Newsletter Report

Here's a Newsletter Report written by the organiser of our trek.


27 October – 18 November 2007

When we landed at Kathmandu Airport after a long but comfortable flight via Doha, it was for most of the group their first visit to Nepal, or even to Asia. The culture shock was immediate as the sights, sounds and smells of a crowded eastern city greeted us; rickshaws, cyclists and cars weaved crazily across the streets, and it was difficult to believe that only 50 years ago there were no roads into the Kathmandu Valley and all cars had to be transported from India on the backs of porters. But the shock of our bus journey to the hotel was nothing compared to our flight to Lukla 2 days later, in a small Twin Otter plane. For most of the flight we were in cloud, but we finally flew out of it only to head straight at a green mountainside. As we banked sharply to the right, missing it by inches, we headed straight at another mountainside; then, as we swerved again, a grey strip appeared carved in the hill in front of us, impossibly short and steep. We realized in horror that this was the landing strip, and most of us kept our eyes tight shut as we bumped across the runway and ground to a halt.

Our Sherpa team was there to greet us, led by our ever smiling sirdar Pasang, and they quickly settled us into what was to be our routine for the trek. Our days started at 6:30 with a cheery ‘Good morning’, delivered with a cup of bed tea and then a bowl of warm washing water. After a breakfast of porridge and eggs we started our day’s walk, the trails crowded with trekkers of all nationalities and ages, their gear carried by yaks and porters. We passed through villages with neat vegetable gardens, the houses surrounded by dahlias and nasturtiums still in flower; climbed steeply up and down dusty paths; and crossed swaying suspension bridges high above the river. The mornings were mostly cloudless and warm once the sun got up, and the views of the surrounding high peaks were spectacular. Our first view of Everest came as we struggled up the steep hill into Namche Bazaar, but it was the beautiful Ama Dablam that most attracted our attention in the days to come. Namche is the trading post of the Khumbu area, on the route to the Nangpa La into Tibet, and is a bizarre mixture of old and new with yaks wandering the streets and no other wheels apart from prayer-wheels, yet with internet cafés and shops selling the latest trekking gear.

On leaving Namche we headed towards the aptly named Everest View Hotel and had our mid-morning tea-break on its verandah, drinking in the view of Everest just appearing over the Nuptse Ridge with Lhotse to its right. Our objectives that day were the two villages of Khumjung and Khunde where we were to visit the secondary school and hospital built by the Himalayan Trust in the 1960’s. We were given a guided tour of each by the resident Sherpa in charge, as we were later of the Pangboche primary school, and came away deeply impressed by what Sir Edmund Hillary had achieved in setting up this Trust to provide schools and hospitals all over the Khumbu region. The other highlight of our visit to Khunde was our overnight stay in the house of our sirdar Pasang. The house had been in his family for generations, but he had recently renovated it to provide rooms for trekkers on the ground floor, previously the animal shelter. We ate upstairs in the large family room, lined with shelves full of brass cauldrons and beautifully decorated blankets comprising the family wealth, and the following morning visited his private family chapel with a large statue of Buddha and many priceless old Tibetan prayer books.

After a brief visit to the Khumjung gompa (monastery) and its yeti scalp – the closest we got to seeing a yeti - we headed towards the famous gompa at Thyangboche, rebuilt in 1988 after its destruction by fire, again with Himalayan Trust money. On first seeing it in 1953 John Hunt wrote that he had ‘gasped in wonder at the stillness and beauty of it’, but on his return in 1973 he was dismayed at the changes: now it is overrun by trekkers and lodges, and even the site of the highest bakery in the world – which incidentally makes the most delicious apple-pies! The 500 year old gompa at Pangboche impressed us more, but perhaps we were made most aware of the importance of Buddhism to the Sherpas by the proliferation of prayer flags, chortens and beautifully carved mani stones on the trails, all of which had to be passed in a clockwise direction.

On our arrival at Dingboche we attended a talk on AMS given by the doctors of the Himalayan Rescue Association, and the following day, as part of our acclimatisation, most of us ascended Nagartsang Peak, at 5083 metres the highest we had been so far. We then continued up the Imja Khola valley, but the altitude, the cold and the Khumbu cough were beginning to take their toll, especially with the older members of the group, and by the time we reached our highest overnight at Lobuche, some were feeling decidedly feeble. We were scheduled to climb our big peak, Kala Pattar, the next day, and after a 5:30 am start and a long hike up the Khumbu Glacier to Gorakshep for breakfast, 13 of the group finally reached the 5560 metre summit with its classic views up to the South-West face of Everest framed by Lhotse and Nuptse. We could trace the 1953 route from the South Col to the summit, over the Hillary Step, and all the reading we had done about earlier expeditions finally fell into place. It was a moving moment to have reached this high ourselves, and to look down on the tents of the expeditions’ Base Camp on the Khumbu Glacier far below.

Next came the crossing of the Cho La to the Gokyo Lakes. This was the most challenging part of the trek, a pass of 5420 metres necessitating crampons for the summit glacier and the ice-covered rocks of the descent, made worse for us by the snow which began to fall as we got higher. But the views of Cho Oyu and the Gokyo Lakes the next day made the effort worth while, though only 10 of the group opted for the ascent of Gokyo Ri, at 5483 metres another spectacular viewpoint over Everest, Makalu and Cho Oyu.

After that it was all downhill – or almost all, for in the Himalayas there is always uphill too – and all too soon it was our last night and time to say goodbye and thank you to our Sherpas and porters, and to hope that the return flight from Lukla would not be quite so dramatic as the incoming one had been. All that remained was 3 nights in the luxurious Shangri-La Hotel in Kathmandu, with much appreciated modern bathrooms and a sunny garden of flowering bougainvillea and poinsettia trees to relax in. We managed sight-seeing too, including a visit to the medieval Bhaktapur and its temples, last-minute shopping in Thamel, and a final dinner in the Rum Doodle Restaurant where we designed an ABMSAC yeti ‘foot’ to join those of other climbing and trekking groups in commemoration of our trek.

On my return home I reflected on how different this trek had been from my first to the Khumbu area in December 1972. Then we had walked in from Lamosangu, just outside Kathmandu, and in 31 days had met 4 other trekkers. There were no lodges to stay in, only about 20 houses at Namche, and just one small shack at Lobuche. The sun had shone in cloudless skies every day, and I had romped up Kala Pattar with no problem – or was this latter memory just the way we all see the past through rose-tinted spectacles?

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