Aviotti family blog - Friday 30th September to Wednesday 5th October 2022
We have been living in Nepal since December 2020 and still not seen Everest. When you move to Nepal you assume you’ll immediately visit the tallest mountain in the world - Sagarmatha! But it turns out it’s quite hard to see; you need to walk, or take a helicopter. And just to get to the place to start walking requires a small aircraft flight at 6am into one of the most crazy airports in the world - Lukla! After two years I was determined that whatever complications Nepal threw at me - and there were plenty - we were going to see Everest.
Day 1 - Friday 30 September 2022
We waited in our garden at 5.30 in the morning for our guide, Chetan, to take us to the airport, watching the sky lighten with trepidation, fearing that if it was too misty we would not be able to fly. Chetan reassured us on the way, the news from Lukla was that flights were going for the first time in 15 days! The airport was quick and by 6.10am our little aeroplane was taking off for Lukla with just 16 of us aboard. By 7am we were sitting in a restaurant in Lukla, watching the sun over the mountain and eating pancakes. An excellent start! The children, ages 4 and 10, were excited as we left Lukla and headed towards Phakding, which is slightly lower than Lukla at 2,652 metres above sea level and therefore the best place to sleep the first night. Our porter, Sabas, had headed off quickly with our bags, about 30 kg in total, strapped around his forehead. We also had a second porter, Chandra, who was carrying a doko basket adjusted for our 4-year old son so he could be carried whenever he was tired or finding the path challenging.The path we followed was surprisingly good - the first day we were actually going slightly down to Phakding, so short uphills were followed fairly rapidly by going down again. The path was paved with local stone and meandered through the tiny villages, past little shops and hotels, and along the edges of ploughed farmland. We were regularly overtaken by porters carrying huge loads, hikers from all over the world eager to get to the first stop, and local people going about their daily lives. With no wheeled transport at all - no cars, no bikes, not even carts, we had to stop from time to time to allow cows or the cow-yak hybrid (a dzo) to pass. We only had to get to Phakding for lunch, so there was no hurry. We were able to take in the increasingly magnificent views in our own time and share our biscuits with the locals that came out to say hi whenever we paused.
We arrived at our amazing tea house, the Sherpa Guide Lodge, at about 12 noon, after walking for about 4 hours. It was lovely - like a Swiss chalet set amongst the mountains with a river rushing behind. We sat in the warm garden eating Sherpa stew and catching our breath before heading to the room for a rest after lunch. Around 3pm Chetan took us down to the river for an afternoon of gentle exploring. I have never seen a river run so fast. As it comes straight off the glacier it is a milky white, but I could not get close enough to even put a hand in so cannot say how cold it is. Chetan took us over a suspension bridge and we walked along a little path to where a stream joined the river. We spent the afternoon throwing stones in and jumping from boulder to boulder, until a little rain came and we wandered back to the tea house for hot chocolate and dinner.
Day 2 - Saturday 1 October 2022
Another bright and sunny morning with fantastic views of the path ahead. After stuffing ourselves with pancakes and masala tea we packed up and headed out. We only had a short walk ahead of us, around 3 and a half hours to Monjo where we would spend the night. Not everyone stops in Monjo, but with small children and plenty of time we had decided not to push too hard. It was another lovely morning walk in the sun.
Our porter, Chandra, and our son became firm friends this morning. Whenever the ground was a bit rocky or he ran off towards the river’s edge, Chandra was there holding his hand, singing, helping him jump and explore. Perfect - I had time to concentrate on where my feet were going on the slippery bits! Today we were walking along the river, crossing from time to time on amazing suspension bridges and passing through forests. The morning started with walking on the east side of the river in the shade, but we soon crossed to the western side and into glorious sunshine. With a brief pause to remove our jumpers and apply sun cream, we followed the track into a narrow ravine covered with pine trees, boulders and - in the distance - the first sighting of really huge mountains! These were covered with snow and actually had names - Ama Dablam, majestic at 6,812 metres with a long ridge visible at the end of the valley we were walking through.
After waiting for a mule train to pass, and then a porter carrying a freezer, we continued on to our tea stop where we picked up freshly picked pears, masala tea and panipuri. The last hour and a half to Monjo was a gentle upwards climb and we were all glad to arrive at lunch! Another sherpa stew in a cafe with amazing views to the river, now far below us. We stayed for a while and played, then headed up to our hotel to unpack a little and rest. The room was right at the top of the hotel, which was at the top of the village, and we looked down on where we had walked that day and watched the mist come down. Jumpers back on, we headed out to explore the school and monastery.
The school had a little playground where our children played for a bit. Then we went up to the monastery, which is being newly built. The monk was pleased to show us around and answer questions from the kids, and then we walked up behind the monastery to a beautiful viewpoint from where we could see both where we were going the next day and where we came from. But it was cold and a little misty, so we went for dinner, a hot shower and bed - warm and cosy with electric blankets, huge quilts and hot cups of tea before sleeping.
Day 3 - Sunday 2 October 2022
Today was the day everyone had been warning us about - the big hill up to Namche Bazaar. Officially it was only about 5 hours walk, but we would have to climb around 600 metres, all in the last couple of hours. Chetan organised a packed lunch so we wouldn’t have to rush, and we set off along the river. The initial walk was lovely, some of the most beautiful of the trip. We were closer to the river than before, right down on a level with it. The kids had a lot of fun jumping around on huge boulders at the edge - Chandra kept a close eye on my son, who was running ahead on the gentle path, overtaking other hikers and jumping out of the way of the porters who ran past with their huge packs.
By 9.30am we had arrived at the highest suspension bridge in the world. The path led us almost under the bridge, then veered off to the right straight up the hill. Before tackling it we sat for a rest on a huge boulder with a stone seat carved into it. Chetan showed us a ledge in the cliff where we had to throw a pebble for good luck - we did not succeed, a little worrying before taking on the bridge! Then - off up the steps to the bridge. At the top I noticed people hesitating before walking out onto the bridge, and we chatted to a couple coming the other way who reassured us. The kids had no concern at all, and ran out cheerfully - us adults took it more slowly but once you get going you can’t stop as the porters want to keep moving. After taking a lot of photos and catching our breath - and congratulating each other - we started the long climb up to Namche Bazaar.
This part of the hike is mostly steps zigzagging up a very steep hill. Even the porters slow down and stop at almost every turn. The steps were mostly in good condition, but you had to watch your feet for the different heights and wobbly stones. It was a good tempered, if somewhat slow, climb, with everyone stopping to chat, congratulate each other, and ask which way and how far they’re going. Stone benches along the way provided rest points, with the chance to buy water, cucumbers and other refreshments. By around 11am we took a left turn as our guide preferred us to walk on the local path, rather than the main route, as there are fewer people and it’s lovely through the forest. The path was still excellent, and despite our tired legs we enjoyed the shade and the peace. We stopped for an early lunch though, as energy levels were low!
By 12.30 we were walking into Namche Bazaar. Emerging from the forest into the bustle and cheerful noise was amazing. Still no cars or bikes of course, and so full of people and animals. The buildings are all built in a semi-circle around the bowl of the hill, and you arrive at the bottom and walk up into the town. First you pass the stupas, then the North Face shop, then you are into the main market full of shops, stalls, restaurants and bars. Our tea house, Green Tara, was towards the top of the market so we had a good idea of what was around. After dropping our bags and having a hot shower we went off to the market for an afternoon of exploring and browsing, followed by an excellent dinner. The children loved the idea of a day off from hiking the next day, and our successful arrival put everyone in a good mood!
Day 4 - Monday 3 October 2022
Today was all sightseeing - and we finally got our first, perfect view of Everest. The short hike up to the Namche viewpoint is almost entirely steps and steep hill, but at the top you can see the most amazing views of Everest, Nuptse and Lhotse, with the Tengboche monastery below. We stood by the statue of Tenzing Norgay Sherpa for the obligatory photo, and it was a pretty special moment where we felt we had really achieved something (although obviously not something as momentous as Tenzing Norgay Sherpa, who actually made it to the top of Everest with Edmund Hillary in 1953). Still, we had got to 3,400 metres and felt pretty good about it! Then we headed to the amazing Sherpa Cultural Centre to see the photos, art and sherpa artefacts lovingly curated and displayed there. After another delicious lunch and a bit of shopping, Chetan took us up to the monastery for prayer wheels and glorious paintings, then the helipad for the views. Unfortunately the mist was now coming down fast - as this had happened most afternoons we kept our fingers crossed for the following day, and enjoyed the feeling of floating above the world with the mist literally all around us!
Day 5 - Tuesday 4 October 2022
The last day of the hike started with serious packing, trying to make sure we would have enough warm and wet-weather clothes easily available during the day. As usual, our porter left first, taking our main bags directly to the next tea house, while we left more slowly up the steps out of Namche in the rain and mist. We had to walk directly up on a slippery path, in a fairly constant line of people. The mood was surprisingly cheerful given the drizzle and mist, and we took it slowly. After an hour we had reached the top of the ridge and finally seen our first actual yak; they grazed steadily and ignored us while we bounced around taking pictures! The lack of views made this the hardest bit of the trip for the kids, who were tired by the climb and ready to stop, but we had to keep going to the Everest View Hotel, which at 3,880 metres was actually our highest point. Getting there for tea and biscuits was a huge relief! Sadly, no views of Everest today but this hotel is great, so we’ll be back.
.Today we continued, however, through an enchanted forest - a mossy, rocky place full of tiny caves, little trees and bubbling streams. Our mood was excellent as we bounced down the path to Khanjuma, officially the largest permanent settlement in the area. Unfortunately it was raining steadily at this point and we were unable to see much, and so headed straight to lunch. After waiting out the rain as long as we could we headed to the local monastery, famed for the yeti scalp they have displayed there.
The final bit of the hike was a lot easier, mostly downhill and a lovely path through little settlements, small forests and around huge boulders. Although we didn’t get the view, our last tea house in front of Ama Dablam mountain was warm and cosy, and full of other British people on a trip up to Everest base camp. A fun evening with final big bowls of sherpa stew and games of uno. The tea house owner’s 4-year old daughter played with my son all evening as she was home from her school hostel for a festival. It was hard to imagine sending a 4-year old away to school, with a long hike required to get home.
Day 6 - Wednesday 5 October 2022
We woke up to even more mist and drizzle, which potentially killed our plans for a helicopter ride. We couldn’t see up the valley beyond Tengboche monastery, so we knew for sure we would not be going to base camp. Eventually the helicopter pilot agreed we could take a flight to Kathmandu, although we had to be ready immediately as the mist was getting worse. After rushing the packing we finally said goodbye to our wonderful porters and climbed into the helicopter. We passed Lukla literally 5 minutes later and headed on through the clouds to Kathmandu, an exhilarating and slightly nerve-wracking ride! We were home for breakfast, a sudden and somewhere unsettling change of pace. Looking forward to making it to base camp nex time.