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Everest Base Camp Trek
Experiencing Nepal's Mountains, Villages, and Culture

I love the mountains and when I received an invitation to trek Nepal’s mountains to the Everest Base Camp, I knew this would be the opportunity of a lifetime. I started the trip by flying into Kathmandu. Nothing could have prepared me for this exotic and lively city! The traffic was insane – it didn’t matter what side of the road drivers were on as long as they stayed on their horns all the time. Crossing the street without being run over by a taxi, bus, motorcycle, rickshaw, or cow took talent and courage. I also had to avoid stepping in food offerings laid out in the streets, remember to walk left around the sacred monuments, and politely avoid the tiger balm, flute, jewelry, and fabric sellers in the streets. I LOVED it!

Kathmandu marketplace

Stupa at Bodhnath

For me no image is more strongly identified with Nepal than the stupa, with its pair of eyes representing the all-seeing nature of Buddha. Stupa shrines were built to commemorate the eight great deeds accomplished by Buddha and to enshrine his relics. Nepal’s most impressive stupa is at Bodhnath, just outside Kathmandu. It’s also the religious center for Nepal’s considerable Tibetan population, many of them refugees who fled Tibet after the unsuccessful uprising against China in 1959. The symbolism of all the elements in the stupa was fascinating. As I walked clockwise around it, spinning prayer wheels, it seemed that the powerful eyes were following me.

When it became time for our trekking group to fly to the mountains and I saw the tiny Yeti plane without seatbelts, I had a few second thoughts, both thrilling and fearful. On the 45-minute plane ride to Lukla we flew very close to mountains and hillsides. Aw we approached we could see a strange man-made line on the side of a mountain. Our landing strip was 1,476 feet long…not wide! Nestled between two gigantic mountains, balancing on the edge of a cliff, the whole landing strip was on a slope that would probably have me get off a bike to push it up. The purpose of the runway’s incline quickly became clear - without it the plane would not be able to stop before colliding with the mountain!

Plane to Lukla

Trekking Nepal's Mountains
After landing, it was time to begin our trek. Our first goal was to climb Namche Hill to Namche Bazaar. Although the climb was only 2,400 feet in altitude it felt like a summit attempt on Everest. I was still feeling drained from a bout of food poisoning in Kathmandu. Halfway up, struggling and feeling very sorry for myself, our guide Ramesh called to me and pointed to a far away peak. "Your first view of Everest," he said smilingly. I stood there for a while, looking at the 29,028-foot peak and thinking that a little food poisoning and trek up to Namche was NOTHING in comparison. The last 1,000 feet or so to our camp seemed a lot easier.

Ama Dablam
Ama Dablam

While Everest is the highest peak in the world and its base camp the ultimate goal for our trek, another peak in the Khumbu region quickly became my favorite – 22,494-foot-tall Ama Dablam. Surrounded by 22,000- to 24,000-foot peaks, Ama Dablam (whose name means Mother and her Necklace) stands out because of its true beauty. I never tired from gazing at its steep pyramid of ice, vertical walls and sharp, exposed ridges. I spent hours watching climbers on their way to the summit through binoculars. I had friends up there climbing Ama Dablam as a benefit for the dZi Foundation. Every time I saw climbers nearing the summit I wondered if it was they and wishing I was there.
Some would think that camping for 16 nights in a row would get old – but I loved my tent. After arriving at our campsite each day I couldn’t wait to get into it, slip into a comfortable down jacket, and lie down on the thick mattress with the tent door wide open to views so spectacular that hours passed without my knowing. It was even better on days when the sun was facing my tent door so my body could soak up the warm sunbeams before sunset. Because after the sun had set – oh boy, it could get really, really cold. Best tip in the world – fill up two Nalgene bottles with boiling hot water at dinner and keep them in your sleeping bag for a nice and toasty night.

View from tent
View from my tent

Kala Patar
On the tenth day of the trek, we arrived at our camp at Gorak Shep at 17,000 feet. We were surrounded by peaks: the windswept peak of Everest; the impressive sheer west wall of Nuptse; and the perfectly rounded snow-coned summit of Pumori, the most eye-catching. Some of us hiked up toward Kala Patar, 18,192 feet altitude, for even more overwhelming views. From Gorak Shep we would get up early the next morning and hike to Everest Base Camp. None of us slept well that night – we were up high, it was cold, and we were all excited about tomorrow’s destination.

Everest from Kala Pata

Fellow trekker en route

Yak on the trail

Reaching Our Goal
We awoke at 5:00 a.m. and an hour later we were on the trail. The first couple of hours we hiked in total silence. It was windy; we were all bundled up; when would the sun rise above the peaks and send some warmth to our frozen bodies? All the way we had clear views of huge Khumbu Glacier. As we neared base camp the contour of the famous and feared Khumbu Ice Fall appeared. Except for a group of yaks returning from the last Everest expedition of the season, we were the only people on the trail. When we reached base camp we had the entire area to ourselves. Surely, base camp must have looked a lot different earlier this year when thousands celebrated the 50th Anniversary Everest Ascent.

Everest Base Camp
Prayer flags at Everest Base Camp

We spent about an hour at base camp – enjoying the incredible views and taking lots and lots of pictures. A few of us had brought prayer flags and held a small ceremony for people in our lives who have passed away too early in life. It was the perfect day for this – a sunny, clear sky and a little windy. We made two "poles" of rocks and hung our flags that immediately started blowing in the wind. In Buddhism, the wind is considered an expression of our minds, and the mental energy that activates them. The wind - like the mind - carries the blessings throughout the world. It’s such a beautiful tradition and brought tears to my dry, dusty eyes.

Buddhist Festival in Tengboche
We were soon retracing our steps back to Lukla where we started the trek. Along the route we arrived at the village of Tengboche just in time to attend the annual Mani Rimdu Festival at the monastery. The Tengboche Monastery is the largest in Nepal and Mani Rimdu is a three-day festival featuring masked dances and dramas celebrating the victory of Buddhism over the Tibetan Bn religion. This was one of my favorite days on the trip, for I was sitting among a large group of costumed Tibetan women. Their beautiful faces seemed to gleam with such a strong character. Although we couldn’t communicate verbally, we exchanged many curious looks and smiles.

Tengboche Monastery

Tibetan woman

Nepal Replay
Now back in San Francisco, although the Himalayas seem far away, my mind keeps replaying unforgettable impressions: the stunning views of Ama Dablam; the prayer flag ceremony at Base Camp; the group camaraderie and our hilariously funny dinners in the mess-tent; our Sherpa assistant, Deepah, smilingly bringing tea to the tent each morning; hiking behind Long Tensing, our 70-year-old sirdar who has climbed Everest several times. I know I will be back very soon, hopefully to experience the beautiful peak of Ama Dablam "really" up close….

Everest Base Camp trekkers

      By Camilla Hvalsoe, Article and Photos

              Camilla Hvalsoe

Camilla Hvalsoe is Mountain Travel Sobek’s "webmistress." She has trekked all over the world, including Patagonia and Africa's Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Click here for info on this and other Himalayan adventures by Mountain Travel Sobek.

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