My Biggest Challenge Yet: Hiking in the Himalayas

Aksu Zhabagly, Kazakhstan
This is me hiking in Kazakhstan. Not quite the same as the Himalayas.

Seventeen days in the mountains.

Not just any mountains, but the Himalayas – one of the most famous (and highest) mountain ranges in the world.

Sometimes I want to pinch myself to remind myself that this trip is really happening. Other times I wonder what I was thinking when I entered to win this trip through the Passports with Purpose fundraiser last year. Seventeen days hiking in the Himalayas. Can I really handle this?

I depart Chicago at 9:00 p.m. tonight and after a long flight and a layover in Doha, Qatar, I will arrive in Kathmandu, Nepal early in the morning on Sunday, September 29. Even after traveling around the world solo for 13 months, I am incredibly nervous about this trip and about traveling to Asia for the first time. Okay, sure I technically visited Asia on my trip – Siberia and the ‘Stans are all technically in Asia – but those places didn’t feel like Asia. When I arrive in Kathmandu, it will be my first exposure to the colorful chaos that I imagine when I think of Asia.

I am comforted by the fact that I will be met at the airport by Peter West Carey, the travel photographer running the tour that I am taking. After more than 24 hours of travel, I think it will be a relief not to have to figure anything out for myself right away. I think I may still be exhausted from fending for myself for thirteen months. For the first time ever, I have put almost no thought into this trip because I haven’t needed to; the entire trip has been planned for me. While I am normally a crazy planner, I have to admit, this is kind of nice.

We will have two days to explore Kathmandu before boarding a tiny plane to Lukla, which is where our trek will begin.  The focus of the trek is photography and enjoying the mountains – not rushing to Everest Base Camp or pushing through the entire Annapurna Circuit. But we will be trekking in the Everest region (known as Khumbu) for 17 whole days and up to an altitude of more than 17,000 feet. As the title of this post indicates, this very well could be my biggest physical and mental challenge ever.

Himalayas
The Himalayas! Photo courtesy of Claude Florin via Flickr.

So here’s a little preview of where we’ll be trekking, based on the itinerary I have and what I have read in my Lonely Planet guide to Trekking in the Nepal Himalayas.

September 29:  I’ll arrive in Kathmandu at 8:30 a.m.  After a shower and hopefully a little rest, I’ll join the rest of our group of 6 to spend the day exploring and photographing the city. I have a feeling this may be a bit of a blur as I will be going on very little sleep!

September 30: This will be an early morning as we’ll be up by 4 a.m. to walk to Swayambhunath for the sunrise (and possibly some monkey-spotting). After a somewhat relaxing day, we will head to Basantapur Durbar Square before sunset and dinner.

October 1: Another early morning as we get up to fly to Lukla and begin trekking. The goal will be to reach Monjo, just outside the entrance to Sagarmatha National Park. (9,317 ft/2,839 m)

October 2: This should be a short, but steep day of trekking but it should be well worth it as we catch our first glimpse of Mt. Everest! We’ll spend the first of two nights at Namche Bazaar, a bustling town in the Himalayas with shops, ATMs and even wi-fi. (11,260 ft/3,432 m)

October 3: We get to sleep in! Today will be an acclimatization day in Namche Bazaar and we’ll do a day hike to nearby Thame, which is about 600 meters in altitude up and back down again. (11,260 ft/3,432 m)

October 4: Another day for sleeping in – who knew trekking could be so lazy? I have a feeling we’re just saving our energy for later on. Today will be a short trek to Khumjung, the hometown of our Sherpa guide and the location of the first Hillary school, founded by Sir Edmund Hillary just eight years after he conquered Everest.  Tonight will be a new moon so we will probably be staying up late for some night photography. (12,410 ft/3,782 m)

October 5: Today looks like another short trek day and we’ll be stopping in Mong La for the night. This village is said to be the birthplace of Lama Sange Dorje, the saint who introduced Buddhism to the Khumbu. And with another new moon night, the stars should be great for photographing.(12,985 ft/3,957 m)

October 6: Up, up, up we go today to Dole, breaking the 4,000 meter mark for the first time. Dole is set at the mouth of the Phule Khola in a wide, densely forested valley. (13,314 ft/4,058 m)

Dead Woman's Pass
Dead Woman’s Pass along the Inca Trail – 4,200 meters up, my highest altitude prior to this trek!

October 7: Today we move on to Machermo and I officially reach my highest altitude ever – I previously topped out at about 4,200 meters when hiking the Inca Trail. There are supposed to be several hiking trails to check out around Machermo and there is also a medical clinic that gives talks about altitude sickness. (14,413 ft/4,393 m)

October 8: I am already looking forward to this day as we will be walking alongside the Ngozumpa glacier (the longest in the Himalayas) and seeing some waterfalls as well. I like water features when I hike. We will be spending the night at Gokyo, which sits on the shores of the third of six sacred lakes, and will have the option to take an evening hike up to the fifth sacred lake to catch the sunset and enjoy views of Everest. (15,616 ft/4,759 m)

October 9: At about the halfway point of the trek, we will hit our highest point. The goal is to be up to Gokyo Ri at 17,575 feet/5,357 meters by 6 a.m. After enjoying the sunrise from Gokyo Ri, we’ll head back down for breakfast before doing some more hiking around the sacred lakes. (15,616 ft/4,759 m)

October 10: Finally, a mostly downhill day! We’ll be heading all the way down to Phortse, a village that is off the main trekking circuit and is supposed to feel “more like a proper Sherpa village and less like a theme park for trekkers.(12,622 ft/3,847 m)

October 11: Today we hike along the valley to Pengboche and also have the chance to visit the Pengboche Gompa, the oldest monastery in the Khumbu, founded in the 17th century (13,148 ft/4,007 m)

October 12: Heading slightly uphill all day, we’ll be going through the valley of the Dudh Kosi (Milk River) to Dengboche, enjoying view of several of the peaks around Everest, including Ama Dablam and Cholatse. (14,179 ft/4,321 m).

October 13: This day is kind of up in the air. We might climb a ridge to the south of Dengboche to a stunning set of lakes or we can journey up a side valley to the small village of Chukhung.  Or, we might head to Dughla. (14,179 ft/4,321 m or 15,551 ft/4,739 m or 15,154 ft/4,618 m).

October 14: According to the itinerary, today may be my first chance for a hot shower in 2 weeks! A mostly downhill day, we will end up in Tengboche, home to the Tengboche Monastery and the Mani Rimdu Festival each year (unfortunately, we’ll be a month too early for the festival). (12, 656 ft/3,857 m)

October 15: After twelve days on the trail, we’ll return to Namche Bazaar. I likely will not be able to resist the urge to hop online for the first time in days. (11,260 ft/3,432 m)

October 16: Today features a long, downhill trek from Namche Bazaar back to Lukla and we’ll be passing all of the other trekkers just starting out. (9,353 ft/2,850 m)

October 17: Assuming the weather cooperates, we’ll be flying back to Kathmandu today, at which point I may spend the rest of the day in the shower at my hotel. I can remember after hiking the Inca Trail (just four days), I needed to shower twice before I started to feel clean again. While there will be chances to take rough, bucket showers along the trek, I have a feeling my personal hygiene will sink to never before known low standards.

October 18: Today is kind of a buffer day in case our flight gets delayed out of Lukla. If we make it back the previous day as planned, today will just be a sightseeing and relaxation day in Kathmandu.

October 19: Last day in Kathmandu! My flight doesn’t depart until late in the evening, so I’ll have one more full day to explore.

We will be staying in teahouses along the way (not camping!) and porters will carry our bigger packs from stop to stop, while we just carry day packs with camera gear, water and snacks. The weather this time of year may be a little wet but the highs in the mountains during the days should be in the 50s to 70s Fahrenheit, while the evenings temperatures will get down to freezing.

The more I think about the whole three weeks, I am more excited and more nervous all at once!

What do you think? Have you trekked in the Himalayas or been to Kathmandu? Any tips or recommendations for me?

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11 thoughts on “My Biggest Challenge Yet: Hiking in the Himalayas”

  1. Good luck.
    By the way, reading of your experiences in Central Asia was useful when I made my six-week tour of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in the summer (I avoided the Vakhsh Hotel).

  2. Hi Kathie,
    Kathmandu is a very interesting city. Much more than 2-3 days are needed there to truely apreciate it. I am sure you would love it. And hiking the Himalaya is great. It is not as hard as it sounds. Once you get used to the hight, all is fine 🙂 endless fun :). Relax. Happy traveling.

  3. Hi, Katie. We recently met at a couple of meet-ups. If you remember, Rhys asked me why you couldn’t take sedatives and acetazolamide together. My original answer was correct. You can take sedatives and acetazolamide together. There is no drug interaction. However, the side effects of sedatives can cause symptoms similar to altitude sickness which is why it should be avoided.

    My husband and I hiked Annapurna Circuit in December 2010. If the tea houses are similar along the Himalayas, then I have a few suggestions. Bring Thermacare patches or handwarmer patches to place in your sleeping bag. The walls of the tea houses are thin and it will be freezing at night. Baby wipes are a great thing to have. A lot of times it was too cold to wait outside for a shower, so I kept myself relatively clean by using baby wipes. I went 12 days without washing my hair because it simply was too cold for wet hair to be exposed (even with a hat). Not everyone was extreme like me. A lot of girls had shorter hair and just dealt with it. (Since my hair is long, it requires more maintenance, and more time outside in lukewarm water. No thanks!) You may want to bring extra gloves or fingerless gloves. At night and at higher elevation, the water that you use to dump your body waste down the toilet was frozen on top. An extra pair of dry gloves was handy in case the gloves you wore into the bathroom got wet. (They’re just handy because you have an extra layer to avoid a lot of communicable diseases. Illness was very common since there were so many people using one or two bathrooms.) Also, it should go without saying that you need to keep your toilet paper covered in a plastic bag. Lastly, my husband and I brought a lot of nuts from Costco. We tipped our porters extra at the end because we felt bad they were carrying extra weight. I remember the other hikers buying a lot of candy and cookies, but we didn’t see many nut options. Also, the prices obviously increase as the elevation increases.

    Good luck and have fun! The views will be worth every shallow breath and every ache and pain!

    1. Thanks April! Luckily this time of year should be a bit warmer – even up at Gokyo just down into the 40s in the evenings. We leave this morning for Lukla weather permitting!

  4. I forgot one more thing. You may want to bring saline nasal spray with you. At higher temperatures, the air is drier and you may be prone to nosebleeds. Using the nasal spray as often as you want will help with mild congestion and keep your nasal passages moisturized.

  5. Good luck on your trip! I’m sure it will go well but I understand, I would be terrified too! Especially because of the altitude, that would scare me a lot. You are very lucky to go there with a small group, I’m sure it will make everything more interesting. Don’t forget to tell us all about it!

  6. Wow – this sounds so exciting! Like you the most hiking I’ve done to date is the Inca Trail. I have never been terribly motivated to visit/see/hike Everest, but I have a feeling that seeing your blog posts and photos will get me to change my mind.
    Enjoy your journey, Katie!

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