Friday, September 24, 2010

Back from Base Camp: Why the Everest Region is the Definitive Trek in Nepal

When people have asked me which of the classic treks they should do during their trip to Nepal I have often floundered, as each offers something unique that might appeal to some people more than others. After this last trip though I will definitively say that a trek from Jiri to Everest including Gokyo is the best trek in Nepal. The Jiri to Lukla section of the trail lets you see first hand the villages of the middle hills, cultural components that are lacking in the heavily traveled Khumbu region and it also provides some scenery that is not all dominated by huge snow capped mountains, though you see some of that too. Although I didn't do this section of the trek this time, I remember it fondly and mention it mostly because combining it with the latter part I'm about to spend several posts discussing is what makes it the most complete trek in Nepal. 

Ama Dablam- The Jewel of the Khumbu

So what makes this trek so great? Let's start with scenery. Sure Annapurna has it in spades as well, but the mountains of the Khumbu are just on another level. Mountains like Ama Dablam and Nuptse are some of the most beautiful on the planet. Combine this with beautiful valleys, rivers, lakes and otherworldly terrain created by the many glaciers in the region and it makes for a stunning natural landscape. Add on top of this already beautiful landscape the Buddhist monuments, villages, people and their animals of the local Sherpa and you have yourself one of the most photogenic regions of the planet.

Yak Watches Me Trek On By

So lets talk about the people for a moment, because they are most definitely another component that makes this trek so outstanding. Maybe it is because they have had some of the longest consistent contact with foreigners, but the Sherpa people understand  customer service like few others in Nepal and how to make it work for them. Aside from being out right friendly for the most part, they also run the best guest houses in Nepal offering more than just accommodation and food; including advice, help getting guides and porters, assistance booking and getting on flights, tips on where to see things, wake up "calls", etc. It's not just that they are willing to provide these extra things, they often go out of their way to make your experience better, and that really stands out. There were two lodges that I stayed at that really stood out and I'll mention them multiple times because of it and recomend them to anyone traveling to the region. The Khumbu lodge in Lukla and the Namaste lodge in Gokyo are not only some of the better lodges I've stayed at, with the best food, they were also staffed by people who took extra time and energy to really treat their guests well. 

Sun Rises Over Mt. Everest as Seen From Gokyo Ri

You also have the spectacular viewing points on this trek in Kala Patar and Gokyo Ri. Climbing both of these peaks in the early pre-dawn hours was an awesome experience and the views that I was rewarded with are the best I've had in the Himalaya. Gokyo Ri especially is just a stunning location combining the numerous nearby mountains with the Ngozumpa glacier and the third Gokyo lake is just amazing. I was extremely lucky and not only got a clear day at the top but a fresh dusting of snow on everything just to make it look that much better. As the sun came up over Mt. Everest in the east and I watched the sun reflect off all the new fallen snow in the mountains I counted myself among the luckiest people on the planet. This is not to say that the crag of Kala Patar does not have its own charm. It puts you front and center to give you the best view there is of the highest peak on the planet, Mt. Everest. While Everest deserves its fame and I'm thrilled to have been near it again, one quickly realizes that it is not the most aesthetically pleasing mountain in the region. That said it is Everest and it's a bit of an experience being at over 18,000' and still seeing something tower over you like that. 

Everest Base Camp

Then there is the fact that you are walking in the footsteps of so many legends. If you are taking the time to walk up here most people have read of at least some of the great expeditions to attempt the mountain. You know the names of people like Sir Edmund Hillary, Tenzing Norgay, Reinhold Messner, among others. You've read the tragedies of books like John Krakaur's Into Thin Air and visiting the places where these events takes place just brings everything more to life. From base camp you can see the infamous Khumbu ice fall and vaguely make out where the ascent rises up the western cwm. All of this makes this trek so much more than another walk in the mountains, it's a full experience that really makes you grateful that you got to see it.

I'll be posting a detailed account of my trip in the next few posts, and I've already added the pictures to the side panel for those interested. I'd write more now, but I got back just in time to make salsa, and today is a salsa making day! (For those that don't know, I make and sell Enlightened Salsa at the 1905 and Summit Hotel markets on Saturday and Sunday.)

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