By: John H. Edwards
(Published in Briefcase – November, 2023 Vol. 56, No.11)
“You have to go. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.” This was my wife Sarah’s response when I first mentioned the invitation from a client. She was right. And in April 2023, I embarked on the trek to Everest Base Camp located 17,598 feet (5,364 meters) up in the Himalayan mountains.
Day One – Kathmandu, Nepal (4,344 ft / 1,324 m) to Lukla (9,380 ft / 2,860 m)
Start of Trek We woke early in Kathmandu, Nepal. A helicopter flight from Tribhuvan International Airport was in order. Our initial destination was Lukla, the starting point for most treks to the foot of Mount Everest. After a scenic thirty-minute flight headed east across Nepal, we landed at Tenzing Hillary Airport just in time for the majestic view of the sun rising up from behind the mountains. Our group of nine trekkers arrived in two helicopters. As we regrouped, we had a quick breakfast and finished preparations. Then, we crossed through the Pasang Lhamu Gate and our journey began in earnest. We encountered the first of several suspension bridges — offering unique mountainous scenes, pack animals (donkeys and yaks), colorful prayer flags, religious stone carvings, paintings, and drawings. Our first day took us all the way to Monjo, where we stayed at the Yeti Mountain Home Everest Comfort Lodge (9,410 ft / 2,840 m). Here, the accommodations were fairly spacious and included an excellent dinner, compete with the best fries in all of Nepal. I slept very soundly that night.
Day Two – Monjo (9,301 ft / 2,835 m) to Namche Bazaar (11,286 ft / 3,440 m)
We woke up early and had a nice breakfast. During the course of our travels, at breakfast and at dinner we took pulse oximeter readings in order to measure our acclimatization progress. We left Monjo for Namche Bazaar. What followed was more trekking in what seemed an endless vertical climb. On the way, we crossed the Hillary Bridge, which is one of the most iconic of the suspension bridges on the Everest Basecamp trek. Farther along the path, we were treated to our first view of Mt. Everest from afar. The path continued upwards over well-traveled and maintained rock paths. As Namche Bazaar came into view, it looked like a vision of Shangri-la tucked into the mountainside This amazing town has been a center of trade in the region for thousands of years. As we entered, we were met with temples, prayer flags, and hydro-powered giant prayer wheels. While obtaining supplies in Kathmandu, we were told we could get anything we needed in Namche. This was absolutely correct. Fully stocked stores with the latest gear lined the streets (even boots for the full ascent of Everest). This, in a place where everything brought in is hauled up on the back of a pack animal or a person, was an amazing feat. We spent the night at the Hotel Namche (11,286 ft / 3,440 m) which boasted one of the nicer common rooms on the trail.
Day Three – Acclimatization in Namche – Trek to Everest View Hotel (12,730 ft / 3,880m)
The weather ranged from 16 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit in Namche.It was starting to get cold, but not brutally so. Today was an acclimatization day, where we ascended to the Hotel Everest View and went through Khumjung and back down to Namche. On the path up to the Hotel Everest View, truly spectacular views of several mountains arose. Of course, Everest is the initial draw. But seeing Lhotse, Lhotse Shar, and Ama Dablam, I actually found a new favorite, Ama Dablam, with its unique shape and character. The Hotel Everest View is the highest situated hotel in the world. You can have a nice cup of tea and rest on the deck after hiking up, taking in the breathtaking view. For those who don’t want all the hiking, helicopters regularly bring in visitors from below. From there, we descended down to Khumjung (12,401 ft / 3,780 m), a town where Sir Edmund Hillary provided much support, including as a founder and patron of the Khumjung School. Descending down from Khumjung, we were treated to a different perspective of Namche, an amazing view from above. We headed back to Hotel Namche for a second night. Another great meal in the common room and conversation about our day and the journey ahead followed. The food provided at the lodges is quite good, a wide variety food to provide the trekkers with plenty of fuel. All kinds of cuisines: Nepalese, Chinese, Korean, Italian & Semi-American were served.
Day Four – Namche Bazaar to Deboche (12,532 ft / 3,820 m)
Day four was filled with higher climbing and more helicopters in the valley, yaks overtaking the trail, more suspension bridges, and changing weather. From Namche, we made our way to Phungi Thenga where we stopped for lunch and then crossed another suspension bridge. Helicopter activity in the valley was much more prevalent now and would be standard throughout the rest of the trek. As we neared Tengboche Monastary (built in the 17th century), snow flurries started to fall and the weather turned colder. After a short stay in Tengboche, we headed to our lodging for the night in Deboche – Rivendell Lodge. The main room here was one of the nicest of the entire trip. Warm and inviting, with views of Mt. Everest. Here the snow really began falling. Our group (which included two doctors) was able to assist a fellow trekker who had fallen ill and needed to be helicoptered back down to Kathmandu. The potential for altitude sickness was starkly on display.
Day Five – Deboche – Pangboche (12,894 ft / 3,930 m) – Dingboche (14,469 ft / 4,410 m)
We left Rivendell and hiked into the snow-covered forest. Views of Ama Dablam guided our path. Ever higher we continued with stunning scenery on all sides, leaving behind the green forests in exchange for snow covered rocks. Temples dotted the landscape. We traveled to Pangboche and then on to Dingboche. As we approached Dingboche, it was shrouded in clouds and nestled next to a river at the foot of the mountains. Our homebase was the Hotel Countryside. Here, the temperatures dropped precipitously.
Day Six – Acclimatization in Dingboche – Climb up Nang Kartshang (16,645ft / 5,073 m)
This morning we headed out to climb Nang Kartshang (aka Nangkar Tshang). If we thought our journey had been vertical before, we were disavowed of these notions as we encountered a new definition of the word. The path up this mountain seemed almost straight-up—extremely tough, but quite rewarding. The summit view was absolutely stunning. At the top, we took in the view and surveyed the lands below. We could see our path for tomorrow. As we descended, the clouds came in and we felt lucky to have made the climb in clear weather. It would have been nearly impossible without the visibility to see your next step forward.
Day Seven – Dingboche to Lobuche (16,109 ft / 4,910 m)
With Dingboche and Ama Dablam behind us, we walked along the valley on the west side of Nang Kartshang. Today, the mountain would have been impossible to climb with clouds covering it completely. Our path was snowy, slippery, and narrow. Beautiful landscape to pass through in any event, with quite interesting terrain changes. We eventually arrived at the Everest Memorial, Chukpi Lhara. Here, there are numerous monuments to those who have died on Everest. The experience was somber, peaceful, and thought-provoking. From the memorial, we made are way through the gray, snowy weather to Lobuche. Our lodging for the night was the Himalayan Eco Resort. Not as inviting as previous places, it suited the barren surroundings. The high temperature was 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Ever colder, Lobuche was a waypoint we were happy to move on from.
Day Eight – Lobuche to Gorak Shep (16,942 ft / 5,164 m)
Another gray and cloudy sky marked our departure. Icicles lined the buildings and my water bottle had frozen on the windowsill. We headed farther down the path toward the towering mountains. Going up had become easier and there was a rhythm to our ascent. There was quite a bit of traffic – trekkers, sherpas, and yaks filled the narrow paths. The journey from Lobuche to Gorak Shep passed quickly. Reaching Gorak Shep was a relief. Our teahouse at the Buddha Lodge which was very accommodating, another welcoming common room on the trail. Contrary to what you might expect, the food choices were still plentiful and tasty. For many EBC trekkers, Gorak Shep is the headquarters for their trip to Everest Base Camp. They stay the evening, head to EBC, then return to Gorak Shep.
Day Nine – Gorak Shep to Everest Base Camp (17,598 ft / 5,364 m)
Fortunately, we were set to stay the night at Everest Base Camp. Our journey from Gorak Shep was hailed with clear skies and crisp air. There was a halo around the sun, which portends bad weather in the coming days (which did in fact arrive just two days later). The jaunt to Everst Base Camp from Gorak Shep is actually relatively flat and doesn’t take as long as one might think. With anticipation and excitement, we walked along the rocky path. Mountain peaks surrounded us on all sides. Soon enough, we came upon our ultimate destination: Everest Base Camp. We made it! It met all my expectations. Nestled in the mountains, yellow tents and colorful flags stretched before us on the rock and ice. The Khumbu Icefall, the gatekeeper to the path up Everest, was monumental up close. Upon reaching the outskirts of EBC, we still had to make our way to our camp. This took more exertion than I had anticipated. We were worn out as we reached our mess tent. Our meals at EBC were excellent as well. For lodging, we stayed in North Face dome tents. With the sun overhead, they held heat extraordinarily well. So much so, that I opted to open the flaps to let some cool air in while the sun was high in the sky. Once the sun crossed over the valley however, temperatures dropped precipitously. The nights in EBC and Gorak Shep were below 0 degrees Fahrenheit and it was a bit painful to leave the warmth of your sleeping bag. During the night, the sound of distant avalanches could be heard at times from my tent. The night is also when those climbing higher leave EBC and traverse the Khumbu Icefall. You can see their headlamps ascending the icy face with the only other lights being the stars in the clear sky. A dreamlike night at the foot of Mt. Everest.
Everest Base Camp to Kathmandu In the morning, we packed up our gear and had one last meal in the Himalayas. Helicopters had been arranged to take us back to Kathmandu. We hiked the kilometer to the rock helipad on EBC and waited for our transport. The wait was longer than anticipated, as the helicopters had to be diverted to help with an emergency situation elsewhere in the region. No problem at all for us to spend just a little bit longer in this unique and wondrous place. We took in the magnificent views and atmosphere. As we flew out of base camp, we had one last breathtaking overview of EBC. Our once-in-a lifetime journey came to an end, with many memories and moments to be treasured forever.