Crossing into Nepal from Tibet was a bit of culture shock. The Tibetan side IS China, and the Nepal side IS India. Pretty soon that fades, and it's just Nepal: verdant landscape, waterfalls and all. The ride into Kathmandu went quickly from that beautiful scenery to pitch grey soot of the city covering our faces. But once inside the ring of smog that envelops Kathmandu, the city opens up a bit, blue sky reappears and the the culture takes over. OK, it's mostly a culture of tourism, but there's still quite a bit of real Nepal to see if you go for a long enough walk.
The Himalayan adventure starts in Kathmandu, where navigating the airport takes all the skills you learned in the circus. We were actually lucky enough the first day to have our ticket get us assigned to a flight. We then spent 8 hours waiting for our flight to be cancelled thanks to clouds over Lukla. Two days later we tried again and caught a flight out by the skin of our teeth. Within minutes of landing, we found a guide and were on the trail. Only two days into the hike, we hit Nahcme Bazar, the chocolate cake center of Nepal. Thoughts of the food here kept us going for the next 10 days. We had a couple nice days in the low country, but soon enough were treated to a snowstorm as we entered Machermo on day 4. From here on up, we had the sun overhead, and snow under foot. Machermo, by the way, is where a yeti (abominable snowman) killed 3 yaks and attacked a local woman in 1974.
From the beautiful lakeside hamlet of Gokyo, we headed straight up to the Everest viewpoint of Gokyo Ri. Then back down the valley and across the Gokyo glacier to the base of the Cho La pass. The 17,500ft+ Cho La pass offers a somewhat treacherous shortcut from Gokyo valley to the Khumbu area and Everest. What an amazing scene; Cho La was definitely my favorite part of the hike.
Down from Cho La and now in the Khumbu valley, we made straight for the final village of Gorak Shep at 17,000 feet. The next day, I nearly lost my lungs racing our guide out to Everest Base Camp. They'll win, but it is fun to watch them stop to catch their breath, too.
Our final ascent was to the 18,600ft hill of Kala Pattar for a close up view of Everest. Here, the effects of 50% oxygen start to become more noticeable. But worse than the dizziness were the biting winds that made the balmy 40F seem much more like 0F.
The path back down to Lukla was certainly easier, although there were still some good climbs. But the increasing warmth and extra oxygen in the air as we descended were quite nice.