Venturing Back to our Roots and Summiting Pikey Peak
Lost Earth Adventures is celebrating our tenth anniversary this year! To mark the occasion, Co-Founders, Richard and Sarah Goodey embarked on an adventure that brought them back to their roots and our company origins; motorcycling and trekking through the Himalaya, trying new exciting routes, and finding the road less travelled. The pair got on two wheels, journeying from the flatland Terai into the foothills of the Solu Khumbu and summiting Pikey Peak. This is their account.
If you want to experience the Solu Khumbu and trek to Pikey Peak with us, our next guaranteed departure is on the 30th September.
Words by Sarah Goodey
The warm, thick air hit me with a start. I stepped out of the airport and took a deep breath. There is a smell that is impossible to adequately describe; it’s an enthralling mix of dust, car exhaust and humanity. It immediately evokes a sense of excitement, of adrenaline, of wonder for the adventure to come. Nepal is a country like no other.
Bhairas Tamang, one of our friendliest and most loyal guides met me at the airport. His smile extended from ear to ear. It felt good to be back! We hopped into the van, and wound our way through the cheerful chaos of Kathmandu, combining a symphony of humans, bikes, rickshaws, motorcycles, dogs and monkeys. The city can be full on, but it is overwhelmingly friendly, and an electric energy surges through this capital like few other places I’ve been before. Every time I come back, it feels like the first time all over again.
We arrived in Thamel, the tourist centre of Kathmandu. An eclectic mix of bohemian travellers, hardy trekkers and locals selling everything from singing prayer wheels to that warm “North Face” down jacket that you forgot to pack. Prayer flags are strung across the buildings, competing with a labyrinth of telephone cables and electric wires, but thankfully, the streets are now a little more peaceful. The city recently banned traffic from driving through Thamel, offering respite from the constant beep, beep, beep of horns on the surrounding streets.
Rest was at the iconic Kathmandu Guesthouse (the majority of our guests stay here). It is a landmark, an institution in the city and our favourite place to stay while we’re in the capital. We used this as a base for a few days, preparing for our trip and seeing old friends. No matter your itinerary, you would be remiss not to spend a couple of days exploring the city.
Herbert the Hero Honda: No Guts, All Glory
We found the perfect companion for our upcoming road trip. Meet Herbert, a Honda XR 125. He was no beast, and he was definitely not about to break any land speed records, but he seemed full of courage and more than up for the challenge. Minimising weight was our top priority, Herbert may have had all the glory, but he had zero guts. If we were going to make our goal; to motorbike 300km across the foothills of the Himalaya to the trailhead, we were going to have to be strict.
The faring was stripped down to a minimum and when we packed, we played a terrible, no good, cut throat game of “do you really need that?” Richard was the task masker, I was the reluctant participant. As a fairly low maintenance lady, you can take away most luxuries, but I have hair beyond my shoulders and a hairbrush was my desert island demand. That, and a book of course.
We cut our stash of kit down to one 50-litre rucksack and a cumbersome tank bag. Travelling super light meant no down jackets, zero sleeping bags, zilch deodorant, an alarming lack of socks and the shocking realisation that my entire wardrobe would be worn consecutively for the next ten days. I’m glad Richard and I are married, because no one should be subjected to that unless bound by matrimonial vows.
I was worried that I might make a terrible passenger. Despite the fact that ten years ago, Richard and I spent seven months on a 350cc Royal Enfield, riding from the bottom of India, starting in Goa, until we reached the Himalaya in Nepal. We drove the second highest motor-able road, twice. We encountered high-altitude sandy deserts, trudged through glacier fed rivers, concave highways and through the chaotic streets of Delhi.
An angry (but still very Holy) cow once chased us down a rice paddy and we came face to face with a wild elephant in Bandipur National Park. We played a constant game of Frogger, dodging trucks boasting that they were the real road kings, and they were. It was a wild ride. We survived 1000’s of miles on the road, on two wheels (accept for that one time a tire blew and we zig-zagged across that narrow road and one of our nine lives was taken), as driver and pillion passenger. First as boyfriend and girlfriend, then as fiancés. My Granny said that if we could survive that, we could survive anything.
Secretly, I hoped that the journey would not be too easy. I relished in the sensation that comes with loss of traction on deep rutted roads, the kick back of rust-coloured dirt clinging to every exposed part of your body and the ultimate freedom that travelling on two wheels brings. But even still, I was nervous. We were about to drive into the greatest mountain range on earth. The real adventure was about to begin.
To the End of the Universe and Beyond (or Kathmandu to Bardibas)
Our alpine start turned into a high-noon departure. Eventually we suited and booted, mounting our trusty steed. I got on the back of Herbert and let out a sigh of relief and a whoop of exhilaration. Thankfully I felt at ease. As they say, it’s just like riding a bike.
Kathmandu became a distant memory as we headed towards Bhaktapur. Known as the City of Devotees, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and an architectural feast. The temples are medieval in design, and it gives a reflection of what the Kathmandu Valley would have been like in centuries gone by. But, one of my favourite aspects of travel in South Asia is that life is truly lived on the streets, not hidden behind closed doors.
Bhaktapur is a stunning example of this. The streets were filled with potters, moulding their wares, puppeteers hand carving intricate designs into their creations, metal workers welding their pieces – true masters of their trade – women selling their fresh vegetables, others doing their washing and even more, gathered on corners, watching life go by. If we hadn’t had a destination that we needed to get to, I would have gladly spent many more days here soaking it all in.
We continued, ascending a winding road into the higher hills overlooking the valley floor. The sun was setting on day one of our adventure, rice paddies glistened in the dying of the light and the air became crisper, our thoughts clearer. Nagarkot was not an essential landmark to get to Pikey Peak, but it was a nice detour. I had been here ten years before, and it’s a great place to watch the sunrise over the Himalaya. Ten years ago, we stayed at the Hotel at End of the Universe and tonight we went back. It did indeed felt like we’d reached the end of the universe, and what a glorious place to be.
Day two and we set off at first light settling for a delicious roadside breakfast of aloo chana (potato and chickpea stir fry) with spiced masala chai.
Afterwards, we took the ‘shortcut to Dhulikel, our next waymark on the road to Pikey Peak. It was a rough, dusty, ‘bumping’ road, that cut across the terraced hillsides. For hours, our only companions were the men dutifully rounding up their goats, taking them to graze in the surrounding farmland.
I felt relieved to finally reach some paved roads, but that was short-lived. The problem with black topped roads being in excellent condition is that people, especially truckers, actually drive fast. This can be alarming, very alarming when you’re driving with 100+ metre drops without guardrails by your side. There is a hierarchy of the road and being on a motorbike meant we were effectively on the bottom rungs of the totem pole. You literally have to fight for your right to be there.
Richard always asked what I was doing on the back of the bike, for hours of driving at a time. I can easily get lost in my own thoughts, but equally I was looking at where I would ‘tuck and roll’ or straight up jump off the bike should we have to escape. For the most part, I got used to being on edge as an active passenger and thankfully genuine close shaves don’t happen very often. But when they do, time seems to slow down and you can see it frame-by-frame. In an instant it’s over, I survived and all that is left is the echoes of my voice drifting down the valley cursing the driver’s mother.
We were driving on one of two main roads that flows North-South, before intersecting on the East-West highway, situated 50km north of the Indian border. The cultural and geographical shift was mesmerising. It felt like we had left Nepal and entered into India. We had driven through foothills and arrived in the flatlands, the Terai.
Detours off the main road brought us into tiny villages, with open fires, mud-built houses with wooden thatched roofs. Buffalo carrying drastically large loads of sugar cane on wooden carts slowly drifted back in from the fields and children played barefoot, tearing through the village with stick and tire, hoop rolling with youthful abandon.
The men gathered around us with curiosity as we asked for directions, giving us that classic Indian head wobble, where the side-to-side movement means they were saying yes or were in agreement, the children approached us wearily, brave young boys thrust ahead to ask us our ‘good name’ and woman so often shied away, even when I approached them first.
I had to stop and remind myself, that I was still in Nepal. For those that come to Nepal just for the mountains, I would urge you to explore the Terai and see a different aspect of this beautiful country.
The land was baking and as the light faded the blood orange sun engulfed the horizon. We settled close to Bardibas for the night. Tomorrow at dawn we would go from the flatlands to the Himalaya.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel to… the trailhead?
The room we stayed in had windows that did not shut, Mickey Mouse sheets and a door that still had its protective covering on, but came without a lock. We were not in a popular destination and we queried whether we may have been one of the first or only tourists to stay here. What the guesthouse lacked in amenities, was made up by the staff. The proprietor of this establishment had the positivity, enthusiasm and energy of Sonny Kapoor from the film, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Nothing was too much trouble, even if nothing really worked. But what’s not to love when you have company like that? I got eaten alive by mozzies that night, but I’m still smiling about this place.
In the morning we left, almost immediately the road deteriorated into a ramshackle heap of dust, dirt and rock. Paved it was not. Herbert the Honda seemed enthusiastic… sort of. After a mega day on the roads yesterday, maybe he was just tuckered out? It was apparent from the get-go that this would be a challenging day ahead.
On the ups Herbert would chug along, just barely hanging on. Often if there was any obstruction or increase in incline, I had to jump off and allow Richard to take the bike up to flatter ground. We were going from about 500m above sea level to 2500m today. A lot of up. I did a lot of running up hills. The further we climbed the more we left the dusty plains and lowland culture of Nepal. This was just another spectacular day where the scenery was diverse and ever-changing.
As a pillion passenger, I am at the mercy of the driver, thankfully Richard is an exceptional road master. But that didn’t mean my ass didn’t take an absolute beating. It was brutal and I think I could have given John Wayne a run for his money, with my post-ride strut. Lunch was at a place where we crossed the Sun Kosi river. A river we often raft hundreds of kilometres up river on our trips. And it has its origins from the far reaches of Shishapangma in Tibet. It is a mighty, mighty river and pretty neat to think of its journey to get to this point.
After lunch, a small miracle occurred. The road was paved. Hallelujah!!! But the road became steeper and Herbert the Honda was not having any of it. He finally gave up in Okhadungha, about 2-hours (on the bike) shy of our intended destination. We stopped for the night and took Herbert to the doctors.
For perspective, a journey that normally takes about 10-hours in a Jeep from Kathmandu has taken us two, exceptionally long days on the bike. I couldn’t wait to get off of two wheels, and on to two feet.
Okhadungha – Japhre
We took a jeep in the morning. The jeep was jam packed with ten adult passengers plus two babies, one of which was plucked onto my lap for the journey. I can’t believe how chilled this baby was, cocooned in a big, woolly blanket, in a hot, sweaty car, driving up a twisting, winding mountain road, with a complete and utter stranger, me as her guardian. 45-minutes later we left my road warrior buddy and arrived in Dhap, the trailhead.
In Nepal, they say Dhal Bhat Power, 24-Hour. So, what better way to start the trekking adventure than with a portion of it? It’s a mixture of lentil soup, rice and curried vegetables, everyone’s is different, but all are delicious and on the whole, this is one of the most nutritionally balanced meals you can have.
As we left, I considered the reality of how remote we really were. Living in the UK, it’s difficult to find yourself in truly hard to reach places, and while Dhap is roadside, it’s a long way from anywhere.
Today was a relatively easy day on the boots. From Dhap it was about a 5-6 hour walk to Japhre. We weren’t in any rush, it’s liberating to not have any agenda but to enjoy the walking and your circumstances. So often I am tied to my emails or the computer, I felt like a lucky lady.
The terrain was generally undulating, we were starting at 3000m and finishing the day at 2950m. It didn’t quite feel like we were in the proper mountains yet, though the air was fresh and even though 3000m is relatively low, we could feel the altitude. The scenery was full of terraced hillsides, lush forest and colourful sprouts of wild white flowers, primroses and striking red/pink rhododendrons - the national flower of Nepal.
We stopped in a place called Signale where a new tea house was being built, taking in tea and biscuits to support the man in his new venture. The Pikey Peak trek is a very new development, and it’s great to see locals investing in facilities for up and coming visitors.
There was a primitive jeep track that meanders its way across some of the hills which we cross at times, before cutting our way back into the wilderness, with only ourselves for company. Bliss. On the trail, today we saw absolutely no one.
We arrived in Japhre and met a few other trekkers, in two separate groups. Coincidentally, they were both American and both missionaries. It’s a small world sometimes!
We had all congregated in one of the few teahouses in this small village, swapping stories over tea, dhal bat and raksi (local fire water, an acquired taste for some, but I absolutely love it!). Richard and I also indulged in sukute, this must be one of Nepal’s best kept culinary secrets and something you won’t regularly see on a menu. Sukute is meat (normally goat or pig) that is cut into a rope shape and dried/cured over the fire. It is succulent, tasty and mind blowingly good.
Japhre to Pikey Peak Base Camp
In the early morning, a woman was working hard outside our tea house, splitting rocks by hand, using a mallet. The ting ting ting of the rocks breaking brought a nice rhythm to my breakfast. Upon closer inspection, I realised she was also breastfeeding a very young baby. Mother’s, true masters of multi-tasking!
Today was a moderately challenging day and the first where I felt we were really in the mountains, gaining height. It was also where we completely left any signs of motorised traffic. Shifting from foothills into a higher alpine environment. We would be going from 2950 to 3650m, reaching our destination, Pikey Peak Base Camp.
It is a striking situation to be in. Everything is bigger in the Himalaya. Valleys are vast, steep sided and it is normal to find yourself perched on a ridge, looking down hundreds of metres down to the valley floor. Rivers are never mere trickles or gentle streams, they are raging torrents. The foothills go beyond the horizon, and when the clouds part and the mammoths of the Himalaya become clear, they are incomprehensibly tall and imposing. It is an incredibly humbling place to be.
The trail led us through thick forest of pine, juniper and rhododendron, it was enchanting. I felt like I was in the gateway to Narnia. The air was incredibly pure and refreshing, despite starting to feel the declining of oxygen as we ascended.
When we broke through the forest we came to our lunch stop. Finger chips and noodle soup hit the spot. Here a cheeky young child with a big toothy grin and wearing a dapper gold vest, played precariously on the edge. My heart skipped a beat every time he dashed severely close to the edge with not a care in the world.
Onwards and upwards where we reached an alpine plateau, wild windy moody weather was here as we tried to seek some shelter by some mani stones, putting on our layers. In the near distance a woman with big, thick gold hoops commandeered her flock of yaks. She was a tough lady.
At 3500m I was glad to only have about 100m of ascent left before reaching Base Camp for the night. But that final 100m ended up feeling like a scorpion sting... a wrong turn led us on an unexpected detour of about 70 minutes... and more ascent than necessary. It burned. We reached camp in the fog with the wind howling, led by our two new Sherpa friends and their ox named Monkey. A hot fire and cup of tea has never been more welcome.
We stayed in a very basic, but clean home stay. The family was welcoming, nice and just really lovely. We shared our photos and videos and stayed close to the fire. Our accommodation for the night was in a very small room, without proper window closings. One of the best places I’ve stayed at. Richard and I were travelling light. No sleeping bags, no down jackets. I put on every single piece of clothing I had. And slept under a mountain of blankets (four to be exact). Once under the covers it was physically hard to move. I was cosy, but I was still cold... Richard had one blanket and claimed to be toasty! Tomorrow was a big day. An ascent of Pikey Peak (4065m). Our alarm was set for 4:30am.
Pikey Peak to Junbesi
I may have got up on the wrong side of the bed. I didn’t have the best sleep and when I woke up there was fierce wind, whipping across the mountainside and thick, claggy fog. I was grumpy. Thankfully, Richard got me into gear. Having him as a companion – as a business partner, husband and fellow trekker – is something I don’t take for granted. Richard’s enthusiasm and drive is contagious.
We ascended the path in the dark, slowly, step-by-step, the crunch of frozen turf, then snow, keeping us company. At about 3800m, we rose above the clouds and what I saw was utterly magical. An entire panorama of the Everest range. I felt surprisingly emotional, seeing such a clear view of the mountains. It took my breath away and I paused to appreciate it. From this vantage point we couldn’t see Everest just yet, the headliner was Thamserku, a stunning 6623m high peak, it is a mountain’s mountain.
The path curved its way up and as we turned the corner I could see the summit of Pikey Peak, 4065m high within my grasp. I didn’t know where to look, ahead of me was the summit, and now behind me was the real star of the show, Mt. Everest. Within view, six other 8,000m peaks (Lhotse, Makalu, Annapurna, Manaslu, Kanchanjunga and Dhaulagiri). Sir Edmund Hilary said this was the best view of Everest in the entire Himalaya. I would wholeheartedly agree. On top of Pikey Peak, I felt alive.
The altitude, combined with the level of ascent and descent made for a very challenging, but rewarding day. By breakfast we’d already summited and descended a mountain, only now we had to climb again to reach our lunch spot. Lunch was at a teahouse in a wild, remote ridge at around 3550m high. A Sherpa woman dutifully tended the fire and filled our bellies. I debated staying here, but we thought best to carry on to Junbesi, where it was much lower down, where the air was richer and the teahouses more plentiful.
A hardy, post-meal climb brought us to an alpine meadow, a gentle breeze and some yaks keeping us company. From here, we took a rather direct route through ancient forest, descending 1000m in elevation. Mountains are undoubtedly the stars of the Himalaya, but it’s hard to describe the beauty and serenity of being surrounded by thousands upon thousands of trees, and endless forest
The trail eventually meets the route that goes from Jiri to Everest Base Camp, this is the original trail the Sir Edmund Hilary took on his successful Everest expedition in 1953. After several days of being in such a remote setting, it felt a bit odd to be coming into a more populated region. We finally made Junbesi, staying in one of the best teahouses I’ve stayed in after 11-hours of trekking. What a glorious feeling to have a hot shower, and rest our feet.
Junbesi – Phaplu
Junbesi is in a valley surrounded by lush terrain, and surrounded by big mountains. It is a Sherpa village with a serene stupa in the village centre and a variety of teahouses, schools and shops. We decided to stay here for a day to explore the surrounding area.
There is a monastery, Thupten Choling, that is about a 2-hour walk away and home to 500+ monks. It is well worth the diversion to visit. On our Pikey Peak itinerary, we also have this as a free day, which gives you flexibility on when you visit. We went in the afternoon when the monks were doing their chores, the monastery was bustling, and the monks were incredibly friendly. We were invited into the kitchens, where pans the size of small cars were on the stoves, cooking away. It was a unique insight into the daily routines of a working monastery.
The following day we ascended a forest trail to a view point. We left early in the morning as we knew upon reaching a particular viewpoint we would be rewarded with epic views of the Everest range again.
Richard raced up the hill ahead of me, and when I caught up we saw the impressive Ama Dablam in full view, but just as quick as we saw it, it faded into the clouds. Immediately we decided to stay the night, waiting for the next day to see if we could catch another glimpse. We spent the day walking on the ridge path, visiting another Sherpa village and teaching English and maths to a very sweet, but rambunctious child – the daughter of the teahouse owner.
At sunrise the next day, Ama Dablam came out to view, but quickly ducked into the clouds again. From here we were going to make it Phaplu, the trek’s end, and it was about 16-miles away, so we got a move on. The path follows a ridge line, high above the valley floor and it is a treat for the eyes. The views are grand for the entire day.
At lunch, we stopped in Ringmu. Richard had first trekked to Everest Base Camp when he was 18-years old, walking from Jiri to Everest. This was in the height of Nepal’s civil war with Maoist’s and although it was safe to visit for tourists, the evidence of the fighting was prevalent in this region. To this day you can still see old Maoist graffiti on the buildings and teahouses as you walk through villages.
Richard had told me about the time he was trekking and the village he was staying in was taken over (non-violently) by Maoist fighters. They arrived, gathered all of the locals and set them up for training. He couldn’t remember the village name, but he had described it to me and I’d seen some of his old photos. As we walked into Ringmu, his memories came flooding back. He pointed to the teahouse where he watched the takeover, we walked to the green where the villagers and Maoists congregated and we could see the outlines of painted Hammer and Sickles, the symbol of the Maoists, faded over time. What a surreal experience to be in this village almost twenty years later.
Our trek came to an end, arriving into Phaplu in the late afternoon. We stopped in a teahouse for the night, where the owner put us in a very special room – the prayer room – filled with yak butter tea lights, an altar and other holy materials. It was a great honour to stay our last proper night in the Himalaya in a room like this. In the evening, we indulged in tongba, it is a millet beer, sipped threw long metal straws. Very refreshing and a fantastic end to our trek!
Back to Kathmandu
After a week of trekking it was back to life on two wheels. It had been seriously hard going on the way up and I was conscious of this as we fetched Herbert the Hero Honda. I had a flight to catch with limited time to get back to Kathmandu. Would Herbert be up for the challenge?
We decided to post all of our trekking gear to save weight on the bike, back to Kathmandu – from a village with no official post office, to a building with no official address. Streets in Kathmandu aren’t named and it’s a small miracle that post even gets to where it’s supposed to go. But the owner of the guesthouse said, to leave it to him. So, we wrapped up our belongings, scribbled the name of the building and a telephone number to call once it reached Kathmandu. Low and behold, this package ended up intact and arrived before we did.
Herbert seemed rearing to go, but perhaps it was the fact we were going down, rather than up and our load had been significantly lightened. We were tearing up miles, what seemed almost an impossible task, was actually one hell of a fun, adventurous rip down mountain roads, back down to the flatlands. It wasn’t all seamless though.
An innocuous stop to stretch our legs and get some fluids in us, led to a too close for comfort encounter with a cobra on the way to the toilet. If you’re wondering if it’s scary as all hell for a cobra to take a turn at you while making a swift escape, the answer is yes. Very much yes. The woman showing me where her toilet was, didn’t even bat an eyelash. She picked up a large rock, while I yelped and threw curses at the snake.
This brazen fella didn’t even race away though, after turning in the opposite direction, he stopped, stretched out in all its glory, the same height as me, before slowly disappearing into the grass. Who says rest stops have to be boring?
Eventually we ended back up on the main road, where a detour to the Holy Hindu Janaki Temple was in order. This is unlike anywhere I’ve ever seen in Nepal. The closest I can compare is the city of Varanasi in India. The town is hectic, the roads are narrow and the focus is on this temple, which seems to rise from nowhere. It is stunning, the architecture refined and grand. The grounds are full of devotees, chanting, singing, beating instruments, giving holy offerings of food, incense and money. It is vibrant, full of life, loud and beautifully chaotic.
Outside, I went in search of water, to wash my hands. There are water pumps lined on street corners and I stopped at one. A young girl and her big brother insisted on pumping the water for me. Another woman, comes up to me, “Didi, Didi” (meaning big sister and a polite way of greeting another person), “where are you from, have you been blessed today?” She offered me puja.
I looked around, a thousand thoughts of our hike and bike adventure to Pikey Peak and the last ten years of Lost Earth Adventures whirled around my head. I paused, I smiled and replied, “yes, I’ve been blessed.”
Join us Next Time
You can join us the next time we visit Pikey Peak, we now have trips running throughout the year following a very close itinerary to the one mentioned above. We use jeeps but if you want to ride there by motorbike we can arrange this also. Give us a call on 01904 500094
or visit our Pikey Peak trekking page.