Everest Base Camp Trek Day 1: The trek, the Yak, the boots

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ February 6th, 2012. Updated on February 20th, 2013. Published in: Travel blog » Nepal.
Lukla with blue sky and mountains

A hair raising flight over with, it’s straight into the mountains from Lukla!

Welcome to the start of the Everest Base Camp trek!

Arriving in Lukla is akin to arriving into a trekkers paradise. On the first day of the Everest base camp trek fresh cold mountain air fills your lungs as the last bastion of trekking stores tempt you with what you might have forgotten.

Moreover ones mind is filled with imaginary visions of all those who’ve gone before you. And, yes. This is the same path that they too took.

Those heading to the peak walk the same walk. There is something about this notion that gives you a strange sense of bravado no matter how many thousands have gone before you to Everest.

Breakfast in Lukla

Adrenaline still surging after the flight meant I wasn’t so hungry. But it’s a good idea to sit down and shake the flight out of your system before thinking about what lies ahead.

I’m trekking with my old Nepalese friend Narayan. He’s done this before, but never in winter. And never during such a cold spell as we have now. When I told him I wanted to do Everest Base Camp in the winter he threw his hands in the air and laughed. Then nodded. Then smiled. Then joked why I always liked doing things the hard way.

“There’s no fun in that.” I laughed back.

In truth, I know he liked the idea of off season trekking too. There was no stopping him joining in.

Starting from the outpost known as Lukla

Dzo or Half Yak Half Cow

This is not a Yak! This is a Dzo a half yak half cow!

There was a hustle and bustle about Lukla that’s like an old western outpost. Supplies were being bought. Stories were being told. Bearded, ragged and greasy haired people walked in the opposite direction to us. Their faces full of accomplishment.

Yes indeed Lukla was indeed a place to fill your thoughts more than a stomach full of pancakes.

First steps, and we go down

Narayan took the lead on the stone pathway that led us out of Lukla and on to the trail towards the mountains up ahead. So naturally enough, the first thing we did was go downhill instead of up.

A winding walk that saw few other trekkers follow us. Most were coming back. It seemed we were the only ones that liked to challenge the elements. Memories of the hellacious -23 degrees trek atop the Annapurna circuit near on exactly 3 years ago were still strong in our minds.

As others questioned why we were going at this time of year, we said little.

Sometimes it’s just about a challenge.

No matter the intelligence of it all.

When is a yak not a yak?

Carrying most of the supplies along these paths are Nepal’s beasts of burden. Yaks are synonymous with life at high altitudes in Nepal. Carrying vast quantities of food, supplies, building materials and beer high into the mountains. Looking like a big hairy cow they are docile when they want to be. And all carry a clanking bell that echoes along the trails in case one wanders away too far.

What few people realize is that at this altitude they are not Yaks at all!

Another trekker coming back stopped to take one last photo of a “Yak” with her group. What she was really taking a photo of was a Dzo, a male hybrid.  Half yak, half cow, the males are called Dzo and females Dzomo. A yak is male, by the way. Whilst a female Yak is called a Dri.

Ice cold village in Nepal

As the sun sets, the temperature plummets ….

Dzo are slightly smaller than a real Yak, and less hairy. Thereby better suited to the warmer temperatures at lower altitudes.

Don’t worry, I’ll be have photographs of real Yak’s in a few days as we reach high altitudes.

Tourists beware, you are not eating Yak steak!

Another real favorite amongst tourists in Nepal is eating a Yak steak. But yes, as you might have guessed it’s not real Yak. Most of the places are selling either Dzo,or Buff meat. Real Yak steak, no matter what they say, is really hard to get.

That said, you might, just might be able to get some Yak milk. At, a cost. It’s yellow compared to cows milk, and contains twice as much fat. So much so it’s often used to keep fires burning. You have been warned!

So fatty is the Yak that when used as roofing material its skin allows smoke in houses and tents to escape while the high fat content stops water from coming through.

Smell that burning Yak dung

Higher up and dried yak dung is used near exclusively as firewood. It burns quickly, but provides a great source of renewable energy in the barren treeless mountains.

There is no doubt the Yak is one of the most utilized animals on the planet. But, to see a real Yak, you’ll have to wait a little longer, and climb a little more.

Coming into Phakding at 2600m

A not so long day saw us cross a few low suspension bridges and enter Phakding by lunch time. On many treks in Nepal you’ll notice that when the sun dips behind the mountains the air suddenly feels a lot colder. During the day the suns warmth along with exertion can have you trekking in just a shirt.

But now all sweaty and siting outside on a bench I felt the cold winter air sneak up again.

Taking your time acclimatizing on the Everest Base Camp trek

We could have started again after lunch. But it was already 2600 meters. Any further and we’d be above 3000. I remember the effects of altitude sickness from last time. So going slow this time was not an issue.

Everest Base Camp trek, or any trek for that matter, is not a race. Anyone trying to go fast is missing out on what it’s all about.

A few passed us by. Eager young souls on a mission. Good luck to them, a few people have made it to Everest before you I think.

Broken boots on the Everest Trail ...

My boots are broken before I even begin …

My lack of preparation shows up

My distracted mind, and health conscious paranoia have led me to avoid a blatantly obvious fact. A stupid fact that would mar the rest of our trek to Everest Base Camp. My boots were falling apart. Badly.

The soles were without grips in the middle. And as Narayan looked at them beside a fire we saw that they had actually split at the top. My toes were exposed. Not good considering how cold it was now, and how cold it was going to get. If we ran into snow I’d be in real trouble.

Why why why?

Coming to Nepal was a last-minute thing. I knew I needed new hiking boots again, but I’d not seen anything resembling quality in Thailand or Malaysia. Then when I arrived the fakes in Kathmandu were simply not going to last.

A trek in the winter confirmed I could have bought a new pair in an official store, but the thought of breaking them in on a trek was a bad one. So, I took a risk and hoped this pair would last.

It seemed like destiny that my hiking boots would fall apart on the very first day of the trek

My only hope lay in the fact that these very tough Italian boots had a carbon metal sole holding everything together. Without it, they would have already broken completely in two.

This would be their final “feat”. Call me sentimental but we’ve been through a lot together. And now as I wrap them in my small supply of  insulation tape I wondered if they would be the reason we would not make it to Everest base camp …

Coming Soon:

Day 2 of the Everest Base Camp Trek (First sight of Mount Everest)

Note this is not live, the trek took place in December/January

The Everest Base Camp Guide:

Planning a trip to Nepal and trekking to Everest Base Camp? For all the details on what to do, when to go, permits need, costs, maps and much more check out my dedicated Guide to Everest Base Camp.

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16 Great responses to Everest Base Camp Trek Day 1: The trek, the Yak, the boots

  1. Thomas Lennard says:

    I’m enjoying this, and learning what not to do as well!! Any type of trekking boot you’d recommend?

    • Hello Thomas, glad you’re enjoying it.

      Trekking boots? Well I’m not going to get into product endorsements here. What I can tell you is that I’ve had good, and bad experiences with boots over the years.

      In Asia the range is very, very limited. With fashion coming before practicality/toughness. So buy outside of Asia if you can.

      Get a pair that suits your needs. No need to buy completely water proof boots if you will not be out in the rain for prolonged periods or going over streams etc.

      Feel really comfortable with the pair you choose. Break them in well. And use them well before you go on a big trek. Get good insoles!

  2. Michael says:

    Ahh Dave, in hiking, disaster could sometimes be spelled b-a-d-b-o-o-t-s. But I’ll cross my fingers with yours and wish you a safe trek!

    • Yea … This really was not the best of occasions for boots to give way. Can’t complain about them though, they lasted a long time.

      Just a chain of events led up to this, and even in hindsight there was little choice. Onwards …

  3. hayadeen says:

    how to pronounce the word Dzo? zo?
    i think it’s time to change your boots. Do not torture them :p
    safe travel dave..

    • I think I asked Narayan about 10 times to pronounce Dzo for me. And I think he changed the pronunciation 5 out of those 10 times!

      Best I could do was “D-oooo-zo”

      Boots have been changed, twice. Long story … still looking!

  4. Yikes – broken boots on a major trek; hard to imagine a worst equipment/kit failure. Can you ride a yak all the way …? Could be a nice, leisurely way up.

  5. John Dwyer says:

    Thanks Dave. Your experiences take me back to my trek in the Annapurnas some years ago. Great memories, stunning mountains and warm people.

  6. Noooooo, not the boots on the first day! Talk about cliffhangers. I’m glad my reading is behind, cause I can just click to the next page.

    Interesting factoids about the yaks, I never knew. Maybe I’m not reading it correctly but you said all yaks are male. How do they reproduce?

  7. Victoria says:

    Proper boots are hard to find! I also hang on to the good ones for as long as possible. Yak’s milk is suspicious anyway considering they’re males ;-) LOL

  8. Leslie says:

    So jealous of your trip! Thanks for posting so many great details. I just shared the link with a friend who is interested in visiting Nepal :)