Namche Bazaar, Nepal
10,308 feet above sea level; 64% oxygen
Ten hours later, the answer had popped into my head. The sunlight was streaming through my windows and the air was cold enough to see my breath. In the near distance, awe-inspiring mountains soared into clear blue skies. My headache was gone. And my appetite was back.
So, why trek to Everest?
Not just to push myself — physically and mentally — on what is considered to be one of the most challenging treks in the world. But to experience and to see the Himalayas and Everest itself, this unspoiled sliver of land that has for years drawn in mountaineers and other adventurers.
What was so intoxicating about this place?
The Upper Khumbu is a region of dazzling light and immense spaces. According to the local Sherpa people, Khumbu is a sanctuary for Buddhists in times of trouble — the hidden valley will reveal itself to those in need — which many say accounts for that somewhat magical feeling that permeates it.
As part of the acclimatization process, we planned to spend an additional day in Namche Bazaar, a village carved into the mountainside. Dawa recommended that we heed the oft-given advice of hiking high and sleeping low, so with daypacks we began the steep 3-hour ascent to Sengboche.
At the Everest View Hotel, the “highest hotel in the world” (according to the Guinness Book of World Records), we had views of the surrounding valley — both where we had come from and where we were headed. A dirt airstrip, more ominous than that at Lukla, offered its own entertainment as we attempted to catch our breath after climbing to 12,500 feet.
From here, we peered downward back into Namche as well as north — toward the towering Himalayas and imposing Everest — where we would continue our trek tomorrow.
It was a slow walk back to the teahouse during which our guide, Dawa, explained how he had grown up — and come to love — the mountains that we were now hiking in.
Back in Namche, we walked around the crowded village with its trekking shops, lodges, bakeries, Internet cafés and even an ATM. We laughed thinking how its rupees were hauled from Lukla on the back of a yak — like just about everything else here. Prices of goods certainly reflect this “tax.” A map of the region, a pen and small tub of toothpaste cost me about $10 USD.
Bottled water here is about $1.25. As we ascend, the prices of everything — including the essentials like water — will soar three to four times of what they are in Namche.
With late afternoon, clouds began to envelop the village. Curled up in my sleeping bag, it was time to break out my book for this trip: Into Thin Air.
Several chapters in, it became apparent that it might not have been the best choice.