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Everest with Mountain Madness

Nepal’s Everest Base Camp Trek — Trip 1

Check out the Ever­est Base Camp updates from guide Deana Zabal­do and trekker Krista Means. First trek of the sea­son com­plete and a success! 

Light snow in Teng­boche. Deana Zabal­do photo

Day 4, we walked out of Teng­boche Monastery after the monks fin­ished chant­i­ng prayers to find snow start­ing to swirl around us. Fin­ished with our hik­ing for the day, we retreat­ed to the warm com­fort of our lodge, com­plete with iron stove and yak dung fire inside. In the morn­ing, the world was soft white with a thin coat of snow – just enough for a lit­tle mag­ic and not so much that it was any trou­ble. The yaks were utter­ly at home as we geared up for our day. Weath­er is gen­er­al­ly sun­ny and clear this time of year, but it’s Himalayan weath­er: unpredictable.

Lama Geshe bless­ing. Kay Anquil­lano photo

Day 5 took us to Upper Pang­boche to meet with Lama Geshe, which always bright­ens my heart. The trekkers were so moved by his bless­ing and his warmth that they were cry­ing. This 80+ year old Tibetan lama chants over us, instructs us in mantras, bless­es our prayer flags before we hang them, and bless­es us for a safe jour­ney. It’s always a won­der­ful experience!

After Lama Geshe had instruct­ed me to write about (and teach oth­ers) the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum last year, I thought I was doing quite well to have our trekking group chant it for him this vis­it. He nod­ded in approval, Ohh, yaaa,” and then rat­tled off a bunch of Tibetan to my stand-in trans­la­tor explain­ing that I now need­ed to learn this new mantra he was writ­ing down for me! Tet ya ta, om mun­ye mun­ye maha mun­ye ye soha is the mantra of Shakya­mu­ni Bud­dha, a mantra chant­ed for peace.

After­wards we vis­it­ed the old­est monastery in the area before mak­ing our way to Ding­boche, the high­est vil­lage in the region. After that, it’s just sum­mer graz­ing pas­tures for the locals and small out­posts of trekking lodges for us!

String­ing prayer flags. Deana Zabal­do pho­to

Day 6, the sun returns, and it elic­its easy smiles despite the heavy breath­ing on our acclima­ti­za­tion hike. We string prayer flags over Ding­boche and climb to 15,800 feet just for the views (and the oxy­gen adjustment).

Ding­boche. Deana Zabal­do photo

Day 7 push­es us high­er to Lobuche, where the moun­tains abound and sur­round and stag­ger the imag­i­na­tion. We’re high in the Himalayas, and the jagged young peaks have ripped up the earth all around us. This is where agri­cul­ture ceas­es, no more vil­lages or per­ma­nent set­tle­ments – just yaks graz­ing in the sum­mer on the high fields.

Hik­ing towards Lobuche. Deana Zabal­do photo

Day 8 the world turns to a moon­scape. We cross the Tsang-ri glac­i­er up and down and up and down over the rocks into Gorak Shep (place of the dead crow). Apt­ly named, there’s not much to sus­tain life up here. It’s an extreme world of rock and ice – and trekking tea­hous­es, solar pow­ered mobile com­mu­ni­ca­tions, snick­ers bars, and a stream of yaks and porters sup­ply­ing the Ever­est Expe­di­tions at Base Camp. We humans are pret­ty amaz­ing at tra­vers­ing the earth.

Yaks on the way to Ever­est base camp. Deana Zabal­do photo

The best weath­er of our trip hits with per­fect tim­ing. We scale Kala Pat­tar, breath­ing heav­i­ly and won­der­ing how the climbers can pos­si­bly go 10,000 feet high­er to the Ever­est sum­mit! Avalanch­es slide down near­by moun­tain­sides in the warm­ing sun, and the 360-degree moun­tain views are spec­tac­u­lar – not only for the loom­ing black peak of Everest!

Atop Kala Pat­tar with Ever­est behind. Deana Zabal­do photo

Look­ing out at moun­tains. Deana Zabal­do photo

Day 9 brings us to the apex of our jour­ney: Ever­est Base Camp. Yel­low, blue, and green tents spot­ting the mono­chro­mat­ic glac­i­er, just steps from the infa­mous Khum­bu Ice­fall. We get a tour from Dave Hahn of an expe­di­tion set­up and com­mu­ni­ca­tions tent. We check out the Ever­est ER med­ical tent and meet the vol­un­teer doc­tors who will spend the sea­son treat­ing every­thing from Khum­bu cough to frost­bite to GI dis­tress to cere­bral ede­ma. Most amaz­ing though is sim­ply liv­ing on the glac­i­er, spend­ing the night in tents on the ice, lis­ten­ing to the crack and pop of the glac­i­er beneath us, avalanch­es in the night, and the Sher­pas singing and laugh­ing in a kitchen nearby.

Ever­est base camp 2. Deana Zabal­do photo

Days 10 & 11 see us los­ing alti­tude rapid­ly. What took us 5 days to ascend takes us 2 to descend. It’s a relief to be down below 14,000 feet, where our lungs sud­den­ly feel FULL with air, where trees grow, vil­lages dot the land­scape, our bod­ies feel bet­ter, and the earth is less bar­ren. The high glacial land­scape is tru­ly stun­ning, but I don’t want to live for two months on the ice like the climbers do. Every­one is pleased to come down to show­ers, beer, inter­net, and the bloom­ing rhododendrons.

Days 12 & 13 are long hik­ing days back to the short airstrip of Luk­la. Before we fly out to Kath­man­du, we cel­e­brate all togeth­er 16 staff (not includ­ing our yak cross­breeds), 11 clients, and me. Our whole team made it to Base Camp and back – and we could­n’t have done it with­out our amaz­ing Nepali staff. I think we have some of the best staff on the moun­tain, from our cook to our Sher­pas to our kitchen servers deliv­er­ing morn­ing tea. We share a tra­di­tion­al Nepali meal, tips & gifts, and singing and danc­ing – spir­its run high with a sense of suc­cess! (And we’re all wiped out from the hike and the dancing!)

Back in Kath­man­du, the once medieval city now offers us every ameni­ty: soft beds, hot show­ers, piz­za & sal­ads, shop­ping, drink­ing… We roam and relax and enjoy some wine and a deli­cious meal before every­one flies home! Over 17 days in Nepal, it feels like a small life­time has passed – but in the blink of an eye. Dreams ful­filled! The inten­si­ty and depth of the expe­ri­ence often takes a few months to absorb. Hard though it can be at times, it’s an incred­i­ble expe­ri­ence — one that we car­ry with­in us for a lifetime!

~ MM Guide Deana Zabaldo

EBC Updates From Trekker Krista Means

Woke up this morn­ing in Ding­boche ready to head out to Lobuche. First part of the hike was a mod­er­ate incline that turned into a beau­ti­ful expanse of rolling tun­dra. We long ago passed the tree line so the land­scape is pret­ty bar­ren. After two hours of that we came to Thuk­la ‑a small out­post in the mid­dle of nowhere. From there we head­ed straight up to Lobuche Pass. At the top is where the memo­r­i­al for Scott Fis­ch­er (Climber and Moun­tain Mad­ness Founder) is along with lots of oth­er climbers who have lost their lives. I can only imag­ine how sober­ing that must be for the Ever­est climbers pass­ing through on their way to base camp. The rest of the trek to Lobuche was a small, grad­ual incline and a pret­ty pleas­ant walk.

Amaz­ing­ly the lodge was warmer than expect­ed and packed with climbers and trekkers. We’ve been on the same sched­ule as some Ever­est climbers who are trekking in. They were in our lodge tonight and I start­ed talk­ing to a cou­ple of the guys who are from Seat­tle. Turns out one of them is best friends with a guy who went to the same high school as I, just a year ahead of me. The oth­er guy lives in Enum­claw, not far from our cab­in. Small, small world.

The rest of the night includ­ed a show­er (a reli­gious expe­ri­ence!!), a par­tial game of Phase 10 with two of the Sher­pa’s, din­ner and a 7:30 bedtime.

We had a 5:30am wake up call and were on the trail by 7:15. We are climb­ing to Gorak Shep where we will have a quick snack and then a two hour uphill slog to the top of Kala Patthar (18,500 feet — the peak for this trip) for the best views we’ll have of Ever­est. Then back down to Gorak Shep for the night. Tomor­row we will head to EBC for our final night before we begin our descent.

Climbed Kala Patthar ear­li­er today. It was eas­i­ly one of the hard­est climbs on the trip. Luck­i­ly the weath­er held and when we final­ly arrived to the top the views were beau­ti­ful beyond words. We had the best view of Ever­est we’ve had or will have (you can’t see Ever­est from base camp). Now that’s a hike with a view! We came back down after a ton of pic­tures were tak­en by our group, had lunch and I went to lay down until din­ner. The Sher­pa’s feed us SO much deli­cious food, almost too much. They are so hard work­ing and a kinder, gen­tler group of peo­ple I have nev­er met. Some of the meals we’ve had so far on this trip are veg­gie piz­za (amaz­ing!), apple pie, spring rolls, veg­gie kabobs, dal bhat Chick­en Cur­ry, amaz­ing soups.…all made by a staff of 7 or so from a tent out­side. The head chef, Dambar, is a true artist. He trained at Ever­est base camp under some of the head cooks up there and it shows. The biggest tip we can pay these guys will nev­er be enough.

Tomor­row we head to EBC final­ly!!! One night there and we begin our trek back to Kathmandu

We got up ear­ly in Gorak Shep. I had wok­en in the mid­dle of the night with a mon­ster of a headache and it was no bet­ter upon my morn­ing wak­ing. Deana had said this might hap­pen. It seems I had found my alti­tude lim­it. I had no appetite for break­fast and felt mis­er­ably nau­seous. All signs of mild alti­tude sick­ness. I got my gear togeth­er and met the group out­side after break­fast. The weath­er was beau­ti­ful ‑a blue­bird day, as all the days before had at least begun as well. The hike to the entrance to base camp is approx­i­mate­ly 3 hours of up and down in grav­el, on the Khum­bu glac­i­er. It was sun­ny, but cold and windy and my headache was mak­ing the trip any­thing but fun. But once we reached the Ever­est Base Camp’ rock, emo­tion over­came me. For more than 13 years I have want­ed to come to EBC and here I was. It was a sur­re­al moment that I will nev­er for­get. My only regret is that my hus­band was­n’t there to share it with me. 

We spent the next 30 min­utes — at least — tak­ing every com­bi­na­tion of pic­tures. This is what we came for right?! When we were done we head­ed off to our camp which unbe­liev­ably was anoth­er hour walk with­in camp. It’s that big!

Despite a crack­ing alti­tude headache while I was there, Ever­est Base Camp was still every­thing I had hoped. Sleep­ing in tents on the edge of the Khum­bu Ice­fall was an amaz­ing expe­ri­ence. Lis­ten­ing to the sounds/​and see­ing avalanch­es all around us was awe­some. Hear­ing the glac­i­er pop at nighttime.…wow. The tem­per­a­ture in our tent last night got to 12 degrees and out­side it was 8 degrees. It made that mid­night bath­room run a chal­lenge! But I slept warm­ly and well despite the cold.

We have a few more nights in sleep­ing bags before our final flight back to Kath­man­du. Every­one is ready to get home at this point and I’m no excep­tion. I miss my fam­i­ly, my friends, my life, but it’s been an amaz­ing expe­ri­ence!! Namaste.