May 11, 2017 – 3:00PM
Namche Bazaar, 3440 m
Today is our first rest day of the trek. Or rather, we’ll call it our first “acclimatization” day of the trek, because we still wandered around a whole bunch and the trip planning books build in extra days to help adjust to the elevation. We’re in Namche Bazaar, the closest place to a city that the Khumbu valley has to offer, and it is bustling with trekkers and climbers all coming and going. It is fantastic to be here.
It’s taken us a full seven days of walking to get this far, but the experience to date has been incredible.
The topography of Nepal is such that many of the valleys drain the glaciers of the high Himalayan peaks in the north, along the Nepal-Tibet border, and flow into the plains towards the Indian border in the south of the country. The route from Shivalaya just about all the way to Lukla conveniently runs from west to east, meaning that for six out of seven days it has been straight down one side of the valley, and straight up the other. I’ve already lost track of how many vertical metres we’ve climbed (it’s a lot), but there have been at least a few days where 1000 m of climbing is the norm. Throw in a steady flow of oncoming donkey trains hauling materials from village to village (as well as their seemingly incessant stream of delightful droppings) and its been a nice way to get our hiking boots dirty and our legs in trekking shape.
The benefits of all the up and down (if you can imagine any) are actually many: the trail has been relatively deserted of other trekkers; the villages, though often still under re-construction following the earthquake, are authentic; and our experiences with the local lodge owners have been friendly and personal. Add to that the fact that we followed along the same route used by Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary during their first ascent of Mount Everest in 1953, and we’re feeling pretty good about ourselves.
Although the trail from Shivalaya wasn’t busy, we weren’t the only trekkers to be spotted. There were at least three others, and they were usually either right in front, between, or behind us. We met them on our third night in Sete: another Canadian couple from Toronto and moving to Vancouver in July (Scott and Elliot) and a German guy (Laurin). The five of us have teamed up and been trekking together for the last few days, which has been really nice. We’re all planning to do the Three Passes trek, so we’ll see how long we stick together.
The walking itself has been straightforward and pleasant, and the locals have been more than happy to show us the way when needed. Big mountain views have been few, thanks in part to the mostly cloudy weather, but we did have our first views of Everest the other morning in the village of Phurteng: it was the tiny-looking peak way back on the horizon that we probably wouldn’t have noticed if the goat-cheese-selling lodge owner hadn’t pointed it out and if we didn’t have binoculars in my pack. But the cold smoke blowing off the summit was distinct! And it still brought a little mist to my eyes after dreaming about the trek for so long.
Aside from that we have mostly followed along steep trails on the hillsides and enjoyed many amazing views that the foothills have had to offer: the Dudh Khosi, monasteries and stupas, crazy suspension bridges crossing streams and rivers, terraced vegetable fields, and how could I forget the wonderful rhododendron forests (I’m told that we may have just missed the peak blooming season).
The day before yesterday we merged into the main Everest Base Camp trail, just north of Lukla, and there was an obvious increase in pedestrian traffic. Our five days of walking prior to that really started to shine, however, as we skipped past many trekkers who had just gotten off the plane in Lukla and were still finding their legs and adjusting to the elevation which approached 3000 m. The most impressive of all on the trail, though, have been the famous Nepali porters who will carry just about anything to where it needs to go. Yesterday we saw a guy carrying no less than 15 cases of beer, stacked neatly in and above his wicker basket and balanced perfectly on his back, and our lodge owner in Phakding told us that some of them can carry up to 100 kg of materials. Crazy!
When we haven’t been on the trail, there has been plenty of time to unwind at the lodges, and read, study the map, or make conversation with our hosts. I picked up a pocket-sized Nepali phrase book before leaving Kathmandu and have been studying most nights and blabbering incomprehensible one line phrases to any Nepali who will listen. In Junbesi the other night an 8 year old boy corrected my Nepali pronunciation while I interrupted him doing his homework and asked him if he likes to play sports. I would consider that my vocabulary level has reached that of an advanced three year old Nepali child and I’ve mastered how to say “I don’t understand” every time someone responds to my one liners. There have been many laughs and the local folks really seem to appreciate the effort.
Today we did an easy half day tour through some of the villages near Namche and climbed to over 3800 m to see what the air tastes like (a little thinner than what we are used to in Vancouver). We are starting to feel like we’re getting into the big mountains now. The weather was somewhat clear this morning and there were great views of Lhotse, Ama Dablam, Nuptse, and the odd glimpse of Everest when she felt like poking her head through the clouds. The scale of things is enormous and it is a little hard to believe that our high point for the trek is still over 2000 m higher than where we are sitting now. From Namche we will continue along the main Everest Base Camp trail for a few more days before branching off to the northeast towards the village of Chhukung. From Chhukung we will attempt the first and highest of the three passes (Kongma La, 5535 m), before re-joining the main track and heading up to Everest Base Camp itself. I can’t wait, and it all starts tomorrow.