Everest Base Camp 05: First views of Everest

Road signs Himalayan style

Trekkers are a pretty sociable bunch and stopping to chat with strangers along the way is just what we do. Somewhere along the track, we were chatting with some English ladies when a voice beside boomed out, “Well if it isn’t a bunch of bloody kiwis!”

Paul and Shirley, originally from Christchurch, now living in Brisbane were on a tour with about 10 Australians. They were an absolute hoot. Paul loved his sport – any sport – and so we caught up on all the details of the All Blacks winning the tri-nations (international rugby), Counties winning the Ranfurly Shield (local rugby) and Team NZ losing the Americas Cup (yachting).

On the way to Tengboche
Bridge we walked over
Hill we walked up…
Hill we walked around…

 

Warning us about the hill to come

I thought the climb up to Namche was about a 7/10 on the degree of difficulty scale, which put the climb to Tengboche at about a 15/10! (I’ll have to reset my scale…) For 2 hours, we zig-zagged our way up narrow, dusty tracks, leap-frogging porters supporting incredibly heavy loads of construction materials, food and drinks on their heads and leaning into the bank to let the occasional yak train past.

I chose not to eat meat
There are porters under those sheets of plywood!
Avoiding yak trains

Looking back, the views were incredible the higher we got. Valleys stretched out far into the distance and even more hills loomed up all around us. It was encouraging to look back and see how far we had come as it made the effort all worth it.

Looking back
Arriving in Tengboche

The massive monastery at Tengboche sits on top of the highest point and overshadows the tiny village. You can go inside and see it at any time, or watch the monks meditating at 630am and 3pm.

Tengboche monastery
Gate to the monastery
Inside the monastery grounds
Designs and dragons abound

 

 

I had seen photos of the massive monastery in Tengboche, but was not prepared for the rest of the village. It looked like someone had found a paddock in the middle of the Waikato (the heart of farming country in NZ), built a dozen buildings around the edge of the paddock and then left! Mist and low cloud was gradually enveloping the village and an icy wind cut through all my layers of clothing. The atmosphere was ethereal and felt like a scene out of Lord of the Rings!

 

 

Random white yak roaming the hills
Darfi, the national bird, crazy things that were so funny to watch

We found a bakery in one corner of the paddock and I had my first piece of chocolate cake in months. Chocolate rum flavour. Absolutely divine and such a treat!

 

No I didn’t share it!!!

Like all tea houses we stayed at, the dining room was the warmest place to be and a hive of activity. But eventually, I had to go to bed. I was pretty cold and as I had a room to myself (with 2 beds), I set about rearranging the room slightly so I could be as warm and as comfortable as possible.

The two mattresses ended up on one bed. I borrowed two thick blankets from the tea house – both ended up on top of my two mattresses. My sleeping bag was sandwiched in between the blankets, and my ‘Princess and the Pea’ bed was complete! There were mice running around in the ceiling, plywood thin walls for every noise to travel through and a howling wind outside, but I was warm and cozy.

Snuggled up in my nest

Despite the comfort of my bed, I kept waking up with a headache throughout the night, having to drink copious quantities of water to keep it at bay – a sign that the altitude was beginning to get to me.

I got up at about 545am and braved the near freezing temperatures and icy winds with many others to watch the sunrise. Huge mountains loomed up beside us, but nothing could overshadow the peak of Mt Everest poking out above the closer mountain ranges.

Mt Everest slightly hidden by clouds

And in the clear!!!

It took a bit of looking to distinguish it as it seemed to merge into the other mountains, but when I made it out, it was quite breath taking.

Twin peaks of Ama Dablam on the right, Mt Everest is behind the other range in the centre

 

Clouds block Everest

To be staring at a crystal-clear view of the highest mountain peak in the world with my own eyes while the sun rose was a sight I had on my bucket list for many years. It made it even more special for me knowing how long it took to get as far as I had, and I was eagerly anticipating the next few weeks ahead.

Sunrise over a different range
Monastery and mountains

Later that morning as we gradually climbed from Tengboche towards Dingboche, I began to feel the effects of the altitude again. My headache from overnight was still throbbing away in the background (although I was keeping it bearable by drinking even more water). I had dropped a little way behind the others and started feeling dizzy and light headed. I thought I was going to be sick. My arms and legs were shaking and I realised I was struggling to form coherent thoughts. Looking back now, I realise I had all the symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS).

I caught up to the others who had stopped, and told Chakra. He said, “there is a house just around the corner. We will stop and you can have some garlic soup”. (There is a commonly held belief that garlic is a natural alternative to diamox, the drug used for treating AMS. I’ve since found out that there is no scientific basis for this).

Stopping for a break

The house we stopped at was a small, two room home. The lady there set about making a fire (inside of course!) using yak dung and twigs, before boiling up about 20 fresh cloves of garlic.

Drying yak dung they use for the fires

 

Surprisingly, it tasted fantastic (the soup, not the yak dung!), and after about 2 hours, I felt much better. While the garlic soup helped get some warm liquid into me, the rest and stopping ascending was probably the main reason I felt better as it let the physiological changes inside my body catch up with the actual altitude I was at. Had my symptoms persisted, descending would have been the only treatment, although I don’t know if I was mentally prepared to got back down the mountain at that stage!

A bridge washed out by a flood
The new bridge
Some paths are really well made
Tiny villages along the way
A trail of tourists

I inhaled another bowl of soup when we reached Dingboche about 30 minutes later and lay down to rest for a couple of hours. Although I still had a headache, I felt more like myself again. I also decided to start taking my diamox tablets. As Carole, the caring French-Canadian said to me, “Why not Megan? It keeps all your troubles at bay and you will enjoy your holiday so much more!” One of the side effects of diamox is it can make your fingers, toes and lips tingle. My tingling lips felt like I’d had an injection from the dentist. Perhaps a little strange but I came to find the feeling quite soothing!

Further prof that our planet is tiny… We were chatting with a group of 6 kiwis after dinner. It turned out that Lynn and Dave live 5 minutes from where I grew up and have known my aunt and uncle for years!

We stayed 2 nights in Dingboche to acclimatise again. And our rest day involved climbing another hill. This time it was up Nangkartshang to a height of 5090metres! It was slow going and I had to stop a lot to get up there. But once I stood next to the flagpole, I felt fantastic! The euphoria of reaching the top, mingled with tingling lips and toes from the diamox made a rather strange but addictive feeling.

1/3 of the way up the hill

 

2/3 of the way up…

 

Long way to walk every time you need groceries
Still only 2/3 of the way up. With Ama Dablam in the background

 

Ama Dablam – I loved this mountain, there was so much to look at

 

At the top!!! 5090 metres above sea level!!!

 

At the top looking out towards Cho La Pass behind the large peak on the left (above the lake)

It was crowded at the summit as it seemed like everyone else in Dingboche had the same plans as us. It made for a fun, social time and the combined excitement of the group was contagious and impossible to ignore.

YES!!!
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