BLOG: EVEREST HIGH PASS TREKKING
MATEVŽ KONJAR & EVA RUSTJA – Bovec, Slovenia
Trekker’s lodge and restaurant Phakding 2652, 2-hour walk on 27/10/2017
We’re sitting by the table having some tea. Eva and our guide Nabin are battling with Sudoku. It’s Nabin’s first time playing the game and he looks delighted. Personally, I don’t like Sudoku very much, so I’m spending the time staring into my empty notebook that is supposed to become a log containing eighteen day’s time of trekking. It’s quite hard to put all the emotions of the first day onto paper; the trip from Kathmandu to Lukla, from the urban jungle to the Himalayan pine forests and rhododendron.
The trip started quite early today. We rushed to the airport to catch our morning flight. Our security check was more of a farce, while the check-in looked like bargaining on an overcrowded fish market, as there were hordes of guides, who wanted to pull their guests from the confusion and commotion, frequenting the airline stands.
The crowd in the waiting area was of all sorts: from typical trekkers, runners, bored locals and people who are either over-equipped or want to climb Everest for a morning workout. After spending ages in the overcrowded waiting area, full of undistinguishable blaring concerning flight delays, we, hours late, finally boarded a Tara Air plane that reminded us most of an exhibit, not much larger than a large van with 14 seats, a pilot, co-pilot and a stewardess. She kindly explained the safety protocol (“we have an emergency exit – period”) and we were positioned on the beginning of the runway soon. The twin engines on the wings roared furiously and, just like that, we were catapulted above the dust and smog of the capital.
After a few minutes we were staring at the “white giants” that stared right back at us, callous and aloof. The view was magical, and even the most skeptical about the flight, forgot the rough ride and enjoyed the silhouette of the land we were approaching. But their reprieve was short-lived. Just after a few minutes (the flight normally lasts circa 35 minutes and climbs from 1400 to 2860 m a.s.l.), a short asphalt runway glued to the mountainside and ending in a thick wall and a “thicker” mountain, appeared. The plane, like a snail, hummed slowly to the edge and all of us who experienced this for the first time could relive the doubts of all who flew like this before us. The runway got closer and closer much too fast, suddenly a thrust and loud din and there we were, exiting the plane. It all happened so fast that we didn’t even know exactly when we found ourselves in the lodge, with the door knob being grabbed hand after hand, as guides and trekkers kept coming and coming.
Eva and I met our porter (not Sherpa, as that is a tribe), Jeet, here, who will, hopefully, accompany us on the whole way.
We began our trip soon after. At the end of the village we went through the portal and began our descent to Phadking, a small village and our place to spend the night. The path was quite nice; we met many trekkers who were doing their last metres toward their destination and looked simply gassed. Eva and I looked at each other, as we really don’t know what to expect in the coming days.
The path went by quite quickly; winding among small villages, by the rivers and herds of tsukis (a crossbreed between a cow and yak) and soon brought us to the lodge where we’re resting after a long day.
Comfort Inn, Namche Bazaar 3440m, 5-hour walk on 28/10/2017
It’s fascinating how you wake up in a land where everything is new or at least different to what you are used to. We woke up in cold rooms (the heating in lodges is restricted only to the main living area in the afternoon; insulation and central heating are for westerners…) on a slightly cloudy morning and had some breakfast. We were treated to morning tea (tea is essential in Nepal) and a curious mix of western and Asian cuisine. We could choose among eggs, cereal, chapati (a mix between a tortilla and pancake), Tibetan bread (“flancat” in Slovene), pancakes, potatoes…
After breakfast we started hiking in similar fashion to yesterday. We crossed consecutive simple suspension bridges above the foaming rapids of Dudh Koshi and wound through villages where we had some insight into the everyday life here. People have two possibilities to make a living here.
The first is tourism and hospitality industry implemented by many a lodge and shop by the road where travellers can buy drinking water, food, chocolates, coca-cola, beer (San Miguel, Tuborg, Serpa and Everest are always for sale) and even rent a horse to evacuate. The second is agriculture, farming and working in the wild.
This option is much more difficult and has shaped these Nepalese into a durable, proud and hardworking people who make use of these skills when dealing with visitors from abroad. Even though we are primarily keen to visit this land because of the mountains (which Eva and I haven’t seen yet because of cloudiness), I have to admit that the locals have surprised a lot. Their facial features, worn out palms and piercing gaze through dark eyes all tell the history of roughing it in these mountains; a life, as said, that fashioned them into a strong people who, due to their extreme resilience to cold and other harsh conditions, can survive in a land that makes the comfort zone a typical Westerner is used to, a pale memory.
The trail was in steep ascent in its second half and we reached a bridge that was hanging high above ground. The views of the canyon beneath were fabulous. After the bridge, a long, steep and dusty slope was separating us from our current waypoint, the last part of civilisation in the region, the town Namche Bazaar. We went up the slope in the good company of a Swiss couple, who were visiting this land for the second consecutive year. Last year, their trek to Everest base camp was cut short by altitude sickness despite their good physical conditioning.
After reaching Namche we saw why it was so crowded. The town is the starting point for all the trekking and other expeditions in the whole region. Apart from that, it serves as an administrative centre. When walking the streets of the town, one meets Buddhist monks, locals, soldiers, school children from nearby villages and groups of hikers and trekkers. The latter two groups are the reason Namchee, the same as Thamel (the tourist quarter of Kathmandu) is “flooded” with sports shops selling fake merchandise. Due to being relatively affordable, these shops offer a chance for locals to clothe themselves according to the weather and climate conditions. Everyone you meet is, thus, regardless where they’re from, “sporting” logos of the finest sports brands, which is a paradox to say the least.
Comfort Inn, Namche Bazaar 3440m, acclimatisation: 4-hour walk 29/10/2017
There are two kinds of days when trekking. The first and most common are those that feature moving from point A to point B and usually start with early rising, packing, breakfast and setting off. The second kinds of days are usually leisurely, but nonetheless difficult when acclimatising to the conditions. These start a bit later in the day, no packing, as the goal is not to move to the next point, but a short ascent to higher altitudes above sea level (circa 500 to 900 metres per day) and returning to the starting point. These kinds of treks prepare the body for challenges that will arise in the next days of living and hiking higher up the mountains.
Our hike started in the village Namche. First we went up the village past the Buddhist monasteries and slowly but surely made our way toward a viewpoint above the village, at around 4000 metres altitude. Even the very start of the trail was typical for novices, as Eva and I were dressed as we would be back home where the cold night is followed by a colder dawn. We had to take off some extra layers, naturally, and put them into our backpacks. The latitude and altitude of this region causes the temperature difference to be north of 20 C between day and night in autumn months.
The hike didn’t seem to resemble walking on almost 4000 metres, as we were surrounded by proper Mediterranean scent coming from nearby bushes. The only thing that reminded us of where we were was the fact that our legs seemed tired as the slope wasn’t that steep and the backpack not that heavy (sometimes the lack of oxygen is felt more so by the legs instead of the lungs). We had the chance to marvel at the views of “giants” that stand upwards of 6000 metres a.s.l., namely Thamsherku, Kangtega and Kongde presiding over the valley. We could also watch the large Russian helicopters (Mil mi-8 has space for up to 26 passengers) transport construction material to the airport above the village (the airport is, of course, named after Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to conquer Mt. Everest and a trademark in his own right in this part of the land).
Upon reaching the top we could see for the first time the north-eastern part of the valley. We revelled at the views of Tobuche, Ama Dablam and Lhotse, towering over 8000 m. a.s.l.. Before us stood also tomorrow’s destination and place to spend the night, Tengboche, a village famous for its Buddhist monastery/temple, the largest in the region. We continued toward Kumjung, the village on the opposite side of the mountain, which features a larger percentage of natives compared to Namche. There we, therefore, had the chance to avoid the tourist ruckus, played some football with the kids, shared a few chocolate bars with them and enjoyed the picturesque, fairytale-like day sipping some tea.
After walking for an hour, we returned to Namche where Eva and I frequented some coffee places and walked the streets that were filled with clutter. Something is telling us that we are beginning to leave behind the luxuries such as proper coffee and rooms with a toilet and running water.