After a couple acclimatization days we were ready to start exploring Sagarmatha National Park and continue making our way towards Everest Base Camp. We knew we’d already completed one of the more difficult hiking days with the slog up to Namche Bazaar, but that was to be quickly followed up with another very challenging day of hiking to Tengboche. Luckily we’d taken the extra acclimatization day to help prepare ourselves.
Our target was always to try to gain no more than 500m per day if not taking an acclimatization day immediately afterwards. Namche Bazaar sits at 3,440 meters above mean sea level, and this day would only involve trekking to the famous monastery in Tengboche which sits at 3870m. Although the elevation gain would be inside our target window, we quickly learned that looking solely at starting and ending elevation wouldn’t tell us the whole story. When we began to look at the map in more detail, we found that we were in for a relatively easy descent at the beginning of the day, down to a river crossing with a suspension bridge called Phunki Tenga (3250m). However, this of course meant the second part of our day would in fact be another gruelling 600m climb up continuous switchback trails to our next stop. Needless to say, the hike was mentally and physically draining, but we just kept repeating a few key mantras, took breaks as needed, and kept going.
We found a handful of key expressions very motivating during our more trying days. Janan already mentioned “steps and stones, stones and steps,” which helped get us through some of the sections with tricky and slippery footing. Other key expressions we found ourselves repeating very frequently were the classic, “one foot in front of the other,” and “down to go up, and up to go down.” This last phrase was employed heavily on our 6th day of hiking.
We found that we kept leapfrogging with a pair of German climbers who were quite chatty, and had climbing permits for Island Peak, a ‘trekking’ peak to the east of the Everest area (trekking peaks are loosely defined as mountain peaks that require limited or no technical skill to summit). Joking with them as we slogged our way up the hill definitely helped take the edge off. When we finally made it into Tengboche, we met them again as they came out of the first lodge in the village. They quickly announced that we might want to try another place as, “we would probably leave that place with more than we checked in with!” – That was all the review we needed to happily move on.
After getting settled into a significantly nicer room at another lodge in town, we headed down to the main room of the tea house and ordered ourselves some dinner. We had budgeted a significant amount of time on this trip for our trek in Nepal as we wanted to make sure that we didn’t feel rushed and took the necessary time to acclimatize. As such, we decided to make the next day an acclimatization day. The following morning we enjoyed breakfast on the balcony of our lodge with a pretty amazing view, and did a hike up a local hillside to a stupa with a beautiful vista of the village and surrounding area. This was also one of the first times that we noticed helicopters flying by at the same altitude we were hiking at. Helicopters are an extremely common aspect of the Khumbu region, constantly streaming tourists and supplies to Everest Base Camp, as well as the many communities along the trail, and serving to evacuate injured hikers or those with severe altitude sickness.
The next day we started hiking again, this time with no set destination. Our plan was to simply hike as long as we felt comfortable, and when we were worn out, just find a lodge for the evening and call it a day. Up until that point, the trail was purely linear, with only one direct way to EBC. However, after the village of Pangboche (3,985m), the trail led to a high plain, where the trail opened up into multiple footpaths and ultimately splits, with one path heading down into a valley at the village of Pheriche (4,240m) and another heading up towards the village Dingboche (aka “Dingers” for the rest of the trip – 4,410m). We also passed by the trail to Ama Dablam Base Camp, which is one of the most unique and identifiable mountains in the region, and the one that I found to be the most beautiful. Ultimately, we found ourselves in good condition and spirits, and carried on much farther than initially expected. It had been our rough initial plan to take the lower route via Pheriche to help acclimatize slower, however we eventually found ourselves heading down the path towards Dingboche, and realized it simply made the most sense to carry on to Dingboche and stay there.
A silver lining of this decision turned out to be the discovery of a fantastic bakery in Dingboche, which had absolutely magical chocolate cake!