Trekking To Everest Base Camp
One of the most surprising things about being above 5,000 metres is the amount of colour you find in the landscape. Amongst the grey granite, giant boulders and snow-capped, craggy peaks, there are turquoise glacial lakes, tiny magenta flowers pushing up through the hard, rocky earth, and rotund pink-breasted rosefinches that flitter around the mighty Khumbu glacier that leads to Everest Base Camp.
That’s why we were in Nepal: Everest Base Camp. The 12-day trek was mostly spent climbing up through the Himalayan valleys to EBC, which lies at 5,335 metres above sea level, and the 5,545m peak of Kala Patthar. But – like so many trips – this trek is all about the journey, and less about the destination.
Heather Richardson is an award-winning travel writer based in London. She has worked in print, online and in broadcasting in the UK, US, Asia and Australia. In 2015, she was selected as one of TTG’s 30 under 30 travel influencers for her work in the luxury travel industry. @HG_Richardson / www.hg-richardson.com.
Banner Image Credit:iStock.com/tenmay
We began our trek by flying from the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu – a crazy, chaotic city – and into Lukla. At least, we tried. Our tiny propeller plane ended up back where we started after the weather took a turn for the worse. After three hours spent napping on the floor of the airport, we had a window and hastily crammed back into the plane. This time, we made it. Lukla airport is notorious; its short airstrip hangs off the edge of a cliff, meaning pilots have to be precise with their landing. Clear weather is essential.
The first part of the trek to EBC was through a green, lush valley, following the white, frothing Dudh Kosi or ‘Milk River’. This river accompanied us all the way to the foot of the mighty Mount Everest, gradually reducing in volume as we climbed until it was just a trickle of glacial water. As we trekked, the sound of rushing water was joined by the dull clang of yak bells and the occasional bleat of a goat. We walked along the rough, sometimes rocky path through little mountain communities, where rosy-cheeked children darted across the path playing tag and locals manned stalls selling Coca Cola, cigarettes and Snickers bars. The overhanging mist parted to reveal the giant, snowy peaks that overlook everything in the Himalayan valleys.
At night, we stayed in teahouses, which are basic lodges dotted along the trekking route. By the time we returned, we were so au fait with the teahouse menus, we could more or less predict what each person in our group would order for every meal. Prices rose with the altitude – and when you passed a hunched porter loaded with bottles of water and sacks of rice, you didn’t question the cost. I was relieved to find that dzopkes – a cross between a cow and a yak – were carrying our kitbags, and not porters. Though the lodges were simple, the service we received from our guides was stellar; they did everything for us, from boiling water twice a day for refilling our bottles to knocking on our doors early each morning with a beaming smile and a mug of steaming black tea.
Myla, one of our guides, taught us to walk clockwise around the stupas that we passed on the trail, as is customary in this part of Nepal. Some monuments were rocks carved with text, whilst others were stupas with painted eyes symbolising everyone being equal in the eyes of Buddha. We ran our hands across the prayer wheels as we filed past. Buddhist prayer flags – representing air, fire, earth, sky and water – fluttered from stupas, poles and bridges.
As we climbed up, we criss-crossed the river on suspended bridges, which hung higher and higher above the water. We began to break through the treeline, and the vegetation, which had been so thick before, was now starting to feel thin. So did the air. Many of us began to feel the altitude through headaches and exertion, but drinking lots of water – I was putting away between three and four litres most days – is the key. We also did acclimatisation hikes, where we would climb up and down again, ensuring we were sleeping at a lower altitude than we’d reached that day.
Image Credit: iStock.com/tenmay
When the trees fell away, hardy shrubs remained. The rocks around the river were chalk-white and the trail became sandy. I tried to go for a run around the riverside Sherpa town of Dingboche at 4,350m, and managed a pathetic two miles with many, many stops to catch my breath – not quite ready to keep up with the Kenyans in their high-altitude training.
We spent our evenings playing cards in the communal dining rooms of the teahouses, writing in our journals, chatting or reading. Bedtime was rarely later than 9pm and I was often unashamedly tucked up in my sleeping bag by 8.30pm. Nepal is home to eight of the world’s highest mountains, and Everest is not the hardest to summit. At 5,000m, and still craning our necks to look at the mountain tops high above us, the rock faces etched with the deep blue of terrifying crevasses, the enormous challenge mountaineers take on was suddenly much more striking.
The night before we hiked to EBC, the sky was perfectly clear and we all stood outside our teahouse in the icy air, gazing up at the blanket of stars that lay before us. The Milky Way twinkled above, a hazy, glittering belt blended into the diamond-studded canopy. The next afternoon, I noticed a small group of hikers below our trail, gathered in the valley by the foot of the deadly Khumbu Icefall and it dawned on me that this unwelcoming, uneven carpet of boulders was the site of Base Camp. We scrambled down the slope towards the streaming prayer flags that marked the site – and, for many, the pinnacle of our trip.
After celebrating with group photos and a short rest, it was time to head back the way we’d come. As I followed the glacier back to our teahouse, I realised – with no regret – how little the idea of Base Camp itself had really meant to me. The thrill of the trek and the memories that stuck with me – such as those colours woven into the stony fabric of the high-altitude terrain – were of the journey. Base Camp is a beginning or an end, depending on how ambitious a trip you’re taking. For me, it was simply a destination that motivated a journey of staggering natural beauty and moments of awe.