It was 17 days of ups and downs, in all senses.
Despite our carefully planned itinerary, illness got the better of us, and our planned hike to Everest Base Camp and back via Gokyo Lakes was sadly cut short. In spite of things not panning out quite how we'd hoped, we still had an incredible (and memorable!) time hiking through the Solukhumbu region of Nepal.
Here's a quick summary of our trip:
Our hike got off to a shaky start when our flight to the 'world's most dangerous airport' was cancelled due to bad weather. After some careful consideration, we upgraded our airplane tickets to helicopter tickets, and took to the skies! After a 45 minute flight, we touched down in Lukla, the start of the trail.
The delay in departure meant that we couldn't start hiking as we'd planned, so we found a room in Lukla for the night, and did our best to figure out how things like ordering food worked on the trail. Then we settled in for our first frosty night!
We woke to a clear morning, and our first sight of the mountains. We hit the trail early, checking in at the Police checkpoint and heading out of Lukla. The trail wound down into the valley, over long swing bridges with fluttering prayer flags, and through tiny towns. We passed donkeys hauling trekking gear, and porters hauling food and drinks to the lodges. We caught our first sight of prayer wheels, chortens and manis, and were generally humbled by the awesome surroundings.
We eventually reached Monjo, our stop for the night, and checked in to our room. We spent the afternoon and evening sipping warm milk tea and enjoying some delicious apple pie.
We knew this day was going to be tough, and we were right.
After a short climb out of Monjo, we stopped to pay our park fee, and entered into Sagarmatha National Park. Soon enough, we passed over the highest swing bridge on the hike, at the confluence of the Dudh Kosi and Bhote Kosi rivers, and began our climb into Namche Bazar.
Over the next gruelling 2.5kms, our legs were burning and we were struggling with the first noticable signs of altitude. About halfway up, we got our first sight of Mt Everest, far in the distance (as well as a much needed rest). From there, we dragged our sorry asses up the rest of the climb, stopping regularly to make sure we didn't die.
Finally, we reached the top of the hill, and entered into Namche Bazar, the biggest town on the hike. A veritable hiker's mecca, it's filled with outdoor shops and goretex-clad foreigners.
We checked into a lodge, struggling to even climb the stairs to our room, and took it all in. Here, we were in the clouds, with towering mountains all above us, and it felt like we'd really started our trek.
In order to ensure that we acclimatised safely, we spent an extra day in Namche Bazar. To speed the process up, we hiked up to Everest View Hotel at 3880m.
We started with a moderate climb out of Namche town. Even by the time we'd made it out of town, we were exhausted. The altitude, combined with fatigue from the day before, had left us with dead legs. Nonetheless we carried on, up the even steeper climb to the hotel.
We clambered up the rocks, passing other exhausted and dejected looking hikers, stopping occasionally to ensure we took in the breathtaking mountain scenery.
The path levelled out, and we followed it around, as clouds blew across the track.
We made it to the hotel, and settled in on the back deck with a pot of tea and some snacks, but sadly no Everest views.
Day 5: Namche Bazar to Tengboche (3867m)
Our hike started with a repeat of the hike out of town the day before, but we were already feeling the difference of a day's acclimatisation. Gone were the concrete legs and burning lungs.
Once we were up and out of Namche, the path followed a ridge above the Dudh Kosi, affording stunning views of the surrounding mountains. While the path was much busier than any section of the track we'd seen before, we were still able to slot into a steady pace, and find our own space on the trail.
As we carried on around the ridgeline, we passed lookouts with views out to Everest. Luckily, the weather had cleared, so we could actually see it in the distance.
The trail began to wind down into the valley, and before we knew it, we were down at the level of the river.
From there, we had another gruelling 2.4km hike up the hill to Tengboche. While we'd been mentally prepared for the climb into Namche, this one took us a bit by surprise. Panting, sweating, and exhausted, we fell into Tengboche in the early afternoon.
We checked into the Hotel Himalayan, and checked out our room. We drew back the curtains to reveal an incredible view of Everest.
Later in the afternoon, we hiked up a nearby hill to admire the views of the town. As we hiked up, passing prayer flags singing in the wind, with Mt Everest over our shoulders, we felt pretty lucky to be in such an incredible place.
Day 6: Sick in Tengboche
I woke in the early hours of the morning feeling very nauseous, and try as I might to fight it, I lost the battle. I spent the day in bed, fluctuating between feeling totally normal and wanting to die. By bedtime, I was still feeling terrible, and fell into a pretty fitful sleep.
In the early hours of the morning we witnessed an awe-inspiring electrical storm, with intense lightning flashes and thunderclaps that echoed almost indefinitely through the valley. Then, just after sunrise we awoke to an incredible surprise - it had snowed overnight, and the town had transformed into a winter wonderland! The mood in the lodge was great, and everyone was excited to get outside and play.
I was feeling well enough to hike again, so after a minimal breakfast, we put on our packs and got going. The trail was stunning, with snow dripping from the trees and a blanket of white covering the ground.
Thankfully the track was pretty level, but I was still struggling with a lack of energy and general feelings of UGH.
As we passed through Pangboche, a delicious aroma caught our attention. We found ourselves drawn into a bakery for a quick snack and cup of tea, before carrying on towards Pheriche.
The final climb into Pheriche, while actually very manageable, just about did me in. I was struggling physically and mentally to keep going, but I knew I had to make it to Pheriche in order to lie down. When we finally crested the hill and I could see Pheriche in the distance, I could have cried.
After checking in to our lodge, and after Zev ate some lunch, we headed to the Himalayan Rescue Association for a talk on altitude sickness. We spent about an hour chatting to one of the doctors and getting a tour of the facility, hearing about the great work that they do in the region.
We were both starting to feel a little worse for wear, both due to illness and altitude. We decided to spend an extra day in Pheriche to acclimatise and rest. We thought we'd hike a short distance over the hill to Dingboche in the morning.
We lost the trail while climbing over the hill, and even with a very small increase in altitude, we were struggling. We were both exhausted, and having trouble catching our breath. As we came down the other side of the hill into Dingboche, we could already feel the difference of coming down just a few metres.
After a disappointing bakery stop, we (slowly) made our way back over the hill, when Zev realised that things were on the move and headed back to the accommodation at a trot - sadly, this was the beginning of the end of our hike...
Running on almost no sleep, and with some pretty iffy gastrointestinal tracts, we hit the trail again the next morning for the short hike to Thukla.
We followed the trail North along the flat floor of the valley, but the icy, howling head wind made putting one foot in front of the other hard work. We stopped frequently on the way out of town to rest and catch our breath, with both of us fighting fatigue and nausea.
At the end of the valley, the path climbed up towards Thukla. What should have been an easy climb felt like our own version of Everest, and it was hideous. When we eventually staggered into Thukla and found a room, we were too tired to eat, and instead crawled into our sleeping bags to try to escape the cold.
We spent the evening in the common room chatting with a couple of Indian trekkers we met, but we were still feeling pretty average and sorry for ourselves by the time we went to bed.
Having had no sleep in what felt like a lifetime, and with both of us struggling with gastrointestinal issues, we made the decision to descend. Initially, we planned to head back to Pheriche to rest and reassess, but as we struggled down the hill, we realised that neither of us were having much fun any more, and we were both pretty damn sick. We decided to descend as far as we could in an attempt to get better.
We pushed ourselves hard downhill, powering through the miles to get to lower altitude. At every stop, we agreed to keep pushing on, trying to make the next village, and the next village, and the next village.
When we arrived back into Tengboche in the middle of the afternoon, where we thought we'd probably spend the night, we looked at a map. We decided that we'd make one final push through to Namche Bazar, where we knew we could get hot showers, comfortable rooms and good food.
We practically ran down the hill out of Tengboche before starting the arduous climb back up towards Tengboche. As time wore on, Zev got sicker and sicker, until eventually, he wasn't even talking - just plodding up the hill, one foot in front of the other like a zombie.
Low cloud started rolling over the path, stopping us from seeing very far ahead on the track and making it hard to tell where we were. Just as I was starting to lose hope, and worry that Zev wasn't going to make it to Namche, we finally spotted a shop that we recognised, that we knew was just on the outskirts of town.
With renewed energy from knowing we were close, we hurried into town, checked into a nice lodge, and luxuriated in a warm room with a comfortable bed, and a long hot shower. We slept like babies.
Over the next few days, we hung out in Namche, sorting flights out of Lukla and recovering from our various ailments.
Unfortunately our airline wasn't flying until 2 days AFTER we wanted to leave Lukla, which was why we stayed so long in Namche Bazar. By the time we were due to leave Lukla, we were starting to go a little stir crazy...
Grateful to be making progress towards getting back to Kathmandu, we headed down the hill out of Namche, passing back over familiar ground. We passed familiar sights, making our way back toward Monjo where we stopped for lunch, and to pat the friend we'd made many nights ago.
After a quick break, we hit the trail again to get us closer to Lukla, stopping for the night in Phakding.
Day 15: Phakding to Lukla
We set off for our last day on the trail with mixed feelings. On one hand, we were sad that we were leaving such a beautiful region, particularly without quite having made our goal. On the other, we'd been so sick and miserable that the idea of spending a second longer than we needed to here was unthinkable.
We wound our way back up the steep climb into Lukla, looking forward to getting our flight out the following day.
We were absolutely devastated to find the airport closed on the day of our flights out. Most of the day was spent scrambling to try to find a helicopter, with prices having risen from $250USDpp to get up to Lukla, to $500USDpp to get back out.
After an unsuccessful day, we managed to get on the waitlist for the flights out the next day (with very little hope of actually making it on to one), and checked in for another night in Lukla.
Our stay was terrible - our room smelled of paint and turpentine, and our noisy lodge-mates kept us awake half the night. We both woke up with sore throats and the beginnings of colds, desperate to get out of Lukla.
One look at the weather was enough to tell us that there was no way the airport was going to be opening. Instead, we headed straight to the helipad to be informed that all the helicopters were booked for the day.
Not believing a word of it, we headed to a cafe in town that advertised helicopter bookings and they confirmed that they could arrange us one. After hours and hours of waiting, in the early afternoon we were finally told the helicopter was ready to go.
Strangely, the man who was leading us took us straight past the helipad, and started taking us down a hill... After some serious evasion tactics, we managed to find out that we were in fact hiking downhill in the rain to another helipad at a completely different village, 4.5kms away!
We spent the next hour or so slipping and sliding downhill, in the wet, grumbling all the while. We were relieved to reach the bottom of the hill to see that the helicopters were at least really there!
A group of us piled in, and we were finally on our way back to Kathmandu.
It sure was an experience!
Now, 9 days later, with some time and a lot of distance between us and the experience, we're certainly able to get some perspective on the amazing experience we had. While it wasn't all sunshine and roses, we had some of the best and worst travel experiences of our lives in such a short space of time! And it will certainly be remembered as one of our greatest adventures yet!
Lots of love,
S & Z