In April 2017 I had the opportunity to go on an adventure of a lifetime. I flew from Salt Lake City, Utah to Kathmandu, Nepal to see the Mother of all mountains, Mount Everest. Mount Everest is the highest peak in the entire world. The elevation is 29,029 feet/ 8,848 meters.
When we landed in Kathmandu the company we hired to guide our trek picked us up from the airport and gave us necklaces made from marigold flowers. Security and customs were very relaxed at the airport. We paid $25 for a Visa and were on our way. We crammed into a van and started our way across town to the hotel we would be staying in. I quickly realized the adventure was starting right now. Wow was traffic insane. Pure chaos to me. Pedestrians walking into moving traffic, vehicles cutting each other off. It seemed there were no laws of the road. I was impressed we made it safely to our hotel. And in a weird way I was impressed with how good of drivers they were amid the chaos.
This was a "traffic jam" due to road construction. I was brushed by someone on a moped my first day in Kathmandu and I was on the very edge of the road next to the buildings. One road had a backhoe moving dirt and people were still just walking up and down the street around it. Apparently the streets don't get shut down too often.
Some of my friends on the road in the Thamel district, Kathmandu. Notice the backhoe behind.
Every utility pole had a rats nest of wires. It was pretty crazy.
I thought the rupees were pretty cool. Each one had a different animal on the back.
We woke up at 4:30am in Kathmandu to get ready for our helicopter ride to Lukla to begin our trek. The first thing we did was put our packs on the scale at the hotel. Mine were overweight, I wasn't sure what to leave behind. I crossed my fingers they would take me anyway. We arrived slightly late to the airport and our helicopter had already left, so we waited. It is a very small airport and not much there to entertain us (besides ourselves). They had us do a group weigh in of all our packs. We passed, they let us go through to security (which was not very secure). Once through security we took a van out to the helicopters and waited some more in the hot sun at a table with a friendly cat. I had just come from winter in Utah so the hot sun was welcoming. When it was time to board the helicopter I stole the front seat so I could get some good pictures. Flying through the Himalayas was amazing, we were all so excited to begin our trek. Our pilot was wonderful. He had 30 years experience, was former military. He was even trained in Oklahoma.
Our original plan was to take the hopper plane from Kathmandu to Lukla. It is dubbed the "most dangerous" airport in the world due to the extremely short take off/landing zone. One Sherpa said it had a 95% success rate. The plane lands and takes a hard right turn at the end near the buildings. I was pretty grateful to be on a helicopter. Some members of my group were pretty bumbed out to miss the hopper plane experience. Just watching the planes land was enough excitement for me.
It was fun to wear the headset and talk to the pilot and listen to the air traffic controllers throughout the flight. When we got to Lukla and got out of the helicopter, another helicopter was coming in to land. As we were trying to get out of the way and make our way up a small hill a big gust of wind from the helicopter came and knocked us down. We laughed so hard. This was going to be a great adventure.
We immediately spotted prayer wheels and started spinning them to the left for good luck on our journey. We would pass many prayer wheels of all sizes along our way as well as Mani stones/walls. I loved it.
Our amazing porters!! We could not have made this trek (as easy) without them. I cannot believe how much weight they carry and how FAST they are. There are many porters along the way carrying lots of different things. Here I am pictured from Left to Right with Man Chandra, Nabin, myself, Rajkumar, and Dipak.
One of the first mani stone/walls that we walked "to the left" of for good luck.
A Nepali child washing a stuffed animal near Lukla, Nepal.
Starting in Lukla, we hiked 5 miles to Phakding. It was a beautiful trail that was often along the river. There were alot of shops and tea houses along the way.
From Phakding we headed to Namche Bazar. The trail was so charming. There were buildings and lots of people along the way with the most stunning scenery. My heart swelled when a little girl yelled out "Namaste" as we walked by and then again as a young girl and her grandmother counted steps as they made the difficult uphill climb. There was a lot of steep uphill and then downhill. I was grateful I had been doing box step ups at the gym. I saw young and old alike carry huge loads on their backs and it was very humbling. I felt so blessed to have this opportunity and experience. We stopped for lunch in Jorasalle and ate at Bishal, elevation 9, 299 feet. Another few hours to Namche Bazar where we will stay at 11,000 feet for a couple of days. I felt so good. No signs of altitude sickness yet. We ended up doing more than 4,000 feet of vertical climbing on this day. We also got to go over a bunch of suspension bridges. That was pretty cool. We got our first sightings of Jhopke, the yak/cow hybrid. They are bred this way as the cow mixed with the yak makes them stronger.
Prayer flags are everywhere in the Himalayas. They are tied to bridges for good luck and by any type of monument. Base camp is covered in them as well as other land marks. I brought a roll home. I love prayer flags.
Namche Bazar was such a charming village. We were able to spend two days here to acclimate.
While we were acclimating in Namche Bazar we took a day hike up to the statue of Tenzing Norgay who was the first Sherpa to summit Mount Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary. This was the first time we got a view of Everest and even though we could barely see her peeking over the top of the Lhotse ridge it was amazing. Honestly the views were spectacular in any direction we looked. We also got to see Ama Dablam, I think she ended up being my favorite peak of the whole trip. We also did a steep hike up to the Hotel Everest View. The clouds came in and stole our view of the mountains but at the same time it was pretty amazing watching them roll in. As we were coming back down to Namche Bazar I could hear the children at recess during school. I tried to get down before they were done but I did not make it. I loved watching them play from way up above. It seemed they were playing some sort of tag game. We ate lots of good food. I had cheesecake and a chocolate hotdog, bought a Sherpa gear t-shirt and prayer flags. This was the last big village we would see on our trek up the mountain.
Man Chandra carrying part of our load.
It's easier for the Sherpa's/Porter's to carry the loads on their heads than on their shoulders. Our guide Ramesh told me that they start carrying things this way as small children. He thinks it is way more comfortable than on the shoulders.
On our way to Lukla we had to split up into two helicopters. Half of our group had a man with them that owned a shop in Namche Bazar. When we left this village his wife gave us a silk blessing scarf for good luck on the rest of our journey. Here I am receiving my scarf. I'm taking my hands to heart center and telling her "Namaste", which they say as a greeting or when leaving. It is basically saying that my soul honors your soul. A really beautiful custom.
Here I am with our guide Ramesh. He was pretty awesome. I'm sure I asked way too many questions but he happily answered them all. Mount Everest and Nuptse are right above his head. This is after we left Namche Bazar and on our way to Tengoboche.
This river, Dudh Kosi, stole my heart. The turquoise color reminded me of my favorite lake in Utah, Bear Lake.
Mount Everest under the prayer flags. It's the middle left peak that is set back behind the Lhotse ridge.
Ama Dablam is the big peak to the right. This part of the hike was amazing, the views were incredible. Notice all the yak trails down the side of the mountain.
Part of the trail with Ama Dablam in the background.
My favorite village along the whole trek was Tengboche. It had fewer buildings and more country side. The trail up to Tengboche was intense and steep. The views of Everest and Ama Dablam kept us going, it was just so beautiful. We had dropped 1,000 feet elevation to the river to have lunch and then we had to begin the intense climb up to Tengboche. I knew if I stopped to rest I would not want to start back up, so I just kept going. Telling myself I could do hard things. It was hot and sweaty. I looked forward to a shower (the last one I would have while on trek) I watched dogs and horses play. It also has the highest monastery in the world. Monks were playing soccer in a field near by. It was so fun to watch. I wanted to join them but my body was not used to the elevation. Tengboche is at 12,664 feet. We were able to go to a Buddhist Puja ceremony in the monastery while we were there. We had to sit on the floor and my body ached from that long steep hike but I was able to sit through the whole thing which was just over an hour. I did not understand the Sanskrit they were speaking but I was entertained by the mumbling and smiled whenever they began playing their instruments in seemingly organized chaos. I smiled when I saw the head monk in his North Face jacket under his robes. They eventually offered food to the Buddah and then each monk by seniority. We were dismissed once they began to eat. The view from our hotel was unbelievable.
Sunrise view at Tengboche. Unbelievable.
This is my bed at a tea house along the trek. I had a pillowcase made with a picture of my daughters on it. It kept startling us as we thought someone was in my sleeping bag! ;)
A mani stone with Sanskrit carved into it. This was part of a mani wall that you walk to the left of for good luck and blessings on your journey.
A Buddhist Stupa. There are many things like this along the trail.
We paused for a picture at this point on the trail because we were officially higher than the highest peak in Utah. Kings Peak sits at 13,527 feet. We are starting to get up high. Most of our group is feeling well. Just a few feeling the effects of altitude. I feel lucky to feel so good. This part of the trail was more exposed and windy so my allergies flared up but that was as bad as I got. SO LUCKY!
I loved how the Yak's and Nak's were decorated. I also thought this little baby Yak was so cute following its mama as she worked on the trail. Yak's, Jhopke's, and mules all carry loads on the trail. I was stuck behind several "yak trains", I also saw Yak road rage as two herd's going opposite directions passed each other. ;)
Many monuments along the way for those who have lost their lives attempting to summit Mount Everest. It is a serious task to be able to summit Mount Everest. It costs a lot of of money and requires a lot of technical training and gear. About 50% of those who attempt actually make it to the top. Many have lost their lives trying. I'm not sure I have the desire to do something so bold but I sure love hearing the stories of those who have.
We made it to Gorak Shep, which is the last village on the trek to Everest Base Camp (EBC). We paused for a picture with our porters as three of them would head back to Lukla. It would take them a day and a half to get back. It took us 8 days to get to Gorak Shep. A couple of the guys in our group are not feeling very well at all. We are about to make the trek to EBC and then we will come back and spend the night in Gorak Shep.
We spotted all the yellow tents. This means we are almost to EBC. Those that are going on to summit Mount Everest will stay at EBC for several weeks sometimes. Acclimating their bodies and waiting for good weather. The Khumbu Icefall is the glacier you see right behind the tents. This is the first step for those going higher and it can be quite treacherous. Specialized gear and training beyond this point.
WE MADE IT!!!!! So exciting. Our entire group was able to make it to Everest Base Camp. We were tired but super excited. I was able to hold my pillow case as my banner to have a little part of my daughter's with me on this amazing adventure. I wrote our names on a rock and put "You can do HARD things!" I wanted my daughters and my students to know that they can dream big and accomplish amazing things in their life. As a physical education teacher I encourage them to stay active and to say yes to life's adventures. You can do so many things even in your own back yard. Set goals, face your fears, and place one foot in front of the other. Keep going. Work hard. Rest. Enjoy life!
Just wanted to be real here and let you know it wasn't all roses along the trek. The bathroom situation got harder the higher the elevation. This was the only option at Gorak Shep. I gave myself a pep talk and said "you can do hard things". It's not pretty but when ya gotta go, ya gotta go! :)
At 3am I was awaken by friends that were caring for one of our sick friends. He was not very coherent and not doing well. They were trying to get fluids in him and that seemed to be helping a little. Acute Mountain Sickness, a.k.a. altitude sickness is no joke. Things can take a turn for the worse and turn into HAPE/HACE. The only thing that helps is getting to a lower elevation. I wasn't able to get much more sleep so I decided to get up and pack my bags. I had a feeling we would be evacuated out early so our friend could get better. At 5:15 am 3 of us along with our head porter Nabin started for the Kala Pathar trail head. I was so excited to go on this hike and see the sunrise over Mount Everest. When we reached the top we would be higher than we were at EBC. 18,500 feet. It was windy and bitter cold. We finally got to use the cold weather gear we had packed along the trail. I was so happy that I had "hot hands" to put in my gloves. I had enough layers so I felt pretty good. I did make the mistake of not bringing my water bottle. Instead opting for my hydration pack. The line froze. Great. I got to climb this mountain with no water. I was also having bad hunger pangs as I hadn't eaten since 6pm the night before and not much at that. I did have a protein bar but I knew I wouldn't be able to get it down without water so I kept trudging along. The trail was relentless. It was super steep and because of the elevation it was slow going. I joke it was the longest mile of my life! :) I fell into my slow pace and I didn't stop until I felt the sun hit my back. When I felt the warmth I looked over my shoulder and there was the sun rising over Mount Everest. It was incredible. I prayed my camera batteries hadn't died from the cold. They hadn't. I was in luck! I snapped a few pictures and took in the view. I continued up the mountain. It seemed to never end. Just when I thought I could see the end I was wrong, it kept going. The last little bit was over big boulders. I finally made it to the top. I found a spot to sit and take in the views. I was tired and also proud of my accomplishment. I took pictures with my friends and we congratulated each other. It was amazing to be here. We started down the mountain. I told Nabin thank you for getting us there. In his broken english he asked "good things" and the only word I could get out was "amazing". The tears started to flow and I felt so grateful for this adventure. It had changed me. I wasn't ready to say goodbye but I knew it was time to go. When we got to the bottom of the trail a helicopter was landing. Sure enough, our guide Ramesh was waving his arms motioning us to the helipad. We were evacuating a few hours early to help our friend get to lower elevations. The helicopter ride back to Lukla and then Kathmandu was amazing. Our pilot Jofre did a great job of banking the helicopter to give us incredible views. We passed over the villages and trails we had just walked. I had nostalgia as I watched the trekkers making their way to EBC. I was so excited for their journey as I knew mine was a great experience. Sir Edmund Hillary said it best, "It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves!".