A few days ago somebody on social media asked me what my favorite, all time, travel memory was. Without hesitation I told the lady-of-travel that it was the time I trekked to Tengboche Monastery ( via Lukla and Namche Bazaar) with my son, then 11 years old. I added a footnote, that I doubted he would agree. I was curious though so I interrupted his online gaming to ask him his favourite travel memory. He said the same, no hesitation, no prompting, we hadn’t been talking about Nepal or our trek recently and I knew full well he’d had a tough time up there, but that was his answer. It brought silent motherly tears to my eyes.
In February-or-was-it-March we look the white-knuckle plane ride to Lukla from Kathmandu to start our little walk in the Himalayas. We hadn’t gone to Nepal to trek, we didn’t bring any gear and it wasn’t in our plan for that month but once we hit the ground in magical Thamel, we just couldn’t help ourselves and had to get up into the mountains.
Chef and I had trekked in Nepal before, we’d completed the 3 week Annapurna circuit in blizzards and waist deep snow in our days before kids, so we knew what to expect up there. We knew some things were difficult, like the altitude, but that walking is actually no big deal and the kids could probably cope with that easily. My biggest concern after altitude was keeping the boys safe and close at hand on narrow, sometimes crumbling paths etched into steep mountain slopes. Convoys of yaks, donkeys and mules can be a real hazard up there and a stumble into the melt waters of the Khumbu Ice Fall thundering below, was a vaguely terrifying possibility. My personal demon in the Himalayas, scary bridges, is something I overcome, I thought the boys would handle those better than their mum.
To help with the child wrangling, we hired a Sherpa guide, you don’t really need one, but we felt a larger adult:child ratio would be a good idea. He was gold, it was really helpful to have somebody extra keeping them safe.
So we set off from Lukla in a motley assortment of jeans, running shoes and leggings, to just see how far we would get. Chef and I carried the gear, we didn’t want to make the boys’ lives harder with backpacks. (We have a post on gear for Nepal here). We wanted to see Everest of course and Namche Bazaar was looking like a probable destination, but we weren’t planning on walking all the way to Everest Base Camp ( 5362m) with a 9-year-old and an 11-year-old. We didn’t think it would be fair on them.
Our first day of walking went well, we descended from Lukla at 2860m and entered the Everest National Park, spending a comfortable night in a huge lodge at Phakding with a room for 4 people. That was the last time we saw rooms for 4, from here on in it was all twin cubicles.
Day two was always going to be the hard one. The path follows the Dudh Koshi River valley over tumbled rocks and through pine forest before the first steep ascent to the bridge from hell. Yes, the top one, the one you see in the opening of the movie “Everest”.
I’m not good with bridges. D, 11, doesn’t bat an eyelid, Boo and I sing and curse our way across, me doing our best to hide my absolute, almost paralysing terror. The terror is intensified by my children being there but what to do? You just have to get across.
As the bridge came into view it started to snow. It started to snow sideways. So we crossed that bridge in high winds, slippery conditions and poor visibility.
On the other side of the abyss the road snakes up a pine-clad mountain side, thankfully sheltered from the worst of the snow. This is the hard part, 1000m of almost straight up and this is where things got hard. Boo wasn’t feeling too good, the kids were plagued by tummy bugs since we arrived in Kathmandu and the altitude started to get to us all. We plodded on all afternoon, ultra slowly, walk a little, wait a little, leaning heavily on trekking poles.
Towards the top of the slope trekkers reach a view-point. Our promised first sighting of Everest wasn’t to be as the snow clouds refused to co-operate. We kept pushing forwards, past the next check point and permit purchase, into Namche Bazaar. The snow obliterated the view, we really had no idea what was around us as we entered Namche at 3440m, we were exhausted. The altitude had kicked in and it was a massive struggle to get up the steps to our guest house that night.
Next morning the clouds had cleared and we woke to this. Wow!
We spent 2 nights in Namche exploring and acclimatising. Just above the town there is another Everest view-point and this statue of Tenzing Norgay, the “tiger of the Mountains”. I can’t express how incredibly moving it was to be there, in this place full of climbing history. Just behind the statue there is a cool little museum which we explored with the boys.
I hiked the 40 minutes up to the view-point 3 times, sitting on the hill waiting for the clouds to part. They never did, I got little more than an impression of my mountain.
We needed to keep going so day 4 took us on short, easy fairly level hike to our 3rd trekking lodge. The views of Nuptse, Lhotse, and Ama Dablam were magnificent, but still no Everest. We could see Tengboche Monastery perched high on the next mountain ridge, it was calling me.
My little Boo and his dad weren’t doing too well, both had tummy problems, so it was decided that the next morning D, I and Nema would carry on to Tengboche.
This day hike is a tough one, there’s wasn’t a huge difference in height between our stop and Tengboche at 3870m, but the path drops right down to river level, 3250m, before climbing steeply to the ridge.
What can I say? We did it, it was beautiful and it was hard. It was wonderful to do it with my son. We crawled up that last section, Nema walking ahead of us. He reached the top first.
” You can see Everest!”
You never saw such a transformation, I sprinted up those last 100 m before throwing myself down in the dirt just to sit, look and watch. That mountain has an incredible hold on me. I was so busy looking I missed the best views with my camera.
D was impressed, but more excited by his promised Snickers, so he shot off with Nema to find a tea shop.
It was magnificent, magical, stunning and so worth it.
We explored the monastery as yak caravans and monks wandered around the Tengboche plateau.
I ached to keep going higher, but we had to turn back.
We took a slightly different route back to Lukla enjoying more spectacular views and no cloud while visiting the Hillary School and an ancient, locked monastery housing a yeti skull. That is in Everest Trek, Part 2.
Reliving these memories is incredible, so thanks for letting me share them with you. Nothing, no travel experience in the world, comes close to being high in the Himalayas in sight of Everest.
Will We Return to Everest Base Camp?
Yes, it will happen, D is keen and so am I. Little Boo doesn’t want to go back up there again so we two will be going solo. There are a number of side treks up there too, which we hope to complete, some requiring crampons for ice walking. It will almost certainly be this year, it could be next month. Nepal, we’re coming back!