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Himalaya preparation diary

Himalaya 2018

'It is better to travel well than to arrive'

"Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion."
Anatoli Boukreev

May 2018
I must have been about 6 years old when I found out the highest place on Earth was a mountain called Everest, which was situated in a vast frozen mountain range in a small, land-locked, secretive country. I felt compelled to one day go there. I also found out that my grandfather fought alongside the Ghurka Rifles in WWII and got on very well with them due to their mutual height (around 5'6", as am I) and fighting spirit - my grandfather also boxed for his regiment.
As a stupid youth I had dreams of just getting a plane and climbing the mountain by myself, with perhaps some sandwiches, a flask of tea and a few thick jumpers - oh don't forget a hat! The enormity of the task, the logistics, the costs and the perils of hypothermia and altitude sickness never even occurred to me. Thank goodness I never tried but shame on me for never actually getting to Nepal even though I once visited India.

Everest in the middle of this jaw dropping view from Kala Pattar (Black Hill) which I hope to scale on the 21st day.

Now I finally have the time and means to actually go before I am physically unable to, so I have bought my flight tickets and I have nearly all the planning done. It's going to cost the best part of 3000, what with equipment and everything - cheap at twice the price.

My first real look at trekking to Everest Base Camp (EBC) made me realise it has become a bit of a gap year thing with lots of people heading there during the peak months of October to mid November. Many of these people (around 30%) do not make it. They either get too tired, too ill or more likely they suffer from Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) caused by ascending too high too fast. People actually die doing this and many more do themselves serious harm and are evacuated by helicopter. Many people have very little experience of hiking so all too often these holidays end in misery. I don't intend for that to happen to me so I have done my research and I'm going out of my way to look after myself.
The fact that so many people without any idea still go ahead with the EBC trek made me look harder at what I wanted to achieve.

1. A real physical challenge of course, a real effort is a basic requirement but at a relaxed pace - I'm giving myself plenty of time for rest, acclimatisation and for side trips to explore all parts of the region.
2. Beautiful views are of course guaranteed as long as the weather is good so I needed to go at a time of year when the skies are generally clear.
3. Nepal is great for wildlife with over 650 species of bird to see plus I wanted to be up where the eagles, snow leopards and yeti live.
4. Get some proper solitude in the mountains, some serious peace and quiet and the freedom of being in charge of what I do, where I go and how I do it.
5. Learn about Nepali food and cooking and actually try to help in the kitchens of some of the teahouses.
6. To accomplish my whole itinerary without injury or illness.

The Khumbu Ice fall. One of the highlights as far as I'm concerned.

To fulfil all of these requirements the answer seemed obvious - go by myself, during the winter, and do the far harder trek that crosses the 3 main valleys of the Khumbu region. This is known as the Three Passes Trek and it will mean spending 10 days above 4,000m with the highest point being 5,550m (18,200 ft). Apart from minor inconveniences such as: earthquake, landslide, avalanche, crevasse, altitude, wild animals, snow blindness and diseases including rabies, the only real problem is the night-time temperatures of possibly -30oC.

A kit list that includes a very warm sleeping bag and a proper down jacket to cope with arctic temperatures is required. This kit list must supply all you NEED for 6 weeks in the mountains and should not include all the things you WANT. It must be as light as possible as once the high altitude starts to hit you the pack on your back will begin to double in weight. I aim to carry under 8kg of kit and keep a very environmentally kind footprint. I aim to eat what the locals eat and to purify my drinking water as I go along.

I don't get on with flying. No, really! I will need to be sedated by prescription when I board the flight from the UK as I get very anxious and start talking about bombs and terrorists and crashing - basically freaking out big-style. This behaviour is very likely to get me thrown off the plane and arrested nowadays. Most trekkers to EBC also take an internal flight east from Kathmandu to the town of Lukla - BUT Lukla Airport is one of the most terrifying in the world. It is on a small terrace on the side of a mountain and I WILL NOT BE GOING THERE.

Lukla Airport. No thank you!

Instead I have decided to take the even more dangerous 10 hour bus journey to a place called Shivalaya and walk to Lukla instead. That takes at least 6 days and is the route that Hillary & Tenzing followed when they climbed Everest. The 'walk in' as it is known, is an ideal way to acclimatise properly to the altitude and also a great way to get even fitter for when you reach the high mountains. It's a less well-travelled route now which means it is very quiet and very cheap and I will have better contact with the local people instead of with loads of 20 somethings with bluetooth speakers all shouting WOO HOO!

From Lukla I will walk the Three Passes Trek for around 21 days in a big circle to get back to Lukla where I will once again walk 6 days back to Shivalaya and get the bus back to Kathmandu, a total of about 210 miles walking. The whole expedition should take around 39 days (including rest/acclimatisation days and side trips) but I have given myself 42. Christmas eve and Christmas morning will be spent at Namche Bazaar which will be perfect as I can communicate with the rest of the world from there, have a hot shower and it will probably be snowing! I expect to do the 'walk out' faster than the 'walk in' as I should be very fit, acclimatised and used to hard trekking every day for 5 weeks by then. If that happens then I will get back to Kathmandu with extra time for sightseeing.

 A rough altitude profile for the whole trek. I will spend over 10 days above 4700m (if I make it that far).
Distances in Nepal are measured in days but I have tried to work out mileage too.

Day # Section Hrs  miles Alt(m)
1 Flight from UK      
2 Arrive Kathmandu     1400
3 Bus to Shivalaya  10:00 0 1790
4 Shivalaya to Deurali 03:00   2705
  Deurali to Bhandar 01:00 4.8 2200
5 Bhandar to Kinja 03:00   1630
  Kinja to Chimbu 02:00   2170
  Chimbu to Sete 01:30 7.6 2520
6 Sete to Goyum 02:00   3060
  Goyum to Lamjura Bhanjyang 02:30   3530
  Lamjura Bhanjyang to Junbesi 02:30 8.2 2680
7 Rest day. Junbesi - Thubten Chholing Monastery 03:00 4 3000
8 Junbesi to Salung 01:30   2860
  Salung to Ringmo 01:30   2720
  Ringmo to Trakshindu La 01:00   3070
  Trakshindu La to Nunthala 02:15 10 2220
9 Nunthala to Jubing 02:15   1680
  Jubing to Khari Khola 01:45   2010
  Khari Khola to Bupsa 01:00 6.7 2360
10 Bupsa to Paiya La 03:15   2805
  Paiya to Pakhepani 01:15   2800
  Pakhepani to Surkhe 01:00 8 2290
11 Surkhe to Cheplung 02:00   2700
  Cheplung to Phakding (or Jorsale) 01:45 5.8 2610
12 Phakding (or Jorsale) to Benkar 01:30   2610
  Benkar to Monjo 01:00   2840
  Monjo to Namche Bazaar 03:00 6.6 3400
13 Acclimatisation - Hike to Chhorkung, Khumjung & Khunde 03:00 4.6 3400
14 Namche Bazaar to Sanasa 01:00   3600
  Sanasa to Phunki Thenga 01:30   3250
  Phunki Thenga to Tengboche monastery (and bakery) 01:30   3870
  Tengboche to Pangboche 01:15 6.1 3860
15 Acclimatisation day - Ama Dablam Base Camp. 06:00 6 4580
16 Pangboche to Orsho 01:15   4010
  Orsho to Dingboche 01:00 4.4 4350
17 Dingboche to Chhukung 03:00 2.7 4730
18 Rest day in Chhukung 0 0 4730
19 Acclimatisation day Chhukung Ri  06:00 4 5550
20 Chhukung to Bibre and Kongma La 04:00   5535
  Kongma La to Lobuche 03:00 5.8 4930
21 Lobuche to Gorak Shep 02:30   5160
  Gorak Shep to Kala Pattar summit and back 02:00 5 5545
22 Gorak Shep to EBC & Khumbu Icefall and back 07:00   5340
  Gorak Shep to Lobuche 02:30 8.6 4930
23 Rest day in Lobuche 02:00   4930
24 Lobuche to Dzonglha 03:00 3.9 4830
25 Dzonglha to Cho La 03:00   5420
  Cho La to Dragnag   03:00 4.7 4750
26 Dragnag to Gokyo 02:00 2.3 4677
27 Acclimatisation day Gokyo Lakes   06:00 12.3 5194
28 Acclimatisation day Gokyo Ri  03:00 2.2 5360
29 Gokyo to Renjo La 03:00   5345
  Renjo La to Lumde/Marulung 03:00   4200
30 Lumde/Marulung to Thame 03:00 12.8 3750
31 Thame to Namche Bazaar 03:00 5.2 3400
32 Namche Bazaar to Monjo 03:00   2840
  Monjo to Benkar 01:00   2710
  Benkar to Phakding 01:30 6.6 2610
33 Phakding to Cheplung 01:15   2694
  Cheplung to Surkhe 01:15 5.8 2290
34 Surkhe to Pakhepani 01:00   2800
  Pakhepani to Paiya La 01:15   2770
  Paiya to Bupsa 03:15 8 2360
35 Bupsa to Khari Khola 01:00   2010
  Khari Khola to Jubing 01:45   1680
  Jubing to Nunthala 02:15 6.9 2220
36 Nunthala to Trakshindu La 02:15   3070
  Trakshindu La to Ringmo 01:00   2720
  Ringmo to Salung 01:30   2860
  Salung to Junbesi 01:30 10.1 2680
37 Junbesi to Lamjura Bhanjyang 02:00   3530
  Lamjura Bhanjyang to Goyum 02:30   3060
  Goyum to Sete 02:00 8.2 2520
38 Sete to Chimbu 01:30   2170
  Chimbu to Kinja 02:00   1630
  Kinja to Bhandar 03:00 7.6 2200
39 Bhandar to Shivalaya 04:00 4.8 1790
40 Bus to Kathmandu 10:00   1400
41 Souvenir shopping / sightseeing     1400
42 Flight home 13:20   1310
  Total miles 210  

I am probably fit enough for this trek as I do long hikes every week (and have done so for years) and will be doing several more UK mountain trips between now and my flight. However, I am starting on a bit of an extra health regime for the next 6 months which includes: daily workouts at home using several fitness apps, walking around everywhere with a 12kg pack on my back and losing just a few kg from around my waist. I am concentrating on core strength, shoulders, back and of course legs.
I'm a UK Mountain Leader who regularly takes young people into mountains and along trails in the UK so I have little doubt of my abilities - however, this is a foreign country and a dangerous environment so I have done a lot of research. I will be taking advice from locals along the way plus I have maps and Gaia GPS. The Khumbu and Ngozumba Glaciers need to be crossed and the route changes all the time due to them moving at about a metre a day.  Glaciers are not usually flat areas of ice - they can be completely smashed and contorted and covered in rocks. Very challenging places to walk. The passes and glaciers are usually navigable but if you suffer any ailment along the way and are alone then the perils become far more obvious.

The view from the summit of Gokyo Ri with the mighty Ngozumba Glacier flowing past.

Let me tell you a bit about trekking in Nepal and how it works. The walking usually starts in the morning around 8am to get the best weather and is usually finished by 2-3pm. You stay the night in small, remote mountain hamlets in places called teahouses. These are hostels made of wood and local stone run by the local people where they serve basic hot food, supply bed and blankets, boiled water and take care of you as much as they can. The views from your window are some of the greatest in the world. The teahouses at high altitude are very basic indeed and are warmed by a single yak dung fuelled fire. There is no need to camp or carry your own food, there are toilets in (or outside) the teahouses and you can mostly find a teahouse to have a midday lunch in while you are trekking. Nowadays they will even charge your phone and camera (solar power and hydro-electric is used) and many have an internet connection. In conclusion; Nepal is widely known as a hiking heaven and I'm chomping at the bit to ascend!


Go to my Himalaya diary to see my preparation and planning.

The purpose of walking is 'not to arrive but just to walk, one step after another'.
Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh

'When walking, just walk'

Take the time to read the countryside code for yourself and please stick to it at all times.