DIZZY HEIGHTS OF MT EVEREST “THE GODDESS MOTHER”

There are not many airports in the world with a worrying tag of being the most dangerous in the world. But Lukla in the middle of the Himalayan Range can easily boast this title. And this is exactly our starting point in the footsteps of Edmund Hillary to conquer the Goddess Mother of all Himalayan Peaks – the mighty Mt Everest.


For such a tiny strip of a runway cut into a mountain cliff the air traffic is heavy with several small planes taking off and landing. But it’s only busy when the weather conditions are good and at this moment we’re not so lucky. So far we’ve spent 3 days at Kathmandu Domestic Airport waiting for clouds to lift off. No pilot would take a risk of flying a small metal tin when it’s misty as they do not use any radars or GPS apart from mobiles.

The domestic airport is a total chaos and a source of bewilderment for tourists trying to make out any sense from random announcements.

At last, we hear that our flight can start and the pandemonium ensues. People fight to get to Tara or Buddha Airlines ticket offices, waving and shoving their tickets into workers’ faces. This is a moment when people stop caring whether planes will actually reach their destination. Everything seems better than spending another day at the airport. Our group keeps it cool as we managed to bribe a flight attendant and are quickly whisked outside to our plane.

The flight is relatively short around forty minutes and rather uneventful. We admire deep gorges and knockout mountain views along the way. The best are eight thousand metres peaks towering above clouds in front of us and, of course, the abrupt landing on top of the cliff and sharp braking on a very short runway.

In Lukla we’re surrounded by hundreds of porters and tin-roofed lodges with funny names such as “5* Lodge-hotel”. No wonder that we quickly opt for a more modestly named “Sherpa Inn Lodge” where we can indulge in drinking Everest Beer still priced only at 350NPR ($4) per bottle. I’m savouring the taste knowing that prices are going to climb together with our hike.

We begin our trek with a series of short trekking days to ensure we acclimatise. Even Lukla is based on 2800metres and our final ascent is up to 5600 metres high. The first part of a trek is strenuous but pleasant with the hot Nepalese sun beating down and us following the banks of the Dudh Koshi river, up and down winding mountain trail heaving with tourists and locals alike.

Our main task is to duck away and let donkey and cow trains laden with heavy loads to pass through. After seven hours of steep trail we reach a lodge and land exhausted in a dining room. The food is vegetarian with a heavy reliance on rice, vegetables and noodles combined with eggs.


In the morning we slowly make our way along the river and then cross the river a few times using  large suspension bridges. The steep hill is heavy-going and we get a piece of advice from our Sherpa guide Ang Nuru “There is one vital thing for you to learn to avoid the mountain sickness”. We all lean in to absorb this nugget of wisdom which will turn us into real mountaineers. “Just move very slowly – Chukum, chukum” he shouts and laughs. With a heavy sigh we continue through the Sagarmatha National Park and make a final ascent over 1000 feet to reach Namche Bazaar.


It is a buzzing trading place for Sherpas and Tibetans and full of backpackers. Exhausted but exhilarated we admire numerous terraces painstakingly carved out from steep mountain slopes. It’s a good resting place full of shops and even  two “Irish” pubs. Signs advertise happy hours, beer while shops sell trekking gear, Buddhist CDs and Tibetan jewellery.

Next morning we slowly make our way down to the Khumjung village at the foot of the sacred Khumbila Mountain. Suddenly the view in front of us is superb. The sky is deep blue and the sun gilds countless mountain tops, and I can see the distinctive shapes of Ama Dablam, Everest and Lhotse.

Khumjung looks firmly uniform with whitewashed houses with green roofs, a pretty stupa and a famous Edmund Hillary school founded in 1960. But the most unique thing there is a yeti skull locked away in the Khumjung monastery. For only 100NPR a monk will open a metal box and you can glimpse a large head covered by thick brown and bristly fur. Unfortunately, locals do not allow anyone to touch their cash cow – not even scientists managed to obtain its DNA.

Over the next two days we continue our ascent stopping at small villages, passing through enchanting rhododendron forests and herds of grazing yaks until we reach a famous Buddhist Monastery at Tengboche (3900metres).


Now we can really enjoy the sweeping views of the bright-white summits of Nupste (8100m), Ama Dablam (6812m), Lhotse (8513m), Everest (8848m). They are everything I hoped they would be – divine and majestic.


We are now ascending steep hills on the way to Pheriche - a high lying mountain village deep in a valley surrounded by jaw-droppingly beautiful peaks of Lobuche, Ama Dablam, Island Peak, Makalu and Champulo.

It’s a bleak and unforgiving place above the tree line, a rocky and rugged terrain. In Pheriche there is a small mountain hospital where we meet the English and Polish volunteer doctors who help victims of an acute altitude sickness. We even witness a rescue helicopter mission carrying sick tourists from Lobuche back to Kathmandu.

It’s becoming much colder and tougher to follow the trail. We dine daily on Dal Bhat - the staple diet of lentils and vegetable curry. Other choices are pasta, eggs, noodles or dumplings followed with hot tea and a constant increase in price the higher the elevation.

The only problem is the higher we go the food becomes steadily worse. No wonder our early nights consist of dreaming about steaming hot sausages, fruit and chocolate.

From now on we follow the Khumbu Glacier climbing over rocky stones.

There are many stone memorials (chortens)along the way commemorating climbers who died on Mt Everest. The line of lonely chortens standing forlornly on the ridge, surrounded by the Mt Pumori’s jagged rocks and beaten by relentless howling winds reminds everyone about the human frailty against the forces of nature.



The Khumbu Glacier is dotted with frozen lakes and huge boulders scattered around. At last we reach a tiny village of Gorak Shep (5100m) surrounded by a desolate plain and overlooked by the highest peaks. From there there is a relatively short two-hour but somewhat challenging hike especially at the present altitude.


We reach a placard stating simply Mt Everest Base Camp 2012 and in the distance we can make out expedition tents just below the ice fall at the bottom of the Everest. It’s hard to believe that even at this dizzying height of 5350m climbers have another 3.5km upwards to reach the summit. All slopes are covered by snow thick in some places or translucent ice elsewhere. The sheer power of nature is very present and humans seem very frail in comparison.


The next night we have to wake up early at 4am to climb  Kala Pattar (5500m) to get the best view of the west and south face of Everest and Lhotse. The trail is very strenuous, the wind numbingly cold and penetrating and everything hidden in complete darkness. On the way I pass two emerald lakes gleaming in the rising sun and am confronted by a massive wall of Everest. The view is amazing and the Everest face so close that you can see the climbing route to the summit. Though I am on the verge of hypothermia I still manage to snap a few photos and pose in front of the most famous mountain in the world.


Coming down is a much faster affair and we pass more secluded villages. Watching yak herds coming down the ridge with the snow-dusted mountains is nothing short of spectacular. We have to share the trail with yak caravans - cuddly looking but quite moody and easily frightened creatures. The moment we see them there is a yak alert and we let them pass first.


It’s now downhill as we descend sharply past gushing waterfalls, forests and hidden valleys.

On the way we stop at a village of Pangboche famous for its 17th century gompa (monastery). It is beautifully painted, full of prayer wheels, trumpets and colourful pieces of material hanging from the ceiling.

Down and down we go, through stunning scenery of high peaks behind us until we reach Ghat and,finally, Lukla.


As we chill out in the lodge awaiting our return flight to Kathmandu, recounting our experiences, I think to myself that nothing can compare with the thrills and beauty of the Himalayas. And we only managed to get there thanks to help from our Sherpa porters Kami, Mingwa, Yanggi and our guide Ang Nuru.

There is not much I can add to this as I watch the sun again rising over the Himalayas, giving each peak form, colour and revealing the spectacular proportions of this unforgettable landscape.

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