Stage 1 – Greece to Nepal to Everest Base Camp
As my flight took off from Athens, bound for Katmandu, I recalled the words of my trainer and Everest guide, Satya: this will be the hardest physical and mental challenge that you have ever undertaken in your entire life. Nothing, no amount of training can prepare you for the actual climb into the death zone.
All through the long flight I could barely sit still, fidgeting and twitching in anticipation as millions of thoughts zipped through my head.
But the moment I met Satya and the Sherpas at Katmandu, beaming from ear to ear, and they welcomed me with a garland of marigold and Tibetan silk scarf, all my thoughts dissipated and I smiled back as if I had no care in the world.
After three days of administrative work we flew to Lukla, touted as one of the most dangerous airports in the world. The flight was exciting and heart-stopping at the same time, with the massive Himalayan Range cropping up into the horizon.
Lukla was utter chaos and my team expertly guided me and our bags out of the turmoil. We had breakfast at a tea house and started hiking. In three hours we reached our first stop; Phakding. We stayed in a lovely lodge by the banks of Dudh Khosi River. Next day we crossed a magnificent suspension bridge and reached Namche Bazaar, the most famous village of the entire valley. Now we were at around 3500m. Next day we hiked to Khumjung, crossing 4000m and had our first view of Everest. Towering so far high into the sunny azure it looked unassailable, which it indeed was, as Satya insisted, even to those who stand upon her lofty summit. He should know, he has been there many times.
After two nights at Namche, we headed for Gokyo. This is a deviation from the normal route to EBC but it is better for acclimatization and offers more spectacular views.
The Gokyo Lake was spell binding. The turquoise water, lapping silently along the circular shore and green tin-roofed teahouses sitting like doll houses, were like a fairy tale. I had never imagined that nature could be so beautiful. After two nights at Gokyo, wherein we also climbed Gokyo Ri, we headed for Cho La Pass. The pass proved a daunting enterprise, with countless ups and downs, culminating finally with a sheer rock trail for the final 200m stretch to the top. On the other side a sweeping glacier lay in its abundance. It was a long day and after 7 hours we reached Zongla. Next day we hiked to Lobuche therefore joining the normal EBC trail.
We had crossed 5000m and the cold seeped into my bones as I added layers to my apparel. It’s the Khumbu Glacier wind, coming straight from the Everest flanks, which makes the air so cold: Satya informed. That night I could barely sleep; next day we were headed for the EBC.
The trail from Lobuche is straightforward, gently climbing towards EBC. Soon we sighted the towering summit Pumori, a technically demanding peak that had gained notoriety in 2015, when the earthquake had dislodged a massive avalanche from it and killed dozens of climbers at the EBC. There were yaks and horses and hundreds of other hikers on the trail and we made good speed to Gorak Shep where we had some tea.
A signboard with an arrow marked the way to EBC and I took a customary picture with it. In another two hours we gained the final moraine ridge from where we could see the EBC and the notorious Khumbu Icefall in its entirety. The white ice formations, carved by wind and erosion, were dotted with hundreds of tents of all shape, color and sizes. It was a veritable maze. Though I had read but the sight of so many tents came as a shock. It seemed like a temporary settlements of a township. As we walked deeper into the EBC, the signs of human habitation became more evident from the debris of materials strewn all around. Tibetan prayer flags fluttered into the morning breeze and aroma of incense sticks permeated my brain. I had been transported into another time in some alien planet. I took in every details, eager as a child, my mind bustling with million questions, even as Satya and my Sherpas greeted their friends on the way.
Finally we reached our base camp tents. It comprised of a dining tent, a kitchen tent, staff tents and tents for the members. All erected upon blocks of ice and rocks. This would be my home for the next month and half. I couldn’t wait for the action to begin!