The plane touched down in Nepal at midnight from India. It was 1am by the time our entry Visas were processed. Exhausted and ready for bed, we took the first taxi available. The taxi driver seemed confident he knew our hotel. After what seemed like an hour driving around town we started to get suspicious whether he knew the address. About midway he left us in his taxi on a narrow dead-end street, took his keys and vanished into the dark, and we’re guessing, looking for our hotel on foot—we could see him walking up to strangers asking for directions. While stuck in the taxi, we started strategizing plan B if our driver didn’t come back.
We were on our own, lost in the streets of a foreign country with dog packs running around keeping us company. Our driver eventually returned and plan B was put into action. We asked him to drive us to the nearest “big hotel” to use their WIFI and get directions. Right away he started asking people where the “big hotel” was located, a new plan was required and quick!
Plan C entailed going to Kathmandu Guest House (KGH). Our hotel was located nearby and since KGH was somewhat of an institution in Kathmandu our driver had to know where it was. Thankfully, he did…but when we got there the hotel gate was shut and their “friendly” security guard unhelpful, telling us a big festival just ended, everything was closed and there was no WIFI… end of story, move along please. Feeling helpless, we walked to a nearby restaurant which seemed open to ask for directions and after a few minutes of broken English and Nepali dialogue with our taxi driver, we eventually found our hotel! The adventures didn’t end there, as our excitement quickly vanished when we saw a metal gate covering the entrance. Unsure what plan D was going to be, Vinh rapped the gate in frustration, when it instantly rolled up and a startled security guard appeared. No matter if our room was ready or not, we were out of the cold and the lobby looking very appealing compared to our cramped car we just left. A receptionist eventually appeared, looking disheveled, checked us into our room and all of us collapsed onto our beds. We were officially in Nepal, happily to be asleep!
Breakfast was served on the hotel’s rooftop, the snow-capped mountains in the distance provided the perfect backdrop. It felt great not having a schedule, a guide, or a packed agenda. Instead having the opportunity to explore a new city on our own and at our own pace. Our hotel was situated in the centre of Thamel, the bustling hub of Kathmandu, streets lined with trekking companies, gear shops, pashmina stores, jewelry counters and restaurants. The neighbourhood provided all the action we needed for our time here. It was great exploring this together while sometimes getting lost through the maze of alleyways and corners.
As a side note, we noticed many locals and tourist alike dawned face mask. The streets seemed dusty but nothing that concerned us, as several parts of India were just as bad if not worse. We realized why the masks were important in a big way, but more on that later.
The goal for our first day was to interview trekking companies to decide who could help with our Everest base Camp (EBC) trek. In our initial planning back in Canada we entertained the idea to attempt EBC on our own without a guide or porter as the path is clearly marked by trekkers moving up and down through small villages leading to base camp. The consensus, after speaking with each outfitter that day, convinced us a porter would be helpful. The kids won’t need to carry gear at higher elevations and a third adult, with knowledge of the route, could manage any emergency we might encounter and customise how far to go with kids (and us) in mind. At the end of the day, recognising symptoms of altitude mountain sickness swayed us to hiring extra a guide.
We ruled out a package trek where meals, accommodation, and staff were prearranged on a set schedule. From our experience thus far, we liked our freedom to choose when to break, what to eat, and where to sleep. We also didn’t want a group tour with other trekkers. After consulting a few companies, we decided it would be a good idea to hire a porter and an experienced guide. With that settled, our next decision was to choose a trekking company to organise our logistics in and out of EBC. There are 4,000+ in Nepal to choose from. Because we weren’t looking for a package tour and were already in Kathmandu (most companies operate internationally and include airport transfers and accommodations in Kathmandu on arrival) our request was straight forward. We wanted a guide experienced with children trekkers, that had expert knowledge of the mountain range, was trained in first aid and could speak English relatively well. Not too much to ask? We could get by with limited English, but with two kids, we wanted someone they could understand to gain knowledge of the area, culture, and people en route to our destination. We ended up arranging our guide and porter through our hotel manager. He was very helpful with all our questions and most excited our kids were coming along. More importantly, the hotel was associated with a reputable trekking company in Kathmandu. This helped on two front, one we had a hotel to come back to after EBC; and two a safety support network back in Kathmandu in the event of an emergency.
The next morning, we moved from shop to shop comparing outdoor gear. There are hundreds of stores to choose from, mostly selling knock off “North Fake” merchandise and equipment. The knock-off gear quality ranges from poor to well-constructed, a few made from the same factories as their branded versions. There were also Nepali brands of high quality gear that we liked too. However, a majority were adult sizes with little (or no) children sizes to choose from. We probably visited 4x the number of shops necessary as most lacked proper children sizes (or good quality gear, for that matter). Just when we thought we visited all of Thamel’s outfitters, we spotted an authentic North Face store. Of all the places visited that morning, Chloe found her perfect jacket and, for us, the warmest one.
At lunch we had our first (of many) local favourites: Momos (Tibetan dumplings), Thenthuk soup (Tibetan noodle soup with vegetables), Banana lassi and Nepali beer…yummy perfection!
That afternoon we met our guide and reviewed our route to Everest Base Camp with an emphasis on traveling with children.
Everest Base Camp Trek
EBC – Day 1
The day started at 5:30am for final packing, even in a small country like Nepal, we had to be at the airport early for an 8:30am domestic flight to Lukla (the EBC starting point at an elevation of 2,860 m.) The airport was already buzzing with organized groups, guides and independent trekkers by the time we arrived. We were all trying to pick-up our boarding passes and get through security to the departure area.
The Lukla airport is commonly described as the scariest airport in the world. When we planned our EBC trek from Canada, we originally wanted an overland route to Lukla, as opposed to air travel. The airport is scary and dangerous not because of altitude, but rather by its runway which is a scant 550-metres long as opposed to the standard 1,800-metres! A cliff on one end and a solid mountain wall on the other leaves little margin for pilot error at this airport.
Reading a few fairly scary articles of plane crashes was enough for us to find alternate transportation to Lukla. After consulting with several tour operators, however, it seemed our concerns were misguided and after serious deliberations that evening, we decided a flight to Lukla would be fine. And so we did.
Four planes leave each morning: flights 1, 2, 3 and 4. We were on the 3rd flight that day. Only once the 1st flight returns, the 2nd flight can leave and so on for each remaining flight. If weather conditions (wind, snow, fog) deteriorate throughout the day, the next flight is delayed or cancelled until conditions are favourable again, causing further schedule backup. Thankfully, our morning forecast was blue sky with clear visibility. We boarded at 8:45am and took off at 9am. A 30min delay is not bad for Kathmandu airport.
The airplane was a twin otter turboprop from De Havilland Canada with single seats and an aisle between the two. The flight attendant passed a basket of cotton balls (to buffer the noise) and hard candy (for stuffed ears). The plane’s maximum cargo weight was reached comprising of 12 passengers, 1 crew and everyone’s gear! Upon take off the engine’s roar drowned all passenger conversations (made bearable with cotton balls in our ears) which allowed solidarity moments for spectacular views of the surrounding mountain ranges. It was relativity easy flying, until we entered a burst of strong turbulence as we approached the runaway at Lukla. We landed safely, only a few bumps, picked up our bags, met our porter, and had a quick snack to begin EBC Day 1!
The first day was mostly downhill decent from our elevation at 2,860 m. The number one rule to prevent Altitude Mountain Sickness (AMS) on EBC is to sleep lower than the highest altitude climbed that day. We encountered yaks, various porters and trekkers going both ways along the route.
At lunch our first food staple was introduced to us by our guide, “Sherpa Stew” a delicious soup mixed with fresh veggies, fried egg, and rice. Each village had its own variation of the stew. The ingredients are grown locally, as transporting non-local produce is either expensive or not economically feasible on the backs of yaks and porters.
At the end of Day 1, we arrived to our first night’s guesthouse in Phakding. The guesthouse has magnificent views of mountains surrounding the property. The rooms were of typical Nepali guest house fashion: a simple room with two beds, shared hallway washroom, and a communal dining area. There’s no heating in the guesthouse other than a wood burning stove located in the dining area. Hence, the kids were excited to snuggle in their sleeping bags, after journal writing and reading. The evening temperature went down to 0-degrees Celsius and expected to get eventually cooler as we move closer to EBC.
EBC – Day 2
The night was surprisingly warm in our sleeping bags. The opposite was true when we got out to dress in the frigid room. It was a quick reminder how cold the nights get here and much colder as we progressed up. After packing our gear, we headed down for breakfast of hot apple porridge with (instant) coffee and hot chocolates to start our day.
Day 2 is typically straight to Namche Bazaar covering 8-kms uphill into the mountain, however, with kids we stayed at Monjo a mid-way village to make the second day a little bit easier. Total travel time was 3.5 hours on fairly even terrain, with some up and down sections in between suspension bridges. Under every bridge glacial runoffs filled the rushing rivers painting them a milky blue hue. The Nepali call it the “milky river,” similar to glacial waters found throughout the Canadian Rocky Mountains.
We were at our next guesthouse by 12:30pm, our guide pleasantly surprised us by arranging a room with a private bath and hot (solar) shower. Normally we would jump at any chance to shower. However, for one, we didn’t think to pack a towel and two, more significantly, not one of us brave enough to shower due to flashbacks of this morning’s frigid wakeup experience. After a wonderful lunch outside, we started on our journals and even napped while kids worked on their work assignments basking in the afternoon sun. Later that evening we spent huddled around a wood burning stove with other travelers from around the world sharing stories and EBC agendas. Another cold night was in store for us–we clearly saw our breaths already as we walked back to our room.
EBC – Day 3
All of us were on to the trail by 9am frigid toes and all. Today’s goal was a 600-metre switch-back ascent to the famous Namche Bazaar with a top elevation of 3,340-metre above sea-level. Namche is a two-day acclimatization town, mandatory, for all trekkers heading higher. It’s the last town where you can pick up last minute gear or forgotten supplies “relativity” cheap. Normally, the higher your ascent, the more expensive a chocolate bar gets.
This was our most difficult day yet. Our goal today was to reach Namche by noon, it was a steady ascent, with not much along the way to see, crossing dusty trails and stopping for caravans of yaks carrying their supplies up or empty gas tanks down. Along the way, we hit our first milestone view of Mount Everest glowing in the sunlight. The sky in Nepal along our entire trek so far has been a constant brilliant blue each day.
We arrived to our guest house at 12:45pm. Checked into our room, got organized and headed downstairs for a late lunch. While at lunch we noticed a sign for a 2pm showing of a Sherpa documentary at a local café. The movies are a tradition in Namche Bazaar. Most of the Cafes play a movie commemorating Mount Everest every day of the week. We settled into our seats and watched a documentary on the many brave Sherpas who play an integral role to the successful summit up Everest. It was a great learning experience for us and after the movie Elliot decided summiting Everest was on his bucket list.
EBC – Day 4
Today was the acclimatization period in Namche. We had a lazy start with breakfast at 8am. To keep our muscles working, a “short trek” was in store for us by our guide. First we walked to Sagartha National Park for views of Everest, L’hotse, and Nuptse. Then we ascended further to the popular “Japanese hotel,” a 440m climb to their viewing area of Mount Everest. The walk was steep and straight up, but manageable, across cat walks and rocky paths. On the climb we passed several hikers going both up and down to the hotel.
The view was in fact spectacular. The majority of visitors to the hotel take the climb up from Namche, even some tourists (mostly senior Japanese) visit the hotel by flying in by helicopter to the hotel for breakfast and then return later in the evening to Kathmandu. We had a light lunch, took ridiculous amount of photos and made our walk down.
Tomorrow was going to be a big day—a 5-hour hike, mostly 600m uphill ascent to Tengboche at a top elevation of 3,900-metres.
EBC – Day 5
Today’s goal was to leave Namche to continue to Tengboche. Starting with a steep ascent for 30 minutes, then a fairly flat route, followed by a descent down to the river, and a final 600-metre ascent to Tengboche. The day started off relatively smooth. We packed our gear, had breakfast and left the guest house to begin the day’s journey. Chloe didn’t want to each much that morning, however, we finally convinced her to eat a hardboiled egg after declining the “American breakfast”, porridge, and bread that was available.
Our goal today would cover less terrain than the previous day of climbing up to the National Park and Japanese hotel. The flatter part was quite challenging due to a steady hot sun baking on us. Chloe was getting tired and very irritable by this point and most of her layers were off by the first rest stop. We picked up sun hats for the kids along the way as we stopped for our first tea break. She declined the lemon and ginger tea which she normally enjoyed. After our break was a long descent down the river where we stopped for lunch. By this time Chloe was feeling very tired and didn’t wanted to move. We were already speaking with our guide about a plan B if she didn’t feel better, but first we hoped a full belly would help give us a better idea how she was feeling.
After our lunch, it was fairly evident to us Chloe wasn’t going to get better. In fact, she felt more miserable and upset throughout her lunch which she barely touched. It was well past the time we should had started our ascent to Tengboche if we wanted to get there by daylight. We were already exploring alternative accommodations for the night, but at the last minute Chloe asked to try climbing again. So we all agreed to climb to Tengboche. A few minutes in, however, Chloe slowed down considerably and, consulting with our guide, we decided the best option was to go to a lower elevation for the night and not climb further. The town Phunki Tenga was at 3,200-metres, even lower than Namche, as our guide feared he saw slight symptoms of AMS. If Chloe’s condition got worst a night evacuation would’ve been dangerous from Tengboche. So down we went, got a very simple room (only option), had a quick dinner, and prepared for the night. Chloe crawled into her sleeping bag and fell asleep immediately. We were hoping a good night’s rest would reenergise her body, as the previous two nights’ of on-and-off sleep and her lack of appetite combined with each days grueling climb weakened her body. Chloe woke up an hour later complaining of feeling pretty awful, now she had a fever to go with her upset stomach. Our guide gave her half an ibuprofen and paracetamol tablet. We were hoping she would feel better, but the opposite happened. Her stomach started to hurt more and then she threw up her dinner right by her bed floor. We asked the owner to change rooms. He happily obliged (we think), got resettled and tried to comfort Chloe to sleep. After she settled, we gave her the other tablet hoping that would help her sleep through the night. This time she threw up right away. We made the connection: paracetamol didn’t agree with her body which, in turn, caused her throw ups. She felt much better later that evening with ginger lemon tea. Later that night she seemed OK, asking for cup of hot water and going back to sleep again. It was the same on-and-off sleep throughout the night.
The guest house was close to a large rushing river; you could hear fast flowing water from inside our room. With close proximity to the river and combined with our current elevation, the temperature was the coldest we’ve experienced so far. If that wasn’t bad enough, Chloe asked to use the washroom in the middle of the night. The washroom is a shared outhouse with no running water in the evening, the owner disconnects the water line as temperatures dip below zero every evening, you have to finish your business quickly. Not an enjoyable walk outside either, however, the stars were out of this world incredible, and even Chloe, in her state, smile in awe when she looked up and then realised where she was and quickly ran back inside and back into her sleeping bag.
EBC – Day 6
By early morning, Chloe felt very lethargic and her fever returned. Her body was aching, her head hurt and her stomach felt sensitive again. She suggested breakfast herself so we all walked to the dining room where Chloe ordered a bowl of porridge and honey lemon tea. Loss of appetite is a sure sign of AMS so we monitored her appetite closely. It took a long time, but she eventually finished her breakfast. Once her stomach was full, we gave Chloe just ibuprofen for her fever and then back to bed. She felt better fairly quickly and joined us later outside in the afternoon sun. It’s amazing the temperature fluctuation between night and day. So thankful the day got warmer. The ibuprofen worked but we weren’t moving until Chloe gets better. We made a decision to stay until she was ready to go. We intended to do EBC as a family.
Today was another rest day with no physical activity for Chloe, she needed to regain her lost strength. More soup and lots of rest on Day 6 for us all. After so many days hiking we were suddenly at a standstill, getting restless, and itching to continue trekking again. If Chloe gets better tomorrow we continue, if not, we’ll stay another day and reassess. Having buffered enough time for our trip, we were able to afford to stay longer and still catch our plane out of Nepal.
We noticed a few times Garlic soup on different menus at guesthouse where we stayed. It was a great decision, it soon became a hit with us and Chloe. At lunch we met a family at our guest house from California with kids slightly older than our children doing the same EBC trek as us! It was a coincidence when they mentioned they too were on a one-year trip when we started talking over lunch. We’re not the only crazy family taking a year off! They continued on as we stayed another night, hoping tomorrow would be the day Chloe feels stronger and better to continue onwards. That evening, Chloe felt better and had a great night’s sleep. Things were looking up.
EBC – Day 7
We had an early 6:30am wake up. Chloe felt great. The temperature was the same outside as inside our room. Chloe seemed to feel much better and we were going to head up to Deboche (3,600-metre) for the night, just past the highest point of the day in Tengboche (3,900-metre). We had breakfast and set out by 8am for a steep 3 hour climb to Tengboche. Chloe persevered with us and felt much better than the previous days.
Reaching Tengboche released a swell of emotions in all of us, considering the past two days we weren’t sure if we were going further up or back down to Lukla. We were so happy we walked this far together after our ordeal the previous two nights.
Tengboche is gorgeous, set high in the mountain with incredible views of snow-capped peaks everywhere you look, you see yaks grazing in the open fields, and in the centre of all this is the home of the highest monastery in Nepal. The Tengboche Monastery looked busy with monks getting ready for one of their largest Buddhist festival in the next couple of days. It seemed everyone was preparing, painting, and cleaning to welcome many visitors from the valley and beyond to their festival.
In addition to the Tengboche Monastery, they also have a delicious bakery serving up pizza (made with yak cheese), homemade cookies and cakes. For dessert, Elliot ordered a “Snickers Pie” (basically a snickers chocolate bar wrapped in a panzerotti), the rest of us were a little more reserved and ordered a slice of fresh apple crumble.
Courtesy of our guide, we got an insider’s tour of the monastery to see the inner court yard and prayer hall where they chant and meditate each day. After our visit, we started on a 30-minute descent down to our guest house in Deboche. If we could rank guest houses in the Khumbu regions, this would classify as a 5-star Nepali guesthouse. As Chloe wasn’t 100% feeling better, our guide booked us a room with a private bath, hot (gas fired) shower and electric heated blankets (mind-blowing, according to Elliot). We enjoyed one of our best sleep on our entire trek here so far. As a sign of further luxury, the guesthouse supplied clean bath towels with every room! We all enjoyed hot showers after what seemed like an eternity without – even Chloe!
EBC – Day 8
This morning we had a slow breakfast, making sure the kids finished their breakfast. Our guide suggested to take a slower route to EBC through Pengboche, only a 3hr walk which permitted a later start to the day.
After 30 minutes into our trek, Chloe started getting lethargic and complained her chest started to bother her. We told our guide right away and had a discussion what we should do next. We decided to head back down to Deboche to stay another night at the same hotel to see if Chloe could get better. When we returned, the guesthouse owners invited their neighbor, a retired nurse from the Edmond Hillary Hospital who’s speciality is treating EBC trekkers, to check on Chloe. She confirmed it wasn’t AMS as her oxygen levels and blood pressure were within normal range. We felt we dodged a major bullet, however, we still had many more hurdles ahead. Her diagnose of a common cold, the locals call it the “Khumbu cough”, was a relief to us. She suggested no cold drinks, no juice and no sour or fried foods (lemon included…surprised us all) and to drink lots of warm liquids and hot soup. The family that ran the guest house was lovely and accommodated us to help Chloe get better.
EBC – Day 9
Chloe had chills, then hot flashes and a fever continuously that evening, making it one of the worse nights for her. We were ready to go down. When she woke up with an ear ache the decision was reaffirmed. Our plan was to walk down Lukla and fly stand-by. It would take 4 days at our pace. It was already 9:30am and Chloe’s earache kept getting worse and when she heard 4 days, she got further upset.
We called our guide to figure the quickest option to any full service hospital on the mountain. He suggested, in emergencies like these, a helicopter evacuation was necessary to Kathmandu.
While planning our trip in Canada, finding the best Travel Medical insurance was a top priority on our to-do list. Our guide called our tour operator who in turn reached out to the insurance company for approval to request helicopter evacuation. After a couple of hours, an emergency helicopter was dispatched to Deboche for a medical evacuation to Kathmandu. They flew us to Lukla, refuelled and then straight to Kathmandu airport. An ambulance was waiting for us on the tarmac to take us to the hospital. Everything was very quick and efficient.
The hospital stay was in a private clinic that resembled a hotel. The nurses took Chloe’s blood, doctor’s sent her for chest x-rays and she was later seen by a paediatrician to confirm it was a virus infection and antibiotics were prescribed
While our stay at the hospital wasn’t exciting, we got to speak to hospital staff and we noticed everyone wore face masks when they left the hospital. Later we found out that many tourist (and trekkers) get the “Khumbu” cough from constant dust being stirred up by motor vehicles and, most surprising, yaks/mules on the EBC trail. After being discharged, our first stop was to purchase four face masks. No way were we going to catch another cold, flu, or virus in Nepal.
Final note: The Everest Base Camp trek is not difficult. It’s a well-marked path, through villages with plenty of accommodations along the way. Rather, the physical exertion your body takes on day-in and day-out with a constant need to rest and refuel continuously is what taxes your body the most. This was our Achilles hill, it was a challenge to ensure the kids eat a proper breakfast, rest, have plenty of liquids each day on the EBC trail.
Another difficult situation was deciding whether we would continue or cancel EBC midway was the most stressful (and frightening) periods of this trip. Looking back from the comfort of our hotel room, it seems like a simple decision, however, when you’re up close and in the moment, the little variables cloud your judgement more than they should. A few more days we would’ve reached EBC, accomplished what we set out. However, after pondering all these what-ifs, the correct decision was made with no regrets, but difficult nonetheless, for all of us.
We have time on our hands now: Back in Kathmandu, we spent 7 days longer than we wanted to as all of us must’ve caught a variation of what Chloe had. The pharmacies in Kathmandu are all great and knew exactly what to prescribe. It took us a little while longer, but we finally got healthier and felt great to start exploring again. We visited Durbar Square, which provided a reminder of the devastating 2015 earthquake that struck Nepal. The square is slowly being rebuilt but the damage is still very evident today.
We still had a week before flying to Thailand and decided to head to the resort area of Pokhara for 5 days. Pokhara was a great change and a breath of fresh air (literally: dusty roads replaced with paved roads, noisy traffic replaced with row boats on a large serene lake…plus a few degrees warmer than Kathmandu happen to be a nice bonus) for us. In Pokhara we enrolled in yoga classes and tried a singing bowl chakra meditation for the family. It was a 1-hour private class to synchronize our chakras while various singing bowls were played all around us. Deeply relaxing and according to Chloe “It feels like you were floating”. We had the best sleep that night.
Arriving into Nepal, our plan was to get outfitted, organised, and be mentally prepared for an arduous trek to EBC. Everything within our control we managed to get a handle on. In the end, it was our health preventing our move closer to EBC. As parents with young kids, learning opportunities abound to recognise when to preserve onwards or, conversely, stop in times of danger or obstacles. The latter became the most important lesson we were all reminded of in Nepal—to recognise when to stop and assess with the broader goal in mind.
The Everest Base Camp trek is not difficult. It’s a well-marked path, through villages with plenty of accommodations along the way. Deciding whether we continue or cancel EBC midway proved to be the most stressful (and frightening) periods of this trip. Looking back from the comfort of our hotel room, was really a simple decision, however, when you’re in the moment, it’s challenging to see this. A few more days we would’ve reached EBC, finishing what we set out. However, pondering all these what-ifs, a correct decision was made with no regrets, but difficult nonetheless.
Not finishing EBC was unfortunate, however, staying strong to finish our broader journey together in good health was more important. We feel fortunate to see other areas of Nepal which we wouldn’t if we stayed on EBC.
We continue onwards to Thailand, looking forward to replace cold and snow with hot tropical weather! And so we did.
Read about Chloë’s and Elliot’s experience in Nepal: