Everest Base Camp

April 18 - May 4, 2000

Dave Svilar, Ann Svilar

 

Map of our route beyond Namche.  We started the trek in Phaplu, which is a long ways back towards Lukla.  I don't know actual distances on any of these.  Map stolen off some other guy's website.

"We take 17 Asians or 15 whites."  That was the rule for loading our little plane that was going to take us from Katmandu to the beginning of our trek at Phaplu.  I had heard that the landing strip at Phaplu made for a hairy landing, and wasn't feeling any more comforted by their seemingly lax weight restrictions.  Once airborne I temporarily forgot about my anxieties as my attention switched from airstrips to the view out my window of the Himalayas.  The landing strip at Phaplu is a pile of flat dirt with a brick wall at the end.  As the pilot approached he went into what seemed like a nosedive.  From my seat I could see the runway growing larger and larger through the pilot's window.  Just before plummeting  into the runway the pilot pulled up the nose of the plane.  The passengers in the plane were even more nervous than me and gave the pilot a round of applause after we bumped and skidded to a stop.

Ann, Dave and the 13 other whites are dumped off the plane at Phaplu.

The others on the plane were part of a tour group.  All Ann and I had was my little pocket guide with hand sketched maps.  We scratched our heads for a few minutes trying to determine which direction to go and finally made a decision.  It seemed odd as we hiked the trail towards Ringmo (9,200 ft.) that there weren't more people on the trail.  Most people fly into Lukla which is higher and several days closer to Everest, but we had flown in to Phaplu to spend an extra few days getting in shape and enjoying the lower, less-crowded portions of the area. 

The Khumbu Valley and surrounding hills are home to the Sherpa people.  Sherpas really don't need any introduction since there are a thousand books out that already describe them well enough.  I will say that this area has no roads, no running water, and very little electricity.  Therefore everything gets transported on the back of a Sherpa or yak.  This explains why beers cost $5 at 17,000 feet.  Porters carry loads in excess of 70 pounds in baskets resting on their backs and strapped to their heads.  Many get paid $1-2 per day to haul these loads over mountain passes in flip-flops or even bare feet.

By the end of the second day we were getting the conditioning we desired as we had climbed to over 10,000 feet only to drop all the way down to 5,000 feet.  On day three we had ascended to over 8,000 feet.  I had tried to stress to my sister back in Katmandu that packing light will make her trip a lot more fun, especially since she was not used to carrying a large pack.  Apparently she ignored my advice as she had everything but the kitchen sink strapped to her pack.  Soon the video camera and other goods found their way into my pack.  Still, Ann wasn't going to make the long days of the first part of the trail.  Luckily there was a Nepali kid who had been annoyingly following us for the first couple of days who volunteered to serve as Ann's porter until we got to Namche.

Ann loved the little kids - so much that she gave them her lunch.

Hiring the porter allowed us to travel at a better pace, but tensions were still running high among brother and sister.  I was frustrated with Ann for not making the effort to get in shape for the trek, while she thought I was being a slave-driver.  I was mean because I wouldn't stop to get lunch.  Contrarily I thought Ann was foolish for giving food that would have provided sustenance for hiking to little Sherpa kids.  For me this trek was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to spend time amongst the largest mountains on Earth and I didn't want anything to interfere with my experience.  For Ann it was to be a beautiful trek, but more importantly it was a chance to prove to herself and others that she could hack going without a shower and hiking at high altitude.  Although our personalities were hatched from two different eggs my sister and I had always considered each other one of our best friends.  Obviously this trek would put our close relationship to the test.

Trekking at the lower altitudes didn't provide many mountain vistas, but it was still gorgeous in its own right.  The trail clung to the steep walls of the gorge formed by the Dudh Kosi River reminding me of the final scene from the "Last of the Mohicans."  After dinner at night our good-natured porter consistently provided the entertainment.  His English was spotty so he was very animated when telling stories.  Stories ranged from climbing at 21,000+ ft. with only a t-shirt to a knife fight with Israelis - all depending on how stoned he was.  I also spent part of a night talking with a Sherpa who had been on the IMAX Everest team in 1996.  He had worked for Rob Hall and Scott Fischer in previous years and talked about how eerie it was to pass their frozen bodies high on the mountain.

Dudh Kosi gorge.

 

Ann crosses one of the many footbridges on the way to Namche.

Several days after getting off the plane in Phaplu our trail passed Lukla.  We noticed an immediate increase in foot traffic, particularly trekkers like ourselves.  Just before ascending to Namche the trail crosses the river numerous times over footbridges.  According to our guidebook the last bridge is the highest suspension bridge in Nepal.  Indeed it was a good 80 feet above the river below and also seemed to be the most poorly maintained.  From this bridge we followed the trail up to Namche Bazaar (11,300 ft.), the Sherpa capital.  Namche is a bustling town situated in a bowl facing the large face of some mountain that I can't remember the name of.  Unlike other villages in the region Namche had electricity, telephone service, and a bar.  We took advantage of all three - my sister used the phone to call my mom to tell her what a slave-driver I had become.

We stayed an extra day in Namche to acclimate and rest.  I used the morning to take a gaunter up the hill to get my first glimpses of Everest and surrounding peaks.  One of the highlights of my excursion was a stop at the Japanese-run Everest View Hotel.  Tourists are flown in from Japan straight to the hotel at over 12,000 ft. which is pumped full of oxygen to make up for the thin air.  One of my favorite aspects of the trek thus far had been my daily budget which never exceeded $3.  Therefore when I heard that this Japanese place charged over $300 per night I had to check it out.  I stepped inside and immediately recognized it as hostile territory.  Luckily I escaped the six Japanese waiters who surrounded me without having to give them any rupees.

My first peek at Everest.  I assume that most come to look at Everest, but come away being more impressed with Ama Dablam.  Our route followed this valley past Tengboche before swinging left towards Pheriche.

Against my advice (again) Ann was determined to carry her own pack.  The next few stages of trail leading to Base Camp would be the most difficult due to the thinning air.  Wasn't it worth paying the porter $1.50 per day to carry the pack?  All my reasoning couldn't change Ann's mind, so off we set to what I expected to be disaster.  What I didn't take into account was a new, tougher, trail-hardened version of Ann.  We hiked slowly, but she had discovered her pace and to my utter disbelief we arrived Tengboche (12,600 ft) without incident or complaint.  With the resurgence of my sister I needed something else to worry about, so I turned to the weather.  A pattern had developed of clear nights and mornings and cloudy rainy afternoons and evenings.  The early bird got the views, but if you waited until later in the day the clouds rendered peak viewing useless. 

Tengboche is a favorite stop for every visitor to this area as it features a large Buddhist monastery.  It was hard for me to take this place seriously, as I couldn't believe that a place this mysterious and exotic could be for real.  Monotonous chants emanating from the monastery, lamas dressed in deep burgundy gowns, and the majestic peaks in every direction made me believe these people were halfway to heaven already.  Thoughts of heaven were quickly extinguished by the stench of my feet.  An ugly combination of stuffy shoes and socks created an odor that almost made Ann sick.  Worst of all we were trapped in a 6 x 7 foot room where the smell festered and clung to the walls. 

With a powerful stride Ann shows her new-found stamina.

 

Our teahouse in Tengboche.

 

Ann ducks into her bag to avoid the smell of my feet pervading the room.

 

Monastery at Tengboche.

Continued...

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