In retrospect, the trip was the experience of a life-time, but always enjoyable at the time and we believe there are things Exodus Travels could do to make this tough expedition easier for future trekkers. Obviously the walking was tough, although my wife and I are seasoned trekkers and knew what to expect. Regarding the route itself, we did wonder whether an overnight stay at Pangboche instead of Phakding would make the trek-day to Namche easier? Also, we question whether a ‘B Plan’ would be possible in case of bad weather at the high end of the trail ? We reached Gorak Shep by lunch-time on 1st May and would have gone on to Base Camp, but heavy snow prevented that and in order to ‘summit’ we had to start early the next day to reach Base Camp, return and then walk down to Pheriche, which made for a very long day. We appreciate that it seldom snows in May, but the local people are finding that that pattern is altering as the global climate is changing. There somehow needs to be a ‘spare’ day in case of bad weather.
This was probably our main area of concern; we knew to expect that these would be ‘spartan’ but this does not excuse the extent of filth in several cases: at Labouche, mould was clearly evident on the bedding, and at Gorak Shep, the one ‘western’ toilet seat was not only cracked and broken, but underneath it was encrusted with human waste. As someone once said, you can see what the bathrooms are like, but not the kitchens!
As for the bathrooms in general, we found at Namche there was no washbasin anywhere except in the corridors, which was the only place where you might brush your teeth, but you obviously could not have a proper (strip!) wash in a corridor in full view of the public! There were 2 showers in that tea-house but one was filthy, obviously not regularly cleaned.
At Lukla, there was an under floor water-leak, so that whenever taps were turned on in our room, the carpet in the room and outside in the corridor became immediately soaked. Showers were not available there and in a few other tea-houses – we had to rely on paying extra for a hot bowl of water.
At Tengboche, we passed by several newly–built-looking hotels before reaching our tea-house which was much the poorer. (We met other trekkers who had stayed in the newer accommodation and spoke favourably. We wondered there as at Namche why Exodus appeared not to have chosen the best option for accommodation.
But there were some good, clean tea-houses; Chhumoa and Khyangjuma were clean and comfortable, as was the newly-built tea-house at Dingboche, which boasted electric blankets. Could this ‘luxury’ not be provided elsewhere, as would make overnight stays much more comfortable – we enjoyed our two nights there. Pheriche was also clean and relatively comfortable; we saw the toilets being cleaned out by staff in the morning…
The most important omission we found was means of (international) communication in the tea-houses in case of emergency. When our daughter became ill and clearly could not continue the trek down from Pheriche, we found it impossible to contact our insurers back in the UK before organising a helicopter. In order to send just one email, we used the tea-house landlord’s phone positioned in one particular part of a window to get just ‘one bar’ of phone reception; a satellite phone in each tea-house would help in situations such as ours.
Possibly the most potentially serious issue we had was on the trail out of Namche, where we encountered a herd of yaks descending towards us across the entire trail. On one side was a vertical bank, and on the other a sheer drop.
The yaks were moving fast and their driver who was at the back was as much use as a chocolate fire-guard.
Our tour-leader said to move to the side by the bank, but then the yaks veered in our direction, threatening to crush us against the rocks. So we were advised to swap to the other side, and the yaks followed us. Whilst they narrowly missed our daughter and me, they knocked my wife over who was scrambling to avoid being swept over the edge.
The yak driver did not respond to our shouts of concern, and more worryingly, our tour leader did not appear overly concerned and just said that it was ‘crazy’. I think there needs to be some extra care and training given to tour leaders to avoid what could have been a fatal accident in our case.