On day 10 or 11, we walk up the last steep pine clad slope into Namche Bazaar. At 3500 meters, we have entered the world of altitude. We are finally surrounded by the "icy giants". Namche Bazaar is famous for its market day. Going up or down we'll at least once watch it fill the streets with yak teams from Tibet and porters from the low lands bartering and hawking their rice and onions, dried meat, peppers, and dry goods. We take at least a day in Namche to acclimatize, hike up to the Everest view and visit Khumjung, the Khumbu's largest village. If you wish, you can just eat and drink and watch and rest. Don't follow the daily schedule in the guide book too closely. We will in general be going more slowly.
Once comfortable at Namche's altitude we'll begin our ascent of the Gokyo Valley. We'll probably arrive in the village of Gokyo - 4750m on the fourth day. At the pace we'll go, I'm not expecting much of an altitude problem. But we watch closely. Normally, there's no reason for getting sick at altitude. It is almost always a case of going up too quickly. We don't have a fixed schedule and can adjust the timing to the slow end to accommodate most people. The rabbits in the group can amuse themselves running up the profusion of hills in their afternoons, while the rest of us pace our days.
The Gokyo Valley is awesome, raw and elemental. To climb Gokyo Ri, a grassy hill, 5485m and see Cho Oyu, Everest, Lhotse and Makalu, four of the world's tallest peaks in front of you, like tall ships, surrounded by a flotilla of 6000m sailing dinghies, is almost too much to absorb. So is sitting in Geljen Sherpa's glassed in sun room. Warm and full, gazing across the panorama of snow and ice, under a sky impossibly blue. At night it is crackling cold and we gather close around the fire. Flame-lit faces tell stories of snow leopards and the Yeti. Maybe tomorrow . . .
At this point, the Imja Tse (Island Peak) climbers turn northwards towards the Tso La pass.
Imja Tse Climbing Expedition
We turn back down the valley, on the eastern side, to Phortse and then negotiate the world's most amazing trail, winding like a stairway in space to old Pangboche. Sightings of mountain goats (Himalayan Thar) and musk deer are common. The birders are in raptor-land with lammergeiers, gyrfalcons and eagles drifting by, above ..... and below!
At Pangboche, we rejoin the trail from Namche to Everest. Many who walk up this valley of the giants are living out the dream of a lifetime: to walk to the foot of the highest mountain on earth, to suck at thin air, and to hear the bells of yaks and the horns of monks. The lightheaded viewing of Thamserku, Kangtega, Amadablam, Tobuche and Pumori along the way make it difficult to keep your feet on the trail. The journey climaxes with the final climb from Lobuche to the ridge above Kala Patar at 5600 meters. The view of Mount Everest opens further and further as you climb until you are seeing from the North Col to the South Col and far below you is Everest base camp and all the chaos of the Khumbu icefall. You are surrounded by ice, rock, wind, and the snap of prayer flags. Magnificent!
We descend to Dingboche. With the Nuptse-Lhotse wall on our left and Ama Dablam on our right we climb up the Imja valley to Chukung at 4750m. This continues to be my favourite Khumbu valley. We day hike from here to the most incredible places! All are above 5000m. High yes, but once acclimatized, it's overwhelming exhilaration! On Chukung Ri - 5565m - you can actually listen to the jetstream winds ripping through the spikes of Nuptse and Lhotse very high above. Makalu, Ama Dablam and Tobuche tower on all sides; their glaciers and moraines fill the valley floor with chaotic jumble. It is very hard to descend when the evening light is playing on ice fluted walls.
Leaving the Imja Valley we descend to Tengboche, the principal monastery in the Khumbu, spectacularly located, straddling a high ridge at the junction of the upper Khumbu valleys. Crossing the Dudh Khosi to visit Khumjung involves a descent and re-ascent of 800 meters. We are getting accustomed to these dips in our journey.
Our fourth valley is the Bhote Khosi, the ancient trade route to Tibet, and now the main escape route for refugees. We climb up to Thame, a very old village. It was the birth place of Tensing Norgay and is still the home of Apu Sherpa, who has summitted Everest 11 times! From the monastery hanging onto the cliffs above Thame, we can look far down the valley to Namche. The trail to Lukla is further down in the purple depths. Knowing this is our last descent many in the group turn reflective. I see more than one of them pick up a stone and place it on the prayer walls. A wish, an honouring, a parting.
In Namche, which now feels low and oxygen-rich, we celebrate our last night at altitude. Trekkers on their way up seem somewhat anxious and tentative. Those on their way down are boisterous and swaggering like pirates.
And down to Lukla - down out of the high country. And if the morning is clear, the planes will fly and, "Oh my God! What a take off, what a flight!". In forty five minutes the Khumbu is gone, you are landing in Kathmandu. It seems even more bizarre after weeks in the peace of the mountains. Most people seem to eat and shop a lot! And we have a big party with Nima and the boys and part tearfully at the airport.
Often the next couple of months are spent daydreaming. It seems impossible to explain or describe it. ASIA!! You begin to dream of going again.
End of Everest & Khumbu Trek
Go Back to Part I of this Trek
Everest and the Khumbu - from Jiri