These posts are reflections and images from my trek to Kalla Patthar in Nepal February 2017.
I had some work in India along the coast and was looking for a side trip afterwards for photography. I thought about the Maldives but decided that would be depressing to be the single guy amongst all the honeymooning couples. Sri Lanka also came up but didn’t really move me. A friend suggested I head up to Nepal and do the trek to Everest Base Camp. So I looked into it.
Looking into tour operators is like walking out of the arrivals hall in a third world airport. Everyone wants to be your friend. Following lots of research and emails, I started working with Gopal at Himalayan Nepal Trek. Questions led to more questions, a gear list came together and a rough itinerary. I explained that my main reason to go would be photography and this was factored into the route and timing.
Honestly, when I finished my work in India, I was ready for home. Instead, I headed for Kathmandu. Gopal met me at the airport and got me set up at a hotel in Thamel. I met my guide, Badri, got in some time for local photography and ate a lot of MoMo, a local version of pot stickers. Smooth going so far, I began to see myself hiking in and amongst the peaks of the Himalayas.
The finicky nature of getting to Lukla, the start of my trek soon revealed itself, however. Weather cancelled our flight for two days. With a fixed exit date, this was becoming concerning. On day two, we decided to get a helicopter and get there by that means instead. Our helicopter was met in Lukla by a group of Australians equally eager to leave but unable. We swapped seats and my trek began.
Our original porter we had planned on engaging was hung over from New Years, so we hired another and set off up the trail. Our plan was an easy acclimatization schedule with slow going and a set plan of overnights to get me used to the elevation. In Lukla, we were at 2800 meters and our goal, Kalla Patthar, was about 5600 meters.
Wandering up the dusty trail was a revelation of life in Nepal. Teams of yaks and mules carrying propane and hay, other porters with huge loads balanced on their backs, groups of trekkers. Stretches of trail broken up by little settlements. Teahouses, homes, dusty trail, businesses selling supplies to trekkers. We were gaining slowly in elevation, nothing too intense. That would come later.
Our first overnight was in Phakding, a small hamlet about 4 hours up the trail from Lukla. Here I had my first teahouse experience. Ordering from a menu I would see similar variations of throughout the trip, sleeping in a typical teahouse room, etc. We were the only guests, its still the slow season coming out of winter. The meals were excellent. The room was seriously cold however. I started to realize that I had made a wise choice in bringing my Mountain Hardwear Phantom Zero degrees F bag. It was only going to get colder. Speaking of gear, I was starting to work out what I would wear while trekking vs what I wore around the teahouse. Trekking wear were light layers. Arcteryx Rampart pants, base layer, windstopper pullover or light down jacket. in the evening off the trail, I would slip into my Arcteryx Firebee parka for warmth around the teahouse. I had been very happy with my Arcteryx Bora2 GTX boots and saw no reason not to bring them along. The liners made nice teahouse booties at each stop along the way. In the end, I hiked for two weeks with no foot issues, so my choice worked out.
By the second day, I had worked out a plan for photography. The good light was of course in the morning and evening. But sights still presented themselves along the way during the day. I had brought two cameras, Sony a7r and a7r2, with four lenses: Voigtlander 10mm, Zeiss 28mm Otus, Zeiss 55mm and Zeiss 100-300mm. The 55 would be my walkaround, with iphone ready for quick snaps. I didnt use the 10mm, with most of my shots spread around the other three focal lengths. Badri did a great job of carrying my a7r2 with the 55 at ready. I swapped on the 28 or 100-300 as scenes presented themselves.
Our first major climb was the ascent into Namche the next day. It began with a climb to the second of two suspension bridges to cross the Dudh Koshi Nadi river, which for most of the trip we were on one side or the other or crossing over it via suspension bridge. I had been hydrating well, and adding Endurox R4 to my bottle for additional recovery support. This first climb really wrung me out. I began to see this was going to be a bit more intense than I thought. Badri helped me slow down as my instinct was to get up the trail as fast as possible so I could rest at the top. The length of some of these stretches plus the altitude was going to conspire against me quickly. Donkey steps I began to call them. Slow and easy. The people who got in trouble with the altitude were the gung-ho crossfit types who tried to go too fast. I saw this happen to others later on.
Namche revealed itself soon enough and we settled in for two days there to acclimatize to the altitude. I had my first hot shower in a few days which was mostly a warm trickle, teasing me but wonderful none the less. I also finally had some choice of time and location for photos and got some nice sunrise/sunset shots of surrounding peaks, the town itself and of Ama Dablam in the distance. Our teahouse accommodations had other guests as well and I began to get to know other trekkers who I would see again and again along the trail. I found a local beer, Sherpa Ale to be quite refreshing, although Badri advised no more ale after this stop since it would mess with our acclimatization plan. More Sherpa would have to wait until we came back this way on the route down.
In Namche, I also began to learn how to evaluate teahouses. Where was my room in relation to bathrooms? How was the food, ie. what was on the menu vs. what actually appeared? How could I charge my phone and was the wireless free or not? These were important questions and I learned to quickly assess. Related to food, the menus were a mix of western and local favorites. Ordering local was not a guarantee of good eats however. As we got further up the trail, the freshness of ingredients waned. It was obvious to me to stay away from the pizza and hamburgers however even from the start. I remember drinking a lot of tea, eating a lot of momo, fried rice and french toast. Oat porridge eventually became a mainstay with a wide variety of condiments, and on the last day, I had finally figured out to order toast, with peanut butter and honey, which I made into a great sandwich.
Next: Part 2 – Onward and Upward to Tengboche and Dingboche