I’m Lynne Darley, Office Manager at Satmap Systems Ltd since 2008. We are an outdoor company and I love the outdoors. Having completed the Inca Trail 18 months ago, I thought a greater challenge would be to attempt Everest Base Camp, a challenge in itself, notwithstanding the extreme weather conditions. I went at the end of January 2020 and most nights were -15. Not just ice on the inside walls and ceilings of the tea houses, but on my sleeping bag too! It went beyond cold with no heating whatsoever in any of the ‘shed like’ bedrooms. If we were lucky then a fire would be lit in the communal area for around 2 hours. After 10 hour days trekking, climbing, slipping and generally being totally out of my comfort zone, this was difficult to say the least.
The terrain was rarely flat, at best it was undulating and at worst it went beyond steep. The icy conditions made it very hazardous.
My Satmap Active20 was my ‘best friend’ – I ended up loaning it to not only the three Sherpas who were guiding us, but to the others in my party too. The battery in the device, which had been charged before I left, lasted the entire 13 days with the help of the Power Traveller Falcon 12E. I didn’t turn the device off even once and it was constantly being used. Plus it withstood the extreme cold temperatures. It won many admirers and I even made a few sales along the way.
The trek started on the 27th January. Having waited for several hours at Kathmandu airport for the 20 minute flight to Lukla airport, it was deemed too dangerous as fog was hanging around. The group of 8 decided instead to hire two helicopters instead, missing out Lukla airport and landing instead at Phakding, our first overnight stop and 2610 metres above sea level. No altitude acclimatisation for us then.
The trek started in earnest early the next morning, heading towards Namche Bazaar at a height of 3400m. The trail meandered along the river through pine forests, over narrow gorges and through the entrance to the Khumbu National Park. It was a day of crossing rivers, before reaching a confluence of rivers, one coming down from Thame and the other from the Khumbu.
Namche Bazaar is known as the Sherpa capital, it has many lodges and the Sherpa people are very adept at working out what visitors need. The sting in the tale is that most places were closed as January is a quiet month for trekking.
It is tucked away between two ridges amongst the giant peaks of the Khumbu
The following day was the first of what was called ‘a rest day’. Believe me, the Nepalese guides have absolutely no idea what rest day means! We were taken on an acclimatisation trek, the idea that we were to keep going higher then coming back down to sleep. The trek lasted around 5 hours, it was steep and it was icy. We reached the Everest View Hotel before going on to the village of Khumjung (3780m). We had superb views of Ama Dablam, Nuptse, Lhotse and of course Everest.
Next morning the steep uphill trek took us to Thyangboche (3860m) which is on a ridge below the north ridge of Kang Taiga. The scenery was spectacular. I could not believe I was in the Himalayas, the sheer scale of just about everything blew me away.
Thyangboche is home to one of Nepal’s finest monasteries, it’s a pity that the Tea Lodges didn’t follow suit. This one being particularly bad. Also, it was at this point, that the water pipes froze which meant we were unable to wash even our hands for around 10 days. Cleaning teeth meant spitting into a tissue. Wet wipes froze solid, as did toothpaste and any creams in holdalls, such a moisturiser, exploded.
I ended up having, not only my clothes for the following day in my sleeping bag, but wet wipes, phone, charger, camera etc.
After breakfast the following day we trekked for 3 hours to the village of Pangboche, where there is the oldest monastery in the Khumbu. A further 5 hours of trekking took us to Dingboche (4410m).
The following day was another of ‘those’ rest days ( I must admit that the travel company put a lot of careful planning into the programme of acclimatisation) and to further our fitness we had a day hike to Chukkung (4730m) in the upper part of the Imja Valley and directly below the tremendous 3000 metre south face of Lhotse. This is a high and wild corner of the Khumbu visited by relatively few trekkers and the views of ice flutings and soaring, serrated mountain ridges were sensational. This particular ‘rest day’ took about 7.5 hours!
The next morning we set off on a high trail beneath Pokalde Peak (5806m) to the tiny settlement and lodge at Dugla (4620m), which was to be our home for the night. That afternoon we had another of ‘those’ walks. We trekked high up the hillside above the lodge and contour around and above the glacial lake of Chola Tso at an elevation of 4800 metres. It was tough. The lack of oxygen made it difficult to continue for too long without stopping. Although I found contending with the ice on the descent far more challenging.
The next day took us to Labuche (4910m). Starting out with a steep uphill section to the Thokla Pass where we found the memorials to those Sherpas who have died on Mount Everest. There were many. Our lodge for the night was surrounded by towering peaks, including Pumori (7161m), Nuptse (7861m) and Lhotse (8516m).
Today’s the day!
Heading north, we followed a trail through the ablation valley at the side of the Khumbu Glacier. After an hour we got our first views of the great Khumbu Glacier stretching away down the valley and up towards the area of basecamp. Beyond this glacial junction we reached an island of sparse grasses known as Gorak Shep (5410m). It was once a summer yak pasture in the middle of nowhere and is now home to some of the highest lodges in Nepal. It reminded me of something from a good old cowboy film.
We arrived at Gorak Shep around lunchtime and after only a brief respite we continued the steady trek to Base camp (5364m), walking at first on the moraine crest and finally on the Khumbu Glacier itself. Not the easiest of terrains!
I admit to having a mixture of emotions when finally reaching base camp. When trekking the Inca Trail and finally getting my first sight of the magnificent Machu Pichu, it felt incredible and emotional. Not just because Machu Pichu is so totally amazing but because it also signified the end of the trek. Upon reaching base camp I knew I had another 3.5 days of trekking before the end was in sight. But having said that, I felt equally emotional. At the age of 62 I’d made it! And made it with some style too. I was also doing the trek in memory of my Dad who I’d lost 18 months ago. He loved me having adventures. So it didn’t matter that base camp was just a big rock with what looked like graffiti painted on the side, or that I couldn’t see any of the climbers tents (new rulings as quite rightly they need privacy) or that it didn’t have some of the stunning views I’d become accustomed to. Quite simply, at that time, it was the best sight in the world.
The following 3.5 days of trekking mustn’t pale into insignificance. It was during this time that the group saw some of the most spectacular scenery of the trek. It felt good to start descending though. Apart from a swollen face and Khumbu cough, I didn’t suffer from the altitude. In fact the group of 8 were all successful, mostly due I think to the careful planning of the travel company and the terrific guides we had. Yes those acclimatisation walks really did pay off. Taking off in the small plane from Lukla airport was great fun – the runway is only 500 metres long and goes down a slope. Within seconds we were flying high above the valleys and rivers and surrounded by towering peaks.
The entire trek lasted 13 days. Never once did I think I wasn’t going to make it but at times it was gruelling. How good it was to return to Kathmandu and running water. The simple things in life should not be taken for granted.