Everest Base Camp the Lazy Way – Day 2
Phakding to Namche Bazar
“I don’t know why they build these bloody paths like this,” says Zac.
We are winding our way up an apparently endless series of bends through a pine forest populated by crows, dark crow-like birds with backs of a sapphire blue, and…
“OOOH! Look!” I say. “A pheasant.”
He’s stunning. Iridescent gold, turquoise and purple, a crested head, he bobs and nods along his way proud and colourful as a peacock, only without the tail.
“National bird of Nepal,” says Nir, with quiet pride.
Zac pulls out his camera and takes a picture — a rare event — and we continue up, and up.
“You would think,” he says, “That they’d build the paths so they went ALONG the valleys as well as UP them. Why we can’t progress on the horizontal as well as the vertical is just beyond me.”
I’m short of breath, rather irritable, and wishing I’d started to count the bends at the beginning of this ascent.
That was at the Larja suspension bridge, and it’s a measure of today’s aversion to hills that it is not the fact that it’s suspended 100m or so above the river that bothers either of us BUT that we have to climb to above the height of the bridge and then descend on our side, then ascend, descend, and ascend again on the other side.
Things started well enough. Trail food tends to the carb-heavy to put it very mildly, and we’ve fuelled ourselves on porridge, yakalo milk coffee and hot lemon.
The scenery has been lovely, a welter of waterfalls, pine-clad valleys and perfect peaks.
We’ve hit the national park boundaries, bought our Sagamartha entry permit (3000 rupees), and are, fundamentally, feeling like we’re on the way.
I’ve acquired a new favourite mountain, Kong De, which appears through the pine forest like a castle in the sky, frosted with wonderful cornices of snow.
Zac has met a friendly kitten and a foal, not to mention earned some hiking chops by racing up the hill with our medical kit to a girl who’s managed to fall 4 metres from the trail without so much as a concussion or a sprain.
“That,” I say, darkly, “Is why you stay to the rock side. It’s fine on a trail like this. But if she’d been over something sheer, she’d have been dead.”
“Yes,” he says. “I know. I think yak trains are the most likely to knock you off a cliff, then chong-ri trains, then mule trains, and finally porter trains.”
“Mm,” I say. “I don’t think porters knock you off the path…”
Doom hits at the bridge. “Little bit up, now,” says Nir.
It has not escaped my notice that, although we’ve been ascending and descending hundreds of metres, the actual elevation of most of the villages we’ve passed through has been pretty much that of Phakding, where we spent the night.
“Up all the way to Namche?” I say. “No flat?”
“Yes,” he says. “Little bit up. We rest.”
As we rest, and Zac eats a Snickers, I consult my map. We can’t possibly be ascending 700 or so vertical metres without so much as a stretch of flat, can we?
I mean, anybody would think we were in the Himalayas, or something.
By our fifteenth or so bend, I’m kind of in the walking zone, a fairly steady rhythm of step-step-stick, with the odd wait at the corners for my spawn and Nir, who, lest we forget is carrying rather more than double what I am.
“I can’t wait to see the top,” I say, as brightly as I can while panting.
“The TOP?” Zac says, mustering incredible venom. “The TOP? We’re at 3000 metres. There isn’t a top.”
This sends me into something of a tail spin.
Sheesh. When WILL we reach the top?
Well, we hit a summit at Gokyo Ri, a week or so from now, and well over two vertical kilometres higher, and another at Kala Patthar.
But he’s right. The only top in this neck of the woods is bloody Everest. Wherever we go, however high we get, we’ll always be a couple of miles below the top.
And, as Zac puts it in his darker moods, “There’s no bragging rights in Everest Base Camp. Not if you’re my age. ‘Yeah, I walked to this thing that’s at the bottom of Everest…’ ‘But you didn’t get to the top of Everest…’”
We clunk up to where a couple of Sherpa ladies are selling oranges, and buy three for 150 rupees. Sweet, tangy and juicy with pips that taste of gentle green they are, by far, the nicest oranges I’ve ever tasted.
“Namche one hour,” they say, as they head off up the hill at a pace that, obviously, we cannot hope to match.
“That’s two hours for us,” I say to Nir. “Right?”
“Zoom,” he says. (Zoom, hilariously, is Nepali for “go”.)
“Zoom-zoom,” I say.
The clouds are rolling in most dramatically.
“Stop here to check papers,” says Nir.
The path is levelling off and we’re at – my god! We’re at a police checkpoint! And we’re in, apparently, Namche Bazar, at, also apparently, 3440m (that’s a smidgen over 11,000 feet).
It’s a figure that pleases me immensely since I assume it means we will be doing no more ascending or descending.
Fool! Namche is terraced into the curve of a valley, its stepped streets winding up and down impressive elevations, its painstakingly dry-stoned fields increasingly consumed by tourist businesses (Sherpa villages cannot expand outside their original boundaries within the national park, so every new trekking lodge removes more fields from circulation).
Zac and I are both pleased by how relatively ache-free our legs are – our benchmark for leg agony is the condition I was in at the end of Mount Kinabalu, alternating between jelly and locked knees – but neither of us are entirely enthusiastic about the current plan for tomorrow, which Lonely Planet describes as a “strenuous seven-hour day trek”.
We agree that we’ll spend our acclimatisation day acclimatising in Namche. In theory, what one should do with one’s thousand-metre acclimatisation day is a bracing hike to a significantly higher elevation, returning down to sleep.
In practice? Well, ya know…
After only two days on the trail, the sophistication of Namche wows me. It has an Irish pub! A whole bunch of fake gear vendors. Sweetie shops! Momo restaurants. 40-odd lodges. Internet! Massages! Lattes! Cappuccinos! Gin and tonic! The chance of a hot shower
Also, allegedly, a bank and an ATM machine, neither of which, signage along the trail suggests, take MasterCard.
I figure a place this geared to tourism HAS to have some means of getting cash out on MasterCard, and earmark tomorrow morning for pounding the streets finding an entrepreneurial soul who’ll charge me 20% for the privilege of runing my card.
If they don’t, alas, our Everest Base Camp trek will come to a premature end…
If you’re thinking of doing the Everest Base Camp trek, I recommend my Everest Base Camp FAQs.