Not many ever see Everest- much less before middle school. Thomas Reiss and son recap the trek to EBC.
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Planning & Preparation
I started trekking about five years ago as a cool way to experience nature with my kids, and in that short time, we’ve done a lot: Half Dome (3x), Mt Whitney (2x), Sierra Nevada Crossing, Swiss Alps, and the German Alps. Last year, I thru-hiked the 185-mile Tahoe Rimtrail with my (then) 13 year old son, Dylan and two weeks later spent, a night on top of Mt Whitney with my (then) 11 year old son, Luke. After Mt. Whitney, Luke and I decided it was time to tackle an international trip before he starts middle school later this year.
Longtime Everest fanatics, we decided we wanted to get close enough to see the tallest mountain in the world. What could be better than three weeks spent in Nepal's Khumbu Valley learning about the great Sherpa people with their rich spiritual heritage, culminating in a trek to Everest Base Camp? When we were deciding on a destination, it was kind of both our ideas. We both said Everest Base Camp- let’s do it.
So the research began; we opted to go with a guided group for the added safety and local expertise. You can’t take any risks in the mountains, period, especially not while traveling with your young child. There are a ton of tour providers, and we spent hours narrowing down the list to a few groups that actually have you stay at basecamp overnight, as opposed to just trekking there for a photo and then turning around to go back to Gorak Shep. Luke had read about Scott Fisher’s company, Mountain Madness in Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air so we started looking into doing the trip with them. After some logistical legwork, we were ready to make our case to "The Mom." It wasn’t too hard of a sell since we had really done our homework. Of course, there was a laundry list of concerns: what if we got an altitude-related illness like HAPE, HACE (high-altitude pulmonary edema and high-altitude cerebral edema, respectively) or Khumbu cough, or got stranded at Lukla, one of the top ten most dangerous airports in the world!
But by the end of October 2016 the plan was set; we had signed up for a trek with Mountain Madness from Lukla to EBC starting end of April 2017, and booked our flights from San Francisco to Kathmandu, via Dubai. As our excitement grew, it was interesting to hear some of the reactions from family, friends and Luke’s teachers.
Some people thought we are crazy since Luke was just 12, others thought it was the coolest thing ever. The funniest reactions came from the people that weren’t very familiar with mountaineering, who got confused and thought that we would be going to the top of Mt Everest. There were rumors at Luke’s school about him “summiting Everest!”
The last weeks were spent packing our gear, and then going back over it 100 times to make sure we hadn’t forgotten anything. We got our last immunizations and quickly our departure day arrived.
Travel & Adjustment
The actual travel to Kathmandu, Nepal was a big trip, especially on the way back. We rented a car, drove to San Francisco from our hometown San Luis Obispo, checked in, and 2 hours later we were on board. Fast forward 15 hours and we were landing in Dubai around 10pm local time. Our connecting flight to Kathmandu was scheduled to leave at 1:30am, but got delayed to 4:30am, so we spent a night at the National Fly Dubai Airport, which was an interesting experience to say the least.
Five more hours of flying and we made it to Kathmandu, took care of visas and were picked up by Mountain Madness guides. Our first time on the Asian continent felt crazy. Wide-eyed walking outside the airport, it seemed like a big ant hill, a scene of organized chaos. After waiting for a few other “team mates” we drove off to the hotel. It felt good to finally relax after the over 24-hours of travel.
The trip home was just as crazy with a 12-hour layover and another night sleeping in the Dubai Airport. But first things first. After a couple of days of R&R coupled with some tourist action in Kathmandu, we went back to the airport and boarded the 14-seat Twin Otter that took us to Lukla. After a short flight, we were ready to start: 14 days of spectacular trekking, a high point of about 18,000 feet, and two nights at the EBC resting at an elevation of 17,500 feet. Words and photos don’t do these mountains justice.
Overall, the trek was a success and our team was very fortunate. One person was helicoptered out with HAPE and one person was on oxygen at basecamp, but out of the 12-person team, 11 made it (not including our guides and porters, who were all fine, too). Luke and I had no problems with the high altitude and only had to deal with some minor health issues. For comaprison, of another 14-person team that went around the same time, only one person actually made it to EBC.
EBC was super exciting and, per the advice of our guide, we ended up spending two nights there instead of one night to avoid the “bad situation” in Gorak Shep! Our guide had recently learned that a lot of people had gotten sick due to poor hygiene practices and wanted to avoid staying at Gorak Shep and risking the same outcome. He checked with the expedition manager to see if there were enough supplies for us to stay for two nights instead of the one night originally planned. We got the okay to stay, and spending two nights at EBC was a very special treat.
• EBC Altitude - 17,560 ft.
• Trail Days - 14 (including 2 acclimatization hiking days)
• Highest Soccer Play - 12,000 ft. (at the airstrip above Namche Bazaar)
• Photos taken - 1,872
• Most Expensive Can of Pringles - 700 Nepalese Rupees ($6.80 USD! versus $2.46 in US Markets)
• Luke’s First - Coffee, Bar visit, Jazz Club
• Firsts for Us Both - Rickshaw ride, Trip to Asia
• La Sportiva Trail Gloves (great glove, especially the wind breaker mitten in the cold windy afternoons)
• La Sportiva Circle Beanie
• La Sportiva Cham Down Jacket
• La Sportiva T Shirts for casual hanging out
• La Sportiva Boulder X Approach Shoe (used by Thomas for most of the trek)
• La Sportiva Hyper Mid GTX Hiking Boots
• La Sportiva Helios SR (for travel and in the evenings at the tea house)
• La Sportiva Bushido Mountain Running ® Shoes (Luke hiked the whole way in the Bushido’s, they worked great)
This trip was actually harder than I expected. We spent many days above 15k and everything takes just so much more effort, even just walking. But the whole experience was just amazing, and I’d recommend a trip to the Himalayas to anyone who loves the mountains even if you are not a mountaineer. Catching a glimpse of the culture and spiritual traditions of Sherpa people in the Khumbu valley was such an amazing experience. I would do this trip again in a minute- spending three weeks traveling to Nepal and trekking with your 12 year old son is a pretty unbeatable experience.
After I return from Germany (where I am racing at the Zugspitz Ultra Trail 81k), Dylan and I will trek the High Sierra Trail in July. Then the whole family will hike the Rae Lakes loop in August. Luke and I are trying to do the Ptarmigan Traverse in Washington in September, which would be an intro into ice climbing (glaciers skills and ice axe use) and a first step toward possibly attempting Mt. Elbrus in Russia next year. We’ll see how Ptarmigan goes first!
The best moment of the trip was probably coming in to Everest Base Camp and seeing all the tents set up- they were all right under the massive Khumbu Ice-Fall which was cool to see. The hardest part was probably the actual hiking as I didn’t expect it to be as challenging as it was, although it was still very enjoyable. Future hiking trips I have planned will be more mountaineering oriented objectives with minimal ice climbing but still occasionally needing to use an ice axe and cramp-ons. I would also like to start tackling some of the 7 Summits including Mt. Elbrus, and Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Photos: © Thomas Reiss
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Thomas Reiss is a member of the La Sportiva Mountain Running® Team.
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