Friday, May 22, 2009

Going home this evening

I can't believe our departure date has actually arrived.  This has been one of the best vacations ever, despite the physical discomforts experienced on the trek.  Actually, it's those discomforts that will help to define the experience - getting through to the end despite them.  Everything else will seem easy by comparison.
I definitely have mixed feelings about leaving for home.  On the one hand, I've very much enjoyed the experience of trekking, making new friends, learning about Nepali culture - especially the Sherpa (Sherwa) people - new sights, sounds, and smells (some more pleasant than others).  On the other hand, I do have a real world to return to and obligations awaiting my return.  It was so simple to not think about deadlines or other pressing matters while on the trail.  I liked that very much.  I've not felt so relaxed in decades - no tension headaches, no anxiety attacks.  All I had to worry about was whether the rock I next stepped on was stable or not, and whether I could make it up or down a particular hill on the path.
My focus was definitely on the moment and not the future all during the trek.  I'll have to do a mental checklist for what I need to do when I return - probably on the long flight between Hong Kong and New York.  I have a feeling that I will be daydreaming of the high Himalayas, hearing yak bells and snatches of Sherpa folk songs in my head.  I will really miss Nepal, but in a way different than any of the other countries I've visited.  Nepal will always means something special to me, primarily in the sense of what can be done under extenuating circumstances, and that I am physically and mentally capable of reaching a difficult goal.
I know that there are thousands of tourists that do this trek each year.  I suspect that each of us have an experience that reaches deep into one's soul.  There's just something very special about the biggest mountains in the world.  I have no desire to climb them, but it was a real privilege to see them with my own eyes. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Decompressing in Kathmandu

Wow - what a difference two warm showers make!  Two weeks of trail grime are down the drain, one good night of sleep without rocks under the mattress, and I feel like a different person.
We have a mirror in the bathroom that gave me a shock when I stripped down to shower.  I think I may have lost a bit of weight and gained a lot of muscle in my legs.  No surprise, I suppose.  I have no idea how many actual miles we hiked, but walking for 6 - 8 hours a day, with the elevational changes we've expericence, for almost two weeks has to have a positive effect on one's physical conditioning.
My cough is slowly getting better as my body rids itself of the Khumbu crud.  It probably helps to be breathing more humid air, although the quality of it here in KTM isn't all that great.  My feet are another matter altogether.  I think I busted a toe on the hill down from Namche Bazar.  It's so swollen that I can't really feel what's going on, but that's probably a good thing right now.  I'm definitely not putting boots or trekking shoes on again for the rest of this trip.  I'm wearing Tevas until I get home.
Last night we gathered for dinner at the New Orleans Cafe in Thamel.  It has WiFi and everyone was on their iPhones or iPods, checking email or catching up on Twitter.  It's going to be hard to say goodbye to everyone tomorrow.  I've already cried a river on this trip from the emotional ups and downs - inevitable from the physical challenges we've all faced - and I don't really want to turn the faucet on again, but I don't see how I will avoid it.
It's strange how I've put my "real world" behind me during this trip.  This morning I woke up thinking about the deadlines that await my return.  I wanted to run away to Gorak Shep and forget about them all over again.  It's been so refreshing to have to think only about the next step, where to place my foot on a rock, what view is around the next bend,  and where all this would lead me on the journey.  No stressors other than the physical challenges of high elevation  and walking from one village to another - what a vacation!

Back in Kathmandu

The past few days have gone by in a blur.  We've had some long days of trekking to make up for the lost day in Dingboche when we were snowed in an extra day.  Coming back down to Lukla was like saying goodbye to new friends.  As we walked down, the views of Everest and Nuptse diminished in size, but not in memory.
Each step was for savoring the moment and enjoying the sights and sounds of Nepal.  I don't know if I will ever forget the smell of yak dung dust on the trail, or the smell of a yak dung furnace.  The welcomed warmth of those stoves at high elevation more than made up for the odors.
I think I am physically stronger from the trek, but I feel emotionally drained from saying goodbye to our Sherpa staff.  We were so privileged to have such a superior staff to take care of us.  I'll miss the morning wake-up tea with Chirri outside the tent calling, "tea?  coffee?" 
"Yes, please - two teas, two sugars.  Thank you."
"You're welcome!"
Then, about 20 minutes later, two bowls of hot water appeared outside the tent.  "Wash up!"  Followed by breakfast - porridge and then an egg and some bread.  In between those times was for packing and sorting out gear for the day.
I'll miss the routine of trekking.  The hours of hiking before lunch, the long lunch break to rest, the hours of walking until our evening stop.  Tea time, dinner, playing "Phase 10" - a fun card game for up to 10 people.  The Sherpas took to the game pretty quickly.
Flying in and out of Lukla is another sort of adventure.  Look it up on YouTube - there's probably some exciting footage of landing on this short, uphill airstrip.  The routine in Lukla is down to the second with a plane landing, turning on dime, unloading passengers and luggage, and then reloading for the exciting downhill takeoff. 
The pilot revs up the engine prior to take-off and then you have just seconds before the runway disappears under the wheels and you're off over the chasm.  It's pretty exciting.
I cried nearly the entire flight from Lukla to Kathmandu.  It was so hard to say goodbye to the mountains.  I loved being out in the remote areas with no chaos of the city.  I enjoyed the sound of yak bells and the Sherpas singing or whistling as they walked.
I've never seen such a hardworking group of people in my life.  The Sherpa are so strong.  Some of the porters carry loads that must be 150 kg or more.  Whereas it took us more than a week to trek to Gorak Shep, the Sherpas walk from Lukla to Everest Base camp in two days time. 
I have some good photos to share once I'm home and have time to process my pictures.  I learned a lot about photography on this trip as well, and I've made some new friends.  We've had a good group of people for this workshop/trek and I will miss them.
However, when my hotel room is finally ready here in KTM, I'm looking forward to a long, hot shower.  We stayed in Lukla last night at the Paradise Hotel.  The place had its charms, but hot water and a toilet seat that stayed in one place were not among them.
It was really a shock to fly into KTM and see the city again.  Cars, motorcycles, buses, people - it's like a sensory overload.  After I'm clean and rested, I'll face the crowds.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Back in Dingboche

Today we trekked from Gorak Shep to Dingboche - a hike that took us two days going up.  We lost about three thousand feet of elevation.  The air is thicker and warmer at 14+K.  I'm not complaining.
We had some knee buster hills to navigate today, but you know what?  I was in the first group to finish!  In fact, I made it to camp first - woohooooo!  Steve Beatty came in second and he said I whupped some butt today - that was nice of him.
Tndi is our lead Sherpa on the trail and he says to "walk slowly," but his idea of slowly is a fast pace.  It was foggy and snowy up on the ridge we walked most of the last 1/3 of the way, so I didn't want to lose sight of that orange pack and I kept up with him.  I'm still not over my cold, but I feel much stronger today - especially after that climb up to 18,220 feet yesterday. 
There wasn't a lot of scenery to photograph today after lunchtime since we were fogged in the rest of the way to Dingboche.  The mist has its own charms, but I had put my camera away already.  Several others probably got some fantastic pics, though.
We're heading down, down, down.  We fly out of Lukla on the 20th at 6:30 am.  Tomorrow we stop somewhere this side of Namche Bazaar.  I don't remember the other stops, but our last night will be in Lukla.
I can't believe we're on the homeward stretch of the trip.  I'm still processing all the experiences we've had and the accomplishments for me personally.  I honestly didn't know I could do this.  I thought I could, but I wasn't sure.  If anything in my life is to be a confidence booster, this trek should sure fill the bill. 
My previous confidence boosters also involved mountains, but in South Africa.  It's hard to describe the sense of achievement when one does something so physically demanding that you would never have dreamed of attempting it on your own.  In South Africa I had my good friends the Laidlers to guide the way.  Here, it's been the organization of Jon Miller and Chris Marquardt and our excellent staff of Sherpas from Mountain tribes to help me find my way.  But, each step was my own and I feel damn good about that.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Climbed Kala Patthar today!

What a challenge!  Kala Patthar is at 5550 m (18,220 ft), and this old lady was able to make it to the top!  Can you believe it?  I may be slow, but determination goes a long, long way to making things happen. 
Monika, Steve, Thilo, Chris, me, and Kyle made it up, in that order.  The rest of our group gave it a good try, but the altitude is always a wild card and sometimes it just doesn't work out the way one hopes.
The weather was beautiful in the morning - blue skies and stunning views of Everest, Nupste, Changtse, and the other big peaks in this region.  We had good views of the Khumbu ice fall and Everest Base camp and all down the glacier.  We also saw several avalanches during our hike up the mountain.
The going got to be pretty rough during the top third.  We were climbing through a snow field and then the last 100 feet or so we had to deal with ice on rock.  I said a lot of "Oh Shit!" during that phase of the climb.  Coming down was worse, though
One of our sherpa staff brought hot orange juice to the top for us to have when we summitted.  I can't say enough good things about our sherpa staff and Mountain Tribes, in general.  They take such good care of us.  My only complaint is the thin foam mattresses we use under our sleeping bags.  You feel every rock.
Our group that made it up to Everest Base camp returned not too long after we came down from Kala Patthar.  They had their own adventures up there, but they got real pizza from the Mountain Tribes cook, Dawa.  Lucky dogs!
It's so hard to eat at this altitude.  Nothing is appetizing.  This morning our cook staff gave us all snickers bars to eat on the trail.  That went over very well indeed.
Last night we had yak bells to accompany our sleep, or lack thereof.  I actually slept last night.  It's the first night I can remember actually sleeping instead of fitfully dozing.  Everything is so hard to do at high altitude, as I mentioned previously.  I'm actually feeling pretty good today. 
Tomorrow we head down to fatter air.   We'll be trekking to Dingboche.  We have four days to make it back to Lukla, so we will be walking long hours - mostly downhill, of course.  Hard on the knees, but we're all seasoned by now.  It will be good to get back to Kathmandu and a hot shower.  All of us are sporting greasy hairdos that are better left unseen at this time.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

We're in Gorak Shep

(elevation 16,995 ft!)  We left Dingboche for Luboche yesterday and had a pretty challenging day in terms of terrain and elevation change.  I still have the Khumbu crud and was feeling pretty bad.  I hit the wall.  I had to give up my pack to one of the sherpas and, even then, came in well behind the rest of the group.  I was nearly incapacitated.
I feel much better today, but still not up to par.  I had to again give up my pack, which made it much easier for me to do the trek from Luboche to Gorak Shep.  We had beautiful clear skies and the most amazing scenery today.  We followed the Khumbu glacier for the last two hours today, hiking on the lateral morain - pretty rough terrain, but the scenery was amazing.
This was why we came - to see the big peaks, including Nuptse and Changtse (in Tibet), plus the others along the valley (Luboche, and several I don't know the names of without looking at the map).  We've had good views of Lhotse and Everest along the way.  If the weather cooperates tomorrow, we'll have a spectacular view of Everest from the peak of Khala Patar - about a 1000 feet higher in elevation than Gorak Shep.
We saw Everest Base camp from the trail today.  It sits on the western edge of the Khumbu glacier.  We had good views of the Khumbu ice fall and met some climbers along the way, including a Russian team who was at the tea house in Gorak Shep where we are camping.
Only four of our group went up to EBC - another 4 - 5 hr hike on the morain.  There was a chance that we'd miss climbing Khala Patar by going up to EBC, so most of us stayed behind.  I hope the weather cooperates.
Day after tomorrow we head to lower elevation.  I'm sure our bodies will appreciate fatter air.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Stuck in the snow in Dingboche

We're stuck in Dingboche for a third night (one more than planned) due to a huge snow storm that hit the area last night.  It's still snowing and there's quite a huge amount on the ground right now - too dangerous to trek to Luboche today.  So we have a bonus rest day, which is good since I'm fighting a terrible head cold right now.
The temps are hovering around 0 deg celsius at night and not much higher during the day.  Time to break out the down pants and coats and waterproof everything else.  The scenery is muted shades of white for now, which has it's own mysteries.
Tent camping in the snow is rather fun, though.  We are staying at a tea house, which gives us access to a room that has a yak dung fired stove.  The photography workshop is ongoing, and I'm learning a lot about taking good digital photos. 
Yesterday we had an acclimatization hike up the mountain to two stupas.  We gained about 300 m of elevation, which put us higher than any spot in the continental USA.  At this altitude and everything for the next week or so, we have to take it slow.  Even with acclimatization, you feel the altitude in every motion.  Simple things like moving your duffle bag in the tent might make you breathe hard.
Diarrhea has gone through the group like wildfire.  I think just about everyone is now on Cipro.  Ditto for Diamox - the wonder drug for high altitude.
I feel really good about the accomplishments of reaching each destination.  One step at a time, we're getting closer and closer to Everest Base Camp and to climbing Khala Patar.  I've learned how to pace myself and to conserve energy on the climbs.  I feel good despite the head cold.  I'm ready for the challenge.
One note about being in this remote location.  The ambient sounds are so very different than what I'm used to.  Instead of cars and planes and the usual noise pollution, one hears the sound of yak bells, chickens, roosters, crows, people rousing for their morning routines and the like.  We've established our own routine with wake-up tea, packing, wash-up, breakfast, and getting on the trail.  It's strange to have a day with nothing to do except watch the snow fall and to try to stay warm.
We're about three days out from Everest Base Camp.  I probably won't have internet access again until then.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Tengboche Monastery and Mount Everest as a companion

We made it to Tengboche Monastery yesterday afternoon.  The trek was a bit easier than that intensive climb to Namche Bazaar two days before.  The rest day did us all some good.
We got our first look at Everest from Namche Bazaar and it's been a constant companion ever since.  You turn a corner and there it is in all it's glory.  Stunning doesn't even begin to describe the scenery here.
I did a lot of botanizing on the trek yesterday.  We are heading to Dengboche today, which will put us out of the plant zone.  We walked through pine forest, then juniper and rhododendron forest.  The monastery is beautiful and we were greeted with their morning song today.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Namaste from Namche Bazaar

The trek from Lukla to Phakding was a warm-up of what the trail is like.  Stunning scenery and amazing people.  Yesterday's trek from Phadking to Namche Bazaar was very challenging, brutal even, some might say.  We had a 3500 ft elevational change.
Everyone did ok, but we're all feeling it today.  Steve became very ill with trail trots,which totally wiped him out for the last 1500 feet.  Two sherpas helped get him through this challenged.  By the time it was all said and done, he had hypothermia to boot.  We stopped at a tea house to warm him up and let him rest before tackling the last 300 feet.  He's doing much, much better today.
We have two nights here for acclimatization.  The scenery is absolutely stunning.  No other words can describe it.  I don't know when I'll have a chance to do my next update, but I'll try again when I have a chance.  So far, so good, with some minor mishaps.
One note - getting used to squat toilets that are basically open-pit toilets with hay, takes a bit of getting used to.  So does dodging the piles of yak dung along the trail.  You not only have to watch your step for the rocks, but also for the dung.  What fun!  Next stop - Tenboche monastery.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Leaving Kathmandu tomorrow morning

- specifically, we leave the hotel at 6:30 am to catch a flight to Lukla.  The trek begins tomorrow. 
Today was spent in Kathmandu, touring the "monkey temple" - a Buddhist temple, and then on to a Hindu temple where we saw half a dozen cremations taking place.  The temps are hot and steamy.  It will be good to reach some altitude and drier air.

Monday, May 04, 2009

In Kathmandu

Greetings from Nepal. I'm sitting in the New Orleans cafe in Thamel. I slept ok last night and we're exploring the tourist district this morning.

Now that I've met all the other participants, I'm even more excited about this trek/workshop. It's a great group of people, and I really like that we're from the states, Canada, and Germany.

Thamel is a crazy place to walk through. You're constantly accosted by "tour guides" and hawkers,shop owners, taxi and rickshaw drivers - everyone wants to separate tourists from their money.

We'll be doing a tour later today. I hope my energy lasts.

Sent from my iPod

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Arrived in Hong Kong

The flight on Cathay Pacific was long, but not uncomfortable. Five hour layover ahead.

Sent from my iPod

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Ready to fly to Hong kong

I'm atJFK waiting for the flight to Hong Kong. We've met two of the three other members of our group on this flight. I think we're in for a great trek to Everest Base Camp. Will update via email when I have Internet access to email.
Sent from my iPod

Friday, May 01, 2009

Made it to New York

The first stage of travel is done. We'll catch a flight to Hong Kong
tomorrow morning. Once there, we'll meet more of our group (there
will be five of the group on the first flight) and travel together to
Kathmandu. Wish is luck!

Sent from my iPod