Trekking through one of the most beautiful landscapes in the World
Mount Everest is not only the tallest but also probably the most famous mountain in the World. Halfway between Nepal and Tibet, this titan attracts every year thousands of people, from professional climbers who want to go to the summit to travelers looking for a challenge. The ascent to Base Camp is one of the most popular trekking routes in Nepal, with 40,000 people doing it every year, and I wanted to be part of that number.
I wasn’t just looking for natural beauty, an amazing experience or the chance to go to the top of the World. I wanted to challenge myself, if I was going to be able to do it. When I did my research the numbers were definitely scary. 65 km (40 miles) each way and 2,700 m (8,800 ft) of height difference between Lukla, the starting point, and Base Camp. The highest point of the classic route, Mount Kala Patthar, is at 5,545 m (16,942 ft). Hiking will be hard. Walking will be hard. Even breathing will be hard. If I was looking for a challenge I was certainly going to find it.
I wasn’t going to do it alone. I love traveling with people, and for this adventure I had a friend with me. We arrived at Kathmandu and quickly arranged everything with a local trekking agency after a little bit of haggling. We decided to get one of the packages that included everything: one Sherpa guide, a porter, food, accommodation, flights and permits. While you can do the whole trek on your own, and probably spending way less money, I wanted a guide to get to know more about the region and the way of life of the people.
Distance: 8 km (5 mi)
Elevation: 2,610 m (8,500 ft)
The first day was pretty relaxed. After a short flight to Lukla, landing in “the most dangerous airport in the World”, we met the Sherpa guide, Lakpa, and started straight away. I was very excited and nervous at the same time and very distracted by all the natural beauty around me.
The landscape was stunning, no matter where you look at there were blue skies, beautiful mountains, and valleys covered in trees, small villages and houses here and there… and cows, so many cows. Apparently, all the goods needed along the way are transported mainly by cows, since vehicles can’t really travel through that difficult terrain. They can also be quite dangerous, so there are a few rules regarding cows, including always walking close to the mountain side of the trail, to avoid being pushed and falling down a cliff!
We finally arrived at our first stop, Phakding, pretty early in the day. It was an easy first day, maybe around 4 or 5 hours of walking. I thought if that’s how hard the trek was going to be I would definitely be ok!
Distance: 11,5 km (7,1 mi), Elevation: 3,440 m (11,286 ft)
If the last day was short and easy this was the opposite. I slept for 12 hours, woke up early in the morning and start walking. Since Phakding was actually at a lower elevation than Lukla I knew getting to Namche meant going up but I was definitely not prepared for that. The distance was not much longer than the first day, but the elevation difference was brutal, 830 meters or 2,700 feet. I couldn’t believe how exhausted I was, and the altitude didn’t help at all, breathing was getting harder and harder.
Another novelty of this day was the first taste of the suspension bridges. If you have seen the movie you probably remember the terrifying bridges. Well, they are actually quite terrifying. I don’t like heights, and while I was ok most of the time, some of the highest ones moved a lot with the wind, and I got pretty nervous at times.
As usual, the landscape was incredibly beautiful. We were lucky with the weather and had blue skies again. Not long before Namche, we reached the Everest Viewpoint, where we actually had the chance to look at the mountain for the first time. It was so incredibly exciting! Suddenly I wasn’t tired anymore, trying to get a glimpse of the tiny bit of it you could see between the trees. However, reality struck back when we had to keep going. Lakpa, our Sherpa guide, was, of course, not tired at all. We made the final push to get to Namche and celebrate that the second day was finally over!
We had another reason to celebrate: tomorrow we weren’t going to hike at all. When you cross the 3,000 meters barrier you have to rest for a day to acclimatize your body, so we spent the next day exploring the city, including the market and museum.
Distance: 15 km (9,3 mi)
Elevation: 3,985 m (13,074 ft)
One day of rest in Namche Bazaar did wonders on me, and I was ready for the long day of trekking. And I mean long in a very literal way. This time we were going to walk even more distance and climb almost as much as the last day, with lots of ups and downs. The first half of the day after leaving Namche was pretty good, the trek was almost flat. However, after having lunch by the river we started going up, up and up. After one or two hours going up, we arrived at a beautiful Buddhist monastery. There we rested for a bit and had a look inside, where some monks were working on a mandala. It’s forbidden to take pictures inside monasteries, so I only have exterior shots.
So far I haven’t talked about the religious constructions along the way, but there were a lot of them, mainly flags and Sanskrit inscriptions carved in rocks. You are supposed to walk leaving them always on your right, meaning you have to walk taking the left side. Of course, you don’t have to do it if you are not a Buddhist, but according to Lakpa it’s a sign of respect, so we decided to do it.
Distance: 7 km (4,3 mi), Elevation:4,410 m (14,470 ft)
I woke up the next day to a welcoming sun. The day was clear with no clouds at all, and I was more than ready to start hiking. It was a short and easy day again since Dingboche, the next stop, wasn’t very far away. Interestingly the landscape lost all the green trees and became mainly grass and bushes. Nevertheless, it was stunning!
After roughly three hours we arrived at Dingboche, where we explored the city a little bit with Lakpa, while he explained us different aspects of the life of a Sherpa, from the working conditions to the time it takes him to reach Base Camp at full speed when he hasn’t to slowly guide tourists like me. We went to a beautiful stupa and stayed there for a while, but at this altitude every evening the clouds come in and everything gets really cold. At that point, we headed back to the tea house to have dinner and sleep. The next day wasn’t going to be that easy.
Distance: 11 km (6,8 mi)
Elevation: 4,940 m (16,200 ft)
At this elevation, breathing is way harder and walking even more. The distance from Dingboche to Lobuche might not be as much as the first days, but it was certainly taking a toll on me. At some point, where the trek suddenly changed from flat to very steep I had to rest every couple of minutes. I couldn’t believe how the porters, carrying way, way more weight were walking faster than me and resting less. Sherpa people are incredible, there’s no doubt about it.
I was so tired that Lakpa asked if we wanted to stay in Dukla, which is a small village in between, but we had to keep going! After a lot of stops and a lot of suffering, we finally made it to Lobuche. The green of the grass was losing its yellow color and turning brown, and there were more and more rocks every time. We were even starting to see some ice!
After arriving at Lobuche and resting, again, for a few minutes, Lakpa showed us a nearby hill. The hill was really nice, it had a lot of stacked rocks. I remember seeing similar piled pebbles before, so I asked Lakpa if it was a religious thing. Turns out it’s actually some kind of sign between the Sherpa people. They made them along the trek so you know you are on the right track. If you get lost you can just follow them, and eventually, you will arrive at a village.
After the short Sherpa class, Lakpa guide us further up and gave us a really big surprise: from the top we were able to see Everest Base Camp. It was such an exciting moment, knowing that we were so close, that the next day we were finally going to be there! It was still very far away, but it meant a lot.
Distance: 8 km (5 mi)
Elevation: 5,364 m (17,600 ft)
Gorak Shep was the final stop before Base Camp. It didn’t take us long to get there, but it was very hard. We had to cross a sea of rocks, the trek disappeared between boulders and there were no more bridges, which meant a lot of ups and downs -but mostly ups-.
When we made it to this tiny village I was exhausted. Gorak Shep it’s at 5,164 meters or almost 17,000 feet. At this elevation, even walking was challenging. I tried running for a few meters, just to see how it feels. Do not try it. I think I almost died. My lungs were about to explode.
That elevation is also where a lot of people we met during the trek got altitude sickness. Apparently, 5,000 meters is where it gets dangerous. At the tea house, we witnessed it firsthand, including a helicopter rescue. It’s not pretty.
After finishing lunch Lakpa told us the news: we were heading to base camp! After the exhausting hike, I felt somehow both excited and tired. However, I had to do it. I was there to challenge myself and I couldn’t quit so close to the end!
Turns out the final trek to Base Camp wasn’t hard at all. It might be because we were always there, but we spent the whole time talking and joking! Before I even realize it we were already there! I couldn’t believe it. After so many days of trekking, sweating and barely breathing I was finally there. We took a lot of photos, saw many people celebrate like us and even a marriage proposal! It was a magical experience. Maybe not for Lakpa though, who had been dozens of time there! After some time we returned to Gorak Shep to have dinner. Again, the hike felt really short, and we even enjoyed a beautiful sunset with the sun tinting the top of the mountains with yellow.
Distance: 21,5 km (13,3 mi), Elevation:5,545 m (18,192 ft)
After one week of trekking, exhaustion and reaching Base Camp of the highest mountain in the World I thought the worst part was over. Turns out I was completely wrong. On the morning of the eighth day, we woke up at 4 am to climb the peak near Gorak Shep, Kala Patthar. Apparently, that’s what everybody does when they go there since the view of Base Camp from there is amazing, especially for sunrise or sunset. I debate with my travel companion for a while if getting up to see the sunrise really worth it. We decide that yeah, I guess we had to. So we gear up, I take the camera and go outside, to be received by a freezing cold and windy morning. Surrounded by darkness we followed Lakpa up the mountain, step by step. I couldn’t feel my hands. I couldn’t feel my feet. I couldn’t really breathe either, at least not with my mouth covered, but the alternative was a frostbitten face.
We walked for an hour, and the sun is almost out. Suddenly my companion it’s so cold and tired that she can’t keep going. At that point, I take a decision, and I leave Lakpa with her while I rush up, since the sun was about to rise. I try to go as fast as I can, but I have to stop every fifteen seconds to take a deep breath. I don’t want to miss the sunrise, so I keep going, passing all the, probably smarter people, who were slowly making their way up. I’m starting to get hot. I open the jacket, take off the mouth cover and keep running. Now I can’t feel my face, but at least I can breathe.
After what seems like an eternity I finally made it. I feel like I’m going to collapse at any moment, but I keep going. I climb the big boulders that mark the summit, completely covered in prayer flags, and I sit down. I can’t believe it, but I made it. The euphoria finally kicks in, and the urges to sleep, faint or collapse fade away. This is a very different experience than Base Camp. This was hard, really hard. So hard I didn’t know if I was going to make it. But it made it.
Suddenly I feel really cold, it’s very windy there, and staying still doesn’t help at all. I close my jacket and decide that it’s time to take some pictures. I turn on my camera and, I take a quick photo and a panorama and… The battery is dead. It was fully charged when I left, but the cold killed it. I guess I’ll just enjoy the view. Not for long though, it’s getting colder and it’s been a long time since I left my friend and Lakpa, so I head down.
Kala Patthar was quite an adventure, but now we still have almost 19 km (11,8 mi) to go. Luckily now we have to go downhill, so not only it’s easier, it also gets easier as we lose elevation. At least that’s the idea, but after walking for hours I had my doubts.
It’s really nice to revisit the same landscapes we’ve seen before in a different time of the day and from a different perspective. Many hours later we decided to stay at Pheriche, a small village really close to Dingboche, where we stayed on our way up. I was cold, exhausted and sleepy, but ready to have a good dinner, sleep and rest to keep walking the next day!
Distance: 25,5 km (15,8 mi)
Elevation: 2,860 m (9,380 ft)
The last two days were very similar. Long days because we had to cover a lot of distance. Going downhill for most of the time, but still had to go up a few times! After arriving at Namche we had to celebrate! So we all, including the porter and the guide, had a beer. Which one? Everest, of course! It was a really good evening, and we were all really happy to finally be almost back to Lukla.
The next day we finally arrived at Lukla. It was our final destination before going back to Kathmandu and saying goodbye to Lakpa. He showed us the town, his town, from the religious buildings to the school or the hospital. He even invited us to his house to have some tea with him and his wife! A wonderful guide and a wonderful friend.
The 10 days that I spent doing the Base Camp Trek were what I would call an adventure. I discovered beautiful landscapes and the incredible Sherpa culture and people, I made a friend and I challenged myself. When I started I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to finish it. Now I know. Anyone looking for an amazing experience should definitely have the Base Camp Trek on their bucket list.