Trekking to Everest Base Camp by George SG Ng

Should I bring along my tripod? This nagging thought got me restless as I started to jot down things “to bring” for this trek. Complying to a 10Kg of things to be carried by a porter and the weight of my backpack I could manage on the trek was the main guideline. How I packed, of which will be revealed at the closing of this write-up. At the meantime you can guess if I had brought along a tripod.

I wasn’t into photojournalism or ever had intentions to write about this escapade but my friends convinced me to share it. And I hope my inclusion of images allow you to see what I experience on this trek.

35mm ISO640 F4.0 1/400sec

Day 1 (April 18th)

As the saying goes, a picture paints a thousand words, so here is my first image(above) of where we had stayed the night which should give you an idea this city of Kathmandu.

Day 2 (April 19th

As there were recent changes made by the authorities to use another airport located 4hrs drive from Kathmandu. Our tour company surprise us with a helicopter ride to reduce the travelling time. On the airport tarmac, we were ferried in an open sides truck to board our helicopter ride. A snappy grab for my camera, I managed to capture this image of the city skyline from our moving transport.

60mm ISO100 F5.0 1/500sec

Upon landing at the village of Lukla (Elev. 2860m) we then proceeded on our trek. Tenzin-Hillary Airport (below) and to the right is the recent crashed plane covered by orange/blue tarp. We arrived on the helipad behind the control tower at the far right. Termed as the third most dangerous airport in the world, the runway ends with a 2000 feet drop into the valley below. Flights here are prone to delays and cancellations due to ever changing weather conditions from high winds, rainstorms and heavy cloud cover.

24mm ISO100 F6.3 1/320sec (stitch 2 images) – Tenzing-Hillary Airport.

It was late afternoon approx. 15:45 and had it just stopped raining some rice size of hail stones. We had to trek to the next village of Phakding (2610m) before sunset to spend the night there.

As we, the four of us and our guide with two porters, set out on our first leg of our journey, I had my camera out of my backpack slung over one side of my shoulder across my chest with a sling strap. I felt awkward because I haven’t tried using it while carrying my backpack which was over 9Kg.

Inside my backpack were rain jacket & pants(one size larger), light wind proof jacket(one size larger), fleece jacket, a light Down jacket without a hood, a pack of medications, headlamp, whistle, spare battery for camera & headlamp, camera cleaning kit, some energy bars, rain cover for the backpack and a 1Lt.BPA free reusable water bottle. A poncho type raincoat was not my choice as I felt that it would be windy up in the mountains and a poncho would be flapping all over.  

As we began our trek passing through the main street of the village of Lukla, I couldn’t resist taking this image of one very happy girl with her friends just bouncing a ball of rubber bands off a book.

24mm ISO 125 F4.0 1/160sec

Our trek was relatively easy with gentle ascends and descends, even though we had to quicken our pace before the light dims. We passed through the village from paved cobble stone walkways onto the mountain paths of bare laterite and crossing over the Dodh Kosi river on suspended metal bridges.

The trail we took was dotted with small plots of farmland and households, tea-houses, small prayer wheels, Stupas, colorful prayer flags and stone “tablets”.

24mm ISO 2500 F4.0 1/80sec
24mm ISO 800 F4.0 1/80sec
40mm ISO 100 F9.0 1/160sec
24mm ISO 800 F16 1/125sec
24mm ISO 100 F6.3 1/160sec

I arrived at Phakding around 18:35, way behind my friends whom I found were already seated down enjoying a refreshing drink. The night passed quickly. We had our dinner which was pre-ordered before we got into our rooms to freshen-up. We slept early feeling exhausted from our night flight from “home” then followed by an early morning wait for our connecting flight and hike.

Day 3 (April 20th) 

The next morning, we were up very early at 05:30 for the next leg to Namche Bazaar which will be the last commercial town up in the mountains.

The weather was cold at around 12c and I started the day with 3 layers of upper clothing. As the sun came out and it got warmer, I removed a layer of clothing to be comfortable. Also a large rim hat, a buff and sunglasses to protect my face and neck, light leather gloves to protect my exposed hands not covered by my long-sleeved top, from the hot sun and chilly winds. 

The trek was mostly ascending. As the air got thinner, I felt the strain on my body and I had to make numerous stops to catch my breath. Every step was ascending and I felt like I would not reach the summit. It was tedious and a brief descent was much to my relief.

Hours later as I turn the corner, I was finally greeted by the sight of this town. The relief and happiness filled up inside me and I was so overwhelmed by the majestic view.

Sitting at 3,440m at it’s lowest point, Namche Bazaar (image below) will be our 2 days stop to acclimatize our body as we progress onto higher elevations.

24mm ISO 100 F4.5 1/80sec (stitch 4 image)- Namche Bazaar. This image has a resolution of 16341 x 5495px @300ppi

Feeling exhausted, it was 17:00, approx. 11 hours on the trail and I still needed to climb up to our accommodation located somewhere inside this maze of hotels, Inns, tea houses and shops.

The trail I was on as seen in the image above, at the bottom right led through the pavilion and a covered stepped walkway upwards. One can see a water fountain, Gazebo, Stupa to the left and water canal running down on the right. To the top right corner is the peak at approx.3,900m which we hiked up the next morning as preparation for further ascend. There is a museum, a statue of Sir Edmund Hillary (who was the first of two persons to reach the summit of Mt. Everest), a trader selling souvenirs and trinkets along the way to the peak. I noticed lots of iris flowers growing wild on the slopes here.

24mm ISO 200 F4.0 1/160sec
24mm ISO 200 F4.0 1/160sec

Day 4 (April 21st)

Me (above image), feeling elated having made it to the top, with Namche Bazaar in the background. Next pic is of Iris flowers.

Day 5 to 7 (April 22nd – 24th)

The next two day onwards, we proceeded on our trek to Debuche. Then Dingboche approx..4,400m. where we spent an extra day hiking up to Nanka Hill standing at 5,100m for our second acclimatization session.

24mm ISO 1600 F8.0 15sec

At Dingboche, I woke up at 3am. To a shining bright moon and the faint barking of dogs. It was really chilly and convincing myself, I finally got out for a night shoot. See above image, the cold night sky, so still and my fingers were beginning to feel numb only after 15mins. I had to get back in to bed with a thick warm blanket before I got frozen stiff.

Day 8 (April 25th)

We trekked as before, traversing the numerous ridges of arid rocky terrain to arrive early at Luboche approx.4,900m elevation. This stop was crucial for us to rest, as we would be having a very long trek tomorrow to hit Base Camp and to get back before the night fall.

Having some time to rest I recalled how we ascended in altitude and noticed the changing landscape from pine trees to shrubs to bare rocky and icy frozen ground. For safety, always get yourself next to the wall side when the transport train approaches. There have been accidents of trekkers being nudged off the edge into the ravine and died.

35mm ISO 100 F6.3 1/160sec
35mm ISO 100 F16 1/125sec
50mm ISO 100 F16 1/200
24mm ISO 100 F16 1/640sec
24mm ISO 100 F16 1/160
24mm ISO 1000 F13 1/100sec
70mm ISO 100 F16 1/80sec
38mm ISO 100 F16 1/125
70mm ISO 100 F8 1/160
35mm ISO 100 F16 1/250
30mm ISO 80 F11 1/250
55mm ISO 100 F11 1/125sec
50mm ISO 100 F16 1/640

Day 9 (April 26th)

We set out after breakfast at 06:30, and arrived at Gorakshep (5,190m) at 10:15. We settled down at the teahouse and repacked our backpack. Felt a little tired even though it was a short hike due to the lack of oxygen. Every step felt so heavy and I had to pace myself. We had an early “Lunch” and we set out again at 11:15.

Walking at a slower pace feeling the energy drained from my body as the day got longer. By 13:00 I was whining to give up, I was always the last man behind and in front was Mr CY Tan. Mr Tan is 72yo and he prod me on and kept telling me that we have made it so far so don’t give up. To make matters worse, two mules passed us by carrying two hikers to camp, What?!! It was so unfair! But then step by step taking in the sights of the majestic mountains towering around us took my mind off my exhaustion and we made it to Base Camp.

24mm ISO 100 F16 1/640

At 14:00 we finally arrived at Everest Base Camp, grateful, it was the moment I had spent months anticipating it. There were many more that had arrived earlier. And the official marker was blocked by a queue of happy hikers celebrating their achievements. We could only get close enough and settled for the next best location for our photo op.

The wind started to kick in and our guide has informed us to quickly finish off and to start moving back to Gorakshep.

Can you see that tired and relieved face? LOL…….
These yellow tents are hikers under preparation to climb to the summit.
From Left : Mr. CY Tan, En. Abu Bin Yusup, Myself & Mr.Tay Kim Hock. All four are Malaysian Nature Society members to qualify for this picture.

We had wanted to place our stainless-steel plaque here at Base Camp but decided that it would not be as effective and decided to bring it back and place it at Namche. Our guide agreed and would help us on that and we made our way back to Gorakshep arriving at almost 18:00. I was just a zombie and could not recall what we did until the next morning. We were supposed to climb Mt. Kala Patthar(5,545m)on our way back but only En. Abu went for it, the rest of us woke up slightly later and proceeded after En. Abu returned.

On our descend and as we had ascended, along the trail we saw transport trains of Yak and Mules, People transporters, Hikers making their way up and down, tea houses serving meals and refreshments. Local residents were on their daily chores and some traders line the villages. There were no motorcycles or bicycles as they were not suitable for such terrain. All goods were carried by animals and humans. We also came across some wild mountain goats called “Blue Sheep”, which were as large as humans.

70mm ISO 400 F4.0 1/160sec
70mm ISO 400 F4 1/160sec
24mm ISO 100 F8 1/160sec
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50mm ISO 80 F16 1/500sec
40mm ISO 100 F8 1/160sec
30mm ISO 100 F16 1/400sec
30mm ISO 100 F16 1/250sec
45mm ISO 100 F8 1/100sec
105mm ISO 100 F8 1/800sec
24mm ISO 100 F16 1/250sec
50mm ISO 125 F6.7 1/250sec
24mm ISO 125 F6.7 1/250sec
30mm ISO 160 F16 1/125sec
50mm ISO 100 F16 1/160sec

Day 11 (April 28th)

The return pace was quicker as we descended. It took us just two days to reach Namche Bazaar and by Day 12 we were back in Lukla waiting for our return flight which was nearly cancelled due to the ever-changing weather.

At Namche Bazaar, our final task to place our plague at “International Foot Rest Lodge & Lunch Place”, we completed our mission in placing it in the dining lounge, right next to the entrance door to the rooms. The Owner and our Guide supported the cause, “Climate Change” is real!

The Team & Mr.Gopal Thapa(Lodge Owner)
Our Guide/Proprietor Mr.Yam Bahadur Pant(Raj)

This is a stainless steel plague (120gm) we put up. Hoping that visitors from every corner of the world would take notice and help fight climate change. The Khumbu glazier doesn’t look normal to me. The streams at higher altitudes are not flowing.

This is my 1L carrying water bottle, I buy   boiled water from the tea house and cost Rs100-200 per refill. The 320ml coke Rs400 was a much-needed sugar boost over the choice of chocolate bar.

On our return, I ran out of water and I asked Mr. Raj to help refill it. Wow… it tastes sweet and I found out that it was fresh mountain water treated with water treatment drops. And so, I confided with Mr Raj Pant, hopefully the locals should promote treated fresh drinking water rather than profit selling PET bottled water. So that empty bottles don’t end up littering the mountains. Understanding that to boil their water with wood and animal dung has its limitations. Cost of cooking gas wouldn’t be cheap with the kind of logistics involved. If visitors are charged slightly higher they could use natural gas and build a proper water supply system.

Yes… my Sirui tripod (1.4Kg), I ditched it, after carrying in my backpack(9.8Kg)for 7 days. And I had only used it twice, unless you have to use a really really slow shutter speed, I would not bring it. A rule of thumb, if your shutter speed is 1.5x your focal length and steady hands, you should get reasonably sharp images.

I used my Sony A7R3 with 24-105/4 (1.6Kg) attached to a side sling strap, adjusted high so it does not bang onto my thighs. If it was in my backpack, there won’t be any pictures because I will be too tired to unbuckle and put my backpack down, take out the camera and lift up my backpack and buckle up again. And I missed out quite a number of images having my camera inside my backpack.

Every great experience must come to an end and my parting words are get good comfortable hiking boots that can breathe and mid/high cut to protect your ankles. Walking sticks will reduce impact on your knees and also help your balance. Charging camera batteries and handphones (cost money) will slow up in the mountains, as they use solar energy batteries. Best to bring powerbanks and lots of spare batteries. And Kathmandu is a good place to shop for sporting goods and local souvenirs before you return home.