|We took the 30 minute flight from Kathmandu into Lukla, a tiny airstrip in the Himalayas, aboard a small plane. We were in the front seats of the plane so got a great view into the cockpit and of the scary landing. It was the shortest and most terrifying runway EVER! It's short because it's built into the side of a mountain and steep to stop the planes quickly before they run out of tarmac.
Easily the scariest airport we have ever flown into. If you want to see what our landing looked like, click here
Lukla is the starting point for most people doing hikes in the Mount Everest region. We had two weeks before our return flight to Kathmandu and weren't sure how far we would hike, but ended up making it all the way to Everest Base Camp.
The weather was good most of the trip. There were a few days of rain and some light snow, but mostly in the afternoons. After the rain, the sky would be clear of all clouds revealing magnificent views of the dramatic landscape. This region was very different from the Annapurna circuit hike we did back in April. The start of the trail was very green and wound up and down through pine forests following rivers full of water from the surrounding glaciers. Very beautiful! No jeeps here, only porters (it is incredible to see how hard the porters work) and trains of yaks and some mules carrying supplies to villages further up. Once we were above treeline, it became rocky with magnificent views of massive mountains on all sides. We passed through villages with strong Tibetan influence, and saw a lot of wildlife (monkeys, birds, mountain goats, etc).
It was a really interesting time to visit Everest Base Camp because there was an Indian expedition preparing to summit. We had the chance to meet and talk to some of the very friendly and hospitable Indian team members at their camp where they served us fruit and talked about their plans (which included one of their members, a former Olympic skier, skiing down from the summit of Everest!) Many of the team members had summited before and part of the expedition was to remove some of the trash from the mountain. Very interesting to see their camp and to get a sense for what their very basic living conditions were as they acclimatized and prepared to go for the top.
We enjoyed this hike even more than the Annapurna circuit, partially because we didn't get sick, but also because we found it more beautiful and peaceful (no jeeps!)
A quick recap of each day follows:
Day 1: Lukla to Manju (~5.5 hours). Flew into Lukla and began our hike by ~8:30am. Lots of up and down, but spectacular scenery with lots of flowers and scenic villages.
Day 2: Manju to Namche (~4 hours). Long, steep climb up to 3400 meters. Good waterfalls, forest and a clear view of Mt. Everest in the distance. Found a guesthouse where we stayed in the prayer room. Great views.
Day 3: Rest day to acclimatize. Hiked a few hours up to an abandoned airstrip (not used anymore due to too many crashes!!) to see good views of mountains.
Day 4: Namche to Phortse (~7 hours!!). Took slight detour from "regular route" as we'd heard it was beautiful and less crowded. True, but much longer and harder than expected -long, long day. So much up and down. Only gained 400 meters from Namche, but climbed at least 4x this elevation. Did get great views of mountains and met some friendly locals. A group of farmers were sitting around in the field eating their lunch of freshly boiled potatoes from their plot. They offered us several and they tasted great!! Sometimes the great interactions with the friendly locals makes you forget about the difficult climbs you have just completed. Stayed in a guesthouse whose owner had summited Everest 3 times AND (as if that wasn't impressive enough) came in 2nd place in the Everest marathon (imagine!)
Day 5: Phortse to Dengboche (around 6.5 hours). Somewhat miserable morning hiking back to the main trail, which we could see far below us looking much easier and more inviting. Our path was a terrifying trail chiseled into the cliff with many ups and downs and too many stone steps to count. For anyone afraid of heights (Christy is), very trying. Found a great guesthouse and met up with a Spanish couple who lived in Australia.
Day 6: Rest day. Our guesthouse invited us to watch a ceremony in which the Tibetan monks from nearby Tengboche came to perform an elaborate ceremony to bless them with good luck for the future. Very interesting. Lots of chanting, music and burning of incense. Delicious food and "interesting" Tibeten yak butter tea was served (butter, water and lots of salt). Quick hike straight up the side of a mountain to acclimatize. So foggy had some fear of losing the trail, but returned safely.
Day 7: Dingboche to Dugla (~2.5 hours). Steady climb up, but relatively easy. Stopped for the day so as not to gain too much altitude. Only one guesthouse in the "village". Smelly, horrible with some large creature (bigger than a rat, smaller than a dog) living in the walls. Heavy rain and snow in the afternoon and through the night. Met an Indian couple living in Dubai and their brother (living in Delhi) who gave some great advice about travel within India. Hope to meet up in Delhi with them later.
Day 8: Dugla to Lobuche (~2 hours). Tough climb to a pass where there were many memorials to climbers who have died on Everest. Found nice guesthouse in Lobuche. What a treat after the hellhole below.
Day 9: Lobuche to Gorak Shep (~3 hours) and onto Base Camp and back (~6 hours). Gradual climb up to Gorak Shep (last village on hike). We found a decent guesthouse and left our packs there, then continued on to Everest Base Camp. Very rocky train as we walked over a glacier to reach Base Camp. Great weather and great views of Everest, glaciers and surrounding mountains. Met the Indian team preparing to summit. Very friendly! Luckily no issues with altitude (5340 meters).
Day 10: Gorak Shep up to Kala Patar (~2 hours) then back down to Dingboche (~7 hours). Hiked up a nearby mountain (5545 meters) boasting fantastic views of Everest and surrounding giant mountains. While the views were amazing, they weren't too much different from what we saw the previous day on the way to Base Camp, and what a miserable climb up endless rocks! Glad we did it, but it made for a very, very long day.
Day 11: Dingboche to Phungi Thanga (~6 hours). Hiked gradually down from Dingboche, then up steeply to Tengboche, then ~600 meters back down to Phungi Thanga. Tired.
Day 12: Phungi Thanga to Manju (~ 5 hours). Relatively easy hike to Namche, then steeply down to Manju. The scenery on this part of the trail is just breathtaking. Peak climbing season starts in October, and that was very evident on our hike down. We saw huge groups of organized hiking groups coming up as we hiked down. Some locals told us waits at the bridges can get up to 20 minutes long during this time. So glad we missed the crowds!
Day 13: Manju to Lukla (~6 hours). Believed it would be an easy day, but hadn't remembered so much up and down. Exhausted and glad to be done. Decided to donate most of our hiking gear and boots to the porter clothing bank. Many porters do not have decent footwear and clothing and carry huge loads up and down the mountains. We had been given the name of a guy in the Himalayan Club who would help us to sort out how to donate our things. Directions had been "cross a small bridge coming into Lukla and ask for ...". Amazingly, we were able to track him down. Felt good to unload some weight from our packs for a good cause.
We had the good luck of clear weather and were able to take off safely (also terrifying since the plane careens down hill and off the cliff). Sometimes planes don't take off for days if conditions are foggy.