Nepal, the Himalayas, Everest, GokyoRi, Renjo Pass. All these places were never on our bucket list, but after visiting with our friends Maurice and Jan ….. well, … suddenly it was at the top of our to do list. Now, all we had to do, was to get fit and organised for the heights. ……. Whether we would physically be able to do it was another question.
Kathmandu (1,400m) day 1
Well here we are on day one of our adventure. We have just landed in Kathmandu, Nepal. We had a good flight with Qatar from Johannesburg.
Approaching the Himalayas
The visa on arrival cost us US$40 each. Pema, our very friendly and competent Sherpa guide picks us up at the airport and takes us to the Dwarika hotel for the first night. Our friends, the Johns are already at this very nice hotel. We’re on the 4 th floor in a very large room. We enjoy our last big dinner, tequila sunrise and green echo drinks, for a while at least. We go to bed feeling happy with our Oxygen saturation at 97%.
Lukla (2,860m) and Monjo (2,835m) day 2
We rise at 4.40am to checkout at 5am. Pema’s son (Tenzing) and 4 friends from Utah (Danny, Ben, Shaylee, Austin ) and (Larry) are already in the bus and we’re off to the airport. We’re flying with Summit Air to Lukla, arguably the most dangerous commercial airport in the world. Our luggage restriction is 10kg checked and 5kg in hand. Some improvising happens with the luggage. All heavy jackets are worn and extra camera lenses end in jacket pockets. The flight is only 45 minutes.
We arrive safely at Lukla. Quite a busy little airport with fixed wings and helicopters landing and taking off constantly. Breakfast is bread, eggs and ginger tea. We repack our backpacks, buy some water and toilet paper for NR1000. We have a 2 hour hike until lunch time.
Lunch is ginger tea, potatoes and bread, outside in the nice warm sun. The afternoon hike of 3 hours brings us up to Monjo. Along the way, we passed many trains of donkeys and cows (Yaks are only above 3,000m), all with bells. The ablution facilities, like the long drop, next to the road, aren’t always five star.
Getting the bureaucracy out of the way.
It takes us 5 hours to cover the following 7km. The road is very busy with hikers, porters and animal cargo trains. Our sleeping facility is nice and clean. We’re on the top floor. Dinner is spaghetti, noodles, green spinach and of course ginger tea. Lucky me, I love ginger tea and can drink it all day. We even have a nice flush toilet. It’s 9pm when we go to bed.
After the large earth quake of 2015 most of the T-houses were rebuilt and changed into very nice clean B&B style small hotels. They have flush toilets, electricity, lights, plugs to charge batteries and even clean beds. You just need your own sleeping bag. Sometimes they even have showers, but the wash basins with running water is good enough along with the wet-wipes that we brought along. Much better than what we expected.
Namche Bazaar (3,480m) day 3
Today’s hike is uphill all day long. We cross two very high and impressive suspension bridges along the way. You have to get your timing correct so that you don’t end up on the narrow bridge at the same time as the donkeys, yaks or cattle.
We make it to Namche Bazaar at 3,480 m where we have lunch and dinner. The air is becoming thinner and breathing is not all that easy anymore. By 8pm we are all in bed. It’s quite cold, but our -40 degree C goose-down sleeping bags do the trick. Namche was the epicentre of the large earthquake of April 2015. The town has completely been rebuilt and everything seems to be quite sturdy. Namche is a bustling little town.
Namche Bazaar (3,480m) day 4
After a 7am breakfast of 2 eggs and oats we spent the day stroling around Namche town to acclimatise. Two suitcases that were misplaced by the airline are delivered at our hotel. (They were flown up by helicopter from Lukla). We have wifi here in town! I’m impressed. After lunch, we hike up the steep hill behind town to the helipad and from there to the Everest Hotel at 3,880m from where we have our first great view of Everest. (Only it was hidden in a fluffy white cloud). From there the hike is more or less downhill to Pema’s home in the town of Khumjung. The view is great from the Everest Hotel. Although cold, we are having great weather, clear skies and no rain.
First good view of Everest in the background.
There are many Yaks and tourists along the way. Fortunately this is where we split off from the main “highway” to Everest base camp and the hike becomes less crowded and much less dusty.
Khumjung (3,790m) day 5
After a good night’s sleep in Pema’s family home the “Gompa Lodge” at 3,790m in Khumjung, we are treated with a 7am breakfast of french toast and hash browns.
The house is quite warm inside and we slept with only a t-shirt on (in the sleeping bag of course!). Guess what we had to drink …… ginger and lemon tea. All meals are 100% carbs … not my normal diet, but it seems to work well over here. The toilet is again the normal squat toilet and we’ve been without showers for the last 5 days but we are now quite efficient in cleaning with our wet-wipes. We visit the Samten Choling Monastery where the Yeti skull is kept. The town is a very interesting place. It’s claimed that this skull is preserved from what used to ba a real live Yeti.
Cow dung being dried for “fire wood”
The valley around the town is very picturesque with all the surrounding high mountains. A Yak is a male and a Nak the female. They give wool, cheese, milk and meat, are essential for the locals and can only live above 3,000m. They are not related to cattle, they are more like buffalo.
There are many Prayer wheels in all towns. You spin them in a clockwise direction for good karma. Lunch is potatoes. We walked around and had a look at the school and hospitals which honour Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay.
Dinner is lemon tea, yak meatballs and potatoes. At 9pm we are in bed. Breakfast will be at 7am tomorrow morning and then we will be hiking higher again.
Phortse (3,810m) day 6
Breakfast at 7am consists of 2 eggs and porridge. The hike this morning is very steep and tough, but, the stunning scenery makes everything well worth the effort and more.
Lunch is at Mong, 3,979m. Above us there is a lot of helicopter traffic. Apparently most are doing rescue work and not much sightseeing. Our lunch time view is great and lunch is one egg, bread and cookies.
We arrive in Phortse 3,810m high at 2pm where we check in at Pema’s lodge, “The Peaceful Lodge” which has 30 rooms. Luxury ! …. We have an ensuite bathroom with a flush toilet and warm shower, our first shower and flush toilet in 6 days!. Dinner tonight is a Sherpa Stew, which is delicious. It is very very cold outside. The fire stoves are wonderful and our warm -40 degree C sleeping bags are worth every penny!.
Yak wool is very rough and the fine 100% yak wool garments in the shops are apparently fake.
All along the way are the painted “mani stones“. You have to walk around them in a clockwise direction for good karma. With an oxygen saturation of 93% we are quite impressed with ourselves. Tomorrow we are going to make a quick hike up and down the mountain behind the town to help with our acclimatisation. The distance we hiked today was 12.6 km.
Phortse (3,810m) day 7
Today is Esmé’s birthday! Plans have changed and we will now hike up the mountain behind us tomorrow and spend today strolling around town. There are 2 Buddhist priests spending a few days in the lodge, praying the whole day, blessing the lodge and the family living there. Pema bakes a birthday cake for Esmé and we all share it at dinner.
There is a very modern beautiful building in town “The Khumbu Climbing Center” that was conceived and supported by the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation. It was designed by students from the Montana State University School of Architecture under the guideance of Michael Everts. ” Today was a very relaxing and pleasant day that we spent walking around town to acclimatise and get used to the hight and thin air.
Phortse (3,810m) day 8
Today is our 2nd day in Pema’s Peaceful Lodge. We spent a few hours climbing the mountain behind the town, up to 3,800m which apparently is just as high as we are going to be at tomorrow night in Na. The saying is hike high and sleep low. It is certainly working well for us. We are all feeling great !
Na (4,440m) day 9
We leave Phortse in a very thick cold mist.
We stop for lunch at the Khangtekha Lodge (4,390m), where we meet a group of Basques (not Spaniards) that are on their way back. This “lodge” is a great stop for lunch, but, I’m glad we’re not sleeping there.
We have to drink some very sweet mango flavoured sugar water, …. which actually tastes quite good. We reach the Cholo View Lodge (4,440m) just before dark in Na and dinner is ready at 6pm. After visiting the squat toilets we are in bed early. It is very cold. I started drinking diamox 125mg bd today, only because I have them, I can’t say it makes me feel any different. I stoppe drinking them again after Gokyo Ri, as I didn’t think it was making any difference to me. We were well enough acclimatised because we were taking it so slow.
Gokyo (4,800m) day 10
The air today is cool and crisp. No, actually not … it is very cold with a clear blue sky. Today I’m taking Diamox and Adalat … only because I have them and I’m curious to see if it’s going to make me feel any different.
Today we don’t have a long distance to go to Gokyo town, but, it’s quite a steep haul. We hike past 3 of the spectacular turquoise glacial lakes in the Sagarmatha National Park making them amongst the highest fresh water lakes in the world. We arrive at the Gokyo Namaste Lodge in time for lunch and this is also where we will be staying for the next 2 nights. There are quite a few tourists around. Some seem to be a bit dodgy.
GokyoRi Summit (5,356m) day 11
Today we rise and shine at 5am to have breakfast at 5.30am. We begin our hike to the GokyoRi summit at 6am. We have to start early so that we can reach the top before it becomes too cloudy or windy. It is very cold, we are wearing all the down shells that we brought. It takes us 3 hours to reach the summit. Half way up there is an area with many piles of rocks, made by previous hikers. The top is at 5,356m. It’s a perfect clear day with a great view of Everest as well as all the surrounding mountain ranges. The view of the glacier and 3 lakes is also great. It is very steep, very high and going very slow ! The view from the top is stunning, the lakes, glacier, Everest …. stunning!
Gokyo Ri summit
We can see Renjo La Pass which is on tomorrow’s to do list. Renjo Pass is actually slightly higher than Gokyo Ri. Many of the hikers over here are doing the 3 passes trek. They are all 3 over 5,000m and are much more scenic and less crowded than Everest Base Camp. We both have an oxygen saturation of 93% and are quite happy with that. We are back at our hotel for lunch and found a nice spot in the sun. Tomorrow’s hike will again begin at 6am, about the same height as today and will take us 5 hours.
Renjo La Pass (5,406m) day 12
Early rise again today with breakfast at 5.30am and we start walking at 6am. This is a tough climb today. Much harder and longer that yesterday. The air is thin and the climb is steep! Trekking the Renjo Pass/neck/summit at 5,406m or 17,738ft feels like quite an achievement. Once again the top is festooned with many coloured strings of prayer flags all over the rocks.
The view is incredible from here. The whole Everest mountain range, the turquoise lakes and glacier are just picture perfect ! As we cross the pass we are greeted by a large convoy of yaks, about 20. They don’t have it easy either, breathing heavily with their tongues hanging out. We are now passing very close to the Tibet border.
Today’s hike was quite long, 7 hours in total. At least the 2nd half is downhill. We reach the Lanston 3 passes Lodge before dark and are very happy to see a bed and a coal/dung stove. We are doing the route in the correct direction, some hikers are doing the circuit in the opposite direction, but, doing it that way the route is too steep and too long for comfort. Dinner is soup, eggs and hash browns. By 7pm we are in bed. It cost me $80 to charge my battery pack during the night. We haven’t had any telephone or wifi signals since Phortse. The road is quite pleasant in that there are hardly any other people and people on it. Which means no dust.
Thame (5,406m) day 13
After a long day’s down-hill hiking we reach Thame. The place where we wanted to sleep was full. So were most places, but, we found rooms at the Tibet Guest House.
The food was good and the fire warm, what more can you ask for. Maurice knocks his delicious sherpa stew bowl over by accident and a friendly German girl cleans it all up in no time. Even though our room is right next to the only public toilet, we slept well.
Namche Bazaar day 14
After breakfast at 7.30am we once again fall in the road on our way to Namche. It should take us about 5 hours. The road is now wider and easier to navigate, but, more dust and more people and more animals. Most of the hikers along the way seem to be either German or French. Many helicopters around! There were 4 standing at the one lodge. Lunch was an excellent garlic soup with potatoes at a small place with beautiful yellow flowers, right next to the road. It’s still early afternoon when we arrive in Namche.
We go to the same hotel and get the same rooms as before. The room is nice and warm during the daytime with the sun shining in. The hotel also has a shower, but we decide to rather give it a miss and stick with our wet-wipes. After settling in we set off to roam the town and update our emails at the Yak restaurant that has free wifi. Tomorrow is market day in Namche and it should be interesting. Dinner is pizza and garlic soup. The food on this trip worked well for me. I love both garlic and ginger which formed a major part of our diet. Pema is going to his house and back over night to switch off the lights that he forgot when we were there. With an oxygen saturation of 97% we are feeling good.
Namche Bazaar day 15
After breakfast at 7.30am we stroll around town and make our way towards the market which is a great disapointment. Nothing worthwhile at all. At the Sherpa Barist Cafe there was a film showing about summiting Everest, a very good film and a very pleasant coffee shop. It is an overcast cold day.
Monjo day 16
We leave at 8am and todays hike takes us to Monjo. We stop for drinks at Top Hill ( where the terrible squat toilet next to the road was on our way up). We sleep at the Sherpa View Lodge where they make the best ginger tea. The beds are good and the fire place very pleasant, a good choice. The food is also very good.
Well, we did it and it is with a feeling of sadness that we realise that this was it. But with a feeling of great achievement.
Lukla day 17
Today’s hike is mainly uphill to Lukla. We’re very glad that we did not try to do it yesterday. We manage to get an earlier flight back to Kathmandu and fly out of Lukla at 2pm. We’d rather spend an extra night in Kathmandu than Lukla. The traffic in Kathmandu is terrible, but, we arrive at the Mandana Hotel in one piece. A very nice hotel, much cheaper than the previous one and it is in a touristy area where you can do shopping and walk around the streets, which was not possible at our previous hotel. We had a great dinner of pork chops, ostrich and beef as well as a good red wine. A great way to conclude our successful hike up the Himalayas.
Kathmandu day 18
After a good breakfast we spend the day walking around, catching up on our email and relaxing.
Back in Kathmandu
It’s interesting that any cold weather down clothing and sleeping bags are much cheaper and of better quality over here in Kathmandu than what we were able to get anywhere else. We had a couple of beers and coffee at Phat Kath Pokara, before we start heading towards the airport for our flight back home.
This was a trip well worth doing. We proved something to ourselves and doing GokyoRi rather than Everest Base Camp was a very good decision. If we ever decide to do a “next time ” we would like to do the 3 passes or the KalaPatthar summit, but not Everest base camp.
Observations & Notes
- You need good sturdy boots.
- Fitness, average is good enough.
- Take it slow when going up, hike high and sleep low.
- Take wet wipes.
- A battery charger pack, is essential.
- Layer your clothing, you have to change a couple of times a day.
- Be within the weight restrictions of 15 Kg, they do weigh everything.
- Get the warmest goose down sleepingbag you can find, it doesn’t have to be waterproof.
- Don’t take a heavy camera, keep it light.
- All clothing and sleeping bags are better priced and with a wider selection in Kathmandu than what you will find at home. (wherever your home might be).
- Water purifying tablets are unnecessary, you can buy water everywhere along the way.
- Don’t go without an experienced Sherpa. Our guide, Pema Sherpa, was excellent!