I must apologize in advance for the length of this blog. I typically try to keep my posts on the shorter side and didn’t realize how long this posts would be until it was done. I have tried to cut it down but just can’t. As much as I want to tell everyone all about the trip, it is impossible to do it justice.
Lukla is a large hub for the beginning of a lot of treks through the Everest Region. Lukla was lined with shops selling trekking gear and supplies. As we proceeded forward, I was amazed at the number of villages we passed through and how built up they were. They weren’t huge by NYC standards but I think Kansas might be more barren then the Himalayas. As we increased in elevation, the villages became further apart and you could tell their purpose was catering to the trekkers. Our guide informed us people in these areas move to lower elevations for the winter months.
Each morning, we trekked in the morning for 4-7 hours. The trail was busy with trekkers, porters, yak and donkeys. The porters immediately amazed me. Porters accompanying trekkers typically had two rucksacks on their back. The government limits the amount the porters can carry to 30 kg (66 lbs). However, I am not sure the limits are monitored beyond luggage restrictions on the flights. The other porters on the trail had loads of goods on their backs to take to the teahouses. I am not talking light stuff. We saw rice, bottled water, building materials, beer, lots of beer, and propane being carried up the mountains. Who would have thought beer was a necessity at 18,000 feet?
We frequently encountered small herds of yak (and cow like animals) loaded with goods on their backs headed up to the teahouses. They moved very slowly and seemed mellow tempered. Even with their mellow tempers, it didn’t take long to learn we should not stand on the edge of the mountain while letting them pass.
People from all over the world come to trek in the Everest region. Literally all over. We met Germans, Australians, New Zealanders, Israelis, Chinese, Indians, Japanese, British, and the list goes on. Along the way, we had the opportunity to chat with a lot of trekkers while trekking or in the evening at a teahouse. We would often run into the same trekkers multiple times during the trek even if our schedules were not identical.
The trekking part was tough physically (even with only a 3 kg or 6.6 lb backpack) but not impossible. We saw trekkers of all ages and physique. Almost everyone used two trekking poles to help propel us forward and reduce the impact on legs, knees and ankles. Anne, who is an occupational therapist, quickly pointed out we were just like some of her elderly patients with their need for walking devices. The hardest part was the altitude and the effect it played on our bodies as we increased in elevation. Our breathing got shorter and shorter and it took longer and longer to recover. “Bestari Bestari” or “go slowly go slowly” quickly became one of my favorite Nepali lines. Anne again pointed out the similarity to her elderly patients. Our pace decreased dramatically as we got higher. We began the trip walking at a reasonable pace and taking frequent breaks. By the end we were moving slower than turtle pace but taking fewer breaks.
When we first arrived in the mountain region it was rainy and cloudy. It added a mystical element I did not mind at first. That was until one morning when we were told it was clear outside. We rushed outside before breakfast to see the snowcapped mountains the clouds had been covering. Here I as thinking the lush mountains were beautiful but the snowcapped peaks made me realize what I had been missing. It also made me realize how much higher we were going to have to trek. From then on we hoped and prayed for clear weather. I didn’t realize how reliant I am on my phone’s weather app. Without the convenience of my phone, we just had to wait and see what the weather would be like and pack our backpacks for all possibilities.
You can only see Mt. Everest from certain vantage points due to where it is located in comparison to the other mountains. The first two times we were supposed to have the ability to see Mt. Everest, the clouds were in the way. We sat watching the clouds and their movement just hoping they would break. But I will not forget the first time I saw her. I almost cried …. Anne did cry. It was just amazing to see the mountain I have always heard about and to think about its vastness. There are so many mountains around Everest that are massive in their own right. Sorry to all the Colorado fans but the Himalayas make the Rocky Mountains look like rolling hills. We were amazed at how many people jokingly told us “don’t fall off the mountain” before leaving on the trek. We laughed at how serious this phrase became the higher we got.
We were shocked at the number of rescue helicopters we saw. One day we started to count them but realized it probably wasn’t smart for our mental health. The teahouses even advertised their “cheap heli service”. Our group was very lucky and did not experience any altitude sickness beyond minor headaches. Everyone in our group took altitude sickness medication, which helped speed up our bodies’ natural acclimatization process. We started the medication three days before trekking and stopped as we were on our way down. Our group also took three acclimation days, which is more than normal. On acclimation days we would stay in the same village two nights. During the extra day we did a side trek to the elevation we planned to trek to the following day and come right back down. These hikes were fun because our guide took us on treks no one else was on. We quickly learned these routes were probably desolate because our guide seemed to take us on the steepest and toughest side treks he could find.
We had to cross several suspension bridges. I have a small fear of heights and knew (from watching the movie Everest) I would not love crossing the suspension bridges. They turned out to be more sturdy than I expected. I personally thought I crossed them very well but my guide informed me the yak cross the bridges more easily than me.
At night we stayed in “teahouses”, which are very very basic hotels. Each room had two to three single beds. The nicest teahouses had a private bathroom for each room. The majority of teahouses offer a shared bathroom for all rooms. The type of toilet also distinguished a nice teahouse from a not as nice teahouse. A “western toilet” meant we were living like kings. Even western toilets often consisted of just a toilet bowl without a seat or tank. There would be a bucket of water next to the toilet with a smaller bucket. To flush you poured water into the toilet. I will spare you additional details but you can imagine this method does not work real well. And then there were the nonwestern toilets … basically a hole in the ground. No matter the type of toilet, we always had to take our own toilet paper. It is amazing how little toilet paper you use when you depend on one roll in your backpack.
Each teahouse had a large dining area where most our time was spent. In the evenings a stove was lit to keep warm. There was no other heat in the remainder of the teahouse. We would sit around tables and talk, journal or play cards. We drank A LOT of ginger tea to help prevent altitude sickness and stay warm. Each teahouse had a menu that was uncannily similar to all the other teahouses. EVERY menu consisted of dal bhat, rice dishes, noodle dishes, potato dishes and soups. We were advised not to eat meat in the mountains so everything was prefixed with “veg” … veg fried rice, veg fried noodles, rai rai soup with veg, fried potatoes with veg … you get the point.
Water was a whole other story. We all had some sort of water treatment with us. Micaela and Anne had chlorine tablets and a filtered water bottle, I had iodine and Paul (the other trekker with our group) had a UV light. In addition, you can buy bottled water or boiled water at the teahouses. Unfortunately, this did not prevent issues. Anne got sick the first night and I got sick about halfway up. I am 100% sure my issues were caused from water that was stored in same jugs as the petrol. My bottle had a distinct scent of petrol and no matter what method I used to treat it I could not get rid of it. Luckily, I had an antibiotic with me and I was able to recover quickly. After this incident I began buying boiled or bottled water and treating it for safe measures.
We did not shower while trekking. Yes, we went 14 days without a shower! Instead, after trekking we would bathe ourselves with wet wipes. You could pay for showers at some teahouses at lower elevations if you could handle being wet and cold. It wouldn’t have done much good anyway since I was rotating between two pair of pants and three tops. I wore one pair of pants for half the trip before switching to the other. The day I got to change to my clean pants was a milestone.