12th May - Namche Bazaar Camp.
Later wake up call today, 6.30am rather than 6am due to one of our main Sherpa’s having to get rushed back to Lukla the previous night. I talked to Randeep asking him what had happened & he said the lead Sherpa had eaten at a new place along the trail in one of the small towns we had passed that he had not eaten at before. He began to feel very odd, showing signs of Black Magic being possessed. In Nepalese culture it is believed that demons or witches are the cause of illness. Randeep told me that it is common for a shadow of a strange being to all of a sudden appear around you then it slowly starts to get smaller, making you feel like its absorbing all of you, then your body starts to do strange things: rashes on skin; memory loss; failure to walk; loss of vision; constant shivers and muttering strange words. These are just a few of the main signs.
Being from a western society, having a total different upbringing into the world understanding different ways & thinking this could just be our Sherpa getting extremely sick, this can be extremely hard to believe but for me it’s nothing short of the truth as anything is possible. Randeep and every person involved on our expedition was not taking this lightly - it was being treated very seriously.
After having my chat with Randeep sipping on some black tea and learning something unexpected it was time to get packed up, washy washy, breakfast then depart for Namche Camp 3,445m. I knew today was going to be tough, going from 2,850m to 3,445m is a big climb gaining 595m with the toughest ascend yet. Hiking time expected 4/5hrs. Myself, Chris, Mark & Ed were already getting some of the Guides/Sherpa’s chatting how fast we walked which was a pretty cool compliment coming from them.
The start of the walk to Namche Bazaar takes you into Sagarmartha National Park where we walked alongside the Dudh Kosi River crossing many suspension bridges until we reached the highest suspension bridge yet sitting at about 700 feet off the ground & roughly 200 feet long (the same bridge that is shown in the Hollywood movie Everest). I was super excited about crossing this particular bridge purely because it’s the highest suspension bridge I have been on & it’s a challenge within itself crossing something like this if you’re afraid of heights. We cross the bridge very slowly sharing it with animals also crossing whilst taking their time. Once we reach the other side of the bride we then start our tough ascend of 2,400ft to Namche with no downhill breaks.
The effects of altitude are kicking in & I can really feel the lack of oxygen in the air, this is by far is the most challenging it has been yet for me, the legs are burning, I’m sweating buckets but I push onwards. Ed takes the lead with a steady pace up hill. Ed is 6ft 6" so you can imagine a man of his stature with a steady pace has some pretty big steps, I manage to keep up with the big man. About 2hrs of trekking we make it to a checkpoint just before Namche Bazaar where they check your hiking permit making sure everything is valid.
Okay, here is where it all goes wrong, for me anyways! Throughout the hike there is small local shops with a small selection that you can buy a chocolate bar or beverage from. I have a sugar rush after that intense hike, Snickers is what I’m craving so I go to pull out my wallet then guess what, no wallet. My heart drops, I’m thinking where could it be, l remember I packed it at the last camp in my tent for safe keeping, obviously l packed it so safely I totally forget what l did with it when repacking.
I tell Randeep, he says “l will get a Sherpa to go back and get it for you.”
I said “No way am I letting someone else solve my stupid mistake.”
The only option here is for me to go back to Monjo Camp hoping it’s still where I think it is. I’m not even thinking, I just go! Running as fast as I can, dodging, jumping over rocks making sure I don’t fall. It takes me about 40 minutes to get back down to Monjo Camp, I go directly to where I remember hiding my wallet. Thank the lord, it’s there, I’m feeling so relieved then reality kicks in, I have got to go all the way back up that hill from where l came from.
This is going to be a battle, as I start making my way along the river then across the bridge again surprisingly I’m actually feeling not so bad then.. then I start the incline after the bridge, “YUP, lm dying!” I hit a brick wall, it becomes a mental battle then the fatigue really starts to kick in, there is no way I am giving up. I slowly make my way up the hill stopping for a few minutes break so I can catch my breath, passing people l have already passed on the way back down who are probably thinking this guy is a nut job or he is training for some marathon. Only if they knew it was to get my wallet I stupidly left at the previous camp. After going up the mountain which took 2 hours, then back down which took 40mins, then back up which surprisingly took about an hour and a half due to less animal passings. I finally make it back to the permit check station, l ask the guy at the station how far is Namche Camp, he says “20 minutes walk,” now I’m really feeling like an idiot, I can’t believe I was that close to camp. I am knackered walking into Namche Bazaar, the weather has quickly changed from sunny to overcast so I unpack my compact The North Face Thermoball Hoodie which has been unreal for me this whole trip giving me a quick burst of warmth & shielding me from the light rain (Product Code: TISO-TNFX-1128264 - www.tiso.com).
I finally make it into camp at Namche Bazaar where Randeep has some fresh hot tea & garlic cream soup waiting for me. What a legend! Today will be an extremely chilled day, exploring the beautiful town of Namche after almost defeating myself with exhaustion.
13th May - Acclimatisation, visit to Khumjung school & Rest Day, Namche Bazaar.
After a somewhat interesting nights sleep getting constantly woken up from the ringing of the bells every hour from Namche Monastery & dogs barking in the night, it was 6.30am which means wakey wakey, some black tea, breakfast at 7am then a small hike to Khumjung School so we can acclimatise some more whilst getting to experience some of the local culture.
Khumjung School was built in 1961 by Sir Edmund Hillary’s Himalayan Trust (Nonprofit humanitarian organisation). The school began with two classrooms but now caters for pre-school, primary & secondary sections with over 350 students from all surrounding villages.
The small easy trek as Randeep put it to Khumjung school at 3,970m was not exactly the easiest. I could already feel the effects of the altitude from just being in Namche 3,345m. While I’m making my way up towards the school I’m finding it very amusing as it’s the same time the children are heading to school & this is just a walk in the park for them, they’re walking side by side with me messing about as kids do having a laugh & here’s me huffing/puffing because my body is just not used to the lack of oxygen in the air. For children in the Himalayas, walking up to 2 hours to attend school ascending a few hundred meters or more on a daily basis is just part of their culture. This probably makes them some of the healthiest children in the world.
Finally after about an hour of walking we make it to Khumjung School just in time for assembly. Just before assembly started I managed to pull two girls aside who could talk a little English. With the permission of their principle I asked them a few questions in support of (http://www.glasgowgirlsclub.org - raising awareness for 400 Million Girls).
After a lovely chat with the girls we then enjoyed the wonderful Khumjung assembly experience seeing children from 5 to 16 years old do their morning routine - dancing together & singing the Nepalese national anthem.
After our visit, we then headed back to Namche. Chris & I wanted to scope out more of this amazing town. Namche is a hot spot in the Himalayas especially for trekkers in the Khumba region & for altitude acclimatisation, it’s the major stop off point for trekkers & climbers heading to base camp or climbers who need a break from the high altitude to come and get some good rest.
I was personally interested in all the yaks here especially since the locals use them as there daily source for cheese & butter, it was only a matter of time before I tried this. I found myself in a café with Chris ordering a yak cheese pizza, the pizza was extremely tasty almost like a cross between goat & cow cheese. After a great afternoon floating around Namche chatting with a few different trekkers either ascending or on their way back down hearing all sorts of interesting stories it was time to head back to camp for dinner. Our Sherpa’s really out did themselves tonight we had some dum aloo (potato curry) veg momos (vegetarian dumplings) sel rhot (cross between a doughnut & bagel) & some rice pudding for dessert. After a delicious meal & many laughs with Chris, Mark & Ed teasing me about how I managed to forget my wallet it was time to head to bed feeling great after a good meal & a belly full of laughs.
14th May - Hike to Deboche.
Wakey wakey, black tea, washy washy, breakfast then 8am depart for Debouche 3,770m. I was super excited for this walk as I knew I was not going to feel the altitude as much since we trekked higher to Khumjung the previous day. This section of the walk was one of my favourites, we were so lucky with the weather, the skies were clear & the sun was shining giving us full view of the mountains.
On our descent to the Imjatse River at Phungitenga 3,250m, we finally were able to catch a glimpse of Mount Everest. Sherpa’s from Nepal call Mount Everest “Sagarmartha,” which means Mother of the Universe; Sherpa’s from Tibet call Mount Everest “Qomolangma” or “Chomolungma” that means Goddess Mother of the World. Even just from what they call Mount Everest alone you can sense how much respect they have for the mountain.
Standing there looking at Everest scratching my head thinking this is not real, the feeling of chills running through my body is something I will never ever forget at that exact moment, if you can imagine seeing a colony of ants while having that feeling of power over them this is exactly what I felt like, but I was the ant. The beauty & stillness of a mountain is truly magnificent. A mountain that has claimed so many lives but more so given people the power of achievement is something l never truly understood until that exact moment.
The views of other mountains were equally just as intimidating as Everest; I could see Ama Dablam 6,812m & Lhotse 8,516m. It is said that Ama Dablam is a more challenging climb than Everest & by the looks of it I certainly couldn’t disagree.
This has been my favourite walk so far since arriving in the Himalayas and my day hasn’t even ended yet. Slowly making our way down on the trail through shaded forest area consisting of silver fir blue pine trees, rhododendron, magnolia plants & birch trees until we finally arrive in Phungitenga, a small settlement of a few local teahouses. Our guide Randeep has told us to stop at the first teahouse we see for afternoon lunch. After a wonderful homemade local lunch it was time for our ascend which took just under an hour of straight incline until we reached the town of Tengbouche 3,386m.
The first thing I notice is Tengboche Monastery which is the largest Gompa in the Khumbu region & the 2nd largest in Nepal. The monastery is estimated to home around 60 monks. We made it in time to experience a public prayer session, I wish I had pictures of this but it was forbidden & something l wanted to respect. We were guided into the monastery taking off any outside footwear we had on, and then told to sit down & wait until the monks came to pray. The monks started chanting, the room was electric it was as if I could feel the energy & calmness within, l had never ever experienced something of this nature before nor did I think it would have the tremendous impact on me that it did. Coming out of that short 30-minute public prayer session l felt relaxed, energised, happy & with a better understanding of why these monks practice what they do. Something very special happened in there & what they did inspired me.
Taking my time leaving the monastery we start our descent for Debouche where we will be camping for the night, luck struck us again as we headed to camp and we were gifted with great views of Mount Nuptse 7,861m which ended our day perfectly.
15th May - Hike to Dingbouche.
Very cold night in Debouche 3,770m, I luckily managed to have my best sleep yet. I was worried about not getting much sleep due to the cold. I had a few moments during the night when I was super snuggled up extra cozy in my sleeping bag then needing a toilet break with the worry of not heating up again. After luckily having an incredible sleep then waking up feeling amazing with great news from Randeep that our Sherpa’s had prepared some pancakes this morning, I was over the moon, my excitement for having pancakes this morning was hilarious. I was so ready to devour these delicious pancakes with a nice warm black tea.
The weather this morning was cloudy, raining slightly with a damp cold hovering around us. This was the first day I had decided to start trekking without wearing my shorts & just a t-shirt so I made sure I was going to keep extra warm as I believe being dry & comfortable is the most important thing when your hiking, climbing or adventuring.
The first thing I made sure to wear was my (North Face Morph Down Hooded Jacket). This jacket brings instant heat & what really impressed me was how light it is, as it wasn’t pouring down this was my go to.
After getting all dressed making sure my core temp was warm we then started out at 8am towards Dingbouche 4,412m. Our trek time is estimated around 5-6hours. It’s about 30 minutes into the trek then all of a sudden the clouds break the sun is beaming down, it’s roasting so I have to do a mid trek change of clothes, shorts on, jacket packed, sunscreen on then away we go again.
The walk is going well, as I pass to the left side of the long prayer Mani wall (Mani walls are stones resembling tablets mostly with inscription “Om Mani Padme Hum” which loosely translates to “Hail to the jewel in the lotus.” These walls should be passed from the left side, the clockwise direction in which the earth & universe revolve, according to Buddhists). While passing all these beautiful Mani walls & Mani Stones ascending 642m from Deboche I am feeling really good. I thought I would maybe start to feel some more effects of the altitude kicking in but so far just minor headaches. We are about an hour and a half into our walk when we reach Shomare 4,050m a small settlement with great views of Ama Dablum where we sit down for a few hours enjoying a nice lunch with a view.
Time to get moving again, onwards to Dingbouche. The trek so far from Deboche has been fairly easy with no problems. Right as I’m thinking this, this is when altitude starts to effect me. I’m at about 4,100m & I can feel my vision starting to go blurry as if I have just gotten a mega head rush which wasn’t going away. I was determined to push myself past this but I had to take a 10-minute break & sit down sipping on my water slowly catching my breath.
After slowly getting myself feeling strong with my headache lurking, it was time to push on. I’m walking with a steady pace feeling much better taking in all the sights trying to forget about my headache hoping I don’t go all blurry again. The views constantly impress me, the views of the small village of Pangbouche 3,985m are incredible. Seeing all these remote villages surviving & thriving with existence continually amazes me.
I’m about 40 minutes from Shomare feeling better again, already having had my incident with blurry vision, headache & having to rest I start to feel the altitude again. This altitude is really kicking my ass or at least trying to test me. I make sure that I keep a positive mental attitude with a steady pace focusing on my breathing & staying well hydrated. Finally after a difficult challenging walk I am able to see Dingbouche, I can see exactly where we will be camping for tonight so I up my pace, probably not the smartest thing to do considering I was feeling the altitude majorly.
I make it to camp, my head is pounding, l have a million mini people in my head jumping around, it is not the best feeling, at this point I just want to sit down and relax. Thirty minutes go by & I am feeling much better, I decide to go chat to our cook.
She is a lovely lady who has grown up in Dingbouche with a little baby boy just under 1 year old, her husband is currently at Everest at Camp 2 (There are 4 camps above Base Camp, Camp. Each camp gets higher, more chance of danger & each climber has to take their time going up to the next camp then back down so they can acclimatise, total time to summit Everest is around 2 months on average). He is heading for Camp 3 today then aiming for the summit in the next few days.
The obvious question here from me is “has he summited before?” She says 5 times already. My jaw drops, that is insane, what a stud. I also ask her if she is worried, she laughs holding her baby boy saying of course but we must make money.
From what I have learned so far about the Sherpa’s & their families is that this is a very high demanding job with tremendous competition among all the Sherpa culture. Being one of the Sherpa’s who has the opportunity of helping mountaineers climb Everest while risking their own life is in my opinion one of the toughest/most dangerous jobs in the world considering they will only make approximately between $3,000 - $5,000 on one Everest expedition. The Sherpa families don’t have much choice because doing one trip on Everest will support them for a year of living. The majority of these families in the Himalayas, especially the parents/grandparents, know nothing outside of farming & mountains, as they had no access to schooling like their children now have access to, due to the help of the Himalayan Trust (www.himalayantrust.co.uk).
Just another day in the Himalayas for a hardworking Nepalese family!