When my wife first suggested that we do the Everest Base Camp (EBC) trek in Nepal for our honeymoon I thought it was a crazy idea. Then I thought we’d be crazy not to – and so began over a year of planning, preparing, breaking in equipment and getting everything in order for a month in Asia. As the departure date drew near, and the to-do list finally shrank, we were both bursting at the seams with excitement. We planned to stay in Hong Kong for five days en route, then carry on to Kathmandu just prior to the start of our trek. Getting into Nepal after the week in Hong Kong was definitely going to put us through some serious culture shock as we were about to find out from the moment we stepped foot into the airport. Luckily, Jasmin found an amazing little hotel that was a perfect place to hide from the chaos of the Thamel streets. After a couple days we jumped on a bus and headed to the Chitwan National Park just north of the Indian border. While there we stayed at the Sapana Village Lodge (again, Jasmin tracked this gem down), and explored the area on foot, in the river, and topped it off by getting to see some rhinos by elephant back. While out on a walk one evening we came across the following people and landscapes, which in hindsight really felt like a dream:
Getting back to Kathmandu, we had a day before our scheduled flights to Lukla – one of the craziest airports in the world. The weather gods had other plans in mind, so after camping out at the departures lounge for 12 hours, we hopped on a helicopter and made it the landing site with conditions that made getting on the ground tricky to say the least.
Waking up the next morning we started the EBC just outside Lukla, and were met with incredible scenes at every turn. We often saw these carved prayer stones along the trail, as well as massive carved boulders. Looking up I noticed a building cut right into the side of a sheer cliff that reminded me of some of the Anisazi ruins in the Grand Canyon of Arizona.
During the day we criss crossed a swollen glacial river, often sharing the bridges with long trains of pack animals (donkeys down low, yaks up higher). The one rule we were reminded of was to stay on the high side of the trail since the animals would often try to ‘nudge’ you off the trail. On one of the days a yak broke loose from it’s heavy load and sent the group of scattering as it raced up the trail.
Arriving into Namche Bazaar we instantly fell in love with the place. Maybe it was the natural amphitheatre setting, the hard slug of a hill you have to do to get to it, or the fact it was the first place where you could get a real coffee! We stayed two nights here to acclimatize, and explore the surrounding area.
That night, with the stars again out in force and even less light pollution I headed out with our new friend Claude to do some astro photography. What a treat – hiking in the dark to look back at Tyangboche under a blanket of stars.
The following morning we awoke to a blanket of fresh snow covering everything around us, including the impressive Ama Dablam 22,349′ next to Tyangboche. The skies were clear and blue and it felt like perfect spring day.
About halfway along our hike that day we came upon some traditional structures out in the high plains. I was really inspired by the natural stone construction perched in between the massive peaks in all directions.
After a night in Labuche, we trekked on to Gorak Shep followed by an afternoon hike to our ultimate destination, Everest Base Camp. Quite often we would hike along the glacier, which looked a lot more like a landslide, until you caught glimpses of the ice sheet all the stones were sitting on. It was a huge reward to finally see the little yellow tents come into vision at the far end of the glacier and thinking about the people using that area to stage their ascents of the highest peak in the world. It was also the first day that we got a better look at Everest itself – towering above us as a dark triangle of layered rock in behind Nuptse.
It’s hard to explain what it feels like to be hiking at this altitude, and really made me wonder what it would be like to go that much higher like the people summiting that same day. We were tired, but it was unlike anything I’d ever felt. That being said, we still had enough left in the tank to celebrate getting to EBC!
A couple days after leaving Gorak Shep, we were on our way to the highest point of our trek, the Cho-La pass (17,782′). The weather wasn’t playing nice, so we ascended a rockfall that soon became a scramble on wet snow-covered boulders. It was tricky, but manageable, although there wasn’t much in the way of a view from the top – even seeing the person hiking 25 feet in front of you was hit or miss. We crossed a small snow covered col, and made our way down a steep descent to Thagnag.
The following day we awoke to beautiful blue skies which made the hike to Gokyo that much more enjoyable. We were in high spirits knowing that the most difficult ascents were behind us. Arriving in Gokyo we were greeted by some stunning turquoise lakes. Awakening the next morning, the lakes were perfect mirror images of the towering peaks behind. I had to sneak out a bit early to catch some first light, but it was well worth it.
Leaving Gokyo, we passed by some more beautiful lakes and started our long day of trekking back to Namche. The hills were covered in trails going every which way, thanks to the grazing yaks. We passed by numerous porters on their way up to Gokyo, carrying loads of plywood, and one guy we saw had 90kg’s of rice on his back. You really become much more aware of what you’re consuming and how it has to get there when you see guys like this, often as young as 14-15.
On our second to last day we caught a glimpse of two different types of wildlife – the mountain goat, almost too-perfectly posed, and then a little later we came across a pair of musk deer – with some serious “I mean business” front teeth!
Descending further into the valley, things had greened up considerably in the two weeks since we last passed through . The most common crops we saw were potato, millet, and wheat. Again, as we got lower in the valley, we saw more and more prayer carvings – this example was one of the few that were quite colourful.
Jumping forward a few days, after departing Nepal, we landed in Tokyo. I was happy to have my heavy pack stored in the hotel, and only took my big camera out on one of the days. It is an incredible city, polar opposite in many ways to Kathmandu. And then it was over – 5 weeks on the road, the trains, the planes, the elephants, and the boats. Now Jasmin and I will have to plan our next adventure…