Sleeping at 3480m is a difficult task.
While nowhere near the highest point of the trek, Namche Bazar is often the first place people start to notice the effects of altitude, and that was certainly true for me. After struggling my way up the climb into Namche, I spent the evening getting out of breath walking up stairs, or if I talked too much without pausing for breath. Another common side effect of altitude is difficulty sleeping, and it hit me hard on our first night in Namche.
Often, people at altitude will suffer from periodic breathing - you breathe deeply to start with, then as you start to fall asleep, your breathing becomes more shallow. While this is normal at lower altitudes, because of the lower oxygen pressure up high, the oxygen levels in your blood drop quickly, and your brain stem thinks you're suffocating. Suddenly you wake up gasping for breath.
The result of this is broken sleep. I had a night where I felt like I was awake every 20 minutes. While this was probably an exaggeration, when the people in the neighbouring room got up at 0625am and put their hiking boots on before stomping around the room for half an hour, I would happily have killed them if I could have mustered the energy.
Luckily, we had an acclimatisation day in Namche, so we had a short walk planned and were in no rush to get the day started.
At 0800am, Zev finally woke up, and we made our way down for breakfast (a potato pancake, french toast, hot lemon and a milk tea). As we ate breakfast, the clouds started rolling in, so we weren't too optimistic about our planned trip to the Everest View Hotel.
Climb high, sleep low
One of the top tips for speeding up acclimatisation is to 'climb high, sleep low' - so you should try to sleep lower than the highest altitude you reach each day. This exposes your body to the lower oxygen pressures at higher altitude, while returning to lower altitude to sleep allows it time to recover and adjust to the new environment.
As such, even on rest or acclimatisation days, it's still recommended that you get out and do some gentle exercise, preferably ascending from and returning to the same sleeping altitude.
Climbing to the Everest View Hotel
We left the accommodation at 0900am, and set off out on the 2.5km walk to Everest View Hotel. As I mentioned, Namche is built into a hill, so getting out of town meant climbing a seemingly endless set of stairs. Within minutes, my legs were burning and I was gasping for breath - and we were still in the middle of Namche!
Eventually we reached the top of the stairs, and the path levelled out. Although we'd only gone 460m, we'd already climbed 100 vertical metres, and I was feeling it. We followed the path along for a bit, revelling in its delightful flatness, before reaching a right hand turn along the mountainside, looking out over the valley. Jaw dropping mountain views surrounded us, and I was delighted to see that the path carried on in a relatively flat manner as far as the eye could see.
Then Zev tapped me on the shoulder and showed me the map. We'd taken a wrong turn. He turned around and pointed up, to the top of a hill, 360-odd metres above us. THAT'S where we were going.
While I thought about throwing myself from the path to get out of it, I realised that it had to be done, so with minimal sulking, I retraced my steps back to the missed turn off.
It was clear how we'd missed it - what looked like a goat track snaked up the side of the mountain at an obscene angle. As we climbed, we found the hoards of other acclimatisers making the same popular trek.
As my lungs strained and my legs protested, I felt better when I looked around to see most other people appeared to be coping as well as I was. Every few metres there would be a trekker bent double over their poles, sucking in air, or sitting on a rock looking shellshocked.
Every now and then, when I could manage to breathe without concentrating, I remembered to look around. We were surrounded by snow covered Himalayan giants, and below us, Namche nestled into its spot on the mountainside.
About 2/3 of the way up to the first Everest viewpoint, the path levelled out a little, and we came across a construction site. We recognised a man chatting to some trekkers from our accommodation in Namche - we'd been chatting to him the day before. We wandered over to check it out.
The day before, he'd told us he lived in Namche, and worked in waste management. What he'd failed to mention was that he was working on Sagarmatha Next, a big project aimed at combining waste management with art and creativity. The construction project was building a learning centre, cafe, creative centre and art gallery to display works by local artists, focused on transforming waste into art. The idea was to reframe the way that locals viewed rubbish, to see it of something of value artistically rather than something to be disposed of haphazardly.
Another branch of the project was focused on waste disposal. The large volume of trekkers and climbers passing through the national park every year puts enormous pressure on the ecosystem, and the project wants to do its part to help to clean the region up. In addition to turning waste into artwork, they're also planning to create a waste 'sorting' plant, where rubbish will be sorted into different materials and packed into 1kg bags. The project will then be asking tourists and locals alike to agree to carry 1kg bags of waste back to the airport in Lukla, to be sent back to Kathmandu for disposal.
The whole project sounds very exciting, and like something that is much needed in the area to help deal with the huge strain that abundant tourism place on underdeveloped infrastructure.
From Sagarmatha Next, it was a short 10 minute climb to the first Everest viewpoint. Sadly, the clouds had well and truly rolled in, so we didn't get another peek at Everest.
From there, the path levelled out, and we carried on around the hillside through paddocks to the Everest View Hotel.
Everest View Hotel
At 3880m, the Everest View Hotel was once the highest hotel in the world. In the not too distant past, people used to helicopter directly from Kathmandu (located at 1400m above sea level) to the hotel, and spend their time their in pressurised rooms with piped oxygen. Nowadays, that's not considered such a great idea, so it seems that the hotel sees mostly guests who have trekked in from Lukla, or, as was the case with us, visitors who just pop into the cafe to admire the views from the back deck.
After climbing the 450 vertical metres from Khumbu Lodge to Everest View Hotel, we were incredibly grateful when we laid eyes on the steps up to the entrance at 1040am. We made our way through the hotel to the famous back deck, and unsurprisingly, were greeted by dense clouds obscuring our view. It was a bit of a bummer, but it was still a pretty stunning place to stop for a bite to eat.
Relieved to finally be sitting down, we ordered a pot of hot chocolate, some biscuits, and french fries (1890r/$18.90USD), and rugged up as the temperature was starting to drop now that we weren't on the move.
Over the next half hour or so, groups of acclimatising trekkers came and went, and we sat watching the clouds rolling over the surrounding mountains.
Having lingered for long enough, we made the trip back into Namche far faster than the hike up, and headed back to Khumbu Lodge.
The highest post office in the world
While we ate our lunch back in Namche (momos, fried noodles and milk tea), we wrote some postcards to people at home. We then headed out to the highest post office in the world to post them! We've since found out that it might not actually be the highest post office in the world, but hey, why let facts get in the way of a good story...
After an arduous morning of acclimatising, we spent the rest of the afternoon resting. Zev cracked into a book about the history of the attempts to climb Everest, and, surprise surprise, we spent some time playing cards and reading our books.
Dinner was another delicious meal (veg fried rice, veg sherpa stew, extra rice, and milk tea), and again we found ourselves tucked up in bed at 8.15pm, crossing our fingers for a good sleep in preparation for a big hike the next day!
Lots of love,
S & Z
Distance: 5km return
Time: 3 hours 30 minutes, including approximately 45 minutes' stop at Everest View Cafe
Elevation gain: 450m up to Everest View, but returned to Namche to sleep