Trekking To One of the World’s Natural Wonders: Part One

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Our group had to be up and ready to go by 5 am. so that we could get to the airport and secure the first flight out of Kathmandu (4,593 ft.) heading to Lukla (9,380 ft.). We had some hiccups with the hotel that morning: our wake up call only came a few minutes before we had to be down to the lobby. Thank goodness we were already up. I was unable to sleep well because I was so excited to start the trek. It was like Christmas morning. I wanted to unwrap the presents!! The other issue for the morning was that the man supposed to be helping us get the luggage down from our rooms and into storage or onto the bus just disappeared, so we all pitched in to get it done as quickly as possible. We were running behind schedule and we had received a call that the plane was ready to go. No one wanted to loose the first flight out! We got the bus loaded, made sure everyone was accounted for, and made our way to the airport. I had been anxiously awaiting this flight for months after a friend told me about the Tenzing–Hillary Airport. Branded “THE Most Dangerous Airport In World”, I had some apprehension, understandably. First off, the airport sits in the valley with mountains on all sides. Weather conditions can change very quickly and you can hit some pretty turbulent air during the flight. Weather is best in the morning and conditions gradually decrease over the remainder of the day (that’s why we wanted the first flight out). Second, once a pilot starts their approach, there is no turning back. There’s no alternative route if you miss the approach due to terrain. Third, the runway is about 65 feet across and only 1,500 ft. long (a typical runway is 6,500 ft.) If you come in short you can crash into the steep slopes leading to the valley below (around a 2,000 ft. drop) and if you overshoot it, you crash into the rock wall at the end of the runway.  There is also the optical illusion that the uphill runway creates that can play with the pilot’s perception of how close the plane is to the ground. So, with all of these factors, and I’m sure there are more that I’m unaware of, I was pretty freaked out. I asked our guide straight up how safe it actually is since he has been multiple times. He said in relation to the commercial world of flying it is more dangerous than those flights, but in all actuality, when you factor in how skilled these pilots have to be and how much training they go through, he would rate this flight a 9.5 out of 10 in safety. Pilots are only allowed to fly in and out of the Tenzing–Hillary Airport if they have the training. End of story. That definitely eased my mind, but I was still nervous.

We arrived to the airport, grabbing our bags very quickly and putting everything in a pile to be checked in and trying very hard not to mix our bags with other groups things. The chaos and urgency in which people were doing things was palpable. My exhaustion, the excitement, and the hurried pace in which we were trying to get things done created a blurred memory, almost an out of body experience, where I was watching what was happening from a higher vantage point…does that make sense?? That also happens to me when I am super tired and drink a lot of coffee…it makes me a wee bit loopy. Anywho, we then went through “security” (it wasn’t thorough) and hopped on the shuttle bus that would take us to the plane. It was a insanely beautiful morning with lots of sun and clear skies, the clearest Karl had ever seen it. Wooohooo! I was feeling even better about the flight!

We loaded ourselves onto this teeny, tiny, little plane which seated about 16 people, if I’m remembering correctly. The flight attendant came down the isle handing out a piece of candy and cotton (the cotton was to put in our ears to drown out the loud engines). She went and sat back down in the back of the plane, and her job was done! We were all buckled and ready to go. Our plane took off into the clear skies and it was smooth sailing from there. The views were insane with the sun, the deep shadows in the valleys, the low level clouds rolling over the hillsides below. And then there were the mountains. The Himalayas. The place of the Gods. And then…EVEREST. Our first glimpse, and man did it make a great first impression!

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The flight is pretty short and we began to make our descent. Mountains were all around, and still, no bumps. NOT ONE. No surprise air pockets. I couldn’t believe it. I could see Lukla, then the airport, and then the runway…getting bigger and bigger in the cockpit window. In the video I took, I can hear myself say, “Ohhhhh…” in a worried tone and then Yoga Joe chimed in with, “That is short!” referring to the runway, lol.

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I am not lying or over exaggerating when I say this. Our landing…it was the smoothest landing I have ever experienced. EVER. And still is. Honestly, I was a little disappointed that we didn’t experience any turbulence. Karl was shocked and said that never happens. It was pretty anti-climactic, but I’m glad we made it safely.  We all cheered as our plane turned at the end of the runway and into the gate. I think we all attribute our good Karma to our goat, Lucky. I still feel his good fortune around me at times.

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We made our way up the hill to have breakfast at a very charming lodge and get the gear organized. We also met our porters for our trek. They were little, and yet they carried what seemed like an insane amount of weight with ease, or at least it looked like that. We took some time to do a bit of a stretch and yoga with Joe and then we started our seven mile trek. I was feeling good, no headaches or nausea, and I’m glad I was feeling strong because there were a lot of ups and downs that day. Both are difficult and I learned to use my poles very quickly after that first day. My knees suffered because of my stubbornness. I didn’t use the poles I had purchased in Kathmandu because I wasn’t comfortable with them yet. We went over a few bridges which was both scary and thrilling. Jalena laughed while crossing because she was so nervouos. The views were so amazing, but I feel like so much escaped me because I was looking at the placement of my feet so often. Again we had fantastic warm and sunny weather. That means I sweat quite a bit. Thank goodness for our frequent breaks to eat snacks, and drink water. At one of our longer breaks, we were all introduced to the glorious and magical honey lemon tea. One of my favorite things to drink, though I did need to take a break from it at times because we had to have so many liters of water per day, and when you’re drinking that much, whatever it is gets old. I did manage to find an easy little recipe for it once home. I’ll post that at some point soon. Once we reached Monjo (9,301 ft.), I was ready to crash! So sweaty, so tired. I jumped in the shower first. I proposed and then married the shower because it was the best shower of my life! I changed into my clean lodging clothing as fast as I could to not loose much energy to shivering. That was always the first thing we did when we got to our destination-changing out of our sweaty clothing and into dry, clean clothing to stay warm and conserve energy and stay healthy. We had a wonderful dinner and then I was ready to snuggle down in my heated bed and drift off to sleep.

I slept hard. Usually I wake up once in the night, but I was out like a light! It felt good. I woke feeling refreshed and ready for another day of trekking. I didn’t feel sore at all which was a big relief. Our breakfast was absolutely amazing. Things were moved outside where our view was of course stunning. It was a beautiful, sunny day and this breakfast was the first of many that showed us just how spoiled we were…it’s almost embarrassing. French press coffee, frothed milk, honey, maple syrup, muesli, pouridge, fancy jams, tea…again, Anywhere+ raising the bar. Nara and Jangbu would take care of our water and tea needs, getting our breakfast that we ordered after dinner to us. On that note, it became a joke how Nara would be waiting with pen and paper in hand to take our order for the next meal after we had just finished eating. We were always so full, and as we got further into the trek, appetites diminished because of the altitude or sickness. It was sometimes a difficult task to look at the menu and order food on a full and/or queasy stomach. Anyway, Karl reminded me of the mother from A Christmas Story. After making sure everyone got their breakfast order, tea, water, coffee, etc. it seemed that just as he was sitting down to eat, someone would need something, lol. If you don’t know this movie, watch it. It will hand you some laughs.

On this day, we were headed to Namche Bazaar (11,290 ft.). It was a shorter day, but it was up, up, and more up on the famed Namche Hill! It was definitely a challenge. We walked into Sargamartha National Park and had a brief but tricky bit of going down. Again, I was watching the placement of my feet a lot, but this time I was using my poles. I will never go without them again because as clumsy as I am, I really need them at all times…walking with my friend’s fur kids, walking in the grocery store, walking around the house, lol. They have saved me multiple times from totally biting it on trails! Looking back, I feel like I was being a huge wuss the entire time. OR maybe it was just that I didn’t really understand how to listen to my body and adjust my pace when needed, let a lone find a rhythm in my breathing. Karl was very helpful in showing us rest pace, which I tried to do, but trying out all of these new techniques at the same time made it feel a bit like trying to rub my belly and pat my head simultaneously. It took some getting use to. I am also a competitive person, and to be the slowest wasn’t my favorite thing, so I pushed myself harder than I should have at times. By the end of the trek I was okay with adjusting things because it was much more enjoyable.

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We reached Namche Bazaar and I was so thankful it was over. We would be there for two nights. We had a late lunch at our lodge and then a yoga session. I was so surprised with how much I was enjoying yoga. I’ve tried it a few times and have not been impressed. My guess is that it was my teacher…maybe the setting, too. You really can’t beat being surrounded by snow-covered mountain peaks, colorful buildings lined with prayer flags, and being accompanied by some of the loveliest people you have ever met. The stretch felt wonderful after long, strenuous hikes. Joe was also great at giving relief from injury. I had pulled something in my right hand while hauling my three large and heavy bags from country to country and he worked some of it out with massage and gave me some tips on how to avoid injuring it further.

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We had some time to ourselves in the afternoon, so some of us decided to grab a cuppa  at 8848 (that’s the height of Everest in meters). I had a really great cappuccino that was comparable to those I had in Italy. That is really saying something. I finished my time with some journaling before going to dinner at a very popular spot for Everest climbers and trekkers. It was our last chance to have beer and meat…so most of us enjoyed a burger and an Everest Beer.

For some reason, I was under the impression that our acclimatization hike to Laudo Gompa Monastery (12,470 ft.) was going to be easier than it was. It was really unfortunate to have that idea in my head because it sent me into a really negative space when I realized it was going to be pretty tough. We started with such a great yoga session, watching the sun rise as a large flock of birds dotted the valley and mountains with their silhouettes. Another great breakfast followed with the famous brown bread Karl had been talking about. The trekking then commenced and immediately it was a lot of up. No bueno. There was a little break from the constant up, and then the up part came back. My knees were feeling it and I realized I was favoring a leg. Unfortunately, that led to the knee pain, but sometimes the best things about life come out of being uncomfortable and being challenged. I’m not saying that I always handle it with grace, or that it’s pretty (I was a sweaty mess), but the rewards were most definitely worth it. I can’t wait to go back and do it again!

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We made it to the monastery where we were greeted by and Aussie monk who was only there for a few months. The view was magical, with the clouds starting to roll in, covering the base of the mountains and only the revealing the peaks. We all loaded into the small meditation area to do a 30 minute session with Joe. So, meditation is really difficult. To calm your mind and ignore an itch, ignore the painful tingly feeling when your foot falls asleep, or simply ignore the sounds of others moving was nearly impossible. The 30 minutes felt a lot longer. Shorter sessions of meditation have agreed with me much better. It’s a great feeling to calm you mind and focus on your breathing for a change.

Again, a portion of our fees went directly to the monastery as it had been hit by the earthquake and sustained substantial damage.

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Our visit concluded with a traditional lunch of ramen, potatoes, and tea. I was extremely full after the ramen, but I didn’t want to be rude, so I went ahead and forced a few potatoes down. Ooof. I should have just asked people to roll me back down to Namche, it may have been less painful that way. Our pace was very quick, with a lot of loose rock, and this was not doing any favors for my knee that was already hurting. Fortunately for me, I found encouragement from Jo and Kelly, as well as my breath and pace. We made it down the rest of the way and even passed some Nepali mountain goats. We showered and got into our clean and warm lodge clothing, but I was still pretty cold. The hot lemon tea that followed definitely helped to warm me.

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I woke the next morning pretty early. Dogs seem to be roaming everywhere you go in Nepal. In Namche, they were always barking. Always. It echoed across the valleys and made it difficult to sleep deeply. They were at it when I fell asleep and at it when I got up. I wasn’t feeling well and experienced bouts of nausea. It worried me a bit that it would develop into something unpleasant and embarrassing, if ya know what I mean. The other alternative was that it was the altitude getting to me, and that was a scarier thought. I wanted to reach EBC so badly! I pushed through breakfast and ate as much as I could knowing that eating and drinking were key to keeping altitude at bay. I had moments of feeling better as we were getting everything ready to leave.

I hate to end this entry so abruptly and was hoping I’d be able to summarize more of this trek and keep the length down, but it looking like I’m not very good at doing that. I don’t want to leave everything out to be able to make it shorter, so I’ll have to do this trek in a few installments. Sorry this Nepal section of the blog is so long, but it was such an important part of my travels. Stay tuned!!

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