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Trekking in Nepal

Intro

The following trek took place in November 1997. The party consisted of Phil Whiting and Tom Phillips, both from the UK and with them Ang Dawa Sherpa, a guide from Nepal and Edunat, a Nepalise porter.We had roughly two weeks in the mountains, three weeks altogether in Nepal.There are links to pictures from the text. Use the contents index on the left to revert back to the text. Trekking in Nepal
Kathmandu

Arriving in Kathmandu for the first time is quite an experience. The City lies on a flat plateau surrounded by mountains. As the aircraft skims the ridge tops on the approach it becomes obvious why there are so few roads in the Kingdom. The majority of the landscape is composed of complex and steep valleys and ridges. Building even simple tracks here would be a challenge. We are met at the airport by Ang Dawa Sherpa, our young and energetic guide for the next two and a half weeks. We had been given his name by a friend and had asked him to book our hotels and internal flights in Nepal. We preferred this to going with a large organised group.

Like most tourists we were based in the Thamel area of the city. The narrow streets are full of souvenir shops, cafes and tour operators. Our basic hotel, the "Tibetan Peace" lay on the edge of this area and was the ideal base for a couple of days in the City. During this time we visited many of the ancient Stupas (Buddhist places of worship) and temples, witnessing the aftermath of the sacrifice of a bull, where the torso was covered in straw and set on fire. Soon we were ready to go and once we had our trekking permits all we had to do was get our helicopter flight to Lukla

   
Helicopter

After a short journey through the busy streets we arrive at the domestic airport. We find that the flight is delayed as the helicopter has been called out on a rescue somewhere. Eventually at about midday we walk out onto the tarmac and over to an ageing helicopter now run by Gorkha Airlines. These machines have found their way here from Russia along with their crew and make several flights a day, weather permitting. We are packed in with a mountain of luggage and a big group of 18 trekkers. We sit with cotton wool in our ears as the metal monster takes to the skies and whisks us along firstly Eastwards to reach the Dudh Kosi Valley. Looking out of the tiny windows, we would be high above the deep valleys one moment and then suddenly we would sweep through a col just a few metres above the ground, all the time wondering how well looked after these machines were. After about an hour we turned into the Dudh Kosi gorge and suddenly arrived at the narrow landing strip and small settlement of Lukla.
   
Lukla
   
High above the Dudh Kosi, Lukla makes its living from the large number of trekkers that pass through its narrow main street. During bad weather the place seethes with stressed-out Westerners waiting for their delayed flights. Those who have a flight postponed have to wait for all the scheduled flights to leave before they get a second chance! When we arrived we met a group of Austrians who had been waiting three days for two of their party to arrive from Kathmandu. They did arrive eventually on the flight after us. We had a pleasant meal of Dahl Bhat (Lentil Curry) and found our porter for the trip, a young 17 year old called Edunat who had only done one trip before but who was keen, his ambition was to be a mountain climber. His tiny rucksack made us feel decidedly soft. We had a large rucksack each containing all our 'luxury items' such as spare clothes, sleeping bags, etc. Early afternoon saw us on our way, but a heavy shower forced Ang Dawa and Edunat to borrow some plastic sheeting for make-shift waterproofs.
   
To Namche
   

The route to Namche is the busiest part of the trail. Some groups have this as their final destination. We spent a night at Pakhding, a collection of lodges on the edge of the river. We were rather shocked to see the toilets deposited their waste straight into the rivers and streams. We were under no illusion that we were part of the problem when it came to the damaging of the environment. Without tourists there would be virtually no deforestation, pollution, etc. Steps are being taken to halt much of this, with tree nurseries, small HEP schemes and of course better education provided by the Ed Hillary foundation.

The second day saw us complete the walk to Namche Bazaar, crossing many spectacular bridges, stopping for pleasant breaks at tea houses and eventually making the steep climb up to the market town and 'Sherpa capital'. We shared the path with many Sherpas carrying massive loads (mainly stuff to sell at the market). Most had come from Jiri, 9 days walk away over several huge passes. An average load would weigh 60kg, a staggering amount, especially when compared the the small size of the sherpas themselves. Every so often they would stop and rest the load on a small stick, a skillfull balancing act in itself. The Sherpas have developed a unique way of carrying loads, they do not have shoulder straps, the weight of the load is taken only by a strap over the top of their heads.

   
Market Day
   

Arriving on Friday night meant that we would have the chance to visit the Saturday market at Namche Bazaar. This is a remarkable event, a few hundred people invade a tiny area of terraces at the bottom of the village. Sherpas sell crops and products carried in from the low lands, whilst several groups of Tibetan traders sell everything from rugs to meat brought over the Nangpa La Col. The only way they gain access is to bribe the local authorities who then turn a blind eye. The market has a tremendous backdrop as the mountain of Kwangde towers above Namche Bazaar.

Because we are now at altitude a day's acclimatisation is important. No matter how fit you are height has to be gained gradually. The recommended increase is 400 metres per day. We take a walk along a side valley to the small hydro scheme that provides Namche with its electricity. Once you get off the main Everest trail it is much quieter.

   
Ama Dablam
 

After our days rest at Namche we carry on towards Everest. The route now follows a high hill-side with steep drops off to the side and views to snow capped peaks in the distance. The many yaks carrying loads have to be treated with respect as they can easily push you over the edge of the track. The technique is to always allow them to pass on the outside of you, otherwise it could be end of trek, end of trekker!

Rounding a bend early on in the day an amazing view unfolds before you, the summits of Everest and Lohtse way in the distance whilst the beautiful peak of Ama Dablam dominates the foreground. This peak is one of the most difficult in the area to climb despite its relatively low height of 24,000 feet. We stop at a tea house to take in the view. The lodge here has an unusual shower, with a view right out over the valley to Ama Dablam. From this point the trail hugs the hill-side until it drops down to the river and crosses to the steep hill that eventually leads up to Tengboche.

 
Tengboche
 
The settlement at Tengboche is a recent one. The current Lama is a re-incarnation of one who, according to the legend, landed here after flying across the mountains and left an imprint in a rock that can be seen at the entrance to the Gompa (monastery). The present building dates from only a few years ago as the building was burnt down in 1989. Its situation on a narrow ridge below Ama Dablam amongst forests of rhododendrons is one of the most photographed anywhere in the world. Unfortunately the passage of many large trekking groups has had an impact. Problems of water supply, toilet waste and erosion are fairly obvious. The water is actually taken from springs just down the hillside from toilet blocks, etc. How so many people get through without falling ill is amazing. We stuck entirely to cooked food and tea.
 
Dingboche
 

From Tengboche (3845 m) the trail enters very different terrain. Following the deep river gorge and crossing over to Pangboche is a very pleasant and relatively easy walk. Now though the scenery starts to change with far less vegetation and stark glacial features. Huge landslides border the edges of the river on the approach to Dingboche (4275 m), a sprawl of seasonal Sherpa houses and trekking lodges. Tremendous views of Lhotse and the Northern side of Ama Dablam can be gained from the village. We stopped over for two nights which allowed us to acclimatise further as well as exploring up the valley towards Island Peak and the tiny settlement of Chukung. Feeling fit we climbed up to over 5250 metres on the peak known as Chukung Ri with fabulous views of the Lhotse Nuptse wall with its vertical sheets of rock towering up to 8,000 metres.

 
Lobuche
 
Now the scenery really starts to become barren and inhospitable. The ridge above Dingboche is the point reached by Tilman on his last visit to the Himalayas. This long grassy moraine lies high above Pheriche and leads via Dugla to the end of the Khumbu Glacier. The views change frequently, especially the views of Taweche and Cholatse to the West. Slowly the vast ice wall of Nuptse comes into view and eventually the huts that form the settlement known as Lobuche (4930 m). The huts here are very basic, dark and dirty. Not a pleasant place to stop. Jon Krakauer mentions this village as being the cause of his violent food poisoning in his recent best seller, Into Thin Air. We took the opportunity to visit the space-age Italian research centre a few minutes walk from the village. Tomorrow all being well we would reach our high point of Kala Pattar.
 
Kala Patar
 

An early start was made (4-00 am) in order to reach the view point of Kala Pattar before any bad weather and also before the large trekking groups in the vicinity. With some moonlight and starlight we didn't really need torches. Thin veils of high ice clouds caused a distinct halo around the moon. Were these clouds a sign of poor weather moving in? After two steady hours on the boulder strewn track we reached Gorak Shep , the last settlement on the Everest trail. Beyond here lies the small peak of Kala Pattar (5623 m) which commands views of the Khumbu ice fall, Nuptse and of course Everest.

The clouds building up in the valleys below us indicated a change in the weather and we were glad that we had reached the peak early (7-00am). The vast black bulk of Everest was shrouded intermittently with cloud, but we gained views of the South Summit and the South Col as well as features like the Hillary Step. With the main purpose of our tour completed we now had to back track all the way to Lukla. There are several other options available, including a traverse of the Cho La pass over to Gokyo Lakes and Gokyo Ri. However with deep snow on this route we weren't really equipped for this option. Later, on our descent to Pheriche it started to snow and by the next day there was a considerable amount of fresh snow, making for some scenic views.

 

 

 

 

 Itinerary

14-10-97 Flight to Kathmandu via Doha
15-10-97 Explore Kathmandu
16-10-97 Flight to Lukla, walk to Pakhding
17-10 97 Continue to Namche
18-10-97 Market in Namche
19-10-97 Walk to Tengboche
20-10-97 Continue to Dingboche
21-10-97 Climb to Chukung Ri
22-10-97 To Lobuche
23-10-97 Climb up Kala Pattar, descend to Pheriche
24-10-97 Return to Namche Bazaar

 

  Food/Accommodation

We chose to stay in tea houses and eat food prepared by the lodges. Average price for a days food and accommodation was less than 10 US dollars this meant we had to carry very little with us other than clothes, sleeping bag and duvet jacket. We took some diamox tablets to aid acclimatisation.

Maps can be brought from Kathmandu, and good guidebooks are readily available. Equipment such as duvets can be hired in Kathmandu or Namche Bazaar and porters and guides can be found at any of these places. For information on guided tours see our activities pages

PICTURES

The decapitated torso of a bull is burnt in a fierce fire to allow the skin to be removed


Ang Dawa Sherpa at Tengboche

Narrow suspension bridges are one of the features of this trek.

The best view we obtained of Everest, a few hours later a heavy snowfall started

Everest, Lohtse, and Ama Dablam from the trail shortly after leaving Namche Bazaar

Gorak Shep is the last settlement on the trail and lies beneath the peaks of Kala Pattar and Pumori.

The ageing but robust Gorkha Airlines Helicopter

The main street in Namche Bazaar

The peak of Nuptse hides Everest for much of the trek, and dominates the view from Gorak Shep

Bhuddist prayer wheel

Typical queue on the Everest trail in November, taken on the Namche-Tengboche section.

Sherpas on route to Namche Bazaar

A lodge on the route to Tengboche has this unusual shower with a superb view of Ama Dablam

These impressive beasts carry large loads over very rough ground

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