After the exciting flight from Kathmandu to Lukla, we were finally ready to begin the Everest Base Camp (EBC) trek. Within an hour of touchdown, we had retrieved our packs, met our porter and set out.
It is still odd to me that our original Nepal plan did not include the trek to Mount Everest, nor even a glimpse of the iconic mountain. We debated for a long time, even before leaving the US, which trek we would attempt. One of the main reasons we chose the Annapurna Circuit over the Everest trek had a lot to do with altitude. With the trek beginning at nearly 9,400 feet (2,860m), there isn’t a lot of time to acclimatize. Additionally, the altitude gains made daily are much more rapid than the gains made on the Circuit. The second main reason related to Kenny’s fairly recent knee surgery. With the potentially steeper trail on the EBC route, we decided Annapurna was the more conservative choice. However, with the Circuit trek having gone so well, we both agreed we couldn’t leave Nepal without making the trek to the foot of Everest herself.
The first few days on the EBC trek were relatively leisurely. The trail meandered up and down through small villages that dotted the hillsides before climbing steeply up into the hub of Namche Bazar, the largest town on the trail and the location of our first acclimatization day. We had our first far off glimpse of Everest as we climbed into town which we interpreted as an affirmation of our decision to make the trek.
Acclimatization days are not really rest days in that they are best spent by hiking to a higher elevation and then returning to sleep at a lower elevation. On this day, we hiked to the Everest View Hotel which is recognized as the highest hotel in the world at 12,730 feet (3,880m). It was designed to be fancy hotel for wealthy tourists however the concept ultimately failed. The patrons who visited the hotel from the Kathmandu valley were unaccustomed to the altitude and rapidly became ill. After a few deaths were reported, the airstrip servicing the hotel was closed and it was transformed into a stopping point for acclimatizing trekkers. Here we enjoyed a pot of coffee and a plate of yak cheese while soaking in the panoramic mountain views.
As we continued to trek over the following days, we could not have been more pleased with the decision to do the EBC trek. Though Annapurna was phenomenal, here we felt we were truly hiking among the mountains. Giant, jagged, snowy peaks surrounded us and the energy and atmosphere felt somehow more charged, rugged and wild.
Our second acclimatization day came in the village of Dingboche where we chose to ascend a small peak nearby called Nangkar Tshang. This little peak sits at an altitude of 18,425 feet (5,616m) and is higher than any point on either the Annapurna Circuit or the EBC trek proper. We decided if we felt good on this hike, if would be a great indication of how we would manage at base camp.
The trek wasn’t an easy one but it was not difficult either. Kenny and I both were elated with the success of the hike and even more so with the view of the Himalayas that morning. We spent hours on the summit taking silly photos and watching the clouds roll in for the day.
The days following were a combination of fantastic scenery, great weather, new friends and our arrival at Everest Base Camp. It is true that from base camp, you cannot see the summit of Everest herself. The shoulder peaks of Everest and Lhotse block the view. However, this was far from a disappointment. The trek into base camp followed a valley flanked on all sides by towering mountain peaks and was accompanied the entire way by the Khumbu glacier.
The real jewel of the EBC trek is a dawn ascent of Kala Patthar. This point overlooks base camp itself along with the perfectly pyramidal summit of Everest. While spectacular, the 360-degree view of the entire Himalayan range is the real reason to do this side trek. Our first attempt at Kala Patthar happened the morning after our base camp trek and ended prematurely in a spectacular display of gastrointestinal pyrotechnics. I became light headed and bid farewell to my breakfast bar at the feet of a fellow trekker and Kenny suffered from an episode of Delhi belly which had us running down the trail back to the lodge. With a bit of bad weather moving in that evening, we had to wait an extra two nights for a second attempt at the ridge.
Starting at 3:30 in the morning with only headlamps to guide the way, we made our way up the 18,192 foot (5,545m) ridge. As we climbed, we watched the moon rise directly behind the tip of Everest’s summit and cast its light into the valley.
Feeling great, we topped the ridge just before dawn and watched the sun rise and light, peak by peak, the entire Himalayan range. The view was otherworldly and we both kept pinching ourselves to make sure it was real. I’ve had this view in my mind since childhood and finally, here it was, laid out before us. This was the reason we were on this trek, this was the reason we came to Nepal – and it was perfect.