This is Part 2 of a series documenting our 15-day trek to Everest Base Camp. You can read Part 1 here.
Day 6 - Phakding to Namche Bazar
Nikhil warned us before we even left Kathmandu that most people consider this to be the hardest day of the entire trek. Of course, that was before he knew we were going to spend 3 extra days killing ourselves in the jungle, so physically this day was no big deal - even the brutal final stretch of the day, which involved a steep 2-hour uphill climb into Namche’s gates. In fact, we were doing so well (my Delhi belly must have given me superpowers) that when we made it to our guesthouse before noon, Nikhil told us he’d never had clients make it to Namche that fast before. That was exactly the kind of ego boost we needed.
So our muscles were perfectly capable, but we started facing new kinds of challenges, most notably the altitude. In the jungle we’d been hovering between 2500 and 2900 meters of elevation which while relatively high is still easy on the body, but Namche is at 3440 meters and this is the point where altitude sickness starts to become a serious concern. This would be a good time to add that as a Floridian and Chicagoan, I have not spent a lot of time above sea level, and each day of this trek was the new highest elevation I’ve ever been to. Because theres’s less oxygen in the air, exerting yourself feels so much harder the higher you go, and even though our bodies were fit, we noticed ourselves getting out of breath more often.
In addition, we (ok mostly me, let’s be honest) also faced mental obstacles that were way harder than any physical difficulties. I’ve never done a multiday trek before - the closest I’ve come was hiking two days in a row in Zakopane - and around this point in the trek the weight of what we were doing really began to sink in. It’s one thing to know what you’re getting into but another thing entirely to actually live it.
Every day felt the same: wake up at 6. Hike all morning. Climb a hill. Climb another hill. Watch porters carrying 60 pounds of stuff zip past you. Stop for lunch (dal bhat, of course). Climb another hill. Now go downhill for 3 hours only to cross a bridge and go right back up again. Get to the lodge and enjoy a hearty plate of - what else?- dal bhat. Sun sets at 6. In bed by 8, but you wake up to pee 3 times because you’re constantly chugging water. Rinse and repeat every day. No meat, no booze, no smoking - it’s basically Nepali rehab.
In my trek journal, I just wrote “I feel so fried today, and I don’t know why,” but now I think I know why - we were pushing ourselves to our mental and physical limits without taking time to stop and take everything in. Luckily, we’d be spending two nights in Namche for acclimation purposes, so this presented us with a good opportunity to stop and breathe for a second. Literally. Because, you know, it’s harder to breathe up here.
Day 7 - Acclimation Day in Namche
Nikhil called today a “rest day” but there was no rest in sight. Rather, we took an acclimation hike to roughly 3900 meters before coming back down to Namche (3440 meters) for the night. This helps the body properly adjust to the altitude. I started taking Diamox today as well - Alex opted out as he wasn’t feeling the altitude, but I’d had a headache since the previous night and decided it couldn’t hurt to start treatment now. I started with a half-dose because I’d read that the side effects are bad (and they really are), but I wish I had just gone with the full dose. I’ll get to that later, though.
The first stop on our acclimation hike was a lookout point just above Namche featuring a huge statue of Tenzing Norgay, the first person to summit Everest (along with Sir Edmund Hillary). Nikhil made sure we were up early, and when we got to the lookout point we the only ones there, but it was extremely foggy. But within about 20 minutes, the clouds started to rapidly disperse and we saw Lhotse peek out from behind the fog. A few more minutes passed and as we watched, we slowly saw Everest herself emerge from the gray. By the time Alex had his camera out, Nuptse was also visible, and we were treated to a view of the three famous peaks framed perfectly in the morning light. It was pretty goddamn majestic, at least until all the other trekkers showed up and started taking group photos. But for those few moments in the early morning, we had the mountains all to ourselves and it was truly breathtaking.
For the rest of the hike, we just seemed to keep going up and up nonstop at the most absurdly steep angles you can imagine, and because the path is extremely narrow and there were dozens of people ascending at the same time, we were constantly weaving in and out of traffic jams. I was struggling so hard - I knew that in order to make the most of the acclimation day I needed to ascend as far as I possibly could, but my legs felt like they were stuck in tar, and dragging myself on became increasingly difficult the higher we went. Eventually, around 3900 meters I found a comfortable rock and sat down. Nikhil said I had done sufficiently well for the day, so I waited there while he and Alex continued on to the top of the hill some 100 meters further on. I took the time by myself to write in my trek journal and tried my best not to look pathetic as hordes of able-bodied trekkers breezed on by on their way up the hill.
When we got back to our guesthouse we were surprised to learn it had only been 2 hours, though it felt like 12. We also found out our hostel had wifi, so we spent the rest of the afternoon catching up on Reddit. It urned out to be more of a rest day than either of us had expected, and we gratefully welcomed the opportunity to recharge mentally and physically.
Day 8 - Namche Bazar to Deboche
From Namche, we proceeded on up to Tengboche at 3800 meters. Tengboche is famous for its high-altitude monastery with a beautifully decorated front gate. Unfortunately for us, since it was peak trek season and Tengboche is a tiny village with only a few guesthouses, we weren’t able to find lodging in town and had to hike another 20 minutes onward to the village of Deboche to find a place to sleep.
The highlight of today, by far, was that we finally spotted some real, actual yaks. They can’t survive at altitudes lower than Namche Bazar, and although we’d seen a lot of yak-cow hybrids we hadn’t yet spotted the real deal. Well, today was our day - we saw herds of yaks carrying cargo and trekking supplies, and we even saw some baby yaks grazing in pastures (!). They’re so fluffy and way cuter than any giant pack animal should be, and often they’re decorated with colorful sashes or jewelry - we even saw a few that were wearing earrings. We’re both animal lovers and rapidly fell in love with these majestic beasts.
This was also the first time we really noticed a drastic temperature change - shocker, it gets cold at high altitudes. At night, the temperature dropped so low that I actually pulled my blanket over my sleeping bag to stay warm, and in the morning we had to wear our fleeces, gloves and hats until our bodies heated up.
Day 9 - Deboche to Dingboche
By this point, our hiking time has significantly dropped - today’s hike lasted only 4 hours, and was relatively easy with no huge hills or particularly intense stretches. But we’re still gaining a fair amount of altitude (Dingboche is around 4300 meters), so it felt quite difficult. Alex was still chugging along with barely any altitude-related issues but I was really struggling in spite of the Diamox. I finally decided that half a dose wasn’t enough and started taking a full dose, and it made a huge difference - my headache went away the next morning, and I had no more altitude issues for the rest of the trek. My endurance returned, and my mental state drastically improved. Like I said, I wish I had just taken the full dose from the get-go but at least now I know for my next high-altitude trek (ha).
We made it to Dingboche by lunchtime, and after nine days of nonstop dal bhat, I sort of reached my breaking point. I believe the actual word I used were “if I have to eat dal bhat again I’m going to choke a bitch.” So ladylike. Luckily, I discovered that most places serve instant ramen noodle soup - either this brand called Rara which is just like Top Ramen, or the ‘fancy’ (more expensive) Shin Raymun. I think I was just going a little insane, but it tasted like mana from the gods and from here on out it became my go-to lunch.
We also cracked under the pressure and bought some Oreos from a roadside store. They were a little stale and somehow kind of grayish in color, but to us they were the most delicious thing in the world and we wolfed down the whole pack in about 5 minutes. God bless processed sweets.
Day 10 - Acclimation Day in Dingboche
Time for another ‘rest day’ as Nikhil calls them (we can’t tell if he’s being funny or not). Fortunately, today’s acclimation hike was way easier than the one in Namche, which probably had something to do with the fact that I was jacked up on a full dose of Diamox and could breathe like a normal person again. Finally!
We were late getting started due to an early-morning rainstorm, and afterward it was so cold that the whole world seemed to take on this horrible damp feeling that crept into your bones and never went away. It doesn’t help that we tried to wash our disgusting socks, hoping that they’d dry within 48 hours, but of course they didn’t because of the cold. We probably should have just accepted that we’ll never be clean again, but it’s hard when you’ve been rocking the same outfit for 5 days in a row and you just know your odor is offensive to anyone who comes within a 5 foot radius. But what can you do?
At this point we’re ten days into our trek, and still 1000 vertical meters short of Base Camp. We’ve been above the treeline for a day or two, and the scenery is drastically different up here. Whereas before, we were hiking through the jungle and then moved on to a cooler forest climate, now we’re hiking through landscapes that could pass for Iceland - or Middle Earth, for that matter. The scenery is much more desolate and far rockier, but what we lost in trees we’re making up for with mountain views. It’s finally possible to see the mountains, and although Everest is still a rare sight, we’ve gotten great views of Ama Dablam which in my opinion is one of the prettiest peaks in the Himalayas. It’s also been surprisingly enjoyable to hike in cold weather - we’re not sweating as much, so we don’t feel nearly as gross as we did the first few days of the trek. Despite the altitude, these days have felt significantly easier and shorter, and both Alex and I feel like we’re over the hump and mentally prepared to make the final push to Base Camp in just a couple days.