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Sunday 24 December - Day 1: Fly to Lukla and trek to Phakding (2,610m)
Picked up from the hotel at 6am. Our 20 minute flight to Lukla was delayed for four hours due to bad weather in Lukla. The flight was over quickly without the white knuckle experience I was expecting. Noodles for lunch in Lukla before the three hour walk through the Dudhkosi valley, heading north, through ups and downs crossing the Thado Koshi River towards our first stop at the village of Phakding.
Monday 25 December - Day 2: Phakding to Namche Bazaar (3,445m)
Apple porridge before a two and a half hour walk to the lunch stop. Sat outside in the bright sunshine. The next part of the trek involved crossing the Dudhkosi River several times on bouncy suspension bridges strewn with prayer flags on the way to Namche. It was a two hour walk ascending 600m up through mostly dusty pine forests to the main trading centre of the region, Namche Bazaar. I had reached the checkpoint hot and sweaty from the brisk walk. The town had a newly constructed stupa and water was being channelled down the slopes turning several large prayer wheels. We settled in at the Kala Patthar lodge and went for a wander in the town, where we discovered a great bakery serving cakes, strudel, cookies, pastries and good coffee. It was a nice place to relax and read for a few hours. Dinner was dal bat with generous refills.
Tuesday 26 December - Day 3: Acclimatisation day in Namche
Awaken at 3am by a barking dog in the town and lay awake for a while. After a rice pudding breakfast we set off at 8:30 for our 600m ascent through the village to Tenzing Norgay's memorial and spent some time at the museum nearby. Everest was mostly shrouded in cloud for our first sighting of it. We continued to the Everest View Hotel at the top of the hill and were back down in Namche by midday. I had momo (dumplings) for lunch and spent the rest of the afternoon in the bakery.
Wednesday 27 December - Day 4: Namche Bazaar to Tengboche (3,860m)
Slept well despite the freezing room. Had an American breakfast and left at 8:30. It was a mostly level trek along the western side of the valley with Everest and Ama Dablam in view for most of the way. A short but steep descent of 400m took us down to the valley floor across a small bridge and we stopped for lunch nearby. What was followed was a steep ascent back up the valley. I was a hot and sweaty and breathing heavily on the walk. I arrived at the saddle on which the settlement of Tengboche sits in a little over an hour, and I lay down at the entrance to the monastery and napped for a bit in the sun while I waited for the others. Like most places, a lot of hotels and shops were closed for the season and the town was quiet until the groups of trekkers arrived. The monastery opened at 3pm and we went inside where a solitary monk was chanting Buddhist scriptures. We decided to stay a bit further down at Deboche where it was a bit more sheltered from the cold. I wanted to photograph the mountains at sunset so I walked back up to Tengboche where the views were better.
Thursday 28 December - Day 5: Trek to Dingboche (4,360m)
I slept a good nine hours. It wasn't as cold as previous nights. After an apple porridge breakfast we walked in the shade though pine trees along the side of a valley. After a tea stop at Pangboche we continued to Shomare where we stopped for lunch. A girl was playing with water from a hose as dzos (yak cow hybrids) passed by. I had Thupka for lunch (veg in a curry sauce) and the others were served a massive plate of boiled potatoes. The trail to Dingboche was mostly level apart from a small section that dropped down to the river across a small bridge before climbing again. It was hard work in the thin air, and was biting cold when the wind blew. I arrived at Dingboche at around 3pm and came across the large stupa with great views of the mountains behind. I took some photos and walked through the village until I found my porter, Dilip, who showed me to my room at the Yak Lodge. I changed into thermals and my down jacket. The room was past a stony courtyard where the wash basin was. Large barrels were the source of water for washing but were mostly frozen solid and there was no running water. I walked around town for a bit. It was mostly lodges but further up were older stone houses where the locals seemed to live. I liked this town, it had charm. Back in the communal area upstairs I sat around the stove and read. After dinner I went outside to try some night photography of the stars and moonlit mountains.
Friday 29 December - Day 6: Acclimatization in Dingboche (climb to 4,800m)
After a late breakfast we walked up Chhukung for our acclimatisation hike. It was a slow and steady ascent, stopping on the way to take photos of the prayer flags and Ama Dablam beyond. We were back down by midday. The nearby bakery was showing the Everest movie so after lunch we went there for some pastries and warming hot drinks, and played snakes and ladders while we waited for the film to start. After dinner I went out again for night photography, this time just a single exposure of 20 minutes to try to capture some star trails.
Saturday 30 December - Day 7: Trek to Lobuche (4,930m)
The landscape was quite flat and open for the first part of the trek with great views of the mountains all around us. It was a fairly level trail but the last part crossing the river over large boulders before the rest stop at Dughla was tough going. I continued for about an hour and a half up the pass to the memorial stones then along a mostly frozen stream to Lobuche. I arrived at the Alpine Home lodge before the other groups. Flags from countries where people had come from were draped on the ceilings and walls. After lunch I walked with my porter (who was in flip flops) a half hour up the nearby slope for a view of the glacier which had mostly receded now and was covered in scree.
Sunday 31 December - Day 8: Trek to Gorak Shep (5,160m), Everest base camp (5,364m) and Kala Patthar (5,545m)
It was a freezing night, literally. The water on the window sill had frozen. I had difficulty sleeping even with thermals, a hat, buff, a fleece and a duvet over the sleeping bag. We set off early and walked on the trail with the rock strewn glacier to our right. I reached Gorak Shep an hour and 45 minutes later. Rested there for half an hour before continuing on the walk to Everest Base Camp. It was a fairly level hike but was hard work and very cold. The last part across the boulders and glacier to base camp was the hardest and slow going. Prayer flags decorated the end point of the trek. I took some photos and selfies and left after half an hour and we were back in Gorak Shep by 12:30. My legs were weak from the uphills. I arrived at the lodge exhausted and dozed for a bit. I really wasn't feeling like another hike, let alone a climb up to over 5,500m. I had lunch and at 3pm set off for the ascent of Kala Patthar. It was a very slow, relentless climb up to the half way point which levelled off for a bit before climbing again steeply. After an hour and 40 minutes we had reached the peak, and the large rocks at the end took everything out of me. It was very cold and windy, but the views of Everest and Nuptse with the moon and clouds were stunning, especially when lit by the glow from the setting sun. We descended quickly in around 40 minutes. I sat by the stove slowly warming up as the dining area became very crowded and noisy. A member from my group wasn't feeling well enough to walk back to Lukla and I was offered a place in the rescue helicopter that had been arranged. I was happy to accept as it saved me three days of retracing my steps back the same way we'd come. Had a final dal bat dinner with the usual apple and pomegranate dessert and went to bed exhausted at 8:30. It was another very cold night, and woke at 4am to the sound of people setting off for their sunrise hike to Kala Patthar. I was thankful that wasn't me.
Monday 1 January - Kathmandu
I didn't get back to sleep. I got up at 5:45 and packed with the light from my phone because we were without power since last night. Downstairs was colder than upstairs and the stove hadn't been lit yet. It was still cloudy and the helicopter which was due to arrive at 7:20 was delayed. We were lucky we had a good sunset for the hike last night because the original plan was to climb up for sunrise and it was cloudy this morning - the first time we didn't wake to a clear sky on the entire trek. Our ride arrived at 9am and flew over the route we had taken over the last eight days. We could identify features and villages we'd been to and could see the trekkers walking the trails below. We arrived in Lukla about 20 minutes later and there was a short wait while we got into a different helicopter for the flight to Kathmandu which was another 45 minutes. I said my goodbyes and took a taxi to the hotel. I managed to change my flight home to tomorrow. It was a great relief and now I was in a comfortable hotel my spirits had lifted. After a much needed shower I set off for a wander around Thamel. I walked towards Durbar Square, dodging the motorbikes which seem to go everywhere with no regard for pedestrians. I eventually found a coffee shop right at the entrance to the square. I sat by the window and watched the activity outside for while. About half the temples had been destroyed by the earthquake of 2015, and many of those that stood were badly damaged. A lot of restoration work was still ongoing but it was still well worth visiting. Guides approached me with the persistence I remembered from my last visit 16 years ago. It was fascinating despite the chaos and I watched as people sat on the steps of the pagodas chatting, elsewhere worshippers were lighting candles and being blessed. It was nice to walk around but after a few hours I was tired and ready for a to go back to the hotel and relax, and reflect on what had been an awesome adventure in the mountains.