Wow, today was the most incredible day! For many reasons!
Firstly, before breakfast I had a little wander around the village. The early morning had brought on clear skies and revealed what we had missed out on yesterday when we arrived. It turns out we had been surrounded by more mountains the whole time! Knowing this yesterday would have made the hike up to Tengboche so much easier! I wandered around, enjoying the peace and quiet of the early morning and making friends with some of the village animals. After awhile I headed back inside to join everyone for breakfast.
Secondly, at breakfast I actually had a real coffee! They had an big, fancy coffee machine (god knows how it got here!) and were pouring out delicious coffee all day. I lashed out and ordered a mocha and was stoked that it actually tasted like at home! It cost about $5 but the caffeine hit was more than worth it!
We began the hike to Dingboche and I’m not sure whether it was the caffeine or the stunning view but I felt particularly good today. The first hour of the hike was lovely, through lush green forests along a flowing river. The water in the river almost glowed an aquamarine colour. It was quite warm still and the temptation to jump in for a swim was still there.
As we hiked through small villages, past porters of all ages carrying loads of all weights, it was again lovely to just hike in silence and enjoy the view. There was a short uphill stint before reaching the village where we were having a break. Again, we were sat here for ages waiting for the final members of the group to arrive. As we were a diverse group, we all had different walking styles. Some people had raced ahead and had been at the meeting spot for an hour whereas the slower members of the group were still good hour or two behind us. Krishna gave us the go-ahead to keep walking but like yesterday, the long break had evaporated our motivation to hike on.
It was a short uphill stint again but at the top we were rewarded with the most incredible view! Lhotse and Nuptse, Mt Everest’s next door neighbours stood before us while Everest herself, hid behind the cloud. Surrounding us was the most spectacular mountain range. I was in Himalayan heaven! Energised by the stunning view, the six of us who had formed a little hiking group were enthusiastic about the rest of the hike. We walked through a valley at about 4100m, heading towards the Everest mountain range. I felt like I was in Frodo in Lord of the Rings, going on an adventure! We were tiny specks of scenery compared to the vast land mass around us. The mountains that had looked so far away just a couple of days ago, were now dwarfing us in the valley. The landscape had started to change and the dense, green forest transformed into sparse, desolate rocky plains. Only the toughest of plants can survive in the thin air and it was clear that there wasn’t many that could.
We walked through the valley for about an hour, enjoying the lovely mountainous hike until the inevitable uphill began. It was nowhere near as bad as yesterday, maybe because of the clear skies giving us motivation to keep walking or the remnants of the caffiene were still working. It took about an hour or so to hike up the path and around the bend into Dingboche. This little village was situated in a small valley, surrounded by some of the most famous mountains in the world. We were here for two days to acclimatise and with the view as good as this, I wasn’t complaining! Tomorrow is a rest day with just another acclimisation hike about 400m higher.
After a pleasant “rest day” yesterday it was time to get back into hiking higher towards Base Camp. This morning brought another magical view from my windows. The mornings were so crisp and clear that all the mountain peaks surrounding Namche were in full view. Whilst my sleep routine was so out of whack, I was thankful that I was waking up early to witness this amazig sight. Usually by mid-morning the clouds settle in and cover up most of the mountains.
Today’s destination was Tengboche, a small village of the top of a huge mountain at 3875m. In the village there is a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery which is the major money maker for the small village. In 1989 this monastery was destroyed by a fire so thanks to financial aid for volunteers all around the world, the monastery was rebuilt and a ‘Master Plan’ was made. this included building a water supply system for clean drinking water, an Eco-tourism centre to promote more sustainstable tourism, improving school and education systems for the local people, establishment of sacred land for high altitude medicinal herb plantation, a hydropower station for assured electricity in the village and better facilities for the porters. Without the help of this financial aid, the Tengboche Monastary might not be here today.
Our hike began the same way as yesterday and feeling slightly more energetic from the influx of red blood cells I bounced up the steep track. The path flattened out after half hour and it was a beautiful stroll along the edge of the mountain. We were walking towards the same view as yesterday but as usual Everest was hidden by cloud and Lhotse was claiming all the glory! . I was starting to think that Mt Everest was just a very clever marketing ploy by Nepal Tourism – or its the world’s best mountain at hiding! It was still surreal to think that I was walking along the Everest Base Camp trail in Nepal. Just a week or two ago I was working in a office, now I was here!
The path was built into the side of the mountain and with no guard rail to keep us in, one wrong step could mean a very long fall into the valley below us. Our group had formed its own little mini-groups, measured by walking pace. Three guys zooming ahead at the front, our group of six with us three Aussie girls, two Scots and one of the Germans. Behind us were the trailing Germans and the Americans taking it nice and easy. We mostly walked in silence enjoying the scenery, leaving conversation for break times where we spent most of the time discussing the scenery! One may say we were a little one-track minded!
We walked along the path for an hour or so before we started to descend into the valley. It appeared we had to walk down to the river to cross it before making our way back up again to reach Tengboche. Undoing all our hard work from yesterday we dodged donkeys and yaks as we stepped our way down to the river. I could feel the pressure in my knees already from walking down steps. If they could last the whole trip, it would be a miracle!
Stopping for a lunch break (at 10:30am) we sat in the sun at a little cafe by the flowing river and waited for the last of the group to arrive. This little break turned into a massive two hour one and by the time our guide Krishna told us to ‘Jam jam’ (Let’s go) we were all drowsy from the sun and not in the mood to hike up to Tengboche. Nonetheless we put our backpacks back on and walked across the suspension bridge that would start our hike uphill.
This hike uphill wasn’t fun to say the least. The constant steps, thinning air and moody weather made the hike uncomfortable and it was slightly frustrating that we were higher only just a bit higher than we were yesterday. If only we didnt have to go down to the river to cross it! As the heavy clouds set in for the afternoon, there wasn’t even the stunning mountainous views to look out to. Pink wildflowers dotted the path but apart from that we were still in quite a forestry, green area. The temperature dropped dramatically with the clouds and it was getting chilly, especially in our sweaty clothes. Thankfully there was the six of us hiking together so we all were in the same boat, happy to stop regularly and dream about a warm cup of tea and clean socks!
Finally we reached Tengboche and as per usual, the last two hours were erased from my memory. It seems I was suffered from short term memory loss when it came it hiking. Once I reached the destination and become enthralled in it, the pain of hiking uphill disappeared. I wont lie, its quite a good problem to have!
We walked into our lodge, thankful to be out of the cold and starving hungry. Thankfully the lodge knew we were coming and were quick to get food and drink out to us. After lunch we had a little rest before visiting the monastery to watch the monks perform one of their sermons. Our guide Dawa warned us it would be long and loud and to feel free to leave at any time but I was intrigued to see what goes on behind monastery walls, it seems like such a sacred and secretive place.
The monastery had a strong Chinese influence to its architecture. We walked through the huge ornate gate, elaborately designed with gold painted ornaments and walked up the stairs to the entrance. We had to wait for the monks to enter before we could go in and the whole thing felt a like cult like. As we walked in I was gobsmacked by the interior of the room. For a building that sort of looks like a large dormitory on the outside, it was so beautifully decorated on the inside. The Chinese influence (I guess its Chinese? Could be Buddhist?) flowed through the room, with more ornate carvings on the walls and roof. Incense burned and candles were lit, creating a very zen-like atmosphere. There were four rows of long raised wooden boxes that the monks sat cross-legged on top of. Long, gold instruments sat at the two front corners of the room and several monks sat behind them, ready to play when told to. At the front of the room sat a statue of very large gold Buddha, the siza of the whole wall! I felt sorry for the poor sucker who had to lug this massive statue up the mountain, it was bigger than an elephant! His huge presence loomed over us and we sat on the hard wooden floor, pretending to not be there. I wish I could have taken a photo but were were forbidden to bring cameras inside.
We sat waiting to see how the sermon unfolded but didn’t have to wait long as the monks opened their scripts and began to chant. There was a lead monk who ran the chants and the others followed. His voice was raspy and at times he seemed to just be making noise, but the others followed suit so I can only imagine it was part of the mantra. They added the musical instruments to their chants and the large horns scared the crap out of us sitting close to them, as the monks blew them without warning. I stifled a laugh, our dirty, tired, smelly group couldn’t be more out of place in this sacred building.
The chanting went on and on. They stopped at times and then began up with a different chant or a new blow of the horn. It was mesmerising to watch in a way that you could almost fall into a trance, but after an hour the hard wooden floor was making my backside numb and some of us in the group were giving each other side eyes to see who would get up and leave first.
Thankfully the Germans left first, making way for the rest of us to slowly file out and head back to the lodge. It was almost dark by this time and dinner wasn’t far away. They had lit the fire in the dining room of the lodge so it was toasty warm for our return. After dinner we had another UNO competition go down. I have to say, not having access to technology has been pretty great. I feel like we’re closer as a group because we haven’t spent all our times in front of our mobiles. It was another early bedtime as we were knackered from today’s efforts and knew tomorrow was going to be another big one.
After a solid sleep in the fresh mountain air, I was ready to face what the day would bring. The sky was clear in the early morning and the snow-capped mountains that were hidden by cloud last night decided to show their faces. We wouldn’t be getting out first glimpse of Mt Everest until the next day but the view was already jaw-droppingly beautiful.
We had breakfast – porridge and honey for me- before jetting off on the trail. Today we were only hiking about 6km but would jump about 600m in elevation. Hopefully the porridge power would pull through! The first hour or two was quite leisurely. We followed the river, surrounded by pine trees and beautiful mountainous terrain. It was surprisingly warm and layers of clothing were being pulled off left right and centre. Just as I was thinking I could get used to this lovely hiking business, we approached the Hillary Bridge – aka the ‘suspension bridge of death’.
Tied up about 200m above the river between two very high cliff faces was a bit of metal rope that was our way across to the rest of the path. To make matters worse, the old bridge was still intact about 50m lower, making the Hillary Bridge appear even higher. Why we couldnt walk across that bridge I didn’t dare to ask, I just hoped for the best. We hiked up the stairs to the start of the bridge and faced the what was about to come. Before we could walk across, we had to wait for a herd of donkeys to come across. It made me feel a little better because if it could support 18 donkeys, then surely it could support me!
Once the donkeys were safely across we lined up to cross. I wanted to be up the front so I had a quick exit. Once we were walking out on the bridge, it didn’t feel as scary as it looked. The bridge was quite stable despite the loose wires everywhere. The view from the middle of the bridge was incredible. We were in the middle of a huge gorge and in the distance the snowy mountain ranges could be seen. I wanted to stop and just watch for awhile but I was creating a backlog of traffic as another herd of donkeys were waiting to cross.
Now that we’d crossed the Hillary Bridge, the first tough part of the trek was ahead of us. Two or so hours of uphill hiking. Our guide Krishna took us a different way which seemed steeper – he said because its less busy but I think he was just testing us out! It wasn’t the worst hike in the world. We stopped regularly to enjoy the view (and catch our breath!) and passing the odd Sherpa carrying a 100kg load was a reality check that we didn’t actually have it bad at all. I could definitely start to feel the affects of the rising altitude, you had to really focus on breathing in the thin air. Though this was only a taste tester of what was to come in the coming week.
We reached Namche Bazar after a final climb into the large village. Namche is a groovy little place built into the mountains. Colourful houses and lodges are stacked on top of each other in the terraces of the mountain and the pebbblestone streets are lined with bakeries and shops selling all sorts of hiking paraphernalia. Situated at 3400m we had a brilliant view of the mountains and our guides assured us its even better when the clouds clear in the morning! We had the afternoon free to ourselves so a few of us wandered around the town however as the whole place was going through a power blackout there wasn’t much going on. We headed back to the lodge for dinner and a few games of UNO before heading to bed.
The next morning I woke up to the most spectacular view outside my window! It was only 5am but already the light was light and the colourful houses were enhanced by the white reflection of the snowy-peaked mountains that surrounded us. Our guide Dawa was right, this view was 120% times better! I sat in bed and watched daylight fully form in front of me. It was a really, really pleasant way to start to the day!
Today we had an acclimatisation day so after breakfast we headed for a short hike a little higher to get some more red blood cells flowing through us. Again, I didn’t find it too difficult, was just short of breath for most of it. However the views easily outweighed the shortage of breath situation. Once we hiked uphill for about half an hour, it cleared to a big valley were the views were 360 degrees of beautiful mountainous ranges. We had scored the most brilliant day with only a few clouds in the sky. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m from a really flat country or I’m just easily excited but I couldn’t stop gushing about how stunning the views were. How can Mother Earth get it so dang right!?
We climbed another 400m in altitude and at the top reached the Everest View Mountain Lodge. With a name like that we had high hopes about what was to come. We’d been spotting peaks of mountains over the past days and asking our guides if they were Everest. “Not yet,not yet” they would say. But today we were promised with our first glimpse of Everest.
As we arrived to the tea house it was recommended to walked to the back garden and through the gates towards the lookout. As I pushed opened the big blue wooden doors it was like finding Narnia. A small path lined the edge of the mountain and looking out from there were the big beautiful mountain peaks we’d been hiking towards. Beyond the path dropped into a steep valley and the river that we had been walking beside only the day before. As I walked the 30m to the lookout, I was greeted by the bluest sky and a mountain range which I just knew had to have Everest amongst them. After discussing with the group and getting confirmation from Dawa it was true! Everest was in front of us!
The thing I didn’t realise about Mt. Everest, is that front this side (the Nepal side) Everest was blocked quite a bit by the mountains beside it. Lhotse and Nuptse, the two massive mountains that stood beside Everest were trying to steal its thunder. Lhotse in particular was succeeding because from where we stood, it appeared much bigger than Everest. . And proceeded to fool every single one of us in the process. What we later discovered (once we had taken a bazillion photos) that the tallest and most grand moutain we were seeing, wasn’t actually the moutain we’d come to see! So all the selfies, group pictures and excitement was over a mountain that wasn’t actually the tallest. The disappointment was real (though I secretly think Lhotse was a more spectacular mountain anyway!)
After all the confusion, we settled for the fact that we had actually seen Everest on a brilliantly clear day so all in all it was a good morning. We hiked back down to Namche for lunch and had the afternoon free to do as we pleased. It was quite a hot day so I braved an ice cold shower as it had been a couple of days since I’d had one. Hot water was an expensive commodity around these parts so a hot shower cost about $6AUD! Most of us were planning on going as long as possible without showering to save money, but the temptation was definitely there! As there was still no power most of us opted for a snooze and another wander through the town. After dinner we were settling in for another round of UNO in the dark when the lights suddenly came back on! We cheered and some of us headed down to one of the bakeries in town for a quick WIFI check in on the real world before heading back up to play more UNO.
It was another early night. We had a big hike to Tengboche tomorrow and the combination of constant exercise and the lack of air was tiring us out quite quickly. Going to sleep at 7:30pm when Big Dog goes to bed suddenly didn’t seem so unrealistic for a bunch of grown adults!
After a solid but not long enough sleep, L and I woke at 5:30am to be picked up for our Santa Cruz trek. Still tired from the day before I stayed awake long enough to put my bags in the van and find a window seat before falling asleep again. When I woke a short time later, the van had filled up with seven more people all joining us on the trip. The bus ride went for about two hours and I spent that time drifting in and out of sleep. It was a bumpy old ride, which didn’t make for ideal sleeping conditions but the rest of the passengers in the bus and myself seemed to make it manage.
We were woken abruptly to stop for breakfast at the same place we stopped at yesterday. Having already packed breakfast because we were organised, I ordered a coffee and stocked up on the delicious chocolate bars I discovered there. We were ushered back into the van and driven for another two hours, high into the Cordillera Blanca. The scenery was absolutely gobsmacking; we switch-backed up a high mountain range and reached up to 4,800 metres above sea level. Stopping near to the top, we had a quick photo stop and were in awe of the view below up. The Cordillera Blanca stood majestically before us and the windy road we had just climbed up zig-zigged below. There were so many snowy peaks that I just couldn’t even deal – and this was only day one!
We drove on for a bit longer until we reached the starting point of the trek. We stopped in a small village called La Vaquería and gave our bigger bags to the Sherpa’s and got acquainted with the rest of the group. There were five 18 year British boys that were on their gap year who were hilarious and just adorable and a German couple, who were doctors on a short hiking holiday. For the next couple of hours we went up an down grassy slopes passing small villages, where the local Peruvians were going about their everyday lives. It definitely would be a peaceful existence out here in the Andes, with all the fresh air and no worries of the modern world. After about four hours of hiking we reached the campsite in the Paria Valley.
Our camp was right near a rushing creek and surrounding us were huge mountains, some covered in snow. A large waterfall cascaded down a mountain and despite the thin air, I felt well and truly alive. While this was supposed to be the easy day of the trek, the sudden incline into higher altitude knocked us around a bit and we were so glad to finally be here! One of the perks of doing a trek with a tour group is that they set up camp for you and cook you all your meals. Call me a princess but after a day of hiking, I was in no mood to set up a tent! We settled into our tents and then had tea and biscuits while waiting for dinner. As the sun dropped behind the mountains it started to get very chilly and we huddled in the meal tent until dinner was served a little awhile later. It was amazing what our cooks could make out here in the mountains; we had delicious soup and meat with rice and vegetables – very Peruvian and very delicious. After dinner we chatted for a while before slowly all sneaking into our tents to sleep. It was only early but we were on all energy-conserving mode for the following day, which was supposed to be the hardest hike.
We were woken early the next morning by our guide Ricardo and wiped the sleep from our eyes while we had breakfast. Toast and eggs with coca tea and we were good to go. During todays hike we would climb over 1000 metres and walk about 12 kilometres. L and I had psyched ourselves up for this day and took it slowly as we climbed the rocky tracks higher and higher. Stopping every couple of metres, I stopped to admire the view and to suck in whatever air I could. The ten of us were the only ones on the trail and it felt like we were lost somewhere on the set of the Lord of the Rings. Lush green mountains surrounded us and grey clouds sat low, covering the snowy peaks. We climbed higher, passing small lagoons and rocky peaks. I was glad my Kathmandu hiking boots had good ankle support, this track was definitely ankle breaking inducing!
Hiking on for a couple more hours, we slowly made the climb up to the pass, Punta Union. The last stretch of the climb was the hardest as the thin air made it nearly impossible to climb up the uneven, rocky path. Once I reached the top however all my previous pain disappeared. 4,800 metres have never been more worth it! The view was absolutely stunning! 360 degrees of mountainous beauty. A turquoise coloured laguna sat below a snowy peak and a massive valley encompassed by more huge mountains stood to the left. The wind was howling this high up so I found a little perch that blocked the wind and allowed my to eat my lunch in front of this amazing view.We stayed at the top of the pass for about forty-five minutes – even though it only felt like five – before starting the descent down to our next campsite. Now that we’d tackled the hard part of the trek (which actually wasn’t as hard as the trek to Laguna 69 to be honest) we had a downhill run for the rest of the trip.
Slowly making our way downhill, I had to keep stopping to enjoy the landscapes around me. I’d taken to walking alone with my headphones on and pretending I was in a music video. It made the downhill trek easier and took my mind of my aching knees. It also meant I could stop whenever I like to do a little happy dance because I was so damn pleased with myself! On this fine Thursday afternoon, here I was somewhere in the Andes mountains when my friends back home were at work – how could I complain with that!
It took about an hour to trek down to the campsite, which was in the heart of the lush valley. I kept turning around to catch one last glimpse of the beautiful snowy mountains, but needn’t have worried because our camp was set up with a 360 degree view of the Cordillera Blanca. Our meal tent looked directly out to the infamous peak Artesonraju, or more commonly known as Paramount Mountain. Yes, that very mountain from the Paramount Pictures logo was standing right before me as I threw back coca tea. Dinner was an early affair and we huddled in the meal tent out of the frigid cold. It wasn’t as chilly as the night before despite being higher in altitude but it was still bitterly cold. Just before I went to bed, the sky cleared and Paramount Mountain glowed in the full moon’s light – it was a perfect way to finish the day!
The following morning we had another early start because we planned to reach the end of the trail.While we were on the four day trek, it was possible to finish in three and meant we could enjoy the hot springs in the small town we finished in, winning! We started our hike by heading up to the view point to see the Paramount Mountain properly. Despite the clear skies though, it didn’t quite look like the logo – but that didn’t mean it wasn’t any less cooler! I guess I’m just a nerd when it comes to things like this, the smallest things excite me!
The hike down was beautiful as we crossed an empty river, fully of ankle breaking stones and headed into the valley that we had seen from Punta Union the day before. We were flying through the trail and had made it halfway before 10am. We stopped for a food break and continued on where to trail starting to descent rather abruptly. I have to say, hiking downhill has to be worse than going uphill. The pressure on my hips and knees is going to bite me in the butt when I’m older I just know it! By early afternoon we were reaching the end of the trail and the hot sun starting pounding down on us. By now we had been walking for about five hours and the novelty was starting to wear off. I was tired and my toes hurt from squishing into my hiking boots from every step down, but just as I was ready to break we reached the small town of Cashapampa where our camp was set up ready for us!
Celebrating with a hard earning Cocoa-Cola and chic-chip bikkies, we were stoked to have made it. It was still only early and our guide Ricardo was impressed with our efforts, he said we absolutely smashed it (well the British boys said it, but you know) We spent the afternoon chilling out at our little campsite before devouring a feast for dinner and talking late into the night. We didn’t even go to the hot springs that have enticed us the day before, it was a 35 minute walk away and we were so done with walking!
The following morning we had an easy start as the bus wasn’t coming to pick us up until 10am so we ate breakfast and lazed about until the van arrived and took us back to Huaraz. My first overnight hike was definitely a success and I’d happily do another one in a second! However I was ready to get back down to sea level and get some beach time in! It’s been a long time coming and I couldn’t wait to hit warmer weather!