We awake to see plumes of our breath in the room. It’s a quick rush to the bathroom and I dress hastily. Teahouse bedrooms are not heated but who cares when you wake up to this view.
In the daylight, Namche Bazaar looks like a bustling Himalayan town with gift shops, bars, restaurants, pharmacies, and numerous hiking stores. There are even some bakeries and coffee shops. It’s not at all what I expected when I booked this trip. I’d envisaged a tiny little village with a few ramshackle houses, not this metropolis!
Morning: acclimatisation walk to Everest View Hotel
We leave the hotel around 8 am for the four-hour loop to the Everest View Hotel. As we climb from the town the views become more and more dramatic with glistening peaks perched atop woodland clinging to the steep mountainside.
It’s a tough slog and I’m struggling to regulate my breathing. Even at the back of the group and going ‘slowly, slowly’ I feel but a moment away from a panic attack. John (our guide) coaches us through diaphragmatic breathing encouraging us to fully fill the chest cavity. I recall the frustrations I felt when I was learning this technique in yoga teacher training and it’s even more difficult at altitude.
Worrying thoughts race through my mind, such as:
‘How will I cope with higher altitude if I’m struggling now?’
‘Will I hold up the entire group?’
‘Will they be behind because of me?’
Or worse yet, ‘will they send me packing because I just aren’t good enough?‘
I ask myself why I did this – after all, I’m supposed to be on vacation and yet I’m thoroughly stressed. I wanted to see what I was physically capable of and whether I would have the mental strength to complete this challenge. So, I plod on, one small step at a time, trying to give my body time to adjust to the altitude. Not thinking of how far I have to go, but just one small step at a time and it seems to work.
It’s our first day of spotting snow-covered peaks and it is truly breathtaking. These are not small peaks but mega mountains. Stern, strong and overpowering they rise dramatically around the bowl of Namche Bazaar.
The track is relentless however and I find I must stop frequently to rest. It’s unbelievably frustrating but Ally (one of the group members) drops back to keep me company and distract me from my torment. It’s humbling but I’m grateful. I soon realise that getting to Everest base camp is a team effort, where group support is essential.
Occasionally we hurriedly rush to the side of the track to avoid being mown down by another yak train. In reality, these animals are not yaks but a cross between a cow and a yak. Lower down in the valley, thoroughbred yaks become ill due to the lower altitude, whereas these animals can cope at this height. They lumber up the pathways, their bells tinkling, lurching from side to side and occasionally barging towards us. The herders shout instructions at them, urging them on, whilst we repeatedly snap photos of them against the backdrop of the mountains.
Everest view lodge
We eventually reach the Everest view lodge, which is both a hotel and trekkers’ hangout. A large indoor area leads to a spacious terrace overlooking Everest. Sadly, today is not the day for us to catch our first glimpse of the mighty mountain, as the wilderness in front is shrouded in cloud. Instead, we order hot chocolates and sip on them whilst chatting and joking.
Action Challenge group
Our group is comprised of 24 people including a medic and UK guide. We also have 8 Sherpas guiding us and liaising with the locals. The group is full of characters. There’s Steve from Leeds who is a cheeky, chatty chap (yes even chattier than me) who briefly considers exchanging his girlfriend for a yak (don’t worry Steve, I won’t tell her!). Then there’s Schweta, an investment manager from London who likes a selfie and becomes affectionately known as ‘princess’ during our trip. Daisy the doctor truly lives up to her birth name, being bright as a daisy and cheerily shouting greetings to everyone we pass. But let’s not forget Goldie, whose endless positivity urges us up some of the steeper sections of the mountain paths in our quest to reach Base Camp.
The joy of this challenge is not only the sublime views but the diverse mix of people. Everyone has a story to tell and it is fascinating getting to know people as we take on the arduous climb, although oftentimes I simply do not have enough breath to speak. So, yes it is pretty darn breathtaking!
Return to Namche Bazaar
We return to Namche via Syangboche Airport which is little more than a rock-strewn swathe of land. We spend the afternoon wandering the streets and shop for a few necessities including snacks and pharmacy items.
Namche is a quaint town nestled into a mountainside bowl, with colourful houses in tiers on the hillsides. It reminds me of a ski resort except that I’m not drinking due to the constant altitude sickness (headaches of varying intensity). Hopefully we can have some fun here on the descent!
Why Everest Base camp?
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Day three route
And here is our route for day three.
Namche Bazaar (3,443 metres) to Everest View Mountain Lodge (3,962 metres)
Hotel Sherpaland. Comfortable rooms with en-suite facilities and even bedding is provided.