Why I didn’t reach Everest Base Camp | Nepal

by Vanessa

After training to trek up to Everest Base Camp in Nepal, buying any extra kit and mentally preparing, I was super excited to get going. So why did I wind up in a hospital in Kathmandu on day four? Here’s my journey from Lukla to Tengboche and why I didn’t reach Everest Base Camp this time!

GETTING TO LUKLA


No domestic flights to Lukla from Kathmandu

The trekking to Everest Base Camp with Trekkup Dubai started after landing in Tenzing-Hillary Airport (Lukla), the gateway village of the Everest region. There was a change of schedule as domestic flights from Kathmandu to Lukla have been cancelled, Kathmandu airport’s only runway is to be resurfaced.

As Kathmandu Airport will be closed from April 1st to June 30th 2019 between 10pm and 8am, flights are leaving from Ramechhap airport instead which is a good 4 hour drive from Kathmandu. This is just perfect timing for the peak hiking season in the Khumbu region… NOT!

Ramechhap is a tiny airport surviving on organised chaos. Our flight to Lukla was a mere 20 minutes and a pretty smooth, precise landing which I wasn’t expecting. I’d heard that if the pilot fails to break in time when landing, you could quite possibly crash into the mountain. For takeoff, if you don’t make it into the air in time you’ll fall down a mountainside instead. I’d decided not to watch the YouTube videos before I left but you can see why Lukla has been hailed as the most dangerous airport in the world with its short stretch of tarmac perched on a steep cliff. Only a week after our flight, a plane crashed into 2 parked helicopters causing 3 deaths and injured 5 people. Tragic!


DAY 1: LUKLA TO PHAKDING – THE ADVENTURE BEGINS

  • Altitude: Lukla 2800m / Phakding 2610m
  • Distance: 7.5km
  • Time trekked: 3.5 hours

Starting the Everest Base Camp trek from Lukla

And off we go on our big adventure. We ventured past the shops in Lukla and our guide organised the permits for Sagarmāthā National Park. We were blessed with ideal weather conditions; fresh with a touch of sunshine.

Our trek downhill started at a slow pace as we got caught behind a line of yaks carrying essentials up the mountain. We passed a small group of dwellings in the village of Chaurikharka and the lodges of Cheplung. From here the trail contours along the side of the Dudh Kosi Valley before ascending to Ghat. Expect another ascent to Phakding where you’ll find many lodges and watering holes including an Irish Bar and a Reggae hangout (yep, you heard me!)


Prayer wheels and mani stones

Along the trail you find varying sizes of prayer wheels inscribed with om mani padme hum mantras along the way. By turning the prayer wheels clockwise, it is believed that the A inside is activated and released. The mantras are said to purify negativity and generate compassion. Mani stones feature heavily on the trek too, they are carved into the rock and painted with the inscription mantra. 

Mani stones on Everest Base Camp trail


Spring in the Himalayas

The huge white Magnolia and red Rhododendron trees are a beautiful sight and but the Cherry Blossom trees in full bloom are a sure sign that spring has sprung.


Rest up in Phakding

A large proportion of lodges contained the word ‘Sherpa’ and ours in Phakding fell into that category. The owner had summited Everest 3 times as well as a long list of conquered peaks. After the earthquake, he built his lodge and is booked up months in advance. I love a good success story!

The fire in the lodge to boil the huge kettle was a godsend. I was happy to get my trekking shoes off. For the first time ever, they had started to rub and was hobbling around. Maybe a good rest overnight would help.


DAY 2: PHAKDING TO NAMCHE IN THE RAIN

  • Altitude: Phakding 2610m / Namche 3440m
  • Distance: 9km
  • Time trekked: 6.5 hours

Tok-Tok and Benkar 

Looking out the window at breakfast, I could see the moody clouds above. Rain was on the way! You’ll find yourself crossing over the Dudh Kosi River and trekking along the undulating path on the west bank through the villages of Tok-Tok (2,760m) and Benkar (2600m) where we crossed the river again. The water was super clean and the turquoise colour reminded me of the rivers leading to Iskanderkul, a mountain lake of glacial origin in Tajikistan.


Next stop Monjo

Our next stop was Monjo (2,835m),  the entrance of the Sagarmatha National Park. Sagarmatha is the Nepalese word for Mount Everest. This is the place where the TIMS (Trekkers’ Information Management Systems) card is bought. This is mandatory to ensure the safety of the trekkers and aims to control illegal trekking operations. We hid from the rain under a shelter whilst our guide sorted the cards for the group.

Monjo - The entrance gate to Sagarmatha National Park


Jorsalle

Stopped for lunch to re-energise in Jorsalle (2,740m), it was great to take the weight off my foot that had really started to hurt more as the morning continued. Mind over matter, let’s crack on with this steep incline for the afternoon trek to Namche!


Uphill to Namche Bazaar

We crossed the biggest and most shaky suspension bridge on the whole trail then the predictions were right, this next part was definitely what I would call ‘uphill’. As we passed a lady of 79 doing the trek, I decided I should not moan about my foot which was getting progressively more painful. However, I do remember in Kilimanjaro we were told to walk pole pole (slowly, slowly in Swahili) so I checked in with our guide for the Nepali version, we continued in a bstari bstari pace.


Reached Namche Bazaar but I was in pain!

As we neared Namche, we had some epic views of snow-capped Kongde Ri, one of the sacred mountains in Khumbu. It was incredible to be up this high and take in this alluring sight… but it was clouded somewhat by my injury!

I was more than delighted to have reached Namche, a prosperous market town selling everything from Tibetan artifacts to trekking and climbing equipment. The first thing I did before reaching the hotel was to buy some flip-flops and get my shoe off, the pain had ramped up at a fast pace. I went to the pharmacy, the doctor was not working as it was a holy day so I bought the antibiotics that the lady advised. The doctor in our group cleaned the wound on my toe, bandaged it, and told me the antibiotics I had bought were not the right thing… fantastic!Views of Namche Bazaar on the Everest Base Camp Trail


DAY 3: NAMCHE TO TENGBOCHE BY HORSE

  • Altitude: Namche 3440m / Tengeboche 3870m
  • Distance: 9km
  • Time trekked: 5 hours

OK, now I’m really in pain!

On awakening, I could feel things had taken a turn for the worst, my foot had swollen up, how was I going to walk? I hobbled over to the Sherpa shop to buy some big shoes (sounds ridiculous now I think about it) but the pain of getting them on, attempting to walk in them, and taking them off brought serious tears to my eyes. The helpful vendor sold me some downy boots and rang round Namche for a horse to take me to Tengboche.


Riding a horse to Tengboche

The rest of my group headed on their way as I had a coffee, waited for Astari the horse to be saddled up and handed over the grand sum of 150 USD for the service. I was sporting a trekking shoe on the left and a downy boot over the bandaged foot wrapped in a plastic bag to avoid it getting wet, attractive!

View as we left Namche Bazaar towards Tengboche

The terrain was a lot of descent to start with and I was wracked with guilt as Astari had many stand-offs. I felt terrible putting this lovely animal through this although I’m probably lighter than some of the loads I’ve seen the horses carrying, still no excuse!

We stopped by the river at Phunki Tenga, the horse was fed from a soccer ball cut in half and I enjoyed Tibetan bread with tomato and garlic soup. After lunch, our next manoeuvre of riding horseback on a suspension bridge was a little nerve-wracking, I was hoping the fact they were wrapped in prayer flags would help me safely to the other side.

Now we’re ready for 2 hours of steep incline which I was told the horse would be happier with, not sure he was. The weather was a sea of mist in front of you as we arrived at Tengboche. Hot chocolate, please! I was kindly offered medical help by a guy who’d seen me on the horse (actually I was holding them back) with my dodgy foot, turns out he’s one of a group of 23 Aussie paramedics and nurses trekking to raise cash for Queensland Ambulance Service Legacy Scheme.


It’s Cellulitis!

The doctor in our group took a look at my wound under the dressing and with a worried look on her face, diagnosed as having Cellulitis. I had no clue what Cellulitis was. I was told it needs antibiotics and clean bandages, not the dirty socks I have in my duffel bag. If Cellulitis goes untreated, this can result in loss of limbs or even worse. So time to call on the Aussie medics who were more than happy to assist with advice and some antibiotics for the next 3 days, what an awesome crew!


DAY 4: EVACUATION FROM TENGBOCHE TO KATHMANDU


Views of Tengboche Monastery

Woke up to blue skies and settled snow on the ground. The sun was shining on the white peaks all around and my mind was blown.

Tengboche Sunrise in the Himalayas

Tengboche Sunrise in the Himalayas

The bright colours of the Tengboche Monastery, also known as Dawa Choling Gompa, were a striking contrast to the wintery backdrop of Mount Ama Dablam. This Tibetan Buddhist monastery of the Sherpa community was built in 1916 by Lama Gulu and has been affected by earthquakes but after the fire in 1989, it was replaced with a more solid structure.

Tengboche Monastery in the Himalayas on the everest base camp trek

Tengboche Monastery


The decision to go to the hospital

As beautiful as my surroundings were my foot was more swollen and I had to make a call… I couldn’t walk so do I hire a horse and hope the antibiotics will kick in? I only had Augmentin for 3 days to get me to Base Camp but then what about the following 2 days before we reach Kathmandu? I was told I really needed to get Flucloxacillin to treat Cellulitis. Do I risk it? But I still can’t walk to Everest Base Camp?

Then my sensible head rules over my yearning to complete the challenge and I remembered the possible loss of toe and being more susceptible to frostbite with an open wound, I started leaning towards getting to a hospital as quick as possible and get the proper care.

I wanted to keep my toes, end of story! I handed over my World Nomads insurance certificate to our guide to organise the helicopter evacuation

Waiting for the helicopter at Tengboche | Blog: Why I didn't reach Everest Base Camp

Waiting to be evacuated by helicopter in Tengboche


Helicopter evacuation to Kathmandu

As I stood and waited for the helicopter to arrive I felt cried a little looking at the captivating mountains breathing in the fresh cold air. I had trained so hard but I had no choice.

The helicopter landed and off we went! My mind was distracted by the natural beauty of the Himalayas from the air. The dramatic and epic landscape was just like a picture gallery, and photos just don’t do it justice.

Helicopter over the Himalayas | Blog: Why I didn't reac

Helicopter over the Himalayas

Kathmandu from Helicopter

Kathmandu from Helicopter


Dreaded hospital in Kathmandu

On arrival at Kathmandu airport, I was taken by ambulance to Era Hospital. It was a little dramatic with the sirens going off although they were put on hold as a call came through on the driver’s mobile! I spent 2 days being treated with antibiotics and the dressing changed twice a day and was happy to be discharged to a much cleaner hotel.

There was no quick fix for extreme disappointment apart from finding that fire in my belly, I’ll be back to make the journey to Everest Base Camp. As the Nepali doctor in Kathmandu said it was the right decision not to continue to reach Everest Base Camp and comforted me by saying “mountain always there, the toe is not. You need for next time”


Never go trekking without travel insurance

So this situation taught me NEVER to go without travel insurance, I’d have been up the proverbially **** creek without a paddle had I not have taken out the right insurance with World Nomads. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage, and a range of adventure sports and activities.

They cover up to 6000m altitude for trekking on a standard route, however, please note that for emergency evacuation in Nepal, there is an excess of 725 USD to pay. You can buy and claim online, even after you’ve left home but with a trip like this, it’s best to have this on your list of things to do before you go. Remember it’s all about safety on the mountain!

The hospital was not the cleanest place I’ve been, actually, it was plain dirty, so I couldn’t have been happier to have been discharged and treat myself to some post-mountain massages in Thamel and visit the Pashupatinath Temple at dusk


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20 comments

Cathy 19th April 2019 - 8:39 pm

What an amazing adventure, you definitely made the right choice. It is so hard to make that choice to not go for your goal, your toe will carry you on another adventure though!:) Amazing photos, Frank really wants to see a prayer wheel so he was loving those shots! I won’t show him the suspension bridge:)

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Vanessa 20th April 2019 - 12:43 pm

I wasn’t sure at the time as my mind was pulling in 2 directions… I wanted to make it but I listened to my body in the end. It’s lovely seeing the huge mani stones and prayer wheels on the trail. I was ok with the suspension bridge until I had to do it on a horse! 😉

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Julie forde 20th April 2019 - 12:12 pm

What the f*** V, what a story! You totally did the right thing. Sounds so amazing what you did and saw before you had to evacuate…more than most do in a life time! Who gets evacuated off a mountain and carried by horse up a mountain!! Its all about experiences. Love you lady. So glad you are better and having such a fun adventurous life! Good on you 😘😘😘

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Vanessa 20th April 2019 - 12:40 pm

Thank you Julie! Yes I’m certainly gathering a few experiences along the way, wish it had been reaching Kala Pattar but, as the doctor said, the mountain is going nowhere x

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Philip 20th April 2019 - 5:50 pm

This sure hits close to home. After hiking 300km along the Lycian Way in Turkey our plan was to hike Three Passes and EBC next. Unfortunately I missed a step at our hotel and broke a bone in my foot. Now I’m hobbling around Cappadocia on crutches and in a cast. Flight to Nepal booked for April 24th….guess I’m not going to be hiking the three passes and EBC. Like you, I hope to visit the mountain next time!

Hope you had some good views from the helicopter! 😉

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Vanessa 21st April 2019 - 8:25 pm

Oh noooo, so sorry to hear that your EBC will not happen either. Cappadocia is a lovely place but there’s some great places to chill in Nepal too. We will both make it, hope you recover soon! And yes, the weather was perfect the day I left, got some great views from the helicopter on the plus side 🙂

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Darren Meredith 21st April 2019 - 11:39 am

Keeping your toes was the right choice. What an amazing journey to even get that far. Not sure I’d make it past day 1. hehe

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Vanessa 21st April 2019 - 8:25 pm

I agree, I like my toes! I’m not finished with that mountain yet though, I’ll be back to tread over old ground and the new!

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Bernie Jackson 25th April 2019 - 6:05 pm

That’s an epic adventure and totally the right decision. I’m glad you had good advice along the way, and the right combination of gritted determination to keep you going and the sense to get the evacuation in motion at the right time. And ouch! I’ve had cellulitis – I think from a public pool – and 24 hours of IV antibiotics. It wasn’t fun in a major city, so my utmost respect for managing the pain on the mountains and beyond.

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Vanessa 28th April 2019 - 5:16 pm

It was an adventure but not quite with the ending I was hoping for. I’d never heard of Cellulitis before but it sure was painful. Thank you for your support!

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Lucy 28th September 2019 - 1:53 pm

I’ve ummmmd and aaaaahhhdd about Base Camp for ages but the flight to Lukla always puts me off! Such a shame you didn’t get to complete the trek but it sounds like you definitely made the right decision. Cellulitis is no joke from what I’ve heard. Hope you recovered well and you return one day soon.

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Vanessa 4th October 2019 - 3:51 pm

I’ll definitely be giving this another go, you can’t keep a determined woman down, LOL! I recovered quite quickly after getting the right antibiotics, thank you!

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Brianna 6th January 2020 - 12:44 pm

Glad you decided to get some help! Though I’d totally be just like you – wanting desperately to see it to the end! I hope you’re able to get back out there really soon!

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Vanessa 24th January 2020 - 12:40 am

I will definitely give it another go… at least I have my toe to help me up the mountain the 2nd time!

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Nicole 3rd September 2020 - 9:27 am

I’ve been in a situation like this before, it’s gutting to not go ahead with your plans to trek further but you did the right thing.
I hope it healed quickly once rested.

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Vanessa 7th September 2020 - 5:32 pm

As soon as I got the right treatment, it started healing. I know I did the right thing but I was so disappointed to be coming down from the Everest Base Camp trek I had trained so hard for. Such is life!

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Tami Wilcox 22nd September 2020 - 11:56 pm

Loved reading your story, and I’m so sorry you weren’t able to complete your base camp challenge. As soon as I read that you had cellulitis, I knew exactly what you were going through. I have had it as well, and it is so very painful, and scary! I had to go through two ten-day courses of antibiotics before it finally cleared up.

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Vanessa 11th October 2020 - 7:14 pm

I’d never heard of cellulitis when I was told what that I had it but when they said it would not clear up without the right antibiotics, I had no choice but to call a halt to the trek to Everest Base Camp. A challenge for another time!

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Subhadeep Mondal 24th January 2021 - 11:15 am

What an adventure you had!! Cellulitis is a nasty thing. Being a doctor by qualification, I saw quite a few really bad ones. You made the wisest decision. I wish you make it next time.

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Vanessa 24th January 2021 - 8:08 pm

It was quite an experience but as soon as I got the medical help I knew I’d made the right decision to be evacuated to the hospital but it was so disappointing to not make it to Everest Base Camp. Next time I guess, thanks for your well wishes.

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