‘TERRAIN, TERRAIN.....PULL UP......PULL UP’ was not what I was expecting to hear blasting out of the cockpit on the Kathmandu to Lukla flight! I think it’s considered to be one of the most dangerous airstrips in the World and although I’ve done it loads of times, this was still a bit of a shocker. We were in one of the newer aircraft and on the journey into the hills, it crossed a number of high mountain ridges fairly closely which obviously activated some alarm....personally I prefer the old aircraft and not knowing how close we are to big chunks of rock!
However the reward on landing is simply stunning, you stand looking up the valley, the direction that you’re going to be travelling the next few days and soak it all up. To me this is like a pilgrimage, if you enjoy the mountains, then the Greater Ranges have to be visited at some point and over the last few weeks I’ve been able to share them with a great little team.
We trekked for a few days up to Namche Bazaar, taking our time and getting used to a slow pace to allow us to adjust to the increasing altitude. The foothills are wooded and hot, it’s t-shirt weather, the villages are colourful and round every bend are new views, the mountains get taller, more pyramidal with plenty of snow and ice on them. Namche sits in a huge natural amphitheatre, offering everything from laundry, banks, kit, massages, pizza and lots of cake, it’s a perfect place to relax for a few days, more importantly, if offered the best early view of Everest and our journey the next few days.
Most days were fairly small in terms of distance and height, but walking up your first 4000m dusty slope is genuinely slow hard work, the sandy dust is another continuous battle. Putting both your boots on whilst sat on your bed, tying them and then standing up without feeling you were going to pass out or couldn’t get your breath became the morning joke.
The steep slope up to Tengboche Monastery was a good test, it’s long, dusty, busy and seems to never end, but after a few hours of hard work you arrive somewhere totally unique and worth every step you’ve just fought for.
The next few days saw a similar pattern of adjusting to the increasing height, walking small distances, marvelling at the sights all around us and laughing at the general hardships of this type of trip. Staying clean was a big one, showers were available, however the wet wipe wash became a stable of daily life up high. We spent a considerable time around the 5000m height and 6 days was the longest time without a shower and when we did find one that worked, it felt like a magical warm waterfall on a tropical island. In actual fact, the gas boiler was constantly bouncing off the wall like a demented jackhammer and the ‘showerhead’ was so low only a hobbit could stand under it! I think we’ll all remember Gokyo! Another little fact folk had to get used to was the teahouse accommodation, a well heated living ‘living area’ was a true pleasure, but as soon as you left that room, ‘brass monkeys’ doesn’t even come close to it! Sharing a room with someone wearing a balaclava was always a little scary when you woke up at 3am!
Every day we always enjoyed the game of interpreting the menu, what you ordered was sometimes as expected, other times a chocolate pancake looked like a thin cake, a bit of fondant icing would have made a great topping, but tomato sauce seemed to be preferred!!
Crossing that invisible line of 5000m is always where altitude seems to have suck the energy out of everyone, we might have been walking slowly up to this point, but life’s pace suddenly became really slow! There is something like 1.4% less effective oxygen available over this height, it’s hard work and I loved the way the Shepras put part of the team on the 3rd floor of a teahouse one night, a wicked sense of humour! And next to the Yak carcass too!
Everest Base Camp was ticked off in good time and we descended a little to allow us all to breathe again! Here we aimed to cross a high 5400m glacier pass, which was an absolute stunner and perhaps seemed a tad easier as we’d already been to this height a few days before!
We’d come prepared with crampons, bizarrely we were the only team that had them and then had to watch with some trepidation the Sherpa National Sport of Catching Trekkers (without crampons) unintentionally sliding off down the glacier, one chap was pretty adept at this game!
I’m like a kid in a sweet shop in Gokyo valley towered over by Cho Oyu, this is one of my favourite places and just watching and listening to the reactions of the team, there was a lot of agreement. There were a few tough days for everyone to get here, but to share a place like this is why I return.
Tired legs meant we took a few days to get out and probably a long night of singing and having a few sherbets in Namche might have slowed things down a bit too! The 3 Amigos International Yeti Search Squad also delayed us…
Huge steaks, fries and a beer in Kathmandu was all it took to get us deliriously drunk on the past few weeks memories.
An incredible trip on so many levels….