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On road to Mt. Everest


Everest base camp, as seen from Kala Pattar. PHOTOS BY AUTHOR
Ever since George Mallory’s expeditions in the early 1920s and Edmund Hillary-Tensing Norgay’s successful summit in 1953, Mount Everest has captivated thousands of passionate mountaineers. While climbing Everest still remains an impossible dream for most, trekking to the Everest base camp has become an achievable goal.

Everest base cEver since George Mallory’s expeditions in the early 1920s and Edmund Hillary-Tensing Norgay’s successful summit in 1953, Mount Everest has captivated thousands of passionate mountaineers. While climbing Everest still remains an impossible dream for most, trekking to the Everest base camp has become an achievable goal. amp (EBC) trek is a feat that involves 10 days of arduous journey on foot, covering a distance of about 60 km one way, starting at 9,350 ft and reaching an impressive altitude of 17,598 ft.

We set off with high spirits from Bengaluru and our first halt was at Thamel, a popular and colourful tourist hub with its narrow alleys bustling with mountaineers, trekkers buying and renting gears for their expeditions.

Trek to EBC technically starts from Lukla, a small town in the Khumbu region. Flight from Katmandu to Lukla takes about 40 mins before the highly-skilled pilot lands the small aircraft on one of the most dangerous runways in the world, a small single landing strip that ends at a cliff with a fall of 9,300 ft !

Alpine efforts
The way up from Lukla to Everest base camp trails through the gorge of turquoise Dudh Kosi, a glacial runoff that originates from the high altitudes of Everest, surrounded by lush green Rhododendron forests giving way to more alpine land as we go higher.

Further, the path traverses through glacial moraines and the foothills of snow-clad peaks, offering spellbinding views all along the route, making it the grandest walk in the Himalayan region.

We spent the first night in Phakding, a small settlement. Heading up the picturesque trail next morning, we walked past several other trekkers, porters and yaks carrying supplies to the settlements higher up in the region. We crossed Dudh Kosi over a high-raised suspension bridge, famously called the Hillary Bridge, beyond which the path is a steep ascent, and finally a lengthy flight of stairs leads us to the capital of Sherpas, a market hub — Namche Bazaar — at 11,290 ft.

Having missed the first view of Mt Everest enroute to Namche the previous day due to cloudy weather, we anxiously walked up to the view point first thing in the morning, and there it was! The most eagerly-awaited moment — first glimpse of Mt Everest, peeking from behind the formidable 27,940 ft Lothse, the fourth highest peak in the world.

However, the best view of Mt Everest on this route is from top of Kala Pattar, which is at an elevation of 18,200 ft. On the other hand, it was love at first glimpse of Ama Dablam, a popular peak in Everest region, which is by far the most beautiful one and dominates the eastern sky throughout the trek to EBC.

With our body slowly getting used to the altitude the following day, we set out to the serene settlement of Thengboche. Cloudy evening masked the panoramic view of mountains that surround the largest Bhuddhist monastery in Kumbhu at 12,700 ft. As night fell, we retired to our room in the tea house with hot water bottles to keep us warm inside the sleeping bag.

The next four days we pass through the settlements of Pangboche, Dingboche and Lobuche, gaining altitude as we walk through the mountainous terrain, soaking in the changing landscapes. On the way there are memorials of several climbers who lost their lives in various Everest expeditions. Tired and exhausted due to thin air at higher altitudes, we pushed ourselves slowly and steadily towards Gorak Shep at 16,942 ft, just before the EBC. There is a sense of achievement at the end of each day when you lie down shivering in the tea houses reminiscing the adventurous journey.

Most tea houses have a common dining hall and small rooms with plywood walls offering little protection from cold temperatures at night. Though rudimentary, these tea houses offer good food topped with the warmth of Nepali households. We spent the evenings huddled around a heated fireplace in the common area playing card games while getting to know people from different parts of the globe.

Our guide, also a sherpa and a commendable three-time Everest summiteer, gave us a glimpse into the sherpa culture. Sherpas are a friendly and hard-working community without whom the whole mountaineering adventure in the Everest region would be a tough ordeal.

Gorak Shep to EBC is a two to three hour trek on a hilly terrain next to the vast glacial moraine. Most trekkers also go up to Kala Pattar, which resembles a big black dune situated close to Gorak Shep. Kala Pattar is the highest point one can reach without a climbing permit.

Standing at the Everest base camp at an incredible altitude of 17,598 ft in the looming presence of Mt Everest, the feeling is nothing short of euphoria! I wondered what it takes to get to the top of the world and my admiration for the more daring climbers only deepened. I found myself marvelling at the panorama of mountains in complete silence, forgetting for a while how exhausted I was or how desperately I had earlier wanted to get back to civilisation. As you turn around to start the descent, you are filled with a personal sense of achievement, but bear in mind you have only completed half the journey. It is another four to five days of descent to Lukla from where you fly back to the comforts of Katmandu hotel, and then it’s party time!

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