Follow Sorrel on this Everest trek to join the celebrations of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay's reaching the giant's summit 50 years ago.
The word "Himalaya" is Sanskrit for "abode of snows" and Nepal's stretch of the Himalaya has eight peaks over 8000m, including the mighty Mt Everest, the tallest place on the planet. Known to Tibetans as "Qomolangma" and the Nepalis as "Sagarmatha", the 8848m mountain has been responsible for Nepal's modern tourists mountaineers.
The mountains' magnificence can be enjoyed in three ways. The simplest is to just enjoy their beauty and majesty from viewing points or aircraft. You might prefer to trek, which is totally different from climbing. Then there is real climbing, and this is strictly for the professionals.
Nepal's climate is ruled by monsoons. Its rainy season from mid-June to mid-September completely rules out trekking. Winter is a good time the snowline is lower and while nights are extremely cold, skies are clear and rain is rare. From October to December, days are warm and in spring, temperatures rise again with more moisture gathering in preparation for the monsoon season.
The World Expeditions trek begins after a flight from Kathmandu at Lukla which has an elevation of 2804m. The airstrip is just a steeply-angled patch of green earth set on the mountainside. Lukla has lots of teahouses, shops and hotels, guides and porters to help those who haven't made bookings. Many people choose to hike the 45 minutes on to Choplung which is at a lower elevation (2672m). The walk is unshaded and can become hot, so take hats and sunscreen.
The walk from Choplung to Monjo (2835m) is pretty and pleasant, following the natural lie of the Dudh Kosi Valley. It takes in the entrance to Sagarmatha National Park where everyone must sign in and out as well as show permits which are purchased in Kathmandu.
After Monjo the trail drops via a stone stairway where you cross the Dudh Kosi and take the short walk to Jorsale. The trail crosses the river once more and a steep section begins to the suspension bridge before the trail flattens out. The climb through the forest is steep but leads to a welcome teahouse. Back on the trail you reach Namche Bazaar (3444m) nestled in a horseshoe-shaped valley facing the north face of Kwangde peak (6183m.)
Sunday is market day and it is a colourful trading place sherpas come from far away to trade and catch up on local gossip in teahouses.
Namche Bazaar is also the first place climbers might experience altitude sickness, which is caused by ascending too quickly another reason to travel with an experienced tour operator who can advise on such matters. It is indiscriminating and can hit without influence of age, gender or even level of physical fitness.
There is a bank, post office, Internet cafe, good battery re-charging facilities and places where you can buy new and used jumpers, socks and gloves, as well as rent jackets and sleeping bags.
Those in the know suggest a day trek from Namche Bazaar, returning to sleep at a lower altitude. This helps slowly to adjust to altitude.
Two of the four trails lead to Thyangboche (3720m) all follow the Sagarmatha National Park's major valleys. One follows the Bhote Kosi, the traditional trading route to Tibet; one follows the Dudh Kosi, which ends up at Gokyo Lake and Mt Cho Oyu, the world's sixth highest mountain. The third follows the Imja Valley which runs behind Ama Dablam and the fourth is the main Khumbu Valley leading to Everest Base Camp.
Of the two leading to Thyangboche, one is slightly longer than the other, and that is the more interesting. It runs to the large sherpa village of Khumjung and Khunde and passes through forests of rhododendron, birch and silver fir trees. As hunting is prohibited, you may see musk deer, pheasant mountain goats or jungle cats roaming around.
The trail passes Buddhist relic shrines, sacred stone walls and beautiful and colourful prayer flags flapping in the breeze, so it is culturally very interesting. Walls and shrines must always be on your right side as you pass; it is considered disrespectful to do otherwise. Similarly, if you have to go around a Buddhist structure, you should go clockwise.
The trail eventually rejoins the direct trail and you pass through Kenjoma and Phunki Tenga (3250m) on the Dudh Kosi with its water-driven mills and prayer wheels. You cross the river once more and have a steep climb through dense forest which gradually clears until you reach the Thyangboche saddle. The views from there are magnificent: Kwangde to the south, across the Bhote Kosi valley, Everest, Kuptse, Lhotse and Ama Dablam, all around the 8000m mark.
Thyangboche (3865m) has the largest monastery in the Khumbu region and has the most wonderful position on the saddle of the ridge with an array of majestic peaks in all directions. It is the site of the annual Mani Rimdu festival held during the full moon each November/December. Monks wear masks and colourful costumes and act out traditional dances in the monastery's courtyard. The ceremony is celebrating the triumph of Buddhism over the old Bon faith of Tibet. An entry fee and movie camera surcharge is expected.
From Thyangboche to Pheriche you descend through forest to Devuche where there are a few travellers' lodges and a nunnery. From there the trail remains steady above the Imja Khola, then climbs through Shomare, which has a small group of houses and teahouses, continues past the village of Orsho and along a broad terrace to the confluence of the Kija Khola and Lobuche Khola. To your right, less that its own height away, is Ama Dablam (6856m) and the Tsuro Glacier cradled below the mountain's sharp ridges. It is considered by many to be the most beautiful mountain in the area, easily surpassing Everest in the aesthetic stakes.
Beyond Orsho there is a fork in the trail. To the right you head to Dingboche and the left climbs a ridge before descending to the wooden bridge crossing the stream flowing from Khumbu Glacier. Periche is about 10 minutes further on.
Periche has many small lodges and is the perfect place to stop and acclimatise, even if you are feeling well and fit. It gives another opportunity to walk high, sleep low. Walkers to higher altitudes are rewarded with more amazing views of Everest massif before descending to sleep.
The first part of the route from Pheriche to Lobuche passes up the long scrubby flat bottom of the valley to Phulung Kharka, rising steadily before dropping down, crossing the river and entering Dughla (4620m). From here the trail climbs higher and onto the moraine. A row of chortens in memory of Sherpas who have died on Everest marks the top of the climb.
Lobuche (4930m) has a range of accommodation and spectacular views of Taweche and Nuptse. From there you continue up the grassy valley beside the Khumbu Glacier moraine until you reach the terminal moraine of the Changri Nup and Changri Shar glaciers. It becomes steeper and rougher the closer you get to the top of the moraine. The route changes from season to season, but small cairns and yak droppings indicate the way. There is a short descent to the dry sandy area of Gorak Shep, which has a small lake. Pumori (7161m) is easily seen and by following the south ridge you can see Kala Pattar (5545m), the common vantage point for viewing Everest.
The Base Camp is at 5400m to the east of the Khumbu Glacier. The Khumbu Icefall has claimed more lives than any other part of Everest and is the first obstacle Everest hopefuls have to face from Base Camp. Gigantic towers of ice the size of small mountains periodically shift and fall, crushing anyone and anything which may be in their path. Crevasses open with little warning and the whole thing slides down the mountain at the rate of 1-1.24m a day. Climbers can be terrified by the sudden thundering cracks and quaking shudders, reminders of constant shifting.
At the close of last year's season, 1659 people had reached Everest's summit but it is still a dangerous and unpredictable place. It is the Holy Grail for climbers and mountaineers, and the latest adventure amongst them is to do it without the use of supplemental oxygen.