Day 5 – Namche Bazaar (11,286 ft) to Tengboche (12,687 ft)
Didn’t sleep very well at night, waking up a few times feeling quite nauseous, but by morning am relieved to be feeling fairly decent. Not able to eat very much at breakfast (just toast and a few bites of muesli, compared to my usual fried egg sandwich!) but hope it will be enough to power me up the infamous ascent to Tengboche.
The first three hours of today’s trek are amazing – most definitely our best views yet, including unobstructed Everest and Ama Dablam, as we snake our way along a ridge slowly moving deeper and deeper into the Himalayan Range. With every hour it seems like the mountains come closer. What once seemed days and days away, now seemingly only a hop, skip and a jump.
After several hours, we hit a fairly long descent, before the very strenuous two hour climb to Tengboche. We enjoy French fries with fried eggs (one of our favorite, extremely healthy trekking lunch options) at a local lodge at the bottom of the hill, and then up we go.
Endless switchbacks and a nearly vertical paths for two straight hours guarantee a fair bit of torture, but we luckily emerge mostly unscathed. After four days without blisters, I’m suddenly hampered by numerous hot spots on both heels and we’re forced to stop several times on the hike up in order to perform a little bit of moleskin surgery and keep everything in order.
But arriving in Tengboche makes it all worth it. Definitely my favorite stopping point so far, it’s a lovely, tiny town perched high in the mountains, dominated by the famous Tengboche Monastary and a sizeable wild horse and yak population. After arriving around 2p, we enjoy a hot thermos of milky tea (again) and phenomenally delicious Dutch apple pie in the town’s bakery, before heading over to the monastery where we’re able to sit in on the monks’ daily 3p prayer.
Our lodge here is also quite lovely. The dining room is truly warm (whereas many are only slightly so) and our quaint little room has a direct view of Everest that should be quite stunning come morning. Outdoor bathroom, which is not my favorite, but I’ll manage. My stomach is feeling much, much better by evening and I resolve to be as careful as possible about what I eat to avoid much more difficulty. Unfortunately, that’s much easier said than done. When staying in lodges as opposed to camping, you’re fairly bound to whatever food they put out, so the best you can do is just stick to whatever seems hot, clean and safe. And cross your fingers.
Day 6 – Tengboche (12,687 ft) to Pangboche (13,000 ft)
Only a short hike today to Pangboche, as we decide to essentially take another day to acclimatize at this altitude before moving onto Dingboche or Pheriche, which are the recommended next stops. Pangboche is only two hours away, so while Jesse gets up around 5:30a to take some pictures, I appreciate what is essentially a rest day and decide to sleep in a little bit.
After a short and easy walk (mostly downhill!) we drop our things at our lodge and explore town a bit before returning to the lodge for a nice lunch out in the surprisingly warm sun. Being extra careful about applying sunscreen up here – it’s truly shocking the number of people you see with horrific, purple, peeling sunburns. Determined to not let that be me.
It’s another brilliantly clear day, so the amazing views of Ama Damlam continue. The incredible mountain seems nearly in our backyard at this point, and I’m pretty sure Jesse took over 1000 photographs. Think we’re going to need to do some pruning upon arriving back in Kathmandu! In the afternoon, we walk up the hill to the Upper Pangboche monastery, and then return to the lodge where we read and play 20 Questions in the sun for the remainder of the afternoon.
It’s only us here in our lodge again, so we enjoy sitting around the fire with Lal and Vupal and playing cards in the evening. We teach them both how to play Slapjack, which they find incredibly amusing, and then Lal teaches us Nepalese Rummy, which fast becomes our new default card game.
We also experience our first yak dung fire, which is typical in higher altitudes where firewood isn’t usually available. It’s not too bad, although not nearly as hot as a wood fire and predictably smelly.
Day 7 – Pangboche (13,000 ft) to Dingboche (14,800 ft)
Another short walk on the itinerary for today, so again we wake up quite a bit later than usual at 7a. Despite the fact we’ve been going to bed at the very respectable time of 8p, the extra sleep feels surprisingly good. We both enjoy pancakes with peanut butter for breakfast (another trekking favorite) and rhododendron tea before heading off at 8:30a for the gradual uphill hike to Dingboche.
Dingboche/Pheriche are the last required rest day stops on the Everest Base Camp Trek, with trekkers able to choose between staying in lodges in either town. Guidebooks often warn against going straight to Dingboche due to the fact it’s a bit higher than Pheriche, but because we spent an extra day in Pangboche we decide to continue on.
Mid-way through today’s three hour hike we cross the tree line, moving from the often lush forests of the low altitudes to something more resembling an icy tundra, complete with massive house-sized boulders and an abundance of tiny prickly shrubs. Up here it really starts to feel like we’re entering into Base Camp territory.
Upon arriving in Dingboche, we enjoy our favorite dal bhaat yet for lunch outside in the sun, before the weather abruptly turns and it begins hailing large almost rock-sized hunks of ice. Within minutes, the town is transformed into a winter wonderland, and we sit huddled up in the lodge, shivering and bundled in nearly every piece of clothing we own. Unfortunately most lodges don’t light their fires until dinnertime (around 5p) so frigid afternoons in the high country are rather par for the course.
I realize today that this is probably the highest I’ve ever been, which is a pretty amazing feeling. One week in, and we’re very excited about how far we’ve gone and everything we’ve already seen. Going into the trek, we talked over and over again about the fact that the trip for us is really about the journey rather than the destination, and that while reaching Base Camp will (hopefully) be incredible, it’s not the be all and end all. Honestly, at this point, we both agree that even if we had to turn around here it would all have been a wild success. Neither of us has ever experienced the kind of wild, stupendous country we’re a part of here in the high reaches of the Himalayas, and sitting here right now it’s hard to imagine anywhere in the world more incredible.
Day 8 – Rest Day in Dingboche (14,800 ft)
Unfortunately Jesse isn’t able to sleep very well – not falling asleep until after 3a. I don’t sleep terribly soundly either, again feeling slightly nauseous, and we both have sore throats and mild coughs that are probably the result of two straight evenings huddled over a yak dung fire. It’s harder to sleep at high altitudes for almost everyone, and we resolve to begin taking Diamox, a prescription medication that aids in acclimatization, this evening.
While we had planned to get up early at 6a to go for a walk around town, due to our fitful night’s sleep we both end up sleeping in until 8:15! Thankfully by morning the smoke from last night’s fire has cleared from the lodge so we’re able to enjoy breakfast without too much coughing. I read Siddhartha for much of the morning, and before lunch we head over to Pheriche (one hour’s walk away) in order to check out the Himalayan Rescue Association check post (the only doctors on the trail above Namche Bazaar) and hopefully purchase some additional moleskins.
After arriving in Pheriche and finding moleskin (hurrah!) we settle in for a quick hot chocolate at a very nice lodge that we resolve to stay in on the way back down. By the time we leave to return to Dingboche, it has started snowing again and we arrive back nearly completely covered in snowflakes and very glad that we didn’t wait any longer to make the return journey!
Another dal bhaat for lunch, and then we set off on another short walk up and nearly underneath Ama Dablam. It has stopped snowing at this point, so we amble along enjoying the views and stopping to take pictures along the way.
Over dinner we chat with a really great couple from Holland who are also on a yearlong trip and a guy from Hungary trekking on his own. Even just huddled around in the lodge, I’m feeling much more winded that usual and find myself drawing extra long breaths just to keep conversation. My heart’s beating a lot faster than I’m used to, and it’s suddenly taking a lot of willpower just to eat enough food. We both take Diamox before we go to bed, hoping to sleep better and wake up feeling a bit more ourselves.
Day 9 – Dingboche (14,800 ft) to Pheriche (14,340 ft - backwards!)
I wake up at around 4a feeling pretty ill – sick to my stomach and dizzy with my heart racing. I manage to go back to sleep (Jesse isn’t able to sleep at all after 1a!) but in the morning am still feeling very shaky and therefore nervous about continuing up to Dughla, our intended next stop.
I slowly get up and dressed, pack up my bag, and manage to eat a decent-sized breakfast, before we make the hard decision to trek down to Pheriche for the day rather than head up, with the hopes that I will feel better in a day’s time. I’m really disappointed and little bit scared that this is the beginning of a downward spiral that will lead us back to Lukla rather than up to Base Camp. With virtually zero high altitude experience, I have no idea how my body is going to react from here on out, and I can only hope and pray that with another day’s rest it will adjust.
We slowly make our way back down to Pheriche and settle into the very lovely hotel that we discovered yesterday – complete with flush toilets, carpeting and even a sunroom! After the somewhat rough accommodation of the last few days, it feels like heaven. We take a shower (our first and only of the whole trek!) and spend most of the day reading and relaxing, but also again head over to the HRA check post to attend their daily seminar on altitude sickness.
While I’d been feeling quick sick, I hadn’t yet had any sort of headache, which means that I very luckily wasn’t experiencing classic altitude sickness. At the end of the lecture, we both have our blood oxygen levels checked, and both are very high (Jesse’s absurdly so!) meaning that our bodies are adjusting well.
We enjoy pizza, momo’s and Snickers Pie (essentially a Snickers bar encased in pastry…insane) for dinner and by the time we go to bed I’m feeling satiated and quite a bit more myself. I’m confident we can head off again tomorrow and beginning to adjust to the fact that I’m never going to feel quite right now that we’re hiking and sleeping at and above 15,000 feet. Onwards!
Day 10 – Pheriche (14,340 ft) to Dughla (15,157 ft)
Today is the first day that we both really felt the altitude trekking. The hike to Dughla only takes two hours, but it feels like twelve. Even moving incredibly slowly, walking feels like running, and I’m no enormous fan of running. My lungs burn and my legs feel weak after only a couple steps, and I begin to shoot death glares at hapless trekkers smiling, laughing and effortlessly skipping their way back down the mountain.
Arriving in Dughla shortly before lunch, we collapse into plastic chairs in our lodge’s courtyard, nearly comatose until Lal arrives with some reviving milk tea. Thankfully still no headaches up here, but I’m having a hard time even concentrating enough to read and Jesse has transformed into something of a force feeder – constantly shoving grilled cheese sandwiches, soup, Twix bars, anything in my direction in an attempt to keep our energy up.
We again relax for much of the afternoon. Reading, sleeping, eating, admiring our beautiful surroundings and chatting with other trekkers, before collapsing into our sleeping bags around 8:15p. We both actually sleep well, although I wake up several times a little bit freaked out by my extremely loud breathing. Curled in my sleeping bag, I sound a little bit like I imagine Michael Phelps does after swimming back to back races, but I suppose such is life trekking in the Himalayas. I resolve to be more brave, stop freaking out about ridiculous things, and go back to sleep.