EBC Trek Days 5 & 6: Namche Bazar to Tengboche (3867m), and when disaster strikes

*Warning: this post contains graphic content

After another restless night with a 0550am wake up, we made our way down to breakfast at 0700am.

We'd ordered breakfast for 0700am in the hopes of beating some of the crowds onto the trail, and getting a head start on the 9.3km walk to Tengboche.

We sat in the dining room and waited for our breakfast, watching other groups arrive, eat and leave before we were served. When we finally managed to catch the attention of the staff at around 0730am, their confused faces told us that our order had probably been lost or forgotten. Within 10 minutes though, our food turned up, and we wolfed it down before heading up to our room to gather our things and get going.

We hit the trail at 0815am.

Namche Bazar to Phunki Thenga

I was pleased to feel the difference in my ability to cope with the altitude as we climbed the stairs out of Namche, following the same path that we had the day before on our acclimatisation hike. While I still wouldn't say I was loving the climb, even with my pack on, it still felt more managable than it had just 24 hours before.

We continued along the same track as the day before, retracing our 'wrong turn' steps along the flatter path around the ridge, before rounding to corner to views of the Dudh Kosi on the valley floor, with the mountains climbing steeply up on either side. 

The Tenzing Norgay Memorial Chorten with Ama Dablam in the background

This time, we kept following the relatively flat path along to the North. This was the busiest we'd seen the trail. Namche is a bit of a bottleneck town for hiking in the region - no matter where you're planning to go, you pretty much have to pass through Namche. Additionally, for those doing the most popular hike, the EBC trek, the hike from Namche to Tengboche is a relatively long day, so people like to hit the trail early. Naturally, the outcome is lots of people setting off along the path at the same time in the morning.

This was the first time we'd really seen evidence of the big hiking groups. We'd walk past groups of 20 or more hikers, guides and porters, which certainly added to some congestion on the trails. While normally I'm not one for hiking up hills, the bonus was that the uphill sections helped to spread people out more, so not too far out of Namche people had fallen into their walking rhythm, and although you could still see lots of others on the trail, it didn't feel like trying to exit a rugby stadium after a big game.

Finally - a flat path

About 20 minutes from the edge of town, we came to our first Everest viewpoint of the day. Positioned at the end of a bluff is a memorial chorten to Tenzing Norgay, Sir Edmund Hillary's partner in his summit of Everest in 1953. Perched on the rocks with panoramic views of the Himalayas, including Ama Dablam, Lhotse and Everest, there really couldn't be a more fitting spot to pay your respects to an incredible mountaineer.

Tenzing Norgay Memorial Chorten

When we arrived, this spot was another bottle neck for trekkers - everyone was excited for their first clear glimpse of Everest for the day, and since no one knew how long the weather would hold out to ensure the view remained, it was like a Vogue photoshoot. We stopped for a couple of pics ourselves, but decided that we'd use to opportunity to pass some of the bigger groups and be on our way.

Soon, we passed through the village of Kyangjuma, which had some wonderfully tempting tea houses selling delicious baked goods with mind boggling views, but we had our eyes on the prize and motored on.

From there, we wound our way down in to the valley, passing through glorious pink and white rhododendron forests, the sides of the trail dotted with tiny blooming purple irises.

As we scrambled down and down and down into the valley (knowing that each step we took down was a step we'd have to take back up later in the day), the mountains around us grew more and more imposing. From the track high on the ridgeline, the mountains already looked big. From here, down at the foot of them, they looked enormous.

After a final steep drop into Phunki Thenga, we were standing next to the Dudh Kosi, as far down as it was possible to go. We checked in at the police checkpoint, presenting our passports and permits, and steeled ourselves for the climb to come.

Phunki Thenga to Tengboche

From Phunki Thenga to Tengboche, it was a gruelling 2.4km hike, ascending 560m. While we had been well prepared for the climb into Namche (almost everything we'd read had said it was the hardest part of the entire trail to Everest Base Camp), nobody had warned us about the climb into Tengboche. In my opinion, it was almost as challenging as getting into Namche.

Again, the only saving grace was that everyone around me looked as miserable as I felt. Again, I was concentrating on continuing to put on foot in front of the other, and breathing.

At regular intervals on the way up the hill, there were porter rest stops - small stone benches built into the side of the mountain for porters to rest their packs on, and mountainside springs where you can fill your water bottle (and then treat the water).

Zev had powered on ahead, and I took my time, chatting to people at each of the stops, and generally trying to distract myself from the fact that I wanted to die. Looking around at the mountains certainly helped with the distraction, although I tried to avoid looking up to see how much farther I had to go.

About an hour and a half into the uphill slog, I plonked myself down at the side of the trail and dropped my pack. It broke my heart to see it roll about 5m back down the hill, and for the briefest of moments, I actually considered just leaving it there. I'm sure there wasn't anything in there I really needed, and God knows I'd move a hell of a lot faster without it. Luckily I came to my senses, and grabbed it before carrying back on up the trail.

A few minutes later I passed another painted rock, so I knew I must be getting close. 5 minutes after that, I passed a chipper German man hiking back down the hill. "You're nearly there, only 5 more minutes!". He laughed when I told him that I loved him. Sure enough, I rounded the next bend to find Zev parked on a bench waiting for me, with the village of Tengboche behind him. We'd arrived at bang on 1230pm, exactly 4.5 hours after leaving Namche.

Hotel Himalayan

We headed straight to Hotel Himalayan (300r/$3USD per night), partly because we'd heard it recommended, and partly because it was the closest guesthouse to the end of the trail. We seemed to be the first people checking in there - it seemed we were among the first few people to make it to Tengboche (most people elected to stop for lunch somewhere along the trail, since there was plenty of time to do so), and those that had beaten us appeared to be checking out the town before finding a bed for the night.

We climbed the stairs to our 2nd floor bedroom, opened the curtains, and were treated to an unobstructed view of Everest that we could see while sitting on our beds. What a treat!

After a few minutes of awe and wonder, hunger won out, and we made our way down to the restaurant. We feasted on mac and cheese, sherpa stew, milk tea and sprite, rewarding ourselves for the hard work we did getting up the bloody hill!

With our appetites sated, we set off to accomplish our 'climb high, sleep low' goals. We planned to continue on to Pheriche the next day, so in lieu of an acclimatisation day, we decided to climb a nearby hill.

Passing through a paddock with a few happy looking horses, we wound our way up the hill on a tiny track. The wind was strong, and the prayer flags lining the mountain where whistling and singing in the breeze. We climbed as high as the track would allow, past small stupas and chortens, and took in the views of Tengboche below, and the mountains all around.

Back down in the hotel, we stretched and changed, and hung out in our room recuperating for a while.

When we finally made our way back down into the common room, it was bustling - clearly everyone else had now made it up the hill. There were a number of large trekking groups, and space was at a premium.

We sat down, and were promptly asked to move. We moved where we were told, and were asked to move again a few minutes later. As the rest of the group on that table arrived, we had to move again. It was a pretty unwelcoming experience!

Eventually, crammed onto the edge of another group's table, we quietly ate our dinner (fried potato with veg and cheese, fried noodles and veg), and escaped back to the comfort of our room.

Rumblings afoot

I awoke at 0450am, feeling pretty nauseous. I thought about getting up to go be sick, but was too embarrassed to wake everyone with my retching echoing through the paper thin walls. Instead, I lay in bed, tossing and turning, mouth breathing to try to fight the waves of nausea rolling through me at regular intervals. Occasionally I'd think it had passed and I'd made it. Other times I'd think I was going to throw up in my sleeping bag.

As time marched on, I started to feel clammy and sweaty, I was getting pins and needles in my fingers, and I was salivating heavily - all the hallmarks of an impending vomit-fest.

Luckily, at 0530, I heard other people stirring and starting to go to the toilet. I figured that it was now or never. Grabbing our roll of toilet paper, I bolted out our door to find one toilet already occupied, and to see a man's back disappear into the other toilet.

I dashed down the stairs, but couldn't find the toilets on the floor below. Instead I carried on to the ground floor, knowing that there were toilets near the restaurant. But they were locked. I tried to dash outside, either to use to outside long drops, or even just to puke on the lawn, but the main entrance was locked too.

I ran back to the restaurant toilets, frantically trying every doorknob I could find. Finally, one opened, and I fell into the stall.

Now for the big decision - which end of me was going to blow first? Since I felt like it was going to be close either way, I opted to put my ass on the toilet first. If I was going to have to clean a bodily fluid off the floor, I'd rather it was vomit.

My bowels evacuated with a surprising efficiency - and after 5 months of travel in developing countries, eating a diet consisting primarily of curry, I really didn't think that there was much my gastrointestinal tract could do to surprise me. Luckily, it had been some weeks since my last curry, so there was no chilli in system to add a spicy note to the proceedings.

With that taken care of, after a quick flush, I arranged my head over the toilet, trying not to look to closely at the state of it. I spent the next 5 minutes noisily vomitting up nothing but stomach acid. I was amazed that I'd somehow apparently managed to digest every single morsel of the food I'd eaten yesterday, and found myself wishing that there was even the tiniest bit of food left in there to make the whole experience less awful - there is nothing worse than retching on an empty stomach.

When I was sure the attack was over, I cleaned myself up and flushed the toilet. Nothing. I tried again. Nothing. I'd broken the toilet, and it was now filled with the remnants of my morning's work. Oh god. I figured that I'd done my hard work for the day, and that this was just going to have to be someone else's problem. I slunk out the door and went back to bed, nearly convinced that that was the end of it, and I was going to be totally fine.

Playing it by ear

The night before, we had ordered breakfast for 0630am to try to beat the big trekking groups, so Zev went down and asked them to delay it. We had decided that I would try to get an extra bit of sleep, then we'd have breakfast and decide if we were still going to hike, or whether we'd spend an extra night in Tengboche.

At 0730am, we headed down to the common room. I dosed up on antinausea medication and antibiotics, and managed to get down a cup of tea while Zev ate his breakfast. I felt okay, but we decided that we didn't want to complicate acclimatisation by adding in food poisoning, so we booked another night and decided to stay in Tengboche.

At 0800am, I was back in the toilet, vomitting up my cup of tea and shitting water. I crawled back into bed, and tossed and turned - I was too hot, too cold and the nausea was neverending, but I had nothing to vomit up.

At 1pm, I readministered the meds I'd thrown up earlier, knowing that despite what my nausea was telling me, there was nothing in my stomach to throw up, so hopefully they'd stay in my system this time.

By 2pm, they were working. I was still managing to keep the toilet well in business from my ass end, but the nausea had largely disappeared - thank god for modern medicine. I was completely drained, but feeling pretty good otherwise. I decided it was time to test my stomach, and started slowly snacking on some peanuts. The salt was really hitting the spot, and the food was helping to settle my stomach.

Never let food poisoning get in the way of a good selfie I say

Full of hope, Zev went down to order me some dinner to bring back to the room (garlic soup, apparently great for upset stomachs), and to eat his own. By the time he came back, I'd vomitted again twice, and was curled up back in bed, virtually comatose. The garlic soup went uneaten.

Lots of love,
S & Z
xxx

HIKING SUMMARY:

Distance: 9.3km
Time: 4 hours 30 minutes (faster for Zev)
Elevation gain: 387m

TENGBOCHE ACCOMMODATION INFORMATION:

Lodge: Hotel Himalayan
Room Price: 300r per night
Total Bill: 8500 for 2 nights' accommodation, 1.5 x breakfast, 1.5 x lunch, 2 x dinner, plus extra tea, and a tip for looking after me while I was sick