Our journey didn’t start as planned. Lukla Airport, the only connection to Himalaya by airplane, closed due to bad weather. Quite hesitant to gamble for a flight the next day and eager to start trekking, we took an alternative way; flight to Rumjatar and helicopter to Sukre. 6hrs late and 500m below our initial starting point, we set off in a high tempo to reach Phakding (2610m), our first stop, before dark. Despite the pace, dawn came quickly and during the last hour and a half we stumble upon rocks and crossed suspension bridges with minimal sight.
Our trekking from village to village:
– Namche Bazaar (& acclimatisation to Khumjung)
– Dingboche (& acclimatisation to Nagakarshang)
– Gorak Shep & Everest Base Camp
– Kala Pathar & Dzangla
– Cho la Pass & Draknak
(The plan was then to go via Machermo, Khumjung, Monjo and Lukla but as you will read this did not happen)
Morning view from Phakding.
One of many clear, blue rivers.
Next destination was Namche Bazaar (3440m), and we began our 6h trek just after breakfast. We quickly noticed that we had entered “the Everest Highway”, sharing the paths with locals, yaks, dogs and other trekkers heading for Everest base camp or other similar mountain adventures. Soon enough, we reached the famous Hillary suspension bridge and just had a 2h uphill hike left until Namche Bazaar.
In front of Hillary Bridge (top bridge).
Crossing milky river on Hillary bridge.
Acclimatisation is a highly crucial part of trekking in Himalaya. Contrary to Viktor’s believe of resting one day at current altitude, it means hiking to higher altitudes and come back down to original altitude on the same day, i.e. tougher than normal hiking days… All for the body to adapt to thinner air etc. We had two sessions scheduled in our plan, the first one to Khumjung (3780m). The elevation made us realise the difference in oxygen level for the first time and it was a mental challenge to accept it would only keep decreasing.
Still green environment on the trek.
Namche Bazaar, “Capital of the Himalayas”. Everything passes through here towards higher altitudes. Twice a week, there is a bazaar/market in Namche and everything that is bought here is carried by yaks and porters to the mountain villages, a journey that often take days.
Next stop was Tengbouche (3860m) and its Monastery, where Buddhism monks live and pray. The temperature had started to crawl down and nights became very chilly (no heating and plastic windows). Altitude sickness symptoms started to sneak upon us: headache, loss of appetite, difficulties breathing due to the ice cold and thin air. Altitude sickness is tricky in the sense that it can strike even the fittest (Viktor!!) or most well prepared person.
Standard room and bed in mountain “hotels”. Here in Tengbouche.
Two happy trekkers in front of the Everest family mountains.
The 6h hike from Tengbouche to Dingbouche (4430m) was the first time we struggled. The terrain wasn’t difficult itself but the low oxygen level made its mark. At this height, oxygen level is almost half compared to sea level. Minna started to lose a lot of strength and her headache became worse. Starting our hikes early however, we were able to rest and recover during afternoons. Dingbouche was our home for two nights as we prepared and saved energy for our next acclimatisation to the peak of Nangkartshang (5083m).
The gorgeous mountain of Ama Dablam (6856m) and its glacier lake seen from our acclimatisation climb to Nangkartshang peak.
Our guide Raju and porter Chandra. Could you tell they are brothers?
We set our course towards Lobuche (4910m) on day seven and this far into the wilderness, the greatness of the mountains left us speechless. The sizes, heights and massiveness was among the most astonishing things we had ever seen. Peaks we had read about in books suddenly stood before us and boasted in the sunlight; Ama Dablam (6856m), Makalu (8481m), Island Peak (6189m), Tabouche (6495m), Cholatse (6440m), Everest (8848m), Lothse (8372m), Nuptse (7695m), Peak 38 (7590m)… The previous struggle was already forgotten. This is why we were here.
View of Tabouche (6495m) and Cholatse (6440m) on our way towards Lobuche.
Looking behind our shoulders on our way to Lobuche. Here’s the mountain centre village for altitude sickness, Pheriche.
Weather had started to clear up. Blue sky and perfect weather. A 6hr path of rocks, boulders and sand led us to our goal for the day (and the whole trip): Mount Everest Base Camp. This had been Minna’s dream for more than a decade and finally reaching this place was almost too good to be true. It was an extraordinary feeling to be there and imagine how it would be to climb to the summit of 8848m. It was a calm and quiet place in autumn. Not at all like spring when its packed with hundreds of tents. We had a good hour rest, laying down and appreciating the view.
Mount Everest Base Camp – a dream come true!
Mount Everest Base Camp with the Khumbu glacier and Khumbu ice fall. Peaks from left: Khumbutse peak, Changtse peak (which is located across the boarder in Tibet), Lola peak and Mount Everest peak.
We made it!
Alarm 3:30. Get up and put on dead cold clothes. Tea 4:00. Put on more clothes and gear. Start hike 4:30. Todays mission was Mount Everest sunrise at Kala Pathar. A, what seemed, never ending path led us eventually to the peak. Stunning 360-view over numerous peaks was Viktor’s favourite moment of the whole trip and Minna’s toughest. The feeling of being choked had never been closer. In aftermath, we believe this is were Minna’s altitude sickness started to get much worse. In addition to the ascent, a 2hr descent and another 6-7hrs hike awaited us this day to reach Dzangla.
Tired and cold but proud to have reached out highest point of the trek: Kala Pathar 5565m.
Sunrise view over Mount Everest from Kala Pathar.
Next challenge: Cho La Pass. According to our guide, the longest, toughest and most difficult day with around 10-8hr hike and steep obstacles, including crossing a slippery glacier. It was a similar procedure as previous morning. Alarm 4:00. Breakfast 4:30. Start hiking 5:00. Minna’s condition had gotten worse. On top of headache and breathing difficulties, there was now also fever and dizziness added to the puzzle. Nevertheless, she put the illness aside and used her mental strength to overcome the challenging route. In despite of the though terrain, the long distance and our poor health, this was definitely one of the most stunning treks we have ever done. The nature was so dramatic, the scenery changed constantly and we were almost all alone on the path.
Pro mountain trekker. A scarf over the face was a must to be able to breathe the cold air.
Halfway up to Cho La Pass. Here’s the peaks of Ama Dablam and Cholatse as well as the glacier lake near Dzangla village. The stone tower (called stone men) are used as marks when the paths are difficult to track.
Catching our breaths and taking in the amazing scenery.
Oxygen is a rare treat.
Next day was supposed to be one of the easiest; 3hrs of smooth Nepalese-flat walking to Gokyo. Instead, it was quite tough for both of us. Especially Minna, who’s health had worsen significantly. Only 10min after leaving, she had to lie down on the ground in order to not faint. Somewhere she found the energy to walk remaining 2h50m! However, once arrived at Gokyo, after many days of struggling, the altitude sickness had taken its toll. At this point, god knows how serious consequences can be if Minna stays at these heights, so we called in for emergency evacuation with helicopter.
The beautiful Gokyo Lake.
Evacuated back to Kathmandu with the helicopter.
There’s a saying “One hour flight equals one week walking” in the mountains. It’s true. Before you know it, we landed in Kathmandu and an ambulance took us to the hospital. The Doctor said Minna had the worst kind of altitude sickness and mild HACE (high-altitude cerebral edema). Staying at high altitude could have lead to coma and death. It was a very good decision to evacuate and descend quickly. Antibiotics and rest. A day that started 5000m up in the mountains ended in a hotel in Kathmandu. We’re happy that everything went so smoothly and the weather aloud us to be evacuated. An hour later would have been too late said the helicopter pilot. No more freezing. No more cold air. Good bye five layers of clothes, and good bye Himalaya for this time. Thank you for having us.