After we had our breakfast, we met our assistant guide and porters, got our cameras ready, and headed for Phakding. The excitement of landing at Lukla had just about worn off, and the prospect of a stroll into the heart of the Khumbu region seemed almost dull. This lasted for about thirty seconds until you capture your first glimpse of the incredible landscape.
Day 1: Lukla (2,860m) to Phakding (2,610m)
Deepak, our head guide had made the journey with us from Kathmandu. Our assistant guide, and two porters didn’t really speak English, but were nonetheless extremely friendly, very professional, and had the utmost care for our wellbeing the entire journey. Our two porters, one a young man who was himself venturing to Base Camp for the first time, and the other a veteran of the region, outperformed us in incredible fashion, lugging close to 30-40kgs each day and at times requiring less than half the time we did to reach our daily destination.
Setting off from Lukla to Phakding is a great introduction to the Everest Base Camp trek; it is a very undemanding walk, descending a net of 200 metres to settle at 2,610m for the night. Throughout the day, temperatures, even for February, were very pleasant. I had no need for a fleece or soft shell while walking. We took our time, taking photos and appreciating our entrance into a world most unlike not only the one we had departed that morning, but from our own world we had departed a few days earlier. The trail, at the time of year we walked it, was fairly uncontested, scantly littered with locals, and few bright-eyed trekkers hoping to make their way to Base Camp as well. A number of other, larger groups, filled mostly with older walkers were planning to make their way to Namche as their final destination, a challenge for some in and of itself, but a far more conquerable mission.
We got to our lodge around mid afternoon and initially threw our down jackets on to hang around in the common area of the lodge. It didn’t take long before we realised we had truly demonstrated our lack of experience in the pursuit of higher altitudes. Recommending we save the comfort of our down jackets for far lower temperatures, we traded them for our fleeces in an attempt to familiarise ourselves with the cold as best we could. We were the only trekkers in this lodge, and possibly the town, a surreal experience I’m sure for anyone who has ventured to Base Camp during the far more popular months of April and May. We had great hospitality, fantastic food, and watched a movie broadcast on one of the local tv stations that night. We watched alongside the owners of the lodge, and our trekking guides and porters who all appeared throughly entertained by the performance. Not in English, we were compelled to create our own dialogue to fit the absurdity that was portrayed in true, almost parody action-esque fashion of most movies broadcast in Nepal.
Day 2: Phakding (2,610m) to Namche Bazaar (3,440m)
The trek to Namche Bazaar from Phakding is a long day; ascending 800metres, it’s your first real test of physical fitness and endurance. We set off at about 8am as the sun was beginning to appear from beyond the mountains that shadowed the small town of Phakding. The walk is a lengthy 7-8 hours, crossing a number of long and impressive single file swing bridges; a couple of small villages with a handful of buildings to them; and what seems like an endless conga line of donkeys or Nepalise men carrying loads ten times what we had on our own backs. We passed children going to school, and families whose lives were contained wholly within the confines of their small houses and farming areas. The swing bridges offered great views of the river that flowed amongst the mountains, and gave a great perspective on the villages we walked through.
We got our first glimpse of the summit of Mt Everest after crossing the highest swing bring of the day. The summit showed itself just beyond the reach of a mountain sitting directly in front of our view. The allure of Everest itself had failed to truly grasp me before the trip, through this moment, and even as we descended back to Lukla; however, since returning home, the idea of climbing a mountain has captured my complete mind. As a whole, climbing a mountain like Everest seems utterly impossible; restricted to the elite athletes of the world, those individuals born to conquer physical feats including summits that lay above 8000metres. However, once broken down into small achievable goals, even Everest seems to lay within what nearly anyone is capable of accomplishing. More to this later.
Getting in to Namche was a great feeling. The toughest part of the trek undoubtedly comes at the very latter stages where you ascend a 100metres to the final swing bridge, and then at least another 400metres all the way up to Namche. We took our time getting across the swing bridge, making the most of the great views down the valley. Our journey was however hastened dramatically when we saw a line of thirty or so donkeys, each carrying significant loads, closing in on us form behind.
I didn’t find the day particularly hard, perhaps because I had adjusted my expectations to align with the repeated warnings we had received of the day’s difficulty; but nonetheless, the physical toll was not highly exacting, especially at what is a far lower altitude than most of the trek. Our lodge was great! We had a bathroom within our room, and a Western style toilet at that! The last we were to see until we settled into this room again on our descent. The living/dining area was considerably comfortable, the menu on offer was relatively vast, and the availability of WiFi and a tv made the stay perfect. We also had a number of power points in our room which was handy. It’s hard not to love Namche. Directly to the front of the small town, beyond the Stupa that appears to guard the village, were a number of waterfalls that had frozen in place – a fantastic view to appreciate as we watched the sun set on the day, and a brutal reminder (although not needed) of how cold it truly was once you have stopped moving.