Written by our trip leader John Healy, who lead our Everest Base Camp trek from September 7th to 24th, 2016.
The 18 strong cast of the September 2016 Everest Base Camp Trek assembled on a cool afternoon in Dublin airport. For many in the group this would be a first visit to a developing world country and the sense of excitement at the surprises (and shocks!) in store was palpable. Happily, all the pre-flight checks went smoothly and we were soon on our way.
The first shock came on the tarmac in Abu Dhabi airport as we exited the first of our two flights en route to Kathmandu, the 40 degree heat as we moved towards the terminal was oppressive but good preparation for our arrival in Nepal all the same.
Night had fallen by the time we begun our descent out of the Himalayan skies and Kathmandu glowed in the darkness below us. Following a straight forward passage through immigration and customs we emerged to the energy of this wonderful city and culture. The hustle and bustle of taxi men touting for business, the flashing lights and endless honking of horns in a torrent of traffic was enough to awaken the drowsiest of travellers! Waiting amongst it all was Lakpa our head Sherpa , along with his transport officer. They had us on the bus and heading for the hotel in no time at all.
The suburbs quickly gave way to the labyrinth of streets that is downtown Kathmandu. Arriving at the hotel the priorities were clear – a quick bite to eat in a local restaurant and our beds were calling ahead of an early start the next day. We would be rising at 4.30am for a dawn flight to give ourselves the best chance of suitable weather for the flight to Lukla.
For me this iconic flight into the tiny airport somehow etched into the side of the foothills of the Himalaya is one of the highlights of any visit to the Everest region. For others it is a source of trepidation – whether it is the rudimentary domestic airport in Kathmandu or the sight of the quite small aircraft waiting on the apron it certainly left a few people a little anxious. Nonetheless, 45 minutes of flying later saw us drop out of the sky and safely land at the busy hub of Lukla to began the trek in earnest. A good breakfast and a few official formalities later and we had hit the trail to Phakding.
Mercifully this first day of trekking is short as the previous 48 hours of travelling was certainly being felt amongst the group. A couple of hours of easy hiking got us to the busy village of Phakding in time for lunch. A quick bite and everyone was off to have a nap for the afternoon before rising later for our first true Khumbu dinner. The menu was a mix of local delights – Dal bhat, Sherpa stew, beef momos – and more familiar western fare of pizza, pasta, and potatoes for the culinary fainthearted!
Our next day of trekking was the trail to Namche Bazaar, the Sherpa capital. The trail began by undulating along the valley, crossing several spectacular suspension bridges over the Dudh Kosi river. After a stop for lunch and a good rest we began the long haul up a series of zigzag trails to Namche. Here the pace noticeably slowed as we were not yet acclimatised to this new altitude. Persistence and a steady pace paid off and in a couple of hours we were passing through the entrance arch and around the chortens at the bottom of the town. A stroll through the narrow streets brought us to our lodge which seemed to overlook the whole town with views of the countryside and hills beyond. We would spend two nights here to get used to the new altitude. This gave us ample time to browse the markets and shops, visit the monastery, Sherpa museum, and Tenzing Norgay memorial before we began to head further up the valley.
Leaving Namche Bazaar, we took the trail to Tengboche, a small village perched on a wooded ridge, famous for its views of the mountains and historic monastery. After a short sharp climb out of the town the trail gently traversed the side of the valley in the style of the classic high mountain trail, etched into a steep hillside high above the river gorge.
Around the charmingly named little village of Phunki Tenga we dropped more steeply down to cross the river and begin our climb to the village on the crest of the ridge above. Arriving at the teahouse we had some post-trek tea and biscuits before taking in the tremendous views of Everest, Lhotse and Ama Dablam. This was followed by the short stroll over to the monastery to watch the monks in their evening ritual. Then back to the lodge for dinner and a well-earned rest.
The next few days saw us continue our journey, passing through and staying in a variety of villages, from the small and peaceful Pangboche to the large, busy, and trekker orientated Dingboche. All of these led us to the highest lodge of our trek at Gorak Shep, above 5000m in elevation. Here we stopped for lunch and a rest to steel ourselves for the last stage of our journey to Base-camp. After eating we headed out onto the moraines and glaciers of the Khumbu. The going was tough underfoot and the thin air had everyone working very hard. We were well rewarded though as the sun beamed down as we reached our destination. The many prayer and other flags at the Base-camp cairn gently waving in the breeze to greet us. We lingered in the sunshine , sharing hugs and tears and photos before eventually heading back to Gorak Shep for some sleep ahead of the final day of climbing.
We rose early and darkness greeted us as we left the lodge to climb to the viewpoint of Kala Pataar – eager to catch the sunrise over Everest. The night air was cold and frosty and the steep path kept heads down and focused, so much so that we almost missed the first glimpse of the Everest Summit as the clouds cleared momentarily. As the day began to break we were approaching the icy summit of Kala Pataar when the rising sun began to cast Everest shadow into the clouds above. Unfortunately clearances in the clouds were rare , but happily we did get enough to see the summit pyramid of the mountain, even if just for a short while. There is always something special in seeing the highest summit on Earth!
With renewed energy we headed back down to gather up our gear, have a cup of tea before beginning the return journey to Kathmandu. A little tinge of sadness to be leaving these magnificent mountains but delighted to have achieved our goals.
If you are interested in joining us on one of our Everest Base Camp treks visit our expedition page HERE