22 Days in Nepal: Trekking to Everest Base Camp Solo

That's a huge river running through the middle, dwarfed by the mountains
What the hell were you thinking? Just turn around and go back. You don't have insurance, so if there was ever a time for you to be sure-footed, it's now. Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.

Sometime in mid-December 2017, I decided that I not only wanted to see Mt. Everest, the tallest mountain in the world, but I wanted to get close enough to almost touch it. Cue endless days and nights of research about costs, permits, guides, groups, insurance, and physical hardship. After talking with my sisters, them telling me that I was crazy, listening to my mom ask if I was suicidal, and praying, I decided to trek to Everest Base Camp (EBC) during my winter break.

On the way to Shona's
The internet assured me that not only could I, a young, relatively active woman in decent shape with hiking knowledge, make the 14-day roundtrip trek, but that I could do it completely solo. When was the internet ever wrong?

My mind resolute, I continued to research and bought a one-way ticket to Kathmandu, Nepal. Shit just got real.

Nepal: Day 1

I landed in Kathmandu, disembarked onto the hot tarmac, and hopped on the bus to ride the whole 10 feet to the airport door. Once inside, I stood in a long line, made even longer by the lack of air conditioning and abundance of travel weary patrons, while I sweated in my Beijing appropriate wool sweater dress and Uggs to fill out the paperwork for the $40 tourist visa.

Afterward, I went outside, was harassed by exceedingly pushy taxi drivers telling me that my hotel had not sent anyone to pick me up and I'd better come with them, and then finally found my driver as he held up a sign that said "Family Peace House: Marilyn." Thank you, Lord. 

The 20-minute ride was full of excitement as I saw Nepal for the first time. When I arrived at the beautiful, family owned and run hostel, the owner, Bimal, just gave me some walking around rupees until I could exchange my RMB and USD. My room was only $13/night and came with a king sized bed, western-style toilet, and a great view. Add on that the restaurant served great chicken tikka masala and it couldn't have been beaten.

The view from the roof of Family Peace House at sunset
The next day, after being so thoroughly lost I almost screamed, I finally found Shona's Alpine where I bought and/or rented all of my trekking gear (except my hiking boots, which I found just a bit down the street). Pro tip: use GPS/a map to find Shona's because few locals know where it is and the streets do not have signs in Thamel.

There was some sort of strange new thing going on with the laws while I was in Nepal, so I didn't have to get a TIMS (Trekker Information Management System) Card while I was there, so I saved $20 on that. I stalled for an extra day because fear was creeping in and Family Peace House was super comfortable, but on Sunday morning at 5AM, I got in a jeep ($15) heading to Phaplu to start my journey to Everest.
Day One in the Solukhumbu

The jeep was supposed to take 8 hours, but ended up taking just under 12 since we stopped for food breaks, pee breaks, smoke breaks, stop and pet a dog breaks, "Oh! Look! A cool tree!" breaks, and everything in between, so I was less nervous and more exhausted by the time we finally arrived.

After being told by four different Nepali locals on four different occasions that I was "so brave!" for making the trek all the way from Phaplu to Everest alone, I decided not to do it entirely alone. With the help of my amazing sisters and their wallets, I hired a guide once I got to Phaplu: Pemba Lama. I met him the Monday morning that I started my trek and instantly liked his 20-year-old spirit and carefree certainty.

He also turned out to be a guide-porter, something I wasn't looking for, but am now extremely grateful I got. He carried my heavy bag, I carried his light backpack that held little more than one change of clothes and a toothbrush. Men.

Trek Day 1: Phaplu to Numtala (2360m)

Mountain agriculture in the morning
Up and down, up and down, up and down. I chose to add four trek days onto my trip by starting lower down in Phaplu rather than flying into Lukla, a decision made for both financial and adventure reasons. There's nothing cheaper than your own two feet, and I wanted to see more of the lower Khumbu region's beauty, green mountains, and local people. But on this day, day one, the day where we ascended to 10,000 feet only to drop back down to 7,775 feet to sleep, I was angry at mountains, myself, trees, Pemba, feet, sand, and everything else I saw.

During my lunch of fried rice with egg and mint tea, my calves were already aching. There were two or three steep parts that I could've handled on my own, but I was grateful I didn't have to. I'd sheepishly call out, "Pemba?" and his hand would be in front of me, ready to pull me up, a kindness that continued the entire trip. By the time we reached Numtala just before dark, my thighs were burning and my heart was applauding my efforts just a little bit too loudly. Any reasonably active person can do it, eh internet?!

Trek Day 2: Numtala to Khari Khola (2100m)

Donkeys taking a well-deserved break
Day two was harder because I woke up sore and tired, but the scenery continued to impress as I stomped through the Solukhumbu. We started having to take what I affectionately dubbed, "donkey breaks." At least once an hour, there would be a horde of donkeys carrying everything from rice to wood planks to gasoline trying to get past us. Their herders would often through small rocks at them to make them move faster, an effective measure that I hated.

After the sixth or so group passed us, I asked Pemba where they all go, to which he told me to just wait. We walked for another hour or so before the trees cleared and I saw more than 100 donkeys all in a giant square eating and drinking fresh water. "It's the donkey party!" Pemba said with a huge smile as he tossed his hands in the air. I laughed loudly, happy that the donkeys had a happy place to rest.

Tell everybody I'm on my way!
When we finally reached Khari Khola, I changed from my heavy hiking boots to my soft, pink house shoes that my mom had sent me for Christmas, and met Pemba in the dining hall for dinner. Fried potatoes with egg and a cup mint tea for me, dal bhat and milk tea for Pemba. After digging in - I've never been as hungry as I was on this trek - the auntie running the teahouse turned the television to wrestling, a sport I haven't watched in years, but it turns out, I'm just a competitive person who likes watching competitions.

Pemba and I watched the royal rumble, screaming and cheering the entire time. When it was over, we went promptly to sleep, partly from being tired, partly from there being little else to do in the middle of the Himalayas after sunset.

Trek Day 3: Khari Khola to Surkhe (2293m)

Our days went on like this, breakfast of toast, eggs, and mint tea at 7:30AM, lunch of rice or potatoes at noon, dinner of more potatoes or soup at 6PM with the teahouse lady, though this was the last day that someone had a working television, which is where my Philippa Gregory novel, journal, and head lamp came in handy.

The actual trekking wasn't too strenuous, it was just long and difficult for someone not used to walking up and down mountain terrain every day for hours at a time. However, the adorable children in each village greeting me with an enthusiastic, "Namaste!", the friendly dogs eager for pets, and the incredible mountain views kept each day fresh and exciting.

Trek Day 4: Surkhe to Phadking (2640m)

As excited as I was to start lower down in Phaplu, and despite how thrilled I was that I did since that's where I met guide extraordinaire Pemba, I woke up excited to today was the day we'd reach Phadking, the place where the Classic Everest trek usually starts after Lukla. Woot woot!

We pass rushing, beautiful blue rivers as we walk through villages and mountain paths. Children play and work on the sides of these towering mountains, fear the furthest thing from their minds. Everything the sun hits is hot and dry, and everything in the shadow of a mountain is cold, moss covered, and sometimes icy.

It was on this gorgeous stretch in Monju that I met my first Nepali guards and had to pay 3380NPR ($38) to buy a Sagarmatha National Park permit. I didn't have to pay anything for Pemba because he's Nepali and therefore doesn't have to pay to see his national monuments and landmarks. Take note, America.

Trek Day 5: Phadking to Namche Bazaar (3440m)

Oh shit, this is steep. The hill to enter Namche is steep and stupidly long. It took more than three hours for me to climb it and that was with the help of Pemba's steady hand and my walking stick, the same walking stick that I was sure would be a waste of $6 when I was back in Shona's.

"Is there a lot more to go?" I asked Pemba after we crossed the first, long and steep suspension bridge.
"Yes," he replied from ahead of me.

After walking and walking and huffing and puffing and praying and pleading, Pemba tells me to take a break for a minute. I'm finally at a point where I don't really need one, so I tell him we can keep going while I've still got air in my lungs.

"Look through those trees," he says with a huge smile.
I turn to where he's pointing and scream. "It's Everest!"

Everest through the clearing!
I hug him in my excitement and squeal as I can't believe I'm actually seeing The Roof of the World with my own eyes.

After a 10 minute water, stare at Everest, scream in excitement break, we keep going up the world's longest and steepest mountain path to reach Namche, a destination he keeps promising me actually exists. Somewhere between seeing Everest and not seeing any other people, I had begun to doubt it.

This is where I paid my second fee, this time for a permit, which was 2000NPR ($20). I paid it, again, only for myself, and then we reached our teahouse for the night. It's here that I realize I probably could've done the trek from Lukla to EBC and back completely solo since the way is fairly well marked and a map would do, but going from Phaplu all the way up and back, I definitely needed Pemba's way finding abilities.

Starting a little before Namche, we stopped seeing donkeys and began seeing huge yaks. Pemba prefers yaks, I prefer donkeys, just something we learned about each other in our 15 days of nonstop togetherness.
Crossing a scary high suspension bridge

I was planning to take a rest/acclimatization day in Namche like most people do, but I was acclimatizing well due to starting lower down and taking more time to get used to the thin air, and seeing Everest revitalized me, so we pushed on the next morning.

Trek Day 6: Namche Bazaar to Tengboche (3867m)

Oh damn, this is steep, too? We walk flat for about an hour before walking almost straight down. I loved walking down because it gave my lungs a break, but I hated walking down because I knew we'd have to walk back up at some point, and because it left my knees quivering from the necessary control.

Sure enough, after a little less than an hour of descent, I saw the huge stretch of mountain that we'd now have to climb. There seemed to be no top to this ascent and I lost it for just a minute. I started cackling like a wicked witch over a cauldron as I stared up at the hike we had before us. I slapped my knee and grabbed at my stomach while giggling maniacally and looking from Pemba to the slope.

"What is funny?" Pemba asked, thoroughly confused and I'm sure slightly frightened, probably thinking that the foreigner he brought all this way has lost it and he's going to have to arrange a helicopter evacuation.

"Nothing," I say, wiping my crazed, laughter induced tears and slapping some rogue dust from my black leggings before I start walking up, ahead of him for once.

Once in Tengboche, we met two other trekkers, Ben, an Australian backpacker traveling just him and his guide to EBC and then to Chola Pass; and David, a British trekker doing the entire thing solo. While we all still did our own things, we met up at lunch spots and decided to stay at the same teahouses each night for the company, even reaching base camp at relatively the same time and sharing an elated group hug.
"Frozen river? Eat the ice!" says all the Himalayan yaks.

Trek Day 7: Tengboche to Dingboche (4410m)

The walk to Dingboche is easy in comparison to the previous two days and I still feel good; however, Pemba rightly suggests we take a rest day.

I instantly think things like, "Hell yeah!" and "Woot wooooot!" and "SLEEP!" But that's before Pemba comes knocking on my door the next morning, bright and early at 7:30AM as usual.



"Hike high, sleep low"
"Tomorrow, we will enter Very High Altitude, so you have to acclimatize by climbing higher today, or tomorrow will be very hard for you, I think."

This is what Pemba says to me as he nearly drags me down to the dining hall in Dingboche and tells my petulant, decidedly unhungry mouth that I have to have at least a bit of toast and some tea.

After I resignedly eat, he shows me what we have to climb today. "Pemba!" I shriek with unabashed horror at the steep, full fledged mountain he wants me to climb. He smiles and starts up.

It's steep and there isn't much for me to grab onto as I make my way slowly up, trying to "one step, one breath" my way to the top in the thin air. We pass by rock monuments and prayer flags to reach a sort of plateau where I plead my case for a break.

Young, fearless Pemba rests on a precariously perched rock
We stop and I appreciate the magnificent views of rocky, snow covered peaks, the first I've ever seen. In Kentucky, the Appalachians were green hills; in Zhangjiajie, Tianmen Mountain is tall and rocky, but no snow. The Himalayas are a completely different beast - so tall that they make their own weather, so beautiful that they steal your breath, and so intimidating that you get a newfound respect for everyone who's ever even attempted to summit one of their jagged peaks.

Trek Day 9: Dingboche to Lobuche (4930m)

January/February in Nepal had thus far been hot during the day and cold at night. Once we reached Lobuche, we entered the realm of just plain cold. Most of the walk to Lobuche is flat, blessedly flat, a small consolation this late in the game, but one I happily took.

The teahouse isn't as nice as the ones before it had been, a product of being so high up, it's extremely cold, I'm tired, it's a cloudy day, and I'm feeling down.

Tomorrow's the day.

Trek Day 10: Lobuche to Gorak Shep (5140m) to EVEREST BASE CAMP (5380m/17,600ft) to Gorak Shep (again)

Everest Base Camp on February 8, 2018!
For the first time since I started, I feel every meter of altitude, and the walk to Gorak Shep is hard. It's not hard because of things like terrain, steep climbs, or narrow passes, but rather because it's day 10, I'm exhausted, and my brain's self preservation instinct is telling my feet not to go any higher.

We reach Gorak Shep and have lunch and rest before setting out for base camp. "Don't take off your shoes," says Pemba with a grin as soon as we hit the dining hall. "He knows me so well," I think to myself as I throw him a look and sit down, boots still on.

Memorials and markers on the Dingboche "rest" day climb
The walk to base camp is over huge boulders - I didn't know I'd have to become a boulderer to reach base camp, but I did. My walking stick was essentially useless on the smooth, well worn rocks, so it was just me and my hands and we quickly navigated our way up and down in Very High Altitude.

After 2 and 1/2 hours of walking, we finally reached what I'd flown and drove and trekked to see: base camp for Mount Everest. This is the part where I scream and hug Pemba and am pulled into a huge bear hug by Ben and David before we all start taking more pictures than we'll ever look at.
Me and Pemba at EBC!

I'm the only one who brought a marker, so we each take turns signing rocks and boulders near the sign that denotes where the current base camp is. We look over and I see where climbers and hopeful summiteers camp out and wonder what they're doing in those tents, all alone, dwarfed by the enormous mountain range over them.

After a freezing 20 minutes at camp, we had back to Gorek Shep for the night, exhausted, but giddy from the huge accomplishment.

Trek Day 11: Gorak Shep up to Kala Patthar (5545m) + Descend to Namchee Bazaar

We have to be up and ready to attempt to summit the main small peak of the area, Kala Patthar, at 6AM. It's still dark when we set off and it's -40 Fahrenheit not including the wind chill. It's steep and a high climb. I make it halfway up when I realize that I'm not going to make it all the way to the top. I'm too tired and have too little motivation to do so.

We're reaching/in Extreme Altitude and I already feel sick, so I call ahead to Pemba that I've reached my limit and he smiles and comes back to meet me. We take a few pictures at my highest elevation of the trip, laugh at the water that has frozen solid in my bottle, and make our way down.

I'm not feeling any better and I my nose is bleeding, so we decide to see if we can make it all the way down to Namche in one day. Spoiler alert: we made it. Pro tip: don't do it.

Entering Namche Bazaar
The walk was lots of up and down, so much up and down that I started to wonder if there was any "up" on the way up since we had to go "up" on the way back so #!$& much. I climbed up and scrambled down, I prayed, I talked to my dad, I glared at Pemba for approving of this plan, and stared at the mountains I'd loved on the way up in disapproval on the way down.

We didn't make it in until after 7PM, which was fine for us since we were trekking in the off season, so not everything was booked up, but I wouldn't try it during peak trekking/climbing season. Also, I was beyond exhausted, got another nosebleed, and felt like crap the next morning. Hence, my unintended real rest day in Namche the next day.

Trek Day 12: REST DAY in Namche Bazaar

The beginning of my Kala Patthar attempt
I woke up feeling worse than a hooker at a baptism. I had a terrible headache, was feverish, my nose wouldn't stop bleeding, and I had horrible nausea. I didn't eat breakfast or lunch, but by dinner, Pemba insisted I come down and have soup and tea.

The next morning, I didn't feel excellent, but I felt well enough to walk the 6 hours back to Phakding.

Trek Day 13: Descend to Phakding

The walk down to Phakding was easier and slower and gave me time to appreciate the beauty of the region all over again. We pass men carrying huge loads on their backs as we did on the way up, but now, having been all the way to EBC, I realize just how far some of them have to go and it makes me want to give them all hugs.

About to cross a frozen section of river on the descent
Most carry heavy laden baskets filled with snacks and other supplies for the teahouses. Some carry large wooden boards or planks to make necessary household repairs. I saw one man carrying a full size refrigerator on his back. I almost took a picture before I stopped to realize that these are men, people, people's fathers, and that this is their job, not a tourist attraction.

We kept walking.

Trek Day 14: Descend to Lukla

We made the short walk to Lukla, only about 4 hours from Phakding on the way down, and both cheered for having completed the journey. Not everyone who starts walking to base camp makes it, a fact I was constantly reminded of each time I saw a medical helicopter flying above my head.

We eat and watch a recap of the Royal Rumble on the TV in the dining hall before Pemba shows me around the small city that is Lukla, complete with lots of western restaurants and tourists, some just starting their trek, and others like me, ready to hop a small plan back to Kathmandu.
Celebratory beers!

On our last night together, I buy us both beers to celebrate. We hug, cheers, and friend each other on Facebook before I go to collapse in bed.

Not an hour later, I'm burping what tastes like eggs, having horrible diarrhea, and later that night, flying to the bathroom, trying to make it before I puke on the carpet. No such luck, I puked on the carpet. But I also puked in the toilet several times before having explosive diarrhea in it again.

At 4:16AM, my stomach and bowels finally calm down enough for me to lie in bed with my rosary beads in my hand and a plan to visit the best hospital in Kathmandu in the morning in my head.

On Valentine's Day, I take a 7:30AM, 30 minute flight back to Nepal's capital. I haven't been sick in over three hours, but I still go to Ciwec Hospital and Travel Medicine Center after I drop my stuff off anyway. Most of my symptoms have subsided, but my excellent and patient doctor still prescribes me antibiotics, medicine for nausea/vomiting, and something for stomach cramping before he pats me on the head and sends me on my way. I pay the $70 for the visit and then spend $2.30 on my prescriptions at a local pharmacy before heading back to Family Peace House.

Kathmandu, Nepal, February 15 & 16:

Touring temples in Kathmandu
I love the Himalayas, but I hate Kathmandu. The roads aren't paved, so it's insanely dusty everywhere. I'm talking huge, billowing clouds of dust that sticks to your hair (in my case, my curly afro), skin and clothes. There are also no discernible traffic laws, so drivers, cars, cabs, and motorbikes alike, just kind of go. I'm not joking, it's f@^&*%$ chaos and not the controlled kind.

Thamel is also very hard to navigate. It's also a very poor country, so the beggars on the street are pushy, loud, and persistent. I had many women come up to me with children in their arms, begging me, "Please buy milk for my baby! It's not for me, it's for my baby!" While my heart lurched for them, I would've been on the streets begging with them had I given everyone who asked money or milk.

The French Bakery - yummm
After a few blocks, the begging became like a gnat in my ear at a barbecue and I had to resist the urge to swat.

"This trip was very expensive! Go ask one of the rich trekkers/tourists for money!" I wanted to scream at one particularly pushy woman who practically shoved her baby into my face.

I ended up spending most of the next two days relaxing in my comfy room, eating masala in the hostel restaurant, or journaling at The French Bakery, a great little shop on the main drag that served me fresh chicken pesto salad and peach sweet tea.

Rivers and VIEWS
During the trek, you can't really eat meat because everything up the mountains is carried there by donkeys, yaks, or human porters, so you're not guaranteed freshness. Even though my immune system has been greatly boosted by living in rural China for five months, I didn't want to risk it. After being a vegetarian for two weeks, I lost my meat loving mind once I got back to Kathmandu and ate it all.

I also ended up unintentionally losing over 10 pounds during my trek, which surprised me since I was eating three, huge meals a day for the first time in my life. But walking for a full work day in rugged terrain at high altitudes wins, I suppose.

On Friday the 16th, I woke up, went back to the world's most unorganized international airport, sat with newfound friends through a two hour delay, and then flew to Bangkok to meet my big sister for some much anticipated beach time.

This trek was one of the most incredible things I have ever done. There were days when I wanted to quit and there were days when I wanted to just stay where I was and make a new home for myself in the Himalayas. The entire mountain range is magnificent, and there is nothing comparable to how I felt each time I stared at the south face of the tallest mountain on my planet.

The only bad thing that came from this trip is that I now have a strong desire to train, save money, and summit Everest.

The Himalayas/EBC Trek: 10/10
Kathmandu: 3/10