Thinking of Nepal

One year ago today, I was on a plane to Korea – final destination, Kathmandu, Nepal and the trek of a life-time.  Today, I woke up to text messages and emails about a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hitting the region.  To put it in perspective, the Loma Prieta, the ’89 earthquake that hit San Francisco, was a 6.9.  The Napa quake that caused quite a bit of damage late last year was a 6.0.  A 7.8 in California would do a lot of damage….in Nepal, it’s been catastrophic.
I took the below photo on our first day out and about.  We’d just finished touring our first Durbar Square (basically the word for palace in Nepal) and were enjoying lunch at a rooftop restaurant.  I took the photo because I liked watching the people in the street below….and there was just something about the multi-colored building across the way.

I found this picture of the same area online this morning.  I recognized the colored building right away.  However, most everything else, including the building I was standing on it seems, is gone.

photo credit:

It’s unsettling to know that many, if not all, of the historical places I visited around Kathmandu are gone, if not forever changed.  From the first day exploring Kathmandu on a seven mile walk to the tour we took with Ron Jon (totally not how it’s supposed to be spelled, but that’s how I remember it ;)), all of those would be completely different if we took them this year….if that would even be possible now.

And that was before the trek even started.  I read an article somewhere that said the small villages were 80% damaged.  I tried to look for further information, but was unable to find any.  Not really surprising….communication and internet and phone were difficult enough to come by during normal times, I can’t imagine now.  Are the lodges we stayed in still standing….in any sort of shape that’s reparable?  Are the people who showed us nothing but kindness safe?  I can’t help but think of the woman who ran the lodge at Lobuche and knitted wool hats to sell as souvenirs.  She had a horse for rent and let me charge all of my electronic gadgets for the hourly fee, even though they ran over the hour.  Or Namche….what of the bartender who served celebratory beers on the way down, who had moved from Queens, NY, after her Sherpa husband.  And the souvenir shop owners who sold us most of our gifts….and told us we could store it in our guide’s house while we were trekking….haha.  I can only hope that they’re all safe and able to repair their homes and businesses.

And that’s not saying anything of the guides, porters, and kitchen boys who were with us every step of the way.  From the ‘sherpa saunas’ to clear my congestion to a hand up to the top of Kala Patthar to all twenty-some of them rushing out to say goodbye as we made one last trek to the Lukla airport, nothing was overlooked and they always made sure we had exactly what we needed.  I can only hope, pray, and send positive thoughts that they and their families are safe.

We’ve reached out via email, but haven’t heard back yet.  Of course, internet will be very difficult to come by, and they’re trekking with a group, so I’m sure have lots to sort out with their current group.  One of my fellow trekkers checked the site, and we think the schedule puts them somewhere near Gorak Shep, the highest point of the trek.  Hopefully it was Kala Patthar day and they would have been heading back down at the time of the quake.

All the places I’ve traveled have been special to me.  Nepal, first because of the people and second because of the history.  Never have I been somewhere that just about everyone treated you like one of their own.  I hope that they are able to rebuild and that people continue to travel there, because it truly was a life-changing experience.



Everest Trek – The End of the Road

Annnnd, once again, it’s taken me forever to get back and update this….must. get. back. into. blogging. haha….

I guess I’ve just been busy…running up Mt. Diablo, traveling back to Buffalo for mom’s birthday, working on a bunch of stuff for my new job, signing up for a 50k run in august.  And, our lead Sherpa from our Nepal trip came to San Francisco to bring his son to school.  We were able to meet him for dinner, so we took him to Sam’s Chowder House – gave him his first experience with chowder, halibut, and key lime pie.  So much fun and so great to see him.

Anyway….on to the end of the trek….

And, we’re back in Kathmandu…it seems like, just like that – it’s over.

After dinner last night was pretty much a goodbye party.  We had lodge food for dinner, and it made us really, really thankful for our cooks on the trek.  Once we were done eating, the entire team came in to say goodbye and get their tips.  We got to see the kitchen boy who received the coat Brian donated.  He was so happy and proud of his new jacket – he had never had one before.  One of the guides took my shoes, I’m glad someone was able to use them, even though they’re small.  As we gave each of the groups their tips (kitchen boys, guides, porters, etc.), they came around and shook hands and gave hugs – some really emotional moments.

We finished the night with a few rounds of sherpa alcohol our guide bought for us, Everest beer, and a championship round of dominos.  A great ending to a great trip, and I still can’t believe it’s over.

As we left this morning, all of the porters and kitchen boys ran out of the kitchen tent to wish us one final goodbye.  As we walked further up the road to the airport, the guides met us to wish us goodbye as well.  A few more powerful moments as we followed our head guide to the airport.  After weighing all of our luggage and getting tickets, we bid farewell to him and our sidar.  He wished us well and told us he’d see us in San Francisco.

The flight out of Lukla wasn’t nearly as terrifying as the flight in.  Granted, we had to wait for them to clean up a bunch of popcorn kernels (the flight before us was carrying people and supplies)…quite funny actually.  Then, we were off – down the downhill runway, kind of like a roller coaster.  Our final guide got us to our van at the Kathmandu airport, and then we dropped him off at home on the way to the hotel, officially saying goodbye to the final person from the trek.

Now that I’ve been back for awhile, and had more time to reflect, I’ve realized how awesome all of this really was.  It seemed like each day kicked my butt more than the one before, and I truly didn’t think I could do it again, climb one more hill or one more flight of stone steps.  But, then I did…and I made it through the next day, and the one after that too.

The cough eventually went away, I got over the sick, and the ankle has pretty much healed.  But, the memories will last a life time, and the photos longer than that.  I’ll never forget Mr. Bean turning around at the top of Kalapatthar and telling me that I had two more steps to go.  My smiling photo at the top will forever remind me that I can do things I thought I couldn’t.  

Everest Trek – Lukla – 5/15

So, I woke up this morning with a very angry ankle.  As I unwrapped it, Brian was like, please dont be black and blue, please dont be black and blue.  I, of course thought it was too early for it to be black and blue.  So, of course, it was black and blue…..awesome.  And, of course, I just wrapped it back up and shoved it in my boot.  It only had to make it three hours.

Our last day of hiking was a lot of fun.  It was relatively flat, I’m finally feeling close to normal (of course), and  my foot held up ok.  We also enjoyed seeing everyone come through from Lukla at the start of their trek.  Some looking prepared, some with guides, some without.  One without any warm clothes or a sleeping bag…how are you going to trek without a sleeping bag?  One rather large gentleman who walked by and said, ‘I thought I’d give this a go’…..I dont think he had any gear.  And my favorite, a girl in full make-up, short shorts, and a strappy tank top….. good luck with that as you go up the mountain….

As we walked, I tried to take in as much as possible from all of the little towns we passed.  I felt like I missed so much the first time we came through.  The school children, the porters hauling up the latest load (food, candy, beer, etc.), and the people in the village going about their business.  It made me wonder how long the Himalayas will stay as I remember.  Will these somewhat hidden villages stay hidden except to those to trek to them?  Or will the modernization continue?  Cell phones are already everywhere, even at the highest elevations.  And, apparently for the right price, you can helicopter to Gorak Shep (the highest place we slept) and take photos.  How long before the nearest road isnt more than two days walk and there really is a gondola to the top of Everest.

Once we got back to Lukla, we took a bunch of photos – group shots, us with our guide, etc.  Then we had the final meal cooked by our kitchen staff – cinnamon rolls, french fries, and yak cheese…haha…I will miss these healthy lunches.  It’s great to be back to civilization…and have the opportunity for a (not) warm shower, but I really cant believe we’re already back…and we head back to Kathmandu tomorrow.   I’m sad it’s over, but so glad I had the adventure.    

Everest Trek – Phakding – 5/14 – 8,487 ft.

Remember the Real World?  In 1998 (I think), back when I used to watch the show, the Seattle season cast traveled to Nepal.  Today, our guide had on an MTV/Real World/Nepal shirt on.  Turns out he was part of the group from Nepal supporting the show while they were there.  He told us a little bit about what they did, how they took a helicopter up to the Everest View Hotel (cheating….haha), and how it was a quick trip, so he didnt really get to know them, but that there were cameras everywhere.

Today’s hike from Namche was relatively easy, but I was ready for it to be done.  It’s funny, when we’re hiking, I cant wait to stop, because I’m kind of over the whole hiking thing.  But, then we get to where we’re going and it’s just magical.  I feel like there’s so much to learn and see and do.  Today during the afternoon tea, we talked with our guide about Nepal and the power outages.  He let us know that they’re upgrading the power in Namche, so it will be out from May 15th until the end of September when trekking season starts up again.  Overall, it sounds like a lot of the power situation is political and is in the hands of the powerful and wealthy few rather than the many.

Phakding is a small town, but somewhat larger than a couple of other ones we’ve been to.  It’s right on the river, so after lunch, we all went down to hang out in the sun at the glacier river.  Or, rather, I tried to…first thing I did was find a rock and roll my ankle over it.  Went down pretty hard since it’s so weak from my trail adventure before we left.  Good times….sick and broken.  At least we only have one day left, and hopefully it’s an easy day.

I think last night was the last time we got hot water bottles.  It was fabulous in the cold, but I’m ok letting them go – its been warmer at night, and last night, I came back to my sleeping back to find that the bottle had leaked.  Luckily, it was a small river and my towel could take care of it.

Tonight was the last dinner our cook made – tomorrow we have dinner at the lodge we’re staying at.  It was nice: some KFC (khumbu fried chicken), stir fry noodles, veggies, and chicken momos…lots of old favorites.  To top it off, we finished with a last day cake, complete with frosting….yummy.

Now we’re hanging out in a room at the lodge, playing our nightly dominos and having good conversation.  I’ll miss this after tomorrow….that and my daily 3pm tea.  Perhaps thats something I can institute at the office….haha.    

Everest Trek – Namche – 5/13 – 11,200 ft.

So, I’m having a beer…at this point, the hard part is over, or I hope the hard part is over….haha.

Today, we hiked back into Namche.  A somewhat difficult hike since I still cant breathe, but overall bearable.  And, we got to hike down into Namche, which was a nice change.  We got here and got cleaned up, and then went to grab some souvenirs (mainly yak bells).  Then we headed to a bar with some of our fellow trekkers to celebrate our return.  Yeah beer at 11,000 feet….haha.

We’re camping at the same lodge we camped at on the way up – yay for a second chance to fall off the terrace.  We headed back there for dinner….yak steak!  I’ve never had yak before, and it was actually pretty good – kind of similar to salsbury steak.  Or I just really needed red meat.  Or both.

Now we’re enjoying more beer and playing our nightly dominos game.  We’re in the lodge with two other groups of people on their way up….one group is playing cards in another corner and the other is a group of guys singing to music through their dinner.  Oh to have that much energy again.  haha.  It would be interesting to see them in a week on their way back through….

We met some people at the bar who were also on their way up.  Not sure why drinking was a good call….or not having a buff…but they seemed interested in what we had to say and still have time to buy the stuff they dont have.  They have some tough days ahead of them, but hopefully they have a good time.

Tomorrow, we continue our descent into Phakding…hopefully an easy day since I’ve been up until a whopping 9pm tonight.

Everest Trek – Deboche – 5/12 – 12,300 ft.

Ok, so before the story….I survived four days of bootcamp this week (it’s usually three), but in ‘only me’ fashion, my jeans didnt make it into my bag.  Awesome…way to rock an athleta inspired look of cycling pants and a nice shirt.  haha….oh well.  It actually worked well somehow.  Also, there were some changes to my job….I’ll be working on international stuff and project stuff.  New and different, which is good, but, it’s a lot and I dont have my team anymore.  So, mixed emotions, I would say.

And….on with the story….

Today, we continued our descent to Deboche.  We took the upper trail out to base camp, and we’re taking the lower trail back, so we’ve been able to see a lot of different things and places.  Today was a short hike, only took about three hours, maybe a little more.  It was nice to have a semi-rest day, especially after yesterday’s long day.

Instead of staying at another lodge, we’re camping at the home of one of our guide’s friends from his monastery days.  She’s let us in her prayer room for meals and in between.  It’s a nice, peaceful space, and pretty warm.  Granted, I’m still wearing my parka, but I’m not cold at all.

Tomorrow, we get to visit the Tengboche monastery – that should be cool.  However, it’s a somewhat longer day – 5 hours, and has lots of climbing….and here I thought we were descending.

I spent some of the down time today relaxing in my tent (and making sure the laundry didnt blow away in the wind) and thinking.  We’re nearing the end of the trek, only four more nights, including tonight.  And, I’m not sure how I feel.  On one hand, we spent a year preparing, and its been a great trip.  Granted, being sick for the entire thing has definitely taken away from some of the fun.  On the other hand, I’m kind of ready to be back in Kathmandu – with a bathroom in my hotel room, where brushing my teeth isnt a major production.

But, what a trip this has been….Everest base camp….Kala Patthar…Nepal…how cool are those things?!  At least we have a few more days in Kathmandu at the end.

Ok, bed time, I think it’s the last night to cuddle with a hot water bottle  

Everest Trek – Pheriche – 14,049 ft.

I can’t believe it’s only been one day since yesterday.  Our day started with a wake-up knock at 4:30am.  I was glad that despite the coughing fits, I was able to get a decent amount of sleep.  However, I wasnt ready to be up yet.  Too bad I didnt really have a choice.

After attempting to force down a small breakfast, we were off towards the summit of Kala Patthar.  To say that I was nervous was an understatement – I was nervous it would be too hard or I wouldnt be able to finish.  It was hard, but not too hard.  One of the guides was in front of me the whole time – he helped me fish out my heavy gloves (I thought it would warm up quicker, so had started out in my lighter gloves), he held the top of my water bottle so I could drink with my gloves on, and when we got to the top, he turned to me and said – just two more steps.  And as with every other day on this trip, I did something I didnt think I’d be able to do – I made it up to the top of the 18,500 foot peak.  I wasnt the first, I wasnt the last, but in the end, it didnt matter.  All of us that set out that morning made it to the top.

And the view….it doesnt get much better than a completely unobstructed view of Everest – the Hilary step and the South Col.  We took great photos and got some group and individual shots too.  Definitely some of my favorite shots from the trip.

Then, we made our way down for what felt like the longest day of hiking ever.  We had some tea and cookies in the lodge at Gorak Shep before we officially departed.  It was hot…it was cold…we were pretty much too exhausted to eat lunch.  Nine miles later, we reached our destination.

Once I reached my tent, I barely had the energy to dust myself off (literally) and change clothes.  We had some tea and then we were off to the Himalayan Rescue Association Hospital.  It was interesting to learn about the center, how many people they support – 600 trekkers each season, plus the locals they treat for free during that time.  They’re completely funded through donations and receive no government support.

We had pizza for dinner again – this time with sausage, and spaghetti with yak cheese instead of parmesan cheese.  I thought we were supposed to lose weight on this trip, but these cooks have been amazing.  The things they come up with at several thousand feet of elevation.

After dinner, we had an interesting conversation with our guide about the expedition season ending and the sherpa strike, and he had a very different point of view than we thought.  They’re concerned for the impact to the economy in Nepal – lodges, hotels, shops, etc. in future seasons, if people are afraid something similar might happen, and thus decide not to sign up.

Alright, today has drained pretty much all the energy I had, and the cough is kicking my butt.  Off to sleep with my hot water bottle.

And…there are stray yaks.  Awesome.  But, luckily theyve put up a make shift metal fence to keep them out.  Does that actually work?  We shall see.  And, there are some tied up in here with us, hopefully with a thick rope.

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.