As the dust gets kicked up from the herd of yaks traveling in front of me on the trail, I go to cover my face with my buff and quickly remember I’m at 17,000 feet and I realize there’s no place I’d rather than be than right here. Every day in that beautiful landscape was a gift and looking back at it in the midst of Covid-19, I wish I could travel back to Nepal this year but like every other border, they are shut down. Our trip had us leaving from Kathmandu Airport, but after a few hours of delayed flights, we quickly realized our plane isn’t going to transport us due to high winds at our final destination – Lukla Airport. Our local guide with no hesitation booked us a helicopter flight to assure us our trip goes as planned and on schedule. Within a few hours, we were on a helicopter flight to one of the most dangerous airports rated by History Channel in 2010.
After a short break for lunch we started our first bit of trekking and luckily enough the photographer in me was stoked since this first section was in golden hour and lit up all the mountains around us. Our first stay was at the small village of Phakding where we spent the first night – it was a hard night sleeping taking in all of the surroundings and thinking about what lays ahead in our trip.
The tea houses were a great relief to stay out of the elements, having a hot meal for every meal, a place to rest in a bed, and of course a hot cup of tea anytime we wanted some. The tea houses were primitive, but welcoming and everyone was friendly at each house. Some of the tea houses at higher elevations were heated with dried yak dung patties which you would be seeing dried along the trek, it took me a few days to realize how these dung patties were being heated. It’s a huge tribute to how efficient and resourceful the Nepalese people are living in such a remote region of the world.
With an early start, Matty and I started trying to get the lay of the land and used to separating hiking gear we needed for that day and what will be needed at the next tea house.
Next stop Namche Bazaar – this was a beautiful village nestled in the hillside with plenty of amenities for us westerners. Here we enjoyed or first acclimation day and hiked up behind the village to a viewpoint of Everest and a small village for lunch and tea.
The following day we started our trek further into the Himalayas and would return back to Namche Bazaar after about 9 more days of trekking.
Meandering from village to village felt like being transported back in time. It was a very soothing feeling to walk back into what to seem an era well gone by. Each village has its own charm and special history, the route we trekked from Namche was the trade route to Tibet, specifically for the world-renowned Himalayan sea salt.
Every meal was one of my favorite parts of the day, it felt like you were being welcomed into a locals home for a meal and they were all so gracious in their accommodations.
Cho La pass was our first high pass of the trek and it was the first time the altitude really effected me. After taking a short break to sit down for a snack and water when I stood up I immediately felt like I had taken a hit of weed. The lack of oxygen can make you feel a little loopy but over the days my body more or less acclimated minus the persistent headaches that wouldn’t end.
After our second pass one, of the clients started to feel the effects of altitude a little too much. He and his son retreated to lower elevation to ease the sickness. Matty, myself, and our Sherpa Mingma continued with our original itinerary to head over to Lobuche East.
We spent a night at the small little village of Lobuche where we finally saw our first and only snowfall of the trip as we hiked up to Gorak Shep the last village before Everest Basecamp. Hiking the trail felt more like hiking the popular white dot or cross trails on Mount Monadnock during a holiday weekend in the summer. It was the first and only time on the trip I really didn’t want to be near people. A hiker in front of us was playing Eastern European club music which made for a very interesting experience while hiking past yaks, porters, and serious mountaineers.
As we closed in on Everest Basecamp, the snow started to get really heavy and our visibility was closing in on the 100-foot mark, which made trekking to the basecamp uneventful other than waiting in line for a quick photograph. The next morning made up for the club music for sure!
It was great working with Mingma who was always on point and insisted we get an alpine start to the summit of Kala Patthar. I think I wanted to quit at least a dozen times on the hike up and I’m sure Matty was rolling his eyes by the 4th or 5th time I was saying “I quit”, but he kept encouraging me to make it to the summit and just in time for the sun to crest over Mount Everest.
This was the highlight of the trip, we must have spent 30-45 minutes at our high point taking in the unobstructed view of Mount Everest, the world’s tallest peak! You know that feeling when you are at the front row in the movie theater and everything just looks larger than life, that’s what the view felt like. We cruised down back to Gorak Shep and packed up from there to work our way back to Lobuche. Our original plan was to go for the summit of Lobuche East the next day but Matty and I were pretty wiped out from the entire trip and opted out of the summit. In hindsight, I would have taken medication for the altitude and not try to see how my body reacts to the altitude again. Everything that can help you have a leg up at altitude for the first few times you should use to your advantage.
Since we had some extra time we spent the night off route on a dead-end trail in a where we discovered a welcoming tea house with a beautiful view and very few visitors. Hiking out was super easy as all the hard work was over now that we weren’t ascending much anymore.
The morning hike out of Phortse was probably one of my favorite sections of trails on the entire trip. As we left our tea house we dipped down into the valley towards the river. Both sides of the entire mountainside were covered in flowering hydrangea’s – pinks and whites scattered all over the place while the golden morning light back-lighting them. The hydrangea’s brought back many childhood memories of my grandparent’s house and greenhouse and how much my grandmother loved these beautiful plants. It was hard to decide if I should take in all the natural beauty on one of the last days of my trip or to capture the moment with the camera.
Flying out of Lukla was an adventure, to say the least, the flight was beautiful yet bumpy. Even the sherpa in the front seat looked nervous as he clinched his seat. He might be able to climb the highest peaks in the world, but not being grounded must have shaken him up. This was a fitting way to end a bittersweet trip, a bumpy ride with a lot of great views, generous people, and many amazing stories. This will be the first on many trips and I’m looking forward to returning back the Himilayas.