As Close to A Himalayan Trek As Ice Cream is To Hot Soup

After we went to India for four days, our plan was to go to Nepal for three days.  The travel route is this: Fly from Delhi to Kathmandu,  then take a small teeny plane from Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, to Lukla, the airport in the foothills of the Himalayas. From there, we were to hike over 2 days to Namche Bazaar, which is the lowest elevation that you can see Mt. Everest.  Because of the decline going down the mountain, it allegedly only takes one day to descend, but I was skeptical of being able to do anything in one day that takes two days going in the other direction.  Because no FF Blog is not complete without an email from my Dad, here is one that underscores his expectations of the trek:

On May 21, 2012 at 2:48 p.m. Paul wrote:
Hey Amanda, you made my day, and that was after just reading your subject line!!

Then I see headlines on USAToday that 3 climbers died on Mt. Everest yesterday, awesome! Sorry, I don’t mean that in an insensitive, boorish manner, and I have great sympathies for their families.  But, there’s some sort of transcendental, paraphysical attraction (did I just say that?) to Mt. Everest that is only magnified by continued deaths.  Don’t get me wrong, we are in no danger of dying.  We’re basically taking a hike in the woods for a couple days with a slight incline.

Emphasis on the last line: “We’re basically taking a hike in the woods for a couple of days with a slight incline.”  I take everything my dad says with a grain of salt, so did my own research.  I read many Lonely Planet online travel forums about trekking to Namche Bazaar, which actually supported my dad’s claims.  Even after checking it out for myself, I wasn’t worried.  Earlier my dad expressed an interest in going to Base Camp, but it was just too far.  Not that he thought we couldn’t do it, the schedule just didn’t allow for it.  Reaching Everest Base Camp is considered the “ultimate” for non-climbers of Mt. Everest (us), as it marks the official start of the ascent to the summit, and the real-deal climbers stay a few days there to acclimate themselves to the altitude.  So for a few days the slackers can roll with the big wigs at the same place.  But don’t get me wrong, everyone starts in Lukla and goes through Namche Bazaar, so we were going to be on the same route that the summit-seekers take to get to the top, which is kind of cool.

It takes about two weeks to get to Base Camp and return to Lukla. It takes just two days to get to where we were going, Namche Bazaar.  According to that statistic alone, this hike was going to be a joke.  I am posting a few excerpts from an LP message board below so you can get a general feel for my attitude going into this, particularly an inquiry from a traveler by the pseudonym Leif Eriksson.

Leiferiksson  posted: Lukla-Namche Bazaar trek for beginner?
I’d like to ask all you pundits about my chances of walking up from Lukla to Namche Bazaar, if I’m a total beginner?  My big-big dream, and reason for this is catching at least one glimpse of Everest.

About myself: well, to be honest, I’m good and hard-working, but being a historian and a translator, sadly I’m a bit of a couch potato. Working by the computer, relatively overweight, and all the other “blessings” of European civilization. On the other hand, I’m not lazy or unwilling to walk, but I don’t want to be too foolish to try something which is beyond my limits. I’m quite a newbie to serious trekking. I can walk 15 or more kms in a few hours, but I’m well aware that doing it on flat terrain is about as close to a Himalayan trek as ice cream is to hot soup.

So, what would you think of my chances of going from Lukla to Namche and back?  I don’t think I would want to go beyond Namche as a beginner. A total Everest Base Camp trek is probably far beyond my physical fitness.  As a traveller I’m much more experienced, having visited some 65 countries, so I’ve no problems getting into and around Nepal, but as I’ve said before, I don’t want to do anything downright foolish…thanks for being patient enough to read through my ramblings  🙂

Here were a few of the responses:

Intothinair There are NOT two separate classes of people: first timers who should only expect to go to Namche and ‘experienced trekkers’ who can go all the way—-baloney. Don’t limit yourself mentally before you get there. Plan on making it to the top…and marvel at the better physically fit you will become too…
Nepaltrekguide I advise you to trek all the way to everest base camp even you are trekking first time in the himalayas. You don’t need any hiking experiences to trek to everest base camp.
Lamochila You do not need to be superfit for trekking. There´s no climbing involved, there are paths everywhere, with a lot of steps up. If it makes you feel any better: apart from the locals of course, nobody “walks fast” up there, everybody walks relaxed, taking their time, and enjoying the scenery and surroundings.
Petrus if you can walk 15 km in 2.5-3 hours you are fit enough to trek all the way to the Everest base camp. I am a 56 year old couch potato with osteoarthritis of left hip.  You certainly are in better shape than me! Get a porter-guide and touch Everest!

If an middle-aged overweight walking enthusiast is being told to go to Base Camp no problemo, then The Andersons were going to kill this Namche Bazaar trek like it’s our job.  And Leif Erikksson wasn’t the only one. I read lots of hopeful travellers expressing their lifelong goals to the Lonely Planeteers. Take Steve G., for example:

“My dream is to walk to Everest Base Camp what fitness level should i get myself to?  I  am 45, play golf twice a week carry own clubs, drink beer regular, don’t smoke.”

I’ll spare you more of the same Norman Vincent Peale and Covey-esque responses I read on these forums.  It’s great to know there is such an army of virtual motivational speakers available to me the next time I try to jump off my second level patio or cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope. Imagine the responses I’d get: “Go for it!” and “Anyone can do it, you don’t need any experience as long as you go into it with the right attitude!” “Don’t limit yourself mentally!” or “There is no such thing as experienced tight-rope walkers and inexperienced tight rope walkers. Baloney.”

Aside from my father, completing this trek and seeing Mt. Everest was nowhere near the top any of the Andersons’ greatest dreams bucket list.  In fact, reading our emails amongst each other, we were mocking the entire trip before we even got there. I felt bad, here we ingrates were going to hike to Namche and see Mount Everest, not struggling, not paying, and not even appreciating anything while there are middle-aged overweight men who are calling this dumb trek walk their lifelong aspiration.  We were being handed other people’s dreams on a silver platter.  I wish I could just Freaky Friday them into my body for a couple days so they could do it easily.  Actually I don’t.  There’s nothing worse than being an overweight middle-aged dude…

Allow me to continue to guide you through my thought process:

  • I do not smoke
  • I am not obese
  • I do not have osteoarthritis in my left hip
  • I am not a couch potato
  • I do not regularly drink beer

By those measures, any one could do the trek, so I pressed on to find where I one-upped Messrs Eriksson and “G”:

  • I do more exercise than golfing twice a week and carrying my own clubs
  • I am under 30
  • I have completed many endurance races
  • I am not new to hiking
  • I am a Trader Joe’s organic foodie
  • My family is hardcore and walking for miles is nothing new

Thanks to Leif Eriksson and his panel of experts, I headed into this trek feeling like Goliath.  But as you biblical scholars know, Goliath loses the battle, and I hate to spoil the ending, but so did we.  I’ll explain later.  I’ve always been more of a lurker on online forums, but I may have to respond to this one for to prevent any other Leif Erikssons out there from downright dying. He never posted again, so who knows what happened to him.  Here is a draft of my response:

Greetings, Leif.  I am glad to hear you are alive and still traveling after discovering North America 500 years before Columbus.  As a Scandinavian myself, I’ve always been a big advocate of yours over that rapist Spaniard.  But I must forewarn you about this trek.  For starters, these hiking nazis that post on this forum are nothing short of looney (it takes one to know one).  Because they don’t know you, they have little personal interest in what really happens.  That’s the problem with online forums, Leif, no accountability.

That is where I come in, Mr. Eriksson.  Having recently attempted this trek as a first timer, I am here to tell you that it is all fun and games until you get hurt and die.  While it is nice to be told you are invincible, it’s that much worse to be told you have a broken leg in the middle of nowhere.  Despite also enjoying the blessings of European civilization, no one in our collective group is anywhere near achieving your hallowed couch potato status, as much as some of us aspire to it.  And this trail kicked our collective group’s mostly-toned butt.  And that’s putting it gently.  You have visited an impressive number of countries; but as a traveler myself, I can tell you that whether you have visited 6 countries or 65, none will prepare you for trekking in Nepal.

As for you, Steve G., Congratulations.  You must have done very well for yourself, as you have the luxury of golfing twice a week at your country club.  AND you carry your own clubs!  Impressive.  I am also very pleased to learn that you have been able to resist the temptation of smoking in a decade in which you have no one to blame but yourself, because here’s a thought, no one smokes anymore.  Modern science tells us it can kill you.  Crazy right? But you already knew that.  The fact that you count not doing something as one of your attributes worries me in terms of your survival en route to Base Camp, or even Namche Bazaar for that matter.  You know what else can kill you?  Mount Everest.

I will proceed to explain in the next few blogs.  To use Mr. Eriksson’s analogy, any physical challenge I had previously done was as close to a Himalayan trek as ice cream is to hot soup.


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