Have you ever dreamt of stealing away to the Himalayas and trekking the long, mystical trails above tree line? Do you desire the simple life: walking between teahouses where saying “namaste” sounds as natural as saying “hello”? Let me take you along as we review a page from my journal during one of many trips to Nepal and see what it is like to spend a day trekking in the Himalayan Mountains.
Our day starts in the mountain village of Dingboche on the trail to Everest Basecamp.
4:45am: It was a late night watching the moon set over Ama Dablam but I’m up early to get some photos before the sun crests the high peaks. My sleeping bag is warm but the clothes on the floor are cold. These pictures won’t take themselves, though. Switching on my headlamp, I slip on the icy pants and shirt, throw on a parka and hat, find my gloves and camera and head outside into a clear, silent morning. A yak in a nearby field lifts its head as I start uphill, away from the village of Dingboche.
6:16am: After walking uphill for 20 minutes I find a spot offering a nice foreground for my photos. Frost edges the plants and the terraced fields in the distance. I can see some smoke rising from teahouse kitchens as my stomach growls a reminder. I’m sure the sun has technically risen by now, but the phalanx of the Himalayas hides it from view. I crouch down and snap these photos:
7:53am: With my body warmed up from the sun, I’m more than ready for breakfast. Nothing here is gourmet, but they make decent work out of eggs, potatoes and cheese and the small stove (a staple in every Himalayan teahouse) keeps us warm while we wait.
8:30am: With breakfast finished, I hastily pack up my sleeping bag, and other gear that needs to be transported by yak, to our next destination in Lobuche. I make sure to pack it well because these animals can be rougher on your gear than baggage handlers at the airport.
9:04am: We’ve had a late start to the day, but now we’re finally on the trail. I have on a day pack that carries a water bottle, some snacks, a windbreaker, camera equipment, first aid kit and a few other small things. The bulk of my gear heads off with the other yaks carrying our equipment.
10:34am: The going is slow as we start to shed our warm layers just outside the village; it’s been uphill for a while now. We passed the town of Dhukla (“town” is an exaggeration; the place had three teahouses, some fresh water and a toilet). Each teahouse also sells snacks, so I load up with a couple of Snickers chocolate bars. It’s my guilty pleasure while on the trail as I can never eat enough calories to actually gain weight while trekking.
11:02am: My legs are screaming at me to stop the relentless uphill slog, but the views behind us from the way we came are breathtaking and I pause to take them in.
11:45am: The trail levels out as we approach a large array of chortens. These chortens are memorials to those who have lost their lives while climbing Mt Everest and other peaks. Prayer flags are strung between the stone structures so that the wind can carry their prayers for peace and compassion to all four corners of the globe. We take a quiet moment to catch our breath after labouring uphill for the past couple of hours.
12:12pm: Sometimes we trek together as a group (there are just three of us on this trip) and sometimes we trek alone. Right now, I am alone with time to think; the high altitude (over 4,267m or 14,000 ft) and blissful lack of modern distractions lets my mind wander. I think about the big stuff: where I’m going in life? What do I want out of it? How can I give back?
1:47pm: I can see Lobuche, our destination for the night, just ahead!
2:32pm: Okay, that took longer than expected. The ups and downs of the trail can be deceiving and distance distorted. No matter though, I made it to Lobuche! My wonderful guide, Kami, has already brought me warm tea to brave chilly evening wind and has started filtering some water for me.
2:54pm: Some teahouses have Western toilets, but for the most part, it’s life-how-nature-intended and toilets can be quite simple. Hot showers are ordered in advance so the teahouse owners can heat the water over their stove, then pour it in a bucket with a showerhead attached. Most teahouses remain fairly rustic, but luxury amenities are slowly creeping up in these trails in and around Everest Basecamp.
4:24pm: One last photo shoot for the day. The sun is no longer shining on the valley but lighting up the peaks far above. Clouds are swirling thanks to a chilly breeze that bites through even my down jacket. When the clouds part, I catch glimpses of the Khumbu Glacier. It’s a hulking grey mass that originates pristine and blue on the flanks of Everest. Down here, because it has been receding, the surface is covered in rocks carried along by the glacier, which gives it a much darker tone. It’s sometimes hard to distinguish the glacier for the rocky earth over which it travels.
5:28pm: It’s time to pack up the camera as my guide has signalled me that it’s time for dinner. With more trekkers arriving after I get into town (from both up the trail toward Basecamp and down the trail toward home) it’s best to get your order in early. As I turn to go, I catch a parting of the golden clouds for the moon to make a cameo appearance.
6:42pm: While other guests of the teahouse are busy playing cards and recounting the day’s events, I request permission to visit the kitchen. It’s where a lot of the guides and porters hang out as they get fresh yak-butter tea and a warm place to socialize. Most of the cooking is done over fire, although in this lodge some kerosene-powered stoves exist.
8:08pm: It’s time to hit the sack. Bedtime comes early in the Himalayas as we have another day of trekking ahead and another early start.
Life on the trail to Everest Basecamp is simple. Nothing to do most days but walk at a steady pace and let your mind wander. It’s heavenly and the best guides are the ones who look to your needs before you know you have them (such as bringing you hot tea and cookies!). This frees your mind even more and is why many who come back from Nepal’s Himalayas refer to it as life altering.