Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Guide to the Everest Base Camp Trek: Part Four

For previous installments of this Everest Base Camp trekking guide, see: Part OnePart Two, and Part Three.

Day 6

Itinerary: Acclimatization day hike around Dingboche/Pheriche

This is the second of the two mandatory acclimatization days for the Everest Base Camp trek, and there are a few options for day hikes. These include: an easy 30-minute hop over the hill that separates Pheriche and Dingboche; a longer and more strenuous climb to Dingboche's highest point, with views of Makalu to the east; and a 5-6 hour round-trip hike to the village of Chhukung.

We chose the last option because the trail ascends gradually, and we figured it would be the kindest route for my knee. The trail was indeed gentle, and it was a very pleasant walk. The sky was clear, the sun was strong, and the scenery was fantastic.

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At this altitude we were above the tree line, where the dry, shrubby vegetation is a dramatic contrast to the glacial mountains.


While easy to follow, the route is not incredibly well signposted, as there is not much for settlements in this area. We believe that we made it to the town of Bibre (marked by a single teahouse and located just 30 minutes shy of Chhukung, according to Lonely Planet), where we decided that we had seen what there was to see and fulfilled the "climb high" commandment. We found ourselves in good company with others who were ending at the teahouse.

After a short break, we made our way back to our Peaceful Lodge in Dingboche for lunch. Then we hurried to the one shower for our last dose of hot water for a couple days. It was just a bucket shower (Peaceful Lodge was all out of gas for the geyser), but I savored it.

That evening we finalized arrangements for our porter/guide. The owner of the lodge called up his brother-in-law, a seasoned guide who happened to have a couple unscheduled weeks and was available to accompany us. Enter Lhakpa!

Lhakpa is Sherpa and works for a trekking agency in Kathmandu, but he sometimes is available to be hired directly. He speaks very good English, and we felt instantly comfortable with him and knew that we would be in good hands. That evening Lhakpa arrived from his home in nearby Pangboche carrying his own large pack, and we discussed what he could carry (most of my stuff and a lot of Brian's too) and our itinerary for the remainder of the trek.

Hiring Lhakpa was an excellent decision. Although we had no trouble carrying our own gear and managing the trek on the Annapurna Circuit, the Everest Base Camp trek proved different for a couple reasons. One, the colder temperatures meant that we were carrying heavy down jackets and four-season sleeping bags; this additional weight made a big difference in our comfort levels, especially as we hiked at higher altitudes. Two, competition for rooms can be fiercer on this trek. Lhakpa would run ahead of us to ensure that we had a room in the small towns like Lobuche and Gorak Shep, where the few lodges frequently fill up because of large groups that have advance reservations. If there are no rooms available, you may get stuck sleeping on a dining room floor or even in a tent.

On a side note: during that climb to Tengboche, I quickly forgot my feelings of superiority and focused only on my jealousy as I watched most people, including the youngest and fittest men, carry little else but water in a day pack. The vast majority of trekkers on this trail used hired porters and guides. After doing so ourselves, we agree. Yes, hiring Lhakpa was a great decision.

We highly recommend Lhakpa, and if you are interested in hiring him for a trek in the Everest region, you can find him through the contact information below. We suggest you reach out to him early, though, as we suspect that he is quite busy during October/November and March/April. If you need additional porters for carrying your gear, he can easily arrange them too. Note that a porter should carry no more than 30 kg, which typically amounts to the gear for two trekkers; you should carry any additional weight yourself. Also note that you should not give your porter a roller-bag suitcase to carry strapped to his back (I wouldn't say this if I hadn't seen it).

Contact Information for Everest Region Trekking Guide
Name: Lhakpa Tshiring
Home number (try this first): +977-9803922519
Mobile number: +977-9808583856

Day 7

Itinerary: Dingboche to Lobuche

Maybe it was the stunning scenery, or maybe it was Lhakpa, but I found this segment of the trek to be my favorite day of hiking. How's this for a backyard view?

We departed Dingboche by hiking up the steep hill that leads to Pheriche. Once we reached the ridge, we caught a peek of Pheriche below.

After this steep but short scramble, the trail flattened out, and it was a pleasant walk to Dughla (also known as Tukkla), which we reached after a quick 90 minutes from leaving Dingboche.

We had to look at this the whole time.

At Dughla we had a scenic tea break.

Although Lonely Planet recommends spending a night in tiny Dughla for acclimatization, everyone we met continued directly to Lobuche. From Dughla the trail ascends the gravelly terminal moraine of the Khumbu Glacier, and the steep ascent took us about 45 minutes.

This view rewarded us at the top.

Here we also saw a collection of memorials to climbers, including this one to Scott Fischer, an expedition leader who died in the 1996 disaster on Everest chronicled in Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air.

After this ascent, the trail is mostly flat on the final stretch to Lobuche.

When we arrived in Lobuche, we were struck by its setting, which is stunning and inhospitable at the same time. Below is the view from a ridge above Lobuche. We climbed up the steep hill in the afternoon to get a better view and aid our acclimatization.

Lhakpa confirmed that Lobuche exists solely for trekkers, and lodge staff pack up and retreat to lower elevations during the off seasons in winter and summer.

Speaking of lodges. In Lobuche we stayed at Hotel National Park, which we firmly do not recommend. No accommodation is going to be a prize at 4930 meters, but this place was especially unpleasant. The walls were paper thin, so the temperature inside our room was 39 degrees F when we went to bed and 32 degrees F when we woke up the next morning. The lodge restaurant was also extraordinarily slow and disorganized. We waited for over an hour -- a very painful, hungry hour -- before our lunch arrived the first day, and the next morning Brian went back into the kitchen multiple times to check on our breakfast. Finally, he emerged carrying our boiled eggs, which he may or may not have cooked himself.

We readily admit, though, that at this point on the trek the conditions are generally uncomfortable, even aside from a bad teahouse. The high altitude is likely to cause mild headaches (or worse: within the course of about 45 minutes in Lobuche we saw two helicopters evacuate trekkers with severe altitude sickness); the freezing cold water makes you wonder whether hand washing and teeth brushing are really necessary; and middle-of-the-night bathroom trips inflict psychological and physical torture as you ponder whether it is really worth leaving your sleeping bag for the sake of your bladder.

Needless to say, we were feeling antsy for the next two days, which would represent the "peak" of the trek and, we hoped, make all of this discomfort well worth it.

Continue reading: Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, and Tips of the Trail.

See also: Everest Base Camp Trek vs. Annapurna Circuit Trek.

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