Halfway to the Top of the World and Back

Despite the fact that Darjeeling is pretty close to Nepal we hadn’t been able to find a suitable method of getting from there to Kathmandu easily, so we decided to fly which meant another visit to our least favourite Indian city… Delhi. We had a three hour drive from Darjeeling to the airport and then a relatively stress free flight to Delhi. Once we got to Delhi we had a pretty tough time trying to buy dollars (which we needed to pay for our Nepalese visas), it appears that in India only Indians can buy dollars unless you’re in the departures lounge and you’re only allowed in there 3 hours before your flight. We were pretty anxious about whether or not we’d actually be able to buy them in the departures lounge, so after much insisting (and some dropped comments about how on earth is Delhi expecting to deal with the vast quantities of tourists coming through for the Commonwealth Games later in the year), I was allowed through into departures to change the money while Anthony waited with our bags and the policeman at the entrance.

Mountains in the morning

We arrived in Kathmandu the following day and pretty much started on our mission for trekking supplies straight away. There are so many shops selling fakes that it’s pretty time consuming, we ended up buying a bit of a mixture of fakes and real gear. Fortunately we also discovered that Nepal has some excellent restaurants so we treated ourselves to pizza and milkshakes and felt much better. After two days of shopping for supplies we were finally ready to be on our way. On Tuesday 23rd March we were up early, tickets in hand and on our way to the airport. Unfortunately we spent the entire day waiting for our flight to be called. Due to bad weather at Lukla, our destination, most of the flights ended up being cancelled. The same thing happened on Wednesday, and we began to think we’d never make it there. When we arrived on Thursday at the check in counter we were told that our names weren’t even on their list to fly at all that day! Fortunately the guy at our guest house who sorted out the tickets in the first place managed to pull some strings and get us on a flight with another airline and we actually made it to Lukla!

Day 1 – Lukla (2860m) to Phakding (2610m)
Upon arrival at Lukla airport we dodged the many porters and guides offering their services and found our way to the start of the trek. The first day is a surprisingly easy walk from Lukla down to a little place called Phakding. The guide book said that it was a ‘descent’ but as we were soon to discover, most of the trek is up and down valleys, so any given day in either direction involves a certain amount of climbing and dropping – it’s just that on the way up there’s generally more climbing and on the way down… more dropping! So we made it to Phakding without much trouble and found a tiny room for the night in a fairly average wooden guest house. We had a walk up a nearby hill, had an early dinner of Dal Bhat (the Nepalese staple set meal… rice, dal, veg curry) and got an early night.

Namche BazaarDay 2 – Phakding to Namche Bazaar (3420m)
We were up at 5.30am to beat the crowds (there are a surprisingly large number of people doing this trek!) and walked a couple of hours to a place called Benkar where we stopped for breakfast. We had a pretty nice morning’s walk, staying mainly alongside the Dudh Kosi river, occasionally crossing it on rather terrifying suspension bridges and climbing and dropping in pleasant amounts. After the national park check point at Monjo things started to change and nothing could have prepared us for what was to follow. We’d read in the guidebook that there was a 2 hour ascent to our destination… Namche Bazaar, but we’d assumed that there would be some level ground along the way. There was not. We literally climbed a mountain for 2 hours straight. We surprised ourselves with the fact that if you take it REALLY slowly you don’t actually need to stop too much, so we persevered with taking slow baby steps and eventually made it to the top. One of the things that kept us going in this situation was watching the sherpas along the route. Anthony and I had between 10-13kg each on our backs. The sherpas, who are quite literally half our size, carry between 30-90kg on their backs. We had walking poles and hiking boots, they had no walking prop and either sandals or plimsolls on. They take it slowly, and they stop regularly, but they don’t complain, they don’t trip over and they make it! Watching these men, women (and sometimes even children!) makes you feel as though you have no choice but to keep going.

When we finally made it to Namche Bazaar we found a guest house and had some food. Then we went out exploring, found a bakery and ate lots of treats! We were due to spend two nights in Namche, it was the first of three acclimitisation stops along the way to Base Camp. We both had slight headaches from the altitude so we hit the sack early.

Day 3 – Namche Bazaar
We had planned to do a strenuous acclimitisation trek, but unfortunately during the night I was taken by a rather nasty bout of ‘traveller’s sickness’. I won’t go into detail, but as I had symptoms of altitude sickness in the form of a headache and lethargy as well we weren’t sure how to treat it. I basically slept all day and couldn’t eat anything, so I took medication for altitude sickness and antibiotics to treat the bug. Anthony spent the day wandering around the hills around Namche taking photos, sorting out our money for the rest of the trek and bringing me the most plain food he could find.

Day 4 – Namche Bazaar
We were due to leave for Tengboche today, but I was still pretty weak and couldn’t make it much further than the toilet at the end of the corridor! Gradually throughout the day I managed to eat some food and regained my strength for trekking the following day. Anthony sat around and tried not to look bored! In the end we think the extra day spent at Namche really helped our acclimatisation as neither of us suffered any further symptoms at all.

Day 5 – Namche Bazaar to Tengboche (3870m)
We had breakfast at our guest house and set out. It wasn’t the best morning and I was having some problems with my pack and still didn’t have much energy. The start of the day was relatively flat, followed by a long descent down to another river at a place called Phunki Tenga. We knew we had a steep ascent after Phunki so we stopped for a meal of fried egg, chips and veg fried rice at a place called Evergreen Lodge. When the waitress arrived with the food she put it on the table and proceeded to wipe the fork with her fingers before placing it on the table. She then looked at the knife and, as it clearly wasn’t clean enough for her high standards, walked over to a grubby looking curtain, wiped the knife on it and brought it back! Needless to say we were pretty grateful for our antiseptic wipes during that meal. The afternoon was as horrendous as expected with a very steep 2 hour climb up the side of another mountain to Tengboche, much to our surprise we made it!

Our room at Tengboche was right next door to a sweet shop! It was teenie, tiny and pretty open to the elements, but we loved it! We ate some fantastic chocolate cake at the bakery and spent the afternoon exploring the Tengboche Gompa and trying to stay warm. In the early evening we explored a little further and found some memorials to climbers who have died in the Himalaya. It was pretty spooky as the whole mountain was surrounded in a fog and you couldn’t see that if you took one wrong step you’d probably plummet to your death!

Prayer wheels in the snowDay 6 – Tengboche to Pangboche (3860m)
We were supposed to stay an extra day in Tengboche, but they didn’t have any room at our guest house, so we decided on an easy walk to Pangboche which is at a similar elevation. Fortunately it was only a couple of hours walk as when we were on the approach to Pangboche it began to rain. We managed to find a room at a guest house just as a huge snowstorm set in for the afternoon. We sat in the freezing cold dining room and wondered if we’d be able to go any further on the trek. Most guest houses don’t start to heat the dining room (the only room that is heated) until at least 4pm, so if you arrive any earlier, your only real options are to go out for a walk to stay warm or wrap up in everything you own. Once the storm stopped we went out for a little walk and took some photos of the newly snow-dusted mountains.

Day 7 – Pangboche to Pheriche (4240m)
Fortunately most of the snow melted overnight, so we were able to continue on to Pheriche as planned. We wrapped up in everything we had and were on our way. Annoyingly after a short while we had to keep stopping to take off different layers as we got too hot! We missed the turn to Pheriche because it was so unclear, but fortunately managed to pick it up again. The walk around the side of a hill on a narrow trail into Pheriche was pretty precarious. Pheriche lies in a valley and the wind really whips up it very quickly. We had to cross the worst bridge we saw on the whole trek, it actually had a hole the size of a person in it. Once we made it we were happy though, we had a great room (comparatively) at a really nice guest house with a very cozy sunroom and lovely restaurant.

Day 8 – Acclimatisation day in Pheriche – trek to Chhukung (4730m) and back
We decided to head to Chhukung for our acclimatisation day in Pheriche. It ended up being a lot further than we expected and a much more challenging walk, but it was worth doing and we think it made the rest of the trek easier! Once we reached Pheriche we had made it above the treeline, so the tracks had changed from mainly dirt with some rock, to moraines which are primarily rocky and therefore pretty tough on the ankles. We made it back to Pheriche in time for the daily presentation on altitude sickness that’s put on by the volunteer doctors who work out of the clinic in Pheriche. It was really informative and entertaining. The American doctor who did the talk had actually written a country music style song about altitude sickness that she subjected us all to at the end!

Day 9 – Pheriche to Dughla (4620m)
This was a two hour steady up hill climb through the valley. The going was pretty tough as we were walking entirely on the moraines, but we made it to Dughla pretty early. There are only two places to stay in Dughla and most groups pass through and continue on up to Lobuche. The problem with doing that is that you climb nearly twice the recommended altitude in a day. So we secured a room at Dughla and then walked on to Lobuche as extra acclimitisation preparation and to check out what we had in store for the next day.

Day 10 – Dughla to Lobuche (4930m)
We had a bit of trouble sleeping in Dughla, due to both the freezing temperatures and the loud German men in the two rooms next door who seemed to think it was appropriate to have conversations through the walls. So we were up pretty early, had breakfast and headed off. The trail from Dughla leads directly up the steepest slope yet. It’s hard going and probably 200m up, but because it’s so steep it doesn’t take THAT long. At least we knew that once we reached the top it was pretty flat to Lobuche, but by this stage of the trek even walking on flat ground was getting pretty exhausting because the altitude was making it progressively more difficult to breathe. Nevertheless we made it to Lobuche in about 1.5hrs and made our way to the guest house we’d booked the night before. We got talking to a Kiwi guy who takes groups up to the summit of Mt. Everest, he was the first and only person we met and talked to who has actually climbed to the summit! It was pretty interesting chatting to him and he gave us loads of advice and tips. In the afternoon, we walked around to the Italian Pyramid which is a high altitude research station just a little further along the trail. It wasn’t really that interesting, just in a little windy valley that was freezing cold! We headed back for dinner and more conversation with our Kiwi friend.

Day 11 – Lobuche to Gorak Shep (5160m) AND Base Camp (5360m)
We knew this was going to be a tough day, so we set off early. Unfortunately we didn’t realise just how tough the walk from Lobuche to Gorak Shep was going to be. We had decided to have breakfast once we arrived in Gorak Shep and before we made our way to Base Camp which was a huge mistake. The map looked as though we had a small incline to Gorak Shep, but in reality it was up and down massive rocky moraines for two hours. Unfortunately I was taken by another bout of ‘traveller’s sickness’ so had to keep running behind any available rock before the Immodium kicked in! Pretty embarrassing given the number of groups and sherpas wandering around. At this stage of the trek there wasn’t always an exact path, so people can pop up from anywhere! I can laugh about it now, but at the time it wasn’t pleasant…

We made it!Eventually we arrived at Gorak Shep and found a room. We then ate a massive meal and headed off on the 6hr return journey to Base Camp. Base Camp isn’t at all what we expected – we thought it was going to be like a little tent village with all the tents clustered together. In reality it covers a huge area of glacier. The ice is covered by rocks in some places and in others only by a thin layer of dirt. It’s pretty precarious wandering around and you don’t realise how close you are to the ice until you slip on it! (For those of you who remember The Golden Compass it was a bit like when Lyra crosses the ice bridge at the end of the film!) We spent about 2 hours wandering around, it’s now just coming into the season when people attempt to summit, so there was a lot of tent construction going on, and not that many mountaineers. Our guidebook mentioned a mobile bakery that serves the best apple pie in Nepal… we had been counting on this for a bit of energy before the walk back, but unfortunately we couldn’t find it and noone seemed to have heard of it!

We started on our way back at about 3.30pm and appeared to be the only trekkers left. We ran into a French guy practically running over the rocks and ice in search of his guide. He couldn’t find him, so we told him to walk in front of us so that at least he wasn’t on his own. The walk is quite dangerous in places – you walk along the top of a rocky moraine and if you slipped too far to either side you’d probably end up falling to your death. Once we got back to Gorak Shep he found his guide sitting in the kitchen playing cards, he just shrugged his shoulders and said that he’d got cold waiting, so he left! We were gobsmacked!!!

Anthony on Kala PattharDay 12 – Kala Patthar (5545m) and Gorak Shep to Pheriche
We knew we needed an early start to climb the 200m to the top of Kala Patthar (before the sun rose over Everest) which promised to offer the best view of Everest (which you can’t actually see from Base Camp) and the surrounding mountains. So we set off at 5.30am and began the climb. Unfortunately once we’d climbed 200m we realised that the summit was not where we had initially thought, but much higher up. The guide book was rather misleading and the first 200m we had climbed was only to a ‘ridge’ before the actual 200m climb to the summit began. Anthony made a valiant effort to reach the summit before the sun rose over Everest. I have NO idea how he managed to dash up hill so quickly. Not only was it incredibly steep and rocky, but we were close to 5500m high and the air is so thin you can hardly breathe when you’re standing still! On the way up we heard what sounded like a massive long-lasting explosion and we turned to see a huge avalanche from the side of Lhotse. It was about 2 kilometres away over the other side of the glacier but was stunning to watch. Unfortunately we missed the sun rise by about 15 minutes but we still had spectacular views and sat around for about 45 mins until we got too cold and had to descend.

The photos we have simply can’t do this view justice. You are sitting at what feels like the top of the world, looking down at base camp, looking directly ahead of you to Everest, Nuptse and Lhotse. These are the highest mountains in the world and it’s one of the most beautiful and peaceful places I’ve ever been. The view was everything we expected it to be and more and was the perfect finish to the trek… now all we had to do was get back!

After our climb down we had a difficult 3 hours back down (and obviously some up!) the rocky slopes to Pheriche. The wind was blowing relentlessly into our faces the whole way down so we covered up and made our way as quickly as we could.

Day 13 and Day 14 – Pheriche to Namche Bazaar and Namche Bazaar to Lukla
Not too much of interest happened on the way back down. Due to the fact that you’re losing, rather than gaining altitude and can breathe much more easily, you can cover a lot more ground so I think we ended up being more physically tired on the way down than the way up! On the walk from Tengboche to Namche Bazaar we realised just how steep the descent was that we’d climbed only a few days before – we were both impressed that we’d made it! We found most of the ascents pretty easy, we’d improved our fitness and we knew how quickly we could walk up, so we were pretty happy to be on our way back.

The final day was pretty tough, we’d forgotten how much of an ascent there was from Phakding to Lukla and we kept thinking we were just around the corner from the end, but there always seemed to be another hill to walk around or over. The pace we’d made over the past two days meant that we were pretty exhausted and ready for a shower, a decent meal and bed. It was amazing how much the environment had changed. In the past few days it seemed that winter had turned into spring and, although we were retracing our steps, the huge amount of blossoming flowers made our walk feel much more pleasant. When we finally made it to Lukla we sorted out our flights for the following day, ate dinner and went to bed dreaming of showers and the pizza and cocktails we’d have in Kathmandu the following day.

Unfortunately we had similar issues on the way back as we did on the way there. We spent the day at the airport, only to have our flight cancelled. The next day looked promising, but things slowly got worse, we thought we were on the third flight… but found out that we were actually on the third ‘phase’ of flights, which meant the 5th or 6th flight. It started to look as though we weren’t going to make it on our original airline, so we bought tickets on another airline (our original ones were open tickets so we could get a full refund in Kathmandu). We managed to get on a plane and had the most horrible flight imagineable. I nearly threw up about 5 times due to the turbulence. But we made it back, had a shower (which was very, very necessary!) and went out for pizza!

Here are plenty of pictures from our trek.

Alexandra Written by:


  1. Heather
    April 12

    Oh my god it is absolutely amazing but there is no way in this world you would have got me going over those bridges. Also all the way down i would just be falling over or scared about falling over. This bit of your trip is definately not for me, it scares me reading about it. Pics are really really stunning though, I’m glad you made it there and back! Al is very jealous, he would love to do this!


    • Alexandra
      June 20

      Yes… you would have freaked out! I nearly fell over so many times on the way down, it was pretty dangerous in places, I can’t believe both of my dodgy ankles held up!

  2. D Morldren
    April 13

    Well done guys!
    Really amazing experience, and the photos are amazing.
    It was worth the wait to read all this.
    Hope you guys aren’t too exhausted – well done for the epic blogging!
    DW – bless you for the embarrassing honesty!
    Miss you!

    • Alexandra
      June 20

      It was a pretty long write up, but we couldn’t make it any shorter! Funny you should mention the toilet talk, Anthony thought I was mad… but I think it’s all just part of the story 😀

  3. Annika
    April 19

    Amazing amazing amazing. You two are the best. This makes our lives look so boring and simple.
    I so know what you are talking about running for a toilet on a barren mountain. Imagine that with your brother and father behind you laughing their heads off. Not nice but makes a fun story after!!
    Hope you enjoy some warmth and chilling out in Vietnam and Oz!
    Anni x

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