Nepal trip (2017)

An attempt to summit the Everest Base Camp:

Last year around this time of the year, I ran my first marathon in Memphis and Suhas was on his way summit to Kilimanjaro in Africa. Right after that, we decided our 2017 end of the year goal is to reach to the Everest Base Camp in Nepal! Just the thought of actually seeing the highest mountain in the world gave me jitters! Considering that climbing Mt. Everest is impossible for me, I was just excited to get as close as possible to Mt. Everest. So now almost after a year, here I am writing a very very detailed report of our trip to EBC :)

After getting some endurance training through biking and running followed by some high altitude hikes in Colorado and California, we finally started packing for our trip a week or 10 days before departure.

Meticulous packing

It was a meticulous packing because we logged every item we packed, location of each item, counted the number of nutrition bars we would need for our trip and packed gatorade in small pouches so it would be easy to carry it in our daypack everyday. Also, it gave us a better idea about things we needed to order online so it would arrive in time before we leave the US (thanks Amazon!)

Thamel streets full of prayer flags
After about 30+ hours of uneventful journey, we arrived at our Airbnb place where we met our world-traveller Raghu after so many months! So the 3 of us explored all the famous shopping streets of Thamel while Vinutha was still flying across the ocean.

Even though our Airbnb guy duped us by giving us some crappy place, it didn’t ruin excitement of our trip. After having a super icy cold shower (thanks to Suhas who used up all our solar heated hot water), I had a hard time falling asleep that night. A mix of excitement, nervousness and the cold shower just stole my sleep away.

Day 1 (13th Nov 2017):
By 5am, we were waiting at Kathmandu airport to fly to Lukla, our starting point of hike. Flights to Lukla are small 10-12 seater with cockpit less than a feet away from us. It was a smooth journey with hardly any turbulence but we were all nervous about the landing! Lukla airport has the smallest airstrip and is rated the most dangerous airport in the world!

Before the journey begins...

First of the many bridges we crossed

Most of the people hike to Phakding which is about 5hrs of walking but we decided to hike till Jorsale which adds another 3hours and we hoped eventually this will help us save a day for later.

Our home for the night right alongside Doodh Koshi river

Playing a local board game with our host while sipping hot ginger tea

We arrived at Jorsale around 4pm and had a pot of ginger black tea. This was our first day in Khumbu region and we copied many things the locals do - conserving the stored water by using only half a bottle of water to brush teeth, use old fashioned manual way of flushing toilet since water freezes at night and also paying around 300 NPR (around 3$) for half a bucket of hot water! It also came to me as a surprise that everything comes to a standstill by sunset and there isn’t much else to do after that.

Day 2 (14th Nov 2017):
We were all up by 5:30am and out hiking by 7:30am after finishing up usual chores like filtering our water for the day, breakfast and of course ginger tea :)

A bright sunny day and standing amongst tall trees, it just felt nature is surreal and mountains are welcoming us - little did I realize that nature is cruel as you go further up in elevation!

A few hours into the hike, we had such an incredibly clear sky that we got our first glimpse of Mt. Everest - standing alongside other neighboring mountains like Lhotse and Nuptse, it was not an obvious sight! I stood there motionless thinking about how people climbed it and wondering is it ever possible for me to get any closer...
By 9:30am we got our first glimpse of Namche Bazar: a big “metropolitan city” of Khumbu region in the middle of nowhere; tons of shops around, fancy fountains and water channels at the entrance of the village.

Namche Bazar

By then, my throat had started burning because of heavy breathing and very dusty trail - so a warm cup of hot ginger black tea in a cozy tea house sounded very welcoming. After resting for an hour, we hiked up another 1500ft to the famous Mt. Everest hotel - a fancy 5 star hotel with a helipad where the elite class just takes the chopper up to stay and enjoy the views of Mt.Everest.

Hard climb followed by good views of Himalayan ranges

Hiking to places like this gives us an opportunity to connect with people who are in different phases of their life and made me realize traveling is a luxury for many people. I can never forget this fellow traveller we met in Namche; he opened a travel fund in his 20s when he realized he could never save up enough money every year to travel. After adding a few $$ every year for about 30years, he finally saved up enough money to travel. Now retired from his career, he is happily enjoying his life exploring the Himalayas. I felt so touched and made me realize that not everything comes easy to everyone in life. Until now, I only worried about the amount of vacation days I accrued every year but after meeting him, made a note to self - set up travel fund!

School at 11,200ft

By evening, all the shops were lit giving it a Christmas-y feeling; it more so felt after having the best chocolate pastry in the world <3
Vinutha and Raghu decided to rest at teahouse while Suhas and I went to walk around the streets and meet the locals. Shopkeepers may look very welcoming to tourists but the rift between Nepalese and Tibetans was pretty saddening especially after talking to local shopkeepers. Most of the Tibetans are not given much importance. On the other hand, it also felt good to know that many of these locals are more liberal than I expected. Most of the women earn their livelihood and they send their children out of their hometown for higher studies/work. They no longer believe in conservative attitude about getting their daughters married early and lead their life in a small town piggybacking on the man’s earning. After an early dinner, I decided to take my last hot shower of the hike because it’s hard to expect this kind of luxury as we go up.

Day3: (15th Nov 2017):
Just as our fellow hikers had assured, our trail got prettier as we went higher up - route from Namche to Tengboche was the most scenic route of our whole trip! Every step gave us amazing views of Mt. Everest and nearby mountain ranges. Trail was pretty crowded that day and Suhas enjoyed talking to everyone on the trail :) I saved most of my breath and energy to walk up rolling hills feeling jealous that he could walk up so easily and still maintain a conversation with fellow hikers!

Stupa(L) and Ama Dablam (R) looking like ice candy!
Tenzing-Hillary Museum

Enroute to Tengboche

By 11am we were starting to climb a steep hill to get to the monastery. A steep climb at that elevation on a sunny, crowded day was taking a toll - it only meant more dust to inhale! In wilderness it’s hard to distract oneself- can’t talk much at that elevation especially on a dusty trail; negative thoughts started creeping in my head. Decided it's time to get some sugar to my body to shoo off the negative thoughts. After a bit of sugar intake, things started to look a bit more positive. It just felt like I am one among the many who are taking same path as me, slow and steady - nobody racing against anyone; just here to enjoy the views the nature has to offer. It just hit me then: no amount of money, richness or plane rides can offer them these views. I felt pretty lucky to have come this far to enjoy the views nature had to offer. Hiking on these trails gave me enough time to sink in all the views which no other expensive plane ride would give! 

Get some motivation from this guy!

We finally reached the Buddhist monastery at Tengboche around 1pm. Temple has a huge Buddha statue at the center of the prayer hall and meditation seats for visitors and monks. A tough hike followed by such a beautiful prayer hall in the middle of nowhere radiating so much devotion filled up my eyes. We all spent a few minutes meditating and soaking in all the warmth and vibes the temple had to offer.

Panoramic view from monastery
After a yummy lunch of 3 servings, we started walking towards Pangboche which is 2 hours away. Halfway to Pangboche I slowly started getting headache and bodyache along with burning sensation in my throat - signs of mild altitude sickness started to kick in! Of the 4, Vinutha and I were pretty drained out and showed signs of altitude sickness. Once we reached our teahouse, these gentlemen stretched out our legs and massaged us pretty good; relieved us of some pain - couldn’t be more thankful <3

Wonder why so happy while I was taking hot water steam inhalation?!
Day4 (16th Nov):
The guys hiked up to Ama Dablam Base Camp while Vinutha and I stayed back at Pangboche to explore the village. They were back by noon looking pretty wiped out and suffering from light headache. Since it was only a 2hour hike to Dingboche, we started around 2pm. By sunset, the village welcomed us with light snow and a fancy resort :) We were at 14,470ft and I realized that’s the highest I had ever been!

View from our fancy resort :)

Day5 (17th Nov):
Hike started out pretty flat but mountains looked pretty dry because we were past tree-line and it was mostly dry,icy,windy and cold. We passed a few puddles which all looked frozen. Started to think nature is no longer warm and welcoming; the first two days of our hike was filled with lush green trees and dripping water from streams.
With not much things running on my mind to distract myself, it was kind a dull at times. Thankfully Suhas walked alongside me the whole time. We were at a stage where we didn’t have to talk to each other but just his presence made us feel better. By now I realized he had made it a point to be with me or behind me at every climb during this whole trip. So I knew he will be there for the dreaded climb after lunch.
Part of the dreaded climb seen in this picture

After what felt like forever on a dusty dry trail, we reached the memorial site. The site was filled with Stupas for all those mountaineers who lost their lives while trying to summit Mt. Everest. In the middle of the site was a big Stupa laid in the memory of Scott Fischer. Having read and watched movies on Scott Fischer, it was quite emotional to see so many writings, prayer flags left on his Stupa.

Everest doesn’t distinguish between the ones who survive and don’t survive. I think She only lets wise climbers survive - doesn’t matter you summit or not summit, there is always another time to have a richer experience if you are alive!

The best view comes after the hardest climb!

After couple more hours of hiking, we reached Loboche (16,400ft) around 3.30pm. It was a cold, windy evening and we had the best hot chocolate at the world’s highest bakery! A small bakery with a heater filled with yak dung to generate heat to the small room. I was the only one dancing to the tunes of Ed Sheeran’s songs in the room :D After an early dinner, we slept by 7:30pm and was looking forward to summit day!
Unfortunately, everything changed that night. I couldn’t lie flat because my chest felt constricted and I was coughing the whole night. Suhas and I barely slept and we threw up twice by the following morning - obvious signs of altitude sickness; you never know when it’s going to hit you!

Day 6: 18th Nov:
Next morning Raghu was the only one who felt fine (the Hero!). After a failed attempt at breakfast, we drank a bit of electrolytes and Gu gels. We decided to go towards Gorakshep and rest there.

I knew it was a bad decision but I didn’t wanna ruin others’ chances at reaching EBC, Gokyo Ri and Chola Pass. I only hoped to make it to Gorakshep and rest there and try EBC and Kalapattar the next day. We walked for about an hour (but covered less than a mile in distance) and Suhas decided he couldn’t go any further. We walked back to Loboche and rest the day.

Suhas, Vinutha and Deepti resting outside teahouse

Our bodies were crashing; we were shivering inspite of wearing 5 layers including ski-pants. There is no heater during the day so we slept outside facing the sun. A few hours later, I puked again. The oxy-meter showed oxygen saturation of barely 70% and my pulse rate at 140! Things weren’t looking good- my breathing was getting heavy, I had barely eaten and my head was throbbing.

I was thinking of all the initial AMS symptoms I had - headache, heavy breathing, not able to lie flat; I shouldn’t have pushed so hard. We should have rested a day in between to acclimatize. I was regretting so much because we had only a total of 380m (1200ft) elevation to gain to reach the base camp. All I could think of was it’s less than half of Mission Peak’s elevation! By sunset I realized my body so dehydrated that I hadn’t gone to restroom the whole day - scared the hell out of everyone! Our guide gave me a 1.5l flask full of hot water and I sat next to the heater determined to finish that. We were thinking of alternate options to get to the top - hire a horse or a chopper. We were not going to turn back without seeing the views! We decided to take chopper since none of us had the energy to even sit on a horse. I think the thought of getting out of there in a matter of few hours kept me going through the night. I couldn’t lie flat because of AMS so I just sat with my eyes closed, sipping yet another flask of hot water.

Day 7 (19th Nov):
Next morning, I still felt the same so decided not to risk going further up. Raghu was looking forward to finish his hike while the rest of us decided to take the chopper to see the views of EBC and Kalapattar and descent immediately.

Last group picture before taking the rescue chopper

A few minutes before the chopper arrived, Suhas expressed that he felt better than before and wanted to give it another try. I could sense his emotional conflict while he hugged me tight. It took me a few minutes to console his emotional-self that I would be fine as soon as I go down. At least one of us should summit considering we put in so much effort in training the whole year. All 3 of us took chopper to see the views and we landed back in Lobuche. Suhas got down while Vinutha and I continued our journey down to Lukla. It took us less than 15 minutes to get to Lukla from Loboche while it took us 5 days to hike up!
Within 10 minutes of resting at Lukla, I felt as light as air - my headache and nausea had vanished. I felt so fresh, it was as if I got a new life. Altitude makes all the difference in the world - for a second I was shocked how can I feel so much better - was it all in my head? Was it just a nightmare? I felt so confident that for a split second I thought I will take chopper back to Loboche to finish the hike with those two! As I started going up a few stairs up to our teahouse, I was out of breath and my legs felt fatigued - there goes my reality check! I curbed my greedy thoughts of going back up!

Day 8 (20th Nov):
Our flight to Kathmandu was scheduled at 7am but we finally made out of Lukla by 11am. As soon as we met our hiking company manager, he told they made to the EBC but Suhas wasn’t feeling well and they were looking to take chopper down! I felt terrible - did I push him to go up? Should I not have convinced him? Knowing Suhas being such an overachiever, I knew he wouldn’t stop that day. On the other hand, I felt glad that we had the option to take chopper down unlike places here in the States. I felt relieved that I would see him sooner than I thought.

Overall the trip was very memorable, we learnt pretty tough lessons as climbers and very glad to have met all those fellow hikers during our trip. It enhanced the richness of our experience and still not sure if I will go back to finish the rest of the loop. It’s been 15 days since I got back and it’s still bugging me - what went wrong. Is it because we pushed so hard? Needed more acclimatization? Is it because of too cold and dry weather? I guess I will never know!


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