Thursday, May 23, 2019

Everest Base Camp Trek with Kids

Spoiler Alert: Yep, we made it.  Everest Base Camp
When we first threw out the thought of doing the Everest Base Camp Trek to Conrad (12) and Mark (11), they thought it was a great idea. At various points during the hike they certainly had reversed that initial opinion, but at the end felt that they had accomplished something big. We did some research before deciding to go and there were different schools of thought about whether it was a reasonable goal for pre-teen kids.



View of Kathmandu, Nepal from
Swayambhunath Temple ('Monkey Temple')
The bottom line is that it really depends on the kids. Our boys have lived at sea level for their entire lives (and literally on the sea for most of that time)--but they are pretty active and generally fit. Also, the incidence and severity of altitude sickness is no greater in kids, so there was no medical reason that would prevent the kids from going. We all needed to get our legs in shape, though. Our training consisted of long walks (a.k.a. "death marches" from the kids' perspective) in the tropical heat and humidity, which is quite different from climbing thousands of feet at altitude. But in the end, with a couple extra days for acclimatization, it was enough.

Our first day on the trail, we ran into another family that had successfully finished the trek with a similarly-aged boy. We even saw a family with a baby in a carrier (in the lower reaches of the valley) and someone else mentioned a father carrying his 4-year old up the final bits of the trail. We saw a couple of teenagers but our kids were the youngest we saw during our time up on the mountain. 

The kids were apparently a rare enough sight that several tea house operators gave them special treats (Pringles and candy bars, which are valuable up there) and other hikers were very encouraging.

We took 10 days to reach Everest Base Camp and 3 days to descend back to Lukla. Many hikers do the whole thing in 10 days, but we needed the extra time to get used to the altitude.


Stupa at the top of Swayambhunath

We decided not to hire a guide or porter--partly to save money, but mostly so we could go at our own pace and to change our agenda as needed. However, this meant the kids needed to carry their own clothes and sleeping bags, which most folks don't (at least 90% of hikers were using porters and only carried a small day pack). But the kids managed the extra weight and going it on our own turned out to be a good decision for us because we needed the extra time. 

We had considered extending the trek and visiting Gokyo Lakes as well but decided against it due to conditions at Chola Pass and how we were feeling. Since we were there during the second busiest time of the year for trekking, it's pretty easy to figure out which way to go: just follow the horde of tourists, porters, yaks, and donkeys (although you do have to pay attention--a couple trekkers we met ended up in Pheriche when they meant to go to Dingboche).

Getting from India to Kathmandu


Due to Matt's bout of food poisoning, we missed the bus that goes from Varanasi to Kathmandu (it runs every two days) and hired a car instead. Our particular driver and car turned out to be a bad choice (partly our fault, we didn't check for working AC (yep, none), his vehicle didn't seem able to go faster than 50 km/hour, and the route he followed was 3 hours longer than Google's recommendation). By the end, we were all dehydrated. Matt was lightheaded and on the verge heatstroke, laying down outside the Nepali Immigration Office.

We managed to get checked out of India and into Nepal (make sure to bring U.S. dollars for your Nepali visa) and spent the night at a hotel at the border. Things felt a bit calmer in Nepal--the spirit of the people seemed gentler somehow--and the kids and I had an inexpensive meal while Matt recuperated in the air-conditioned room. Later that night, Conrad threw up his Ramen noodles, so we were afraid he had gotten what Matt had.

The next day, we skipped the bus and hired another car to take us to Kathmandu, so that we could stop if needed if Conrad felt bad. As it turns out, he was fine, but there would be more vomiting to come on the winding roads in Nepal and India.

We made it to Kathmandu and spent a few days finding sleeping bags to rent and getting our flights to Lukla arranged. Hotel staff helped us get our flights arranged. At $1490 US for the four of us, it was the single biggest expenditure of the trip (although altogether food costed more).

Kathmandu


We stayed just outside of the busy Thamel district. Every other shop seems to be selling knock-off gear purporting to be from The North Face (locally known as "North Fakes"). Besides that, there were restaurants, hotels, souvenir shops and a few convenience stores. We hunted around for sleeping bags to rent and settled on the shop pictured above.

We were able to rent four brand new bags and buy three trekking poles for about $50 USD, (not including a $40 USD security deposit for the bags). The bags were rated to minus 10 degrees C, which is the minimum recommended rating for the EBC, but the down filling seemed a bit sparse in some areas and the rating was dubious. However, every tea house on the mountain provides an extra blanket and with the temperatures we had, the bags were plenty warm (sometimes too warm).

There are plenty of inexpensive knock-off items that are good enough to last for several weeks trekking (and the Gore-tex material seems real enough). Based on the weather forecasts, we bought a few items that we hadn't brought along with us, such as rain pants and heavier gloves. We chose not to bring down jackets and didn't feel that we needed them, but we were also lucky that the weather was not as cold as it had been the previous week.

We also took out what seemed like a ton of cash to use on the mountain--there are very few places that take credit cards. There is an ATM in Namche Bazar, but it reportedly doesn't always work, charges high fees, and limits the amounts you can withdraw.

Durbar Square (Kathmandu)

Packing List

We were carrying all our own stuff, so we were brutal about editing down what we took. Our hotel allowed us to leave a bag of unnecessary items with them until our return. Here's what each of us brought:

  • sleeping bag
  • waterproof shell jacket
  • fleece jacket
  • long thermal underwear (top and bottom)
  • rain pants
  • t-shirts (1 to wear and 1 extra)
  • long hiking pants
  • underwear (1 to wear and 1 extra)
  • sun hat
  • warm hat
  • gloves and liners
  • hiking boots (to wear)
  • socks (1 to wear and 1 extra)
  • flip-flops
  • baby wipes
  • toilet paper (1 roll each)
  • water bottle/Camelbak
Matt and I also carried trekking poles and the following extras for the family. We ended up getting the kids some poles on the mountain.
  • UV water purifier and batteries
  • flashlights and batteries
  • medications
  • compass and map
  • first-aid kit
  • Kindle, camera, phone and chargers
  • playing cards (there is a lot of downtime)
  • sunscreen
  • toothbrushes and toothpaste
  • hand sanitizer
  • soap and shampoo
  • camping towel
  • snacks (you are going to want some trail mix or Snickers on the mountain and we didn't want to pay $5 for a candy bar)

Day 1 - Flight to Lukla and on to Monju

200 meters down, 1050 m up, 6 hours (1.5 hour break)


We found out when we arrived in Kathmandu that in April (the month we would be starting our trek) due to maintenance at the airport in Kathmandu, there would be no flights to Lukla from Kathmandu. This meant we would have to drive five hours on a winding mountain road to Ramechhap, which ends up being over halfway there by the time you're done.

Bleary-eyed, we left the hotel at 2:30 a.m. We tried to catch up on our sleep in the bus, but it was difficult with your head hitting the side window as the vehicle jolted around turns. It was better that everyone mostly slept, as motion sickness was not the issue that it would become on our ride back.

I'm pretty sure this is the view from
every movie you see where the plane crashes
into the mountain and only the dog survives.

When we finally arrived at Ramenchhap airport, chaos reigned. A large knot of people stood in front of a guy scribbling random information in a notebook and handing out boarding passes (mostly to the guides that knew how to work the system and get their clients checked in first). Since the flights are only half an hour, it's only a matter of time before you get a seat (unless the weather changes, which it often does in the afternoon). We finally had our bags weighed and got on a flight to Lukla. 

Lukla has the reputation as one of the most dangerous airports in the world (rapidly changing weather, a steep and short runway, and no air traffic control all add to the fun). The week before, a plane crashed on takeoff and the wreckage was still sitting next to the runway. Fortunately, our flight was uneventful, though two of the passengers needed the barf bags (not our boys--they only seem to get car sick).

The blue and orange tarp next to the plane
on the runway is 'covering' the wreck from the previous week

When we finally arrived in Lukla, it was late morning. We got the first of our permits and then set off.

Still smiling at this point.

The trail out of Lukla starts with a steep downhill, which you know is going to be bad news when you're coming back (and it was). We saw some unhappy faces on hikers heading back to Lukla.

We made it to Monju but had to take a break a few hours into our hike. Conrad got a bad headache, so we stopped at a tea house and rested for a bit. When we finally got to the Monjo Guest House, we were ready for something hot to drink. Monjo Guest House, like most of the guest houses we frequented, had gotten favorable reviews online. It paid to do the research (especially since Matt was the one who did it) because there are many options available and they are not all equal in quality.


A note about the tea houses. It had previously been the custom that the guest houses were free with the proviso that you bought your meals there (which is where they make most of their money). We budgeted accordingly. When we arrived, the guest houses had started charging 500 Rs. a room (or per person in some places and more at the higher elevations). In most cases, that would be about $10 US a night for us, which is fair enough but came as a bit of a surprise.

Dzos (yak-cow hybrid) on a bridge

Expenses (approximate exchange rate 1:100 USD to Nepali Rs.)

Lunch (Time for Tiffin Break): 1700 Rs.
Permit 1 (4 pp): 8000 Rs.
Monjo Guest House 1 night, 2 rooms: 1000 Rs.
Monjo GH food (fixed menu for 4, including multi-course dinner, beverage, and breakfast): 6500 Rs.


Day 2 - Monju to Namche Bazar

350 m down, 750 m up


Namche Bazar is a good-sized town. If you have forgotten anything, you can usually get it here. It is also one of the towns where the tea house rate is 500 Rs. per person. There is an ATM in town (we didn't use it) and the Khumbu Lodge takes credit cards.  Coming from Monju it's a relatively short day, but the final hill up to Namche is brutal.

Permit 2 (4 pp): 12,000 Rs.
Danphe Cafe (Namche): 500 Rs.

Day 3 - Namche Bazar (Acclimatization Day)


Statue of Tenzing Norgay at the top of the hill--
signage is somewhat ironic.



Pemba, the proprietor of the historical Khumbu Lodge,
and a really nice guy

We stayed at the Khumbu Lodge (3443 m), which, as the oldest lodge in town, is an institution in Namche. One morning, we ate breakfast next to David Gottler, who was attempting a summit of Everest without oxygen, and Daniel Aufdenblatten. A man identifying himself as Sir Edmund Hilary's  grandson came up and introduced himself to David Gottler. It was our brush with Everest fame, even if we didn't know who any of the people were before that.

Expenses

Danphe Cafe (free phone charging): 1200 Rs.
German Bakery (free charging): 1000 Rs.
Khumbu Lodge Food and Accommodation (2 nights): 24,140 Rs.

Some examples of items we ate, which was pretty typical of menu choices at all the tea houses: potato-cheese momos, Sherpa stew, pizza, and spaghetti with cheese. All the cheese is Yak cheese, which we liked. There was also fried rice, chow mein, curry, and dal bhat. We drank a lot of hot tea because the tea houses are only heated sometimes when the stove is lit (with yak dung at higher elevations). 

Day 4 - Namche Bazar to Tengboche

3860 m. 350 m. down, 750 m up. 4 hours.


We stayed at the Tengboche Guest House and were lucky to get a room there or anywhere in Tengboche.  Tengboche is a pretty small place and tends to be a pinch point for trekkers. Several travelers had to go to the next town. The food was good and the dining room was cozy. We visited the Monastery and were able to see the daily prayer session.


One of our rooms at the Tengboche Guest
House. The small hut with the grey door
is one of the toilets (Turkish)

Outside the monastery

The dining area at the Tengboche Guest House

Tengboche Guest House Food and lodging: 10,200 Rs.

Day 5 - Tengboche to Dingboche

4410 m. 70 m. down, 580 m up. 4 hours.

Mountain view from Tengboche. The weather pattern
was clear most mornings with clouds rolling in later.

We would take off early most mornings to take advantage of the clear weather. The little rain we saw was in the afternoons and we were usually off the trail by then. We were fortunate, as hikers the week before had rain and snow.


We stayed at the Snow Lion Lodge, which felt like home by the time we left. Mingma Yangji Sherpa runs the place and does a lot to reduce their impact on the environment, including using solar panels. Her staff uses solar cookers that work incredibly well. Her family also runs the pharmacy and delicious French Bakery next door.


The food was slightly higher priced due to their use of alternative energy, but was some of the best we had on the mountain. The Sherpa stew was excellent and I highly recommend the Veg burger, which comes with a generous portion of fries.

There were many beautiful and friendly dogs on the trails.

There is plenty of water at this location and, as we went higher up the mountain, we came to appreciate the fact that they provided sinks with soap, as well as the general cleanliness.

They also take credit cards.

The solar cookers get hot really fast.

French Bakery Cafe: 450 Rs.

Day 6 and 7 - Dingboche (Rest Days)


We were only planning to take one acclimatization day in Dingboche but Mark started to feel sick when we got there. He generally felt bad and had a hard time just walking. We started Mark and Conrad on a half dose of Diamox twice a day. He woke up feeling sick in the middle of the first night and we thought for sure we would have to descend, but he was fine the next morning. We took another rest day after that to be sure he was okay before continuing.


French Bakery and Cafe (free charging): 1,000 Rs.
Snow Lion Lodge (3 nights): 25,790 Rs.



Day 8 - Dingboche to Dughla/Thukla

4620 m. 280 m up. 2 hours.


We stopped an extra day in Dughla to give Mark more time to acclimate (most climbers go directly from Dingboche to Lobuche). The hike was 2 hours of straight climbing and Mark had a hard go of it. He made it though and was fine when it was over.

Stay to the mountain side of passing yaks
so you don't get pushed off the mountain.
Also stay clear of those horns. Although rare, 
more than one climber has been gored.

We stayed at the Yak Lodge (there was no room at the other lodge in Dughla, which had been recommended). It was the first place we stayed that had not come recommended but as you get to the last couple of villages, your choices become more limited. 

The guys that ran it were very nice and the accommodations were similar to other tea houses. It was the last place that water was available to purify, but the scarcity of water was starting to show itself in the absence of sinks to wash your hands and limited water to flush toilets.

Yak Lodge: 8500 Rs. (as we climbed higher, our appetites decreased; some of us were happy with boiled potatoes, which they grow on the mountain)

Day 9 - Dughla to Lobuche

4910 m. 290 m up. 2 hours.


This was another short, but uphill day. These straight uphills were hard on Mark and Matt carried Mark's pack part of the way. But Mark made it through.

Memorials to fallen climbers above Dughla

We stayed at Hotel Mother Earth, next to the World's Highest Bakery. It was not our first choice, but it was fine. There was no water for purification and only bottled water for sale at 300 Rs. per liter. Matt did hunt down a small stream used by the locals and filled a few bottles (it took a long time). Even water for flushing toilets (done with a bucket and scoop) was scarce and brownish.

Hotel Mother Earth: 10,600 Rs.

Day 10 - Lobuche To Gorek Shep

5140 m. 250 m up. 2.25 hours.


We got to Gorek Shep early to make sure we would get rooms, which we did (though the boys and I shared a king-size bed and Matt was on a twin because the Himalaya Lodge was expecting a lot of trekkers).


Again, there was only bottled water available. 



After a quick snack of mint tea (1000 Rs. for a medium pot) and popcorn (400 Rs. for a small plate), we headed off to Everest Base Camp (5364 m, 200 m up and down, 1.5 hours each way). 

We spent the night in Gorek Shep and Matt and I woke before dawn to climb Kala Patthar (5550 m). We made it almost to the top but Matt had developed a "Khumbu cough" overnight and had a headache from the altitude so we descended. It was also freezing, so I wasn't too upset.

Himalaya Lodge: 8,300 Rs.

Day 11 - Gorek Shep To Pheriche

4240 m. 1450 m down, 50 m up. 5.25 hours.

After our early wake up in Gorek Shep, we had breakfast and then started down. Mark immediately gained some energy and was bouncing down the trail by the time we were back in Lobuche.  We took a slightly different route down and stayed in Pheriche instead of returning to Dingboche.  

Himalayan Hotel was one of the nicest places we stayed on the mountain and the food was good.  There was a good talk about altitude sickness given by one of the volunteer doctors that mans the Himalayan Rescue clinic there. The boys bought some winter hats from Himalayan Rescue, which should come in handy on the boat (just kidding).

Himalayan Hotel: 9,400 Rs.

Day 12 - Pheriche to Namche Bazar

1300 m down and 420 m up. 9 hours (45 minutes for lunch in Tengboche)

This was a long day!  And it wasn't all downhill either.  As you get below treeline, the trail starts crossing a number of the rivers in the area.  Each time you cross a river, you need to descend from the ridge or hillside you are walking on, walk over the wobbly suspension bridge, and then hike back up the other hillside.  Some of the descents/ascents are quite long (I'm looking at you, hill just below Tengboche), taking more than an hour to go down and up, while not covering much lateral distance.

At least we had the Khumbu Lodge to look forward to at the end of  the day. A hot shower and more oxygen in the air made everyone feel better!


Besides making way for yaks, donkeys and horses,
trekkers have to make way for porters carrying big loads.


School's out!

Tengboche Lodge (lunch): 2,450 Rs.
Khumbu Lodge: 10,000 Rs.

Day 13 - Namche Bazar to Lukla

50 m down, 250 m up (big climb at end). 7 hours (no breaks).


We were hoping to get a flight out that afternoon, so motored on all morning and into the afternoon.  By the time we reached Lukla we were all pooped. The flight didn't happen, (apparently almost all of the afternoon flights--if they can fly at all--are cargo flights).  In hindsight, we should have stopped for lunch.

Everest Coffee Cafe: 3,340 Rs.
Northface Himalaya Resort: 4,200 Rs.

Our flights were scheduled for May 3 but we were able to get them rescheduled for 11 am on May 2 (the day after we arrived in Lukla). We got to the airport early in hopes of getting an earlier flight, but all the flights were full. Flights earlier in the week had been cancelled due to weather and many passengers were waiting to get out. 

As our flight time approached, we were given boarding passes, but then all flights stopped. The airport was closed due to high wind. A Sita Air employee confidently informed Matt that we would get out--this happened all the time and the wind would die down by 1 p.m. 

Of course, the weather usually turns poor in the afternoon in the mountains, so we were envisioning being stuck in Lukla indefinitely--especially with a cyclone brewing in the Bay of Bengal that was forecast to bring ugly weather to Lukla for the next few days.

Shortly after 1:30 p.m., a Tara Airlines plane (not our airline) landed and took off and then a Summit Airlines plane (also not ours). After a short while (that seemed like forever), a Sita Air plane (ours!) landed. We quickly boarded and took off. As we landed in Ramechhap Airport, the pilot told us that Lukla airport was closed once again.

Everyone made it safely down the mountain. This was not a given. Besides the dangers of altitude sickness, the risk of falling off the trail is real. Our first day at the beginning of the trek, we witnessed one woman who was climbing back up the side of the trail after falling off. Luckily she caught some branches on the way down. Around the same time, another man reportedly fell off the trail to his death on his way down to Namche.

Ironically, after 130 km of  hiking without incident, on the shuttle bus ride back from Ramechhap Airport to Kathmandu, Matt badly sprained his ankle in a restaurant along the way (no building codes = lots of weird drop offs and 2" differences in concrete slab heights). Conrad also lost his lunch on the winding ride and we spent a good portion of the ride stomping roaches that were overrunning the van and crawling on the passengers (surreptitiously, because a couple of the Buddhist passengers near us were against killing them). When we got back to Kathmandu, we were ready for a rest.


Crossing back into India at the border. We had
to walk the 500-meter stretch a few times because
we missed the Nepal Immigration check-out point.

We bought an Ncell SIM card because we heard it had the best reception on the mountain. Past Tengboche, we never got a reliable data signal so we didn't use the phone much. There is WiFi available for purchase at most of the tea houses, but we didn't feel the need to purchase it.

All in all it was a great experience for all of  us.  The Himalayas are just so much more 'mountain-y' than the Rockies or even the Alps. It was spectacular to be able to stand in their midst.  

4 comments:

  1. Si glad I’m reading all these details AFTER knowing you made it back safely.

    ReplyDelete
  2. It may sound a bit more dramatic than it really was. But we're glad to be back safely too!

    ReplyDelete
  3. This was by far the best read I've had in Months ! Thanks for all the details, you guys are my heroes ! What an amazing experience ! Well done !

    ReplyDelete

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