December 31, 2017
Story and Photographs by Bob Conklin
Part 3. Onward and Upward
Welcome to the third part of this four-part series. Adventure of a Lifetime, Part 1. [Read More] described my pre-trip research and preparations. Starting Place Surprise, Part 2. [Read More] covered our Everest Base Camp trek from our weather-revised starting point of Phapla, Nepal to Namche Bazaar. In this, the third part, we hike onward and upward to the base camp, with interesting stops and incredible vistas along the way. Below the article, you’ll find photographs taken during this segment of my trek and links to other articles in the series.
Namche Bazaar to Yeti’s Scalp and Severed Hand
When the second day dawned in Namche Bazaar, the skies were clear. We knew we were in for a great day of hiking to our next stop at Pangboche, which sits at an elevation of about 13,000ft. Very soon after we climbed out of Namche, we were treated to views up the Khumbu valley of Mt. Everest, Lhotse (the world’s fourth highest peak), and Ama Dablam. Ama Dablam, while not as tall as the others, is often cited as one of the most beautiful mountains in the world.
After a while, we came across a big lodge with a large outdoor seating area and an incredible view. It turned out that the Sherpa woman who owned the lodge also spent some time in the United States and actually knew some people in our group. What a small world! We were treated to tea and snacks before we headed back onto the trail. Sadly, a few weeks after our trek was concluded, we learned the lodge (the Ama Dablam Lodge) had burned down. In this article, you can see a picture of the lodge as we saw it, with its large prayer wheel out front. On this gofundme page, you can see the aftermath. The prayer wheel is about the only thing left standing.
Later in the day, we arrived in Pangboche where we spent the night. On a short visit to a local monastery, we were surprised to be shown what was supposedly the scalp and hand of a Yeti. Cool, but creepy. Of course, I can’t tell you it was real, but I can tell you that from that night on, if dogs outside our teahouse began barking wildly in the middle of the night (which happen pretty often), I did wonder if maybe a Yeti was wandering around out there.
Great Views, Pringles, Yaks, Plus a Monal
Next, we were off to Dughla, where we would be sleeping at a teahouse at 15,000ft. Now we’re talking! This would be a personal record for me because, Alaska aside, we don’t even have mountains this high in the US. On the way, we stopped for lunch in Pheriche, which sits in a wide valley surrounded by jaw-dropping peaks. I could have stayed in Pheriche for another week just to take in the scenery and eat a few more cans of the delicious Pringles potato chips I picked up there. As we left Pheriche, it became cloudy and started snowing a little, but it helped to capture some interesting pictures of stone Sherpa homes along the path.
At lower elevations, we had seen mostly donkeys carrying loads up and down the trail. Higher up, the donkeys had been replaced by Dzo (a yak/cow crossbreed). Now that we were at the highest elevations, yaks where the chosen animal because only they are suited to the environment. They have been known to bump a tourist or two off a cliff and so we kept our distance. In addition to yaks hauling loads, we also saw them roaming free, grazing high up on hillsides. We were also lucky enough to make a rare sighting of a Himalayan Monal, the extremely colorful national bird of Nepal.
Visit to Mount Everest Memorials
After leaving Dughla and ascending steeply up the trail, we came to a garden of stone memorials. These memorials were to those who died on Mt Everest and in the surrounding mountains. I can see why someone picked this spot. It was beautiful with hundreds of prayer flags flapping in the breeze and unending mountain views. We found the memorials for Scott Fischer and Rob Hall, two guides among the dead from the 1996 Mt. Everest tragedy made famous by Jon Krakauer’s book “Into Thin Air”. Heading up the trail, we got our first close look at Pumori, an impressively big and steep mountain which, during the massive 2015 Nepal earthquake, unleashed an avalanche which killed 20 people at Everest Base Camp. It is estimated that this earthquake killed about 9,000 people in Nepal overall. Two and a half years later, we still saw signs of earthquake damage throughout our trek and in Kathmandu.
We arrived at our teahouse in Gorak Shep around lunchtime. We were now at an elevation of 17,000ft and you could feel it. If the sky was clear after lunch, the plan was to hike up nearby Kala Patthar (“black rock” in Nepali and Hindi) for the trek’s best view of Everest from a perch at over 18,500ft. If the sky wasn’t clear, the plan was to hike to Everest Base Camp (at about 17,600ft). You see, Everest Base Camp is stunning, but you can’t actually see Mt Everest from there! Either way, we would return to Gorak Shep to spend the night. As it turned out, it was cloudy and starting to snow and so, after lunch, we were off to Everest Base Camp. We would save Kala Patthar for early the next morning when the skies would almost certainly be clear. This had been the weather pattern since we left Namche Bazaar.
Snow, Base Camp, Headlamps and for Some, Oxygen Masks and a Helicopter Evacuation
So, in a snow squall, we headed of for Everest Base Camp. It would take us the full afternoon to hike there, hang out for a while and hike back. Thankfully, the clouds lifted a bit and the snow stopped. We hiked along the edge of the Khumbu Glacier with an up-close view of its jumbled ice. Up ahead, we could see where the glacier took a hard right turn and disappeared behind Mt. Nuptse, Mt. Everest’s next-door neighbor. We knew this was the location of the Khumbu Icefall, one of the most dangerous sections of the route for Everest climbers. In time, we spotted a group of people and a few tents right at the glacier’s edge. As it turned out, this was base camp. Things were pretty quite there since it was not climbing season. Happily, a group of trekkers from the UK had a base camp sign which we were able to borrow and use in our photos. It was a dream fulfilled to be there and the light was amazing as the sun dropped low in the sky. We were happy to have our headlamps for the hike back.
Back in Gorak Shep, we had dinner (although nobody has much of an appetite at this high altitude). As it turned out, it would be a long night for our group involving oxygen masks and a helicopter evacuation, but some of us would also successfully reach the high point of the trek and take in one of the best sights in this world as the sun rose above Mt Everest. …but more on that in the next and final chapter of this story.
Views Open Up Above Namche
End of part 3 of 4
For the next part of the series, read Everest Base Camp Trek: A Photo Journal, Part 4.
Related Articles & Web Sites
Everest Base Camp Trek: A Photo Journal, Part 1. (Adventure of a Lifetime) Article
Everest Base Camp Trek: A Photo Journal, Part 2. (Starting Point Surprise) Article
Everest Base Camp Trek: A Photo Journal, Part 3. (Onward and Upward) Article
Everest Base Camp Trek: A Photo Journal, Part 4. (Adventure-Filled Finish) Article
Sherpa Mountain Adventures Website
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