We tried to put in perspective the size of these mountains since many of them were over 20,000ft. Almost too much to absorb. Our final destination would take us up to 18,000ft by day 8 or 9, we would then have 3 days to hike back down. It would take over a week to slowly hike to Goyko Ri so we could properly acclimatize. We had been warned and we were well aware that many hikers weren't successful at reaching the high elevation due to altitude sickness. We were not about to blow our hike by rushing up there. Everyday we told ourselves "polay polay" which means "slowly slowly" in Swahili as we learned in 2006 while hiking Mt Kilimanjaro. The weather was very cold, especially when the sun disappeared around 5pm everynight. Only when we were hiking could we shed our down jackets.
I was beginning to worry that this would be a very long 12 days for me since I do not like to be cold, however, along the way we bought yak wool scarves and hats which turned out to be just what I needed. We did not need a tent for sleeping as there were plenty of guesthouses for us to stay in. The guesthouses were small stone buildings that had anywhere from 5-20 rooms. The rooms each had two twin beds that were padded with thin worn down foam mattresses . They had mostly outdoor toilets (squatter holes in the ground) and some of them offered a bucket of hot water for a shower. As we got higher up, the less available running water and fuel to heat the water was so the guesthouses would charge about $4 for these buckets of hot water. As you can imagine, since we were already cold and our clothes stunk, we easily talked ourselves out of the "bucket showers". I won't go into detail about the body odor or the weird things that started happening with our hair, but I am sure you can imagine. I also won't admit to how many showers we took out of the 12 days.
Most of the guesthouses lit up a woodburning stove at night. Everyone huddled around the stove at the center of the room to thaw out. Often times the stove would spurt out a nauseating, tear jerking black smoke. This was not the typical woodburning stove, we realized, as we witnessed dried yak dung being used instead of wood. Yes, yak dung made for a fuel efficient heating source, plus the supply of it was endless! The locals didn't seem to notice the smoke. It was only us tourists that seemed to need to step out for fresh air. Often times Eli and I were the only people staying in a guesthouse as trekking season is not yet in full gear. We played alot of travel chess or just read books. We also went to bed around 8 pm everynight as that is when the stoves turned off.
The best thing about the guesthouses were that they provided hot fresh meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Every morning we would have a cup of black tea with eggs, for lunch we had Sherpa stew (a potato, veggie stew), and for dinner we ate dal bhat, momos, and potatoes while we spoiled ourselves with a pot of delicious milk tea. On day 2 it dawned on us that the "Milk" in milk tea was probably not the typical cow milk we were used to. Turns out we were right! It was YAK MILK that gave it such a rich yummy flavor. Despite knowing that I was actually drinking Yak Milk, I was hooked, plus I thought the extra fatty calories was good for our trek. I credit the milk tea for helping me overcome my coffee addiction as I no longer crave coffee....now what will help me get over my milk tea addiction?
Most of the trail for the first few days took us through Sherpa villages where we could find any supplies we might need such as Snickers bars for snacks and toilet paper for well...blowing our noses. We treated stream water with a UV light pen so we didn't have to carry or buy bottled water. We passed over rickety suspension bridges adorned in prayer flags overlooking the Dudh Kosi river. Each day took us up and down ridges and valleys. We passed multiple Sherpas along the trails that were carrying heavy loads of supplies. We learned that the nearest road to these small villages would take 7-12 days to get to. You wouldn't believe the things that these Sherpas had to carry. We saw stacks of plywood, tables, chairs, endless sacks of rice, gallons of kerosene, cases of beer, and anything else you can imagine being hauled up the mountains. Pretty much everything in the village was hauled on someones back, or if they could afford it, a yak or donkey's back. The ridiculous thing was how the Sherpas carried the enormous weight. They strapped a wide band to the tops of their heads, bent over so their bodies were almost perpendicular to their legs, and loaded the supplies on their backs. Talk about knee, back and neck problems when they get older. It made us appreciate our small backpacks and we had no room to complain. At one of the guesthouses we stayed at, the owner had a really cute little boy who either played or practiced being a porter.
I think his mom was making him practice but Eli was hopeful that he was just playing and mimicking the adults around him. Hmmmm.
I think day 1 was the easiest for trekking and it got progressively harder as we got higher in elevation and the air got thinner and colder. Everyday we spent about 4-6 hrs hiking but we always had a place to rest and recover.
On day 4 we made it to the hilltop town of Tengboche that is known for it's beautiful monastery, monks, and prayer wheels.
It felt especially cold that day so we hunkered up in the guesthouse next to a wood/dung burning stove and we watched the Buddhist monks playing soccer outside in nothing more than their robes and sandals. So cool! On day 5 we stayed in the village of Phortse.
The owner of the guesthouse we stayed at had certificates lining his walls. Upon close examination, Eli saw that the certificates were given for successful summit of Mt Everest. Turns out, the owner was a Sherpa and he had guided groups up Everest 9 times and summited 4 out of those 9 times. He told us that he did not like climbing Everest but that it was a good job and he needed to provide for his wife and 2 kids. He says his family prayed daily for him while he was on Everest in hopes that he would make it back alive. He admitted that he thinks Westerners who pay tens of thousands of dollars to risk their lives are a bit "stupid." I could totally see his point. He also shared with us that he is most likely going back up to Everest again this April to guide again. I feel bad for his family. Also on his wall he had an award for winning 2nd place in the Everest Marathon. When probed, he humbly told us that he just wanted to try the marathon but that he didn't like it and didn't even train for it. Hah!
At one point along our trek, we opted to wash out our dusty, dirty socks and shirts. It was quite comical because as soon as we hung them out on a clothesline, they began to freeze. We then used our brains and brought them into a guesthouse to dry by the stove. The days between 1-8 went by alot faster than I anticipated. We felt our bodies getting stronger and the weight of our backpacks seemed less burdensome. By day 8, we made it to the village of Goyko and decided to go ahead and summit Goyko Ri to catch the sunset. The weather was clear and we knew it was our opportunity to spot Mt Everest in all it's glory. Goyko Ri looked like a small hill compared to the gigantic mountains around it, however, the steep 2 hour climb through snow proved to be a wind sucking event. We had to make our own path, sometimes climbing straight up, sometimes making switchbacks. The wind picked up the higher we got, we put on all our layers, and we pushed onwards. I seriously thought we would never reach the top but suddenly we saw the prayer flags and I stood up in awe. Goyko Ri had promised a great view but I was literally blown away at the 360 degree view of mountains that were spread out before us, including Everest! I got teary eyed, not sure if it was from the wind, the pain, or the view, but I immediately felt God's presence. My eyes were truly open and everything Eli and I had worked for had paid off. It was like a little bit of my life flashing before me and I felt so much appreciation for my blessings and I could think clearly and picture everyone I loved up there with me. This lasted for a short 10 minutes (haha) as the wind reminded us that it was in charge. Brrr, our hands and feet began to freeze.
Eli quickly jumped into action taking photos. He did a great job at capturing the essence of our short time at the top. In the picture with us in the front of the mountains, Everest is the tall dark peak on the top right. Since we were so cold, we started down the mountain right at sunset, knowing that if we waited too much longer, the temperature would drop significantly. What was supposed to take an hour to get down, seeing that there was no real path, took us about an hour and 45 minutes. About half way down, we pulled out our headlamps since it suddenly became very dark.
The obstacles of the snow, darkness, and lack of path made for an interesting trek down. Eli said to me "this is one of those times when we wouldn't want our parents watching what we are doing". Not that it was dangerous or anything, but I took at least 6 spills and Eli took 2. At one point, I must have forgotten my humility at the top because I yelled at Eli "I am so over this!" Eli confessed to me later that he didn't know what I meant by "over this" as he didn't really see what choice I had in the matter....either walk down the mountain or stay at the top.
I told him it was just one of those moments of total frustration and as soon as I yelled it, I really had no idea what I meant either. We can laugh about it now. The day after our summit proved to be another amazingly sunny clear day. I was content on taking a rest day but my chipper husband wanted to explore the area more. We compromised in that I stayed at the guesthouse to play cards with another group while Eli "explored" the area and then WENT BACK UP GOYKO RI. I thought he was getting altitude sickness because I knew there was no way a sane person would climb that hill twice, but his eagerness to take more pictures and see the views again prevailed. He made it up and down safely, with only one spill this time, and produced some of his best photography to date.
He said that the wind stopped, the sun was hot and he could have stayed up there all day. Truly a rare experience. I was happy to have stayed behind anyway as I felt rested for the trek back down the mountain. Days 10-12 on the way down were just as difficult as the days up.
We were using different muscles and our knees took a long time to warm up in the mornings. We hiked longer days, about 7 hrs each day, so we could make it down to Lukla to catch our flight back to Kathmandu.
After an uneventful smooth flight back, we were happy to have warmer weather, showers, and a comfy bed. Not long after those needs were met, our hunger began to take over. Now, for the past 3 days we have been eating everything in sight. We hadn't had meat for over a week (we were warned not to eat meat high up in the mountains) and we've been devouring kebabs and hamburgers. We did loose some weight, not from starving, rather from hiking, but we can already feel the pounds coming back.
Tomorrow there is another festival in the city. I am nervous about it and Eli is totally excited for "Holi" as it is Nepal's water throwing festival. The locals douse each other (and especially tourist women) with water from buckets or balloons and then throw acrylic paints on each other. Eli has a skilled history at throwing water balloons and is already planning to participate. I on the otherhand, will try to witness from the rooftop of our hotel. I am sure it will be a site to see...we can already see and hear that the festivities have begun a day early. I am sure there will be some great pictures of me covered in water and paint.