After a day in Kathmandu, we flew on a single engine, fixed-wing plane into Lukla’s Tenzing-Hillary Airport, one of the most dangerous in the world. Busy, bustling, and situated at 9,383 feet, it’s the gateway to the Everest region. There is one runway for planes to take off and land. And they only get one shot at either.
The flight from Kathmandu to Lukla is not for the faint of heart. Like soaring on the wings of a bird, the aircraft reacts to every bump, gust, and air bubble along the way. Sit on the left side of the plane for the best view of the mountains including an ephemeral glimpse of Everest.
Once safely in Lukla, we started the trek thirty minutes after landing. The journey took about six hours to Monjo. If you didn’t break in your boots sufficiently before arriving in Sargamatha National Park, you’ll know it. This initial leg was where I realized my boots were not tied tight enough. Both feet sustained blisters, which required care for the remaining nineteen days.
The first two to three hours of the trek was mostly down hill. The road was comprised of stone, large rocks, boulders, and zho scat. It was also extremely dusty. Most of the porters wore bandanas or light buffs over their mouths to keep the crap out.
We spent the night in Monjo, and awoke to the sounds of roosters cawing and dogs barking.
The next day we trekked over several suspension bridges. There is no other way around so if you have a fear of heights, you’ll want to close your eyes and hold on. Or keep them open, feel the fear and do it anyway.
This is a shot of the Hillary Bridge, named after Edmund Hillary, downriver.
This is also a shot of the Edmund Bridge. My turn.
After a grueling trek of switchbacks and hot, dusty roads, we reached Namche Bazaar. Hotels, hostels, and rooms were plentiful in Namche, along with stores, restaurants, even a bar that played the old Everest documentary on certain nights. When I arrived in Namche, there was a grand opening for a bona fide The North Face store. (There are a ton of knockoffs, so buyer beware.) Anything you might have forgotten or could need for the trek ahead, you can probably find in Namche. I forgot nail clippers and was able to pick up one up with an intricate Chinese dragon soldered to it for a few bucks.
About an hour before sunset, we did a short but steep climb up seven or eight hundred steps to the Tenzing Norgay statue. From this vantage point you can see Mount Everest in the background with the sun’s golden rays illuminating the summit. Well worth the short excursion.
Most people recommend two nights in Namche for acclimatization. It’s definitely an easy place to hang out and spend time with many wifi-enabled bakeries and cafes.
My guide wanted me to see more of the Everest region, so in the morning, after a quick breakfast of porridge, toast and cheese, we set out for Tashinga. It was a relatively flat, quick trek and I did my acclimatization night there. The climb out of Namche was as beautiful as the climb in.
Reaching Mount Everest base camp wasn’t a goal I had planned on attaining. Sure, it was on a bucket list. It sat somewhere at the bottom between racing a motorcycle at 200 mph and getting into space. But, everything changed last summer.
For almost a year, I struggled with all kinds of pain; first hip, then back, then leg, then foot, then hip again. It’s as if the pain was trying out different places in my body to find the perfect home, like Little Red Riding Hood. Neck to was too high. Foot was too low. Hip was just right. Once it pulled back the covers and got cozy, it stayed a long while.
At first, I thought I just needed rest, so I stopped running. The pain continued, so I stopped going to the gym. When the pain started waking me up in the middle of the night, I went to to the doctor. They sent me to physical therapy. It didn’t help. It increased the aching and soreness. I went to acupuncture. It almost helped. I went to the chiropractor. She sent me to get an MRI, which came back negative. Several weeks more with chiropractor visits that included pressure points, stretches and back adjustments, I still had pain.
It was then that I decided my body was revolting about something other than my physical activity. Stress has a funny way of manifesting itself, as does depression, sadness, guilt and frustration. Whatever was going on with me, I wanted to find it and fix it. So when the MRI came back negative, I decided to go to Everest. Whatever was ailing me, I believed it could be healed with a twenty-two day solo trip trekking in the Himalayas en route to the highest mountain in the world.
This idea seemed absurd to most people and unnecessarily risky to others. Why go halfway around the world to hike forty miles up hill when you can barely walk? It made no logical sense whatsoever. People thought I was being foolish. I understood their skepticism and concern. But my pain wasn’t logical. There wasn’t anything the doctors could find or point to and say, there. There is your problem and here is your cure. Since nothing on the outside could seem to fix the pain, I felt like I should go inside. I meditated and prayed and listened. Then without warning, I heard a small still voice saying go do something hard, something solitary, something meaningful. Get away from work. Get out of your head. Now get up and go. So I did. I found something hard and solitary and meaningful. Trekking to Everest base camp checked all three boxes even though it was at the bottom of the list. And as luck would have it, I had scraped up enough vacation time to make it work during the optimal Himalayan trekking season. I finalized the trip in early September and flew to Nepal on November 4.
With only two months to train, and I use the word train loosely, I knew it was going to be difficult. But how difficult and for what reasons, I couldn’t have foreseen. The terrain was in one word: unforgiving. If you dare to adventure the same path, go prepared. All in all, I felt I was prepared. Maybe not physically with only two months of preparation, but I had a solid packing list that saved me ample pain and suffering. While there, I became awfully sick. Let’s call it food instability issues, but it was probably some type of food poisoning. And antibiotics, ever grateful I had packed them, eventually knocked it out.
To set my eyes on Mount Everest was exhilarating, mind-blowing, awe-inspiring, and it would take a better author to try to explain it. But the destination was only part of the reward. The journey was the other. My hip pain flickered only twice and very early in the trip. The rest of those those twenty-two physically grueling days trekking to and from Kala Patar were hip pain-free. Don’t get me wrong, on the way, I suffered from sunburn, blisters, diarrhea, headaches, altitude sickness, food poisoning, dizziness and dehydration. But not a peep out of my hip. For a year that pain had plagued me. Now under the direst of circumstances, when I would expect it to get first in line with all of the other ailments, it magically healed. I had almost forgotten about it completely until I returned home.
Whether you call it instincts, gut feeling, intuition, still small voice, angels or God, there is a force inside of you that knows what is your next best step. The trek to Everest taught me a lot about different parts of the world, cultures, commitment, perseverance, and myself. The most valuable lesson I took away from the experience, besides always take antibiotics to a third world country and when the CDC recommends rabies shots heed their advice, is to trust yourself.
There’s a biblical proverb that says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” In my experience, we should also listen to our guarded heart so we know what to do when it tells us so.