The number of climbing permits granted keeps increasing. 167 permits are in Everest aspirants’ hands and 303 for all the Nepals peaks with teams this spring. With hundreds of climbers and trekkers on the trails, the Khumbu is busy, but reports are coming in saying overall it feels quiet compared to previous years. Let’s take a look at the first steps in the Khumbu
Smoke from fires throughout Nepal has created some flight delays to Lukla, but most teams find ways to get there. Also, the pollution is nasty in Kathmandu this spring. Unfortunately, the Everest View Hotel’s spectacular views, just above Namche Bazaar, are obscured due to haze and smoke. This unique view of Everest, Lhotse, and Nuptse from the patio outside the hotel is an early highlight for any climber or trekker.
There have been trekkers who have reached EBC already and found the tent city quickly growing. Sherpas have been there for several weeks claiming their spots, digging tent platforms, and setting up tents from sleeping to cooking to dining and more. Soon there will be around 700 people using this site as their home for the next six weeks.
Avalanches have been reported off Nuptse and Pumori. This is quite usual and thus far has not created any serious issues. However, It’s quite the sight and sensory overload when the cold wind from the avalanche hit you in the face!
The Khumbu has changed dramatically over the past couple of decades. The teahouses have improved over the ones with poorly ventilated, dark, and cold rooms. Today, the newer ones have large windows, big tables seating entire teams, and excellent food and service. The sleeping rooms are still tiny, cold, and dark, but most people don’t care after a long day of trekking. Oh, and most have WiFi – for a fee!
The typical schedule is similar to this one:
- Trek to Phakding (or Monjo) at 8562′ (mainly flat to downhill)
- Trek to Namache at 11,300′ (significant uphill trek) visit the market, Everest museum, local schools, bakery, Everest View Hotel
- Rest day and tour in Namache
- Trek to Thame at 12,464′ visit the Thame Monastery. Not part of every trek
- Trek to Tengboche (or Deboche) at 12,683′ visit the Monastery, meet the Monks
- Trek to Periche at 13,907′ visit the Himalaya Rescue Association
- Trek to Lobuje at 16,174 see the Sherpa Memorial en route
- Trek to Gorak Shep at 16,924
- Climb Kala Patar 18,192′ with outstanding views of Everest Base Camp, Ama Dablam, and Mount Everest
- Trek to Everest Base Camp at 17,500′
Many climbing teams now add climbs of smaller trekking peaks to aid in the acclimatization process. Climbs of Lobuche East or Island Peak (Imja Tse). These 6,000-meter climbs can be challenging but are within the skills of Everest climbers.
First Steps in the Khumbu
Stepping off the Twin Otter in Lukla, the air feels crisp, low humidity, clean and clear. You hustle off the tarmac through a gate in the chain-link fence and onto a dirt path, two-story stone buildings line on both sides. The path is filled with people, primarily porters seeking work carrying 50, 60 maybe 100 pounds of duffle bags for the climbers and trekkers. It’s impressive to see a small body carrying a considerable load. Most members feel a twinge of guilt and promise to give them a generous tip at the end.
Following the crowd, you cross above the Lukla airport runway. About now, your Otter taxis back to the end of the paved runway with engines whining louder and louder as the pilot prepares for the aircraft carrier style takeoff, but with no catapults, only aerodynamics and powerful turboprop engines. You see the plane lurch forward as the brakes release letting the flying machine hurl down the runway. It’s going fast but the 2,000-foot drop-off seems to be getting closer and closer. When you think it’s about to fall into oblivion, the bird takes flight, gently gaining altitude over the tree-lined hills. You watch in awe as it disappears into billowing white clouds, signaling a change in the weather. Late next month, you will be on one of these flights.
Walking Lukla’s dirt street must be similar to what Dodge City was like in the US’s wild west in the late 1800s. Stone and wooden buildings line the streets; kids sit on steps playing with, well playing with nothing. Occasionally the sounds of 1980s music escape one of the boxes. A beautiful woman with dark black hair pulled back in a ponytail walks by. You notice her colorful dress. She has prayer beads in her right hand. “Namaste.” She says to you as she walks swiftly into the store next to hers.
A Sherpas with you calls for the herd to stop as he pays one of several taxes now imposed on visitors throughout Nepal. It seems each region has the authority to levy taxes under any guise. There is even hotel tax now in Namche, not dissimilar to what you see in a Swiss village in the Alps. The building comes to an abrupt end as the dirt trails seem to drop a bit lower. Far to your left is the Dudh Kosi river. When the wind pauses, you can hear the rushing water. You smile, thinking that perhaps a drop or two same off the Lhotse Face, or maybe the South Col. You’ll be there soon.
The trails are dirt, the surroundings; fir and pine trees, and snow-covered mountains provide the curtains. A mix of white and grey clouds allows a filtered sun to warm the day. However, honestly, you are warm with smiles as you set a swift pace on this Khumbu road. You pass grey-colored stone chortens carved and painted with prayers, also known as mani stones. You always pass to the left, keeping your “dirty” hand away from the sacred altar. Prayer flags are draped across the hillsides or from a roof, always in the same order red for fire, Green for water, yellow for earth, and blue for wind.
All of a sudden, you stop when you reach the top of a small hill. While it’s only about 9,300-feet, you need to catch your breath. But it’s an excuse to take in the view. Just as you are feeling the moment, four children dressed in black pants, white shorts, or neatly pressed dresses scurry by. They are laughing, smiling, moving with purpose to not be late for school. “Namaste!” they shout out in unison. One stops and takes inventory of you.
“Chocolate?” he asks. His dark eyes crystal clear, his teeth, bight white, his hair a rich black mop. “No, but I do have a writing pen for you,” you reply, handing him a six-pack of Bic pens. “For school,” you add as he takes them from you. “Thank you, sir,” he says in perfect English with a slight British accent. He seems genuinely pleased, but you are sure he would have preferred candy.
The trail continues downward toward your first night on the trek at Phakding at 8,562-feet. You lose almost 900 feet today, the next time you will lose this much elevation on the trek will be when you start home from base camp. The trail follows the contours of the valley, slowly getting closer to the river. Now it drops with attitude towards a long suspension bridge leading to a small encampment of building. Phakding. It had only taken a few hours, just in time for lunch. It feels like all you do is eat, walk and sleep.
Welcome to the Khumbu.
After lunch of fried rice, you find your small room and layout your sleeping bag. Jet lag is hitting hard, and sleep comes easily. Your roommate also finds the room; soon, a cacophony of snorts, farts, burps, and snores fills the room. This is going to be a long expedition, you think to yourself, smiling all the while. Dinner comes and goes, as does a night of deep sleep.
Up at 6:00 AM, you have a relaxed breakfast and then leave for what some consider one of the more difficult days of a Khumbu trek: the infamous Namche Hill. Steep, dirty, hot; this is a test of your fitness and mental toughness.
But for you, this section to Namche is an absolute favorite. Your senses are quickly overloaded. The rhododendrons and cherry trees are in full bloom providing a bright red and white contrast to the green fields. Women tend to the fields, planting potatoes, barley, cabbage, and other food to meet their own needs and service the teahouses. Local commerce at its finest.
The dirt trail is dry, albeit rocky, as it meandered high above the Dudh Kosi river, its rushing water providing a natural audio accompaniment to the sights. The villages are spaced close together, each individual but all filled with small children playing on the dirt trails with small balls, used water bottles, or simple sticks. The common theme was big smiles and loud laughs. Usually, a mother or grandmother washed clothes nearby or tended a field, but you knew one eye was always on their most prized possessions. Many of the older kids were in school, so the trails were quieter than usual.
You make your way along the trail and soon stop for an early lunch just outside the Sagarmatha National park entrance. The expedition leader handles the permit formalities, and soon the group continues the trek towards Namche. Again the colors and sounds filled your senses, along with the smell of freshly tilled dirt.
The trail drops down to the rushing river but gains altitude to meet steel cabled bridges providing easy access as you traverse the rapids multiple times. Sharing the bridge with Zo’s, loaded with gear; porters, loaded with gear; you know your place and stepped aside when needed. Finally, you crossed one last high bridge to the base of Namche Hill.
The hill is about a 2000′ gain to the capital and largest village in the Khumbu. It is the only way to get there by foot so you shared it with other visitors plus the locals. A small Zo train leads the way setting a pace only exceed by a rock rolling uphill. We settled in place and accepted a traffic jam in the middle of the Khumbu.
One by one, you passed the beasts as the trail widened. You steadily gained altitude as the heat of the day pushes through through the clouds. Each break was welcome. The trees provide shade and respite from the harsh sun at this elevation. The trail is worn from millions of steps over centuries. Trash cans supplied by the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee, SPCC, are strategically placed with signs asking everyone, visitors and locals alike, to keep the trail clean of trash.
All of a sudden, you see several people off trail to the right, slightly uphill. Through a break in the trees, there she is, Chomolungma, “Goddess Mother of Earth.” You forget the sweat pouring off your forehead, the pain in your left foot from stepping on a rock sideways, the need for a long drink of cold water to take the edge off. No, you are fully overtaken by the view. Her vast white plume full of snow, clouds, and ice crystals is blasting off the summit. The jet stream is almost on top of the towering peak. The plume is enormous and can be seen from space.
Your moment is interrupted by the clanging bells dangling under the long Zo necks. A mule train passes by. There seems to be a battle between mules and Zos for who gets a job carrying beer to the local villages. I think neither wants the job. The trees begin to thin as you gain elevation, and a few non-descript buildings begin to appear. Another checkpoint holds custom officials wanting more money. The trail leaves treeline near 11,000-feet. Another bend of the trail and yet another finally another bring your destination into sight, Namche Bazaar. It had taken six hours and an elevation gain of 2,724-feet.
Welcome to Namche Bazaar, your home, for the next three days.
The Nepal Ministry of Tourism posted these foreign permit tally thus far. As I’ve noted, many teams are still arriving, and some are planning to come in mid-April, relatively late. This is probably due to the massive confusion around Nepal’s COVID quarantine and testing rules. Even with this slow start, 300 Everest foreign permits are expected, with the Tibet side closed to foreigners.
- Everest: 167 on 18 teams (300 expected)
- Lhotse: 39 on 4 teams
- Nuptse: 23 on 3 teams
- Manaslu: 1 on 1 team
- Annapurna: 44 on 4 teams
- Dhaulagiri: 15 on 3 teams (30 expected)
- Pumori: 5 on 1 team
- Tukuche: 1 on 1 team
I have begun to create my annual team location table and tracking climber’s blogs (see sidebar). If you have a team not listed, please let me know, and I will add them if I can track them. If you prefer not to be mentioned, please contact me.
Here’s to a safe season for everyone on the Big Hill!
Memories are Everything
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