Sagarmatha

Journey to Everest

Jiri Numbesi Monk at Bupsa Everest Ngozumpo Glacier

Sagarmatha is the Nepalese name of Mount Everest.

A month of walking through the beautiful Sherpa valleys of Nepal
to the world's highest mountain. In words and pictures.

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Introduction

This is the story of my trek through the Everest Region.

Kathmandu
Kala Bhairab shrine in Kathmandu
During 1990, I spent four months in Asia. I flew from London to Dakha and spent a month in Bangladesh. This was followed by three months in Nepal. In the latter country, I began by exploring the historic Kathmandu Valley and overlanded to Lhasa, the Tibetan capital (China). I flew back to Kathmandu and went on two treks, The first in the Everest Region (described here), the second around the Annapurna massif. My return flight to London included a brief stopover in the United Arab Emirates.

Before I could begin my trekking, I had to queue up for half a day to get the necessary paperwork. When you enter Nepal, the visa is only valid for the central area. To walk along the trails, a permit is needed. Most of my possessions were locked in my rucksack and stored in Kathmandu at the hotel I was staying at.

I'd hired a pack to take with me. In this pack I had camera gear, film, short wave radio (for the football, of course), first aid kit, down jacket, sleeping bag, washing gear, clothes, raincoat, toilet paper, goggles, some nibbles, towel, writing implements and diary, map, trekking guide, hat, gloves and my trusty ex-Chinese Army water bottle. My pack felt heavy when I picked it up. It looked like I was going to get fit!

Jiri
Jiri - end of the road - beginning of the trail

Day 1

Slept from 9pm to 4am. It was an early start because I had a bus to catch. Before you can walk, you must ride. I walked to the bus station in 20 minutes. The bus was packed with locals and a few Westerners and their guides. I didn't have a guide. For two hours we drove along the Friendship Highway towards the Tibetan border. After 100km, we turned east. The final 125km of the journey took 10 hours. The road was narrow, in bad condition and the route was up and down all the way. The scenery was beautiful with orange and white Chhetri houses, wooden Brahmin houses, rice terraces, forests and sparkling white rivers. Clouds kept the mountains invisible. We arrived at Jiri (1860m), the end of the road, at 5:30pm. The rain arrived at the same time!

Accommodation was in a four bed room in the nearest lodge to where the bus stopped. My companions were Kipper (?) from Somerset, Chris (Bristol), and Simon (Sydney). It poured outside as we ate supper at the lodge. So far, so good. We had good food, electricity, comfortable beds, and clean toilets (outside). We were in Sherpa country - they are friendly and attractive people. The radio made me smile with news of a 2 - 0 win for Arsenal. I retired tired at 10pm.

Day 2

Woke to a sparkling clear morning after an excellent sleep. Breakfast was Tibetan bread with jam and coffee. At the end of the town, the road ends and the trail begins. The first part of this trek was eastwards across rivers flowing north - south. This would mean a lot of up and down trekking as we ascended the valley, descended the other side to river, crossed and ascended again. Only later would we move north towards the Everest Region.

Tamang Woman
Tamang woman and child in the Jiri Valley
The trails in Nepal have been used for centuries. They are still the highways that link villages. All along the route there were places to drink tea, have a meal and lodges where I could sleep. I could walk at my own pace. Very important for a wimp like myself.

The trail began level then ascended in thick forest. Eventually it emerged into pastureland with lovely views of the Jiri Valley with its copious rice terracing, forests and different coloured houses. Being unfit, I lost my companions as I trailed behind. I didn't mind as I could stop frequently to take photos, drink tea at the tea shops along the trail, play with the children, and joke with the adults. The people (mainly Sherpas, Chhetris, Tamangs, and Newaris) were very friendly. I kept running into a Spanish group. Mainly the trail was quiet. It continued, often steeply, sometimes by a stream.

Finally I reached the top of the ridge at 2400m. After a rest I began descending. It was steep in places, passing water buffalo, goats, houses, tea shops and many porters coming the other way. In much of Nepal everything has to be carried in by porters. I would notice this in the prices of goods: as I got further from the road, prices would rise. I continued down a narrow valley with sheer rock faces breaking up the greenery. We crossed a fast and furious river on a wooden bridge, the first of many. This easterly valley finally met with the Khimti Khola Valley running north - south. I descended and crossed the wide river on a long suspension bridge. On the other side was Shivalaya (1767m), a small settlement.

I joined my companions in a room. I played with the children, had lunch, and relaxed by the river. It rained in the afternoon. It had been tiring ascending and hard on the knees descending. Today it had been a short day but normally it would be six hours of walking every day. Supper was rice, potatoes and teas. It took three hours to prepare on an open wood fire! I spent an hour of that singing songs in the kitchen with the family and went to sleep around 10pm.

Day 3

Bhandar
Stupas at Bhandar
I had to go wee wees in the middle of the night. Luckily I had a torch because the toilet was a wooden shack near the river! We awoke at dawn to a clear cold morning. After tea we began the 1000m ascent that we would have to cover that day. The first 350m was steep and tiring. The views back down the valley were superb. I stopped many times for tea, salted peanuts and water. The trail levelled slightly and moved towards the head of a steep forested canyon. The people were Sherpas, Chhetris, Newaris and Rais. The final two hours were very steep and it wore me out. There were steps in places but I had to keep stopping every ten meters. Every time I thought I'd reached the top, there was more. As noon came it clouded over. I hoped it wouldn't rain until I reached shelter and I just made it. I stopped for a lunch of lentils, rice and tea while it poured outside.

The 2705m pass was clouded over so I had no view. When the rain stopped I descended with four Swiss. It was slow and slippery on the wet, broken steps on the trail. After half an hour I descended below cloud level. I could now see the pleasant Likhu Khola Valley. After a few slips I spotted two small stupas (Buddhist shrines). I'd arrived at Bhandar (2194m). This was a small village of white brick Sherpa houses. Again I rejoined my companions in a room for four. I enjoyed a delicious hot shower before exploring.

Supper was a lively affair, eaten under a kerosene lamp with an Israeli, an Italian (who was learning English from the Israeli!), a guy from Leeds and an American returning from Everest. I ate soup, momos (Tibetan dumplings) and chapatis with honey. My shoulders ached from the strap of my pack and my thighs ached from the ups and downs. My stomach had been fine: some of my fellow travellers had had tummy problems. I settled down for the night around 8:30.

Day 4

Suspension Bridge
Crossing the Likhu Khola River
At 6:30, we were tucking into banana muesli (!). None of us was hungry, but we ate because we had another 1000m ascent and it would be several hours to our lunch stop. The beginning was a pleasant downhill stroll through fields, crossing a stream on a covered wooden bridge. The trail then went through forest. The wide valley converged into a steep rocky canyon. For a while the descent was steep, stony and slippery. The canyon opened out onto a valley and met yet another north - south running valley (the Likhu Khola). After crossing a stream on a wooden plank (!), I stopped for tea. I followed the main river north (passing villages and flowers) crossing on a large suspension bridge while the river raged far below. I was now at 1580m, one of the low points of the trek!

The trail continued, rising slowly. I twisted my ankle at one point but I was OK to continue. After an hour, I reached Kenja, a pretty Sherpa village next to a small stream. I had lunch with my three companions, the Israeli, the Italian and the four Swiss. It was an excellent meal of lentils, rice, lots of water and a glass of home brewed cider (this was an apple growing area!).

After a rest, we began the ascent. The first 200m was steep and slow. The views of Kenja and the two rivers meeting were superb. I felt stronger than I'd done on previous ascents. I took it slowly, breathed properly, took frequent rests and drank lots of tea and water. After 300m we hit the clouds so there were no more views. I chatted to local people in broken Hindi / Nepali on the way. The final half hour was tricky as it became steep and stony. My left ankle began to hurt from where I'd twisted it earlier. Suddenly, Sete (2575m), appeared like a ghost out of the mist.

I felt tired so I rested. My ankle was painful when I got up for supper and I hobbled all evening. The lodge was primitive as was the food: pot noodles, chapati and tea. I rubbed tiger balm into my ankle and it began to feel better. I went to bed early.

Day 5

Slept well; in the morning my ankle was normal. Breakfast was omelette and roti (bread cooked in a clay oven). We still had 1000m to climb to reach the next pass. The weather was clear giving fine views of the forested valley we were in and Bhandar (yesterday's stop) on the far side of the valley behind us. On the ascent we glimpsed two snow capped peaks (Numbar - 6959m; and Khatang - 6853m). The ascending trail entered moist forest full of chirping insects and birds. Moss hang like hair from the trees. I stopped several times for tea, apple pie and apple juice. It was a long hard climb, steep in parts and going in and out of cloud.

Above the forest, the open spaces were dotted with moss covered rocks. It seemed to take ages to get to the pass because of the many false summits. The last bit kept descending only to commence ascending again. Suddenly I rounded a corner and saw a pile of rocks covered with prayer flags. After six hours, I was on the 3530m Lamjura Pass. Once again, it was shrouded in cloud so there was no view.

Junbesi
Numbur (6959m) overlooks the Sherpa village of Junbesi
I was happy to be descending but it was steep and stony for the first 400m. My knees ached and my right testicle was rubbing painfully on my trousers. It was tiring. I was walking through thick forest. This gave way to pastures and fields. Then I saw the welcome sight of a Sherpa lodge. It was a nice family that ran it and the food was excellent (noodles and apple pie).

I continued along the valley. By now I was walking with legs apart! My pack was cutting through my shoulders again. The trail rose a little, but steeply. I saw Buddhas and Tibetan prayers painted on the rocks in bright colours. Mists swirled around the tops of the mountains giving the scene an eerie look. I turned into a side valley and caught sight of my destination, Junbesi (2675m). It was a pretty village dominated by a Buddhist temple. I was aching all over, tired and not in a good mood. Fell asleep quickly.

Day 6

I slept soundly till dawn even though there were birds living in the walls of the lodge. I moved to a better lodge and had a day off in Junbesi. The owner of the new lodge had been an English teacher in Kathmandu. This was the only lodge on the trail with an inside toilet. I met a Korean academic and a Norwegian. I wandered around the village exploring the yellow roofed temple. It was a quiet and peaceful place to rest. I showered and washed some clothes before enjoying a Tibetan stew chatting to two Australians. I relaxed all afternoon; my limbs felt better. I watched some locals maintaining part of the trail; others were relaxing in the fields playing with their children.

Day 7

Slept well till dawn. Breakfast was muesli and coffee. I felt better but I'd lost my hat! The trail descended to the river and crossed. I was joined by a Canadian couple and we promptly took the wrong trail. After a couple of hundred meters a porter corrected us. We ascended through pine forest with fine views of Junbesi across the valley. We turned into another valley (the Ringmo Khola). The trail left the forest and ran exposed along the side of the valley which was mainly grass and flowers. We continued a gentle climb up to about 3000m. Suddenly I turned a corner to be faced by a spectacular panorama of snow capped Himalayan peaks. Everybody had different ideas about what mountains we were seeing but, in fact, none of us knew. Later, I'd get to know the Himalayan peaks by sight.

Trakshindo Pass
A chorten marks the 3071m high Trakshindo Pass
The trail continued exposed along the valley and I could see our lunch stop on the other side. After an hour the trail began to descend through fragrant pine forest. I descended past several waterfalls, one with its own rainbow, through pasture land, crossing the river on a wooden suspension bridge. There was a steep but short ascent on the other side through forest into open land. The north was dominated by views of the icy peaks of Numbar and Khatang.

Half way up the slope was a large orchard run by an elderly and friendly Sherpa who is proud to mentioned in the guide book. He stood outside his establishment like an English country squire smiling. This was our lunch stop. The apple juice and apple fritters were excellent but the food was nothing special. From here it was a short climb up to the Trakshindo Pass at 3071m. A large chorten (round shrine) marked the spot. For once the views were clear. The rest of the day was spent descending into a side valley.

A little below the pass was the yellow roofed Trakshindo Monastery with its colourful wall paintings, Tibetan scriptures and giant Buddha. The monks were friendly; some were playing football! It took two hours to reach my night stop from the first moment I saw it. The trail descended along a stony path which became slippery mud. I'd felt good all day up until the final half hour when my knees began to feel the strain. After a descent of 800m I arrived at Nuntala at 2194m. This was a pleasant village perched on the side of the valley. Although mainly Sherpa, I ended up staying with a Magar family. They had rigged up the shower behind the wall where the stove was, thus ensuring very hot water. The family were very lively and noisy until they went to bed. Supper was candle lit. My final climb of the day was up the stair to my room. By 7pm I was fast asleep.

Day 8

I awoke at 6am while it was getting light. Outside it was crystal clear. To the east was the huge Dudh Khosi river valley whose waters come from the glaciers of Everest. The far wall of the valley was topped with snow capped peaks. I devoured porridge and hot lemon with chapati and jam for breakfast.

The trail descended slowly through forest and pasture. There were large numbers of colourful butterflies. I saw Chris and Simon excitedly picking what they told me was "grass". Porters passed constantly. I liked the way they would stop and rest by sitting on the T-shaped handle of their walking sticks. After two hours I intersected the wide, fast flowing Dudh Khosi River and its huge valley. I crossed it on a wide suspension bridge at 1500m. This would be the lowest elevation of the trek. My days of easterly trekking had now ended as the trail turned north to follow this valley towards the Himalayas. I stumbled over a landslide and entered pastures above the raging river. I avoided touching the wild Sisnu plants which have a painful sting.

Jubing
The picturesque Rai village of Jubing
Around noon I arrived at Jubing. This Rai settlement was the most picturesque village on the trail so far. The whole place was covered with flowers and the roofs of the houses were thatched. I sat here for a while sipping lemon juice and slurping delicious vegetable soup. The last part of the day's walking was up into a side valley and over a spur. A pleasant level trail brought me to the Sherpa village of Khari Khola (2072m) set on the slopes of the valley. I shared a lodge with Simon and Chris. After a tomato soup and rice pudding we sat around enjoying the view and watching people passing. It became cloudy later and cooled. Round the back the father of the family was busy making a table from wood. The mother runs the restaurant and shop. Supper was lentils, rice, hot lemon, and chapati with jam. We all fantasised about fish and chips, kebabs, satay and chicken curry. Outside it rained heavily.

Prices had risen as the trail got further from the road. A soft drink which cost 5 Rupees in Kathmandu and 8 Rupees in Jiri now cost 35 Rupees. Similarly a bottle of mineral water has gone up from 20 to 55 Rupees on the trail.

Day 9

Monk
Monk from monastery at Bupsa
It was a grey, overcast day. Some of the higher peaks showed evidence of snow. The trail went through the main part of the village past a huge chorten and a checkpoint where my permit was signed. I crossed a side river on a long bridge next to a water wheel. From here it was a steep 300m climb up to Bupsa, a small settlement on a ridge overlooking Khari Khola. There was a small monastery on the top. I had tea here chatting to the elderly, bearded monk, and continued on a steeply climbing trail. I passed through forest and it began to rain lightly. I moved slowly as the trail was slippery. This part of the trail was blasted out of a sheer rock face 1km above the river below. Unfortunately, it was too cloudy to see anything. In fact, this was to be the worst day's walking because it rained most of the day and there was little shelter on this part of the trail.

I reached a tea house after an hour and a half where I enjoyed a hot lemon and chatted to two pretty girls, one Sherpa, one Chhetri. The rain got heavier so I wrapped up well and plodded on along slippery and treacherous trails. I reached a ridge at 2900m and turned east into a large side canyon. It was cold, wet and miserable and there was no shelter. On and on I walked past waterfalls, streams, mud, and rock slides. After three hours I reached the unfriendly and basic Puiyan on the far side of the canyon. Accommodation here was unheated and no bedding was provided. After a pot noodle soup, the only food available, I decided to move on to my planned night stop which would be more comfortable. I wrapped up well, covering my pack with my plastic raincoat and set off with an American couple.

It turned out to be an easy walk and the clouds cleared to reveal magnificent views of the Dudh Khosi Canyon. The damp had got to my camera battery so I couldn't take too many photos on this day. Glimpses of ice-covered peaks poked through the clouds as we descended carefully to Surkhe at 2339m. I found a comfortable and friendly lodge and ate fried potatoes and chow mein. I took out all my stuff to dry in the room and settled down about 8pm as it began to rain outside. Mice scampered around inside the wooden walls of the lodge while I dozed off.

Day 10

The night was cold. The midnight trip to the toilet involved a 20m walk down a slippery slope in the dark so I just did it out of the window (!). By morning, my stuff was reasonably dry. I had to change my camera batteries before the camera would work. Outside was a sunny, blue sky day. I left the side valley and began the long two hour 500m ascent to Lukla. This village is famous for an airstrip built by Sir Edmund Hillary (who in 1953 made the first ascent of Everest with Tensing Norgay). I was hoping to fly back to Kathmandu from here in a few weeks. The ascent was steep and involved a stream crossing. While I walked up, three light aircraft and a helicopter landed.

At Lukla I saw more foreigners than I'd seen for the last week. I put my name down on the waiting list for a flight and had lunch (chicken soup, poached egg, hot lemon). I chatted to a group of Westernised Sherpas who'd just completed an expedition to Everest with a group of Japanese and Koreans. They told me they'd made a lot of money and one Korean was missing. I was glad I wouldn't be doing any climbing!

Ghat Temple
Small temple at Ghat
The trail was gentle and slightly downhill. This section of the trek had the most tourists but it was not really a problem as the scenery dwarfs them. I passed over a beautiful fertile area dotted with villages. On the far side of the valley I saw many landslide areas. I could see how difficult it was maintaining trails in these mountains and valleys. As the trail descended, the blue white river ascended to meet it. Ghat (2550m) was a pretty village with a small temple and many waterwheels. Butterflies were plentiful. It was a pleasant day's walk. I chatted to many people from all over the world, and used my pidgin Nepalese on the locals.

The valley narrowed and the trail clambered over some huge rocks. I arrived in the larger village of Phakding (2652m). I found a nice lodge by a bridge next to a small stream and indulged in apple juice, apple pie and coffee.

In 1989, while in India, I'd met Heather, a lovely Australian lady who travelled with me for a while. When I wrote to her to tell her I was going to Nepal, she gave me a name to contact. The name was that of a young Sherpa called Pemba Rinjee. He had been her guide and she had paid for his schooling. I asked the proprietor of the lodge if he knew where I could find him. He turned out to be Pemba's brother! Pemba was on a trip climbing a 6189m peak with an American. He was actually due to return that evening. He came in later clutching a letter from Heather he'd just picked up in Namche, further up the valley. The letter had told him of my arrival!

Simon and Chris turned up. That night we all sat around the stove with Pemba and his family. We heard their mountaineering stories. Pemba's brother had been on an Everest expedition with Chris Bonnington and had reached 8000m. He'd also worked as a cook in the Indian army. That showed because the food at this lodge was the best yet. I had tomato soup, potatoes with cheese and apple juice. Pemba showed us photos people had sent him after he'd guided them. It was an excellent evening. The trek has not been boring: rain and misery one day, joy and sun the next. And I still hadn't seen Everest!

Day 11

Again, I had to go outside in the middle of the night. I hate outside toilets! After a slow lazy breakfast of muesli and lemon pancake, we were given apples and seen off. The trail crossed the river on a swaying suspension bridge to the west bank. It was fairly level. The valley narrowed and there were some sheer rock cliffs. I passed a small forge and a Sherpa woman having her neck nibbled by a goat. I crossed the river again, this time on a wooden bridge. Between the villages there were lovely forests.

I crossed a large suspension bridge and arrived at Jorasale. Here at 2850m I entered the Sagarmatha National Park, home of Everest and three more of the world's ten highest mountains. The national park is protected by UNESCO and funded by the New Zealand government. I had fried potatoes for lunch watching the locals fooling around.

Namche
Namche Bazaar on a shelf above two rivers
At Jorasale, the river valley spits into two. The left branch (the Bhote Khosi) goes to Tibet, the right towards Everest. I crossed on a sturdy Swiss-built suspension bridge and began the 600m ascent to the Sherpa capital. It was steep but I seemed to be fitter. I didn't get achy or tired. At a couple of points on the trail, I spotted snow capped peaks. Turning a corner I saw Namche Bazaar, the largest village in the Sherpa region and their capital. The village is at 3446m and is spread out on a horse-shoe shaped shelf high above the split in the two river valleys below. Of course, the views down the valley were incredible. It was a busy, colourful place and I ran into several people I knew. I was planning to stay here for several days.

I found a comfortable lodge with electricity (from water power) and a warm communal dining room at the top of the building. I was to enjoy many days relaxing here watching the beautiful views. I did a little shopping and had momos for supper. I felt good today.

At high altitudes, acclimatisation is important. Above 3000m or so, it is necessary to ascend slowly. A good idea is to spend more than one night at some places every few days. This gives the body a chance to make more red blood cells to carry the reduced Oxygen. During the stay it is a good idea to explore at a higher altitude than the one you sleep at ("Walk high; sleep low"). The trek so far had involved covering distance. From now the priority will be not to gain too much altitude in one day. Up to now, I had been walking for up to eight hours a day. The number of hours walking from now on would be less. There were two reasons for this. Firstly, to avoid ascending too quickly; and secondly, to save energy at high altitude.

Day 12

Teng Kangpoche
View of Teng Kangpoche (6500m) from Namche Bazaar
I slept well - lack of acclimatisation gives you headaches but I felt good. Outside it was crystal clear. After a coffee and muesli I set off to climb a small ridge where there was a small museum set up by the national park. More important than the museum was the view. To the south west was the massive peak of Kwangde (6187m) on the other side of the Bhote Khosi Valley which goes to Tibet. Further up that valley was Teng Kangpoche (6500m) and Panayo Tippa (6696m). To the east was the massive Tramserku (6608m) and Kang Taiga (6685m).

Beyond them and further south was the twin saddle shaped peaks of Kusum Kangguru (6369m and 6215m) and its summit (6769m). To the north east (towards where I would eventually be heading) was the spectacular Ama Dablam (6856m) with its cylindrical upper peak and conical lower peak. To the left of this was Lhotse (the fourth highest mountain in the world at 8501m) and its lower double peak (8383m). A ridge flowed to the left of the double peak. The ridge leads to Nuptse (7879m). Behind the ridge was the top of the black pyramidal summit of Sagarmatha (or Everest), at 8848m the highest in the world. To the extreme left of this valley was the fluted Tawoche (6542m). To the north, overlooking Namche was Khumbita (5761m), the unclimbed holy mountain of the Sherpas.

It was an exciting experience to see these beautiful and spectacular mountains. I took it all in for over an hour. I spent the rest of the day getting my permit signed, changing money, buying more camera batteries and writing post cards. This was the first place I could post them from! Food was excellent: momos, tomato soup, hot lemon, rice pudding, cinnamon rolls, fried potatoes with cheese, a bar of chocolate. I chatted to several people including a girl from Greece.

Day 13

Khumbila
Scene at Khumbila
On this day I wandered off to explore the shelves above Namche. It was a steep but easy climb up to a small airstrip called Shyangboche. From here I, two Americans and their Sherpa guides walked through heathland, grassy meadows and young pine trees to a modern Japanese hotel. There were more excellent views of the peaks from here: Tawache, Nuptse, Everest, Lhotse, and an unobscured Ama Dablam. In the distance I could see villages I would be visiting later in the trek. At 3800m I enjoyed a meal of vegetable fried rice, vegetable soup and tea with no ill effects or tiredness.

I left the groups and wandered off by myself through pine forest to Khumjung, a large Sherpa village at the foot of the holy mountain Khumbila and several hundred meters above Namche. The fields were separated by stone walls. There were many manni walls. These are walls built with stones carved with Tibetan prayers. You are supposed to pass the walls to the left. There were a number of chortens and a school, one of 25 built by Hillary in the area. Yaks wandered around.

Nearby was the smaller Khunde, another traditional, untouristed Sherpa village. I descended towards Namche enjoying the views. Supper was lots of different types of momos, tomato soup and hot lemon. By 8:30 I was tucked up in bed ready for sleep.

Day 14

To go to the toilet here, I had to descend into a room that resembled a barn, go outside into a yard, and up some wooden stairs. During the night, I had descended to the barn and was attempting to open the door to the yard when I heard a grunt behind me. Two yaks were asleep in the corner!

Bhote Khosi Valley
The Bhote Khosi Valley
I awoke at 7am. Breakfast was muesli and coffee. It was a clear sunny day as I set off on a day trip to Thami. The last few days I'd been walking without my pack as I'd been based in Namche and that had been good. Thami was supposed to be "two to three hours" away but it was not to be! I ascended from Namche passed a small temple along the Bhote Khosi Valley, the one leading away from Everest. Snow capped Kwangde dominated the south while I walked through pine forests. The rushing river ran far below. I passed several villages and took the wrong path which led to a landslide area. By the time I had sorted out my navigation I had wasted a couple of hours. Looking back I spotted Khumbila, the holy mountain: it was directly above Namche. This mountain and an unnamed peak of 5673m behind it were black-grey rock.

At Thomde, I saw many yaks and manni walls. I could see enticing villages on the far side of the valley. There were many landslide areas along this part of the trail so my map was a little out of date. I saw many waterfalls. At Tumde, I drank tea and saw Thami, with its monastery perched on a steep hillside about 1.5 hours away. Behind it was the icy peaks of Teng Kangpoche. After eating a chocolate and an apple, I turned back because I realised I wouldn't have the daylight to complete the trip to Thame and back.

It was a long three hour walk back to Namche. I was very hungry so I treated myself to Yak steak, chips, vegetables and a Coke! It was all delicious. I chatted to a guy from Iran (?) and a German who'd had to return from higher up because of altitude sickness. It seems to hit the fitter people because they ascend too quickly whereas wimps like me take it slowly. In fact there were many nice people staying at this lodge. I later met one couple in London at a 3 Mustaphas 3 concert and met a Canadian fisherman in Vietnam in 1992. Outside, the lively festival of Tihar was being celebrated with lights and singing. I was enjoying my stay in Namche.

Day 15

Market day at Namche
Market day at Namche Bazaar
After a chapati and jam breakfast, I wandered down to the market area because Saturday is market day in Namche. There was a buzz of activity. People from all over the region had come to sell and buy. It was a very colourful scene. Apart from the Sherpas of the village there were Tibetans, Chhetris, Tamangs and Rais. I bought some fruit, haggling like the locals.

Back at the lodge I joked with a huge group of Singaporeans and a group of Germans. While I was listening to the radio in the evening, I noted the Singaporeans were doing the same. "What are you listening to?" I asked; "The BBC" they replied. "But that's English football!", I cried; "Yes, we like English football", they responded! I liked English football when I heard that Arsenal had won 1 - 0.

That night I packed as the next day would take me deeper into the national park.

Day 16

The lodge was so crowded that people were sleeping in the dining room when I came up for breakfast! At 7:30 I set off up to the ridge with the museum. It was tiring as I now had a pack. I took it slow remembering that I was now above 3500m. As I moved into the Dudh Khosi valley, the dramatic panorama that I'd seen on my first day in Namche dominated the skyline. At Kenjoma, a small Tibetan village, I had tea. I could see my destination across the valley on a ridge. The trail lead through pine forests high above the river to a large settlement called Teshinga. The valleys split. To the north ran the Gokyo Valley that I hoped to visit on my return.

Ama Dablam
The picturesque Ama Dablam from Thyangboche
Thyangboche at 3867m. I'd gained my 300m for the day. I shared a room in one of the lodges with Lars from Germany. We had a lunch of soup, potatoes, egg and cake.

Thyangboche has always been famous for its monastery built in the 1920s. In 1988 a fire destroyed it. So popular was this stop on the Everest Trek that donations came in from all around the world to help rebuild it. All along the trek I'd seen porters carrying building materials for this monastery. There was a hive of activity around the half-rebuilt structure. On my return to London, I bought a copy of a special book of photographs edited by Edmund Hillary (and signed by him in a London book shop). The proceeds of this book also went to this monastery.

The views from here are some of the best on the whole trek. A complete 360 degree panorama of Himalayan peaks including Lhotse and Everest and the ever delightful Ama Dablam just across the valley. It clouded over during the afternoon.

Some people had headaches from the altitude but I was fine. I played Ludo with several others. A group of Americans kept us amused with their conversation: "We had some good fries in Lobuche, almost as good as McDonald's"! Supper was two portions of momos and tomato soup. By 9pm it was bed time. Away from the electric light, it seems to be early to bed and early to rise.

Day 17

Slept well and comfortably. I had muesli and coffee before setting off into a crisp, clear morning. I walked along a trail descending through forest. It was frosty so for the first time I put on my gloves and woolly hat. Tramserku and Kang Tega dominated the south. Slowly changing views of Tawache kept me amused in the north. Everest itself slowly disappeared behind the Nuptse - Lhotse ridge as I moved towards it!.

In the forest I saw a Musk Deer (musk is a perfume extracted from glands on this animal) which hopped away as I approached. I crossed the river high over a narrow cleft and ascended to Lower Pengboche. Ama Dablam was changing its aspect all along the trail. I kept meeting Hansi and Anke, a German couple who I'd later meet on the Annapurna Trek. At one point we all had to jump as a large yak train barged passed us!

Lhotse
Female porters near Dingboche; Lhotse dominates
Beyond Pengboche, the trail rose above the tree line entering alpine meadows. It rose gently and came onto a shelf strewn with huge boulders. I reached a fork in the valleys. On the left was the Khumbu Valley that leads to Everest. Straight ahead was the Imja Khola Valley, a side valley that I wanted to explore. I descended to the river and crossed on a wooden bridge. It was a steep breathless ascent that brought me to Dingboche at 4412m. I booked into a simple lodge and ate tomato soup which was good, and fried rice which wasn't. I moved lodges when I met some others raving about the food at their lodge! At these altitudes it is important to eat and drink well. All the lodges here are simple because these settlements are only inhabited during the summer. Here, I met Nigel from Plymouth who was to be my companion for the next few days.

The views here were stunning: Ama Dablam, behind, was almost unrecognisable. The top of Lhotse could be seen (but no Everest). At the end of the side valley I could see Island Peak (6189m) and the pyramidal Cho Polu (6734m). To the right of Tawache I spotted Cholatse (6440m). After momos and tomato soup, I made the discovery that there was no toilet as such. A convenient bush or rock had to suffice! The bushes were mainly Juniper which was used to make the cooking fires more fragrant: the main fuel was wood and Yak dung!

As it got late, the temperature began to drop dramatically. At high altitudes, heat is lost quickly. My down jacket and down sleeping bag were paying for themselves. The sunset was superb with the white snow capped peaks turning crimson as we stood awed outside. After nightfall, the sky was a mass of twinkling stars in a crisp, crystal clear sky. I saw the crescent moon near the red star Antares. Saturn and the brilliant Milky Way were also visible. At 3am I popped outside for toilet needs and saw Mars, Jupiter, Orion, Sirius, Gemini and Leo. It was too cold to linger!

Day 18

Dingboche
Dingboche, above the tree line
Slept well with no ill effects. My sleeping bag kept me cosy and warm. Breakfast was pancake with jam and coffee. A small group of us (myself, Nigel, Lars, Hansi and Anke) set off to explore slowly. We climbed a ridge to arrive at the head of the two valleys splitting that we'd seen the previous day. The northbound Khumbu Valley that will take us to Everest was a typical example of a U shaped valley. There were no trees. The rock was mainly shale. Below us was the village of Pheriche. The surrounding snow capped peaks provided an excellent view. Ascending a little more we could see Dingboche itself on the Imja Khola Valley where we were staying.

Towards the east was a spectacular panorama in an area we'd planned to explore the next day. I could see Lhotse, Island peak, Cho Polu as before but now two other peaks had come into view. Baruntse (7220m) and the slightly yellowish Makalu (at 8470m the fifth highest in the world). The border with Tibet ran along the top of Lhotse through to Makalu. To the right was the incredible fluted ice walls of Amphu Lapcha (a ridge of ice with its highest point at 6430m). The shapes of the ice whetted our appetite for the next day's detour towards this area.

We descended along sandy and rocky trails back down to Dingboche for lunch. Nigel had a headache but I felt fine as I was pacing myself: I had been staying in places for longer than recommended by the guide book. The afternoon was spent reading and playing cards. The lodge became crowded in the evening. Again the sunset was spectacular, and again my night time visit to the "toilet" gave me stunning views of the sky.

Day 19

Amphu Lepcha
The fluted ice wall of Amphu Lapcha
I slept well. I had a slight headache which soon went. Headaches at high altitudes are caused by lack of Oxygen. If they don't last it's not a problem. If they persist or get worse, it is best to descend to a lower altitude. Bad altitude sickness can kill! Because of the bright sun at these altitudes I began using my goggles today. Today Nigel and I took a day trip up the Imja Valley. We passed alpine meadows, yaks, partially frozen streams, and a few summer settlements. Makalu appeared briefly as we slowly ascended into the cold, windy head of the valley. From Chhungkung (4730m) the views were fantastic. The Nupste - Lhotse ridge dominated the north face of the valley with its 3km high grey sheer rock faces, ice, fault lines and snow-blown summits. Everest was hidden behind this wall. To the east was the end of the valley marked by Island Peak, isolated as its name implies. Beyond was Cho Polu, a perfect square pyramid, but now close enough for snow ridges to be visible. To the south east was the incredible serrated ice ridge of Amphu Lepcha with its three 6000m plus peaks. The ice and snow formed weird shapes and patterns. At its base was a huge glacier hanging like a tongue of ice. Behind us was Ama Dablam looking different again with a circular peak topped with flat ice. Other peaks were visible behind, peaks we hadn't seen since our day at Ringmo. We enjoyed this panorama sitting on moss covered rocks.

After a while we descended to the less windy and warmer Dingboche for a lunch of chow mein with vegetable and egg. The lodge was empty today. In the evening, a Russian mountaineer arrived. He'd just been part of a group that had made the first ascent of the south wall of Lhotse. He personally had been to 8300m. He was alone because his companions had been carried out suffering from frostbite! Outside, we watched Mars rising from behind Lhotse. A group of Americans joined me for a star party. They referred to me as the "Star Man".

Day 20

Pumori
Pumori from near Lobuche
Apart from two freezing trips to the toilet, I slept well. We had breakfast (egg and chapati) and set off with our packs around 7:30. We were taking the north heading Khumbu Valley that would eventually lead to Everest. The trail stayed high above the valley floor with great views of Tawache and Cholatse. We passed a deserted settlement and approached a split in the valley. To the left was a large blue lake with peaks behind it. To the right was the beginning of the terminal moraine of the Khumbu Glacier. It looked like a huge pile of boulders.

We descended to cross an icy stream and ascended to a tea house at Dughla (approx. 4600m). Yaks were waiting to move laden with goods. There was not much vegetation around now. Yesterday's Americans passed, greeting and photographing the Star Man. From here it was a steep ascent up the moraine. At the top of the moraine were stone markers in memory of climbers killed on Everest. The valley was flanked on the right by Nuptse (7879m), a huge flat triangle. We entered a boulder strewn area. Ahead was the end of the valley (and the border with Tibet) marked by three white peaks: Pumori (7145m), Lingtren (6697m) and Khumbutse (6640m).

Crossing the icy stream, we walked for 20 minutes to the tiny summer settlement of Lobuche, the highest place we'd be sleeping at. Situated at 4930m, we were now over 100m higher than Europe's highest mountain! I had a slight headache. I enjoyed hash brown potatoes, egg and cheese and relaxed chatting to people. It got very cold as the sun got low and we all huddled around a container of hot coals, chatting and eating. The lodge was crowded and there were only dormitory beds. By 8:30 I was asleep. Next day I would see Everest ...

Day 21

I awoke in the middle of the night feeling breathless and had a slight headache. The girl next to me was having nightmares (another effect of altitude). Luckily I didn't need the toilet as it was freezing outside. The water in my water bottle was frozen by dawn! Today was to be one of the hardest days of the trek but luckily it was without the pack.

Everest
Mount Everest (Sagarmatha - 8848m) from Kala Patar
Nigel and I walked north along the valley keeping close to its western edge. We knew we were walking next to the glacier but we couldn't see it until we ascended along the side of the valley. It was a jumble of ice and rocks. The walk was tiring due to the lack of oxygen. We needed frequent water stops. On one section the trail crossed a side glacier so it became very vague (glaciers move!) and had lots of ups and downs. We were scrambling over rocks and boulders. There was hardly any vegetation.

Eventually we descended to a sandy flat with two buildings. This was Gorak Shep at 5160m. We rested after our two hour walk and drank tea. From here we had a choice of walking straight on the Everest Base Camp or climbing up a hill for a view of the mountain itself. We'd already decided on the hill since Everest is not visible from the Base Camp. The two and a half hour "climb" was tiring. I had to stop regularly and felt dizzy at one point when I rushed. Luckily the sky was absolutely clear and blue. Finally we reached the top of the hill (Kala Patar) at 5545m, the highest point on the trek.

The view from the top was literally and figuratively breathtaking. Our hill was actually a shelf on the flank of Pumori (7145m), a conical mountain marking the border with Tibet at the head of the Khumbu Valley. Next to this was Lingtren (6697m) which had a smooth snow covered face. Glaciers descended from between these peaks. Khumbutse (6640m) had fluted ice walls. The ridges dropped to the Lho La Pass (6606m) into Tibet. Next was Changtse (7205m) almost a perfect white pyramid. The next peak was also pyramidal and unnamed. Beyond this was the black pyramidal rock of Everest (8848m). We could see the South Col (7986m) where the ridge descends before ascending to Lhotse (8501m). Ahead of us on the far side of the valley was Nuptse (7879m). Avalanches could be seen and heard from this peak only a few kilometres away. At the foot of Nuptse was the Khumbu Icefall, the result of snow from Everest and Lhotse tumbling down the valley between them. For Everest climbers these house-sized chunks of ice are the most dangerous parts of the climb. Along the valley floor was the Khumbu Glacier, nearly 1km wide and sloping down towards Lobuche, our night stop.

Continuing our panorama southwards we could see Ama Dablam, Kang Taiga, Tramserku, Tawache and Cholatse. To the west was another glacier (Changri Nup), with the three peaks of Lobuche behind it, the highest being 6119m. To the north west was the icy face of Chumbu (6820m) and a beautiful stepped glacier. Below this were two small lakes, one green, the other blue.

Khumbu Glacier
The Khumbu Glacier from Kala Patar
We were elated to have reached this high point of the trek. Most of the few people at Lobuche hadn't made it this high so it was quiet with half a dozen brave souls sharing the experience with us. We also shared peanuts, chocolate, and yak cheese. It was windy, cold and bright but very spectacular. The journey back was tiring as the altitude took its toll. It took half an hour to descend to Gorak Shep followed by two hours back to Lobuche. I was cold and tired by the time I slouched back to the lodge. Tomato soup, hash brown potatoes and a Coke perked me up as we huddled around the hot coals.

Day 22

Slept well except for being woken up by people tossing and turning. Nigel and I were so worn out by yesterday's long day that we only managed to walk for two and a half hours. We walked back down the Khumbu Valley and stopped at Pheriche (4240m), a village we'd seen from Dingboche earlier. We stayed in out of the cold, playing cards and eating. The dormitory was cold but the football was hot (Arsenal had won again).

Day 23

Pengboche Gompa
Pengboche Gompa, the oldest temple in the Khumbu region
Slept well except when I had to go out to the toilet: it was the coldest I'd felt. Muesli, fried eggs and chapatis warmed us up. Nigel and I set off rejoining the main Dudh Khosi Valley but taking a higher route than the one we'd come in on. On the way I ran into Pemba, my Sherpa contact from Phakding. Everest appeared again behind the Nuptse - Lhotse ridge and Ama Dablam took on its familiar form.

Upper Pengboche (about 3900m) was so pleasant that we decided to stay! It was set in a fertile crescent shaded by trees. We hadn't seen trees for days! The houses were Sherpa and Tibetan. Ama Dablam dominated from the far side of the valley. It really is the most picturesque mountain in the region.

I had the chance of a hot shower, the first real wash I'd had for several icy days. In the afternoon we explored the local temple (Pengboche Gompa), the oldest in the Khumbu region. We were shown around by a friendly lama (monk) and saw the famous "yeti scalp" as well as some lovely paintings.

Musk Deer
Musk Deer along the trail

Day 24

Slept well and enjoyed fried egg and chapati for breakfast. The trail continued high and exposed and narrow on the opposite side of the valley that we'd come in on. It was often slippery. This was a quiet route and we saw Musk Deer and Blue Pheasant. We passed on the far side of the Thyangboche Monastery and could hear the work of rebuilding it. The trail was very steep in parts. After two and a half hours we arrived in Phortse on a shelf high above the river. We stopped for a snack. We were at the entrance to the Gokyo Valley. At the end of this valley was Cho Oyo (8153m - the eighth highest mountain in the world). It would take me three days to get to my destination up this valley.

We descended several hundred meters to the fast flowing river and crossed on a sturdy bridge. At this point Nigel and I separated as he had to return to Kathmandu. He later visited me in London and we shared photos. I headed north into the valley and the trail ascended very steeply through forest. There were not many people along this trail but it was a very beautiful valley. I passes several waterfalls, some of them icy. It cooled as the sun set behind the valley walls. At 2pm I arrived at the small settlement of Dhole (4080m). I ate tomato soup, curry and rice, yak steak and a boiled egg. As it got dark, the small lodge filled. Outside it was misty but I could see the moon shining through.

Day 25

Slept very well and late (7am). After a false start (I'd left my sleeping bag behind), I set off northwards. The trail descended to a stream, crossed and ascended steeply to a ridge. Again I was above the trees. It was cloudy as the path levelled off. It was high above the river and desolate. Across the valley I could see, precariously perched settlements. I passed a pair of elderly American ladies.

At Luza I had potato soup, fried eggs and tea. It was only a short climb and drop to my night stop of Macherma (4465m) situated in a side valley near a clear stream. The legend of the Yeti originated in this area!

Lodges here were primitive and it was cloudy and cold. A German stumbled in after descending in the dark after feeling sick. We were the only westerners (in the lower dorms). Two Sherpa girls and a little boy were in the upper dorms. It took a little while for the place to quieten down.

Day 26

Macherma
Macherma after a snow shower
Woken by a shout in the middle of the night. The little boy was pissing in his sleep and it was dripping onto the German! In the morning it was snowing. After a slow lazy breakfast it cleared up. I continued up the valley climbing a ridge with great views of the snow capped peaks at the end of the valley. After descending to a deserted settlement by the river, I began the long ascent up the terminal moraine of the Ngozumpo Glacier, the largest in Nepal. The river flowed fast and icy and there were large boulders everywhere. I wandered how the German had come down over this in the dark.

I reached the top after an hour. There was a small lake; the first of three. The trail levelled and the valley widened. I knew the glacier was nearby but from ground level they are difficult to see. I passed the larger second lake as it became grey and overcast. Half an hour later I reached the third lake, the beautiful turquoise Dudh Pokhari ("Milk Lake"). On the edge of the lake was my destination Gokyo (4750m), a few buildings housing lodges. I settled into one and had a chapati and thick potato soup lunch. It was cloudy and cold. The lodge became full. We all hoped for the next day to be clear.

Day 27

Gokyo View 1
The Ngozumpo Glacier and three turquoise lakes from Gokyo Peak
At dawn the weather was cold but crystal clear. After a tea, I set off to climb up the 5483m high snowless peak next to the lake. It was cold and tiring but I knew I was getting fit when I climbed the 600m in less than two hours. I thought I'd seen everything at Kala Patar but the views from here were even better. The panorama from north to south was as follows: Cho Oyo (the eighth highest at 8153m and on the Tibetan border at the end of the valley), A huge wall of ice formed by Ngozumba Kang (7846m) and Gyachung Kang (7922m). The 5985m Nup La Pass into Tibet leading to the 7020m Chumbu.

The Gokyo Valley itself was dominated by the Ngozumpo Glacier, the largest in Nepal (19km long, 2km wide), a grey tongue of ice curving along the valley. A brown shelf separated the glacier from Gokyo. Three intensely blue lakes dotted this shelf and I could see the trail I'd followed alongside the glacier to Gokyo.

Across the valley from where I stood I could see Kangchung (6089m) a black peak with an icy top. Between a gap I could just see Pumori (7145m) from which I'd climbed Kala Patar previously. Next was Changtse (7205m). Clearly looking like the world's highest was Everest (8848m) thrusting into the stratosphere. Lhotse (8501m) was visible edge on; its steep south face clearly apparent. Beyond was the pinkish Makalu (8470m). This meant that from this one spot I could see four of the world's highest mountains (Everest - 1st, Lhotse - 4th, Makalu - 5th, Cho Oyu - 8th)! Since there are only fourteen 8000m peaks in the world, seeing four of them at one time was quite an achievement.

Gokyo View 2
Everest and Lhotse
The rest of the panorama featured Cholatse and Tawache down the valley. I could see clouds below the level where I stood! There were glaciers hanging down the side of a lot of the peaks. I could also see into other valleys I'd already visited. I could now identify most of the mountains by sight. I stayed for nearly two hours: the weather was pleasant and it was reasonably warm. I was happy and pleased with myself. After all the earlier struggles it had been a worthwhile trip. I would carry these scenes with me always.

The descent only took a quarter of an hour. The lake was a delightful blue when I reached it. I had breakfast and relaxed with several people. It was a happy lodge. Supper was curried chicken and mixed vegetables from tins left behind by a mountaineering expedition!

Day 28

Gokyo View 3
Makalu
It was a cold night that revealed a clear, sunny day - ideal for the trek back down the valley. I enjoyed the walk as it was mainly downhill. I was so acclimatised that, as I descended, I felt very strong. The descent down the moraine was slow due to ice. I had tea at Macherma, lunch at Luza and stayed at Dhole. The 670m descent had warmed the atmosphere! For the one and only time on this trek I had the runs!

Gokyo Lake
The settlement of Gokyo by the glacial lake

Day 29

Today's walk was essentially downhill back towards the Phortse Bridge where I'd left Nigel. It was a sunny day but the parts of the trail in the shade were icy and I had to tread carefully. It was nice to return to the tree line. I enjoyed the smell of pine. I stopped for tea on the intersection of the Dudh Khosi and Gokyo Valleys. From here I had a steep and tiring ascent to a ridge overlooking Phortse and Thyangboche. The trail was deserted but the views were great. At the top I rested with a Coke enjoying the views across to Ama Dablam.

I set off on an exposed but slightly downhill trail and rejoined the main trail. There were now more people and yaks around. Today was Namche's market day so the trail was busy. Around noon I descended into Namche, the most civilised place I'd been to for a couple of weeks! I got a room to myself - it was nice to have the privacy. I stuffed my face with yak steak, chips, hot lemon and a cold Coke! Next, I had my first hot shower for ages (aahh!). I then bought some socks and t-shirts throwing away some of my clothes that hadn't survived the rigours of the trek. For supper I had tomato soup, meat momos, fresh oranges and hot lemon and heard that Arsenal had won 2 - 0 and were top of the league! I felt "top of the league" also.

Day 30

Today was a rest day. All I did was change money, and eat!

Day 31

Another rest day. I posted some cards and revisited the museum above town. It was far more interesting now that I'd seen the real thing. I treated myself to a big bar of chocolate.

Day 32

I packed and descended seeing Everest for the last time as I approached the river. I had apple pie, chow mein at Jorsale and left the national park. I was warm enough to remove my down jacket for the first time in ages. I stayed at Phakding with Pemba's family. His brother cooked me tomato soup, pizza, and apple juice. It was nice not to be freezing all the time.

Day 33

I had a good sleep and an excellent breakfast: they wouldn't let me pay for everything I had! It was a lazy walk down to Lukla. The airstrip was chaos. Although there were seven flights planned, two had to be cancelled due to bad weather. My name was first on the list but there appeared to be a two day delay.

Day 34

Back at the airstrip, I wangled a seat on a small helicopter. It was $100 more than the regular flight but I was now looking forward to a quick trip back to Kathmandu. Also, I'd never been on a helicopter before! I boarded around noon with two Germans (who were as excited as I was), an American (who was also excited but trying to be cool) and a Nepalese banker. It was a superb flight at only 6000m. We followed the route I'd walked nearly a month previously. I saw Nuntala, Trakshindo Monastery, the pass above the apple orchards of Ringmo, the valleys near Junbesi, the Lamjura Pass and the snaky trail I'd struggled up, Kenja (where I'd had my glass of cider), Bhandar on a shelf, Jiri where the road ended, rice terraces, forested hills, villages, rivers in V shaped valleys, and the road to Kathmandu. In the distance were the snow capped Himalayan peaks that I'd spent so much time near.

Finally we entered the lovely Kathmandu Valley - the trek had ended. Some of it had been hard but overall it had been well worth it. One day I'll return ....

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Photographs and text : © 1990, 1997 KryssTal


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