Thursday, June 6, 2024

Mount Everest Basecamp was a beast, but we can do hard things

Well well well, and we are back climbing another mountain. I think this is like another marathon-like life where we go through the pain, complain bitterly while we do it, swear this is the last one, and then a few months later are back to planning another climb. 

This 12-day climb with four of my friends was the most painful one I've done, mostly because of the physical illnesses that came during the climb. So let me start by saying that. My team was the dopest team there is, but it was tough. If you are thinking of going to Everest Basecamp, just as I said with Kilimanjaro, it is one of the hardest things you will ever do. So adequate preparation is key. I will do my best to tell you as much as I possibly can to prepare you mentally, but also to prepare you physically.

Let's start with what you need for the climb first, and then we'll get into my detailed summary of the actual experience.

1. Clothes: We froze. It was cold. Prepare accordingly. You may have access to laundry at some of the teahouses so what you need depends on how much you are willing to spend on laundry. However, in my opinion, you need the following at a minimum:
  • 3-4 long sleeved thermal tops
  • 3-4 long thermal bottoms (I suggest either fleece-lined or HEATTECH)
  • 3 non-cotton absorbent t-shirts
  • 4 Sports bras for the girlies
  • 4 trekking bottoms (a mix of shorts, leggings, and pants)
  • 1 waterproof rain poncho
  • 1 down jacket
  • 1 balaclava
  • 1 sun hat/baseball cap
  • Sunglasses
  • 1 pair of think gloves
  • 4 pairs of thermal socks
  • As much underwear as can fit in your 15kg allowance (we will discuss this later)

2. Shoes: You know you need hiking boots for the daytime climb, but with the uber cold temperatures, also invest in good shoes you can wear in the teahouse at night. 
  • Trekking boots
  • Crocs, sneakers or some sort of easily washable slip-on shoes AND/OR
  • Flip-flops you can wear to shower

3. Toiletries: We were only able to shower for a few days during this climb. Because it was so cold and a lot of the places we stayed had solar powered water heating systems, there was no way to safely shower every single day and not be sick. So we had to be creative with our cleaning techniques. We'd always be able to brush our teeth, but when we couldn't shower, we had to use wipes and other substitutes to stay clean enough. And we were also using public restrooms without toilet rolls so we needed to always carry wipes of our own.
  • Tooth brush
  • Tooth paste
  • Soap 
  • Lotion
  • Deodorant
  • Towel
  • Lots of wipes (do not underestimate how many you'd need)
  • Vaseline (for cold, dryness, and sunburn)
  • Sunscreen
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Body mist (just to feel good)

4. Drugs: All five of us needed some drugs at some point during this hike. Please confirm all of this with your doctor and get an exam before you put your body through this.
  • Altitude sickness medicine (prescribed by your doctor as dosages vary but I was taking 125mg twice a day)
  • Painkillers
  • Peptobismol or something for your stomach
  • Band-aids
  • Allergy medication
  • Cough medicine

5. Food: The difference between Everest and other climbs is that you actually have villages that you stop at to sleep in, so you don't have to put up tents and sleep outside. This also means you buy ready-made food during meal-times and are restricted to whatever they serve. You should not eat meat or food that takes too much energy to digest so we were eating noodles and carb-heavy food a lot. And the food got progressively worse as we climbed higher making it more important to have snacks on hand. I bought about 20 of each snack:
  • Protein bars
  • Granola bars
  • Fruit gummies or energy gels

6. Sleeping gear: Although we slept at the teahouses in the villages, it was very very cold at night and there were no heaters in sight. And so we needed additional gear for the beds.
  • Sleeping bags (provided by our tour company)
  • Sleeping bag liners and pillowcases
7. Bags: If you are trekking with a company, ask them if they will be carrying some of your items each day. The company we used carried the large duffel bags, while we only carried what we needed to get through that day's hike in a small backpack. I made sure my backpack was big enough for my hydration pack and rain gear.
  • Large duffel bag (provided by our tour company)
  • Small backpack 

8. Other items: There is so much to consider like how to keep your phone charged for all the photos you want to take, how to hydrate, and how to stay safe if you have a time when you have to trek in the dark.
  • Trekking poles (absolutely necessary)
  • Hydration packs or water bottles (you need about 3 liters of water each day)
  • Power banks 
  • Headlamp and batteries
  • Cold, hard cash to buy wifi, showers, water, and any other miscellaneous items at the tea houses
I'm sure others may have more to add, but these were the basics for me. Planning is absolutely key. We hiked with a tour company called Nepal Hiking Team and selecting the right tour company could make or break your hike. 

Alright then! Let's talk about the experience itself and what to expect! 

Day 0: Kathmandu

From Kathmandu airport, Nepal Hiking Team (NPT) sent a driver to pick us up, took us to our hotel, and briefed us. We stayed at the Woodapple Hotel in Kathmandu. Kathmandu is about 1,400m above sea level so while it is a little high, it is not enough to warrant acclimatization. The company spent time introducing the guide, and briefing us on what to expect for the next day as we were meant to be flying from Kathmandu to Lukla. The provided us the large duffel bags, sleeping bags, and down jackets (which we mostly chose to return as we had ours). We had to spend some time that evening repacking the items we needed into the duffel bags, and get this: not exceeding the 15kg allowance for the flight from Kathmandu to Lukla.

After weighing our bags and being appropriately satisfied that we wouldn't have to throw things out at the airport the next day, we went to bed. Had to leave at 6am!

Day 1: Kathmandu to Lukla to Phakding

Elevation at Kathmandu: 1,400m
Elevation at Lukla: 2,840m
Elevation at Phakding: 2,600m

We woke up and were off to the airport to head to Lukla. It was very exciting to actually start our journey. We got to the airport with our duffel bags and backpacks and some packed breakfast ready to catch an 8am flight. This flight is known to be pretty dangerous because the runway in Lukla airport is quite small, and you are flying right through the mountains. Well, 8am turned to 10am turned to 12pm, and then to 1pm. Unfortunately, the weather was quite rainy and it happens fairly frequently that flights just don't take off on some days. After about 6 hours and no hope of going anywhere on a plane, we decided to talk about alternatives. The alternative we chose was to take a helicopter up to Lukla rather than wait for what could possibly be a few days.

We finally arrived at Lukla airport after about 45 mins or so. And yes, the runway was very very small.

Soooo... counting this as day 1, we ate lunch (our last meal with meat) and were ready to begin! We were supposed to hike from Lukla to Phakding. Note that it was already probably about 4pm when we started the hike, which was hours after we were supposed to start. This meant it was going to be dark before long and we'd need our headlamps. We did the walk and got to our hotel way after dark. This was one of the least fun parts of the hike for me because we were walking in the dark and not knowing what we were stepping in or how far we were from our destination. However, we were not gaining altitude this day so the walk itself was not very difficult.

We got to our teahouse hotel (or rather, motel) probably around 8pm, ate some dinner, and ended day one! We were still able to take showers at this point so we did, used our first Turkish toilets, and went to bed. 

Day 2: Phakding to Namche

Elevation at Phakding: 2,600m
Elevation at Namche: 3,400m

Another bright and early day! We woke up early and met in the restaurant for breakfast. Breakfast was some eggs and toast, but others on my team had French toast or oatmeal. This was pretty consistent for the the days we hiked. One thing we had discovered at Lukla that became a consistent drink for us was a honey lemon ginger hot drink.

We started the hike from the Pine Forest Hotel and everyone was in great spirits. Unfortunately, a member of our team was already beginning to fall ill from food poisoning and so she slowed down a bit and stopped at one of the inns on the way to catch up with us the following day.

We walked a long way this day. We stopped at a couple of check points to get our permits and also to check our bags for drones (drones are prohibited on the route). Then we stopped for lunch and a bathroom break. We were becoming fully accustomed to the Turkish toilets at this point so be prepared for those! 

After lunch and our now regular honey lemon ginger drink, we were on our way. If you noted the elevation for this day, you'd have seen that this was one of the most significant climbing days for us and so that meant we were also climbing a lot of stairs after lunch. In addition to the stairs, we crossed several suspension bridges this afternoon as well, some of which we shared with the many herds of animals on our route. The most notable suspension bridge we had heard about was the Hillary Bridge. There were so many.

Also, note on the animals: many animals means much poop :) But these animals are necessary because they carry supplies up the mountain to the villages and are sometimes the only source of transport to get daily supplies.

After a brutal climb this day, we got to Namche! The next day was meant to be an acclimatization day so that meant we could sleep in the same bed for a couple of nights. We had also started to make some friends on the route so it was nice to keep running into our new acquaintances.

We were very tired at the end of day 2 and really happy to gain the elevation we did. I really liked this little village. They had showers (whoo!), a lot of shopping, paid laundry, and it was pretty full of life. It was great that we were going to be there for a couple of days and our friend was re-joining us the next day. So we ate, walked around, chatted over dinner, and went to bed.

Day 3: Namche Acclimatization Day

Elevation at Namche: 3,400m
Highest Elevation: 3,700m

An acclimatization day just means that you climb up and then return back down to sleep low so that your body gets used to the altitude. This was a very steep day as we pretty much walked straight uphill for a couple of hours and then walked right back down. We went to the Tenzing Norgay memorial and got a fantastic view of Everest and the surrounding mountains. 

We were also able to go around and make some touristy purchases on this day, and get some laundry done. But the only challenge was that there wasn't too much to do after a certain hour and we were not allowed to sleep in the afternoons. If you are doing this, try to take some games to play with your friends.

One highlight was that my mobile network still worked, which was totally unexpected for me! But at least I was able to stay in contact with my family and friends back home. We still had to not overuse our phones because we had limited places to charge them. But at this point, charging our phones was also still free.

Our friend re-joined us today and we were able to continue on together the next day.

Day 4: Namche to Tengboche

Elevation at Namche: 3,400m
Elevation at Tengboche: 3,850m

We woke up to such a beautiful view. As usual, we started our climb and it was actually pretty much normal for the first half, and then the hill came in the second half. This was also the day I decided I could not have Dal Bhat anymore and wanted something else to eat. Luckily, we discovered some Korean spicy noodles on the menu that was exactly like Indomie. That became a sort of staple for us.

Day 5: Tengboche to Dingboche:

Elevation at Tengboche: 3,850m
Elevation at Dingboche: 4,410m

This was another up and down hill day with lots of suspension bridges and lots of donkeys and horses. It rained a little and I couldn't figure out whether to just keep my rain gear on or keep putting it back in my backpack. I also started to feel really tired this day.

Day 6: Dingboche Acclimatization Day

Elevation at Dingboche: 4,410m
Highest Elevation: 4,600m

This was the toughest day for me. I started to feel sick. But thankfully, we had a short climb as it was acclimatization day. So we walked completely uphill, and then all the way back down. Funny because these days are shorter than others, but also feel a bit annoying when you gain all that altitude just to lose it by climbing back down. But they are absolutely necessary to keep your body on track.

By now, sleep was tough, our bodies were tired, and it took mental strength to get through. I absolutely had to sleep this afternoon as my body couldn't stay awake.

Day 7: Dingboche to Lobuche

Elevation at Dingboche: 4,410m
Elevation at Lobuche: 5,030m

I barely remember this day as we just wanted to get to the top. However, we did walk by a memorial of people who lost their lives in the Everest climb. We also heard an avalanche during the walk on this day and when we did arrive at Lobuche, it had said in the news that a couple of people went missing during that avalanche. These are climbers going to the summit.

The main thing I remember is that water was like three times its regular price by now, the price for wifi was cah-razzzzzy, and we had to pay to charge each of our devices. So remember how I talked about cold, hard cash? Carry that.

Day 8: Lobuche to Gorakshep to EBC to Gorakshep

Elevation at Lobuche: 5,030m
Elevation at Gorakshep: 5,175m
Elevation at EBC: 5,365m

I woke up very excited on this day because this was the day we were going to get to EBC! This was a very long day because it was in essence split into three parts. The first part was getting from Lobuche to Gorakshep. We started our day as normal with breakfast. However, it was raining a bit and the weather looked very cloudy.

Thankfully, by lunchtime, a lot of it started to clear up, but the real uphill started then. This was the second part of the day. We were already like 3 hours into the day and still had another few hours to get to EBC. It was exciting, but also exhausting because every single step was more labored than the days before. After lunch at Gorakshep, we continued on and the terrain became very rocky and very on the edge of the mountain. It would rain and stop intermittently. The only thing that kept us going was the hope of EBC. 

And then there it was!!! My girls and I were so excited to get there. We spent over an hour at the top celebrating and taking photos before we started to come back down. This was the third part of the day.

We got to Gorakshep, celebrated some more, and then tried to sleep. The rest of the journey was going to be easy now. We had already done the hard part. There are several ways to come down, but you don't need my help for that :) This is as much info as I think is helpful for now. Hopefully this prepares you for your trip, or maybe scares you. Like I always say, just be prepared, stay informed, and remember that your mental strength is just as important as your physical.

And to remember exactly how you felt each day, make some videos.

Cheers Eights & Weights!

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