In Jan 2020 we booked our flights to Kathmandu for the Autumn trekking season, little did we know what was round the corner and how it would be another 2 and a half years before we arrived! We rescheduled several times and eventually settled on this year, but even in the weeks leading up to departing, Qatar kept changing our flights, I think we genuinely thought we’d never get there!
Kathmandu airport is still chaotic, how it works I’ve no idea, but it does…kind of… the drive to Kathmandu Guest House is always an eye opener, but on arrival it’s a place of peace and tranquillity, the perfect place to relax and get over a long flight. Over 24 hours the whole team arrived and the inevitable first night beers started, more in celebration that after all these months we were about to start something amazing.
The 5am alarm was a little a rude, the drive to the airport quick, the passage through the airport slick and suddenly we were on the best flight in the World…..or the scariest, depends on your outlook I guess! The sky from Kathmandu airport was clear and the Himalaya were easily visible, something I’ve never seen from there before. The flight was uneventful, apart from a horizon to horizon view of white capped mountains on the left side!
Like naughty kids we were told off by the stewardess several times about not taking photos through the cockpit…..but what could she do! I’ve flown this trip many times, but the dive into Lukla heading for a very small tarmac strip with a rather large cliff immediately behind it, does make you ponder things a little.
Landing seems like you’ve won the lottery, it’s a fab feeling, quickly dispersed by the crowd of Sherpas & porters waiting for everyone. I saw our Sherpa guide, someone I’ve worked with before and just a pleasure to see his beaming smile. Porters sorted, we legged it from the airport chaos to a teahouse to collect out thoughts with a dose of caffeine, it’s still only about 630am, but we’ve arrived in the Himalaya, it’s all a little overwhelming to be honest.
So the trekking routine starts…..
The first few days we sweat heavily in the low tree lined valley, each twist in the trail offering more, huge swaying bridges are crossed, mules & Dzo encountered, we quickly establish who has right of way on the path!
The first day descends, the 2nd day quickly reminds us that we need to ascend, it’s one of the big uphill days and the increasing altitude tries its best to remind us of how challenging this is going to be.
Glacial dust is everywhere and it will effect us all over the next few weeks with nasal / sinus congestion - it’s one of the many trip hardships that come with the terrain and whilst we love wearing some form of face mask these days to protect us from this hazard, it’s bloody hard to breathe through them at altitude!
We rest for a day at Namche Bazar, although this is a bit of misnomer as we still head out for a wee uphill stroll!
Teahouse life comes quickly to the team, arriving, sorting themselves out, ordering dinner and relaxing around the yak dung burner, which leaves a lovely fragrance in your clothes, that is synonymous with the Himalaya. As soon a dinner is finished, breakfast is being ordered, this becomes another one of those hardships of the trip, trying to choose what you want in 12 hours time when your belly is full, it just doesn’t get easier! We tired to hang in there every night, hitting the sack by 8pm seemed popular, making it past 9pm was a lofty challenge, often failing and heading to our cold rooms to jump into our cold sleeping bags.
I seem to do all right at altitude apart from sleeping, it’s always disturbed, so some of the nights seem a little long and I’m glad when breakfast calls. I refer to the teahouse food as ‘menu roulette’, never have any expectations about what you’ve ordered, then you’ll never be disappointed! Whilst the type of food is very similar throughout the Khmubu, it can vary quite enormously bringing much laughter or tears when it arrives! Pancakes for breakfast are more like a thin cake, potato rosti are actually potato peelings kind of fried together…..you just have to roll with it! Food envy when it all arrives can easily set in if your numbers don’t land right!
En suite toilets is a new thing in the Khumbu, not a available everywhere, although that word roulette popped up again! Fixing the toilet seat would stop the seat from sliding around, only a small issue, but we felt quite an important one, the best was the western toilet half sunk into the ground - clearly set up for very small people and with a lovely window looking straight out onto the path outside where you could wave to passing trekkers - curtains are so last season!
Each morning before breakfast our porters pick up our main bags, strap them together and head on out towards our next destination, the way they carry them around their heads seems quite bizarre to us, but hey it works and has done for many years, but I don’t recommend trying it.
We start getting the miles under our belts, ticking off some big days, passing through different villages, some mountains like Ama Dablam we seem to do a partial circuit around it for days, it never gets ‘old’ though.
No day is the same, each day is stunning, we all decide there just aren’t enough descriptive words in the dictionary to describe what we see
Staying safe, enjoying ourselves and hopefully ticking a few objectives is how the trip is run, there are no easy days as such, all are just fantastic, all require a lot of effort to get to those main objectives, not just everyone will always make them. It’s a very fluid few weeks, the altitude constantly throws out curve balls, one minute someone is fine, the next they’re not, appetite is lost, sleep is disturbed, simple tasks take a little longer…..personal motivation at times needs to be strong, high mountain passes over 5000m are not a given, they really are earnt!
Someone reminded me that I’d explained the walk in to EBC from Gorak Shep was relatively level, unfortunately at just over 5000m every little dip and rise in the ground felt like a mountain to climb, how could a few kilometres take nearly 4 hours to get there and back….
There comes a point when we turn around and start the long walk out, it took 4 days and then a great deal of patience was needed as we waited for the Lukla fight back to Kathmandu. Your level of patience depends on how well the last night party with the Sherpas and porters went! Not only is it a race against the building cloud racing up the valley, but no one seems to genuinely know which plane you’re on or what time you’re scheduled to fly, sometimes it doesn’t even go to where you’re expecting it to land….now that would test your patience! Adventure travel needs a sense of humour and you just have to roll with it….
Kathmandu provides a steady supply of hot water to get the dust out of every body part and a menu of food that doesn’t include noodles, rice, potatoes, cabbage, carrot, garlic and egg which you initially grow to love the first week or so of trekking and then you’re ready for for a change?
There are times through out any Himalaya trekking that you wish you could be somewhere else, maybe you haven’t slept well, maybe the grime is getting to you, maybe you’re just plain knackered, but then you look up, realise that you’re in a very special place and start thinking of when you can come back and do it all again…..