I can’t imagine a better birthday present than a holiday! Last year, was probably one of the hardest years of my life that even the present coronavirus situation doesn’t compare to. What could be so bad? Let me tell you… I was going through a separation from a person that I still loved, I was working over hours to save up for a secure future, and there was plenty of insecurity in the air about which country I will end up living in.
Toward the end of the year, I was ready for a break from everything, for a well deserved birthday holiday. Destination? As far away as I could, to find solitude and peace with nature, to experience the majesty and learn the secrets known only between the Creator and the creation. Where I can feel free to tell my secret dreams and broken hopes, where I could be alone and not feel loneliness.
Nepal was at the top of my list, not only because of the Nepalese people I’ve met in Australia, who are extremely hospitable and faithful friends but also because of the mountains. It was almost like a calling – which needed to be answered. Here is a photo session I did with my Nepali friend while I was living in Melbourne.
I want to re-visit this story because in September 2020 it will be one year! And I haven’t yet told the fullness of it. I believe made me a stronger person (capable to survive at blood oxygen level 75%… at least for a few hours!). Though every travel experience we grow and develop as people we want to be, and as people that we are.
I was hoping that standing there on the Kalapathar mountain, at the end of the trek, I would experience the greatness of creation in its maximum capacity, watching the sunrise over the tallest mountain in the world. I was called to be changed forever.
FLIGHT TO LUKLA CANCELLED (DUE TO RAIN)
After spending a few exciting days in Kathmandu, finishing the packing for the two weeks ahead, and already taking in the benefits of a simple life (as I showered with a bucket because there was running water where I stayed) I was ready to take the domestic flight Kathamndu – Lukla, landing at the world’s most dangerous airport.
Sadly, the flights were canceled, and I was waiting and waiting, as the situation was unknown. People began to leave the airport. I was told there will be no problems at all to get a refund – but what about my trip?
Jeep ride 80USD for a 12h drive – to start trekking!
It so happened I met a Polish couple who were also spending hours waiting for the same flight. As we talked to locals we learned that this was a late monsoon (as usually rain is not so heavy in September).
The friendly Polish couple had some connections and arranged for the three of us to get a ride as far as it was possible (depending on the quality of the road) to take us to the starting point from where is possible to start trekking. We didn’t know how it was all going to work out but it was better than sitting stranded at the airport. After crossing many rivers and muddy paths, we were told this was as far as the 4×4 can take us. I lost my friends within hours due to difference in pace of walk – though we did meet again way up in Gorak Shep!
IMPORTANT NOTE: this is one of the best things about hiking on this trek, you will run into the same people you meet at the lodes and on your breaks, you will become friends for life with some, if you want – I still have two friends that almost a year later stay in contact).
For the next 6 days, I hiked slowly and firmly to reach a small village called Surke (just downhill from Lukla). It was from there that the real trek began.
IMPORTANT NOTE: as I had lost time I had used up the days I had taken extra at the end of my stay. It meant I would have to walk faster or may need to turn back sooner. But then, I lost one more day due to altitude sickness, so is good idea to leave at least an extra week – for things like that. I wish I had a spare day up there in Gorak Shep. Is nice to rest and to enjoy the height, the views and take time to see everything.
Above are images of the paths you will cross (hopefully in the dry form) if you take the jeep option, and hike 6 days BEFORE starting the official hike.
IMPORTANT NOTE: you don’t actually need to go uphill to Lukla to start. Talk with locals they really know the mountain, the weather, the present situation, and safety measures. I used to be called Didi by local younger males passing by. ‘Namaste Didi!’ they would say, making me feel so welcome and accepted as an older sister. It is safe to go alone, especially if you are looking to reflect and take photos. But is more fun in a small group. I would stay away from large groups, I met some from Australia even, but people complained it was too much structure and too much noise.
HERE IS MY FULL ITINERARY:
Day 1: Surke to Phadking 2640m
Day 2: Phadking to Namche Bazar 3440m
Day 3: Namche Bazar to Tengboche 3867m
Day 4: Tengboche to Dingboche 4260m
Day 5: Dingboche to Lobuche 4930mDay 6: Lobuche acclimatization day
Day 7: Gorak Shep 5140m
Day 8: Kalapathar morning hike and start road back
Normally you need to take an extra day at Namche Bazar but since I was feeling well I slowly continued uphill. I took an extra day in Lobuche already close to 5000m but clearly, I was a bit late. I did take one Diamox at that time but what I didn’t know is that it makes you very dizzy though takes away headaches. Either way after two days I was feeling good to go and will never forget the higher altitude walk – there was no more rain, just breathtaking views (also the breath was taken by low oxygen and everything felt twice as hard). But if you are anything like me, the beauty will give you strength and everything else seems possible as long as the mountains are there.
As I arrived at Lobuche, I was just one stop away from Gorak Shep – the final village. Just a few minutes after settling into my lodge room in Lobuche I was warned by the owners of the lodge to go down. This is the rule, sleep low walk high. I went down just 400m with assistance from a local guide to a town called THUKLA. It took me about two hours to walk down those 400m – and it was downhill!
My miraculous recovery
I don’t know how it happened, but I woke up at 4am the next day, feeling really really good! All my nausea and headache and anything else was gone. I left my bags, taking only my camera bag, and wearing the cleanest clothes I had. I reached Gorak Shep!
I had dinner and enough time to reach the EBC. But it began to snow… and visibility was almost zero. Definitely not enough to go down the rocky road. I had to make a choice for the next morning: to see the EBC or EVEREST. The decision was clear, there was nothing more I wanted than to see the sunrise over the Everest. To feel the extreme height of my accomplishment and to surrender to its majestic power.
THE HARDEST PART OF THE TREK is climbing with lowest oxygen so far and with most fatigue: Gorak Shep 5140m to Kalapathar 5550m
Wow! Just when the feelings of triumph were kicking in and when you think nothing can be worst, the hike to Kalapathar began. As I took my first steps at 3:30am in the dark, I remained focused. My body was asking me to stop, but I know my body needs to cooperate. Having run three half-marathons I know I am stronger than I think. My heart was beating strong and I was drenched in sweat. There was not much to see, just the black rocks illuminated by my dim flashlight.
The first rays of the sun appeared from behind, I was not sure, which one was Everest?! I asked around, no on knew. (I actually didn’t know until I came back down to Gorak Shep!) I watched a man, sitting at the edge facing the mountains and the sunrise behind them. I took photos of him as I felt we shared the same admiration. Very few people walked on Kalapathar, and now I know why.
The run downhill made me feel I had wings!
It took me only three days to go down a week of climbing! I ran, I felt like I was flying! I reached Tengboche, then Namche and even met my friend from Argentina! Actually, I think I met most people I talked to at least twice (!).
The way down is so easy, perhaps because oxygen gets back to the head and the body starts to work extra good. Especially the lungs… so nice to breathe effortlessly again! And was amazing as part of the run – I was re-joined by my new life-long friend. Flying together was even easier! 🙂
We are limited only by our minds – there are aways options and I can say for sure, our bodies are way stronger than we think. During this trip, I overcame my human weaknesses, my disappointments, diarrhea, altitude sickness, and the comforts of my western life. But I saw happiness in simplicity, smiles of local mothers, and local children and devoted individuals working the land even in high altitudes. When the world recovers from COVID, visit Nepal. You will not regret it!
Peple say, one comes to Nepal for the mountains but returns for it’s people. I must say it is true for me as well. I hope one day to return to hike the Annapourna cirquit. There are so many hoptions, even when hiking the same old EBC! Gokyo lakes I heard is amazing!