Keeping Pace in the Everest Region
Written by Christina Ammon
An influx of satellite phones, Internet, and high-tech gear has modernised Nepal’s Mount Everest region. But the beauty – and the endurance required to get there – remains the same.
“Things have changed!”
It was a sentiment I heard a lot during my recent visit to the Mt. Everest region (also referred to as the Khumbu) in Nepal. It made sense. I was accompanied by a couple of long time veterans: Leo Le Bon, a rugged 72-year old, led the first commercial trek into the region in 1967, back when it was the stomping grounds of only world-class mountaineers; my other travel companion, Jeff Greenwald, was a writer who’d last visited and written about the region 25 years ago.
Back then, they recalled, conditions were more rugged, and there were not many people. Now, as we passed by bright new lodges and high-altitude bakeries serving gourmet brownies, their astonishment was non-stop. They told stories of washed-out trails, and dingy huts that slept twelve to a room. Leo remembered when there were only canvas tents. Whatever changes have taken place in the region over the last 40 years, the main mode of transport remains the same: old fashioned walking – or ‘trekking’, as it’s referred to in Nepal.
The word ‘trekking’ comes from the Dutch word ‘trekken’, and essentially means a long arduous journey. It’s the accurate word for this adventure. Requiring 14 days of high-altitude walking, this journey challenges even the most intrepid souls. But, despite its rigor, the trek remains among the most popular routes on the planet, attracting upwards of 25,000 visitors each year. Travellers are drawn to the rich Sherpa culture, as well as to the crowning jewel at the trek’s terminus: Mt. Everest (‘Sagarmatha’, as the locals call it), which, at 29,029ft, is the world’s highest peak.
Our group started at 9,380ft, in the lush ‘lowland’ village of Lukla. There, we wandered past swathes of farms rife with twining pea-vines and verdant spinach. We followed the winding trail to overlooks, where we peered down to the Dudh Kosi River, which churned out an endless ribbon of class-five rapids. Soon, icy peaks came into view – Thamserku and even Mt. Everest itself, glimmering in the high distance, releasing a magic bound to dreams.
Intermingled among these timeless scenes were the trappings of modernity. While yaks (long-haired mountain bovines) still hauled bags of salt over the high passes, they now also carried Snickers bars and sodas. And near villages, rows of shops spilled over with cutting-edge gear: glacier glasses and polypropylene shirts. “A Sherpa strip mall,” Jeff marvelled.Communication technology has made its way into the Khumbu as well. As we slogged up to Namache Bazaar – the region’s commercial centre at 11,250ft – we passed Sherpas chatting on satellite phones. They veered close to precipitous cliff edges, phones pressed to their ears – the dangerous equivalent of our calling while driving.
From a hillside, we looked down on Namache, and Jeff remembered the night, 25 years ago, when electricity first came to the village. He was there when the lights first sparked on. Each household was limited to three low-wattage bulbs. Now, the more modern village sparkled even more brightly in the night.
The biggest surprise was the trekkers checking their email at 14,300ft in a building that touted itself as the ‘world’s highest Internet cafe’ (though there are recent reports of an even higher one – at Everest Base Camp). With the spectacular peak of Ama Dablam in the background, humming generators powered the computers, and the proprietors served coffee and snacks. On the final stretch, we tracked along the Khumbu Glacier– a two-and-a-half mile expanse of shifting water and ice.
At the edge of the glacial moraine, we could hear the glacier crack and moan. The air was getting thin, and plant life was sparse – amounting to clusters of lichen surviving on rocks. Despite all the technological advances in the region, life insists on the same primal requirements: warmth, nutrients, and oxygen. As we climbed higher, these necessities became diminishing commodities. We reached our goal on a bright sunny day with fast-beating hearts. We sat at the 18,192ft viewpoint, ‘Kala Pattar’ – a full three miles above sea level – and admired the hulk of Mt. Everest, and its dazzling sister peak, Nuptse. Jeff, so awed by the many changes in the Khumbu region, expressed relief that, all these years later, his heart was still beating strong.
Here are some tips from the Nepal Tourism Board to help you follow the country’s customs:
- When you greet Nepalese, say, “Namaste”.
- Take your shoes off before entering people’s homes.
- When eating, do not use your eating hand to touch anything other than your food and utensils.
- Only walk around temples in a clockwise direction.
- Don’t engage in public displays of affection.
- Don’t touch anything with your feet.
On the right foot
Get your footwear right for the conditions.
Look for technologies like Gore-Tex breathable, waterproof fabrics, flexible Vibram soles, and ‘memory foam’ inners.
Maintained Trails – shoes or midsZamberlan 480 ZEPHIR GT
Design, light weight, and comfort on a boot suitable for trekking and hiking.
Fire-Trails – mids or articulated bootsMeindl Sella GTX
Lightweight construction combined with stiff soles make it an excellent choice for lighter winter routes or alpine trips.
Off-Trail – high-cut bootsScarpa Freney Xt Gsb
Summer alpinism, N Faces, 4000+ summits , Himalayan peaks up to 6,500m and ice fall cragging use.