Sam: This is it.
Frodo: This is what?
Sam: If take one more step, it'll be the farthest away from home I've ever been.
Frodo: Come on Sam. Remember what Bilbo used to say, "It's a dangerous business Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."

Monday, April 28, 2014

Day 16 the most dangerous airport in the world (but not for the reason you think)

Day 16: Lukla to Kathmandu

The Lukla airport has the reputation for being "the most dangerous airport in the world" because of its short runway ending on one side in a cliff and the other the mountain.  It is probably "the least on-time airport in the world" and traveled should be much more worried about delays to their travel plans than the technical ability of the pilots or the length of the runway.  I think people should be much more concerned with the scheduling of flights delaying their trek plans. This causes trekkers to shorten acclimatization days in order to finish the trek in time for their return flight. Acclimatization days are what make or break your experience. 

Since it was the second time we waited nervously for our flight out of Lukla and having our own experience of leaving six hours late and hearing so many more horror stories along the trail, trekmate and I had planned to sit in the waiting area anxiously the whole day. I brought extra snacks. But this time, we were airborne an astonishing 30 minutes after our scheduled departure time! 

I'm almost certain that the Sunny Garden lodge where we stayed at in Lukla had a hand in our miraculously timely departure. First, when we arrived in Lukla the first time our porter-guide ordered us to give our flight e-ticket  print out to the proprietor of Sunny Garden. He said the owner would help us if we needed to reschedule our flight for any unforseen reason, confirm the flight the day before, and generally be helpful. I would have felt very uncomfortable parting with my ticket except for the fact that I had an extra copy. Second, trekmate had read on a blog vaguely about Sunny Garden having "pull" with flights. 

When we got to Lukla the day before, we went in person to the Tara Airlines office to confirm the flight again ourselves. The agents at the office spoken Nepali among themselves as trekmate and I waited on the other side of the counter. Weirdly we heard them say "sunny garden" in their conversation. The rest of the conversation was in Nepali. We didn't tell them that that was where we were staying. In any case, why should it matter??

The next morning who do we see at the check in area peering over the shoulder of the ticket agent? The owner of the Sunny Garden. When I elbowed my way up to the desk and stuck my e-ticket print out to the agent, the owner looked me in the eye, and directed the ticket agent. The ticket agent gave me my boarding pass and ignored the another passenger who had elbowed his way up too. 

Trekmate and I were so grateful to get a boarding pass issued and be able to proceed to the waiting area for passengers with boarding passes. As we hurriedly grabbed our bags, trekmate tapped the Sunny Garden owner on the shoulder and said, "thank you."

Flights take off and land in Lukla in batches so the printed departure  time doesn't mean anything other than to indicate which batch you are in. We knew that anything around 9 or 10am was the second batch. We were airborne in the second Tara Airlines flight of the next batch. It was a mere 30 minutes after the printed departure  time. 

The rooms at the Sunny Garden were actually pretty bad considering we were at such low elevation and resources are plentiful. But if I were going to fly out of Lukla again, I'd make sure to stay at the Sunny Garden again too. Just in case it would make any difference. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Day 15: Familiar faces at end of the trek

Day 15 
Namche - Lukla

We had a monster 8 hour day today descending from Namche to Lukla. It was literally 7 hours of walking with about an hour for lunch and bathroom breaks. But trekmate and I were both ready to end our trek so we planned for the long day to Lukla where we fly out the next morning. 

Trekmate and I took photos at the gate that marks the boundary of Lukla to mark our triumphant completion of the trek. 

I love that on this trip I met some cool people who I kept bumping into along the trek. Here are a few memorable ones:
- "dreadlocks guy with Wutang hat". He was in a Russian-speaking trek group and one of the few smokers we saw. I saw him light a cigarette at Tengboche. His group went down to Lukla the same day I did. We waited at a suspension bridge for a yak train to pass. 
- It was complete coincidence that I an American girl on my flight over to KTM was at the same hotel in Lukla! Her group had a longer trek than I did. We traded stories.  Her group was at Everest Base Camp the day before the avalanche and they saw the ceremony send off for the Sherpas who were caught in the avalanche. 

- At Lobuche and Namche trekmate and I talked to an English girl who we knew to expect to see at the same hotel in Lukla. We had chatted with her a few times. 

- Walking down the street in Lukla I saw a man wearing a green baseball cap with a block "S" but I didn't get a chance to ask about his MSU affiliation.  

Tomorrow I'm booked on a 9am flight but the flight is a crapshoot. Perhaps I will leave on time, delayed the same day, or not at all. 

Day 14: Never did boiled vegetables taste so good.

Day 14 Tengboche - Namche

What a joyous return to Namche! I feel like a different person. I have seen Mt. Everest and EBC. I have challenged myself to climb to 5545m (18,200ft). 

What a difference two weeks makes for Namche too. The town looks transformed from winter to spring. The first time we were there it snowed. We shivered in our sleeping bags at night. This morning it was sunny and hot as we approached Namche. I wore the thinnest long sleeve shirt I had. Tiny purple irises and pink rhododendrons bloomed in the lower elevations near Namche while we were up high. 

We are staying in the same teahouse we did when we were in Namche heading up. This made me particularly excited because this teahouse has "boiled vegetable" on the menu. And potato isn't included in this dish. The last time I stayed there I got a big plate of bok Choy, carrots, cauliflower, and cabbage!! These (and garlic and onion) are the only vegetables in Khumbu but that's good enough for me because of how few of any vegetables I have eaten the last two weeks. This time I got boiled vegetable again and it was even more delicious than two weeks ago. 

I have been craving vegetables this entire trek. Vegetables get more and more scarce up high so I have been eating a heavy starch diet like noodles, rice, and bread. Even the dishes that have vegetable in the name, like vegetable fried rice have the tiniest diced carrot and bits of bok choy. 

Everything about Namche this time  was pleasant. I'm ready to continue descending to Lukla tomorrow, the city from which I fly back to Kathmandu.  

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Day 13: Monastery and porter-guide miss (again)

Day 13 Periche - Tengboche
Elevation loss 420m, 4280-3860m

This morning I was ecstatic to wake up without a freezing cold nose! Usually I sleep with my fleece hat pulled over my eyes and the sleeping bag pulled up as high as I can. The biggest difference I have noticed coming down was the increased temperature. This afternoon in Tengboche I actually wore sandals without socks briefly. Throughout the morning hike I peeled off my windproof fleece and fleece hat and wore a thin windbreaker and bandana. 

The other biggest difference is the increased vegetation. I was so happy to see large juniper trees that provided shade as we walked to Tengboche. The forest around Tengboche Monastery is protected from cutting so the forest was large and mature. The tree line is somewhere around 4000m, I think and there's pretty bad deforestation anyway in areas with trees. 

The reason we and other trekkers stopped at Tengboche was for to visit the Tibetan Buddhist monastery. It is the largest in the Khumbu and boys all over the Khumbu come here to study. It's a beautiful large building framed by the mountains and clouds. Tourists like us often go for the prayer ceremony at 3pm. I had been to a similar ceremony at Tashi Palkiel outside Pokhara that was actually a better experience but it was interesting to see it again in the setting of the Himalayas. 

Today was another porter-guide miss. He got us a dirty dingy drafty teahouse in Tengboche after saying that this was the only place available. We knew that there were only 5 or 6 teahouses so accommodations were tight. We believed him but the room, outdoor toilet, and dark common room were so bad. I killed a fly with my sandal in the room. We decided to walk to a large impressive-looking teahouse nearby just to check. A smiling elderly proprietor said that they did have a room! Trekmate stayed in the dining room where we had lunch, which was large and clean, and I went to look at the room. I saw the clean room, pristine indoor bathroom with sink just down the hall. I gave trekmate a thumbs up. Trekmate and I scrambled to repack our things in literally 60 seconds to move to the new place. 

Now we have totally lost trust in our porter-guide. We were angry because he lied to us about the lack of accommodations. I understand that he may prefer for us to stay at certain teahouses of friends but it was appalling that he lied to us about why we were staying at an inferior place. He was angry when we told him we were moving, predictably. 

Aside from the snafu about our first teahouse, my time in Tengboche was pleasant because of the warmer weather and the fact that we are descending. I don't mean to sound like I didn't enjoy the trek. I did tremendously. I will always remember seeing Everest and this journey. But I have achieved my goal and now it's just finishing up. I am looking forward to the creature comforts: warm weather, running water, clean clothes and a shower. 

There is a sign on the way out of Tengboche reading "WAY TO NAMCHE". That is where we are headed on a 5-6 hour hike tomorrow. I can't wait! 

The Everest tragedy and Everest Sherpas

On the day I walked to Everest Base camp I saw two avalanches on the peaks surrounding Everest though not on Everest itself. Still the Everest tragedy was never far from our minds. I didn't have much internet access during this time so I wasn't following so closely except talking with other trekkers and guides while sitting around the yak dung heating stove in the evenings. There was talk that the whole expedition season might be cancelled. Some said due to ice conditions that made it difficult to lay rope and ladders, others said due to increased fees demanded by the Nepalese government for the Sherpas. I'm not sure exactly what the situation is. 

Later at the teahouse in Tengboche I met an Everest Sherpa with multiple Everest summits. The topic of conversation naturally turned to the recent tragedy. He named the villages where the Sherpas who died had come from: Khumjung, Phortse, and others. These were all familiar places to us. We had stayed in teahouses there. I know that the people in those communities are very much affected. The Everest Sherpa described a few of the Sherpas who had died: one was 27 or 28 years old and had a wife and one month old infant. Most others also had families. 

The Sherpa and I had some time to kill before he was to meet new clients so we got to  chatting. He confirmed what I had read was typical of elite Sherpas: His father was a Sherpa. He started working on expeditions since he was a child. Eventually he trained at the Khumbu climbing school, a well-known training ground for mountaineering Sherpas in this region. He had summited Everest multiple times starting when he was 18 years old. I actually can't remember the exact number. I think it was 8 or 9 including from Nepal and Tibet.  Now he has a home in the Khumbu for the climbing season and one in Kathmandu for the winter. In the summers he works in Switzerland. He was nonchalant when describing all this. There are many, many people working as trekking guides, mountaineering guides, porters here in the Khumbu but he is at the top of his field, having multiple Everest summits. He has been employed with the same Everest expedition company the whole of  his career so I am sure he is very senior in that company b

Looking at the teahouse menu, he said his favorite was sherpa pancake. I think it's a potato pancake. He said he could twenty of them and I believed him. 

Day 12 part 2: My Everest Marathon

The Everest Marathon is an annual event at the end of May, the end of the expedition season. It starts at EBC and goes to Namche with a loop to Thamo to make it marathon length. 

Day 11 all the way till the end of day 12 was my Everest marathon. Most days 4 hours of walking was as much as we did in a whole day. But trekmate and I had to descend down to Periche during the afternoon too. Day 11 had about 6 hours of walking and Day 12 8, not including meal and snack breaks. It was dizzying to think that Day 12 maximum altitude was 5545m and we finished 4210m, a descend of more than 1300m! 

After I had come down from EBC, I met trekkers ascending in the teahouses and they kept asking me if the view of Everest from Kala Pattar was amazing. It was. It was the best view of Everest I had had one my whole trek. See, despite the name of this trek, there are only a few points in the route when Everest is visible. Most of the time it is hidden behind Nuptse and Lhotse, two other Himalayan peaks. But I am not disappointed at all because everyday I saw so many snowy peaks and everyday I challenged my body to literal new heights. Everest almost became an afterthought. As trite as the expression is, EBC trek was really the completion of a process and not only seeing Everest. It was seeing Everest knowing that I had taken myself the whole way there and back again.  

I did this trek because I wanted a physical challenge. It proved to be one in both ways I anticipated (hiking at altitude) and ways I hadn't (cold!). I am tremendously proud of myself. Even if it had been totally cloudy on Kala Pattar that morning and I hadn't seen Everest at all, I still would feel the same sense of accomplishment.  

Day 12 part 1: The hardest 100 steps at Kala Pattar

Gorak Shep - Kala Pattar - Gorak Shep
Elevation max: 5545m

As I had predicted, I slept very poorly at Gorak Shep. I woke up literally every hour.  Sometimes I woke up feeling short of breath. Periods of apnea are expected at high altitude and that is probably what I had. I didn't take any Diamox though in hindsight I could have taken one before bed. It didn't help that I was anxious about the coming day. Well I had to get up at 3:30am anyways because today was Kala Pattar day. 

The goal was to see the sun rise behind and up over Everest. Because Lohtse and Nuptse often block the view of Everest, getting a bit higher on Kala Pattar affords a much better vie. 

At 4am trekmate, our porter-guide, and I were among a line of headlamps slowly moving up Kala Pattar in the darkness. The sky was clear. I couldn't recognize any constellations because I saw so many stars. 

We planned to take 2 hours to reach the top of Kala Pattar. It was a slow, slow 2 hours. My legs never felt so heavy. My calves burned like I had been climbing for hours even though I was going up mere feet. It was quiet except for the movement of trekkers: the shuffle of boots and tap-tap of trekking poles. I heard my own heart and my own breath every step up. 

It was also a frigid 2 hours. What little of my face was exposed was freezing. On top I wore my trusty North Face winter coat, a fleece, thermal top, and two hats. On the bottom I had two pairs of hiking socks, two pairs of thermal long underwear, a pair of fleece sweatpants, and soft shell pants. I had insulated gloves and liners. 

My trekmate didn't make it to the top. About 40 minutes into our ascent I saw she was farther and farther behind. I was ahead of trekmate on the climb as I usually am. (For some reason she is always faster on the flats and I am faster ascending.) The porter-guide left my side and slowed down to meet her. They stood and talked for a few minutes as I watched from up high. Trekmate sat down. Eventually I saw that she turned back. The other lesson of EBC is knowing one's limit. She had met    her limit. She went back to the teahouse for a lovely warm breakfast. I am happy for her that she went as far as she could. 

Darkness turned to gray and I was still pretty far from the top. I began to count my steps. I got to 100 and then started over. Those were the hardest 100 steps I had ever taken. Each step I think I moved my foot mere inches. I can't accurately describe what those steps were like. My feet felt like bricks and though my heart was thumping so loud, I still couldn't muster any energy to go any faster.   

The sky grew pink and the stars faded away. I was standing with a lot of other trekkers on a small rocky summit cluttered with backpacks and other gear. We all stood facing the East and Everest. I made it just in time to the top of Kala Pattar in about 2 hours and 15 minutes. I saw the rays of the sun come behind Everest. I felt it illuminate my face. I wasn't so much excited but rather fulfilled. I wanted to feel the sun and reach 5545 meters. I did both.

Day 11 Everest Base Camp Day

Lobuche- Gorak Shep - Everest Base Camp - Gorak Shep
Elevation max: 5300s meter 

I am very happy because I saw exactly what I came for: I saw the expedition tents at the edge of the Khumbu ice fall and the cluster of prayer flags at the entrance of base camp. 

The three hour walk from Gorak Shep toward EBC was the happiest three hours of my trek even though I was walking so slowly because of the thin air because I saw EBC getting closer and closer. I was excited in the morning even before we approached Gorak Shep and I could already see the Tent City.  The weather was perfect, not a cloud in the sky. The sun was shining on our faces even while the air was still cold but it made it a little better. It was the best feeling and I think it even made my headache go away. 

I wasn't at all disappointed that there was no sign that read "Everest Base Camp" like I had seen when I googled photos. Trekmate and others who arrived at EBC clearly were. After all, what is more a sign of base camp than the yellow tents? Later someone told us that the glacier had moved and that sign was destroyed. 

But it was a long and hard day. We walked from Lobuche to Gorak Shep in the morning (2 hours 45 minutes) and then from Gorak Shep to EBC, stopped for photos and back (4 hours). It sounds easy walking for a few hours but it is very very hard work at altitude. EBC is a 200+ Meter ascend from Gorak Shep and Gorak Shep another 200+ Meter from Lobuche. I was taking very slow and small steps.

Gorak Shep at 5170m is the highest village we are sleeping in on this trek and the closest village to EBC. For the EBC itinerary including our trip this is the destination before going back down. I was nervous about staying the night at Gorak Shep because it was the first and only time we would sleep at above 5000m. But everyone who wants to go to Kala Pattar and EBC has to do it. I hadn't slept well the night before so I didn't think I would sleep well here. 

Day 10 The excitement is building despite grim accommodations

Day 10
Dingboche - Lobuche
Elevation gain 590m, 4350 to 4940m

Today I saw the most beautiful view of the Himalayas yet. It came after a hard 45 minute climb out of Dugla toward Lobuche. When I cleared the top of the hill I was greeted by prayer flags stretched between two rock formations and stone memorials to fallen Everest climbers. I had seen this combination of snow, sky, mountain, and prayer flags many times. But until this time the snow never looked so white, the sky never so blue, and the prayer flags never so colorful in the Himalayan wind. 

Since the beginning of the trip trek mate had said that Lobuche and Gorak Shep, the two highest overnights were "grim". I had been dreading seeing the accommodations and prices we would have to pay here on up. 

Our room is the draftiest yet. We have only plywood walls separating us from the elements. In other lodges there was another stone wall, I think, outside the plywood. We have one window with glass and one that is a gap in the wall with a wooden shutter. The ceiling isn't solid. There's some kind of fabric tacked onto something and it billows with the wind. 

But the people here in the teahouse are in good spirits because we are near the culmination of our trip.We are pretty much all on the same itinerary: to Gorak Shep tomorrow where EBC is and Kala Pattar to see sunrise over Everest the day after. 

I felt lightheaded in the last 30 minutes approaching Lobuche. I had a mild headache when I sat down on my bed. I'm sure it was both exhaustion from 4 hours of trekking and the nearly 5000m altitude. After a meal of overpriced thin $6 dal bhat, I felt a little better. After a couple more hours and more snacks, I felt almost back to normal. I'm excited for the next two days. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Final push

I'm making the final push to Everest base camp at 5360m and Kala Pattar, at 5554m the highest I plan to go. I should be there Monday afternoon Nepal time. I won't be buying wifi again until after I have descended. So far I am in good health and spirits though it's not been easy. 

A trekker said that this was "a retrospective enjoyment."  I will let you know after I have reached EBC, I hope. 

 Talk to you later. 

Day 9: teahouses and yesterday's news

Day 9: teahouses and yesterday's news
Dingboche acclimatization day 2 
Elevation gain 0

Trek mate and I have been eating lunch at a different teahouse from the one we are staying at because ours isn't as nice. We have been favoring the Snow Lion, a large teahouse with an impressive large front yard and bakery, because of their service. Their customer service is very Western, meaning they smile and are prompt. I know i sound spoiled complaining about poor service in the middle of nowhere. But it does make me feel slightly more cheerful and that my $5 plate of lentils is worth the price. 

Also I like the Snow Lion because there is CNN satellite TV. The past couple days it's even my only source of news. Internet is too expensive for surfing the news. Today we learned about the ferry sinking in Korea and the continued search for the Malaysian airlines plane. 

We also saw a segment on CNN international on  the Everest avalanche. I had heard yesterday when it happened but hadn't seen any news reports until now. We saw a shot of a Sherpa in a hospital bed, amateur footage of the Khumbu ice fall (not during the avalanche), and trekkers much like ourselves on the non-climbing routes. 

It's hit the area here closely because Everest related business is the only profitable business in the region. I heard from a trekker that he saw a teahouse owner crying. Some of the teahouse owners also work on the various Himalayan climbing routes. In Phortse the teahouse owner had summitted. There was a certificate on the wall. 

The Everest Sherpas are among the most experienced given the difficulty of the climb. They set fixed ropes that their clients clip onto along the whole way up. Fixing the rope is, as you can imagine, of the most dangerous tasks. And the Khumbu ice fall, at the beginning of the path to the summit, is notorious for avalanches. The ice isn't stable and there are many crevasses that form as the heat of the sun melts the ice. 

I myself am in no danger of avalanches. I'm not even close to going near anything that requires technical climbing skills. No crampons or ice axes for me. But I do hope to see the Khumbu ice fall and the expedition tents when I get to base camp on day 11. 

Day 8 the fear of AMS

Day 8 the fear of AMS
Dingboche acclimatization day 1
Elevation gain 0 

Today we went on a hike to about 4800 or 4900m on a peak from the village at 4350m for acclimatization. I was personally happy with that altitude for acclimatizing purposes because the next village is 4900m. 

The threat of Acute Mountain Sickness is a constant worry of mine. Each village along the way to EBC is higher than the one before so the risk never goes away. We had a couple acclimatization days, basically a day where we sleep at the same altitude but during the day go on a hike to higher altitude. The recommendation is to gain max 300-500m sleeping altitude each night. 

The more acclimatization days the better. That is why my EBC trek is three days longer than the standard trip if I had booked with a trekking company. But there's no saying who will get sick and at what altitude. I've read blogs where people felt fine until 4900m, which is our next stop. 

On day 5 we met a man who was descending from Dole 4040m. We first saw him on the trail, a fit middle aged white man who was carrying only a Nalgene and a porter trailed behind carrying a large backpack, obviously his. Most men of similar physique and age we saw on the trail were not only fast but carrying huge packs too. We chatted with him and found out that it was the 4000m mark that did it for him. 

Tonight at the dining room another woman in her 20s was talking with some other guests about getting AMS. I'm not sure what altitude it was that she got sick. But she described being half carried by guides down the mountain. She didn't look well either. 

It is hard to tell sometimes if I'm just tired or if I have AMS. The hallmark is headache. I direct you to the Lake Louise criteria for the symptoms and diagnosis. I think I felt AMS twice but only briefly, at Namche (3450m) and Khumjung (3790)m. Each afternoon I was tired and had a headache at night but felt better the next morning. 

I have a prescription of Diamox with me. The typical regimen is the prophylactic regimen where you take it 24-48 hrs before ascending and continue the whole time until you descend. I opted not to do this. I'm not sure what an American trained doc would say about this but the Himalayan rescue association thinks it's okay to start taking it when you feel symptoms. The reason I didn't take it was to avoid the side effects which also don't make you feel that good even though they prevent the real dangers of AMS: high altitude pulmonary edema and cerebral edema. 

The main side effect is increased urination. If you read my post about how cold it is, you can imagine how painful it is to get up in the frigid night. It also interrupts your sleep even as Diamox relieves the AMS headache that might have kept you up.  

But today I personally felt disappointed that I didn't get higher on the peak because I wasn't adequately dressed for the cold wind. Around 11am the wind picked up and I didn't bring my thick coat or thick gloves.  Trekmate and i decided it was just too cold. 

Each day we are higher and closer. I hope my health keeps up and the weather is relatively mild. 

Day 7 the nice Italian couple

Day 7 the nice Italian couple 
Pangboche - Dingboche
Elevation gain 350m, 4000 to 4350m 

At the guesthouse in Dingboche that night there were only two parties, an German-speaking Italian couple in their late 20s and me and trekmate. They were friendly in the dining room. They told us that they were here to climb Island peak, a popular and relatively easy to summit peak of 6173m. 

We laughed over having both seen the same advertisement flyer tacked to the plywood door at two different teahouses for Royal Penguin, a luxury hotel in KTM. The rooms had jacuzzis not to mention heat and running water and proper walls and windows. It was effective advertising, being just what we all craved.  

They both had a fair amount of climbing experience, living in the Dolomite region of northern Italy. On the other hand, I really don't know anything about mountaineering other than having watched all the seasons of Everest: Beyond the Limit.  They said the name of a well known mountaineer that they had seen on this trip and trek mate and I didn't know who it was...

They were very cute together. The girl spoke English better than the guy so he would look toward her and she would help him find the right word. We laughed at the guy's sunburn. 

I thought with their shared climbing interest that it was the mountains that brought them together. But no. Trekmate asked how they met. The guy sheepishly said, "in a club," and moved his shoulders in a mock dance move. They did not start climbing until they got together 4 years ago. Now every weekend they go to the mountains to climb.  

Their dream is to summit Ama Dablam, a peak that we all have seen trekking almost everyday along the EBC route. She said that if they come back for Ama Dablam, they want to stay at the Royal Penguin even if only for one night. We didn't ask for their name but I  hope that they do summit Ama Dablam one day. I wish them well. 

Day 6 Phortse-Pangboche: Porter-guide hit-or-miss

Day 6 Phortse-Pangboche
Elevation gain 200m
3800 to 4000m
Porter-guide hit-or-miss

For this trip trek mate and I have hired a porter-guide. He is something between a porter who doesn't help you navigate but Carries your pack and a guide who doesn't carry anything but helps plan your itinerary and accommodations. He has been hit or miss. 

Today was one of his misses because he didn't tell us the correct time it would take to walk from Phortse to Pangboche. He said it would take 1.5 hours. That wasnt the case. This turned out to be a big deal because it messed with my head. For a while i thought we had gone the wrong way. Then I thought that trek mate and I had dramatically slowed down our pace due to the increase in altitude. One of my fears on the trek has been that we'd be slower than the walking times found in the travel guidebooks. The other was the fear of getting Acute Mountain sickness, aka altitude sickness.  

Two hours went by and no village was insight. I was hungry and thirsty. Thankfully I brought more water than I thought I would need for 1.5 hours and a Snickers. It was the best Snickers bar I had ever had. Trek mate took a photo of me with it to commemorate the occasion. 

Finally after three hours we saw the village in the distance. It took us another hour to get there. All in all it was a four-hour walk to Pangboche. So much for our porter-guide's 1.5 hours. 

Day 5 Khumjung-Phortse: The first day I enjoyed trekking

The best part of trekking is the actual part in the morning when we are walking. The walk from Khumjung was the first time since starting the trek that I enjoyed the walk. I took time to look at the mountains rather than  at my feet. 

I feel the happiest in the morning. All my photos are taken in the morning. The views are good and the sunlight warm. I feel like we have a goal and destination. 

The weather is usually clear and it is the only time in the day when the sun is out. Clouds start to build and it's only a matter of time before it starts to snow. On a good day the sun lasts until noon and on a bad day until 10am when we are still on the trail. 

The typical trek itinerary is like this:

6:00 wake up and pack up room
7:00 breakfast and settle room bill. Porter takes our duffle bag and heads off. 
8:00 depart for the trail. 
3-5 hours of walking 
12 noon. Arrive at destination village. Unpack into room.
1 lunch 
Afternoon: try to stay warm
6:00 dinner 
7:15 get ready for bed
8:15 lights off 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Day 8: update I'm not at Everest Base Camp

I know there was an avalanche. I'm safe. I'm not doing any climbing on this trip. No avalanche risk. 

Day 4 Namche - Khumjung How to Keep Warm

Day 4 Namche - Khumjung 
Elevation gain 350m

Today we left the trekker haven of Namche for Khumjung, a good size village but that saw fewer Trekkers. It started to snow in the afternoon in Khumjung about 2pm. There was a thermometer in the dining room that dropped from a warm 20 degrees Celsius to 12 in about 45 minutes as soon as the sky became completely overcast. The wind picked up and flapped the prayer flags just outside the window. 

I thought I would take this entry to talk a little about just how cold I have been the past few days. The search for warmth is a constant one that begins everyday after we finish walking around noon and ends the next morning when we start walking again. 

we haven't even seen the worst of it. It will only get colder as we go higher and our highest elevation is about 5400m. It took me by surprise how cold the afternoon and evenings in the teahouse were and how difficult it was to warm up. I'm from Michigan! I survived the Polar Vortex! But I always have a heated house, hot running water 24/7, and walk only a few minutes outside to another heated building or car. 

This night in Khumjung was the first night we saw our breaths in our rooms after nightfall. The rooms are drafty. We literally can see sunlight through the gaps between the plywood walls and windows. We can also hear the wind whistling if it blows in the right direction. 

This is our strategy to keep warm:
-HOT WATER! hot water that we have to buy from the teahouse at varying costs, approx $2-3 per liter. We fill our cups and Nalgenes with it and press them into our hands. After washing our hands in icy cold water (if that is even available), I always remember to have a hot Nalgene ready.  This is literally the only thing we have that is warm. There is no heat in the room and everything gets so cold so fast. 
-We climb into our sleeping bags all afternoon and read or write
-fill a Nalgene with hot water and put it In our sleeping bag when we go to sleep. 
-put the next day's clothes in our sleeping bags so that they would not be icy cold, including gloves and liner socks 

-this is what I wear to sleep:
-A Columbia fleece hat
-a long sleeve shirt
-a heavy fleece jacket
-Smart wool midweight tights

In the evening the teahouse will have a yak dung burning stove lit in the dining room. If there are few guests then I can pull a chair up within a couple feet of the stove. This is the only time in the day I feel like my feet and hands are warm. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Day 3: Everest View Hotel lives up to its name

Day 3 
Namche acclimatization day. 
Change in elevation 0 
Elevation 3480

I saw Mt. Everest today. 

It was a hard hike for a hour up 400m but I helped me a lot mentally. I felt like it made the difficult and cold day yesterday worth it. As everyone says, it actually does not look that impressive compared to the other peaks around it. Its top looks actually quite square and looks shorter than the peaks around it. 

 It's common for the EBC itinerary to have an acclimatization day here, meaning to go on a hike to higher elevation and return to Namche for the night. In my itinerary I did not have to take an acclimatization day because we are taking a few extra rest days elsewhere in the trek. But the typical place to go is Everest View Hotel and that is where I went today.  

On the way to and from the hotel I saw several people i had seen before. It was nice to see some familiar faces. The three Danes were down to two on the hike. One was down in bed with a fever. I hope she recovers. It's too early in the trek to get sick. The Australian family was there also and the crying English girl I saw in the line to the bathroom. She seemed much happier. 

After a few days here in the Khumbu (the Everest region) I have gotten a sense of the weather pattern. It is gorgeously clear in the morning. The sky clouds over by 10 or 11am. By noon and afternoon showers or snow flurries are very likely. This means that we must get up early to see the peaks in the morning. 

I feel very fortunate to have seen Everest today when I arrived at the view point at 9am. I descended at 10am and I felt sorry for the people I saw on the way up. They were unlikely to see Everest that day. 

I'm a little sad to leave Namche because it's the last large village with shops. Beyond here are only small villages. But we are staying here again when we return, hopefully after having been to Base Camp and Kala Pattar. 

At the end of the two days in Namche I was tired, cold, and my bed was basically an unpadded wooden plank but I felt right. I felt like I had finally begun the trek to Everest Base Camp. 

Food eaten: 
Breakfast: "pancake" that was about an inch thick with honey and peanut butter. 
Lunch: boiled vegetables (carrot, cauliflower, bok Choy, green beans) and vegetable sandwich (white bread with onion, tomato, a little bit of minced bok Choy) with French fries. 
Dinner: cheese pizza 
Snacks: Nepali tea, a cliffbar I brought from the US 

Day 2

Day 2 Phakding to Namche 
Hours of walking: 6
Elevation gain: 810m, 2640m to 3450m

This was a big day because we would enter Sagarmatha National Park, the park that Everest lies in, and end the day in Namche, a large village that is trekking central for the Khumbu region. 

It was also a long day with six hours of walking, not including breaks. Our late arrival into Lukla and subsequently two hour walk to Phakding made today's trek 6 hours. We originally wanted to walk three or even four hours that first day and the remainder on Day 2. It is a total of eight hours from Lukla to Namche and we were splitting it 2/6. The latter three hours were particularly hard because the trail is basically straight up until Namche. 

The walk to Namche was iconic. I crossed several suspension bridges with fluttering prayer flags. Below us the river was a blue-green that I had never seen before. I remembered the advice I had read on blogs when I passed yak and mule trains: yield and stand on the higher mountain side of the trail to avoid accidentally being pushed off the side. I got my photo taken at the entrance of Sagarmatha National Park. It was one of the shots I had seen in every blog I read about EBC. I felt like I had joined the club.  

But another low came just as trek mate and I were on the steep ascend a couple hours outside Namche. First it started to rain, then sleet and finally fat snow flakes fell! I didn't expect snowfall on Day 2. This was supposed to be the warm part still. I couldn't see any mountains. We were walking in an alpine forest on a closed in trail. The snow and landscape reminded me of Michigan. It didn't feel like I was going to see Everest or Lhotse or Nuptse or Ama Dablam or any of the Himalayan peaks. Breathless and tired, I felt like I had come all this way to Nepal to do what I could have done anywhere in Michigan. trek mate and I couldn't stop exclaiming how surprised we were at the cold so early in the trek and at so low an elevation. I felt a sense of dread because I thought it would only get colder going higher. 

I climbed into my sleeping bag with a Nalgene of hot water and hoped the next day in Namche would be warmer and clearer.  

Day 1 part two

The plane ride to Lukla was not scary to me because I felt completely safe in the hands of the pilots. There was no demonstration of oxygen masks because the plane it not pressurized. But no matter, because I would be walking in higher altitude in the next week. There is no radar. The pilots fly by sight, which is why clouds = no flights. 

But it is a very dangerous airport. The runway is like this: imagine a diagonal side of a mountain, take a wedge out of it to make a flat bit. One end of the runway is the sheer side of the mountain, the end where we need to stop is solid mountain. Our plane landed before we hit rock, thankfully. 

Unfortunately we were very behind schedule for the day. We had expected to have the whole afternoon to make a hike out Of Lukla. We needed to reach Phakding 2-2.5 hours away minimum but our goal was to go a hour beyond that because to break up a difficult Day 2 hike. 

But it was 4pm when we touched down and 4:30 when we met up with the guide-porter and finished a small argument over the amount of weight he could carry. Now our only option was to make it to Phakding. Sunset time in Phakding was 6:30pm. We had two hours before dark and the temperatures would plummet.  

 I hadn't eaten lunch at the airport yet and I had no energy to walk at all, let alone at 2800m. I already felt winded walking down the stone lane from the airport to a nearby shop. Lukla was already the highest elevation I had ever been. It was also noticeably colder in Lukla, probably in the 40s. I wolfed down the most accessible food I had: a jar of crunchy peanut butter that i ate plain from a spoon. I ate about four spoonfuls. That brought my food intake that day to 2 eggs, 2 apples, and about 800 calories worth of peanut butter.

The two hour power walk to Phakding was my second low of the day. I was exhausted, hungry, in a strange place, and breathless walking as fast as I could toward some basic, unheated teahouse. If this hike wasn't hard enough in daylight, I really did not want to do it in the dark. I couldn't even remember if I had my headlamp in my daypack or in the duffle the porter had sped off with. 

Trek mate and I made it into the teahouse at 6:30. By 6:45 it was completely dark outside. When I finally sat down I felt my heart racing. Opening the zippers of my pack seemed like an impossible task with my clumsy fingers. I can't even remember what i ate for dinner that night. I fell asleep as soon as I crawled into my sleeping bag. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Day 1 part one: leaving Kathmandu

This is a post dated entry. I'm currently on Day 4 of my trek in the village called Khumjung. There is wifi at the lodge though you have to pay and it's not cheap. 

Day 1 part one: How I finally left Kathmandu. 

The first day of my trek was one of emotional and geographic highs and lows, starting in the morning in Kathmandu and hurrying into a tea house in Phakding (8661ft 2640m) just before nightfall. 

I slept poorly the night before because friends and bloggers had written nightmarish accounts of being stranded in Kathmandu airport as their flight to Lukla got cancelled. Already a girl I met on the plane last week had to charter a helicopter to Lukla. But when I woke up I felt optimistic because the sky was clear in Kathmandu and the forecast for Lukla was also clear. 

The domestic terminal at KTM airport was even more crowded and disorganized than the international terminal, though I had come to expect a baseline level of chaos in Nepal. But finally trek mate and I got our boarding passes, which don't even have our names printed, just the flight number written in sharpie pen. 

The high of the day came when we boarded the plane and started down the runway. I was excited that our plane was getting out and that we were beginning our trek. 

The first low came as we were about halfway down the runway. We felt the plane slow to a stop. The pilot turned around and informed us that it was too windy  in Lukla. Our flight was delayed until 3 or 4 I was afraid of clouds but I hadn't anticipated winds! I was crushes because I thought my nightmare was coming true.  

while we waited at KTM from about 10:30am trek mate and I Trek mate and I met the other people on our flight while we were waiting, about 15 Trekkers and three guides. We chatted with three Danes and one had studied at Aarhus! Trekmate and I made plan B to book another hotel in Kathmandu. But At 2:30 suddenly an airport employee rushed over and told us we were going now! She beckoned us out out to the Tarmac again. I was just about to go to the bathroom but I didn't have time! One passenger didn't even have time to finish his meal. 

Within 20 minutes we were airborne toward the most dangerous airport in the world in a twin otter propeller plane and me with a full bladder.

Part two: running toward Phakding on peanut butter straight from the jar. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

A world away

It's hard to believe that I left Michigan less than a week ago! I am literally and figuratively a world away.

I have stuck to my itinerary as planned so I am in Pokhara now. The key attraction of Pokhara is the Annapurna mountain range. But I have yet to see because it's been cloudy and smoggy. I am not sure if I will see it at all given the forecast for the next couple days. I will be disappointed if I don't, to be honest.
No sign of the mountains

Pokhara is more relaxing for me because everything for tourists is in one place. Traveling is stressful for me so it's nice to have everything here in one place, the supermarket, restaurants, hotels all within walking distance. This tourist drag is called Lakeside, along Phewa Lake. The entire street is souvenir shops, restaurants, trekking shops, and hotels.

My hotel is Hotel Travel-Inn

The downside is that I am overpaying. A soda at the supermarket costs $1-2! That's the same price as in the US! Meals costs about $3-5. Yes, I really am complaining about paying for $5 for dinner.That is cheap for restaurant service but I have eaten for cheaper when I cook my own food at a hostel in western Europe.

I still wish I could eat supermarket Spanish tortillas my friend Rachelle introduced me to four years ago. Rachelle also cooked up a delicious scrambled eggs with red pepper at a hostel in Istanbul. That same trip we also had some supermarket stewed eggplant with yogurt. Seriously, those were my most memorable travel meals...

1 dollar = 98 Nepali Rupees, in my head I round to 1 dollar = 100 Rupees
Coke for $1.60
More tourist-related things.
Also a large number of shops for Chinese tourists.
More hotels and shops.
Nepali New Year is April 14

Sunday, April 6, 2014

I feel like a colorful ninja

I'm at Boudha stupa, with face mask. 

Lonely Planet warned me that Kathmandu would be dusty and chaotic and dirty but the full sensory experience surprised me.

My feet were dusty and grimy at the end of the day of walking in sandals. I have been using wet wipes throughout the day to clean my hands and face.

A good proportion of people in Kathmandu wear face masks when they're just walking around the city. They are padded cotton and come in all sorts of fun patterns and colors. I'm not sure if it actually helps decrease inhaled particulates though. I brought these hospital masks from home.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

I am on the road!

I have begun my trip. It's going to be a marathon journey. I have an overnight layover in Philadelphia and I'm going back at the airport in the morning for Philadelphia - Doha - Kathmandu.

In the mean time, I recommend you watch this YouTube video (18 minutes) for excellent and concise overview of the EBC trek narrated by woman with a lovely Irish accent.

You will hear from me again when I'm in Nepal!