Everest Basecamp 2016 - DAYS 12 & 13
 Noises on the hallway woke us earlier than we had planned. Trekkers accommodated in the lodge were getting busy preparing to leave for the airport to catch their flights out of Lukla. Once we were ready to leave, news from the airport stopped us in our tracks. Heavy clouds surrounding the mountains were preventing aircrafts from landing in Lukla, all flights being delayed till further notice.
 The first hours of the day past watching the clouds moving in the horizon, waiting for news from the airport and wondering if we will spend another day in the Himalaya or manage to reach Kathmandu? After a few hours of waiting, the American family decided for the more expensive option of using a helicopter to fly out. Soon after they left news came that the first planes will be landing shortly, so we headed for the airport. Many other trekkers had booked flights that morning, the airport waiting rooms becoming crowded with people anxiously scrutinizing the sky. Another hour passed before the first plane arrived, enlivening the spirits of waiting passengers.
 Once again the Lukla airstrip become busy with noisy aircrafts landing and taking off, and exchanging passengers some arriving and others boarding. Stepping out on the tart runway, we were directed to our plane and soon we were aligned for takeoff. Running down the inclined airstrip felt like a riding a rollercoaster. Once in the air we flew close to white, high Himalayan peaks, recognizing mount Everest with its snow plume in the distance. Half an hour later we arrived in Kathmandu, to an unexpectedly warm and dry weather, contrasting with the pleasant temperatures in the mountains.
 Now was time to lay back and relax. From the hotel’s rooftop terrace we enjoyed panoramic views over Kathmandu. Hitting the Thamel’s busy streets we explored the shop covered alleys, checking the merchandize on sale, deciding on what we will buy the next day, bargaining for food and fruits, and visiting the shrines unexpectedly positioned on the streets.

Everest Basecamp 2016 - DAY 11
 Good morning Namche!
This bustling village shaped as an amphitheater overlooking the holy mountain of Kongde Ri, offers a unique mix of busy bazaar life with spectacular mountain views.
Since this new day was going to be another long trekking day, we started with a generous breakfast: spring rolls, of course :D The ones we ate the previous evening were so good, that we didn’t want to miss the opportunity of eating them again.
 With stomachs full we left Namche Bazaar descending a steep, long dirt and stone steps trail, winding under the cover of a thick and shady forest. Trekking down the mountain was fairly effortless and pleasant, only occasionally stopping to take in the Himalayan views, such as our last view of Everest seen from a distance, through a forest clearing. Porters and animal caravans were steadily climbing up the mountain, carrying supplies to villages higher up the valley. The path brought us back on Dudh Koshi river’s deep, narrow valley’s edge, crossing one of the most breathtaking suspension bridges on the Khumbu Valley. Once on its other side we run into a series of big trekking groups coming up probably from Phakding village to Namche. They crowded the narrow trail winding on the river banks, occasionally requiring us to stop to let them pass. Trekking season had obviously started, proving that we chose wisely when to make this trek.
 Another two more suspension bridges and the trail left Dudh Koshi river’s banks, climbing a neatly arranged set of stone steps bordered by a high cliff, covered with carved “Mantras”. Topping this stone steps climb is the “Kani” Gate marking the Jorsale entrance to Sagarmatha national park. From here onward we trekked through a series of beautiful, small Sherpa villages, where the locals go about their busy lives while countless trekkers pass their streets. In Phakding village a young couple where quarrying stone for building a house: she was carefully arranging the stone blocks on a wooden frame, while he would carry it away.

Everest Basecamp 2016 - DAY 10
 Day breaks over Khumbu Valley bringing clear blue skies, shining warm sun light and vibrant life energy. We woke up in a cozy, small lodge, tucked away among Sherpa houses, feeling a lazy relaxation resulting from goals achieved and the quiet, nature integrated atmosphere of Sherpa life. Wiping clean the condensation covered windows, our faces brightened recognizing a familiar sight: the snow covered peaks of Kongde Ri shining in the distance in the morning sun. Rested from a very long, deep sleep, we took breakfast in the sunbathed dining room, with views of Ama Dablam, now clear of clouds and reigning the skyline.
 This day was going to be marked by calm and tranquility, the trail back to Namche being mostly solitary, seldom meeting trekkers or porters. Much later we would find out that this good fortune was due to bad weather in Lukla closing access into Khumbu valley for a few days, prohibiting new trekkers from coming up the mountain, and leaving the trails all to ourselves :)
 Making our way through Pangboche village’s narrow pathways, we soon heard the familiar sound of jupke (cross breed between cows and yaks) bells, signaling we had re-entered on the main trail to Namche Bazaar. On an almost level path we reached the “Kani” gate that borders the entrance to the upper Khumbu Valley. Kongde Ri was shaping the horizon, offering picture perfect views framed between the gate walls, or by the “Stupa” and “Mani” walls that followed ahead. From here onward we started to descend to the tumultuous white waters of Imja Khola, across the river and then climbing back up. Steadily ascending through Spanish moss draped forests, offering shelter from the hot sun, we passed by “Mani” walls marking the vicinity of Deboche nunnery. Occasional jupke caravans would cross by, filling the air with their tranquil dangling bell sounds, which integrate so perfectly in the Himalayan landscape, adding to its spiritual charge.

Everest Basecamp 2016 - DAY 9
 The 14th Dalai Lama dubbed the trail to Everest base camp as “the steps to heaven”. Today we were going to climb on the highest step of this trail: Kala Pattar (5545m), from where we would get close up views of the roof of the world: Everest’s summit :)
Our day began bright and very early, at 4:30 during the night. As the alarm clock rang in the dead of night, only one thought was doing through our minds “how’s the weather?” Much to our relief, as we stuck our heads out the window, to find a limitless expanse of perfectly clear and starry skies. Without wasting any time, we were soon making tracks across the sandy lakebed adjacent to Gorak Shep. Other trekkers were even more industrious than us, their head lamps casting light beams higher up the mountain shoulder. However for others the black night was proving an orienteering challenge, some of them deciding to queue behind us and follow our lead, as it looked that we knew where we were going :)
 The trail was a steep climb of about 400m in relief, its main challenge being that it took place above 5000m, where breathing the thin air while climbing becomes a strenuous effort in itself. At first, the climb felt quite easy, however soon enough we realized that the peak was not on the first ridge, but rather on the next-next one hiding behind it, further away, and advancing in below freezing temperatures became slow and taxing. As the first sun rays began to come up from behind the high ridges enclosing the valley, much welcomed warmth started to melt the light snow covering the rocks, and to warm both us and the thin air, making it more pleasant to breath.
 Looking up towards the peak, the trail seemed endlessly long. Keeping to our, by now usual, slow, steady and ceaseless pace, we climbed and climbed, occasionally stopping to take in the stupendous Himalayan mountain views unfolding on all sides. Upon reaching the prayer flag clothed peak of Kala Patthar we met an even richer visual delight: as far as our eyes could see hundreds of miles of lofty Himalayan peaks were glowing in the rising sun, with Mount Everest just across the valley, soaring above all. We did it! We made it to the highest point on this expedition, and our reward was one of the most breath-taking ;) views in the world: a white-grey sea of mountains, glaciers and moraines.

Everest Basecamp 2016 - DAY 8
 Starting your day above 5000m, embraced by surrounding white frosted peaks glowing in the sun, has something unique about it. The sun shines in a special way, the snowy mountain tops seem to merge with the sky, the thin air has a particular feel, an ever-present silence fills the vast spaces, occasionally breached by meditation inspiring yak bell sounds, the mind feels emptied of thoughts, and eternity seems tangible as time apparently stands still. A feeling of plentitude floods the entire being, leaving no room for wants or needs, and making obvious why the locals consider these high places the home of the gods.
 Leaving Lobuche village, Pumori peak (7161m) covered in glowing white snow was soaring in the distance, as a landmark for our midday destination. Although distances seem close, above 5000m appearances are deceiving, as the thin air committed us to a slow trekking pace, mindful in each steps and each breath, which allowed us plenty of time to take in the breathtaking (both ad litteram and figuratively ;) ) surroundings. Although we were closing in on Mount Everest, it was no longer visible from the valley, laying hidden behind Nuptse’s shoulder, and in order to see it we would have to climb to a higher position, but that was planned for another day.
 Leading higher up the valley, the trail climbs barely perceivable on a narrow gap between the moraine and the mountain walls, until reaching the steep slopes of Khumbu Glacier. Zigzagging up the slope with a steady pace, we ended up on a small plateau adorned with a stone “Chorten” , offering grand views of the group-up rock, gravel and ice ploughed Khumbu Glacier. From here onward we climbed and descended a series of short but steep boulder slopes, crossing the terminal moraine of Shangri Shar Glacier. Occasionally we would meet heavy loaded yaks heading with expedition gear for Everest base camp, and trekkers joyfully returning after successfully conquering Kala Patthar (5545m) and having seen Mt.Everest.

Everest Basecamp 2016 - DAY 7
 Little did we know what this new day in the high Himalaya was going to bring us, when were preparing to start a new trekking day. Strong morning light entering through the dining room windows was inviting us to take a seat in its warming embrace. Slowly chewing breakfast while contemplating, through the window, Ama Dablam’s snow covered south face sparkling in the sun, we managed to be almost on time for our daily early start :)
 Today we were going to reach Lobuche village at 4940m, but until there we were going to have some ascending challenges to overcome. The first one was a short, but steep climb just behind the last stone fences of Dingboche village. Climbing to the top of a hill crowned with payer flag stringed “Chortens”, the trail continued through alpine windswept meadows with scattered stone herders’ shacks. A huge bowl of a valley, sculpted by vanished glaciers, opened on one side of the trail, on its floor, distinguishing from the rock rubble, were the settlements of Pheriche village, home to the highest hospital on the way to Everest. Above this village soar, offering outstanding views, the rugged twin peaks of Taboche (6542m) and Cholatse (6440m). Looking back towards where we were coming from, the skyline was dominated by the perfect pyramid shape of Ama Dablam and the hanging glacier topping Kangtega’s snow saddle summit.
 The pleasant and gentle climb through desolate, low grass plains eventually dropped to a glacial stream, draining its waters from the very bottom of Khumbu Glacier. Here the path meets the trail climbing from Pheriche village, and rises up on the other side of the stream crossing, where a timely lunch spot awaits us in the small settlement of Dughla (Thukla), nestled at 4620m at the base of a steep, strenuous, 350m in relief climb, which was going to be the main challenge of the day. Even though we were blessed with a splendid spotless sky and bright sunshine, strong wind gusts deterred us from lunching on the terrace, preferring the shelter of the dining room.

Everest Basecamp 2016 - DAY 6
 Nighttime freezing cold temperatures turned the condensed water drops on our room’s glass window into an icy translucent shield, concealing from us the surreal snow cloaked mountains soaring directly above Dingboche village. Lazily emerging from behind the razor teethed mountain ridge, warm, morning sunrays began to melt the frozen cover on the windows, slowly unveiling a perfect white and blue picturesque view of fresh snow frosted high mountains contrasting on clear, deep blue skies. The Himalayan gods were generously blessing us with splendid weather on our acclimatization day :)
 By now, our otherwise healthy appetite was visibly decreasing, as an effect of high altitude, making eating, like never before, a conscious and deliberate effort, rather than a pleasure :)) A small price to pay, if we were to achieve what we came here for. Unlike some other trekkers, we were acclimatizing pretty well, having no breathing problems and only seldom, mild headaches during the nights. It was looking like our pre-expedition training was paying off :)
 If the evening before thick clouds where hiding the surrounding mountains, now we were feasting our hungry eyes on the surreal moutainscapes unfolding before us in all directions. Stepping out of the lodge into the amazing sunlit valley, everything all around was covered in a fresh, puffy layer of snow, squeaking pleasantly under our footsteps as we started trekking at a leisurely pace between Dingboche’s scattered stone houses and then further up Chukhung Valley. The trail climbs gently on stone boulders, over the barren moraine of Imja Khola River, winding bordered by two snow capped mountain ridges, leading up to Chukhung village. Further higher, climbing amateurs can reach an array of glaciers and peaks, among which Island Peak (6189m) and Mera Peak (6476m).

Everest Basecamp 2016 - DAY 5
 Climbing higher and higher up the Khumbu valley surrounds us with more and more sky scraping, snow frosted peaks, creating surreal, spellbinding landscapes. However, no other Himalayan peak shapes its surrounding scenery as the iconic, freestanding tower of Ama Dablam does... As dawn broke over the valley, the morning skyline began to be revealed, with Ama Dablam dominating the horizon, keeping a watchful eye over the still dormant valley, like a protective goddess. Warm morning sunrays were bathing Tengboche’s wide, grassy saddle, inviting us to start moving. Spinning the “Gompa” ‘s prayer wheels, requesting spiritual guidance and protection to all beings, we commenced our trek for the day.
 Winding on descending stone steps, the trail took us through dripping Spanish moss festooned forests of scrub pines trees and dwarf rhododendrons, passing “Mani” stones, “Chortens” and the Deboche nunnery. Pleasant sunlight was immersing the surroundings, caressing trees and stones, gently waking Nature from its silent slumber. Soon our solitary trek began to be accompanied by vibrant bird trills, yak bells, heavy loaded porters sighing to relief their burden, and joyfully smiling trekkers, among which even a family with their young children. Descending to Imja Khola river, the trail narrows into a strong winded ravine, where the surging white-waters continuously carve meanders in the stone river bed. A metal bridge stands in ruin, reminding us of the Nature‘s overwhelming power. Further up the river, safe passage across the tempestuous waters is done on a solid steel bridge, with prayer flagged festooned handrails.
 Abrupt stone steps welcomed us on the other side of the river, summoning us to muster our energies for the short, but arduous climb on the eroded hill side to a “Chorten” adorned with blue Buddha eyes. Further up the trail, a “Stupa” with a footprint of Lama Sangwa Dorje (Khumbu's patron saint) preserved in stone, and a “Mandala” coated “Kani” gate lying tucked away between rock cliffs, mark a symbolic portal into the Upper Khumbu valley – a heaven reigned by spectacular white, sky scrapping peaks. From here onward we left the treeline behind us, climbing only through arid, moraine scarred landscapes, with glacial boulders and alpine meadows.

Everest Basecamp 2016 - DAY 4
 A misty grey cloud, hovering low over Namche Bazaar, would seldom release heavy rain drops splashing with gong-like sounds onto our room’s tin roof, waking us from our sweet slumber. The weather wasn’t looking too promising for today. Stomachs full and geared up in Gore-Tex, we set about ascending, for one last time, the terraced streets of Namche. Passing the local school, a colorful bunch of lively children greeted us while orderly brushing their teeth in the school courtyard. Odd as it may have seemed to us, Sunday is a work and school day in Nepal, as they follow the Vedic calendar, having only one rest day, on Saturday.
 Spinning the solitary prayer wheel perched on a tall “Mani” wall above the village, we said “good bye” to Namche Bazaar and made our way on a gentle path snaking between low vegetation on the mountain side, and leading us deeper inside the Khumbu Valley. A rainbow colored bird caught our eyes as we were walking besides the last agriculture fields. It was a rare sight of a Himalayan monal (Lophophorus impejanus), which, together with the rhododendron, beginning to vividly bloom on the valley, are national symbols of Nepal.
 Soon the dirt path began to give way to a perfectly leveled stone block road - an unexpected sight so deep up the valley. A small, old man, keeping track of his “Mantra” recitations on a Buddhist “Mala” (bead prayer necklace use to keep count of “Mantra” repetitions), was collecting donations for that road’s maintenance. Further up, the road was embellished from corner to corner with beautiful white-gold “Chortens”, perfectly positioned where the road turned around the mountain side, leaving them to stand out and enhance the scenery, especially on a clear-sky day. Lady Luck was half on our side: a rainless cloud blanket was hovering above us, hiding the towering snowy Himalayan peaks from our sight. In spring it is not uncommon for a layer of clouds to station around 4000m, bordering two “worlds”: below and beyond the clouds :)

Everest Basecamp 2016 - DAY 3
 Dawn ushers in a new day with a feeling of timelessness taking hold of us. We’ve been trekking in the high Himalaya for 2 days by now, still it feels like we are here for weeks, like we somehow… belong here... The otherwise never ceasing ticking of time seems to have remained behind Khumbu Valley’s “Kani” gate, unable to follow us in this land of eternity. Here, there is no past, no future, just an everlasting n o w abounding to the fullest in breathtaking, jaw dropping, bewildering mountain landscapes, that leave no room for wanting, wishing, lacking, or missing anything or anyone. Somehow, becomes self-evident why these mountains are a birthplace of spirituality.
 To facilitate acclimatizing for the days to follow, in this third day we were going to “rest” ascending roughly “only” 400m and then descending them back to Namche. Being a rest day, we seized the opportunity to sleep in late. By the time we mustered the courage to remove ourselves from the coziness of our down sleeping bags, the sun was already half ways up the sky. Curiosity pushed us to jump out of bed and open the condensation coated windows to take in the morning panoramic view over Namche Bazaar and Kongde Ri.
 One would be tempted to think our decision to oversleep was unwise, however it proved to be quite inspired :) All the other trekkers like us on a rest day in Namche, woke up conscientiously bright and very early, and were already starting to descend from their acclimatizing trek, leaving the paths all to ourselves and the occasional porters.
 Stepping out of the lodge through what we deemed as the “gate to heaven”, we made our way up the countless stone steps of the terraced village of Namche Bazaar. Glancing back over our shoulders we got some mesmerizing views of the blue-red-green roofed Namche together with Kongde Ri snow-powdered on its peaks. A tall “Mani” wall, white prayer flags on a towering pole and a colorful prayer wheel were marking the way out of the village.

Everest Basecamp 2016 - DAY 2
Namasteeee Himalaya! Good morning Life! :)
 Clinking cattle neck bells accompanying their owners’ slow dangling ascending pace, hammers banging nails in wooden planks, chisels delicately carving into stone blocks, saws cutting sharp angles into timber, and birds chirping their trills, all of these entwining into a symphony of melodious sounds to welcome a new day on the Khumbu Valley. The sun was barely coming up from behind the mountain, and the locals were already industriously busy. Early mornings were also a must for us too, especially since we were eager to see as much as possible of the surrounding snowed capped peaks – as nighttime usually clears the skies.
 Apple porridge with honey, banana pancake and ginger tea boosted our energies for the coming day. We planned to trek through lunch and replenish our batteries on arrival in Namche Bazaar, our destination for the day.
 The trek started past the local school, Gompa (monastery) and continued to the gate of Sagarmatha National Park. Here the rangers keep track of the numbers of trekkers going in and out of the park. Albeit there was a visible decline in numbers after 2015’s earthquakes, in recent months trekkers started to come back to this region, helping sustain the local economy - which is highly dependent on their presence.
 The passing still further deep inside the Khumbu Valley is guarded by a "Mani" wall and a “Kani” gate, whose walls are lined with small prayer wheels, and whose ceilings are painted with elaborate “Mandalas”. From here onward, we were stepping inside a “beyul” (a sacred hidden valley blessed by Padmasambhava - the spiritual master who brought Buddhism into Tibet). Spiritual transformation and growth is said to be facilitated by this blessing. Once through the gate, people are encouraged to refrain from several behaviors which are not in line with Buddhist tradition.

Everest Basecamp 2016 - DAY 1
After several hours of intercontinental flight, as we started descending towards the Kathmandu International Airport, while terraced hills began to emerge into sight from between the evening clouds. Excitement starts to build up inside us: we are landing in Nepal, the land of the Buddha... and of the high Himalaya! :)
 Stepping off the plane, we are greeted by an orange-crimson sunset falling behind the surrounding hilltops, and bronze statues of the Buddha and Lord Shiva welcoming us to our home for the next weeks. Unintentionally, our arrival “coincided” with Maha Shivaratri, an important Hindu festival celebrating Lord Shiva, favorable for new beginnings – an auspicious start for our expedition ;).
 Soon we found ourselves on the busy streets of Kathmandu, swarming with people, motorcycles, cars, buses and... continuous honking... :)
 As soon as we drop our bags in the hotel, we hit the streets eager to explore this new place. Shops after shops packed with mountain gear, intricately decorated shawl and scarves, carved wooden boxes and stone jewelry, ceremonial masks, prayer flags and incense sticks were lining the streets, bewitching our senses and inviting us to open (and dig deep into... :) ) our wallets. We decided instead to treat ourselves with some fruits and an early good night sleep, since very early the next morning we would be starting our adventure on the mountain.
 At dawn, before the city has awoken, we were already in the airport boarding a 12 people plane to the notorious Lukla airstrip, one of the shortest and highest airports in the world. Once in the air we were dazzled by the first glimpses of towering Himalayan peaks piercing their white powdered summits through the clouds, and soon enough after a short “turn” around a mountain we caught sight, through the narrow pilot’s cockpit window, of a small airstrip tucked away in the mountain side at 2860m. We are here! :D