Capital Ring Walk – Day 1
Date: 6 December 2017
Walked From: Woolwich Foot Tunnel
Walked To: Crystal Palace Park
Distance: 18 miles
How do you follow up an iconic pilgrimage walk across Spain and a high altitude trek up to Everest Base Camp? By redoing a 79 mile circular walk around London’s parks and green spaces, obviously.
The Capital Ring spends much of its first 18 miles winding through a remarkable amount of woodland in southeast London. On a dry, early winter’s day, the woods are still clinging on to some of their autumn colour, the pathways carpeted in (perfectly brittle sounding) leaves.
It also passes some fine architecture – including Eltham Palace (above), which has its very own moat, and Beckenham Place, a lovely Georgian building in grounds with sweeping views in parkland that wouldn’t be out of place in the countryside.
Everest Base Camp Trek – Day 12
Date: 23 November 2017
Walked to: Lukla
Distance: 8 miles
Altitude: Sleeping at 2,800m
As the old wallpaper advert of the 1980s proclaimed, ‘what goes up must come down’. And lo, so did I – even if a lot of today actually involved gaining height rather than losing it, as we made our way to the tea house by the side of the startlingly short and sloped airport runway at Lukla in readiness for catching our flight back to Kathmandu first thing tomorrow morning.
Today was blissfully easy walking as my lungs cruised along at under 3,000m. Climbing was almost fun again. I could move at a fair old clip. It was like walking normally is when you aren’t wandering along at altitudes higher than some planes fly at (like our flight tomorrow, for example…). The ‘highway’ was full of school children and donkeys today, as well as the porters carrying their unbearably heavy looking loads up the mountains. When there’s only one road up/down, and that road happens to be a rocky and precarious hillside path interspersed with swaying chain metal suspension bridges, it can get jam packed at times.
The final walk into Lukla was an assault on the senses, as we suddenly hit a concentration of housing, shops, so-called bars and even a pool hall clustered along the mountainside, the footpath full of recalcitrant yaks and donkeys… and people; what felt like lots of people. Time to end this adventure – and start plotting the next (half) gap year adventure. Watch this space!
Everest Base Camp Trek – Day 11
Date: 22 November 2017
Walked to: Monzo
Distance: 8 miles
Altitude: Sleeping at 2,850m
We finally left Sagarmatha National Park (home to Everest and many of the other awfully tall mountain things around this neck of the woods) this afternoon, shortly before getting to our penultimate tea house of the trip in Monzo.
I’m pleased to report that today’s walk actually was almost entirely downhill, as you would expect when you’re supposed to be losing altitude (and unlike yesterday!). The eight mile walk included a long lunch break back in Namche Bazaar – ‘capital’ of the Sherpas as well as a place where it’s possible to purchase a wide variety of slightly out of date confectionary, and some very expensive ‘real’ North Face gear (when you can buy knock off stuff at a fraction of the price – I know what I’d do, but I’m not telling anyone who works in the copyright industry).
The sign in the photo is at the entry point to the National Park and offers some sage advice about altitude. As a ‘communications professional’, the simplicity of the messaging appealed to me, so you get this instead of beautiful views today. You never know, it may save your life one day 😁
Everest Base Camp Trek – Day 10
Date: 21 November 2017
Walked to: Kyanjuma
Distance: 11.8 miles
Altitude: Sleeping at 3,600
Oh, the joy of losing altitude! Even though we actually climbed more today than we have for a week, we also lost a lot of height; it’s noticeably warmer (well, less freezing) back in Kyanjuma – to the extent that I’ve even had a shower. The bliss of clean hair – for me, and, no doubt, for everyone else. Oh, and that breathing thing is a while lot easier too!
Today was largely about retracing our footsteps, although the lovely walk through the rest of the Pheriche valley and the early part of the Imja Khola valley was a different route from the way up. We had a break in the village of Pangboche, where we had stopped before – not knowing at the time that the tea house was run by another Sherpa with a fine pedigree of climbing Everest, and whose cafe hosts a number of artefacts from the 1953 expedition. We had lunch in Thyangboche, home to one of Nepal’s famous monasteries (something I neglected to mention when I was moaning about the as the urine soaked toilet carpet I took such objection to in my blog from Day 5) before carrying on down – and then brutally back up, for ages, to get back to the tea house at Kyanjuma, where we originally stayed on the third night.
Coming back, the tea house seems incredibly posh. If my room were shown to me at almost any other time, I’d recoil in horror, but after ten days, a cold room with a mouldy ceiling, a bathroom and sheets that ‘almost’ look clean seems to be the height of class. The hosts played a documentary film about climbing Everest tonight. Safe to say, it didn’t inspire me to take up climbing at all. Those people are mad: I’ll settle for being mildly eccentric!
Everest Base Camp Trek – Day 9
Date: 20 November 2017
Walked to: Pheriche
Distance: 9 miles
Altitude: Sleeping at 4,243m
I was woken this morning by a helicopter, flying in to rescue a walker with altitude sickness from the tea house where we stayed last night. Shortly afterwards, another one flew in for the same reason. For those of us who are only mildly affected by altitude (manifesting itself in me in leaden legs and breathlessness at the slightest uphill) however, having made it to Base Camp in eight days, it’s a matter of heading back down in four.
There was an option this morning to wake up at 4am and walk up Kala Pattar, the ‘black rock’ peak that towers over Gorak Shep. Three of our band of nine heroically did the three hour walk before breakfast – I was not one of them, but I am looking forward to seeing the photos… all I want to do at this point in the walk is get back to lower altitudes, and, one almost unimaginable day, to wake up in a room where I can’t see my breath, where condensation hasn’t gathered in wet beads at the top of my sleeping bag and where there isn’t ice coating the window panes.
There were a few ‘up’ bits today, and they were hard, but it was largely downhill – we’ve ‘lost’ a glorious 940m at tonight’s tea house (you can just see the village of Pheriche at the far end of today’s photo, which is of the valley the village is in) compared to where we woke up this morning. That doesn’t mean it’s not cold though – there is no way I’m prepared to shower tonight, and even though I’m sitting in the dining room (the one place, apart from the kitchen, where there is ever any heat in a tea house) and it’s almost tea time (generally ‘peak’ warmth time), I’m wearing three layers of long-sleeved tops (including a thermal), my down jacket and my bobble hat. Oh, the glamour.
Everest Base Camp Trek – Day 8
Date: 19 November 2017
Walked to: Everest Base Camp! (Staying at Gorak Shep)
Distance: 9.4 miles
Altitude: Sleeping at 5,184m (5,364 at Base Camp)
Today was really, really hard. I actually got to the point where I was looking down on Everest Base Camp, and was going to leave it there – the thought of going down to it, when I knew I would have to climb back up, was almost unbearable. Still, I was persuaded down by one of our guides, and another one very kindly carried my day pack on the way back out to Gorak Shep, where we stayed for the night.
The Base Camp itself actually shifts every year, and apparently the tented temporary climbing community that appears there each spring has to move their accommodation every week to ten days as the glacier repositions itself underneath them. So the Base Camp for 2017 will be totally different to the one my friend visited about 15 years ago – and may well be different again next year. That doesn’t detract from the iconic nature of the place itself, but it underlines the temporal nature of the place, and the rocky, uneven terrain on the Khumbu Glacier where the climbers and their support crews base themselves.
We walked for nine hours today: three hours to Gorak Shep, where we are staying tonight and where we had a very early 10am ‘lunch’ after a 6am start, about three hours to the Base Camp, and then three hours at the Camp and walking back. On the way to the Camp, and while we were there, there were two avalanches on the other side of the valley. While they were a sight to behold from our side of the Khumbu ice floe, they would have been deadly for anyone under their path (there wasn’t) – underlining once again the danger of the dream these Everest climbers have. It’s undeniably beautiful here, and it’s a privilege to have been able to walk to such an iconic place, but it can be deadly.
Everest Base Camp Trek – Day 7
Date: 18 November 2017
Walked to: Lobuje
Distance: 5 miles
Altitude: Sleeping at 4,930m
Today was properly tough. Every step uphill (and we gained 580m in height) was hard won, and the memorials at Chukpo Lari to the many climbers who have died on Everest were poignant beyond words.
After a steep climb, post-breakfast, out of Dingboche, we followed the glacial valley as it climbed slowly up to Dugla, where we stopped for a hot drink before the trek up to the climbers’ memorials. So many people, from all over the world, have died following their dream to conquer Everest. And in the majority of cases their bodies are left on the mountain, frozen in the place where they drew their last breath, like fossils preserved in Amber. This climb up to the Base Camp seems tough enough; I simply can’t imagine the personal drive that would get someone all the way to the top of one of these Himalayan mountains. That said, our group met a guide this morning who has summited Everest an extraordinary seven times.
The hardest part of the day for me was the gradual but relentless climb up the valley to Lobuje, which seemed to go on forever, with the end very much hidden from sight. When we got to our tea house for the night (in time for a late lunch) the best I could do was to force a plate of steamed rice down my throat before heading out of the door for an hour long ‘acclimatisation’ walk up another sodding hill. Since we got back I’ve been huddled around a fire, dressed in almost every item of clothing I own, and day dreaming about hot weather.