How it happened:
One thing I love about traveling is how much I learn and experience with every trip I set out on, even to places you would expect to be similar to your own country or even just simple road trips in your own state. My most recent adventure was so spontaneous that it probably wasn’t the most thoroughly thought-out adventure at the time, but I came out with an epic story and another tick off the bucket list.
I’ve always wanted to go to Nepal, or at least my mother did and somehow subconsciously made me think that I did too. Not only is Nepal the homeland to the world’s tallest and most fierce mountain range on the planet, including Mt. Everest, but Nepal boasts a vibrant culture and rich history. Nepal’s culture revolves around the shared values of Buddhism and Hinduism, has some of the friendliest people on the planet, and has a unique landscape whose environment possesses everything from jungles with tigers and elephants to extreme sub-arctic temperatures at unbearable altitudes creating a hostile environment for any life form.
When I finally booked a last minute trip to Nepal as a side trip while traveling from Australia to the US, I was just excited to be able to tick another country off my bucket list. I had no idea I was about to embark upon an 9+day trek to the Basecamp of Mt. Everest, and then take it a step further and hit 5,500m/18,000ft at the top of Kala Pathar to see Everest at sunrise.
After talking to one of the local hosts at our hotel, we were convinced we couldn’t go to Nepal and do a trek other than basecamp, although I’ve only heard amazing things if you do choose to do any of the other famous circuits. BUT, if I was going make the trek to basecamp, I wanted to be a traveler not a tourist. So, my partner and I decided to free-lance our own excursion with no Sherpa, no porter, no guide, and no return flight. Just us, our gear, a map and a lot of chocolate bars 🙂
(Having Nepal’s main dish in Kathmandu – Dal Bhat)
Within the next 2 days, we managed to cover every square inch of Kathmandu getting our permits, flights to Lukla, the town closest to the start of the trail, and as much information as we could while acquiring our gear in what amounted to a large scale scavenger hunt. This in itself was a huge effort given that we arrived in Nepal with just one suitcase between us containing beach attire since we packed thinking we had all that we needed for our trip back to Florida.
(Hiked to the top of the Swayambhunath temple in Kathmandu)
After putting everything together at the last minute, as we usually do, we went out for a final pre-hike dinner feast at a local restaurant that ended up making the hike 1000 times harder than it already was (note to other travelers, DO NOT eat at the Green Valley Restaurant, safe restaurants are at the bottom of this post).
Let’s just say Nepal isn’t one of the most developed countries so you can never be too safe here, especially when eating locally. I asked the restaurant owner if the food would be ok for us to eat before ordering, asking specifically if they used filtered water in the kitchen and questions about the origin and preparation of the food. After a few seconds of hesitation and a subtle sideways head nod, we were assured that the cuisine would be safe, and our chef wouldn’t lose an $11 dinner sale. I was starving after running all over the city and did not want to wait another 20 minutes for food anywhere else in the unlikely event that there might have been a better dining establishment to choose from.
That night, the night before our 6am flight to Lukla, was miserable and terrifying to say the least. I don’t want to call it food poisoning because this certainly wasn’t your usual overnight bout of stomach sickness that you get out of your system and you’re almost back to normal the next day. This was by far the most painful night/next week(s) of my life. I thought I’d never see the world outside of that hotel again.
We ended up missing the flight and spent the whole day in bed..and in the bathroom. In the late evening we made it to the pharmacy outside the hotel and got pills for nausea and something similar to Imodium because actual Imodium didn’t work (not just 1, but 3 Imodium’s didn’t work!).
(The restaurant that made us sick and the meal I’ll sadly never be able to eat again – Dal Bhat)
Day 1: Kathmandu to Lukla and up to Phakding (2,610m/8,563ft)
The next morning, we barely managed to pick up our 10kg/22lb packs and paid the whole $16 fight change fee and got the early flight out the to Lukla thinking the symptoms would subside after the first day. Let’s just say it’s almost a year later and I’m still getting GI treatment for SIBO among other GI issues. Looks like I brought home a little more from Nepal than just some prayer flags and mandalas..
(On the plane and the worlds most dangerous airport in Lukla)
As soon as we arrived in Lukla, we were depleted and cold so we stopped at a local tea-house where we met the most helpful Sherpa and soon-to-be Monk. We had lemon tea and veggie omelets and I got to put on a nice warm pair of leggings before we actually started trekking.
(Yaks near Lukla, crossing our first hanging bridge, and enjoying the sun and a break!)
This was the easiest day of hiking and only took us about an hour and a half. I’d recommend going just a little further than Phakding to make the next day a lot easier. Even just as you get past this small town and cross the river, there are many other tea-houses to stay at. We stayed at the Buhda lodge in Pakding, but I don’t recommend it as our host was very rude and didn’t have the best attitude.
While eating that night, we met a couple of British boys who we ended up befriending and hiked with almost the entire way up to base camp and are still in touch with today.
Day 2: Phakding to Namche (3,420m/11,221ft)
At about 7 am, we all headed off for Namche. I don’t know if it was because of our food illness, altitude, distance or a combination of all 3, but I struggled almost the whole way up. While our itinerary said this would take between 5-6 hours, it took us about 7-8 and it might have been the hardest day, especially due to the fact most of it was just stairs.
(The boys and a local Nepali girl from one of the small towns)
(Amazing view of the valley)
(Hiking and snickers breaks)
(The city and trading town of Namche)
I was so fatigued by Namche, my legs were shaking and I think I had about 3 meals and a large Cadbury bar before bed (and I don’t usually eat Cadbury!). This was the only night I paid for a hot shower until I realized you only get about 4 minutes of hot water and then you have to get out. This was the ultimate race against the clock for me to see how fast I could put clothes back on and get to the fire downstairs.
We stayed towards the top of the town in another Buddha Lodge, but this one was run by the most humble Sherpa and his family. Turns out, he was the one that led the first un-oxygenated summit expedition on Everest almost 30 years ago, what a legend! It was the most comfortable tea-house during my whole trek and his wife even made my eggs with my coconut oil for me 🙂
(At the lodge with the Sherpa to guide the first un-oxygenated summit of Everest)
Day 3: Acclimation day..kind of
According to our itinerary, this was supposed to be our acclimation day in Namche, but I had the bright idea of going to the next town while we were adjusting to altitude to try and get ahead of schedule. Thanks to my good planning due to the lack of brain-power and fatigue from the day before, we ended up staying at a lower altitude and had to spend the next day in a near-by town.
Before we started trekking, we went to the local market to get some bananas (our last bananas going up) and snacks. Namche is the biggest town going up because it is a central location for a dozen of trails in the valley. A lot of the tea-house owners hike here for their produce multiple times a week.
We slowly started trekking up to the top of the mountain and continued onto a major lookout point. Many other hikers hiked up and went back down to Namche to help better adjust to the altitude, but this was another serious hike for me! It took us about an hour and a half to get up before we actually continued on. We spent probably 5 hours trekking this day and ended up in Phunke Tenga for the night where we had the option of one of two tea-houses run by either “Mama” or her daughter. We decided to stay at Mama’s after we agreed the mom was probably the better cook.
Day 4: Phunke Tenga to Tenboche (3,860m/12,665ft)
Although we all felt ok that night and none of us seemed to have any serious altitude symptoms other than dull headaches, we decided it was best to stay at a higher altitude this night, which ended up putting us almost back on track with our original itinerary and let us enjoy the best day on the mountain.
We left at about 6-6:30am and hiked about 2 hours arriving at about 8:30 to Tengboche, another large village with the oldest monastery of the Khumbu region. All of the other hikers we met said they were jealous of our route as they had wished they could have stayed here due to the amazing (and probably the only) view of Everest on the trek to basecamp.
(Prayer stones at the entrance of Tengboche)
Our friends stayed at a tea-house towards the lower part of the town near the bakery, while my partner and I stayed up at the big lodge because of how ill we still were. He was very sick this day and the owner of this lodge, the Tashi Delek Lodge & Restaruant, was very friendly and spoke excellent English. He offered to make Daniel fresh, plain vegetable soup without flour and other healthy food options.
(Mapping out our route and feeding potatoes to stray dogs)
After a bit of a rest since we arrived so early, we went outside and found our friends had inflated a rugby ball they had in their packs and were teaching some of the younger monks how to play. After we all played for a bit (while I was petting baby yaks of course), the monks left and returned with their own make-shift cricket set and their soccer ball (an old volleyball). They told us it was their turn and took us out to an old dirt field where we played tourists vs. monks in multiple rounds of each game. This had to have been hilarious to anyone watching seeing all of us struggling after even 2 minutes at this altitude. Despite the fatigue, we had the most amazing view and it was a day I’ll never forget.
(Playing rugby, cricket, and futbol with monks)
In the evening after dinner and my quest for more chocolate, I walked into the boys tea-house to find they had picked up a 3rd Brit and were playing the best card game I’ve ever played – “Chairman Mao”.
Day 5: Tengboche to Dingboche (4,360m/14,305ft)
Since we were just a bit behind at this point, we had to push through to Dingboche to get us back on track. The trek took us about 5 hours, but wasn’t too bad with the down hill breaks from hiking and the additional company. From this day on, I really started feeling the altitude and dryness that progressively got worse as the days went on.
We took our time and treated ourselves to a couple of tea stops. We saw the terrain start to change from trees and some greenery, to the harsh, Himalayan rocky trails and valleys the closer we got to Dingboche. They valleys looked endless and dry, though we did see some beautiful blue rivers and scenic points along the way.
(Views on the hike to Dingboche)
(More trekking views and approaching the “large” town of Dingboche)
When we got to Dingboche, we hiked through the town looking for a tea-house with a decent menu and a possible heater as we were warned about the nightly temperature drop here. We ended up at a tea house further back in the town, where we had a very nice host and general/living area upstairs by the kitchen. We stopped here as we were all starving and were happy enough here, but looking back we should have checked out the rooms before agreeing to stay.
The rooms seemed to still in the process of being built and had very thin, flimsy walls. I barely slept that night even in every layer I had plus an emergency mylar blanket I stuffed inside my -10F/-20C sleeping bag! We also came to the realization that Tengboche was our last stop with any kind of running water. I asked my host where I could brush my teeth and he pulled out a small bowl and some water from the kitchen. My empty water bottle and filtration tablets quickly became my new best friend.
Day 6: Dingboche to Lobuche (4930m/16,175ft)
After a night of almost no sleep due to the cold, we got up and went up to the kitchen where the boys all had porridge and honey (which was an extra cost at this altitude) and I nibbled on an apple because I could already tell it wasn’t going to be a good day with the way my stomach felt.
I don’t know what triggered it or why it came on so strong so many days later, but the trek took us way longer than it should have with my frequent stops and rests do to unbearable stomach pains. Of all days to be sick, this was the first trek with no huts or rest stops for any kind of medical help or supplements, but at least we had some of the most amazing views!
(Another semi-successful day of hiking)
We ended up telling our friends to go on without us and we’d meet them in Lobuche that evening knowing there wouldn’t be many tea-house options at this altitude. I struggled the whole way up, but felt a little better after some eggs and rice and one of my probiotic packets.
(My go-to meal almost every night – egg/veggie fried rice with little or no sauce)
(Daniel and the stray dog that led us to town)
(the town of Tengboche – left shows the 2 food stops/shops and the right was a tea-house)
We got to Lobuche mid afternoon after what seemed like an endless day of hiking for me and saw one of the boys just outside what seemed to be a very popular tea-house at the start of the town. We went to check out their room to find the other one in bed with a pounding headache and nausea. I don’t know how he had the strength to do it, but he ended up hiking back down to where we were the night before to try and prevent further symptoms of altitude sickness from coming on and in case he needed medical help.
We checked in and cleaned up a bit before the nighttime temperatures kicked in and it was too cold for me to even attempt to change shirts. At this point, my face had dirt I could no longer wipe off, my lips were puffed as if I had a botched botox treatment due to the dehydration and altitude, and I never felt my hair so lifeless and dry.
(Useful information posted inside the dining area)
After dinner, I splurged a whole $6 for a couple of wifi cards to let my mother know I was still alive, sick and ready to get back to the first world as soon as I made it to Base Camp. It felt like I had been hiking for months and was so happy to hear from her and the family. She even booked me a flight home out of Kathmandu for the following week all while texting through Whatsapp. That’s some damn good mamy service!
Day 7: Lobuche to Gorak Shep & Everest Base Camp
We got up and relaxed a bit this morning, as we were eager to hear from our friend who turned back for the night. He got a wifi card too and messaged me saying he’d be up later in the day and they’d catch up with Daniel and I. We left around 10/10:15 and started the lengthy valley trek to Gorak Shep-the highest tea-house stop just before Basecamp.
Once we got to Gorak Shep around 11:45, we quickly checked into one of the only couple of rooms and got some lunch before taking just one pack with immediate supplies and continuing onto Base Camp at about 12:30. We were in a bit of a hurry as we were not sure how long it was take us to get to Base Camp since our itinerary said to leave hours before we did and the winds tend to pick up in the afternoon/evening.
We powered through to Base Camp, which took us about 1 hour 15 minutes (our itinerary said this should have been about 2.5 hours). It was much easier without my 22lb pack, but still wasn’t easy by any means. I was lucky to have Daniel taking care of me as he carried his pack with our water, food and layers.
(Sign to Basecamp and the first sight of it from the hike)
We spent about a full hour at Base Camp just walking around, seeing how the teams lived, and what was there. This was apparently the “new” base camp as the last one had some damage from the devastating 2015 earthquake. I was a little disappointed to find it didn’t look like anything from the movies with the big grey tents and stations. There were tons of yellow tents set up amongst the glaciers in this small valley surrounded by the highest peaks in the world.
(Taking a break at Basecamp)
(and of course, another chocolate break)
(North end of Basecamp)
After collecting some small rocks/stones (being a biologist, I have to take something home with me) and of course got lots of selfies, we started trekking back before it started getting much colder. It only took us just over an hour to power back, but I was in serious zombie mode. Neither Daniel nor I had much to say and I was getting really delirious and dizzy.
As soon as we got back at about 3:30, we kicked off our boots and passed out on our beds until about 5:30. I would have loved to keep sleeping, but after the intense day we had, Daniel said we really should get something to eat, so we went into the crowded kitchen/sitting area and had our usual-rice, eggs, and boiled potatoes to help up get ready for our 4:30am wake up to attempt Kala Pathar.
Day 8: Gorak Shep to Kala Pathar and back down to Pheriche
Our alarms got us up at 4:30 as planned, but I was not feeling good at all. Between the fatigue, nausea and stomach pains, I told Daniel he’d have to go without me as he was absolutely determined to make it up the final peak to watch Everest at sunrise. He set out at about 4:50 before returning 10 minutes later to get me up and out with him and even though I resisted for a while, I’m glad he did.
(Sunrise on the way to Kala Pathar)
He took the one pack again as I crawled up the steepest slope we had been on all week. I had absolutely nothing going through my head at this point and just pushed on with all my strength in every step. 2 hours later we made it up and just in time. The colors coming up with the sun were phenomenal and the view of the peaks was even better. We had a good rest at the top in a small, protected rock crevasse because of the cold wind and had a snack/quest bar before heading down.
(Daniel getting out of the wind and the view of top of Kala Pathar)
We grabbed the rest of our gear, checked out and hauled ass back down as neither one of us wanted to spend another freezing night at high altitude. We stopped for food, but ended up going all the way down to Pheriche-about 12 miles down from Gorak Shep.
Our friend back at the hotel in Kathmandu said to stay here as it was easiest to arrange transport back off the mountain from here since they had a main emergency/call station to Lukla to arrange flights. We stayed at a small lodge with the nicest host family and made sure we were getting back to Kathmandu the next day, and we did.
(Our Red Bull helicopter pilots)
(Daniel chatting to our Red Bull Pilot with the helicopter we flew down in)
Despite the bad note we had left Kathmandu on, it felt so good to be back at low altitude and have fresh fruit and something other than eggs and rice. Daniel and I rested and spent the next couple days relaxing and exploring a little more before we parted ways back to our own countries.
(refueling in Kathmandu)
(Wonderful/safe meal at OR2K in Kathmandu)
(Amazing menu and food at Rosemary’s Kitchen with the best gluten free pancakes and bruschetta!)
I’m sure it won’t be long before I’m ready to get out and see the world again, but this trip really made me appreciate everything I have and where I come from. It changed my life to see how differently all people experience life in different places, times and on different levels. I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to simply be able to travel at my own will, have access to fresh and healthy food and water and to have never truly suffered. It’s still hard for me to understand how life can be so different from one person to the next just based on something we have no control over, like where we were born, but the experience helped open my eyes to everything else going on in the world outside of my own personal little bubble.
(Local restaurant and the dusty streets of Kathmandu)
Thinking about a trip to Nepal, Base Camp, or the Himalayas? Here are some tips and costs I’ve noted to help other travelers.
- I stayed at the Alpine Hotel & Apartments in Kathmandu. I booked directly through them instead of booking or hotels.com and got a great rate! I paid $25AUD/night which included breakfast, airport transfer to the hotel (not back as well), wifi, AC, free bottled water and the rooms were big, clean and had hot water. The entire staff was very helpful and friendly. They even stored our luggage the whole time we were on the mountain!
- $45USD for both permits to climb to basecamp.
- $163USD for a one-way flight to Lukla.
- $191USD for all of my gear (-10C sleeping bag, Northface jacket, waterproof pants, hiking boots, thermal hat and socks, gloves, 65L pack, hiking pole, water tablets, etc.). We got a great deal by shopping around first and buying as much as we could together to barter down the price. Ex: by buying our boots at the same time and place, we paid $40/pair instead of $45. It adds up getting this much gear! The shop Octopus in Thamel was a great deal for most of our stuff.
- Once on the trek, we spent about $18-$30 per night for 2 people for room and food. Tea houses range between $1-$3 per night, but you have to eat there, so make sure you stay somewhere you like the menu (even though their all pretty much the same..). The price depended on how much we decided to eat, drink (teas/hot water) and if we decided to get a wifi card ($3.50 for 100mb or $5 for 500mb). This probably wouldn’t have been as much if we would have used our water filter tablets earlier on the trek as bottled water got more expensive the further up you go and sometimes it was falsely sealed tap water!
- Other: Nausea tablets-$1.50, wet wipes-$3, toilet paper-$1.50-3 per roll, “hot” shower-$5 (I only had one before I realized it was too cold to ever take my clothes off on the mountain again), hand sanitizer-$2.50, chocolate-$1-$3 per bar.
- Stay where you want to eat. Rooms might only be $1-3/night, but you have to eat all your meals there. Sometimes you can even barter and ask to stay for free if they aren’t very busy.
- They all sell bottled water, but check the seal if you decide to buy it instead of using tablets.
- Almost all sell toilet paper, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, wifi cards, chocolate/candy bars, drinks, feminine hygiene pads (no tampons), etc.
Be prepared to see the same menu for 9+ days straight. Food options are limited the higher you go up and the price increases, especially compared to Kathmandu or the lower-altitude towns.
Every menu generally had things like teas, oats, omelets and eggs, fried rice dishes, plain rice, boiled potatoes and sometimes boiled vegetables, fried noodles, soups (usually from a packet), dumplings, pasta, sometimes pizza, fries, yak steak, apple pie and other bakery items, many had popcorn, and EVERY menu had the most famous Nepali meal-dal baht and they all had free refills. Unfortunately, I was still recovering from the one time I did have dal baht in Kathmandu and couldn’t eat it the whole way up and still haven’t touched it since.
As you get past Namche, you’ll see fewer and fewer fruits and vegetables. I stuck to eggs/omelets, plain fried rice and boiled potatoes/veggies the whole trip, dark chocolate, and would get bananas whenever possible and had a few apples (that I pealed as to not risk eating whatever might have been on the skin). It was boring, but I found these to be the safest/cleanest options. Everything else was fried in an unknown and suspicious oil that I tried to ask many times for them to not use.
Luckily, they don’t tend to use much dairy as it is not always available and is quite expensive. They do have yak cheese, but I heard it’s awful. They have ketchup and different spicy sauces and salt/pepper. Oh, and don’t bother trying to even ask for anything gluten-free. You’ll simple be told nothing is free..
All in All:
- It was the experience of a lifetime, but I’m not sure if someone could pay me enough money to do it again.
- Plan for at least 10-13 day on the mountain.
- Budget and pack accordingly and don’t overpack!!!
- Always carry cash, unless you want to pay ridiculous card fees.
- Take a battery pack. I have an Ankor charger from Amazon.com and it charged both of our phones the whole way up and down.
- Don’t eat meat or chicken after you reach Namche (or even before). There is no refrigeration past this point and the days can get warm. Many people get sick from it as it just sits out all day.
- Be prepared to not have any running water for at least 5 days. Not even to wash your hands or brush your teeth.
- Past day 2/3 you’ll be sleeping in all your gear, so expect freezing temperatures since there is almost no insulation in the tea houses and take comfortable layers/thermals.
- You won’t find outlets you don’t have to pay for and power in Kathmandu is scheduled so plan your hair-straightening times accordingly 🙂
- Always carry toilet paper and wet wipes!!
- Drink a lot water and when you think you’ve had enough, drink more!
- Don’t underestimate the sun! I was burnt for weeks and usually my Arab genes help me out with this one.
- Water purification tablets- iodine or chlorine
- Anti-bacterial towel
- Passport & copies
- Cell phone
- Portable charger/battery pack
- Face cover for the dust and sun-they do sell these and bandanas most places
- Headphones-music is very helpful on long, hard days
- Nepali SIM card incase of emergencies, but most tea houses have an emergency phone
- Gear (listed above)
- Flashlight-I used my phone
- Small snacks/protein bars
- Extra: probiotics packets-I ended up having one everyday, supplements, miso or other healthy instant soup packets, gauze for blisters, q-tips/toiletries, electrolyte packets, cards, etc. If you forget anything, you should be able to get it at one of the tea-houses or towns. I carried a small container of coconut oil as well for my face, body and hair and also put it on my rice, eggs and potatoes for extra fat and calories.