Today was to be our final day of hiking. The plan was to walk from Namche Bazaar all the way back to the airport in Lukla. We had taken two days to walk this same route on our way up and this time we were going to knock it all out in one day. After a big breakfast we began our nine hour journey by walking down the steep switchbacks which led from Namche down to the river valley below. As we descended, I was surprised by both the length and the height of the path. Had we really walked all the way up this crazy hill?
The path was pretty crowded today, with teams of tourists going in both directions. I found myself smugly judging those that were laboring uphill, deciding in my mind which hikers were going to make it all the way to base camp and which ones were clearly not cut out for the challenge. It takes a certain level of athleticism to be able to function up there where the oxygen levels are only 50% of what they are at sea level. It also takes mental strength to be able to continue pushing yourself onward when you feel like you have nothing left to give. And then there is the cold. You could be in peak physical condition but if you can't handle sub-zero temperatures night after night, then maybe this is not the trek for you. While there are certain friends that I would recommend this challenge to, it certainly is not for everybody.
Yes, the trek was difficult, but I never once complained about how much my pack weighed.
The rest of the walk was like a trip down memory lane. We crossed countless suspension bridges and walked up and down countless hills. I had my trekking poles down to an art form, busting them out on the uphills and balancing them in my hands horizontally during the flats and the downhills. We made it back to the Beer Garden for lunch and then wound our way through the Ghats, spinning prayer wheels and passing Stupas on the left. It started raining lightly and the hike went on and on, up and down and across the river and back until we came to the final climb into Lukla.
The feeling that I had when we arrived in Lukla was very different from the feeling I had reaching base camp. Arriving at base camp and at the summit of Kala Patthar there was a swelling of pride and a feeling of exhilaration and accomplishment. Arriving in Lukla, the dominating emotion was one of total, utter relief. It was over, we had made it. It was pouring with rain. We were battered and worn. Several of us were coughing and wheezing and bleeding in our boots but we had completed the journey. We had conquered the trek. And, for the first time, we could actually let ourselves relax- knowing that there was not another eight hour hike waiting for us the next day. We thanked and tipped our porters and our guide Gopal. We could not have done it without them. Gopal had one day of rest and then his next group was due to arrive in Lukla and he would hike with them all the way back to base camp. I don't know how he does it. You could not pay me to turn around and do that trek again. The Everest base camp trek was amazing- an incredible, once in a lifetime experience. I was quite happy to keep it that way for now.
Yack, yack, yack...