The longest flight I’ve ever been on is to NYC or maybe Portland, Oregon. Somewhere around the 3-4 hour range. Knowing that we had 2 full days of travel ahead of us left me numb – it dampened my excitement and anxiety alike.
Jeremy’s mom dropped us off at the OKC airport at 5:30 AM on Friday, October 8. We flew into Newark, NJ where we had an 8 hour layover. The beautiful thing about airports is the people watching. And watch, I did. The time passed and our flight had arrived. We boarded the plane for Delhi, India and I quickly learned that my seat did not recline. Wonderful. And then I quickly learned that the toddlers right behind us hated life and wanted to make sure everyone on that plane knew it – for 13 long hours.
I was so excited when we finally arrived to Delhi. We exited the plane and were escorted to an area of the airport with a few chairs and loungers. A few airline workers gathered our passport and luggage information (written down by hand) and told us to wait an hour for our boarding pass to Kathmandu – from there we could gain access to the rest of the airport for food, magazines and other airport luxuries. We took a seat and waited. And waited. We had quietly gone insane and the waiting had become our whole lives – it felt like all we had because we couldn’t imagine what was waiting for us on the other side. 17 hours later we were finally given our boarding passes and access to duty-free shops, food and our excitement for Kathmandu.
This is all we saw of Delhi, India through our small airplane window. We had arranged for a home stay through airbnb for the duration of our very long layover but failed to realize that a transit Visa into India takes weeks and hundreds of dollars to process.
We took flight to Kathmandu and as we were cruising at 30,000 feet we saw mountains peaking through the clouds. The frustration and exhaustion didn’t matter anymore. We had arrived.
On October 10, 2010 we landed at the ancient Kathmandu international airport, filled out our Visas (the guy that issued mine laughed at my photo and said “pretty”), made it through customs and fortunately found our checked bag in a sea of backpacks and duffel bags. We were greeted outside the airport by a wall of noise, a red sky and about a million people wanting to give us a ride to wherever we needed to go. We found our way to our guide and made our way through chaos to a quiet van filled with the rest of our trek mates. It was just the still before the storm that was driving through Kathmandu in rush hour traffic – I’ve never experienced anything like it and was too shocked to pull out my camera. But trust me, when I tell you that it was insane. But we made it to the other side of the world and at that point we didn’t want to be anywhere else.
Jeremy and I went to bed at the Hotel Tibet around 9PM and found ourselves wide awake at 3:15AM the next morning. We forced ourselves to lay in bed until the sun made an appearance around 6AM. We grabbed a quick breakfast in the hotel lobby and decided to take a walk around the block before heading out for a day full of sightseeing. Little did we know, blocks do not exist in Kathmandu. We got lost in back alleyways but eventually found our way back to the hotel to meet up with the rest of our trek mates. We jumped in a van and spent the day exploring the most touristy areas of Kathmandu.
To get to the Hindu temple, Pashupatinath, we first had to make our way through a sea of people trying to sell us cheap souvenirs – it was exhausting saying “no, thank you” over and over again. We came out on the other side to witness cremations happening along the Bagmati river. The same murky river that pregnant dogs and ample amounts of trash called home was also the water these people purified themselves in. Families held deeply intimate cremation ceremonies as tourists stood on the other side and photographed it all. I was intrigued and ashamed all at once.
We made our way to Durbar Square and eventually to the Monkey Temple. Again, we were bombarded with people want to sell, sell, sell all while trying to retain as much visual stimulation and culture as humanly possible. After a full day we made it back to our hotel and packed our things to head to Lukla and begin our trek the next day. After the overwhelming craziness that was Kathmandu I was craving some clear sky, mountains and a trail to hike.
After a day of sightseeing in Kathmandu we were more than ready for fresh air and the beginning of our trek to Everest Base Camp. However, I was extremely anxious about the flight to Lukla. I’m not afraid of flying. In fact, I usually find turbulence exciting. I’ve jumped out of a plane before. But this flight to Lukla had me nervous – the Hillary-Tenzing airport in Lukla is the most dangerous in the world. Weather is fickle, the runway is incredibly short and on the side of a mountain. Fatal crashes are not uncommon.
The weather had been bad for the past 3 days so when we arrived to the Kathmandu airport at 7AM (for a 9AM flight to Lukla) there were hundreds of trekkers vying for a ticket to Lukla. 9AM came and went and no flights were going out. This is when a rumor was circulating that there had been a crash at Lukla and they were trying to clear the plane off the runway before sending more flights out. The information stopped there and my heart sank. As excited as I was to hit the trail I was also secretly hoping we’d be sent back to Kathmandu for another day.
Our trek mates became impatient as we continued to wait for our flight. But I became numb – perhaps I was calloused with our 17+ hour wait in Delhi – but really, I was scared shitless of the flight ahead of us. We eventually got news that the crash in Lukla wasn’t fatal but I was still on pins and needles about the whole thing. And then like that we got our tickets.
Flight No.: X
Date: 12 OCT 2010
We boarded our tiny plane and I took comfort that it was Tara Air – that’s my sister’s name. It’s a little silly but when you don’t have a higher power to find comfort in superstition and coincidence quickly finds it’s way as your religion. Most formalities you find on most plane rides did not apply here. It was assumed that we knew how to buckle our belts and we were merely given cotton to stuff in our ears. As we were in the air I held my breath as we flew through a patch of clouds. We could see the pilots navigating their way around them – not with fancy dials and GPS systems but by sticking their heads out the window. I found a very small corner of my mind wishing we’d just crash already. Let’s just get it over with. Will it be loud? Will I be able to keep my eyes open as it happens? Maybe I’ll pass out before we hit the side of the mountain. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die.
At the height of my anxiety attack I turned around to see the stewardess reading a paper. She didn’t seem to be concerned at all. And then I noticed my trek mate, Norman, completely passed out. This was a 35 minute flight, I don’t know how he does it. This is a good time to introduce you to Norman. He’s British and I’m pretty sure he’s a spy. At some point on this trek I learned that he has 3 passports for attaining access to different areas of the world that are in conflict with each other. I won’t say much more in fear of getting some kind of cease and desist order or having my blog vanish altogether.
And then like that we were landing smoothly at the most dangerous airport in the world and I was happy to be alive. We removed the cotton from our ears and applauded the pilots. We quickly hopped off the plane. We had arrived. Our guide gathered our porters and we stopped for a quick lunch and mint tea at a tea house lodge.
Lukla was beautiful and we were so happy to be there. The town was full of good energy and happy children. For the duration of our trek we wouldn’t encounter a single motorized vehicle (aside from rescue helicopters). Trains and cars were replaced by porters and yaks. The most dangerous traffic hazard is stepping in yak poop. What a contrast to Kathmandu.
We were giddy (and I was still shaking a little from the flight) as we made our way to Phakding from Lukla. Here we are on the other side of the world. Alive and in a few days we will lay eyes on Mt. Everest. All of the fear and anxiety I had in the weeks leading up to this trip, and just moments before as we landed in Lukla, quickly became a distant feeling that existed thousands of miles from where we were.
The sky was getting dark as we arrived to Phakding. We settled in for some dinner and tea and enjoyed the company of our trek mates by candle light.
Before we left for Nepal we had lunch on a farm with some friends. Through them I met a man who had trekked to Everest Base Camp 8 years ago and told me that the day he pushed to Namche Bazaar was the hardest – it’s one of the biggest gains in altitude we would have in a single day. It felt like our first real day of trekking and I knew we were in for it.
My favorite was walking past all the locals along the trail. These people are living simple and growing their own food – themes that I have been striving for in my own life. But they’re not doing it because it’s trendy rebellion against the consumer culture I’m surrounded by (and can choose to participate in whenever I please). It’s just their way of life and it’s not always this picture-perfect neo-pioneer minimalist scene (the kind of aesthetic simplicity I tend to fantasize about). A good part of this trek through Nepal was spent thinking about the balance – the life we want to live and the world we live in. The choices we have the opportunity to make.
We shared the trail with yaks. I grew terribly fond of the yaks (and cow/yak hybrids known as the dzo) and took a picture of almost every single one we crossed paths with. I think I have 1,200 photos of yaks.
As much as I loved the stunning views of the Himalayas (usually only visible in the morning, in the afternoons the clouds would roll in) I really loved walking through the little villages. Most people and children did not want to have their photos taken but they were all hard-working, ruddy-cheeked and beautiful.
The trek was hard. The first half of our day we only gained 200M and had 600 more to go. This means the second half of our day was spent walking up a very steep terrain. But I was feeling solid and happy. And at the half-way point our guides took us off the beaten path and there we found our first view of Everest. It was a lot like meeting a celebrity where you feel small in comparison and you kind of can’t believe your eyes – and you know they could give two shits about you. That’s how I felt about Everest. That all this love I have for a mountain was unrequited but in the meantime I’m getting all this love from Nepal. Like maybe my crush has shifted a little bit to something a bit more real. Regardless, I had laid eyes on what I came to see but it still seemed very far away.
So yes. The very steep trek was hard but when your only focus in the whole world is putting one foot in front of the other and breathing it’s really not so hard. I was looking forward to this part. I was in the moment and it felt good.
We finally made it into Namche Bazaar exhausted – we were so excited arrive to the place we would call home for the next 3 nights. The town was alive with merchants, bakeries, locals and trekkers and I felt lucky to be a part of that energy. I had decided that my one big purchase for the trek would be a yak bell and there were plenty to choose from.
We settled in at our tea house lodge and I quickly found myself sick to my stomach, exhausted and wanting nothing to do with food. Jeremy was concerned but I figured I would just sleep it off and hit the ground running the next morning.
I left off on Day 5 feeling pretty lousy. Day 6 was better but before we get into that I want to reiterate the fact that this was our first time overseas. We’ve been to Canada and Mexico but those vacations took place on resorts and cruises – everything was comfortable and familiar. In Nepal we were trekking with a bunch of Brits – where it is encouraged and more accessible to travel the world. They were thrilled that it was our first time overseas and when I told them I had been scared leading up to the trek they asked if it was because of terrorism. They had a good laugh when I told them one of my main points of anxiety was over the toilet situation.
So, before we get into the beauty that is the Himalayas and our first really great view of Everest I want to dive into the toilet situation. I apologize in advance if this offends anyone, but if we’re going to be honest about this trek we’re going to have to address it.
Before you start throwing up in your mouth let me clarify that what you’re seeing here is a porcelain squat toilet and that liquid and grime you see here is just water and dirt. At least that’s what I told myself. There are many variables when it came to toilets in Nepal – some were Western style but didn’t flush. Some were squat and did flush. Some were just wood slats placed on the side of a hill. Some would pretend to be Western style with a toilet seat placed on the side of a hill. Some had signs that read: Dear Guest, Please put soiled toilet paper in the bin (you never flush in Nepal) not in the toilet basin. And please do not wash your feet in the toilet. Thank you. But you do what you gotta do and I did. It was fine. Everybody poops. Moving on.
So yes, Day 5, I was sick to my stomach and skipped dinner. Jeremy woke me up at 5AM and I forced a Cliff Bar down. I started to feel much better but still a little uninterested in food. At breakfast I had a simple breakfast of sweet rice. I’m glad I wasn’t aware of how hard our trek this day would be – I thought it would be a leisurely day trek and I was wrong.
We went up to a small national park area for a glimpse of Everest – but the clouds had a different idea. So we headed up another route and the weather started to clear up a bit.
The views were clear and beautiful and we were crossing our fingers that it would stay that way as we started our very steep climb up to the main Everest view point.
We finally made it to our viewpoint and admired Everest, Ama Dablam, Lhotse, and all the other mountains around us. My relationship with Everest was rekindled a little and I soaked it in.
But enough about the beautiful mountains. Let’s talk about what we wore. This is pretty much it. For 14 days. Helly Hansen trekking pants, Mountain Hardwear jacket, Smartwool shirt. For 14 days.
From there we trekked through a Khumbu village – our guide, Buddhi, went to 7th and 8th grade at the Hillary school here. He walked for 2 days from his village with his older brother to reside here for 2 years for school. He now goes to University in Kathmandu and studies English literature.
We visited a monastery and saw a Yeti Skull! I asked Buddhi, who grew up in the region, if he ever saw a Yeti. He said no. I asked him if he believed – with a little hesitation he said that he really wanted to believe but that without proof it’s hard. But what about the Yeti skull? I asked. He said that the real Yeti skull was stolen from the monastery years ago.
I want to believe in the Yeti too.
Day treks are hard. The point is to keep up with your fitness, trek high to acclimatize and then come back down low to sleep. Your body is working hard to build more red blood cells so your muscles can breath as you gradually ascend to higher altitudes. Meanwhile, your brain and legs are threatening to organize a protest if you take one more step. But then you take a deep breath, look around and kick yourself in the ass for even thinking about complaining.
So, on Day 7 we took a long day trek to Thame Village. Along the way I saw a man puking on the side of the trail. If you know me, you know that throw up is in my top 3 biggest fears of all time. I immediately started assessing the contents of my own stomach and whether or not I felt nauseous. I quickly tried to put the whole scene out of my mind but I was kind of traumatized for the next 4 hours. But by the time lunch came around I put the mini anxiety attack to rest and chowed down on some egg fried rice.
As we ate lunch the clouds started rolling in. It was cold and rainy as we made our trek back to Namche Bazaar. Even though the temperatures are freezing, walking keeps you warm. And even though it’s not technically raining, when you’re walking through the clouds, before you know it you are soaked.
Even though it’s a little disheartening to walk for 8 hours, with your view of the Himalayas obscured by clouds, only to end up back where you came from soaking wet and exhausted, it was still one of the most beautiful days of my life.
Trekking feels like my whole life at this point – there is no past or future – all there is is one foot in front of the other and thinning air.
The day started out with a bowl of sweet rice, Tibetan bread and mint tea. We were all looking forward to trekking to Deboche and staying there. The day treks were physically and mentally exhausting – all the hard work without really getting anywhere.
Today we had to trek all the way down (200 meters / 650 feet) to the river and half way through our morning it started raining. I don’t prefer walking down hill anyways but add wet gravel and mud into the mix and it gets downright stressful. I don’t think I ever fell but it was slick at times and hard on my knees. After a few hours we made it to the bottom of the hill and stopped for lunch at a tea lodge. It’s hard to say how cold it is but I would guess around 40F – you stay warm by moving.
There’s nothing better than breaking for lunch or ending your day in the common dining area of a tea lodge. It’s the only place with heat – a stove burning fire wood or yak dung in the middle of the room. Everyone is exhausted but the energy is high. It’s during these times that we play Uno or various other card games with our trek mates – or simply engage in some cozy conversation. Jeremy and I were only 2 of 3 Americans out of our 9 trek mates. Everyone else was English. So a lot of times we’d talk about food, politics and cultural differences. Our group is pretty tight – we’re always laughing and are generally in high spirits.
After lunch we had a steep incline – it always works this way. We climbed about 2,000 feet to make our way up to the monastery in Tengboche. It was nice, but at this point most of us were more interested in the bakery across the trail. We were all feeling a bit bummed about the rain – and the amazing views we knew we were missing out on. We rested and had some hot chocolate and were relieved that the rest of our trek for the day would be mostly downhill to Deboche.
We finally made it to our tea lodge. The tea lodges are really simple structures. There is always a main dining area and rooms made with plywood walls and floors. There are usually two small twin cots (Jeremy and I would usually squeeze onto one together or push the cots together) – and even though you’re inside it’s still freezing. You might spy a Western toilet above but I can guarantee you that it doesn’t flush. Needless to say, it’s not a 5-star hotel. Not even close – but I think this particular lodge wanted us to think otherwise – check out the wall art! We all had a good laugh about that.
This morning, Day 9, I woke up sick. Sore throat, snotty nose, throbbing head – sick. In fact, if I were home I’d take the day off. Lay around and nap on and off during a Wes Anderson marathon. But no. Today I have to trek and it’s going to be one of the hardest days yet.
We made a quick hike from Deboche to Pangboche – only 1.5 hours. As we approached our tea lodge I saw a ton of yaks in the courtyard being loaded up with supplies and some documentary film makers capturing the whole thing on film. In the midst of the hubbub we discover that it’s the Soldiers to the Summit crew. We had been catching word of this group making the trek to the summit of Lobuche and Kala Pattar. And then we met Erik. This man, from Colorado, made it to the summit of Mt. Everest in 2001. Then he proceeded to do all seven summits (reaching the summit of the highest mountain on each continent). All while blind. No really.
Jeremy suggested we get our picture with him and I was really embarrassed to ask. But I did and he kindly obliged. A friend of his was kind of an ass about it and made of me for asking (I think he was jealous of what a badass Erik was) but I’m glad I did. It’s not often that you meet someone who has made it to the summit of Mt. Everest. And it’s even more rare to meet the only blind person to ever accomplish that feat.
We went inside for an early lunch and tea when a rescue helicopter landed in the field right behind our lodge! We see about half a dozen of these helicopters a day – and it reminds you to be careful. You can’t get too comfortable at altitudes like this and if you hurt yourself you have a long way down. In fact, we had to get insurance for a medical evacuation in order to go on this trek. Serious business.
After lunch we headed out for the hardest day of the trek yet. We will be hiking up to Ama Dablam base camp – a 3,347 ft. increase in elevation.
The temperatures were freezing and I was feeling like ass. The climb was hard and for the first time I pulled out my iPod to help me get through it. I had been avoiding listening to music until this point – I wanted to soak in every single part of this trek – the sounds of yak bells and the earth under my feet. But today, at this point, I needed those songs to get me up that hill. And one (step), and one (step), and one (step) became my mantra. It took us 3-4 hours to get to base camp and when we arrived our beautiful views of Ama Dablam were completely obscured by the clouds. I thought it couldn’t get worse but then it started raining on our way down and we were walking into the wind. The temperatures were below freezing and we were soaked. Absolutely miserable.
I stopped taking photos at this point – but fortunately, Jeremy captured some video. In fact, he was using our iPhones to gather video the entire time and we have tons of it. I’m hoping to edit it down into a short movie – but we’ll see. For now you get these raw unedited clips.
When we finally got back to our lodge we stripped down and put on dry thermals and sweats. We all gathered around the fireplace burning yak dunk and laid out our clothes in the dining area to dry. We were chilled to the bone and all recovering together – still managing to laugh it all off.
I was feeling worse and Doctor Buddhi brought me a bowl of boiling water and medicine drops in an unmarked bottle to put in the water. I put a towel over my head and breathed in through my nose, out through my mouth. Everyone in the lodge had a good laugh as my sinuses cleared. It helped for a while but I was feeling progressively worse through the night.
On Day 10 I woke up feeling terrible. My tonsils felt like they were little bags swollen with cat piss and my head was pounding something fierce. I avoided coughing out of fear of busting a vein in my head. The snot in my head was threatening to suffocate me. I had developed what the guides refer to as The Khumbu Cold and apparently it’s impossible to recover from at high altitude. Lovely.
Fortunately, our trek today was only 3-4 hours opposed to the typical 8-9 hour days we had been enduring.
What should’ve been an easy day was anything but. Every foot we increase in altitude weighs down on your body a little more. The clouds were still sitting low – for the 4th day in a row during what is supposed to be the clearest, most beautiful time of the year in Nepal. We had finally made our way above the treeline and everything around us felt a little more dead and harsh. It was down right depressing and I had a hard time finding any good in the situation.
When we finally made it to our lodge we sipped on ginger tea and had our first shower since Namche Bazaar. I washed my hair for the first time in about 2 weeks and things started feeling a little more right in the world. We lounged around the upstairs dining area and read books while yak dung burned in the fire place.
The afternoon turned into the evening and after dinner we played cards. I practiced some Nepalese with our guide, Buddhi and all the other locals in the room thought it was absolutely hilarious – but I think they also appreciated the effort. It was a typical evening until a couple of our other guides came upstairs and told us half the sky was clear – you could see the almost full moon, stars and a mountain. We all rushed downstairs and I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Four days of rain made this sight completely worth it – and when I think about Nepal this image will always come first to mind. We all became giddy and the view of this mountain gave me the push I needed in the following days to make it up to Everest Base Camp.
We tend to wake up every morning before the sun rises. Sometimes as early as 4AM. We’ll pull our clothes up from the bottom of our sleeping bags (to keep them warm) and layer them back on. I will write in my journal and Jeremy will repack our bags. As the light was barely starting to light up we could see that it was clear outside. We quickly laced up our boots and went out to snap a couple of photos of Ama Dablam – just in case the clouds spontaneously decide to come down on us.
Despite the gorgeous skies I feel terrible. My voice is gone. My throat is so raw that I can hardly swallow my own spit and coughing makes the walls of my esophagus stick together. I’ve got a feeling this day trek to Chukhung is going to be hard.
I quickly washed out my undies and some socks to hang out to dry during our day trek and we headed up to the dining hall for a typical breakfast – hot tea, Tibetan bread and a cheese omelet.
As we start to get deeper into the Himalayas I start getting a little anxious about how far we’ve come – and further still to go. If something happens to any of us we’ve got a long way to get back. The villages are getting smaller as we get higher and the terrain is becoming a little more uninviting.
But I also feel like I don’t ever want to go back home.
As we hiked my throat was so raw I was almost in tears. But still… Trekking Nepal, the mountains, the air – in step with Jeremy – it makes sense.
We made it to Chukhung in about 3 hours. I had a typical lunch – veggie fried rice. We had a beautiful view of Ama Dablam and watched children play as we ate. And then we watched the clouds roll in over Dingboche – all I could think about was my laundry hanging out to dry. It only took us a little over an hour to practically run back to Dingboche. We beat the rain and made it back early enough to enjoy a few hours at the bakery across the trail.
You would be completely shocked at how happy a mug of hot chocolate and a chocolate donut will make you at over 15,000 feet.
We’ve dubbed our trekking group Team Yeti and I’ve become quite close with everyone we’re hiking with – especially the ladies. Charlie & Jenny are the mom and daughter team from England. We like to go through the Glamour they brought with them and pick out our favorite styles while describing what we look like ‘in real life’. Sharon is the only other American in the group and works for herself as a physical therapist. One day after a long and steep downhill hike she worked her magic on my knees and I was fine for the rest of the trek. We all like to give her a hard time for the amount of vitamins she takes every morning. We’re all having a good time together.
The day after tomorrow we will reach Mt. Everest Base Camp.
It seems that we always start off our day with breakfast and tea followed by one big push up one big hill. The first hour of any hike is always the hardest. Your body refuses to accept that this is really happening, especially first thing in the morning. And where the is the oxygen? I would often power through by pretending I had yak legs or by pretending like I was some sort of badass in general. And when my mind would wander off too far – like to the beach or my bed at home – I would quickly bring it back. One step. (breathe in) One step. (breathe out) One step. (breathe in)…
I should also mention that it’s becoming hard to sleep. I’ll wake up in the night with my heart racing and head pounding. And I’ll hear Jeremy not breathing for 10 seconds and then take 2 big gasps of air in a row – and his breathing will repeat in that pattern like it’s no big deal. Rescue helicopters are still constantly running back and forth from Lukla. People with altitude sickness are now being sent down the mountain because they run serious risks if they push any farther.
From now on when people ask me to describe my dream house it’s not going to be the typical “Oh you know, a pre-war brick home with a fireplace in my bedroom, a huge clawfoot tub and a kitchen with a retro wood burning stove.” My dream home now exists on a trail somewhere between Dingboche and Lobuche. It’s at the top of a hill and made from sticks and stones. You have to burn yak poop to stay warm but the view… and you know what they say location, location, location.
We pushed just a little further on a very slight incline. At one point we witnessed a yak with it’s tail up in the air and acting rather agitated. Then we saw a few yaks on a hill above calling back and heading down towards this yak on lower ground. I totally thought we were about to witness a yak fight until Buddhi made it clear that we were about to witness some yak love. Then we all proceeded to take off our day packs and stand there for about an hour while these yaks dirty-talked to each other from hundreds of yards away. But alas, it was all talk and no action so we moved on.
So we made it to Dughla for lunch and this is really when I start to notice villages getting smaller. This village is pretty much two tea lodges and that’s it. However, Dughla was all but wiped away by a freak flood in 2007 when a natural dam holding a glacial lake in the Khumbu Glacier broke. The place was packed and buzzing with energy. Everyone is getting really close to where they want to go. After lunch we made our way up yet another huge and steep hill. My tactic for getting up this one was to take 20 steps at a time and then stop for 3 breaths and proceed until getting to the top.
And once we made it there we were rewarded with a really special stone memorial to honor Sherpas and climbers who perished on Everest.
After spending a good amount of time recovering at the memorial we headed forward towards Lobuche. We were walking along a river bed in a valley for what seemed like days but the view was amazing. It took us about 8 hours total – so it was a long day.
We reached Lobuche and got settled into our rooms. I joined the rest of the crew for cards, dinner and warmth in the main dining area. The place smelled like toilet, yak dung was burning in the stove and I was sitting next to a Sherpa who took his shoes off to let his feet air out – it was like nothing I’ve ever smelled before. But even so, I felt so grateful to be there. Energy is high and it feels like Christmas Eve because tomorrow morning we will be making our final push to Everest Base Camp. We’re almost there.
If last night felt like Christmas Eve this morning definitely felt like Christmas day. It was exciting to wake up to fresh snow covering the ground but we were all worried about what the weather. We had a long day ahead of us – about 9 hours of trekking. We departed Lobuche at 7AM sharp.
Every morning we take our pulse and oxygen reading – a typical reading at sea level is about 65 resting heart rate and a 98% oxygen saturation level. Up here we were reading at about 110 resting heart rate and a 90% oxygen saturation level – being at this altitude really stresses your heart and organs. The higher your resting heart rate is the less you have to give when you really need to push up a hill. All of that said, we were all feeling alright and were excited to finally make it to base camp.
It only took us an hour to reach Gorak Shep – the only village left before reaching Everest Base Camp. As we approached the village I got excited about this pile of ladders. You see – when you try to climb Everest from the Nepal side you have to cross huge crevasses in the glaciers on ladders tied together – and I’m pretty sure these are those ladders. We had a light lunch (really a second breakfast at 8AM).
I ordered the double vag omlate but not without giggling. We loaded up on tea and boiled water for our water bottles and hit the trail.
The weather was deteriorating and it was hard to breathe. But after hiking for about 2.5 hours we made it to what I thought was Base Camp. There were prayer flags and people there posing for photos with their shirts off.
But Buddhi told us we had farther to go.
And so we kept walking.
We walked along the side of the Khumbu Ice Falls. It’s hard to tell the scale in these photos but I imagine it would be a full day just to get across them. This is where those ladders above would come in place.
We made it! There were only a few tents set up – apparently, there was one American team attempting to summit while we were there. However, most people that attempt to summit Everest do so in April and May. So, we tried to muster up some enthusiasm and relish in the moment. I tried to come up with some life epiphany to share with you guys but in all honesty… it was kind of anti-climatic. We were tired, it was cold and starting to snow. I should also clarify (and I knew this going in) that you cannot actually see Mt. Everest from base camp. It’s obscured by a couple mountains in front of it.
We started to head back towards Gorak Shep and I was feeling guilty for not being more excited about base camp. And when we got to our tea lodge and sat down for hot cocoa the rest of our team admitted to feeling the same way. Yes, we were excited that we made it. But this trek has become something far beyond hiking to Everest Base Camp. The trek has become about each step and breath it took to get there.
And tomorrow, Day 14, we will be pushing even higher and harder than we did today. And the views will more than make up for the bad weather we experienced at base camp.
The whole point of this trek was to make it to Everest Base Camp and we did. So it was pretty easy to gloss over the fact that we would be going harder and higher the very next day by hiking to the top of Kala Patthar – where we would get amazing views of the Himalayas around us, including Everest. As a group we decided to leave at 4AM in order to capture views of the sun rising behind Mt. Everest. I woke up at 2:30AM with my heart racing and head pounding – I felt like I was drunk, hungover and experiencing a panic attack all at once. Jeremy was gasping for air in his sleep. This is what sleeping at 17,000 feet feels like. I patiently waited for time to pass and at 3:45 we put our boots on (at this point we were sleeping in our hiking clothes to stay warm) and headed down to the main dining hall where we found Sherpas and trekkers that couldn’t get a room sleeping on the floor. We had some hot chocolate and went outside to hit the trail.
With the light of the moon and the stars we started the very vertical hike up. Headlamps were dotting the trail and we looked like ants making our way up the mountain. In below freezing temperatures, we followed each other one-by-one in a single file line. And within 5 minutes I was spent but we had 2.5 hours to go.
It was around 5:30AM that light started to fill the sky and we got our first views of Everest. The view was breath taking. We pushed up the mountain and the cold air was penetrating our down jackets. Snot was coming out of my face at such a rapid rate that my kerchief didn’t stand a chance. Our water bottles (filled with boiled water before we left the tea lodge) were freezing and our hands were too cold to get them open even if we wanted to. Our quick ascent made breathing damn near impossible. I was just a hundred feet from the top and would have to stop every 10 steps just to keep from dying. But we made it.
At 18,500 feet this might be the closest we ever get to the top of the world. We celebrated up top with a few snapshots but were way too cold to stay for long. We made our descent and I said goodbye to Everest for now. We found ourselves back at the tea lodge around 8AM for breakfast and tea. We packed our bags and were excited to start our trek back to Lukla – with our first stop in Pheriche.
We made it to Base Camp in ten days and now we have only four to get back down. We’ve mentally shifted from going up to going down – but we were hardly going down at all. The trail undulates – up a hill, down a valley to the river and back up another hill.
As we approached Pheriche we had a two hour hike through a flat riverbed. Jeremy and I found ourselves alone, just the two of us, for the first time in a what felt like a long time.
Now that we weren’t struggling to breathe and were on a flat stretch of trail we were able to really enjoy each others’ company. Pheriche looked close but it was still a couple hours away. We walked through a river bed and tried to get baby yaks to let us pet them. When we finally made it to our tea lodge we were spent but giddy to be at lower altitude and making our way back home.
Every morning at breakfast our guide Buddhi gives us an overview of our day. Towards the beginning of the trek he would say things like “mostly flat” and aside from the glacier bed we walked along toward Base Camp I would say nothing about these hills could be described as “mostly flat”. So after a while Buddhi readjusted his adjectives to things like Nepalese flat, undulating, and Tibetan Bread. Side note: Tibetan Bread was by far my favorite food in Nepal – it’s a quick bread fried in oil and served with honey – the surface of it is similar to that of a German pancake. We also learned that when Buddhi says “20 minutes” it’s really more like an hour.
All of this to say that the trek down was not easy. We were still heading up very steep hills but breathing was becoming a bit easier. And it was nice to be heading down from the unfamiliar and hostile environment at 18,000 feet and back down to where life exists.
Now that we’re headed back down I’m finding it less necessary to focus on each step and breathe. My mind is starting to wander – I’m thinking about my friends and family back home. I’m thinking about design and typography. I’m thinking about my career and the big changes I’ll be making in the next year. I’m thinking about how excited I am to get back home but how I never want to leave Nepal. I love this life that has become about walking, eating, breathing and sleeping but I miss making things with my hands – things like food and art.
The clouds started coming down as we approached Phortse and it felt like Fall outside. It felt magical. In just two weeks I’ve completely adjusted to this being our life – to the point where it’s easy to take the whole thing for granted. But the matter of the fact is that our days here are limited, so I’m trying to saturate my senses with what it’s like to be here. I don’t ever want to forget.
One of the best things about this trek is never knowing which day it is. Monday, Friday, Sunday… whatever. It’s all the same. But on this day, Day 17, it started to matter that I was 8 days late. Yes, that kind of late. Jeremy and I spent a couple of late nights, squeezed onto a single twin size cot in our -15F down sleeping bags, whispering about what if…
So on day 17 when we started our long hike to Lukla and one of our trek mates asked us if we want to have kids one day. Jeremy and I exchanged grins. I had a lot to think about on Day 17 aka 8 Days Late. What if…
And just like that there were babies everywhere. And I started getting excited about the whole idea of what if…
What if I am…
And we brought a baby to the top of the world and back.
Can we name it Ever? or Buddhi? or Babu?
Will I still be able to work out?
Will we still be able to travel?
I guess we should finally fix that door down to the basement…
As we got closer to Lukla we started passing groups that had just started. All fresh faced and clean – a stark contrast to our burnt and weathered faces, our baggy clothes and dirty hair. Just two weeks ago we were those people – as we trace our steps back to Lukla it’s easy to see that we’ve come so far.
After our very long day of hiking and thinking about the big what if we finally made it to Lukla, the happiest town in the whole world. We made it to our tea lodge and were ecstatic to find our room had a big double bed and a bathroom attached to our room.
After tea and dinner we found an Irish pub across the street. The place was filled with neon lights, a dance floor, a pool table and darts. The DJ plugged in Jeremy’s iPod and we listened to Mumford and Sons. Jeremy had a Guinness and I only had a sip of Bailey’s because you know… what if… We played pool and darts with our sherpas. And as the evening became night the place turned into a big dance party. Never in my life did I ever think I would be shaking it in an Irish Pub in Nepal with sherpas. It’s a scene I will never forget.
We left the pub at 10PM but it felt like closing time. The trail and town was dead silent and we crawled into our big double bed and said good night.
We woke up on the morning of Day 18 to daylight (we would usually wake up way before the sun did on this trek) and the sound of prop planes taking off and landing at the airport down the trail.
Our room had 2 walls of windows – as we peeked out of them we could see the Happiest Town in the Whole World was already awake too. I went to the bathroom and found the most amazing view of the moon just over the mountains and it hurt my heart. And just moments after that as I enjoyed my morning pee my uterus bluntly and unapologetically let me know that I was definitely not pregnant. Just like that Baby Ever, Buddhi or Babu had turned into this fantasy of what if that I had foolishly let myself indulge in – and I was a little disappointed to, just like that, let it go. But at the same time I was
a little a lot relieved. I told Jeremy and, just like that, our lives went back to normal. As normal as our lives could be along a trail in The Happiest Town in the Whole World, Nepal. The late factor is in no way normal for me but can be explained with the physical stress, rapid weight loss and high altitude. At that point I was grateful that I didn’t have to deal with it while hiking around at 18,000 feet.
We had a lazy breakfast, packed our bags and headed to the Lukla Airport aka The Most Dangerous Airport in the World around 9AM. We said a tearful goodbye to a couple of our sherpas, Uttar and Bimboo. And then we waited and waited and waited. We got word that weather was bad in Kathmandu and thought we might have to stay in Lukla another night. No planes were coming in or out of the Lukla airport but a plane finally arrived around 1PM. Hundreds of people rushed to the “gate” hoping one of those 18 seats on that twin otter belonged to them. But those seats belonged to us.
Leaving Lukla was much less stressful than landing there – the skies were clear and we had an amazing view of the Himalayas. As we approached Kathmandu circled the city 4 times while waiting for the president of Nepal to depart from the Kathmandu Airport. At this point I was itching to be out of that plane and safe on the ground. We landed safely, gathered our bags and like that we were back in the craziest city in the world.
We arrived to our hotel, drank Americanos (our first drop of caffeine in 2 weeks) and showered for what felt like ages. We napped, played Plants vs. Zombies on our iPhones and got ready to go to dinner in Kathmandu with our trek mates.
What followed was one of the best nights of my whole life. We took two taxis through the crazy city that is Kathmandu to Thamel House. We were led up a winding staircase up about 5 flights to the top of the restaurant where we sat by candle light at low tables on pillows. We ordered Everest beers and looked at the menu. There were two options: Meat and Vegetarian. We ordered vegetarian and ate a 10 course meal. We were giddy to be drinking and eating and the magnitude of what we had accomplished just days before was finally sinking in. We were served shot upon shot of Raksi and our conversations and laughs became louder.
That magical moment I was waiting for at base camp was happening here.
Our last day in Kathmandu was a blur – I think the physicality of the trek behind us was starting to sink in and it left me feeling tired. Exhausted, really.
However, we weren’t quite as intimidated by this city as we were upon arrival. We went exploring and found ourselves in The Garden of Gods – I couldn’t believe this place existed. Quiet, calm and completely lush in the middle of this crazy city. On our first days in Kathmandu I kept seeing kids swinging on these bamboo swings and so badly wanted to stop and ask for a turn – so I was beyond excited when I saw one of these swings in the Garden of Gods. I want to build one in our backyard.
We found our way to Thamel – a touristy shopping area and I bought a pair of baggy trousers which Jeremy now refers to as my ‘hammer pants’ for 400 rupees. (Note: After hanging out with English folks for 2 weeks solid I learned to avoid saying ‘pants’ unless I was actually talking about my undies).
The biggest challenge of the whole vacation yet was trying to cross a busy 6-lane street in Kathmandu. I just went for it – squeezed my eyes shut and squealed as I ran across all 6 lanes. Everyone else seemed to make it just fine and without looking like such a spaz.
This last day in Kathmandu left me feeling claustrophobic, overwhelmed and irritated – I was already missing the crisp, thin air from just days before. And I was missing home.
The day we left Kathmandu felt like the last day of camp. Or the end of a season of The Real World when you wonder who is going to be last. Well, Jeremy and I were last. Throughout that morning, one-by-one, we said goodbye to our temporary trekking family until just us three Americans were left. We loaded into a taxi and drove to the Kathmandu airport to start our long string of flights home. Sharon, the Colorado native, had an earlier flight out than us – after hugging her goodbye, Jeremy and I sat in the Kathmandu waiting area and watched a Nepalese soap opera along with hundreds of other people with somewhere to go.
A few hours later we boarded our flight to Delhi, India. I sat next to a man who wanted to hear about my trek. When I told him the scariest part was the flight to Lukla he told me that his nephew was a pilot that worked that flight – and when he started to tell me a story about his nephew set in October 2008 I knew the story wasn’t going to end well. You see, I had been obsessively looking at all the previous crash information at this airport and I knew there was a fatal crash in October 2008. The man told me everyone was killed except for his nephew and that after a long recovery he is still working as a pilot. I couldn’t believe it.
So then we landed in India and returned to the holding cell that we had spent 17+ hours in on our way in. It was nice that it felt familiar – I guess kind of like when you fall in love with your kidnapper. This time we only had to wait 6 hours for our boarding passes.
Before we knew it we were on our long flight home – we passed time sleeping and watching movies. I watched a film called Mary & Max – you should watch it sometime too.And just like that we were landing in Newark at about 4AM. Our flight to Oklahoma City wasn’t until 8PM that night but somehow we were able to land an earlier flight, connecting in Houston, that would bring us home at about 1PM.
And then just like that we were home.
We were greeted by family, kitties and Fall. We spent the next two days sleeping, eating and sleeping some more. I was so happy to be home but now that almost a month has passed since our return I’m starting to miss Nepal and the quiet, massive mountains with my whole being. I miss the physicality of the trek – the simplicity of taking one step at a time and learning how to breath. The whole experience almost feels like a dream – like I imagined the whole thing. I’m trying to keep memories and details of the trek very close to my heart and it’s meant a lot that I could share this adventure with you. Thank you for listening.