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My Everest 3 Passes: Why Spend 20 Days & Thousands of Dollars... Hiking?

- a Preface to the 'My Everest 3 Passes' Journal Series

 On the way to Gokyo Lakes after passing Renjo La (Pass)

On the way to Gokyo Lakes after passing Renjo La (Pass)

Why?

Many people ask why did I want to embark on a suffer-fest consisting of hiking continuously for 20 days? Hiking up to where the air is so thin that in every breath, there is only half as much oxygen as there is at sea level. Not only that, but also spending thousands of dollars in the process...

I can't really figure out since when that the idea of taking a flight, a cab ride, and then followed by some food-porn Instagram, to be somewhat of an underwhelming experience to me. Don't get me wrong, I do get intrigued by vivid history, interesting cultures and also enjoy exquisite cuisines. I however plan to save these types of travels for when I am no longer able to muster up the energy for journeys which I consider truly epic and unforgettable.

Since the first time I heard about the Everest Basecamp Trek, I have had it swiped into my bucket list. After-all, Everest is the highest mountain in the world. If there's any mountain which is worth a 20 days hike to see, Everest would be it. Not to mention that it is a rare opportunity to have the time, the fitness and also the financial runway to take on such an expedition.

Almost nothing worthwhile to do is easy. Anyone who has frequented the gym would know this very well - there is simply no replacement to some pain and suffering when it comes to the process of growth. And precisely for these reasons, the Everest Trek has been on the top of my list for this Gap Year of mine.

Preparation

Team

It was fairly difficult to find a team of trekking buddies to keep me companied for this month long journey. Within my circles, friends that are adventurous enough, active enough and interested in such an expedition is far and few in between. To find people amongst them that are also willing to commit the time and money for a month-long trek half way across the globe proved to be impossible. I quickly turned to online resources to help me find some trekking buddies that would be up for such a challenge.

Finding travelling buddies online is definitely not a new industry. However 90% of them are really just mail-order bride/dating sites in disguise. Being an Asian myself I turned to some Asian resource that have helped me find travel buddies on the road in the past. Backpacker.com.tw is a great travel resource for anyone that knows Chinese. It includes a Wikitravel-like information hub, with blogs and articles from various Chinese speaking travellers around the globe, but not only that, also a travel forum. The best part is a section of the forum dedicated to looking for travel companions. Anyone can open a thread and put out a trip proposal. The travel buddy searching portion of the forum is sub-divided into countries and months, making searching for travel companies much easier. Thru the site, I was able to quickly nail down a group intending for an October peak season timeframe trek. The site does not facilitate anything beyond establishing initial contact between different travelling parties. It is up to the individuals to assess whether the other parties are trustworthy, amongst other communicational, logistical and financial matters.

Along with my travel buddies, we also used the service of a trekking company. There are many trekking companies for the Everest region. One of these travel buddies I found actually have been to the Everest region before, and have since became friends with one of the guides - Sanu Babu. The travel company he belongs to in particular is the Himalayan Explorations owned by Kumar Lama.
 

Fitness

I have never been the fittest amongst the really active communities in Vancouver, Canada. As such I wasn't so confident to think that I could've just tackled the Himalayas without any training at all . One big concern is my left knee, which was experiencing Iliotibial Band Syndrome symptoms during the Spring and Summer. ITBS cause, along with treatment, are still of great debate in the medical world. One thing for sure is that ITBS aggravated the most through running and down hiking. This greatly limited my choices in training options. What I narrowed mainly down to were hiking routes that have gondola downloads, and cycling.

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In the end, my training leading up to the trek consisted mainly of hitting the famous Grouse Grind in North Vancouver about 3 times a week. The Grouse Grind is a convenient and well developed hiking trail 30 minutes drive from downtown Vancouver. The trail is a short 2.9km in length, however with a very steep elevation gain of over 850m. The best part about the Grouse Grind is the option of paying $10 CAD for gondola download!. To mix it up, I also went on ~30+ km group bike rides on the weekend. Towards the end, my Grouse Grind regimen was stepped up a notch by incorporating a weight of ~15lbs by the means of shoving a lot of water into my backpack.

The other big concern for the Everest Trek is altitude. Through my research online, there simply seems to be no way to effectively train for high altitude when one is at sea level. The best way to tackle high altitude is to get used to it by staying/ascending slowly once one get past the ~10,000ft (3,000m) mark. Studies after studies found no strong correlation between fitness and adaptation to altitude, if not an inverse correlation all together (because fitter people is more capable of over-exerting themselves). Otherwise the only medically proven altitude preparation one can do while at sea-level is to get a prescription for Acetazolamide, or commonly known as Diamox. I am not going to go further into altitude preparation in this article, or give any medical advice regarding the likes of Diamox and other less proven alternatives. Instead I'll list a couple links that I found useful during my preparation, and resources I turned to when I was struggling during the trip.
 

Of particular interest, the article by the Travel Doctor recommended no more than 300m of sleep to sleep altitude increase per day, and a rest day with no sleep to sleep altitude increase every 1000m. While the CDC guidance is for max. 500m of sleep to sleep altitude increase per day, and a rest day with no sleep to sleep altitude increase every 1000m.
 

Equipment

 Final re-pack at an Airbnb when I was in Kunming, just before flying in to Kathmandu

Final re-pack at an Airbnb when I was in Kunming, just before flying in to Kathmandu

For what one lacks in fitness and skill, one makes it up in gear and equipment~ While the right gear doesn't make a beginner become an expert, the wrong equipment can definitely become showstopper even for the fittest athlete. During my 2 months of fitness preparation for this trip, I also spent a lot of time coming up with a packing list. Being a type A personality myself, I not only had to research and get the best for each item on the list, but to also find the best bargain possible for each item. Despite this time consuming exercise, in retrospect, I think there are still a lot of room for improvement. I published a separate dedicated article regarding all the equipments I have brought with me to the trip, along with rationale for the selection of each, the evaluation of them as employed during the trek, and also a post-mortem on what could've been bettered in terms of gear selection. See that here: 

My Everest 3 Passes: Possibly The Most In-Depth Gear Guide On The Internet

Trip Planning

Obviously the ultimate objective for this trip is to get to Everest Basecamp and see Mount Everest. However through the discussions leading up to the trip, a lot of additional itinerary ended up getting added on. Notably they are:

Gokyo Lake & Gokyo Ri

Arguably the most beautiful and scenic lake in the Everest region.

The 3 High-Passes of Everest

  1. Renjo La: A much less frequented route leading to the Gokyo Lake area from the West.
  2. Cho La: Connecting the Gokyo Lake area to the village of Lobuche - the intersection to Mount Everest
  3. Kongma La: Connecting Lobuche to Chukhung - the gateway to Island Peak (Imja Tse)

Summiting Island Peak

This is the easiest 6,000m+ peak to summit in the Everest region, despite the words 'easiest' and '6,000m' being a complete oxymoron...
 

Final Intended Itinerary

Our finalized itinerary was basically a clockwise version of the Everest Three Passes trek, with Island Peak added-on. This is probably one of the most difficult version of the Everest Basecamp trek. In fact, with the climbing component added, this isn't really just a trek anymore. Click through below for a day-by-day rundown of the planned itinerary.

To get to Kathmandu, I was flying through the Chinese city of Kunming, arriving at Tribhuvan International Airport on October 7th. The trek began 2 days later by the means of flying from Kathmandu to Lukla on October 9th, named Day 1 in the above slideshow. 

Of particular concern in the planned itinerary above was the rapid increase in elevation between the start of Day 4 at 3,440m, and Day 7 which peaks out at 5,340m before staying the night at an elevation of 4,791m. This is almost 2,000m of elevation gain at the maximum point, and over 1,300m of sleep to sleep elevation gain without an additional acclimatization day!

With the facts and warnings from The Travel Doctor and the CDC websites, I did have concerns that I myself, or some of the team member might have issues with adapting to the altitude. However no consensus was reached before the trip in extending the itinerary or to insert any buffering days. There were only brief mentions that extra days might be considered only if things really do turn for the worse...


 Monastery at Pangboche

Monastery at Pangboche

This is all that I wanted to cover with this preface. Hopefully this explains some background regarding the trip before I jump in and start sharing more photos and stories accumulated during the trek. My current plan is to cover the trip in 10 parts, with a journal entry posted throughout December roughly once every 2 to 3 days. This also marks the first time I tried 'blogging'. Constructive feedback is definitely more than welcomed. Otherwise, thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more to come!