In preparation for our hike through the Solokhumbu region, Buckey and I took four long rest days in Khadbari to let our feet heal and give our sore knees a break. Luckily, the hotel we were staying at had wifi, HBO, and a restaurant. We estimated that Buckey ate 120 momos (a meat and vegetable filled dumpling) during our time in Khadbari.
Finally, we were ready to start the next segment of our Great Himalaya Trail thru-hike. We would be hiking in the Solokhumbu region, otherwise known as the lower Everest region.
Solokhumbu via the Cultural Route
Getting back on the trail again after so many days off was difficult. We wanted to make some distance and give ourselves a good shot of staying ahead of summer monsoon season, so we decided to stick to the low route, also known as the cultural route. This would mean skipping the upper Everest region, which was disappointing to me because I absolutely adore that area. However, I’ve already been there twice and Buckey didn’t care if he went to Everest Base Camp or not.
The first day was hot and humid. We were sweating all day. I drank about four liters of water and still had a headache from the heat. Based on our rough start, we expected this section to be brutal.
We were pleasantly surprised during our next few days when the temperature dropped and we had light rain. All the little bugs, reptiles, and amphibians that we don’t usually see emerged in the wet weather. We saw bright caterpillars, butterflies with outer wings camouflaged like dead leaves, toads the size of tennis balls, multi-colored and quick-footed lizards, worms as big as baby snakes, and actual baby snakes slithering across the trail.
This also meant the leeches came out of hiding and tried to latch onto our boots as we passed by. I got bit several times and pulled a few off of my boots before they found my skin. I was starting to think the leeches had a fondness for my blood specifically, and then Buckey finally got one bite as well. While leech bites don’t hurt, they do bleed for hours and itch for weeks.
The rain has brought the spring flowers into full bloom. The rhododendrons are especially prominent. We were told by a local that it seems monsoons have started early this year, which is good for the farmers. It’s been raining at night, and a bit during the day. Overall, it hasn’t been that bad, and he said it wouldn’t get much worse.
Stomach Bug with a Loss of Appetite
I’m beginning to feel like a bit of a damsel in distress since I’m the one who always gets into accidents, and nothing bad ever happens to Buckey. Several days into this section, we were having dinner at our guest house. I just wasn’t hungry and picked at my food. The next day, we hiked all day without stopping for lunch. Upon arriving in Najingdingma, we ordered fried noodles for dinner. I managed a few bites, but was too nauseous to keep eating.
I slept horribly and couldn’t eat breakfast the next morning, so we had to take an unplanned rest day. I spent most of my time in bed. Buckey and I listened to Game of Thrones on audiobook for a few hours. To make things worse, I started having diarrhea. The next day we wanted to push on. Our hike wasn’t very successful. We did what should have been a three-hour hike in about five hours. Buckey told me later that he was mentally comparing me to a sloth all day, but resisted saying so while I hiked.
That night brought horrible stomach pain. I was tired of being sick and just wanted to be healthy enough to hike again. Luckily, that was about the end of my illness. The next day I was as good as new.
Passes and Rivers
I think the term “low route” implies that it is an easier trail than the high route. This is not true. The low route is freaking hard. For this section, we regularly climbed 5,000 to 6,000 feet all at once to reach a pass. Then we immediately descended an equal amount to reach the river. Then we did it all over again.
In total we hiked over six high passes in this section, plus a few more long climbs that weren’t technically considered passes. After every climb we went back down to the river. We crossed so many suspension bridges that it almost cured my fear of them.
One especially cool thing about hiking in the lower Solokhumbu region was the amount of mani walls and stupas. Mani walls are of Buddhist influence and generally display stones carved with the symbols for the mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum”. A stupa is a huge, dome-shaped Buddhist shrine.
The Mule Highway
The Solokhumbu route from Jiri to Lukla is famous because early Everest climbing expeditions would begin their trek in Jiri before Lukla got an airport. This section is also known as “the mule highway” because there are so many herders taking their animals, loaded with supplies, to Lukla.
Lukla was not on our route, so we connected with the mule highway in Kharikhola. At first, crossing paths with a mule train meant stepping aside and waiting for ten or so animals to pass by. They aren’t fast either. They stop to nibble on plants often and are timid during steep sections. As we got used to seeing mules, we became more bold in passing them on the narrow trails. The mules sometimes absent-mindedly bumped into us. Then I remembered the trick: when I held my arm straight out, the mules walked far around me to avoid touching my hand. No more worrying about accidentally getting ran over.
Buckey and I had been anxious to finish this section and go back to Kathmandu. However, getting on a major trekking route brought an upgrade in accommodations and food that we had not been used to up until this point. Hot showers and cheesy pizza temporarily curbed the urgency we felt to get back to the big city.
Another perk of the Solokhumbu section was being around other tourists and regularly meeting English-speaking locals. We’re trying to learn some Nepali, but it’s difficult. It sounds crazy, but Buckey and I get very excited when we meet people who speak English. I didn’t know it could be so satisfying to say a sentence and have the other person understand what I mean.
Back to Kathmandu
On our thirteenth day after departing Khadbari, we climbed our final mountain. Buckey was in a bad mood the whole walk up. Upon reaching the top, we sat for a break in a meadow. After a few minutes, a dozen school boys ran up the hill, stopped for a quick chat with us, then began kicking around an old, beat up soccer ball that looked like it had belonged to the village children for years. Watching the kids play promptly cheered up Buckey, and we started down the hill into Jiri.
We spent one night in Jiri, then caught the seven AM bus to Kathmandu. It was a bumpy, unpleasant ride. While the distance was only 130 miles, the journey took nine hours. The driver had to regularly slow down for cliff-side curves, reverse to let other vehicles pass on the narrow roads, and dodge potholes. We quickly learned not to sit in the back, where the bus’s suspension is poor, after we hit a bump and bounced so far into the air that Buckey hit his head on the ceiling.
Finally, we are back in Kathmandu for a few days. The first thing I did was get a bacon cheeseburger with french fries. We have both lost weight and are taking this opportunity to fill up on calories and be lazy. Buckey has discovered a previously unknown love of clothing shopping (because it’s so cheap here), and I helped him pick out two new outfits.
We will hopefully be able to organize our permits for Dolpa during this time. It’s a hard to get permit because almost no tourists go there, and the main permit office doesn’t issue them. We still have most of the food we brought from the USA in our bags we stored at our hotel. Our next stretch of hiking is in Rowaling, and it will be mostly camping and cooking for ourselves until we reach Lang Tang.
3 Things from Buckey:
- One nice thing about getting to the Solokhumbu section with more tourist traffic was the upgrade in guest house quality. There were a few guest houses closer to what I had come accustumed in Eastern Nepal. It was funny, and interesting to see the other trekkers at these guest houses in particular because most of them were just going to Everest Base Camp and were more expecting or used to the more luxurious guest houses this region offered. For Megan and I though it was just another night in Nepal.
- RIP Ueli Steck: After arriving in Kathmandu and doing my best to catch up on the NBA playoffs and news from the US. I soon found out that while we were hiking through the lower Everest region one of the greatest mountaineers ever Ueli Steck (The Swiss Machine) had fallen and passed away April 30th 2017 while doing an acclimatization exercise on an unrepeated highly technical route up Everest. This is real eye opener for me, it’s a clear example that the Himalaya are rugged and unforgiving. Ueli Steck is a legend and someone I always looked up too, watching his speed accent videos showed me and many other people what is possible in the world of mountaineering. Being in Nepal and hiking amongst and gazing at the giant peaks and technical faces has given me more realistic idea of what Ueli did and so much more respect for what he was able to accomplish.
- Excited for whats ahead: It’s not that i didn’t enjoy the low route through Solokhumbu, but trekking through the jungle continued to be very taxing and the up and down nature of the section began to get old by the end. Needless to say, I am very excited to be heading to the high route after heading back to Jiri where it will hopefully be less humid and offer longer more mellow sections of trail. I know nothing about Rowaling, but I’m pumped and ready for it!
Miles hiked: 310