Although we try to follow the itinerary below, it is ONLY a guideline based on years of experience trekking in the Himalaya. At times local trail, river or weather conditions may make a deviation necessary; rivers may be impassible, snow blocks passes, and landslides wipe out trails. The trekking itinerary and campsites may also vary slightly depending on the group's acclimatization rate or sickness.
Providing you have sent us your arrival details, you will be met at the airport by a representative from the Kathmandu Guest House (look for their sign - they will be looking for you) and escorted to the guest house. Kim will book the extra nights for you, so your room will be ready.
Day 1 - Arrive Kathmandu 1340m
You'll be met at the airport by a representative from the Kathmandu Guest House, so look out for a Kathmandu guest house sign when you leave the airport. They will bring you back to the Kathmandu Guest House, where your rooms are booked.
Lhakpa will meet you at the guest house and introduce you to Thamel, the main tourist area of Kathmandu. Thamel is a myriad of banners, signs, music shops, bakeries, internet cafes, restaurants, bars, hotels, shops of all imaginable varieties and eccentrically clad backpackers. Over dinner we'll go over some of the logistics of the trek and get to know each other over a few beers ...
Day 2 - Kathmandu
A free day to explore the Kathmandu valley. Options: Climb the many steps to Swayambhunath (the monkey temple), with its commanding views of Kathmandu (at 1420 m), its whitewashed stupas and its unique synthesis of Buddhism and Hinduism. The striking Buddha eyes of Boudhanath Stupa watch over a lively and colorful Tibetan community and attract pilgrims from all over the Himalayan Buddhist realm. In the midst of traditional gompas, and hung with long strings of multi-colored prayer flags, Boudhanath attracts Sherpas, Tibetans and tourists alike for daily circumambulations (koras) of the stupa. Durbar Square, one of the old capitals of the Kathmandu valley, is a synthesis of Hindu and Buddhist temples, stupas and statues, and is often the site of festivals, marriages and other ceremonies. Hindu Pashupatinath and its sacred temple complex on the banks of the holy Bagmati river. Here, monkeys run up and down the steps of the burning ghats, and trident-bearing saddhus draped in burnt-orange and saffron sit serenely meditating - when they’re not posing for photos-for-rupees.
You'll have time for a bit of gear shopping in Thamel for anyone who needs to do this, and in the evening will head out for dinner of wood-oven pizza at the Roadhouse Cafe.
Day 3 - Fly to Tumlingtar 400m
After an early breakfast we'll head to the airport for our flight to Tumlingtar in eastern Nepal, the starting point of our trek through the Arun & Salpa valleys en route to the Khumbu region. It's a beautiful flight over terraced fields and traditional villages with a range of Himalayan 8000 meter peaks peeking over the haze in the distance. The landing is classic old-style Nepal; a sharp turn, a steep descent to a once-grassy and now newly-paved airstrip, backed by a small, dirt track that's the main 'street' in Tumlingtar.
We are staying in rooms in a local-style guest house, Makalu Hotel, as there are no longer any good sites in Tumlingtar, but our cook Junar will cook our meals for us. We'll introduce you to our 'Kamzang-style' way of running treks, have some lunch and you'll have the afternoon free to reorganize and explore the rustic village of Tumlingtar. Kim, Lhakpa and the staff will go into town to buy some supplies for the trek, and you're welcome to tag along if you want. There's a local barber for any of the guys wanting a quick pre-trek shave and haircut!
The next few nights will be warm, so dinner will just be in a t-shirt; enjoy it while it lasts, and have a cold beer to wash it down as we're sleeping below 400 meters.
Day 4 - Trek to Kartiki Ghat 315m
The Arun Salpa Valley trek will be wonderful days of 'old-style' trekking through the idyllic middle hills of eastern Nepal, a very diverse region of many ethnic groups, shamanistic religion interspersed with Buddhism and Hinduism, traditional thatched and bamboo villages, green, terraced rice paddies, patterned fields of grains, small, riverside trails, local schools, basic 'bhattis' (teahouses) and lots of hills walking.
With the mountains rising in the hazy distance, Chamalang to the left and Makalu to the far-right, we set out with our crew from Tumlingtar, following the small road through the long village and adjoining series of small, lively villages and colorful tea-houses. There will be many locals sharing the trail with us, as well as trains of mules carrying cardamom, the biggest cash crop in the region, and other supplies. After an hour, we reach a fantastic suspension bridge with side ties stretching across the wide Arun River (which we don't cross) and drop down to the sandy riverside, peppered with rounded beach rocks. Following the river closely, we pass terraced rice fields, buffalos, thatched huts and villagers working in the fields. Soon, the Chewa Besi primary school appears on the right, a scenic spot under banana and papaya trees, followed soon afterwards by the small, local tea-houses of Chewa Besi where we stop for a packed lunch. Notice the bee hives in old logs attached to the top decks of many of the houses.
After a game of 'karam board' at the tea-house, we continue to the small village of Kartiki Ghat, where we cross the Arun river on a long suspension bridge. The village, known for its bees and honey, stretches out just past the bridge, and our campsite is not far past the village, a scenic, green campsite right on the Arun River, between two gurgling streams. Enjoy the warmth of this 'tropical' site, and pick up some cold beers from town.
Day 5 - Trek to Goethe Bazaar 685m
We start the morning with an easy twenty minute walk to the lovely village of Balwa Besi, where we cross a small, sparkling stream on a wooden bridge and then start climbing past a few local teahouses where bananas and oranges are often available. We continue through a lush, tropical forest and past thatched and white-washed huts to a 'chautara' (local rest-spot, here also a spectacular viewpoint) high above the hazy valley and the Arun River. Leaving the lovely Arun behind, we have 600 meters (in total from camp) to climb before lunch, and the trail of red mud can be slippery if the weather has been damp. Contouring around hillsides and continuing to climb, we reach the lovely small village of Marduwa and pass other scenic hamlets surrounded by terraced rice paddies and fruit trees (including one nut used for making Hindu 'malas' (prayer beads). We walk right through more terraced rice paddies and clusters of ochre and cream mud-brick houses built in the local style, eventually stopping for lunch near Nepali Danda, also called Charlissay, named after a Chettri caste that lived here many years ago and have reputedly migrated to the Kathmandu area.
Soon we reach the intersection of the old trail from Dingla, and after contouring around a hillside through more rice paddies (this is actually the main trail), we reach a larger trail near a cluster of banyan trees. The forest thickens again as we ascend and then drop back down on a muddy, slippery trail to the Irkhuwa River . We cross two more bridges, the second one a long suspension bridge, and following a riverside trail through a small hamlet where locals might be threshing their dried rice, for another 45 minutes. Keep your eyes out for brilliant, blue Kingfishers looking for fish in the river. After reaching a small teahouse perched on a low ridge where we often find bunches of sweet bananas and tangerines for sale, we descend once more and after 10 minutes arrive at Gothe Bazaar. Here, the inhabitants a mix of Gurung and Rai and it's a local stop for Nepali porters traveling with loads. We should be able to find some local pumpkins for soup, delicious ...
Day 6 - Trek to Salpa Phedi 1520m
Another misty morning start as we head towards Dhobane, a village of paper-makers (the same that you see in the Kathmandu markets) en route to Salpa Phedi. We leave Goethe Bazaar by crossing the stream and the tea-houses on the opposite side and soon pass many thatched huts in the middle of more terraced rice paddies; most of these are shelters for buffalos. Delicious tangerines are sold along the trail again by local villagers, so don't miss the chance to pick up a bunch for the day. After an hour of flat walking through more harvested rice paddies, we cross the river on a flexing bamboo bridge, and hike up through the picturesque whitewashed village of Lankuwa, a hamlet of only three houses. We reach the suspension bridge that connects us to the trail the porters will take, climb again and soon reach Negdaha village, slightly larger, with the same thatched roofs and ochre and cream whitewash and banana trees for shade. Soon afterwards we start on a steep, uphill climb past a few small waterfalls and over one more suspension bridge to Dhobane; the staff often eat their morning meal at some local tea-houses. Taking the stone steps just to the right of this stop, we'll have another few hours of gradual climbing through tropical forests; notice the long, green leaves of the cardamom plant throughout the day and the traditional fishermen with their long, bamboo nets along the river below.
We'll have lunch at a local house an hour before Tendo, a large and attractive Rai village where they also make traditional Nepali paper. Half an hour past here is a school of 350 students that goes up to class 10. We'll stop for a cup of chai at a small teahouse (we bought great Kyunri knives here last year) before hiking another hour uphill, on a lovely hill-side trail backed by undulating grasses, rocks and fruit trees until we reach the grassy campsite at Phedi, a welcome site. Someone will undoubtedly be around with a basket of expensive but much needed beers and cokes.
Day 7 - Trek to Jau Bari 2315m
We divided a long day into two short ones to avoid a 1500 meter ascent in one day, but if people are fit we can do it all the same day; we did this the past two years but it's a bit daunting.
We start the morning with a steep climb on stone steps, passing through the many dwellings of upper Salpa Phedi, and then keep climbing with increasingly amazing views down the valley, the layers of hills various shades of icy-blue below us. It will take us several hours of climbing to reach Jau Bari, a village where they grow the best barley in the region and where there is a Sherpa gompa (monastery) just below a small campsite below the Sherpa Lodge. We set up camp here, have lunch and enjoy the lazy afternoon.
Day 8 - Trek to Gurase 3000m
We have another short day of steep climbing, first past the last terraced fields of Jau Bari, afterwards past several walled, grassy resting spots with views and then through rhododendron and oak forests, increasingly thick. Over an hour of climbing later, the shrill forest birds signaling our path, the trail leaves the cloud forest, hugs the side of the hill, opens up and after passing a large rock in the middle of the trail we crest the small 'Guranse La'. Just after a short descent, we pass the turnoff to Salpa Lake where there is an important summertime festival and two others at various times during the year. There is also an alternative trail to the Salpa La (3430m) from here. Soon afterwards we reach Gurase, a small hamlet with three Sherpa houses which translates as 'best rhododendrons'. The village below us is called Chayaksila. We set up camp in back of one of these houses on one of the only flat plateaus in sight, and are treated to a breath-taking sunset and sunrise. It will be colder here, so you'll want your down jacket for the evening. Collect some firewood to keep warm and we'll build a blazing fire when the afternoon clouds move in.
Day 9 - Trek to Tiu 2670m
Onto the pass! The Salpa Bhanjyang (3360m) with its single, large chorten on top, is the border of the Bhojpur and the Solu Khumbu districts. We've now entered the predominantly Sherpa section of the Solu Khumbu region. It's a short ascent, just over an hour, to the chorten-topped and windy pass where we have wonderful views of snow-capped Karylung Peak to the west. We descend steeply through the forest on a stone-step trail that is always snow-covered and pass a small local doksa half-way down. Following the small stream and several mani walls to the Lidung Khola, we cross to the north bank and continue on to Whaka with its few Rai tea-houses; we'll stop for lunch here. An hour or so afterwards we reach the picturesque Sherpa village of Sanam. Sanam, 'the land of the sky', is a lovely village with traditional Sherpa houses, terraced fields, a large, white-washed chorten and an intimate village gompa. From Sanam it's an easy half an hour further descent through open forest to camp at the small hamlet of Tiu, where we set up camp in a grassy site and get ready for a few beers in the evening. We'll have the afternoon free, enough time to explore and enjoy the scenic surroundings behind the bamboo grove ...
Day 10 - Trek to Gudel 1965m
Leaving pleasant Tiu, we contour along a high trail with broad views, and soon arrive at the rustic gompa at Nimtsola village with its new Guru Rimpoche statue; past this village, Sherpa influence ends and the land of the Rai begins. The Rais, who speak an ancient, non-written language called Kiranti, were some of the earliest hill-inhabitants of the Nepal middle hills, a stout, attractive and proud ethnic group which you will see all over the Everest region, and winning most of the high-altitude races. The trail is now larger as we contour another few hours along the hillside, passing a local paper 'factory' en route, and finally reaching the many buffalo huts and terraces fields of the large Rai village of Gudel Phedi. The equally sprawling village of Bung and the Naulekh mountains are visible in the distance, as is Mera Peak to the far right as we enter the village. Just over the ridge, we descend steeply on slate steps to our campsite in back of Namaste Lodge at Gudel.
Gudel is a very interesting, picturesque and traditional village of Kulung Rai, with approximately five hundred houses and a large school partially funded by an Australian INGO with 650 students. We have scheduled a long afternoon here to explore and take photos of the colorful dwellings and chat with the welcoming villagers. The Rais grow a diverse variety of crops, which include wheat, corn, potatoes, barley, millet and 'sag', a local spinach-like green. You'll see the corn, actually maize, drying from racks above the ground, wicker baskets stacked on the decks and pigs, chickens and roosters freely roaming the village. The village is also reported to grow the most delicious taro in the region, so we'll search out some for dinner.
Last year we arrived in time for two Rai weddings, very social events involving unending brass and copper vessels of chang and raksi, roaming Nepali musicians playing Central Asian instruments, dancing and endless plates of Rai fare. Lots of fun!
Day 11 - Trek to Kiraunle Gompa 2540m
We'll start early as it's a long day, beginning with a steep, six hundred meter descent through rice paddies and cardamom plants, on slippery stone slabs, to the bridge over the river far below us (1325m). We cross a long, wooden bridge and begin the equally steep ascent to the large, Rai village of Bung. Following the stream on a rock trail, we ascend a switch-backing trail after crossing the Hungu Khola; Bung begins soon afterwards and continues upwards, built on the hillside, the lowest houses of the village about three hundred meters below the upper reaches. Bung means 'beautiful flower' in Rai, and is indeed a lovely, bustling village renowned for its tongba, or millet beer. It has received much development aid recently as partly because so many of the Rai men from Bung are trekking porters, guides or cook at the lodges in the Khumbu. Villagers will be selling oranges at the start of the village, and half way up there is a big school. We usually trek up to the school with the kids, who seem always to be late for the morning exercises and skip up the steep, stone steps. A few minutes above the school are several shops where you can pick up a coke, snack or possibly oranges. The entrance to the Makalu Barun National Park is just across the trail. We keep climbing, eventually the trail flattens a bit, and we continue to trek with great views and cooler temperatures until we reach a small cluster of houses and a grassy plateau where we'll stop for lunch. Soon afterwards, there is a small, friendly tea-house where we might stop for a glass of chai and give the owner some business. Just afterwards is the local school of Kiraunle, with the green, Sherpa village of Kiraunle to the right, and a last steep climb on stone steps brings us to the grounds of Kiraunle-Chambaling Gompa, recently built, our campsite for the night. There is no permanent monk or lama in the gompa, but you can walk the mani-lined perimeter and take a look around inside the gompa walls.
If the porters arrive late, wander into the cozy kitchen of the Kiraunle Lodge, where the friendly owner might be brewing a pot of salt-butter tea. The temperature begins to cool down as we ascend, and the clouds often move in during the afternoons. Be ready for a chilly morning as well!
Day 12 - Trek to Sibuje 2660m
Another pass day, this time a two and a half to three hour hike up to the crest of the Surkie La. Heading straight up out of the campsite to the ancient, moss-covered chortens and mani walls on the ridge, we pass through an ancient rhododendron forest dripping with Spanish moss. After nearly two hours of hiking we reach the Kulung Rai hamlet of Charakot, really just a small group of tea-houses and a grazing 'ghot'. Soon afterwards past another few tea-houses and more mani walls we reach the Surkie La (3070 m). There are better views at the sightseeing platform just above the narrow 'pass' ridge where we'll be able to see Karyolung, Khatang and Numbur, so head up for a look. The descent is steep, down a rocky trail and through a forest of bamboo, and soon we arrive at the scenic grazing area of Najing Dingma, a tiny hamlet and grazing area with a few small tea-houses and shops, set on a flat, green section of the hillside.
We leave Najing Dingma and descend through a leafy woods for an hour to Gai Kharka (a kharka is a seasonal grazing settlement in Nepali, and gai means cow), another small village of only a few thatched huts, and continue descending steeply to the rickety bridge (built by the Himalayan Trust, obviously many years ago) high above the Inkhu Khola. From here, we've got a steep ascent of which the owner of the small Nepali tea-house near the bridge said 'it's so steep that even the monkeys fall off'. Enough said, it's a steep climb of two to three hours to the next village, but as we gain altitude we're treated to spectacular views up and down the Inkhu Valley, eventually spotting Mera Peak looming in front of us. Sibuje (the local Sherpa name is Ningso, which means dense bamboo forest) is a large village at 2660 meters, spread out over the hillside, market by Tibetan prayer flags at the lower end, with two local tea-houses just past the flag and a small gompa at the upper reaches. We'll be happy to reach our campsite in lower Sibuje, a lovely, a grassy plateau carved out from the hillside, in back of which is a friendly Sherpa lodge. Tongba sometimes available ...
Day 13 - Trek to Pangum 2850m
After breakfast, we'll only have an hour of climbing to reach the two small tea-houses below the pass, and then another hour to reach the Pangum La (or Satu La) pass, at 3175 meters. We see the trail from Jiri, the Trakshindo La and the incredibly scenic Sherpa village of Pangum below, and in half an hour reach our scenic campsite in back of a friendly Sherpa lodge. Pangum now has a few quite nice lodges, a Hillary school, fields marked by wooden fences and a Tibetan Buddhist gompa off to the northern side of the village. We'll have a fantastic sunset out over the wide open valley, with Karyolung rising majestically in front of us, across the Dudh Kosi (the 'milk river' that leads to the Khumbu region).
Day 14 - Trek to Phakepani 2775m
The camping has been great, but we'll welcome the next few nights in cozy Sherpa lodges from now on. Heading out of town past the long rows of old mani walls, we look out at the hilltop village of Kharikhola in the distance, but veer right on a smaller, wooded trail towards the small hamlet of Kharte two and a half hours away and then the Khari La ('wide pass'). Once fortified with a cup of tea at Kharte, it will take us a good hour and a half of contouring and climbing to crest the pass at 3075m meters, but the views are amazing from the top. We'll have our first view of the sacred Sherpa peak, Khumbu Yul Lha (Khumbila), and Gyachen Kang, and then Kusum Kangaru just around the corner. It's a quick descent on a rocky trail to the main Jiri trail, and then just another half and hour to the charming village of Puiyan, where we'll stop for lunch at the Beehive Lodge. Another enjoyable hour of hiking along a wide trail with broad views and over a small ridge brings us to Phakepani, where we'll bed down at Ang Dali's Mountain View Lodge for the night, a real Sherpa experience. Showers, cold beer and tongba are available, so clean up and head to the warm kitchen table for the evening ...
*** Some of our great trekking crew will head down from here, and we will continue on with Lhakpa and some of the porters. In the evening we will hand out tips and buy a few bottles of raksi for the staff heading to Lukla tomorrow.
Day 15 - Trek to Monjo 2840m
After a good night's sleep and a lodge-cooked breakfast, we head through the long village of Puiyan, past the lively school, and stay relatively level for a few hours. Getting closer to the upper Khumbu region, we continue to contour around hillsides, just below a small pass called Chutok La to another small hamlet of Surke from where we have a glimpse of the Kongde Massif (Nupla peak) and across (up) the valley, Lukla. After crossing a suspension bridge, a gradual incline and gentle series of cobbled steps leads us below Lukla to Chaunrikharka, where we amble along an old, walled trail pass many traditional Sherpa houses, mani walls and fields of barley, potatoes and vegetables, a dramatic entrance to the Upper Khumbu region. We continue through this magical village pasts more mani walls until we reach Chheplung, a village of checkered fields and a few small lodges.
Many wonderful days later we have met the main Lukla trekking route to Everest Base Camp and the Gokyo Valley, so will see a few more trekkers, although not so many in December. From here, the mountain views keep getting more and more spectacular as we head north towards the turquoise Gokyo Lakes. Ahead of us is Karyolung peak, covered in snow. We are trekking along the Dudh Kosi (river) along a centuries-old trading trail from Nepal to Tibet. It is well traveled by stout, heavily loaded Nepali porters and Tibetan traders (Khampas, most distinguishable by the length of red or black tassel wrapped around their heads) conducting business between the weekly markets of Lukla and Namche with Chinese and Tibetan goods brought over the 5700m Nangpa La (pass) from Tibet.
From the small hamlet of Thado Kosi, while crossing a small, shaky bridge, we view the three sister peaks of Kusum Kanagaru to the east. More beautiful walking over cobbled trails takes us through Ghat and the best-maintained cluster of mani stones and prayer flags in the Khumbu. The local lama, owner of the Lama Lodge in Ghat, is responsible for this magical setting. At Phakding, a lively village a half hour's walk away from Ghat, we’ll have lunch at Ang Sani and Jangbu's Shangri La Lodge, well deserving of its name.
Passing by the small tea-houses servicing the locals and workers in Phakding, we cross a long suspension bridge over the Dudh Kosi and trek above the river, climbing a bit to reach the first lodge of Benkar on the left. Continuing over a small bridge, we continue through the rest of Benkar, the first village to attend the Monjo school. Another suspension bridge, another climb, and we reach Chumoa. One more small bridge and larger climb on uneven stone steps, and we finally reach Monjo, where we stop at Kali and Chombi's Kailash Lodge for the night. Monjo is a spectacularly situated Sherpa village where Kim taught English years ago.
Day 16 - Trek to Namche 3450m
Passing by the small tea-houses servicing the locals and workers in Phakding, we cross a long suspension bridge over the Dudh Kosi and trek above the river, climbing a bit to reach the first lodge of Benkar on the left. Continuing over a small bridge, we continue through the rest of Benkar, the first village to attend the Monjo school. Another suspension bridge, another climb, and we reach Chumoa. One more small bridge and larger climb on uneven stone steps, and we finally reach Monjo, where we stop at Kali and Chombi's Kailash Lodge for an early lunch before the dreaded Namche hill. Monjo is a spectacularly situated Sherpa village where Kim taught English years ago.
Just past the lodge, school and newly painted mani walls we enter the gateway to the Sagarmatha National Park. Once inside the new gate, we descend to the river and cross yet another suspension bridge to reach Jorsale village, and one more bridge before continuing along the sandy riverside trail, the shores
Bring your five-colored Tibetan prayer flags to hang on the long suspension bridge over the confluence of the Dudh Kosi (milk river) and the Bhote Kosi (river from Tibet) and send prayers out into the Everest region! The steep hour and a half climb to Namche is broken half-way up the hill by our first view of Everest, Lhotse & Nuptse, and will prime you for the bakery once we arrive at this old trading village. You'll need the extra energy to reach our guest house, Natang & Pemba's wonderful Moonlight Lodge, scenically situated at the top of Namche, up a long flight of stone steps, at 3500 meters. The lodge has a warm shower, a large library, beers in the cabinet and delicious home-cooked food, and will do laundry if anyone has grungy clothes.
Namche Bazaar, now the most prosperous trading village on the old trade route with Tibet, sits in an amphitheater surrounded by mountains. From here, we have perfect views of Kongde Ri in front of us, Kangtega, Thamserku and Kusum Kangaru to the east and Khumbila behind us. Down-valley, the hills and valleys of the route from Solu to Khumbu from Jiri sit shrouded in hazy shades of grey.
Day 17 – Namche
Today is an acclimatization day in Namche. Everyone is free to relax and explore the crowded main streets of Namche, the Sherpa Cultural Center (photographic museum, fantastic), the reconstructed traditional Sherpa house (next door), the National Park Headquarters Museum (where you'll have easy views of Everest, Lhotse & Nuptse+), colorful Namche Gompa with its own new museum and the Tibetan market. The Tibetans are often encamped in the center of town in a muddy bazaar (potato fields in the summer) touting their goods from China. Indulge yourself at one of the many bakeries, shop for some yak bells or hand-woven Himalayan hats, chat with the sociable Sherpas in the village, or just relax in preparation for the trek. There are now new Mountain Hardwear and Sherpa gear shops as well as Tsering's older shop with a variety of real trek gear if you find that you're missing something (or just want to shop). Watch out for dzobkios and cows wandering the narrow streets ...
For some peak-spotting, climb steeply to a viewpoint an hour’s walk straight up the ridge (above the huge mani stone at the top of the steps), just past Syangboche airstrip, worth the effort for the panoramic views of Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse, Thamserku, Kantega, Kusum Kangaru, Taboche and Ama Dablam.
Moonlight Lodge has a warm shower, a large library, beer and wine in the cabinet and delicious home-cooked food, so there is really no reason to leave at all if you're feeling lazy (or feeling the altitude). Later in the afternoon you might spot yaks wandering into the back yard of the Moonlight Lodge. They will be ours, with our yak-driver Kaila, and will accompany us for the rest of the trek.
Kim & Lhakpa will lead whoever wants on a loop through the Khunde and Khumjung valley. Taking advantage of the crisp morning light we'll hike up the steep hill in back of Namche towards the lively, old Sherpa villages of Khunde and Khumjung, passing through the old airstrip at Syangboche en route. On the ridge above the airstrip we climb to a large, whitewashed chorten at the yak-breeding center. From there, we have are fabulous views of Taboche, Ama Dablam, Thamserku, Kantega, Kusum Kanguru, Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse. We may see some Himalayan tahr grazing on the hillsides, and possibly danphe and chukkars. We will visit the Khumjung Gompa, home to the only existing Yeti scalp on the planet ...
The adjoining villages of Khumjung and Khunde are some of the original villages in the Khumbu region, both about 600 years old, and are wonderful examples of local Sherpa architecture with their winding stone walls, yak paddocks and wood and slate houses. Perhaps we will run into Sherpa friends who will invite us in for some salt-butter tea, climbing up a wooden ladder over the straw-lined manger to get into the main house on the first floor. Both villages sit below Khumbila, the sacred Sherpa peak, and near a famous rock-mural of Guru Rimpoche. The views of Ama Dablam from this valley are breathtaking. Heading up the valley just a bit, we will visit Khunde's hospital, where Lhakpa's uncle Kami is the head doctor.
Next door at the Khunde Guest House we'll have lunch with the lovely owner who lost her husband to cancer a few years previously. Her lodge has perhaps the best mountain views from the glass dining room. Satiated, we'll hike through Khunde's entrance kane and back up the small ridge, where more Himalayan vistas await. Way down below us is Namche, and hot showers at Moonlight ...
*** From here up, the acclimatization process dictates our itinerary, so we will have plenty of shorter days walking.
Day 18 - Trek to Dole 4050m
Leaving Namche and heading back up the hill, we turn right at the large mani stone at the top of the village and hike along a wide trail to the prayer flag on the pole at the next corner. From here it's easy trekking high above the Dudh Kosi heading north, contouring around several ridges and past the large, newly erected memorial chorten where we'll be treated to fantastic views of Everest, Lhotse and Ama Dablam rising high above the valley. About an hour later we reach Tashi & Lhakpa's Ama Dablam Lodge in Kyangjuma, perched dramatically on a steep hillside overlooking the peak of the same name. Their pet yak will by in the morning for some grub, and Tashi has some of the best shopping in the Everest region, so we'll have a short stop here. Continuing along the main trail, we veer sharply left at the intersection of Gokyo and Tengboche, and take the steep trail up to the bridge which intersects with the old trail from Khumjung. We climb gradually, first on stone steps and then on a smaller trail, for another hour of so to Mong La, where we will have lunch on the deck of Boudha Lodge, perched spectacularly on this 4000 meter ridge. It's a wonderful spot overlooking both the Gokyo and Kala Pattar valleys, with a breath-taking panorama of peaks: Ama Dablam, Thamserku, Malan Palan, Taboche and the newly named Kamzang Peak. Phortse, one of the oldest villages in the Everest region, is perched at the intersection of the Khumbu & Gokyo valleys in front of us. The misty layers of the hills and valleys south of us are visible down-valley, as are Monjo and the bridge to Jorsale. Walk out on the ridge and look down on Tengboche Gompa on the ridge across the Dudh Kosi.
After lunch we descend steeply, through a forest of pine and rhododendron on a steep switchbacking trail and then on stone steps, to Phortse Tenga. Tenga means riverside, so after descending we immediately ascend again on the higher trail at the intersection of Phortse and the Gokyo valley. The route is beautiful, past frozen waterfalls, up cathedral-like stone staircases, through old rhododendron and Himalayan Birch forests, across small rivers and past tiny Sherpa settlements. The forest is home to several musk deer, shy creatures which peer out at us through the tangle of rhododendron. We arrive a few hours later, having had our first view of the 8000 meter Cho Oyu, at the summer herding settlement of Dole, where we stop for the night at either Kami's Himalayan Lodge or Urkien and Kanchi Maya's Yeti Lodge. Dole translates as 'plenty of stones', and anyone who has extra energy can cross the stony streambed and ascend either of the neighboring ridges for some good Himalayan views. It's a cold spot; the sun drops below the ridge at 2:30, but it comes up early in the morning to make up for a chilly evening. Huddle around the stove and enjoy a Himalayan evening ...
Day 19 - Trek to Macherma 4430m
We continue up the Gokyo valley on similar tundra-like terrain with well-worn trails cutting paths in the hard-packed earth. We'll be gaining elevation as we trek along the trail high above the valley floor, Cho Oyu looming in front of us at the border of Nepal and Tibet for the later part of the walk. We pass some small Sherpa herding huts en route, the first a singular lodge above local Sherpa huts. and after a few more hours of trekking we arrive at the charming yak-herding settlement of Luza. This is one of the many seasonal settlements of the Khunde and Khumjung inhabitants; the next one is Macherma, which we reach 45 minutes later, having climbed steeply out of Dole to a set of prayer flags marking the end of the settlement, and ascending and descended once again to Macherma. Macherma is the name of a local female goddess, who we hope will bless our stay here!
We'll get some rooms at the quite luxurious Tibetan-styled Namgyal Lodge, and enjoy some good Sherpa cooking around the warm dining room stove. Try the 'thukpa'. Namgyal is half Sherpa and half Tibetan and plays the 'damnye', or Tibetan guitar. Again, anyone wanting an afternoon hike can climb up the ridges on either side of Macherma.
Day 20 - Trek to Gokyo 4800m
Another sublime trekking day heading to Gokyo and the Gokyo lakes at 4800 meters. Another climb to start the day; we hike up to the prayer flags and cairns on the ridge and then descent gently with Fanga, a single lodge across the river from the seasonal village of Nha, a half hour ahead of us. Past Fanga where the trail narrows, we descent and then climb on stone steps on an often icy trail, with frozen waterfalls to our left. We reach the confluence of the Dudh Kosi coming from the Gokyo valley and the stream coming from the Ngozumpa Glacier and cross this river on a small metal bridge. We've reached the idyllic Gokyo valley, with the small first lake, now partially filled with algae, surrounded by sculptural cairns just ahead. Ruddy Shellducks float on the far end of this lake as well as the next two. In the Gokyo valley the character of the trekking changes abruptly. The opaque powder-blue lakes are often on the verge of freezing over, and sometimes perform a Himalayan symphony of expanding and retracting ice. We have entered the grassy ablation valley running beside the Ngozumpa Glacier; we continue trekking on a rocky, winding trail for half an hour to the second lake and soon after have our first sight of Gokyo, a seasonal village and grazing area built beside the third, and biggest lake. Gokyo has become something of a Himalayan resort without the crowd – at least in terms of the comfortable lodges with sunrooms, unbeatable views, excellent food and warm stoves. A more spectacular setting is difficult to imagine, and our guesthouse, the Cho Oyu Lodge, perfectly situated on the lake-side, is a little piece of heaven. Dali Sherpa, our host, is always ready with a smile and a laugh, and with her son Tenzin and daughter Ang Tashi helping at the lodge you'll feel right at home. (We'll stay at the Gokyo Resort or Namaste Lodge if Cho Oyu is closed for the season).
Lured into the wonderful sun-room, it is easy to spend the rest of the day chatting with fellow trekkers, watching shaggy yaks amble their way in and around Gokyo (sometimes casually sticking their heads inside the lodges) and admiring the lake-side views. Wander along the lateral moraine overlooking the Khumbu glacier for sunset, just a ten minute walk above Gokyo ...
Day 21 - Gokyo
After breakfast we'll cross the small, glacial stream, jumping over the stone 'bridge' to get to the base of Gokyo Ri (5360m), just five minutes from the lodge. It will take us about two hours of switch-backing to reach the prayer-flag festooned summit; take your time as the views down valley past Gokyo lake are great the whole way up. From the top, we are treated to a spectacular, 360 degree panorama of the Gokyo lakes, the glacial moraine and the surrounding Himalayan giants; Cho Oyu, Everest, Lhotse and Makalu among many others. To the west is the Renjo La (4515 meters) pass, the gateway to the Thame Valley and the Nangpa La, which the Tibetans cross with their yaks en route to Namche.
*** For those with extra energy, a nice afternoon excursion is a circumambulation of Gokyo lake; there is a beach at the other side, and then Buddhist and Hindu shrines just past that, a walk of 1 to 1 1/2 hours. And for sunset, don't miss a quick hike up the moraine ridge in back of the village for glorious sunset colors on Cho Oyu, turning pinker down valley towards Cholatse, Taboche and Thamserku.
*** IF we've climbed Gokyo Ri on our first day at Gokyo, an option for today is a scenic day hike up the Gokyo valley, past two or three more glacial lakes, towards Cho Oyu. There are several trails that snake up this gorgeous valley, one emerging on the ridge overlooking the creaking glacier, another passing the eerily deserted fourth lake with it’s white, stony beach. The unobstructed view of Everest from Scoundrel's Point (4995m), just before the fifth lake, is reason enough for the hike.
Day 22 – Trek to Phortse 3780m
A truly epic day of wonderful hiking on high mountain trails which skirt the ridges on the west of the river. We trek back along the lakes, across the metal bridge and to a few minutes below the stone steps, where we cross the river on a small bridge to the small hamlet of Nha. We stay low and hike through old grazing settlements and soon after gradually climb back up, contouring on a high trail along the western side of Cholatse and Taboche peaks. The trail undulates, so although we lose 1000 meters during the day it's a challenging hike. We pass lichen-covered rocks, ancient mani walls and large mani stones en route, and looking back we have a continuous unobstructed view of Cho Oyu and the glacial valley, and ahead of us Ama Dablam. There are several very traditional seasonal Sherpa villages, with yaks and Tibetan Snowcocks in the walled enclosures; we'll stop for lunch about four hours after leaving Gokyo at Thore, the second seasonal village. After lunch we'll have two or three more hours to hike, a few ridges topped with chortens, magnificent views of Taboche, and lots of wildlife, so enjoy the day.
We arrive early afternoon at Phortse, in time to stop at the colorful Phortse Gompa at the very top of the village. Phortse, a maze of small, walled lanes, traditional houses and now many newer lodges, is one of the oldest villages in the Khumbu. The village perches scenically on the promontory protruding from Taboche, which towers majestically above it. Many daphne, musk deer and blood pheasants live in the woods that border the village, and you can almost always see them early and late in the day.
We stay the night at Ba Nuru and Pasang's Phortse Lodge, which boasts one of the regions nicest dining area, a good sound system and TV, delicious food and a stocked bar, a good thing!
Day 23 – Trek to Namche - Christmas Day
Continuing back down the valley, we leave Pangboche by passing by the numerous trekking lodges and shops of Lower Pangboche and exiting the town through the open chorten (kane). We descend, on a beautiful and well-worn trail lined with ancient mani walls and whitewashed chortens with Buddha eyes, down to the Imja Khola far below. After crossing the river on a new metal bridge (look below to see the old bridge), we hike on wide yak-trails through the hamlet of Devoche, passing ancient, moss-covered mani stones and the ani gompa (nunnery) of Devoche on the right. Stop for a peek into this old monastery, the equally ancient looking nuns often perform mid-day pujas. Soon after passing the nunnery we pass the few small lodges of Devoche and then ascend a relatively steep, switchbacking trail through a dense rhododendron forest for a good half an hour to reach Tengboche (4000 meters), backed by the massive wall of Kantega and well-known for its large monastery, Tengboche Gompa. Tengboche is the largest monastic community in the Everest region and one of the Khumbu's most important monasteries.
We'll take some time to visit Tengboche Gompa before the steep, hour-long descent on a dusty, hill-side trail to Phunki Tenga. From here, we cross the Dudh Kosi on a new bridge and heading back up steeply through pine forests, and past small local settlements to Tashi and Lhakpa's Amadablam Lodge at Kyangjuma. We'll stop for a scenic lunch on the terrace, gazing out on the majestic Ama Dablam. Don't miss the shopping; Tashi is famous for her jewelry which she also sells in Colorado in the summertime. From here, it's an easy hour and a half contour around many brushy hillsides to reach Namche, the Tibetan market, the Moonlight lodge, hot showers, good food and a glass of wine or a cold beer.
Day 24 - Trek to Lukla 2845m
Up early as it's quite a long day back to Lukla. The descent of that long hill that we plodded up less then a fortnight ago seems amazingly short and easy on the way down. Jorsale, just before the bridge to Monjo, is the home of Phuru Diki, one of the girls Kim sponsors (she's now in school in Kathmandu), and we will probably run into her youngest sibling en route. After one last steep hill to the National Park gate, we reach the welcome sight of Monjo, where we'll stop at the Kailash Lodge for a cup of tea. We might run into Dali, the mother of Dawa Yangi and Nimalee, two Monjo sisters that we sponsor for school in Khumjung. We continue back to Lukla along the same trail, although it always looks different coming from the opposite direction. We’ll stop for lunch at Shangri La in Phakding, and finish the trek back at Dawa Phuti & Ang Pasang's Eco Paradise Lodge in Lukla, where the adventurous can try some of Dawa's famous Sherpa tongba. This cozy dining room is one the nicest in the Everest region, so it's always an added treat to return there after the trek. Ang Pasang works closely with the airport, so we are in good hands for our flight out the next morning.
Day 25 - Fly to Kathmandu
Bags packed and ready to go before the sun rises as we fly out of Lukla to Kathmandu early; taking off from the Hillary Airstrip is just as exciting as landing! Flights our of Lukla are sometimes delayed by bad weather, so we have an extra day in Kathmandu just in case.
In Kathmandu, back at the Kathmandu Guest House, long, hot showers await, and grubby clothes can be dropped at the laundry. In the evening, we'll get together for the best wood-oven pizza in town at Fire & Ice, followed later by coffee and drinks later at one of Thamel's many cafes ...
Day 26 - Kathmandu
A free day in Kathmandu for shopping, some sun in the garden of the guest house, shopping, cafe-ing or perhaps a visit to Boudhanath for some 'koras' to give thanks for our safe journey back from the mountains. And sights we missed during the first few days in Kathmandu, we can catch today, and afterwards out for our last dinner together. This is also the extra day in case of delayed flights out of Lukla.
Day 27 - Depart
Sadly, we send you off to the airport for your flight home.