Everest Base Camp Trek in Stories and Photos
“Art we there yet?” he asked, jokingly, panting slowly as he moved up the mountainside.
“Oh Everest Base Camp, art we there YET?!” I responded a few minutes later, coughing up a lung.
We came to Nepal’s Everest Base Camp trail as both tourists and artists on the job. We wanted to get as close to the top of the world as we could, and we wanted to use the experience to inspire work in our respective mediums – photography, videography, and music.
We weren’t disappointed.
We began our journey to Everest Base Camp like everyone else, in Kathmandu. Bustling, dusty, hectic city. Rivers of cars and motorbikes weave between crumbling sidewalks; exhaust, shouts, and honks fill the air. We had one day to buy our remaining gear and provisions, so we were both disappointed we couldn’t explore more.
One morning later, we boarded a small plane to the high mountain town of Lukla (2860m/9383ft), first stop on the way to Everest Base Camp. The dust and noise of Kathmandu became a distant memory as we breathed in the crisp mountain air. Yak bells and the sound of our own rhythmic breathing became our new tune.
The first thing that struck us was the sheer height and grit of the Himalayas. We’ve both seen plenty of mountain ranges, but the Himalayas are staggering. Still growing as the Indian continent plows into Asia, the height and form of these giants have not yet been smoothed by time. Every edge is jagged, every cliff a precipice, every shadow stark against the perfectly white snow that blankets their steep slopes. And their height is awe-inspiring. They are nothing less than broken, twisted rock thrust into the sky.
We spent our first night in Phakding (2610m/8562ft). Adjusting to the altitude is difficult, especially for a pair of sea-level dwellers such as us. With each meter, your body begins to tug downward, aching for rest, water, and more air. So after our night in Phakding, we rested for two days in Namche Bazaar (3750m/12303ft) in preparation for the climb ahead.
“Namaste,” I said softly as I moved aside to let him pass.
“Namaste!” he replied kindly as he trudged methodically past. On his back, he carried no less than 100kg (220lbs) of goods. “One hundred kilos?!” we stood aghast after he responded to our question. We both were struggling with our 17kg bags.
The weight that Nepalese porters carry through mountain terrain is nothing less than astounding. Bottled water, coca cola, toilet paper, and toothpaste. Windows, plumbing pipes, mattresses, and plywood. Firewood, tea pots, blankets, and batteries. We saw porters carrying any matter of goods, all destined for communities only reachable by foot. Oftentimes the tinkle of bells signal an approaching yak train, bearing goods of even greater weights. In the high reaches of Nepal, there are no highways or shipping ports, only a strong people with incredible resilience.
The next five days found us sleeping in a new town each night. Tengboche, Shamore, Dingboche, Lobuche, then Gorak Shep. By the time we reached Gorak Shep we were nearing 17,000ft (5180m). We left behind the tree line, then the shrub line, until the only living things visible to us were a few small, hardy plants. With each day, the scenery became more stunning and the air thinner. Even as we stood at an altitude half their height, the surrounding peaks seemed to tower above us.
“Woah, did you hear that?!” we looked at each other in unison, surprised. We looked to the mountains on our right just in time to see an avalanche of snow and ice plunge down the side of Mt. Nuptse.
We were nearing Everest Base Camp. It’s a bit eery to approach Base Camp and to hear the crack and roar of avalanches. To reach the camp, you must walk along the ridge of a glacial moraine covered in loose rock and boulders. Glaciers are always on the move, and in that first moment of hearing the rumble of an avalanche, you are unsure whether the cascade could be across the valley, above you, or below your own feet.
There were no climbing crews present when we arrived to Everest Base Camp, as we arrived past the climbing season. All that remained there were prayer flags marking the area where crews set up camp during the climbing season. We basked for a while in the sunshine and the satisfaction of reaching our goal, then headed back down to Lobuche.
Many trekkers decide to return from Everest Base Camp the same way they came. We chose to do a loop that would lead us over a pass, across two glaciers, and up to Gokyo, a community surrounded by beautiful glacial lakes. We achieved a great deal of creative work on these hiking days: recording a Tom Petty cover in the mountains, recording many sounds and videos for an original tune, and – as always – José capturing amazing photos and time lapses.
“Babe, I don’t think I can do this anymore,” I said as I laid my head on the rocks beside me.
“It’s okay, we’ll go slow. You’ve got this,” he said, reaching a hand up to steady my bag.
We were near the top of Cho La Pass, and it was tough. Crossing Cho La was the longest and one of the most difficult days of our trek. The path heads nearly vertical up the pass, which is topped by a slippery glacier you have no choice but to cross. After that, it’s a very long, treacherous climb going down the other side. The following day we crossed Khumbu Glacier on our way to Gokyo (4750m/15580ft) stopping often to listen to the creaks and groans of the ice.
“It looks like a sea, doesn’t it?” I said as we reviewed the photos he had captured atop Gokyo Ri (5483m/17989ft). “It really does,” he affirmed, “It does such a good job of showing how high the mountains really are. Those clouds are the sky, and the mountains rise so far above them.”
There were three opportunities to summit lower (if 18,000ft can be considered low) peaks during our trek. José tackled them all, and I only one of them. The amazing thing about going so high is witnessing what happens every evening at that time of year. Every evening, a sea of clouds rolls into the Himalayan valleys, changing the sky to a steel grey. If you are above 17,000ft, however, the world looks much, much different. From that viewpoint, that steel grey sky is merely an ocean from which the monumental Himalayas rise.
That night in Gokyo, we had an unforgettable experience. I was in the midst of creating a song recorded entirely in the Himalayas, and that day an idea popped into my head. “How amazing would it be to have a room full of teahouse guests singing on the chorus?” I thought. That night I mustered up the courage and got the whole teahouse singing to “Paso a Paso”. The evening continued with traditional music, dance, and drinks shared by the teahouse owners. The room came alive with conversation, mingling, dancing, and making new friends. Usually all the trekkers in a teahouse are in bed by 8pm; we all stayed up until nearly midnight.
The final three days of our Everest Base Camp trek were long days of descent, going from 15580 to 9383 feet. We watched as the shrub line reappeared, then the tree line, and we felt the oxygen returning to our bodies. When we reached Namche Bazaar, we enjoyed a celebratory IPA and celebratory latte. The end of our final day found us once again in Lukla, tired and ready to fly out early the next day.
The journey to the Everest Base Camp was a singular experience in our lives. The mountains awe, the people inspire, and the terrain challenges both body and mind. From time lapses and acoustic songs, to photographs and soundscapes, we did our very best to capture some of the beauty and heart of this unique corner of our world.