Everest Trek – Gorak Shep – 5/10 – 17,100

Quick note….amazing trail run today.  Rock tape has changed running with a healing ankle injury.  Ok, on with the story….

Well, today I proved that even if you sprain an ankle the week before your trek, and get sick the day it starts, you can still make it to base camp.  Base camp was…pretty cool even though just about everything was gone.  There wasnt a sign either, but there was a bunch of prayer flags and stones people had written messages on.

Today was a cool day, but a long day of hiking.  We got to Gorak Shep for an early lunch after about three hours of hiking up and down and more up.  Then about five hours of hiking to and from base camp.  It was rough, even with the excitement of base camp.  Tomorrow is Kala Patthar…based on today, I’m still nervous.  I want to be able to make it up to the top, but between the altitude and the cough, I’m not sure how it will go.  I’m basically huffing and puffing through my mouth, when I really need both my nose and my mouth with such little oxygen.  Hopefully, somehow I’ll feel as good as I did on the stairs on the way to Lobuche.

It was interesting to watch the sherpas and guides today, really over the entire trip.  Our Sherpa leader always brings up the rear – helping people if they stop, and slowing down with people if they need.  Like today, I decided I needed gloves, so stopped to pull them out.  He came over, pulled them apart for me (my hands were too cold) and held them up so I could slip my hands in.

Each of the guides takes a turn leading the group, and the others divide up within the line.  They answer questions and keep the Yak/Zopkyo trains away from us if they get too interested.  There’s one that always seems to be in front of me – I think he’s afraid I might crash through the rocks or something and he wants to be close in case he has to rescue me.  It seems as though each of them also takes a turn running the site and walks with the yak driver and kitchen team for the day. They go ahead and make sure everything is ready when we get there.  It’s also interesting to see how they train people – for example, today one of the kitchen boys came on the base camp hike, I imagine to experience what the guides do.

Ok…last night in a lodge – nice one too (read, western style toilet…now if only I didnt have to dump water in it to get it to flush).  And, now I have a hot water bottle in my sleeping bag, I’m exhausted, and it’s an early morning….it’s bed time.

Everest Trek – Lobuche – 5/9 – 16,100

I have made it above 16,000 feet.  It’s actually not as crazy as I thought it might be either, considering there’s 50% less oxygen up there than there is in San Francisco.  And, it’s already colder at 5pm than it was last night after the sun went down.

Today’s highlight was the Thokla Pass. It was about an hour straight up a steep hill and some steps.  In reality, it might have been half a mile, but felt like a marathon with the altitude.  We took it slow, and took several breaks, and it really wasnt as bad as I thought it might be after yesterday.  And as we talked about all through lunch (we had lunch at a lodge and looked at the hill the entire time).  I’m still worried about making it up Kala Patthar though.

At the top, we were treated to not only a great view, but also to memorials of fallen climbers decked out in prayer flags.  There was one for Scott Fischer, one of the guides from the ’96 tragedy, one for the Nepalese descended Canadian climber who passed away on her way down from the summit a few years ago.  It was interesting to see the memorials of the people I’ve spent a year reading about.

And, I just watched a guy ask the lodge keeper if he could use the rest of his daughter’s shower water to wash his hair, rather than pay for his own shower.  Dude, it’s $5, pay the poor lodge lady and go have your shower.

Speaking of the lodge, it’s a nice change to be staying in here rather than the tent.  It’s nice not having to crawl in and out of my bed, and be able to see the stuff in my bag without digging.  The lodge lady makes beautiful hats, scarves, and more out of yak wool.  I bought a pretty scarf that will keep me warm in the chilly office.  She also charged my phone and camera battery for $6.  They also have a horse for hire….perhaps I can hire it to take me the rest of the way….haha…

I tried to go for a walk after we had our tea.  A couple of the others from our group said there wasnt much to see…just a horses, yaks, and some stray dogs.  I made it a few feet, and realized that the dogs must have run away with the yaks, because all that was out there were three horses.

The cook made us pizza for dinner tonight.  Delicious at 16,000 feet.  I had another sherpa sauna, hopefully that helps with the dust as well as the congestion.  One of my fellow trekkers brought a pulse-ox meter so we’ve spent the evening trying that, and then decided that we needed to try it out on the sherpas.  Of course, they knew what was up…and they had ridiculously low heart rates for the altitude.

Tomorrow, we head to Gorak Shep for lunch and then to either base camp or Kala Patthar (depending on the weather).  Then, the other the next day, and then down we go.  I can’t believe the days we’ve been hiking all this time for are almost here…

Everest Trek – Dingboche Acclimatization HIke – 5/8 – 14,213

I got to take a shower today!  Well, sort of…they have a solar heater, so they have a small booth/shed with a sprayer and a bucket.  I borrowed shampoo, conditioner, and soap from another trekker (thanks Adrienne!), and enjoyed getting somewhat clean.  The only thing missing was some clean clothes to put on afterwords, but oh well.  Seriously, best $5 I’ve ever spent.

Today’s acclimatization hike was a climb of just over 1000 feet, and…it was rough.  I was slow, and at one point, I just stopped and needed to rest.  Interestingly enough, everyone behind me stopped to rest too.  We got some great photos and had great views of Makalau and Ama Dablam.  The way down was pretty crazy too…I think we lost the trail at some points and were just coming down the side of a mountain.  Great hike, but like I said, pretty tough.  And made me more concerned about Kala Patthar.  Some of these hills have been pretty crazy, and that’s the longest and steepest of them all.

This afternoon, Brian and I walked around Dingboche – pretty small and quiet.  It seemed as though it was just lodges, each one offering a restaurant, a store selling sundries, and various lodge amenities – hot shower, heated room, bathroom in room, etc. which I guess makes sense if these places grew up around the trekkers.  But, I wonder where they all are, plenty of people on the trail today, but no one out walking around.  Nothing like Namche.  We stopped at three places that advertised telephone services, but found out quickly that none of them really do.

Since there wasnt much going on and there werent any souvenir shops, we headed back to the lodge for the afternoon.  Some people from the group are playing dominos with the guides (some are sherpa, some are not).  While theyve been playing, we’ve been talking to them about the mountains, becoming guides (they typically spend three years as a porter, then move to the kitchen, then guide/assistant guide, sirdar, trip leader), what sherpa means (people from the east).  Our sirdar told us that he enjoys talking with us and answering our questions because it helps him learn and practice English.

In other news, the weather has improved and has offered us some great views of the mountains.  However, the lack of daily rain has kicked up the dust.  Despite wearing a buff nearly constantly, I’ve added the “Khumbu cough” to my list of issues.  There is dust everywhere….on the trail, in the tent, and in the air.

Tomorrow, we head to Lobuche, where we’ll be able to stay in a lodge.  We’ve been assured it’s nothing fancy and wont be heated, but will be a nice change from the tent.  I’m excited not to have to unzip my front door and to get dressed standing up.
    

Everest Trek – Dingboche – 5/7 – 14,213 ft.

We got our first glimpses of Everest today!  Well, really our first glimpse of any mountains.  When we woke up, the fog had dissipated and we could see mountains from our campsite.  At breakfast, our guide told us that if we were able to hurry and make it up the hill behind the lodge in time, we’d get a great view of Ama Dablam.  So, we hurried, somehow I made it up the hill, and what a view we had.

A little while later, after charging up some more hills and stone steps…gosh, I felt slow….but, people in my group told me I was doing fine, so hopefully that’s the case.  Anyway, after some more crazy up, the clouds cleared, and we were able to see Everest….and Lhotse.  It was so cool to finally see the mountains I’ve read so much about over the past year.

With all the rushing, we made it to lunch about an hour ahead of schedule.  That gave us some time to see a nearby monastery.  Our guide knew the monk from his monastery days, so he gave us a tour and explained how everything worked.

The rest of the day was tough but manageable.  The sherpa sauna combined with decongestant worked wonderfully, and I woke up feeling much better than I have in days.  But, because we missed a day with the flight delay in Lukla, we had to combine two days of hiking.  Like I said, not bad, and would have been two really easy days if we had split it.

Once we got to the lodge, I basically found my tent and collapsed on the little mattress that goes under my sleeping bag.  At some point, I said, ‘there are a bunch of things I should do (open my wet for some reason sleeping bag, pull out the stuff I want to hand wash when the washing water gets here, etc.) but I’m so tired, all I want to do is lay here.

We’re camped by another lodge….it was interesting to learn that the lodges and villages we’ve stopped at grew up around the trekkers.  They have a main room where we’ve been hanging out – it has lights powered by solar energy and a small furnace that heats the place using Yak dung.  Surprisingly, it doesnt smell, though, it did try to explode earlier.

Tomorrow we have another acclimatization hike.  It’s basically several hundred feet straight up.  Hopefully, at some point I’ll be better at these hills. I’m beginning to get a little worried about the Kala Patthar hike at the end of the trip.  Hopefully I have the strength to make it…or they let me crawl.  I gave in and started taking the Diamox, maybe that will help, along with getting over the sick.

Other than that, I paid $6 to get both garmins charged so we can continue to track our treks.  I have no idea what the phone battery looks like, it had half a few days ago, but things tend to lose battery life in the cold.  I’ll figure it out the next time I use it, I guess.  Maybe there’s a coffee shop with free wifi here too…I’ll explore tomorrow.  I don’t plan on paying $9 an hour to use it at the lodge.

Ok…time to brave the cold and head to bed.

Everest Trek – Phortse – 5/6 – 12,700 ft

Somewhat long hike today, just over seven miles, I think.  Most of it wasnt bad, but the rest rivaled the crazy hill going into Namche.  It was especially tough going up to lunch and then getting into town and to our campsite (after the hard part was supposedly over).  Of course, our site was at the top of town, which will come in handy tomorrow since we need to leave from the top tomorrow.

I still havent managed to shake the congestion…it almost seems to be getting worse with the altitude.  And climbing hills is the worst, since I already cant breathe.  Hopefully slow and steady will get me through tomorrow.  Two of our guides gave me a sherpa sauna after dinner to help clear the congestion.  Basically, it’s a bowl of boiling water with some Vicks that you bend your head over and breathe deeply.  It felt and worked wonderfully.  Hopefully that coupled with some decongestant will help get rid of it.

We still havent really seen the mountains.  We may be able to see Ama Dablam tomorrow if the weather clears.  But, the weather for base camp on Friday looks clear, so that’s exciting.

Ok…off to bed.  Hopefully tomorrow’s hike wont kick my butt as much and maybe I’ll start to feel better.  

Everest Trek – Hike to Everest View Hotel – 5/5 – 12,804 ft

A couple of notes….first, I am really enjoying reliving my trip as I post each of these blog entries.  It was totally the trip of a lifetime, and I hope people are enjoying reading about the adventure.

Second…we got a kitten the day after we got back…typical…haha.  His name is Hubert, he’s grey and white with medium length hair.  He’s adorable, but he’s so skinny and tiny, I’m afraid I’m going to break him.

Ok, back to the travel blog…..

So, the congestion is kicking my butt, and I really need it to go away.  I woke up at some point last night with a really sore throat and needing to pee.  I decided that I should have taken two of my Nepalese Nyquil, since it only put me out for two hours.  I decided to get up and brave the cold and the toilet tent, precariously perched on a small cliff.  After popping actual Nyquil (thanks Heather!), I began my journey.  Almost slid down one flight of stairs, but other than that, made it ok.  The whole experience was a little frightening, I was pretty sure I was going to fall the entire time.  One thing I wont miss – days when getting up to pee at night involves an outdoor bathroom and a parka.  I only had one cup of tea today, so hopefully that will eliminate any midnight adventures tonight.

I woke up at some point later horribly stuffy, to the point that my ear was pounding.  Not fun….cue more Nepalese Nyquil and about a million tissues.  Hopefully the ‘easy’ day today will help it go away.

Today’s adventure was an acclimatization hike up to the Everest View Hotel.  Tough hike up some crazy hills, and some areas that I’m pretty sure weren’t part of a trail.  Again, I was thankful for the poles, especially on the way down in the rain.  The way up was pretty tough, especially with the congestion…it really needs to go.

We passed the Tyngboche airport, pretty much closed now, but there was a chopper loading gear that we guess came down from basecamp when the expeditions got cancelled.  On the way back, it was too foggy to see it, but we’re guessing the weather was too bad for it to really go anywhere.

The view from the hotel was supposed to be amazing….views of Everest and the rest of the range.  We waited about an hour, maybe a little less for the fog to clear, but it didnt happen.  At that point, we realized that we could make it through the entire trip and never see Everest.  Hopefully bad weather now will mean for good weather later.  We enjoyed $12 cokes and candy bars, then headed back down to Namche.

We were welcomed back with lunch and warm tang (I will miss that stuff), then our guide took us to his home.  He has two houses, one here in Namche and one in Kathmandu.  His house here is steps from the hotel and is a traditional Sherpa home.  It has three rooms – a kitchen, a party room, and a prayer room.  The party room is used to entertain guests and host Sherpa parties, which involve drinking and dancing.  We all left wanting to attend a Sherpa party.  The party room is also used for sleeping if guests stay over.  They have mats they pull out for people to sleep on.

The prayer room was gorgeous – he hand painted everything in the room, and uses the room for prayer and painting.  He told us about the statues in the room, the prayer books, and how they’re used.  He also showed us the National Geographic medal his father was awarded for his work on Everest.  He also showed us his paintings, which were gorgeous, and post cards (we all plan on buying those).  Before we left, he answered all of our questions about his religion, Everest, the Dali Lama, and I cant remember what else.

Overall, a great day.  Tomorrow, we depart for Phortse (another village), gain some elevation, and hopefully leave the congestion behind.

Everest Trek – Namche Bazaar – 5/4 – 11,200 feet

Wow….what a day.  The hike was only just over three miles…maybe three and a half, but the total elevation gain was 2000 feet.  There was some scary downhill – slippery slopes and such (very thankful for the poles), but the end was a mile and a half straight uphill.  We took it slow, but it still kicked my butt….whether it was the altitude or the sick, I’m not sure.

The hike ended at Namche Bazaar, the “city” of the Khumbu region.  It’s a really cool town cut into the side of a mountain, with stairs everywhere.  Once we got here, I thought we were done with the climbing, but then had to climb up to the lodge where we’re camping, snow lodge, I believe.  We’re camping on the terraces behind the lodge (because nothing in Namche is flat).  Brian and I are on the upper terrace, maybe ten feet up, with no railing and some steps that I’m sure will be crazy in the dark.  Here’s to hoping I don’t fall if I make a bathroom run in the middle of the night.

We walked around the village for a little while before dinner – found a couple of places to get a yak bell on our way back through and a coffee shop with free wifi.  I had my first coke in I dont know how long, usually it has way too much sugar, but I must have needed that today.  I also found a pharmacy and asked the woman working there what I should take for a cold during the day and night, and got a decent supply of medicine for $8.  Hopefully Nepalese cold medicine works well (and I can guess the dosage since there arent any directions).

So far the most interesting thing I’ve seen is cell phone usage.  We’re in a very remote area – no roads, no cars, and everything here was trekked in from somewhere else.  But, cellphones are everywhere, and everyone (even the kids) seems to have one.

The things I miss the most – pizza and showers…and probably clean clothes, but I dont think I’ve had to wear anything twice yet and we might be able to do laundry tomorrow.  The food has been amazing, but I can’t tell you how badly I wanted pizza when we got here today.  And of course there’s a pizza restaurant down the street, but we cant eat it because we’ll get sick from food we arent used to.  The lodge has a solar shower, but the guide warned us not to use it if we werent feeling well because of the heat loss between being done and getting dressed.  The temp also varies – one of our group members got a shock of cold water and had to have someone come fix it.  However, it may become too hard to resist before we leave.

Other than that, its been great getting to know our group.  After only a few days, it’s like we’ve been friends forever.

Everest Trek – Lukla, Phakding, Monjo – 5/3 – 9500 feet

Traveling while sick is anything but fun.  Travel that includes a 4am wake-up call and a 27 minute prop  plane ride over the mountains while sick is definitely not fun.

Flying into Lukla is an adventure, it’s basically an uphill runway into the side of a mountain, and conditions have to be perfect or the plane doesnt fly.  We were supposed to leave at 6am, but faced delay after delay due to rain and weather.  After 6.5 hours of sleeping on the airport floor, (I can only imagine what I was breathing off of that floor – luckily or unluckily, I was too sick to care), we finally took off for Lukla.  We had about a 30 minute window to get on the plane, take off, and land, due to incoming weather.  I remember being woken up and having to quickly run out to a bus to get on a plane….complete whirlwind…

The flight was beautiful?  Terrifying?  Probably all of the above.  Beautiful views of the mountains, and then the shortest runway ever….you can see the end of the runway when you land, and the whole thing slants upward.  Google it – it’s crazy.  Typically, I’d be terrified, but once again – too sick to care.

Because we got in so late, and not all of our bags made the flight (of course mine was one of them), we spent the night at a lodge in Lukla.  There werent any lights, but there was a bed, a pillow, and a bathroom in the room.  Perfect place to curl up and sleep for fourteen hours…or at least try to.  I feel like I spent more time waking up and rolling over than I did sleeping, but I dont have a clock, so I’m not really sure.  The two rounds of Nyquil given to me by a fellow traveler (thanks Heather!) were definitely a big help.  After visiting the health center behind the sketchy blue curtain at the Kathmandu airport in search of a cold pill, I was wishing I had gone on an adventure before we left.  Although, who says the health center at the domestic terminal in the Kathmandu airport isnt an adventure…..

This morning, we were woken up with hot tea and began packing our bags.  Breakfast was a mix of porridge, hardboiled eggs, and a tortilla looking thing.  Most of which I dont typically eat for breakfast, but did enjoy.

Then, the trek began.  And, other than being sick and sliding down a flight of stairs, it was amazing.  The beautiful architecture of prayer wheels and stupas and prayer flags pop up around every turn.  The local children couldnt wait to give us high fives and call out Namaste as we passed.  Or, they would just follow us down the path until our guide shooed them home.  We were treated to beautiful views of the mountains and steel rope bridges over an amazing glacier river.

I started to feel a little better, thanks to some dayquil from another fellow trekker (thanks Larry!).  But, I was still ready for a rest when we got to Monjo.  We’re camping outside of a lodge, but we’re allowed to sit inside and use the lighting until we head to the tents.  Tomorrow we have a short hike to Namche, but a huge gain in elevation.  It will be interesting to see how I fare, both with the altitude and the sick.

Kathmandu Airport – 5/2

The start of my trek blog, as translated from my notebook….

I knew from the minute I woke up yesterday that I was catching something.  Of course, I didnt think to bring cold meds and didnt feel like having an adventure to go find some.

The day started out just fine – breakfast, met the rest of the REI group, and went on a tour.  The tour included the rest of the World Heritage sites in Kathmandu, so we were able to see all seven over four days.

Our first stop with the group was a giant Buddhist temple, a stupa.  It was gorgeous – such great architecture and brilliant prayer flag colors.  We also stopped at another art school for a tour.  Since we’d already bought a painting, we just used the bathroom ‘happy place’, as our guide called it, and went outside to people watch.  So many people to see, both locals in traditional dress and tourists just looking around.

The second stop was Patan Durbar square, the final durbar square in the heritage sites.  It was interesting to see that this site was more of a modern tourist attraction, with vendors selling plastic blow-up figures on sticks and cotton candy.  We walked the square for a bit, and then headed to lunch at another rooftop restaurant.  I still wasnt feeling well, but I was hungry.  I opted to try the sweet and sour chicken and some rice.  Then, it poured….a lot.  Luckily, we were under some cover….some.  A plastic tarp kind of thing, that stayed attached to the deck…sort of.  Haha…at least Brian and I were prepared for rain.

Our final stop was the monkey temple, another Buddhist Stupa.  But, this one had monkeys everywhere.  They were fun, but pretty destructive – we watched them rip down a flag and try to tear off part of the stupa.  Apparently, if the locals leave their windows open at night, the monkeys come in and destroy the house…charming…

On the way back to the hotel, our guide answered questions about his life, family, etc.  He had an arranged marriage (most people in Nepal still do), and told us about his wedding, a multi-day celebration where they had to walk several hours to his fiancee’s town.  He told us about his daughter, who he wanted to give a non-common name, so he named her Rachel – something he’d found on the internet.

By the time we got back to the hotel, I really felt awful.  Horrible timing.  I went back and slept for a bit before our pre-meeting with our guide.  I dont remember much from it, other than feeling awful and hoping it wrapped up soon.  I tried to get a milkshake after, thinking it might help my throat, but it was luke-warm milk and ice cream, and I definitely didnt trust it.  So, I pulled the ice cream out and ate that. Dinner took forever, so I ended up having it delivered to my room so I could pack and get to sleep faster.  I skipped my final kind of clean shower since I was freezing (yeah running a fever the day before I leave…) and the water wasnt all that warm.

Home Again….

So, there was a chicken in someone’s hotel room….left the window and the screen open (if there was a screen) and in walked a chicken. Two maids and the window washer were trying to corral the chicken and get it to go back out the window it came in. Oh Kathmandu….

The Kathmandu Airport is the most interesting international airport I’ve been to. There’s one snack shop once you pass security with really cheap water and really expensive snacks.  There are only five gates, so everyone is sitting in a large room (think DMV), waiting for the gate to be announced as flight times get closer.  Flights are headed pretty much everywhere in Asia – China, Bangladesh, India…it’s a figurative and literal melting pot of culture in the 90+ degree heat. I’m thinking that getting on the plane and having some AC is going to feel really good.

The whole airport process has been as much of an adventure as when we arrived and when we flew to Lukla. The REI bus dropped us off with the masses on the curb and we had two airport people (I think) help with the bags (the REI people seemed to know them). They got us into the line and then left us with the carts, so I got to steer a cart full of bags through the masses in line (luckily, I didn’t take anyone out in the process).

Once you’re inside, all the bags, including carry-ons go through a scanner and everyone gets patted down by some poor soul not wearing gloves. Then you get to check in and head to customs which is a slow process with long lines. But, luckily, no issues.

Then comes security…where you get to walk through old metal detectors and everyone receives another pat down, whether they set the machine off or not. And the lines are broken out male and female. Somehow, I got through with half a bottle of water, but got stopped because they thought I had a lighter. Didn’t believe me when I said no, but did after they went through the pocket of my bag and found nothing – sorry Nepalese TSA, I’m just not that exciting.

Our final twelve hours in Korea has been pretty uneventful – the lady at the information booth let me use the phone there to call the hotel shuttle last night, we got to sleep in, and we had dunkin donuts for breakfast. I feel like we’ve been at the airport forever, hotel checkout was at noon and our flight isn’t until 5:30.  Luckily, it’s a pretty nice airport…decent food, free foot massagers, and the carts that transport people from gate to gate play music rather than honk incessantly.

And, after an incessantly bumpy flight, we made it back. I can definitely say I was glad when we landed and glad we were on a 777….it would have been a nightmare on a smaller plane, but still, dry heaving two hours into a ten hour flight isn’t fun.

US customs wasn’t as crazy to get through as its been in the past, and soon we were home for nap time.  It was great to take a shower in clean water…and brush my teeth with tap water because I finally could….

We finally had the Barney’s we’ve been dreaming about for three weeks for dinner. Yay gourmet burgers and chicken. So full…and so sleepy. The rest can wait until tomorrow.