Three days into the journey to Everest Bsae camp and we find ourselves in Namche Bazaar. The de facto capital of the region, the staging hub for climbers and trekkers alike, and the largest market in the region. But first, let me recall the trip up to this point.
Getting to the mountain.
We had a 530am wake up call in order to get to the airport in time for our 615am flight to Lukla. The regional planes, depart from a small terminal off to the side of the main airport. The terminal was something else – one part shanty, one part shack, and one part old school airport from the 60’s, with some flat screen TVs peppered along the wall. Before passengers are allowed to fly to Lukla, a test flight must successfully take off and land on the runway. After hearing all the stories about plane crashes, near misses, and dangerous landings, we were about to take our chances with the world’s #1 most dangerous airport. Due to “weather on the mountain” our flight was delayed until about 9am. When we finally got the all clear, we went through the gate, hopped onto an ancient bus and drove 5 minutes to meet our little 15 passsenger twin prop plane. It was a scene right out of a movie, the pilot arrived and it was immediately apparent that he was the “cool guy.” With slicked back hair, leather jacket, and aviator glasses he made his rounds inspecting the plane, kicking a tire for good measure, before giving the thumbs up. What followed next was one of the most amazing flights of my life. Once we got off the ground, we had a low flying, birds eye view of the Kathmandu valley as we headed east to Lukla. Looking out the left side window, there was an uninterrupted line of mountains off in the distance which continued to grow ever higher. Just when you though you saw the highest peak, we’d round a corner and there would be one even higher. After about 40 minutes in our tin can with wings we began to make our approach. Out of the piolet’s widow I caught a glimpse of the runway, a short little strip of black amidst a sea of green. At the beginning of the runway was a cliff and at the end was a mountain – leaving little room for forgiveness. The runway is built on a hill such that planes land going uphill to slow down faster since the runway is otherwise too short (conversely, planes take off downhill to build up enough speed for takeoff). As we began our descent, I looked out the window and saw a mountain peak about 150 feet below us. As soon as we cleared the peak the plane steeply dove downwards, in order to come even with the runway. At the last minute, the piolet pulled up and we were on the ground, quickly slowing down as we rolled towards the mountain at the end of the runway. After a round of applause for the pilot, we deplaned as were off to meet our guide, Bishnu.
Bishnu, is perhaps my favorite person in Nepal. He is short, coming only as high as my shoulder, has crooked teeth, but loves to smile, and speaks surprisingly good English. Turns out, he has been a guide for almost 9 years and has already led 3 treks this year. He is 36 years old, lives in a small town a 2-3 day walk from Lukla, and has 2 little girls.
After meeting our guide, we grab a quick breakfast and begin our hike! We walk through Lukla, past a “Starbucks,” countless shops selling hiking gear, and we ultimately pass under an arch dedicated to the first female Sherpa to summit Everest before we reach the trail. For the next 3 hours we head largely downhill through the countryside. We walk by farm after farm and small village after small village on our way to Phakding. The road is incredibly dusty and is filled with porters, Yaks, and trekkers. It is safe to say that I haven’t ever seen anything quite like this before – small houses and farms scattered throughout the narrow gap between two mountains on either side. At the bottom of the valley lies perhaps the prettiest river I’ve ever seen – If you’ve ever wondered where the Crayola color “glacier blue” comes from, I think I found the source. We stroll into Phakding around 130 pm and make our way to our first tea house – the small lodges for trekkers in the Himalayas. I have to admit, I was somewhat surprised that we were done hiking for the day since it was so early but I wasn’t going to complain. Given the early start to the day, we were more than happy to turn in early for the evening and rest up for the big day tomorrow.
Depending on who you ask, the hike to Namche is perhaps the toughest day on the trek. It is only a 5 hour day of hiking, but the final 2 hours are straight up. We began our morning of hiking around 8 and headed off towards the town of Monjo about 2 hours down the trail. The walk was uneventful, but the sights were spectacular. There were more amazing river reviews, soaring peaks, and waterfalls over 100ft tall. Here is where we got to meet our first real hanging bridge. We crossed one on the way to Phakding but it wasn’t anything special. Even though the bridges are made of metal, something about sharing them with a train of yaks is still unsettling when you are 75 feet above a raging river. Just beyond Monjo we reached the entrance to Sagarmatha National park. This is when it finally hits me that this is real. Up until now, given all the struggles we faced getting to Nepal, everything was a bit surreal, but now it’s actually happening. Through the gates we descend into a green valley (it sort of reminds me of the opening scene of Jurassic park where the helicopter flies past the waterfall into the valley) and followed the river until we reach edtwo hanging bridges about 300 and 400feet above the river. Naturally, we need to cross the higher one and so we huff and puff our way to the bridge. This marks the beginning of what would become a 2 hour climb straight up the side of the mountain. This leg of the hike was nothing short of painful and a test of ones endurance – no amount of practice on a stair master would have helped. By the time we were near the top, my legs were screaming at me, I was huffing and puffing like no other, and I was taking a break every 3 minutes. This was the point I regretted carrying my own backpack, 100%. What made the ascent so difficult was the stairs and the massive steps required between rocks. Amazingly, after what seemed like an eternity, we make it to the top of the hill, past a security check post, and ascend into the famous Namche Bazaar.