Believe it or not, the mountains have not always featured a conveniently tarmacked strip of land from which airplanes are able to take off and land. So how did our once great explorers start their long journey to the base, or summit, of the highest mountain in the world? They walked! Huzzah!
Nowadays the starting point of this famous journey is more favoured from Lukla, the once quiet mountain village (now busy and bustly, full of guesthouses and hiking shops) that sits at just over 2800m high. Lukla sees thousands of hikers from all over the world come and go each year. It’s the first place they see from their adventure, and it’s the last. The tiny airstrip, that falls at a slight tilt on the edge of the mountain side, has become widely known as one of the most dangerous airstrips in the world. But it is the gateway into this magical mountain kingdom.
However, did you know, that if you have an additional week to add on to your already epic journey, you could actually hike to the starting point. The sleepy mountain village of Jiri sits oh so slightly above the clouds (on a cloudy day) at 1905 meters above sea level, and is a 6 to 7 day hike away from Lukla. The altitude is lower but don’t be fooled, the trek is hard! A constant flow of solid ascents swiftly followed by an equally gruelling descent. And so on and so forth until you finally hit Phakding (slightly beyond Lukla) at 3000 meters. That’s only a difference of roughly 1000m in just a week, in the foothills of the Himilaya, so you can imagine the intensity of the hikes up and the hikes down. The highest point of this trek is the Lamjura Pass on day four, at 3500 meters. It’s tough but the rewards our huge. You get to hike parts of Nepal that our once great explorers once hiked. You’ll get to see parts of Nepal that rarely attracts much tourism nowadays, and you will receive invaluable acclimatisation not only to the altitude but also to your new surroundings.
Read on to hear about my experiences…
Hi, I’m Jenni. Back in 2016 I walked from Jiri to Everest Base Camp and back down to Lukla. I did this with just myself and a hired guide. Being new to trekking I hadn’t quite fancied the idea of taking a wrong turn somewhere in the mountains never to be seen again (totally would have happened if left down to me) so I decided having a guide was the wisest choice. It was one of the toughest yet most incredible experiences I’ve had to date. Now I want to share with you my thoughts on what it was actually like, the day to day existence based from my experiences and encounters. We constantly hear things like “it’s amazing, so beautiful, there’s nothing else like it!!” – and whilst yes it is all these things, it is also a moment to moment, day to day reality, which at times can be extremely tough going. Here is my take on what a trek from Jiri to Everest Base Camp is really like….
Part 1: From Jiri to Phakding
I think I’m guna be sick! – and sick I was!
I remember laying there in my bed the night before my early rise and the 10 hour bus ride that would take me from Kathmandu to Jiri, the start of my trek. Stomach churning, unable to sleep, wondering whether it was all just anxiety or if I really was going to be sick….
…I was so sick! To this day I don’t know whether it was food poisoning or if in fact it was just a bout of severe anxiety. I’ve never thrown up from anxiety before (not that I am aware of anyway) but I know it is an actual thing. You see, I had never trekked before, I had never been to such high altitude before and trust me… I’m hardly the poster girl for fit and healthy. Basically I didn’t know what the hell I was letting myself in for. All I knew was that it was my dream to see Everest and that I believed my bloody mindedness and “natural strength” – as I kept calling it – was going to get me there. But now here I was, the day before it was happening, all by myself, no familiar face to comfort me… and the nerves hit me like a shit ton a bricks!
Rather than flying in to Lukla I had decided that I wanted to walk into the mountains from Jiri. In all honesty I hadn’t even known that was a thing until about 6 months prior to coming to Nepal and had decided to actually do a bit of homework. Obviously I knew I wanted to get to base camp but up until I picked up a Lonely Planet book I had thought that the only way to get there was via a flight into Lukla. But actually, did you know that in the north east of Nepal, in the Bagmati zone, a small mountain village called Jiri sits everyday waiting for new hikers to arrive, ready to begin their journey towards Everest. I know right! Who knew! – (well…probably a million people did, but we won’t mention that, haha). This was actually the starting point for all Everest treks up until the Lukla airstrip was built, including, of course, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953. – (when I think about it now it was pretty naive of me to think Lukla was the only way in…I mean what the hell did I think they did before aircraft’s were created!)
So anyhoo, after this huge discovery of mine I was certain that yes…this is for me. It takes a week to get from Jiri to Phakding which is the first stop after Lukla. For that week I’ll get to walk a path less walked (nowadays), free from the thousands of hikers that trek to see Everest each year. I’ll be able to get the peace I was so craving for, and I’ll be able to build up my fitness and acclimatise myself not just to the altitude but to the food and the culture as well (things not to be undermined). After a week of this you’ll be surprised how ready you are to then join the main path, to start seeing those snow capped mountains and to start sharing your journey with other hikers, all with that end goal in sight – to get to base camp.
Day 1 and 2: Kathmandu to Jiri to Shivalaya
First things first…get to the main bus station in Kathmandu for about 7am with your bus ticket preferably. The place is pretty hectic so make sure you get there with enough time to find your bus. It’s the usual chaotic bus station scene really; just about every item you can imagine thrust in your direction, the direction of the guy next to you, behind you, infront of you, a sell eager to be made. Voices coming from all directions, people looking confused, angry, stressed…you know the deal. Once you have found your bus, pop your bag in the holdall, find a seat and get comfy! From here on in it’s guna be a long and dusty day.
Well, as you know my first day on that bus heading to Jiri was really just me trying not to throw up! So perhaps I’m not really your ideal candidate to offer too much of an opinion on the journey! Yikes…I’m not selling it much am I??…don’t worry, it gets better 😉 What I will say though is that by the time we reached Jiri my stomach had settled and with my new surroundings my nerves too had settled and were happily replaced with my first real pangs of excitement. We found a decent lodge to sleep in, similar to a wood cabin really, overlooking the pine trees and the hills. Yeah, I felt pretty peaceful.
Most mornings would start with my alarm going off around 7am. A quick change and some breakfast and you’re off. Eat well guys…you’re going to need the right energy sources. Nothing sluggish or too heavy ya know. Well this is my first day of hiking…and we started off with a bang! Oh, have I told you yet?? The extra week walking in from Jiri to Phakding…. is god damn hard!!! Steep inclines and steep declines. When you’re on a steep decline your heart sinks because you just know…you’re guna have to be walking back up that on the otherside! Urgh! So up you’ll go…de-layering your clothes as you go along; those gloves you put on this morning…don’t need those anymore when a base layer of sweat is forming around your body, that fleece you put on…that’s going straight back into the bag. It’s great really because it gives you the perfect excuse you’ll need to stop and catch your breathe for 30 seconds! (It’s the first day guys…I get better at this I promise!). But the feeling you get when you reach the top is pretty epic. Firstly it just feels good to not have to climb anymore, secondly you’ll get a real awesome sense of achievement, and thirdly…you just need to take a look around you at the views to understand why this is so worth it!
So the walk to Shivalaya is about 4 hours and takes you up through the hills, across random village homes and eventually over a swingbridge and across a stream until you’ve reached your destination. That’s not bad going for a first day of hiking. Enjoy that shower and enjoy that sleep.
Day 3: Shivalaya to Bhandar
This is quite a generic day really, not too much stands out in my mind other than what felt like the stairway to heaven going up the pass towards Deurali – I don’t mean that in a good way by the way…more like the bloody things just wouldn’t end! We would just stop every now and then in a bit of shade for some water and a short chat about life (if there is such a thing as a ‘short’ chat about life). Once you do reach Deurali, which is sitting at 2705m above sea level, try not to get blasted back down again from the wind (it’s kinda windy up there!). Stop and rest at a teahouse…and feel happy in knowing you’ve done good. I remember it was here that I had my first portion of home made chips in the mountains…cooked just like mama makes them. Ah man…all that steam coming from them, the ketchup, the salt. Trust me…after a walk like you would have just had, this is the kinda food that will make you feel good again. From here it’s a steep but casual hike down towards Bhandar. Blink and you’ll miss it. It’s not so much of a village, more of open glades, vegetable patches and a few homes. Oh and a stupa. It’s actually very pretty. You will however start to notice the devastation from the 2015 earthquake. Broken homes, piles of rubble, still laying there untouched from the day it happened. Still.
I felt better today. I hiked well, I found my stride, and I came up with a strategy that would help me with uphills; “go to your numb place” – I would say to myself. “Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and zone out until you feel numb.” I’m not saying it works for everyone, but it worked well enough for me. All except for one day. The next day. Holy Jesus…this one hurts….
Day 4: Bhandar to Sete
Well the day started, seemingly innocent. We carried on down the hills and cut across the ridges that overlook some incredible views. It’s actually one of the prettiest walks you’ll have. The sun shines nicely down and creates a haze across the valleys…you know that warm, feel good haze we get from time to time. By the time your stomach starts grumbling for lunch you’ll have reached the picturesque little village, Kinja, that sits besides the Likhu Khola river. It will be your last chance for some refueling and rest before that killer climb up that inevitable hill to Sete (don’t worry guys, trust me… it’ll be worth it!). You’ll be hiking from an altitude of 1616m in Kinja up to 2575m in Sete. That’s an almost vertical climb of nearly 1000m! Whoaaaa Mama!
Watered and fed (well, kinda fed…I was still having an aversion to food after my little stomach incident at the start of this venture!) and unable to put it off any longer…we took up our bags and hit the climb.
It was here that I had my first real reality check. Just as I was starting to reach ‘kill me now’ levels, I looked back and coming up behind me was a convoy of Sherpas. They were carrying their insane loads in wicker baskets draped over their backs tied on from a strap across their forehead. Check it out…
I mean if that isn’t the slap of ‘man the shit up’ we need every now and then in life, well then I don’t know what is! You’ll be amazed just how sprightly I walked up the rest of that hill after that moment!
So guys when you reach the top and you’ve seen your digs for the night, more than likely the Sun Rise Lodge and Restaurant, it won’t take you long to reap the rewards. Just kick back with a mountain cup of tea, and enjoy them views.
Day 5: Sete to Junbesi
I had woken up at the normal time this morning, it was actually the Nepali New Year; 13th April 2016, or in Nepali years it was now 2072! The owners of the lodge I was staying in had cooked us a special breakfast of fried potatoes and Tibetan bread with peanut butter. We all greeted each other and wished each other a happy new year.
They hadn’t known though that about 20 minutes before this yummy breakfast and photo I had been sat on my bed crying. Sobbing. Yesterday had been hard and there was still 14 days more to go. Nothing in this world would stop me from doing it or from wanting to do it, and deep down I knew I could, I knew I had the strength in me. But the emotions that are conjured up, the questions, the doubts, the epiphanies! That’s something you can’t really anticipate on. Not just regarding the trek but about your entire life! I know right! I had never done anything big like this before and I think spending this time alone, surrounded by epic scenery, really allows your thoughts to seep into all the nooks and crannies. Turns out now I love it…hiking alone allows me the time I need to be okay with everything, it’s my meditation I guess. But back then it was all new to me and the only way I knew how to deal with it was to cry.
So my point here for you I guess is if you feel like you want to cry on some days…just go ahead and do it. You’ll feel better for it. I mean, I really did feel better.
So what did the day have in store for me…
Today is actually an overall great day. You’ll get to walk through a Rhododendron Forest and if you go at the right time of year (usually northern hemisphere spring time) they’ll be in full bloom.
You’ll get to hike over the Lamjura Pass at 3500m – and if like me you’ll get to try out your first piece of mountain apple pie at the top of the pass at this cute little mountain restaurant…
Okay let me just continue by saying that from the few hikers I had actually met along the way so far (there are some, not many, but some), I’d been told all about the “amazing home cooked food” we could get from the Namaste Lodge in Junbesi, which is where we were heading. Now I hadn’t really eaten properly since I’d arrived in Nepal and I just couldn’t get on with their local meal, dal bhat, so by now… girl was hungry! I was excited!
and so we continued…
Today is mainly a steady incline up the Lamjura Pass, followed then by a steep decline scrambling over rocks through some woodland. Take care of your footing and actually it’s quite fun. Some parts of the day were tough and some parts not so tough. But it’s an enjoyable day. You’ll more than likely have turned a corner today, found your stride, mentally accepted your new surroundings and challenges. Once this happens everything just seems so much…lighter, freer, and you’ll want to embrace everything. Well…at least that’s what my experience was anyway, which is all I can offer.
So, although I had a bit of a shaky and emotional start to today, I actually ended up having one of my most enjoyable, and breakthrough days of hiking throughout the entire trip (it’s funny how that works sometimes). And the cherry on the cake… the home cooked meal at the Namaste Lodge….well they weren’t lying. Macaroni pasta, fresh tomato and herb sauce with tuna and cheddar cheese. Nothing beats a bit of home comforts when you’re a world away. Delicious.
Day 6: Junbesi to Nunthala
I totally saw my first snowcapped mountain of this trek today! Eek! Okay so it was pretty far away and it was just the one peak…but still! A Himalayan snow capped mountain…most of these babies sit well over 6000m high!! (I realise I’ve used an awful lot of exclamation marks in this paragraph so far…but you get the impact from them right??!).
You’ll walk through some pretty scenery at the start of your day today. Hiking at a steady incline until you reach Purthiang at 2900m, with those wide open views of the Himalayan foothills beside you at all times. Now, when I did this trek the haze of the sun had started to set in by the time we reached Purthiang, but if you’re lucky and the sun Gods are on your side, from here you’ll get your first chance to glimpse a panorama of some Himalayan peaks… including Everest! If the sun Gods are not on your side today, don’t worry too much…you’ll be sleeping amongst them before you know it 😉
After this you’re in for a day of lots of descents and ascents, lots of what I like to call ‘false peaks!’ Ya know, when it looks like you’re nearly at the peak of your painful climb but when you get there you realise it’s just a dent or a bend or something equally as disappointing! A false peak. Lunch today will probably be in Ringmu. You’ll have started to choose what you eat carefully by this point. Being careful not to eat anything that is going to make the hike harder, nothing heavy. You’ll want food to keep you warm, food full of minerals. I quickly got in to hot noodle and potato soup, throw some vegetables in there as well. So make sure to have another good lunch, you’ll need it to keep you going.
A steep hike up to Taksindu Monastery and then a steep climb down and you’re in Nunthala. I know it may seem that the downhills will be a walk in the park, however, even though yes it is a different type of pain hiking uphill (we all know that pain), the downhills have their own potential risks. It’s the downhills that will end up buggering up your knees, that make you slip, or cause your toenails to fall off (yup…it can happen). So a grueling two hour descent can equally take it out of you! We all have our styles of walking, what works and what doesn’t, and just as I found a strategy to help me with my uphills, equally I found one that helped me with my downhills; I loosened up my legs. I put my trust into them and into my abilities to keep myself strong and upright and I loosened them up. If you keep them rigid and afraid to step down the impact on your knees will be harder. You’ll be more nervous so you’ll more than likely lose your footing more. It’s a bit like those painfully nervous drivers out there, all driving at 20 miles an hour, who come to a stop when turning…you know the ones right? That’s not just me who notices that is it??? Well these are the guys who are equally as probable to have an accident as the reckless drivers out there not paying any attention. It’s the strong and confident ones that tend to do okay. So my advice is…trust in yourself. Be cautious of course, but be confident and stay sturdy. Use the side rocks to assist the larger steps, your hiking boots will grip you, and keep a steady pace.
As per what had quickly become ‘the norm’, arrival into our new destination meant a quick sit down with some tea before being shown to our room. At this lower altitude I was still having a daily shower (cold shower) and changing into some warm clothes (it’s kinda chilly in the evenings). Then really the only thing to do is to get out those playing cards and play some games. Oh and eat. You’ll definitely be ready for your meals after your day of trekking. Tonight I had potatoes, fried eggs and cheese. You can’t really eat meat in the mountains, or at least I wasn’t wanting to risk eating meat, so you have to find replacement protein where you can. Tinned tuna is quite common so I ate a lot of this as well.
I remember Nunthala quite well for the massive rain storm we had…ah it was so beautiful…and also for the young local gentleman who was, shall we say, a few sheets to the wind! Aka…dude was drunk! Ahhh memories….
Day 7: Nunthala to Bupsa
Where are we now? What day are we on? How long til we reach Phakding?
Up again in the morning, breakfast around 7.30am, set off around 8am. What stands out for me today in my memory? Donkeys (well, Mules actually), a long lunch in the sun, and listening to Ed Sheeran on my portable speaker.
For me (and remember this is the only place I am able to offer my information from, my experiences), today felt nice and chilled. We had left Nunthala in the morning with the idea to walk further than Bupsa, but by the time we reached our stop for lunch the sun had come out, the views were pretty, and actually I had just wanted to… stop. To enjoy. To be. We were constantly making good time and from here Bupsa was just a short 45 minute walk away! I could have easily carried on further. But, ah screw it… I’m staying! So sit back in the sun and chill I did. A few hours later, aware that nightfall wouldn’t be too far away, we got up and we head to Bupsa.
Massively happy that I did decide to stay in Bupsa… I got chatting to the owner of the lodge I was staying in, and he casually happened to mention that he had been a Sherpa as part of two different Everest expeditions. He had hiked, climbed and summited Everest! Twice!
“How did it feel to be stood at the top of the world?” I asked in total awe.
“It feels like flying.”
Day 8: Bupsa to Phakding
Well if any of you have done your homework you’ll know that this is a long arsed day! Walking from Bupsa to Phakding is a decent distance.
By now there was a part of me that was becoming…curious shall we say, about reaching the main EBC trail. I just wanted to get there. I was ready and excited for new challenges. I had built my fitness up and was hiking to a good speed. I had adjusted to ‘a day in the life of a trekker’ – so to speak, and I felt I had built up a strong mental psychology to help ward off any possible hazards; altitude sickness for example. I was eager to start experiencing the higher altitudes, what I could endure, what I couldn’t endure. To test myself. I wanted to walk beside Himalayan peaks. I was ready for this. So with all this in mind…today we just hiked, and we hiked fast.
Pretty much the entire trail from Bupsa to Surke (a good place to stop for lunch, or in fact a good destination stop for the day) was a game of ‘overtake the mule train!’ I mean these mule traffic jams were long, and if you don’t overtake them you’ll be adding on hours to your day! It was good fun actually and it made the journey go a lot quicker. I can’t even really remember if there were any particularly tough inclines at all, simply because I was so distracted by the overtaking game. I’d be scrambling over rocks or jumping across boulders just to try and beat the next gap! Obviously don’t be reckless, still be careful and know what you are and aren’t comfortable with (don’t be falling down them hillsides now yeah 😉 haha).
A quick stop in Surke, more hot potato and noodle soup, and then off we go again. Next stop Phakding. It gets quite exciting when you start to see signs for Lukla. You can see the paths are starting to look clearer, better sign posted. You start to look out for new hikers, all at the start of their adventure. Then of course you had the hikers who were heading back, who for some reason I couldn’t help but look at and feel slightly envious of. They had accomplished their goal. They had made it. Now they were heading back with all those incredible memories and moments stored and locked away forever. All that hard work done, well done them. My moments and memories were all still pending. What would they be? Would they be happy ones, sad ones? Proud ones? Who knew. As a first time trekker this thought was both incredibly exciting yet incredibly daunting all at the same time.
So finally we made it to Phakding. I’m not sure of the time we arrived but it was still light out. I knew that we had hiked in good time. But my legs…oh my poor legs. Let’s just say they were slightly on the achy side! Don’t be disheartened by your sore legs or body by the way, be proud of them! They’re sore for a reason ya know.
I had a cold shower (you’ll never get used to those…they’re not fun), dried myself up, put on some warm clothes, and went to the dining area for some hot tea. So every now and then, with the exhaustion you’ll feel, you’ll need to give yourself a treat. That exhaustion can make you feel emotional, so pamper that craving and reward yourself…because what you’re doing is big guys okay, don’t forget that. Today after my long hike and now with my weary and sore body, the minute I saw tuna pizza on the menu, I knew that baby was guna be my dinner! And it was good 🙂
Goodnight world, I’m off to sleep.
So that’s the first week finished. The additional week. The week that doesn’t actually need to be done to reach base camp. So…do I recommend that week? Did I enjoy it?
Yes and yes. If you have the time to take that extra week then I say do it. It’s hard yes, but it’s also incredible. I felt the strongest I’ve ever felt, physically, mentally. We all go through life usually just doing what we think we can do, very rarely pushing our limits. Which basically means we go through life not fully knowing what we are actually capable of. I’m not saying that this trek will change your entire perception, but it certainly goes a long way to realising more of your potential. You’ll be faced with challenges that you’d love to just throw your arms up and say “I don’t want to do it”! But you can’t to that, you have to carry on. So you do the challenge, and you know what…you finish it. Whether you finish fast or whether you finish slow it really doesn’t matter, the point is you finished. Those feelings of self achievement that you’ll be rewarded with at the end, I assure you will far outweigh any feelings of doubt you had at the start, or temporary physical pain you had throughout.
You’ll not only be fitter and stronger, but you’ll have also seen parts of Nepal and the Himalayas that doesn’t get seen by too many people anymore. Villages, rivers, forests, people, all completely kept separate from the outside world. So pretty, so untouched. You’ll have acclimatised yourself to your surroundings. Any worry and fear you might have had at the start of your trek will be subsided now, replaced with a respectful confidence or peace of mind. You’ll be psychologically more prepared for the high altitudes about to come. These things were so important to me, acclimatisation to surroundings and altitude. The type of person that I know I am, I need to build up to any kind of confidence in my abilities. I need to trust in myself that yes I can do this. I guess this can only come from experience, and this week gave me that. I’ve never trekked to base camp starting from Lukla before so I can’t compare, but as a first time trekker and the nerves I now know you can be hit with at the start, this extra week hiking in from Jiri was priceless experience.
My Tips and Facts
- Times I Cried: 1
- Wow Moments: Seeing a snowcapped mountain for the first time on this trek
- Costs: Average US$15 per day (excluding cost of a guide)
- Worst Moment: Climbing from Kinja to Sete
- Best Moment: Reaching Sete and view from the lodge
- Humbling Moment: Meeting someone who had climbed Everest
- How Many Blisters: Zero! My Northface boots were awesome!
- Did I Use Hiking Poles: No. I just couldn’t get on with them
- Cups Of Tea Drank: Countless!
- Snacks: Cookies (usually Oreos), and powdered juice. Fizzy drinks was a big No No for me as it not only gives you a sugar high, it also gives you a sugar crash! Which doesn’t feel good.
- Remembered Dates: 13th April 2017, Nepali New Year