was born in this village and it is said that he was ordained as a monk here when he was young.
Due to its importance, there is no better place to built the largest monastery in the region than in Tengboche. Tengboche is located on top of a hill at an open area where one could see a sweeping panoramic view of the mountainscape of the Himalayas. From Tengboche, you could see all the well-known peaks, Tawache (6,495 meters), Everest (8,848 meters), Nuptse (7,861 meters), Lhotse (8,516 meters), Ama Dablam (6,170 meters), and Thamserku (6,608 meters), all in one quick glance.
I made quite a good time that day, arriving in Tengboche by lunchtime and as I settled into Tash Delek, my teahouse, I decided to go on a walk a little and check out the most popular tourist attractions in the village, Tengboche Monastery.
The monastery was built way back in 1924 but it had been renovated several times due to an earthquake in 1936 and a fire that broke out due to an electrical short circuit in 1989. Unfortunately, many of the precious old scriptures, murals, and wood carvings were destroyed during that devastating fire.
Thankfully, due to the influx of hikers and mountaineers in recent times, the temple received many donations from all around the world and it was rebuilt back to its previous glory and filled with many newly commissioned artwork.
It is hard to describe how beautiful the temple is and so I am going to let a quote by John Hut, one of the first mountaineers to visit the monastery to describe the magnificence of Tengboche Temple:
"Thyangboche must be one of the most beautiful places in the world. The height is well over 12,000 feet (3,600+ meters). The Monastery buildings stand upon a knoll at the end of a big spur, which is flung out across the direct axis of the Imja river. Surrounded by satellite dwellings, all quaintly constructed and oddly medieval in appearance, it provides a grandstand beyond comparison for the finest mountain scenery that I have ever seen, whether in the Himalaya or elsewhere."
Finding My People
Since it was quite a short day of trekking, all things considered, I decided to spend some time filming some of the footage I'd be using for my travel video, Never Everest.
As I was doing a handheld hyperlapse technique where one would have to take one step, shoot a photo, and take another until a set endpoint, and once done, I would combine all the photos into a moving timelapse or as it is known in the industry as hyperlapse, I was approached by a curious Scottish couple who were bewildered by what I was doing.
I explained to them and showed them the result and as we got the talking, we found out that we were staying at the same teahouse and so we decided to hang out for the rest of the evening.
The guy was a hilarious man, always making nasty jokes (fart jokes more so than anything 😂) and a laugh that even the yak would run away from, and his wife, a blonde woman who was as fast to make jokes as to ridiculed her husband's child-like demeanor. Both were in their late 30s to early 40s, and they were nothing but a delight to hang out with.
At the cozy dining room of Tash Delek, the scene from Lukla where big tour groups would come in occupied the entire place, and did not socialized with anyone repeated itself again. Everyone was staying in their own group and none of them were willing to socialize with anyone outside of their own rag-tag team. It was a shame to see that one of the best parts about hiking had been reduced to this.
No matter, I had already found my people within the Scottish couple as we continued to make each other laugh all night in the midst of the social isolation that had been happening in that teahouse.
We retreated to our bedrooms at about 10 PM after laughing our asses off the whole evening. Again, we did not say goodbye to each other as we knew we would meet again along the trail, and we did, several more times in the next few days.
Altitude Sickness at Four Thousand Meters and Beyond
The next morning, as the sun shined upon the Ama Dablam peak, I spun out of bed like every morning, had my morning coffee and an omelet fix, and set out as early as 7 AM.
The trail was still mostly under the shade and as I was approaching the 4,000 meters elevation, the morning cold was started to numb my face a little and so I was out in full winter gear hiking out of Tengboche towards Dingboche (4,410 meters).
This was probably one of the shortest days of the entire journey. The trail climbed gradually as I continue to move northward. By the time I arrived in Dingboche, it was only around 11 AM. The entire walk took me about 3 hours, which is probably a good thing, as if you have done high-altitude hiking before, you would know the risk of catching the AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) if you are not careful.
The golden rule is to not gain more than 400 meters in elevation per day if you are already above 4,000 meters. You can hike up more in one day but you will need to come back and sleep at an elevation not more than 400 meters from where you were sleeping before. Unless, of course, you spend a day acclimatizing which I planned to do in Dingboche.
I have always followed that rule and I never once get AMS, well now severely at least. The key is to take it slow and let your body do its own things. Do not rush through thinking that you are fine. The symptoms usually come at night when you are sleeping and it can turn a healthy you the day before into a sack of potato the next day, so do not risk it.
I decided to settle in at Snowlion Lodge just because they had a Belgian bakery attached to it. As I was already 5-days into my journey, I was seeking a little comfort and so instead of going out for a hike, I ended up spending most of the day at the Belgian bakery eating cheesecakes and drinking a cup of Illy Italian coffee, not knowing that I was obliterating my budget until it was too late.
The 2 days I spent in Dingboche was pretty low-key as I chose to rest instead of going out and hike some short trails as I did during my acclimatization day in Namche Bazar.
I did learn a lot about the altitude sickness though since at this altitude, you are at a higher risk to get one than before if you are not careful and the teahouse I was staying gave me a leaflet provided by the HRA (Himalayan Rescue Association) explaining the symptoms, how it affects your body, and what to do if you or your friend have AMS.
Knowing the symptoms of AMS and tackling it early on could mean life or death to hikers as when you have severe AMS or worst HAPE (high-altitude pulmonary edema) where your lungs accumulated fluid over time impairing gas exchange and may lead to respiratory system failure and death, you won't be able to even walk yourself as you will have trouble breathing and coughing blood.
It is said that if you take a person from sea-level and drop them off at the top of Mt. Everest, they would die in a few minutes as their body failed to adapt in time. As you can see, AMS is no joke. It is best to listen to people's suggestions and spend a few days acclimatizing before heading to Everest Base Camp.
I spent that day and the next, pondering about this as I cozied myself up in the bakery in Dingboche. Even though there was not much to do, almost to the point of boredom, I did welcome the change of pace.
Living in a city, and traveling constantly can take its toll on our body and mind and by having a day of doing nothing but stare at the rumbling mountain peaks blowing off by jet streams, it was a change I really needed at the time.
After 2 nights in Dingboche, I was ready to move on. As I packed up my frienemy that was my 10kg backpack, I swung it up over my shoulders, and all of a sudden, pain from my shoulder shot up into my nociceptor (pain receptor). I shrieked from the pain before dropping my backpack down to the floor.
With my hands, I started to trail along the shoulder and found out that my shoulders were bruised up from the excessiveness of carrying a backpack for many hours per day. There was nothing I could do than to carry on so I powered through the pain and continued to hike to the next village, Lobuche.
The Everest Disaster of 1996
Lobuche is a mountain settlement at an elevation of a whooping 4,940 meters above sea-level. Coming from Dingboche, I had gained about 600 meters of elevation which was a lot but with the help of an acclimatization day a day before, my body was able to adapt quite well to the altitude... or so I thought.
The trail out of Dingboche was relatively easy with a bit of up and down but the moment I approached Dukla, the trail shot straight up so steep I was unable to see where it ended. As it was 4,600 meters above sea-level in Dukla, breathing was becoming more like a chore.
For every step I took to climb that godforsaken hill, I had to breathe into the maximum capacity my lung could handle before breathing out and take another step. Every step I took required both determination and a ton of tricks, telling myself that the top was around the corner, which it wasn't.
It took about one hour of doing that repeatedly before I arrived on a plateau. As I gazed up through sweats in my eyes, the multiple blurred triangular shapes in front of me were starting to come into shape. It was a stack of stones with prayer flags wrapped around it and in the middle, there is a name plaque with 2 Sanskrit letters on the side, and a name in English that reads "Scott Fischer". It was a memorial for climbers who had lost their lives in the Himalayas.
"Scott Fischer" is a name I have heard before. It is a name of a mountaineering guide, together with the name "Rob Hall" that appear a lot in one of my favorite non-fiction book of all time, Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer.
The book Into Thin Air is a recount story of the chilling Everest Disaster that happened in 1996 by Jon Krakauer, a writer on assignment from Outside Magazine who accompanied the team led by Rob Hall and another 11 people that perished on 10 - 11 May 1996 after attempting to summit Mt. Everest in 1996.
The book highlighted the event in a gruesome detail from all the small errors that may seem inconsequential like a minor rivalry between Rob Hall and Scott Fischer team to the bigger problems like the unnecessary delay of rope -fixing that all contributed to the perfect storm that resulted in 12 lives.
It is one of the best nonfiction books I'd read and it did a good job at shedding lights on the people who were caught up in that situation, the things that went wrong in detail, and how hope and compassion played a role in the rescue mission that would have otherwise been forgotten.
As I arrived in Lobuche and retreated to my teahouse's dining room in the evening, the same situation played out with big tour groups occupying most of the available tables. I wasn't feeling very social that day, so I decided to reside in the small library corner they had at the teahouse.
I glanced along the small bookshelf to see if there would be any interesting book I kill time with and then I saw "Everest: Mountain without Mercy", a book that highlighted the same 1996 event but from a different perspective. My experience at the memorial in the afternoon, seeing all the names of those who had lost their lives in the Himalayas, flashed back in my mind once again.
In the "Into Thin Air" book by Jon Krakauer, there was a mention of the IMAX team that was shooting a documentary at the same time of the disaster. When the disaster happened, they decided to drop everything and became part of the rescue team and this book was their recollection of the event which gave me a perspective I did not know about before.
Together with its detail documentation of the courageous rescue team, the book also came with stunning photos from the mountain, and a detail explanation of the mountain's features that I'd be observing with my own eyes the next day.
The more I read about it, the more I feel both humbled and excited at the prospect of reaching Everest Base Camp the next day and see all the infamous mountain feature like the forever-moving Khumbu Icefall, that I'd been reading about for the longest time.
That night, I retreated to my bedroom at around 10 PM and as I tried to sleep, I started to feel a little light-headed. I slept anyway but I woke up many times that night, finding myself drinking so much more water than I used to as my throat became dried and soar. My runny nose had become incredibly intolerable. I powered through it and try to get as much rest as I could before the big day.
As it turned out, this would be the beginning of the many terrible nights I would be having for many days to come. I was starting to see how sleeping at such an altitude of 4,000m+ was taking a toll on my body, especially my respiratory system. The dry air of the Himalayas I had been breathing in and out for the past 6 days were the reason why I would have come to learn about the dreaded Khumbu Cough, a symptom of prolonged coughing caused by the low humidity and temperatures associated with high altitudes.
The Day I Reached Everest Base Camp
As I dragged my body out of bed from a half-awake half-asleep night at almost 5,000m above sea-level, I had breakfast and slowly packed my bag as usual but this time, the heaviness of my backpack was no longer an issue.
It was either my body was so used to pain that it became numb or the pain was subsided by all the adrenaline rushing in from the thought of finally reaching Everest Base Camp. Either way, I was already tackling the trail by 8 AM.
Driven by my excitement, it took me only 3 hours to climb to the final frontier settlement before Everest Base Camp where I'd be spending the night, Gorakshep. Standing at 5,164m above sea-level, it was so cold in Gorakshep that there was no running water. The only way to get water to perform simple tasks like brushing your teeth was to buy bottled water.
No matter, I had my eye set for reaching Everest Base Camp before the day ended, and so I left most of the unnecessary stuff at my teahouse and continued onward to Everest Base Camp.
Not a single vegetation I realized, as I looked around the vast gravel trail on my way to Everest Base Camp. As I was approaching the trailhead, I saw a small bright orange sign direction sign with edges painted in bright red. It said "Way to Everest. B. C." and a red arrow to the right. That was the moment I came to the realization that I had finally made it. After 6 days of constantly hiking, I was about to accomplish a life goal I had set ages ago. It was finally happening.
The trail consisted of a lot of ups and downs but nothing would stop me from reaching the base camp now and as I hiked up slowly but surely, the sight of the infamous Khumbu Ice Fall came into view. One of the deadliest features of Mt. Everest, the Khumbu Ice Fall is a forever-moving glacier that moves in such speed that large crevasses can open and seracs can collapse at any moment with little warning.
This deadly feature of Mt. Everest is the first obstacle many mountaineers had to go through to reach the top of the world. Seeing it with my own eyes both left me extremely humbled by mother nature and also respect those who had managed to navigate it successfully.
After seeing the Khumbu Ice Fall, it was only about 30 minutes until I arrived at the Everest Base Camp. As I was in November, there was no camp per se as most people who were attempting to summit Mt. Everest usually does it in Spring, not Autumn. The only thing that signified that I was at the Everest Base Camp was the pile of rocks covered in colorful prayer flag, and a small black plaque that said "Everest Base Camp - 5364 masl.".
As I was standing at the Camp, I looked up and was having a hard time at recognizing which peak was Mt. Everest, and as more people arrived at the camp, we all both asked the same questions until a Mexican man from Saltillo pointed to the black diamond peak, tucked away behind the towering Nuptse, Lhotse, and Hillary Peak.
As each of us took turns taking photos of the Everest Base Camp and the stunning mountain peaks that surrounded us, we made our way back slowly to Gorakshep, feeling accomplished but deep down, we all know that the hard part had yet to come.
Near Gorakshep, there is another mountain called Kala Patthar, a somewhat ugly giant dune full of huge boulders and rocks at 5,550m, the highest point on the Everest Base Camp trail, which would give me a better vantage point of Mt. Everest, Mt. Lhotse, and Mt. Nuptse as well as a panoramic view of the landscape around Everest Base Camp and it is the mountain I would be tackling first thing the next morning.
Sleeping at Gorakshep was not a pleasant experience, to say the least. The altitude made it hard to breath normally and with the temperature as low as -15°C, you won't be able to sleep without wearing all your jackets and burying your body under thick layers of blankets, but when you do that, you won't be able to breathe that dry air properly.
My night was plagued with extremely dry coughs, feeling hot and cold, and constantly moving around trying to fall back to sleep every time. It was a waking nightmare as I tried my best to sleep that night in Gorakshep and as expected the runny nose finally made its way to my throat causing me to cough constantly, a sign of the dreaded Khumbu Cough that would eventually plague me for the rest of my time in Nepal and a few months after.
The Highest I Had Ever Been
Everest Base Camp was done but the hardest part of this whole journey had yet to come as there were still Gokyo Lakes, this Kala Patthar mountain that I had to climb that day, and the fact that I still had to go back to Lukla, I did not feel like relaxing quite yet.
Kala Patthar is a popular side-trek to reach the highest point in the trail standing at 5,550 meters above sea-level. This would be the highest I had ever been so far. Before, the highest I had ever been was when summited Nevado Mateo, a 5,200 meters snow-capped peak in Peru, and I did it with full mountaineering gear.
This time, it was different. As my body deteriorated the more I slept at this altitude, the harder it was for me to breathe and continue my journey. I was feeling completely fine when I woke up and hit the trail. As the trail progress from Gorakshep, it shot up so steep that you couldn't even see where the summit is. Plateau after plateau, as I hiked slowly up the dusty trail of Kala Patthar, I started to wonder if the trail would ever end.
The trail wasn't particularly inspiring as it consisted of just large rocks and boulders and all you can see was just desolation all around with zero vegetation but the moment I arrived at the summit, and I gazed up at elusive Mt. Everest, all the sweat and tiredness of 7 days of hiking dissipated. It was the moment I saw the true scale of Mt. Everest.
The black diamond peak with jetstream blowing off its peak pierced the sky towering all its neighbors. There was no place in the world that you could see such a formidable force of nature like this, from seeing the true scale of the Khumbu Ice Fall to the intimidating South Face of Mt. Everest, this was the moment I was waiting for. It was the feeling of accomplishment from getting there all by myself and the humbleness that came with standing among these beasts of mountains.
This was the highest point I had ever stood on at 5,550 meters above sea-level, and it was an accomplishment I was very proud of. Even though I would have loved to cherish that rewarding feeling a little longer, I had to continue on as I had to continue onward to Gokyo Lakes and I another 4 hours trek to Dzongla ahead of me.
I rushed down the trail and to my surprised I was at Gorakshep a little earlier than I thought. It took me almost 2 hours to get up that trail and I completely did it in 45 minutes on my way down. That is how steep the trail to Kala Patthar was.
Remember the middle-age Scottish couple I met in Tengboche? I accidentally met them again on my way down from Kala Patthar as they were making their way up. Being around always made me laugh at it was the case again here as well as they called me "the crazy Thai guy with jeans and improper shoes" 😂 and I accepted that title proudly. We tried exchanging our contact as they were curious to see the Never Everest video I would be making of the trip. Unfortunately, I was unable to find them on Facebook and I have not seen them ever since.
Such are the ways of the life of a traveler that I came to really loathe. The amount of all the good people you met along the way that slipped through your fingers was an unfortunate byproduct of the lifestyle I chose to live my life by. It was a sacrifice I happily made back in 2012, fast forward to this day, I am not so sure if I really enjoy the "saying goodbye and never meeting again" part that much.
As I packed my stuff up at Gorakshep and prepare to make my way back to Lobuche before lunch, I realized that I had one other pressing problem other than my deteriorating cough, I was running out of money. Days of splurging on Italian coffee and cheesecakes at Dingboche had finally caught up to me.
I realized that I had the budget left only for the 3 nights of accommodation and a few Rupees spared for food, which was by far the most expensive part of trekking in Nepal. There is an ATM at Namche Bazar that sometimes works but that was still 5 days away and I would not be able to reach it in time at my current speed.
The anxiety of running out of money in a foreign land, which had happened to me on several occasions (Iran came to mind) was starting to creep at me, but I had a more pressing issue at hand, I had to make it to Dzongla first, and so I decided to brush off that anxiety for the time being and pressed on.
It took me around 2 hours to get back to Lobuche, ate a quick dish of fried momos for lunch to save cost, and continued on down. Right before arriving back at the memorial I saw a few days ago, the trail forked to the right. Instead of heading back to Dingboche, I turned right on to the forked trail and headed towards Dzongla (4,830 meters), where I would be spending the night.
It was around mid-afternoon as I bore the weight of the sun's heat on my back as I walked along a tiny cliffside trail. The trail from Lobuche to Dzongla had me stopped a little too often than I would like to admit. The sweeping panoramic view of the valley that you trekked through a few days ago seem so little from up here. It was probably one of the prettiest trails I had seen so far.
The trail was smaller than usual as it hugged along a slope of the mountainside. Most people often go for Everest Base Camp and they called it a day, and so not as many people take this trail and it was apparent as I was alone most of the time as I leisurely hiked through the valley, taking my time to enjoy the scenery for once.
The trail was longer than I anticipated and I was taking it a little too leisurely as the sun tucked behind the mountain and the evening clouds started rolling into the valley. With clouds coming in covering the clear blue sky I was lucky to have that day, the temperature started to sharply drop and my Khumbu cough started to flare up.
At around 4 PM, the fog was completely covering the trail and I had only the visibility of around 50 meteres. I approached the last hill before going up to Dzongla, I started to find it harder and harder for me to hike at a steady speed as I started coughing dryly every few minutes.
I eventually arrived at the teahouse in Dzongla at around 5 PM in a somewhat confusing state as I somehow dropped my sunglasses somewhere during the Khumbu cough episode I had before arriving in the village. The next day was going to be one of the hardest days of this journey as I was to tackle Chola Pass (5,420 meters), one of the Three Passes, and part of this hike, I would be hiking on a melting glacier without a crampon.
Due to this very feature of the trail, I was told to wake up at 4:30 AM the next day to start the hike by 5 AM so that I would arrive at the glacier before 9 AM to cross it safely.
If you think walking on a glacier without a crampon was already challenging enough, try walking it when the sun is fully out, melting the very ground you are trying to walk on. Apparently, the more into the day, the harder it would become for me to hike the icy glacier as the ice would start melting causing it to become even more technical.
I took that suggestion to heart and went straight to bed at 9 PM after spending my dwindling budget on a small dinner that day. Ever since my sleeping pattern was disrupted in Lobuche, I was unable to have a good night's sleep since. The night often consisted of me waking up every few hours coughing my lungs out and swinging my arms around confusingly in the dark, trying to find my water.
I eventually powered through the night as the sound of people waking shook the entire wooden structure of the teahouse. The wind had finally calmed down and I was happy to see that the sky was clear again. It was time to tackle the Chola Pass and its icy glacier.
Standing on Thin Ice
I was out from Dzongla even before sunrise. The gripping negative temperature of the Himalayas had me scrambling for more layers as I opened the front door of the teahouse into the darkness. It was the earliest I had ever woken up on this trip.
The trail was empty, the mountain was quiet, and only the dim lights of people preparing for the day in teahouses that reminded me of life in this desolate land. The trail begins on a flat plain between 2 valleys and for about an hour or so, it was a nice morning stroll.
All of a sudden, the trail shot up against a cliff as it ended on a mountainside. As I searched for the next trail to continue, I realized that there was no trail. I had to climb the boulders up to the top of the plateau with my bare hands.
The problem with a trail like this was that even though it is shorter, it was hard for me to pace myself when climbing up boulders with my hands than to simply hiking up a trail and with my worsening coughs, I really felt it this time. I had to stop every 5 minutes to take a break as I cough violently and breathe before I could continue on.
The boulder climbing proved to be one of the hardest and most tiring parts of the entire trail for me as my breathing was constantly disrupted as I scrambled my way up. It took about an hour and a whole lot of stopping to reach the plateau where the next challenge began.
By 9 AM as planned, I had finally arrived at the infamous icy glacier part towards Chola Pass. The whole length of the glacier was not that long but due to the fact that I had to calculate and plan every step I took, it was more nerve-wracking than anything else.
The glacier itself consisted of jagged surfaces partitioned out with smooth icy surfaces in between. It was the jagged part that I would have to put my feet on and avoid the smooth icy surface at all costs. Since the surface was not divided equally between the 2 types of surface, I would have to plan my route even before I took my first step on to the ice.
It was this decision-making and the responsibility you had for your own safety that put me on alert mode, draining all my energy away. The cough subsided, for the time being, thank goodness, but I was so focused on every step I took that I had little time to actually enjoy the trail.
I put my feet on the jagged part of the glacier at a diagonal, drilled my feet onto the fragile ice to create enough friction for me to move my other feet onto the next surface, all the while calculating the best possible route to take so that I would not get stuck in a bad place.
This was going on in my mind for 30 minutes and the slope of the trail toward Chola Pass didn't help either. Thankfully, when I arrived, there was a small group of Dutch hikers led by a very experienced sherpa that was leading the way, and so, unknown to the hikers, I stuck with them, and followed their route to the tee.
By the time I arrived at Chola Pass, I was completely exhausted to even enjoy the reward of the vantage point which I often do. The cough came back again as the wind was in full force the moment I reached the Pass.
The scenery was hard to complain though as I could see the glacier I had just conquered a minute ago in its true scale from one side and, as I came to realize later, the Gokyo Glacier, where I would have to go next, from afar on another side of the Pass.
I spent only a few minutes up on Chola Pass as it got too cold for me and my coughs and runny nose weren't helping and so I started hiking down the trail into an opening where the trail became mostly linear until Dragnag, a village where I would have to stop for lunch.
It was a simple stroll but it was long and due to the fact that my energy was spent trying not to fall at the glacier before Chola Pass (and I succeeded), the simplest of the trail had me on my knees. It took me about 1.5 hours before I arrived at Dragnag, pretty baked from the sun intense rays, all covered in sweats. I devoured another dish of steam momo before setting out on the last leg of the day, to Gokyo Lakes.
The thing that was in between me and the comfortable bed and the beautiful view of the lake at Gokyo Village was the Ngozumpa Glacier, a 36km-long melting glacier considered to be the longest in the Himalayas.
Thankfully, we do not have to traverse the entire length but just to cross its dry glacier stream that looked like a rocky river bed to reach Gokyo village, but that in itself was already challenging to someone who was completely drained a few hours before and currently suffering from the Khumbu Cough such as myself.
The trail crossing the glacier consisted of a lot of ups and downs on a dusty slippery gravel path that does not resemble a well-trodden trail like I saw leading up to Everest Base Camp.
It was difficult not because of its technicality but because of the knowledge that the village is right there in front of me and yet, I had to traverse the dreaded terrain before climbing out of this trench. It was like teasing hungry people with food but not giving it to them. It was torture!
As I was walking along the glacier, trying to figure out where the actual trail was, a light reflecting from a person's blonde hair caught my eyes. As we both moved closer, we started to notice each other. It was the German girl I met in Namche Bazar many moons ago who warned me about the cold in the mountains!
"Fancy meeting you here!" I shouted as the sound echoed throughout the valley as we limped and hobbled towards each other. "I knew I would meet you somewhere along the trail", I told her excitedly as we exchanged a brief pleasantry before she told me about her journey.
Apparently, she got really sick right after Namche Bazar but was still determined to complete the Three Passes route so she continued her journey slowly but firmly setting her eyes to completing it within 2 weeks. She was doing the trail clockwise whereas I was doing it counter-clockwise hence why we stumbled on upon each other here, in this desolate trench.
She was still surprised by my dress code with jeans and improper shoes but admire my resilience. I also admired her determination and how she continued to excel against all odds. We said "See you later" again this time, hoping we might meet again in Namche Bazar or in Thamel, the backpacking street in Kathmandu. I never saw her again and to this day, I still do not know her name. Such is the life of a traveler.
By about 4 PM, I arrived at Gokyo Village and as I was scrambling to find a lodge, I ended up at a small teahouse located right by Gokyo's third lake called Dudh Pokhari, one of the most stunning emerald-colored alpine lakes I had ever seen. After I settled into my teahouse, my tiredness swept away as I looked on at the glistening water of the Himalayan lake in awe.
Gokyo Lakes and Gokyo Ri
Gokyo Lakes is one of the highest lake systems in the world and as the name implied, it is a collection of 19 freshwater lakes over an area of 196.2 ha lying between 4,600 meters to 5,100 meters above sea-level.
Gokyo village, where I was staying for 2 nights, is a small tourism reliant settlement with an elevation of 4,790 meters located at the foot of Gokyo Ri, a 5,357 meters high mountain where, in my opinion, offers one of the best views of Mt. Everest and that was where I would be tackling on first things in the morning.
Like any other day in the Himalayas, I slept pretty horribly that night, struggling to get out of bed for a while until I conjured up all my power to go out and started hiking Gokyo Ri.
Gokyo Ri, just like Kala Patthar, is not the prettiest mountain around but it does give us an amazing vantage point of Mt. Everest, the Ngozumpa Glacier, and a wonderful view of the 3rd Gokyo Lake.
The trail began along the shore of the lake before and zig-zagged up the mountain. From there on, it was a 2-hours of a non-stop steep climb which, on a normal day, I would have no trouble hiking it but due to the horrible nights of sleep and the worsening cough, it took me almost 3 hours to reach the summit.
I would hike for about 20 minutes before I started coughing violently, so much that I had to rest, take a deep breath and continued on slowly. This continued to happen for 3 hours during my ascend. I almost gave up at one point when I reached what I thought was a summit but it was only a small flat-out area before the mountain continued on even higher.
On Giving Up
I met a Spanish girl who were sitting there, out her breath, yet still content as you looked out to the landscape, absorbing the stunning view. From that spot, I could see the 3rd Gokyo Lake as well as the 2nd Gokyo Lake in the distance. I asked her how far the summit was, and she didn't know. Apparently, she had already given up and accept the view as she saw it.
I sat with her for a while, contemplating that I should give up as well and just enjoy the view. My cough was getting worst to the point that my chest started to hurt a little from excessively coughing out my lungs. The more I thought about giving up, the more it reminded me of the time I was in Pedro de Atacama in Chile years ago.
It was summer 2016 in Chile, as I just came from a tiring 4-days trip traveling around Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flat in the world located in Bolivia. I remember feeling exhausted from that trip so much that when I arrived in the Atacama desert, I didn't bother to do anything there other than rest for the next 4 days, thinking that the scenery around the Atacama desert was probably the same as in Bolivia.
Several days passed, my journey in Chile continued down south towards Santiago where I would be meeting my friends for Thanksgiving (shout out to Martina and Fatima for hosting me!). They started showing me photos from their trip in the Atacama desert and I was completely blown away by the beautiful moon-like landscapes, but more so I felt extreme guilt for being there, acting like a lazy ass, and ended up not doing anything.
That experience of failure swept through me as I was catching my breath atop a mountain in the Himalayas overlooking the greenest lake I had ever seen in my life. "I would not repeat that same mistakes again" as I told myself before standing up, turned my back on the view, and continued onward towards the top of Gokyo Ri.
After 3 hours of scrambling my way up the rocky trail of Gokyo Ri, I looked up and all of a sudden, there was no more trail to climb. Right near me, I saw the stone stacking pyramid and a black plaque that said: "Gokyo Ri - 5357 masi"/ That was when I realized I had finally reach the summit!
The moment I arrived at the summit, I was as calm as the sky that day. Against all odds, I was able to drag myself up to the last high altitude mountain I'd be hiking on this trip. The last obstacle was finally conquered by my very own ability and nothing could take me away from that.
As I looked on to all the Himalayan mountains surrounding me while the prayer flags flapped violently along with the gust, a familiar black diamond shape peak greeted me once again.
From the summit, I was able to see the true scale of Mt. Everest compared to the other 8,000 meters peaks like Lhotse, Makalu, and Cho Oyu. "So this is the top of the world", I told myself as I stared at Mt. Everest in wonder. A peak that literally towers every single peak in the world. The top of the world was never more apparent to me than now.
I was up there for a good hour, taking a ton of photos before I started heading back down to Gokyo Village. It only took me an hour to get down, and as I stumbled my way into my room at the teahouse, I collapsed on to my bed and napped for the rest of the day.
Running Out of Money
I knew I was almost at the limit that day, but there was one more obstacle that would further push me almost over the edge, it was the fact that I no longer have enough money to stay another night anywhere else or to eat a proper meal and the closest ATM was in Namche Bazar which was 16.1km away.
With that in mind, I decided to rely on what was left of my snack stash for dinner that day, and ended the day as early as I could, so that I could tackle the longest, hardest days of all, the day I had to do a 2-days hike in one day from Gokyo Lakes to Namche Bazar.
Even though there was a long day ahead of me, I was thrilled to finally get down from the 4000+ altitude and experience what a lung full of air felt like again... and a nice warm shower would be nice too after 10 days of not showering 😆.
I started my day as early as 7 AM, decided to waste no time, and hit the trail immediately while also eating one of the last granola bars I had left with me. The nasty Khumbu coughs were still plaguing me throughout but I had no choice but to continue on.
I progressed really well in the morning as I literally ran down many of the portions of the trail to save time. The cough did not bother me as much as I continued to hydrate myself constantly while making leeway towards Dole, a small settlement that I was supposed to stay overnight.
It took me around 4 hours to get to Dole which I thought pretty good timing arriving there by 11 PM, leaving me a good 6 hours window before sundown to reach Namche Bazar.
As oxygen rushed through my lungs in more concentration than I ever experienced in the past 5 days, and my progress had been great up to that point, I thought to myself that it was going to be easier from there. Oh, how I was wrong.
Up to that point, the trail I was hiking on was mostly going down but what I did not anticipate was the fact that in order to get to Namche Bazar from Dole, I had to go through Mong Village, which is located on top of a mountain where one had to climb straight up for 2 hours.
I did not realize that until the trail started to confusingly go up after several hours of going down. As my cough had gotten worst and worst, I was unable to hike up more than 10 minutes before I started coughing again. The trail right before Mong was one of the hardest parts of the entire day. The more I hiked up, the steeper it got, with no sign of the village.
As the clock was ticking from 1 PM to 2 PM, I was still going up the trail, very slowly while stopping every few minutes to cough, catch a breath, and forcing myself to take another step. My snack had run out at that point and I no longer had any money left on me so even when I reached the Mong Village, I do not have the luxury to stop and spend the night.
It was not until 3 PM when I arrived at the Mong Village, all covered in sweat, and my mouth as dry as the dry soil suffered from drought. My body was at its limit, I could feel the pain coming from my shoulders again as I hauled around my 10kg backpack. Scratches and wounds were all over my body after several days in the mountains. My muscle mass was obliterated and my body covered in dirt, as I sat by the plateau overlooking the valley I just climbed that day.
Two more hours to go until Namche Bazar, and as the sun was about to set in a few hours, I had no time to waste. I grabbed my backpack and continued onward from Mong Village to Namche Bazar. The trail continued down with a few slopes of ups that made me cursed every time I had to climb one. My body was no longer functioning as it used to as every few steps I took, I had to cough.
At around 5 PM, I was approaching the mountain-side trail, where I saw Mt. Everest for the first time more than a week before. The sun was already behind the mountain, and as I walked up the slope slowly to reach Namche Bazar, I looked up and saw the last light of that day, shining on one of the snow-capped peaks in front of a perfectly purple sky of the evening. That was when I arrived in Namche Bazar.
I limped and hobbled my way into Namche Bazar as my surroundings turned pitch black. It was 6 PM and I finally made it to Namche Bazar where I could finally eat whatever I wanted and stay however long I wanted. I was finally no longer bound to my non-existent budget anymore. I was finally free.
In the dark, I scrambled my way to find Khumbu Lodge, the teahouse I stayed the last time and the moment I entered the teahouse, the owner remembered and greeted me with open arms. After several words of congratulations, I ordered the most western food I could imagine, a Hamburger and I devoured it like hyenas storming its pretty. I had finally overcome my last obstacle.
Getting Out of the Mountain in One Piece
As my condition deteriorated despite me being down at lower elevation, I decided to spend 2 days resting in Namche Bazar before I complete the last leg of my journey to Lukla and back. In order to force myself to stick to this goal, I decided to book a flight out from Lukla to Kathmandu in 2 days. It was the only way for me to force myself to go to Lukla, otherwise, I'd stay in the comfort of Khumbu Lodge forever.
In that 2 days, I got money out from an ATM closed by, thank goodness that it worked as I'd tried at least 2 others and it didn't work, finally ate like a human being, showered after almost 15 days in the mountains, and finally had the time to actually enjoy the beauty of the Himalayas. I strolled around the village as I tried to recollect my experience as I often do after a memorable trip like this.
I also spent this time visiting the doctors at one of the altitude-specialized community-run clinics as they prescribed me several medicines both pills and liquid to soothe the pain in my throat from coughing my heart out in the past week. The local doctor told me that I was breathing through my mouth way too often while hiking and since the air was extremely dry up at this altitude, I was developing a nasty case of Khumbu Cough. She recommended me to get a buff next time I hiked in such altitude again.
I took that suggestion to heart and bought a buff with the Himalayan topography map pattern from the shop next door as a little souvenir to remind myself of this once-in-a-lifetime journey.
After 2 days of self-discovery and developing a newfound strength I had from my experience I decided to say goodbye to the owner of the lodge one last time and continued my journey down to Lukla.
This journey, which anyone could have done in 6 hours took me almost 8 hours as my cough had gotten to the point where I was unable to move more than 5 steps before coughing violently. The more I cough, the more my chest hurt, and the harder for me to regulate my breath as I hiked.
The cloud that rolled in that day causing many flights to and from Lukla to canceled also did not help with my coughing. Due to the clouds, it was also raining lightly as I was on my way to Lukla which made my coughs and runny nose even worst than before.
My body reached the limit when I had to climb up the last hill before arriving at Lukla at around 5 PM. I was on my last leg when I stumbled into my lodge and completely passed out on my bed before flying back to Kathmandu the next day, completing the entirety of this wonderful and challenging journey of mine.
The Why of It All
To be honest with you, I looked like sh*t when I hobbled into Lukla that day. I was completely soaked from head to toe, my mouth was extremely dry, my chest and back were hurting unbearably, and I couldn't feel my legs nor my knees.
Even when I was back home, I realized that I had lost over 7kg, I couldn't walk up/down stairs without holding the rail for days afterward, and I continued to cough violently for many weeks after.
I was a complete mess by the end of this trip but I was happy. I was happy to be able to experience the mountains in such a real and authentic way that no future trip had ever come to surpass it. I was happy to be able to observe how my body reacted in such a stressful situation, how it handled itself no matter what mother nature threw at it, and how I mentally handled obstacles like illnesses and running out of money. It had taught me to be calm, to address the situation as it is, and to live through all of it vigorously.
Yes, I learned a lot about the mountain on this trip, but more so about myself, the things I was capable of and what I was able to handle as my age dipped towards the big 3 on this journey. They said that, after 30, it would be downhill from here on out, but I beg to differ.
The future beyond this point may be full of uncertainties but with this experience and knowledge, I gained about myself, about the nature of the world, and how our problems mean absolutely nothing in the scheme of things, all under my belt, I am sure as hell I am going to try to live the best life I can lead, to work with what I have, and to try my very best to stay true to myself until the very end.
My crippling body would heal in no time, but this experience and the things I'd learned about myself, about life, and about others sharing this same world with me, no one can ever take that away.
The Himalayas have a knack for changing people, stripping us naked, revealing us our own vulnerability, who we really are, and force us to stare at it until we accept our condition.
And that is why I will always put myself through hell to climb the Himalayas. The mountain is free of prejudice and the artificial and societal pressures ("norms") we put ourselves through every day, navigating this modern life of ours.
Being reconnected with Mother Nature is the only way to remind oneself to hit that break, look back, and realize that there is so much more to life than what was ingrained in our society, and I could not think of a better place to lose oneself in than in the Himalayas.***
I have always wanted to return to writing about travel stories, what I had learned on the road, and the experience I had encountered throughout my time traveling the world, instead of always writing travel guides for a while now, and this is the first piece of long-form inspirational content that I would be putting out more from now on.
It is also an excuse for me to immortalize those experiences that I hold dear to my heart and use some of the footage and photos that no one had ever seen before to enrich the story in a way I was unable to in a travel guide format.
Seriously, I could write an entire book about all the profound experiences I had since I started traveling in 2013 but this will do for now. I hope you enjoy this entry about my experience trekking to Everest Base Camp and Gokyo Ri for 15 days alone in Nepal. Let me know if you enjoy this kind of travel story or you have any suggestions and write them down in the comments below.
Looking for more inspirational articles? Check out The Solo Traveler’s Inspiration section where we will discuss topics related to the nomadic and traveling lifestyle and shower-thoughts that will invoke wanderlust in all of us.
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