Off the Everest Trail “In Hillary’s footsteps”

As classic as the route to Everest Base Camp is, sometimes it is those moments you get a chance to step off the normal path that become the most memorable.

On thé well worn path to Everest Base Camp.

Up to Namche Bazaar you are pretty much locked into the trodden way. The trodden way includes lines of trekkers, mule trains heading down, porters meandering up, and rows of shops and tea houses that are akin to an endless Nepali shopping mall.

Not that the views aren’t astounding and the culture not ever-exciting, it’s just that if you expect anything like a moment of solitude you will probably be left a bit disappointed.

Dawn over Ama Dablam, from the Kunde Ridge.

But at Namche you can shoot straight out of town up the hill and you will soon find yourself practically alone. The broken forest soon leads up to the mostly abandoned airstrip above Namche, then through a hobbit like forest, with peaks of Everest through the trees.

No mules come this way, trekkers are lone or duet explorers and perhaps a porter or two. It is rare to see a large organized group walking nose to tail up here.

You drop over the ridge and down into Kunde, home of the first Hillary hospital, and where a small collection of lodges beckon for lunch or a quiet stay. As opposed to the bustle of Namche you are treated to men plowing the field with Dzo’s and women planting the first seasons potatoes.

Just down the valley is Khumjung, where we stayed at the Hidden Valley Lodge on the edge of the First Hillary school, which has grown from a single aluminum shed to a host of buildings for primary through high school. It took little time before we were challenged to a rousing game of football (soccer), an ideal way to acclimatize.

At dawn our group headed back up through Kunde and onto the ridge above, seeking snow leopards (Peter had seen them here twice before) and onto a spectacular ridge leading down to Namche.

Our group was all alone as the sun backlit Everest, Lhotse and Ama Dablam, the sounds of the village just waking up below, Chuffs whistling in the morning breezes and Goraks croaking distinctively.

This is also the place chosen for the Hillary memorial. With expansive views, it is a singular and magnificent setting with Himalayan peaks rising majestically on all sides, and the first schools and hospitals Sir Edmund built nestled in the sherpa villages below. It was easy to see why Peter makes an annual pilgrimage to the village and up onto the ridge.

After lighting juniper with the Hillary family we galloped back down the ridge to Khumjung, replète with Yak Cheese croissants, and headed down the trail.

Our two day sojourn off the beaten track had provided a welcome respite from the regular trail, we were treated to a personal tour of Hillary history and visit to the birthplace of the schools which now are 42 in number, and the original Hillary hospital in Kunde.

The return to the trail saw us well acclimatized after our dawn hike up to the ridge, and the trek up the hill to Tangboche passed quickly and enjoyably as we ascended into the afternoon fog to the monastery.

Tamgboche Monastery under the stars.