Arrive Kathmandu in the afternoon and transfer to the Royal Singi Hotel. Those on land only arrangements will join us at the hotel early evening.
Today is free for sightseeing in Kathmandu. You may wish to visit Durbar Square in the heart of the old city where the old Royal Palace, with its intricate woodcarving is located. Outside is Kumari Chowk, home of the Kumari, the young girl who is revered as a living goddess. The whole area is a maze of temples and images. Leading away from the square in all directions are narrow alleys, full of the most amazing variety of shops and stalls. Alternatively you may wish to visit the monkey temple at Swayambhunath, one of the largest Buddhist Stupas in the world at Bodnath, or the most important Hindu temple in the valley at Pashupatinath. Sightseeing tours can be booked locally. Please see the Optional Excursions section. There will also be a full trek briefing today.
We fly to the mountain airstrip of Lukla (2,800m), and set off on the first short leg of our trek, heading northwards up the valley of the Dudh Kosi (or 'milk river'). The trail crosses several tributary streams and we have some tantalising views before reaching the small settlement of Phakding (2650m), where we will spend our first night.
We follow the Dudh Kosi north, crossing from one bank to the other throughout the day. Heading out of Phakding, we first cross to the west bank, climbing high above the river. This day's walk takes us through magnificent forests of rhododendron, giant fir and magnolia trees, and in both spring and autumn the ground is bright with flowers. After Jorsale (2800m) the trail climbs over a spur and alongside a dripping moss-grown cliff, to cross the west fork of the river, the Bhote Kosi, and start the steep climb to Namche Bazaar. About 300m up this ascent we should have our first glimpse, of the summit of Everest appearing behind the great ridge of Nuptse-Lhotse. Another 300m of climbing brings us to Namche Bazaar, administrative centre of the Khumbu region, headquarters for the Mount Sagarmatha (Everest) National Park, a prosperous Sherpa village and an important trading centre.
An acclimatisation day. We leave the main trail and climb steeply out of Namche Bazaar to the villages of Kunde and Khumjung with excellent views of Everest, Nuptse, Lhotse and many other magnificent peaks. We will also have the opportunity of visiting the Edmund Hillary hospital in Kunde. Passing through the village of Khumjung we visit the monastery, which houses the only yeti scalp in the world. We then descend to meet the main trail at Kyanjuma (3,600m), where we stay tonight.
At Kyanjuma we turn off the main trail and begin climbing to the Mong La, marked by a chorten on the top of a ridge at 3972m. This ridge descends from Khumbila, the abode of the patron god of all sherpas. From the top we have great close-up views of Ama Dablam, probably the most photographed mountain in Nepal. From the ridge, the trail descends in a series of steep switchbacks past Phortse Tenga to the Dudh Kosi. We cross the river on a small bridge and then have a short climb up to Phortse (3,800m), a fairly large village with a school and monastery.
A wonderful walk today as we take the little used but spectacular high trail to Pangboche. The trail climbs out of Phortse and contours round the valley high above the river on a dizzying trail with spectacular views across the valley to Ama Dablam. As the tral winds upwards look out for Himalayan Tahr grazing on the steep slopes above. We then drop down to meet the main trail at Pangboche, at 3900m, the highest permanent settlement in this valley. We are above the tree line now passing through an alpine meadow landscape where we may catch a glimpse of the rare Impeyan pheasant, the national bird of Nepal. Following a ledge above the river, the trail crosses a wooden bridge at the confluence of the Khumbu and Imja Kholas. A short steep climb brings us to Dingboche, at 4530m. Here the great peaks of Ama Dablam, the ridge of Nuptse-Lhotse, Tawoche and Chalotse surround us.
We spend the day at Dingboche to continue our acclimatisation. Those who are adapting well to the altitude can climb Nangkartshang Peak at 5090m. From this hill the views are even more spectacular - Island Peak rears up from the valley floor in front of us, Ama Dablam, Chalotse and Tawoche tower above us and in the distance we can see Makalu
The trail from Dingboche ascends the broad, gently sloping valley. The views of Tawoche and Chalotse are spectacular as they tower above us. We eventually emerge onto the terminal moraine of the Khumbu Glacier and the few lodges at Duglha. A steep climb brings us even higher onto the moraine from where we have a beautiful panoramic view of the peaks on the Nepal-Tibet border. The trail then eases off as we follow the western side of the valley to Lobuje (4930m) a tiny hamlet with a few teahouses. The sunset on Nuptse towering above us is unmissable!
We are now surrounded by the giant peaks; Everest, Nuptse, and Pumori and the sight of their snowy summits glowing at sunrise and sunset is unforgettable. A long, hard day as we leave very early following the Khumbu Glacier northwards to Gorak Shep (5180m). After a rest and refreshments we continue following the glacier towards Everest Base Camp. The trail winds its way up and down over the rocky moraine and then descends onto the rock- covered glacier between huge ice seracs to the beginning of Base Camp. Ahead is a huge jumble of ice and rock and we can now see the sheer size of the Khumbu Ice Fall. In spring the Base Camp will be a mini tented city as many expeditions will be attempting to climb but in autumn Base Camp is desolate. We return to Gorak Shep for the night.
After breakfast we climb above Gorak Shep to the small peak of Kala Pattar ('black rock') at 5545m, where we gain views over the base camps of the various Everest expeditions. This climb affords a magnificent sight of the world's highest mountain. The British, in the 19th century named this peak after Sir George Everest, the head of the Survey of India, but to the Nepalese it is Sagarmatha - 'Head of the Waters' and to the Sherpas it is Chomolungma - 'Mother of the World'. Returning to Gorak Shep we have lunch before retracing our steps to Lobuje.
A long day as we turn away from the main valley and head off towards the Kongma La. Taking a packed lunch from the lodge the trail takes us initially across the moraine of the Khumbu glacier before a very long steep climb to the pass. As we ascend, the scenery becomes even more spectacular and from the top (5,535m), we are surrounded by peaks and glaciers in all directions - Makalu, Cho Oyu, Pumori and some distant peaks of Tibet. Just below the pass is a small lake which makes a good place to stop for lunch before the long descent into the Imja Valley towards Chhukkung (4,730m)
An easier day as we head towards Island Peak Base Camp (5,180m). The trail crosses the river and follows the valley up for a few hours. Base camp is by the side of the Imja Glacier, below the grassy slopes, which mark the start of the climb of Island Peak. This afternoon we will prepare all the climbing equipment, practice using a jumar and abseil device and pack for high camp and the climb.
A short steep climb to high camp at 5,685. High camp is situated on some levelled ledges beneath a rock buttress which leads onto the Island Peak Glacier. It is not a comfortable campsite but the head start it gives us for tomorrow is vital and the views are spectacular.
Leaving very early (about 2am) we scramble onto a narrow rocky ridge leading on to the glacier. We will rope up here and put on crampons for the glacier crossing. Care should be taken crossing the glacier as there are several deep crevasses. The views are amazing with Baruntse, Chamlang and Ama Dablam on the horizon. Once across the glacier we come to the bottom of a steep snow and ice headwall leading to the summit ridge. Our climbing guides will fix a rope here and we will use a jumar to climb this section. The slope is steep (up to 50 degrees in places) and after 150 metres the summit ridge is reached. Suddenly Lhotse's South Face looms before us and the most exciting part of the climb begins as we tread carefully along the narrow ridge to the summit. There's one more steep section just before the summit, but we have the fixed ropes to help. Finally we reach the summit (6,189m), which has enough space for the group to take in their surroundings. Flanked by Lhotse and the Imja glaciers and a host of other huge peaks, Island Peak really is an island of rock and snow in this grand mountain arena. We descend carefully back down the ridge and then abseil off the steep section. We return via high camp to the relative comforts of base camp. (Please note that the climb is technical and also optional. The above notes describe the route in 2011. Because of gradual snow melt the route is becoming increasingly steeper and more icy and rocky. It may alter depending on conditions. For anyone not wishing to climb there is an alternative trek to the head of the Imja Valley)
We leave base camp and descend back through Chhukkung to Dingboche. From here we rejoin the main trail passing Pangboche and cross the Dudg Kosi by bridge. An undulating trail takes us through a magnificent rhododendron forest near Devoche, from where we have a short climb up to Thyangboche 3,870m. From here we have a fantastic panorama of mountains surrounding us including Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse and Ama Dablam. Thyangboche has long been a sacred spot. The Lama Sange Dorje, who first brought Buddhism to the region, is said to have flown from his monastery in Tibet over the Himalaya, landing and leaving his footprints here. Visitors should be careful to respect the spirit of this sacred place, particularly observing the ban on hurting any living creature in the area. Because of the ban the wildlife is usually unafraid and previous groups have spotted musk deer in the area.
Day 18 - 19
We descend the ridge to Phunki Tenga and walk back to Namche Bazaar along a beautiful undulating trail high above the Dudh Kosi. Descending through Namche Bazaar, we pick up our outward trail again, following the Dudh Kosi south through rhododendron and pine forests, past Jorsale, Monzo and Benkar to Chaunrikhara. Here we leave the main trail and climb the short distance to Lukla.
We fly back to Kathmandu and spend the rest of the day at leisure.
A free day in Kathmandu for individual sightseeing or shopping. See Optional Excursions for sightseeing tours in and around the Kathmandu area
The trip ends after breakfast. Those on the group flight will be transferred to the airport after breakfast.