In Her Own Words

At Lukla Airport First view of Everest (centre) with Ama Dablam to the right Our trek leader at Namche Bazaar With two of our Sherpas, Sharoz and Razu
Into Death Valley! My Everest experience

Why go to Everest Base Camp? Because it’s there, of course!

October 2009 saw me fulfilling a dream, of seeing Everest. This I did in the excellent company of five Aussies, Ann, Steve, John, Craig and Drew and trek leader Ollie, on a trek run by KE Adventures, a company based in Keswick. The itinerary consisted of two nights in a hotel in Kathmandu, 16 nights on the trek, of which 13 were in tents, then back to the hotel in Kathmandu for one last night.

The trekking started once we flew into Lukla on a tiny plane; we landed on a steep tarmac strip through the village in the mountains, at a height of 2,800 m. As we left the airport there was a sea of faces behind a fence – Nepalese sherpas and porters looking for work. Our crew of 20, including two female porters, had already been organised, headed up by the sirdar, Ashok. Our English trek leader, Ollie, was brilliant, got along really well with everybody and had a great sense of humour. Imagine a lean, tanned, better-looking version of Lee Evans and you’ve got the picture.

The lower valleys

Our first couple of days saw us trekking in wet, misty conditions due to us catching the tag end of the monsoon. We were in amongst well vegetated valleys and hills, climbing and then swooping down again to the mighty Dudh Koshi river, often crossing on cable footbridges. We saw many teams of yaks, burdened with huge loads, and we certainly gave them right of way on the bridges! They look placid but have a temper when roused (a bit like me!).

The route was fairly busy but not too crowded as ours was quite an early trip, and everybody we passed had time for the cheery greeting of ‘Namaste’. Our days would typically consist of getting up at 6.00 a.m., bags packed for 7 and away by 8. Hot breakfasts were provided, usually porridge and omelettes or French toast. Mid morning would often see us stop for tea at a tea house en route, then a cooked lunch unless we were having a packed lunch, and a three course meal at night. What with all that and having our gear carried, and tents set up by the time we got to camp, we felt very pampered. This did help to make up for the increasingly harsh conditions as we ascended.

Namche Bazaar

Quite a thrill to get here as I’ve seen Namche on the telly. We arrived at the bottom of the town, which is situated on steep hillsides in a bowl shaped valley. There were a lot of steps on tired legs up through the town to the Friendship Lodge, where we stayed for the next two nights in order to acclimatise. At Namche we started to get views of the significant peaks, including the snow-covered Kwangde range visible from the bedroom window. We were at 3,500m at this point, and I started to get mild altitude sickness symptoms – headaches and nausea. The prescribed Diamox tablets I’d brought with me sorted this out pretty quickly.

First view

After a day’s local walking we were suitably fit to carry on up to the Everest View Hotel, with our first views of the mighty peak along the way. We learned that Everest is Sagarmatha to the Nepalis, and Chomolungma to the Tibetans, and its height is 8848 m or 29,028 ft.

It was a bright clear day and we could see a plume of snow coming off it. From our viewpoint just the top of the mountain was visible, peeping out behind the Nuptse-Lhotse wall, with Makalu visible further to the east. Craig, who has a phenomenal memory for facts, told us about various Everest expeditions of the past, and we could see the south west ridge via which Hillary and Tensing conquered the peak. There were also stunning views of Ama Dablam (6,812m) which to me is the most stunning mountain in the area.

Later that day we paused at Khumjung to look round the school set up by Sir Edmund Hillary in 1961, and also to look at a yeti skull (alledgedly!) in Khumjung monastery.


This small village was another two night stopover to aid the acclimatisation process. We camped in a yak enclosure next to quite a smart looking hotel. The air was definitely feeling colder and thinner than before, and it was good to take refuge in the dining room of a lodge for coffee and heat from a stove. The staff from the local Himalayan Rescue Association clinic invited us for a free talk about the work of the clinic and about AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). It was there that we learned that the valley we were in is known as Death Valley because some trekkers blast through and don’t give themselves enough time to acclimatise, which can lead to serious complications.

I took advantage of a hot shower at a nearby lodge, which was basically a bucket of hot water with a jug in a tin hut outside the lodge, but it sure felt good! (NB the higher you go, the colder it gets and the less inclined you are to take a shower!)

Gokyo Lakes

An added attraction of this trek for me was that the route took us away from the most popular base camp path by going up the Gokyo valley with its string of azure blue lakes, one of which we camped above at Gokyo Resort (which had the second-worst toilet of the trip!). From there we could see the next day’s objective – Gokyo Ri, a hill at 5,360 m from which fine views of Everest were to be had. That involved getting up at 5 a.m. but it was well worth it. We left Gokyo at midday and crossed the Ngozumba glacier, a huge boulder-strewn affair which resembled a massive quarry.

Cho La Pass

The night before going over the pass, Ollie gave us a demo of the instep crampons he carried with him as we would be walking in snow and ice, but as it turned out we were fine just walking in other trekkers’ footsteps. We left camp at 5 a.m. by torchlight and headed up into the mountains. With plenty of breathers we reached the top four hours later to find the Nepalese crew waiting for us, singing and playing the flute to welcome us in – what a great atmosphere!

Down across snow fields next, then boulder hopping to a wild camp dominated by the towering peak of Cholatse (6,501m) with not a lodge or tea house in sight. On with the down jackets as soon as we stopped, then lunch al fresco in the sunshine. It was a bit colder when we all huddled in the dining tent later for the evening meal, and I kept most of my layers on when I dived into my sleeping bag and liner with a Sigg water bottle full of hot water – bliss!

Towards base camp

The next day we got impressive views of the Khumbu ice fall situated at the top of the Khumbu glacier, a formidable barrier which many Everest expeditions must conquer to attempt the summit. The trail was getting busier as by now we’d joined the main base camp trail.

Mid afternoon saw us arriving at Gorak Shep, which, at 5,140m, was a cold, barren place but our Nepalese crew were, cheerfully as ever, setting up camp for us. Thankfully there was a warm lodge where hot chocolate restored the spirits (but no brandy in it!) Quite a mix of nationalities in the lodge, including American and Korean.

Everest Base Camp!

An 8 a.m. start on a sunny day saw us setting off on a fairly arduous trek up and down huge mounds of rubble along the edge of, and then partway across, the Khumbu glacier to our ultimate objective. The first indication that you’ve arrived somewhere is a large boulder with prayer flags fluttering from it, and a sign giving the height as 5,364m. We stayed and savoured our achievement for quite some time, taking photos, thanking the crew and generally soaking up the atmosphere of such a special place. You can trek another 2km along the glacier to where some expedition gear is stored ready for next spring, the main climbing season, but I was satisfied that I’d achieved my goal.

Kala Pattar

A 3.30 a.m. start was necessary (according to Ollie!) to ascend Kala Pattar and see the sun rise behind the Everest range. It’s a steep little beastie (I renamed it Killer Pattar), and Craig was counting 100 paces then we were all resting to catch our breath. The ascent took two and a half hours and we reached our highest point of the trip – 5,545m – over 18,000 feet. We had fine views although the top of Everest was obscured by mist.

We got down in about an hour, had breakfast, packed up and were on our way to our next stop, Pheriche, by 8 a.m.

Windy Valley

A sunny day saw us descending almost 1,000m to the settlement of Pheriche, situated in the wide, flattish valley of the Khumbu Khola which Sharoz told me is called ‘windy valley’. We saw a pair of golden eagles soaring on the wind as we approached our camp for the night. It was warm enough for a bit of a sunbathe before exploring the village. Must confess it was good to be at a lower altitude after a couple of days above 5,000m. I found a tin-roofed hut where I could phone home from (my mobile network, Orange, doesn’t have a service in Nepal).

Pheriche also has a Himalayan Rescue Association clinic and close by is a stainless steel, cone shaped memorial which on closer inspection is engraved with the names of people who have died on Everest – there were a lot.

It was quite lively in the village as people were celebrating the Hindu festival of Diwali, the Festival of Light. One or two of the crew had a merry time that night!

The next three days trekking were roller coaster days, descending but sometimes ascending steeply up from the rivers we crossed along the way. We had time to explore monasteries along the way, including Pangboche and Tengboche. We also had a welcome return to the Ama Dablam lodge which we camped behind on our outward trek and which was my favourite lodge in terms of the friendliness of the Buddhist family who ran it, as well as yak steaks and a good hot shower for 250 rupees (about £2)

I had my first beer of the trek at our last camp, just a tin of San Miguel, which tasted strange after two abstemious weeks. You can get beer and sometimes wine on the trek but it’s not recommended at altitude.

Back to Lukla,

We had comparative luxury on our last night on the trek, at a hotel right by the airstrip – luckily they don’t fly at night! A twin room with a loo and sink, with a hot shower at the end of the corridor – luxury!

It was good to wander round the town soaking up the atmosphere, watching the teams of yaks wandering down the main street, doing a bit of shopping and taking photos, just like a tourist.

Our cook, Dan, pushed the boat out and made us a fantastic meal, and even baked us a farewell cake. Then there were presentations from us to the crew followed by Nepalese music and singing (beautiful), and a performance of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ by us (hilarious, I think). Some local hooch was passed round – chang and raitsa, I think – well dodgy!


My impressions of Kathmandu when I’d first arrived were confirmed when I got back after the trek – sprawling, chaotic, and polluted but nevertheless vibrant and totally different from any other city I’d visited.

Before the trek started we’d had an excellent guided tour of some of the main attractions, including the Pashupatinath Hindu temple, the most sacred Hindu site outside India, and Boudhanath, a large Buddhist temple. We then had some free time to take in the sights and sounds of the city, browsing round the shops and marvelling at the number of outdoor gear shops, from which you could buy copies of famous makes at a fraction of the cost of the genuine item.

On returning to Kathmandu to the luxury of the Hotel Shanker (a 19th century palace with swimming pool) we took in the sights of the historical Durbar Square area, a World Heritage Site, with lots of old wooden buildings and temples. The last team meal was celebrated at Rum Doodles restaurant where we wrote our comments about the trip on a wooden foot which was then nailed to the wall for posterity!

The highlight of the last day was a scenic flight from Kathmandu airport in a twenty-odd seater back along the Himalayan range - awesome, as you can imagine, and well worth the $180 we paid.

And finally…

In view of the LDWA’s interest, some might say obsession, with distance, I asked our trek leader how far we had walked during the course of the trek. I wasn’t expecting an answer, as I’d learned on the trip that the locals talked of their journeys in the mountains in terms of hours or days, not miles or kilometres. We generally walked for between 6 and 8 hours a day, had regular breaks and didn’t go very fast because of the altitude, as you can imagine. Distance just wasn’t important.

All in all, a brilliant experience and I can honestly say, if you fancy it, get out there and do it – what are you waiting for?

Barbara Shelton
Ann and I at Base Camp Everest - left of centre In the Dining Tent