May 15 2011

Acclimatization is NOT rest!

Day 3 was an acclimatization day. The purpose of an acclimatization day is to push your body to a higher elevation, stay there for a period of time and return to a lower elevation to sleep. The elevation of Namche Bazar was 11,280 ft. (3440m). Our goal for the Day 3 was to reach Everest View Hotel which is located at 13,100 ft. (4000m). We didn’t know it at the time but this 1800’ climb was to be one of the easiest days of our trek.

It certainly didn’t start off easy. As we exited the teahouse we turned right and immediately began to climb the steps out of Namche. But we didn’t go directly to the hotel. First we went to the museum which of course was uphill. The National Park Museum housed examples of local flora and fauna as well as stories and pictures of the Sherpa people. Outside the museum was a large flat area with great photo ops. The group shot below was shot there. It was out first clear view of Mt Everest. Mt Everest is the small triangular peak in the background with the plume of snow directly above Pernille’s head (purple coat).

National Park Museum Namche Bazaar

the "gang"

We left the museum and went down to the stairs we had climbed earlier. At the edge of town, the steps disappeared and the switchbacks began. There was a huge prayer rock around the midpoint of the climb. It was about the same elevation as the museum we visited earlier. We took a break there and I got some pretty good images of individuals in our group (Sam, Emma, Brita, Pernille, Rob, Mary and Agnes).

Sam

Sam

Emma and Sam

Emma and Sam

Pernille

Pernille

Rob

Rob

MaryandAgnes

Mary and the elusive Agnes

brita

Brita

Actually, this is the first memory I have of Brita smiling. She and 5 others started this trip with some combination of flu and stomach bugs. Personally, I would have turned around. They were lot tougher than I ever was.

After the break at the prayer rock, the climb continued. After the steepest part of the climb, the trail leveled off, more or less, and continued on across a mixture of grassy slopes and dirt trail until we came to the Everest View Hotel.

When we arrived I was quite surprised. Not by the dozens of steps which led up to the entrance (long series of steps were quickly becoming part of our daily routine) but the hotel itself. It was really nice. There was wood paneling, a glass enclosed dining room and plenty of staff. We had lunch on an outdoor patio which faced the mountains. We did not have any good views of Mt Everest despite the hotel’s name would seem to suggest. A weather pattern was beginning to emerge. Every morning started out bright, sunny and cloudless. As the day progressed, clouds would appear by noon. By late afternoon the sky would be gray and often a light snow would fall around dusk.

The descent was easy for me. It was very steep but I flew down the trail bouncing from rock to rock. I really enjoyed myself. But several members of our group were not fond of downhill stretches. Downhill can be very hard on your knees and great care must be taken not to trip/slip since you already have momentum taking you downhill. Downhill is particularly hard on the toes as Ed can attest. But as with any of the adversity that beset us on this trip. Nothing would prevent any of us from reaching EBC. Ed adjusted his boots and the toe was never a problem again.

When we returned to the teahouse I discovered that my water bladder had leaked. By the end of the day the bottom inside of my day pack was wet. Fortunately, my camera and down did not get wet. I bought an new Camelback bladder in Namche at a store owned by one of Tashi’s friends. Tashi seemed to have friends everywhere. In every town and even along the trail it was a common sight to see Tashi stop and greet other locals as if they had been lifelong friends.

Those of you who were curious as to what I was going to eat on this trip or how the food was in general should know the spaghetti at our teahouse,Hotel Camp de Base, was very good. A word of warning to those who may follow. This was the only place I found Italian dishes to be palatable. Above Namche there weren’t any cans of tomatoes. Spaghetti was usually just warmed up ketchup with some oregano.

By going to the hotel, we climbed our 1800 ft., rested and then descended to Namche for the night’s sleep. This was a typical acclimatization day. What made it easier than a regular trekking day was the lack of bridges. Except for the side trip to the museum there was not any unnecessary elevation losses and gains which are a hallmark of river crossings in Nepal. The written guides mark the elevation gain each day. What they do not tell you is how many thousands of feet are given up descending to bridges and the need to recapture that elevation loss on the other side of the bridge. The guides just give the net change. So a 1500 ft. gain day may actually require you to climb a total of 3500 ft. because you had two bridge crossing that cost you and extra 1000 ft. each.

Tomorrow we go to Tengboche. I didn’t know it at the time but I really needed to go to sleep and get my rest. It was going to be a hard day.


May 7 2011

Phakding to Namche Bazaar

I found a few notes from the first night on the trail. Ordered a Coke. The exact entry in my journal was “YUK!!”. Coke on the trail does not taste like Coke. I couldn’t finish the bottle. After that bad experience I decided to stick with orange Fanta. It doesn’t taste like orange Fanta either but it is a lot closer to what we are used to than the Coke was.

Tried some Dahl Bat. The carrots and potatoes were not bad but I didn’t care for the cilantro soup which contained the legumes. Lights out was at 8 PM. And I do mean lights out. The electricity was turned off. I was very tired. Even though my heart was racing, I could hear it in my ears, I slept like a log. That is, until I awoke at midnight to the sounds of people moving down the hallway to visit the bathroom. I dozed off but woke again at 2:30 as another procession began. I am pretty sure it was the Diomox causing the frequent trip to the bathroom. It is a side effect and one of the reasons I decided to do this trip without taking any.

What a great start to the morning. Sure it was only 4:30 AM but what I view I had from my pillow. Pretty amazing!

Phakding

View from my bed at 5 AM

Breakfast was around 7. I had a chance to get out into town before breakfast and take a few snap shots. I had the scrambled eggs and an order of toast. This became my breakfast of choice for the duration of the trip.

Early morning views from Phakding

We were on the trail by 8:30 headed for Namche Bazar. No sooner than we set foot outside the tea house we encountered our first Dzokyo train. A Dzokyo is the result of a crossbreed of a yak and a cow. These would be our constant companions along the trails and bridges during our trek.

Dzokyo

If you think trekking in Nepal will be a remote wilderness experience, look at this next shot. Our guide, Tashi, is in the front and a little out of focus. But the rest of this procession isn’t even our group. These are members of one or two other groups who were going to Mt. Everest Base Camp also. When you add the Dzokyo trains, porters and Yak trains to the mix, you can truly appreciate how busy this trail really is.

Busy trail

The rhododendron and dogwood were beginning to bloom. They were in full bloom on the return leg of this journey.

Blooming dogwood

Veterans of this trek will recognize the white Stupa. For the uninitiated, you must always pass the Stupa on its left thus placing the Stupa on your right. Any prayer wheels should be spun as you pass.

Stupa

We took a quick rest in Bengkar before continuing on to Jorsale.

Bengkar

I do not see any pictures from Bengkar to Jorsale. I am guessing that is because I was getting tired. Of course, I had no idea just how tired I would be by the end of the day.

After lunch at Jorsale, we started toward Namche. This was to be the longest ascent of the trip. The last High bridge over the Duhd Kosi was around 2800 meters in elevation. Our destination in Namche was 3440 meters.

We were to get our first views of Mt Everest this afternoon but the weather turned as it often did in the afternoon. By evening it was snowing lightly. Walking up and up for several hours with limited visibility is not conducive to taking pictures but when I saw the Namche Stupa, I broke out the camera as I knew we were getting close to our tea house.

Entering Namche Bazaar after the difficult climb up

Time to rest. I will pick-up with our acclimatization day (these are NOT rest days!) in my next post.


May 2 2011

Let the Adventure begin!

All of my wedding couples have received their packages. Now it is time for a little recreation before the summer gets into full swing.

On March 31st 2011, I left for a trek from Lukla, Nepal to Mt Everest Base Camp. The trip was the brain child of Ed Saiauskie, a friend and neighbor. One night in Oct I found myself in the local watering hole and overheard Ed say he was looking for someone to trek to Mt Everest Base Camp with him. Well the time from Oct till March flew by. Before I knew it I was on a tiny American Airlines jet bound for Chicago. From Chicago we flew over the North Pole to Delhi, India. And here is where the trip got very interesting.

We had a long layover in Delhi so we booked a room at the Radisson. What we didn’t do was get a Visa for India. Sure enough, we needed a visa to get our luggage out of the In Transit area of the airport and to our hotel. Since that didn’t happen, we were also separated from our luggage. Luggage that contained all of our hiking gear (Sleeping bags, boots, clothes, etc.).

The In transit are of the Delhi airport is a spartan operation and not terribly well staffed. If you find yourself trapped there stay away from Arti. She was ZERO help. Look instead for Umang Gupta. He was a great help. Not only had we lost our luggage but Ed’s reservations for the flight from Delhi to Kathmandu had been lost. Umang managed to restore Ed’s plane seat. Our luggage was a different story. One last word about the Delhi airport, if you have to spend any time there you may want to bring insect repellant. The mosquitos were particularly voracious the night we spent there.

We finally arrived at the Kathmandu airport sans luggage on Saturday morning. The next day and a half was spent trying to find/retrieve our bags. We were to hit the trail on Monday. The bags didn’t arrive on Saturday. Late Sunday afternoon we went to the airport to greet the last flight from Delhi prior to our trip leaving. Fortunately, our bags arrived in Kathmandu and all seemed right in the world once again.

We met our fellow travelers on Sunday night for dinner in the hotel Manang.

Hotel Manang, Kathmandu, Nepal

Our digs in Kathmandu

The Trek began in ernest on Monday morning. The domestic departure terminal in Kathmandu is, shall we say, different than what we Westerners are used to. More like a busy bus station than an airport.

Kathmandu Airport - Domestic departures

The first flight to Lukla turned around at about the halfway mark. The winds at Lukla made an approach too dangerous so we had to go back to Kathmandu. When we returned to Kathmandu airport we were directed to the airport Restaurant (imagine a very small grade school lunchroom and you’ll get the picture). We all ordered breakfast of one ilk or another. About 30 minutes later before the breakfast was served, an official burst into the room, said the winds at Lukla were down and we had to leave immediately. That request was no problem for us but the restaurant owner felt differently. After some quick haggling by our guides we pretty much threw money onto the table and ran out the door. The kitchen put what they had prepared into aluminum foil and those foil pouches wer placed in a plastic shopping bag. Once on the plane the food was distributed. Some of it wasn’t bad. I passed on the runny scrambled eggs but tried Emma’s Chop Suey (or was it Chow Mein) and it was not too bad. Oddly, there was a stewardess for a 16 passanger plane. She greeted you and distributed cotton balls and candy.

As we approached Lukla, we started to fly over some foothills. These hills caused updrafts which made the ride a litttle bouncy. Those not used to small aircraft we a bit concerned. But I think they only thought they were going to die once. As we approached the runway the left wing dipped sharply. No one hit their head on the ceiling but it was a pretty abrupt shift. Needless to say, we did land safely and did not become an ugly statistic (Google – “Lukla world’s most dangerous airport”).

Lulka Airport

Approach to Lukla Airport

After leaving the terminal, the trek began immediately. Considering that Ed and I had left on Thurs. and it was now almost noon on Monday, we were very glad to finally be started. After passing through Lukla, we came to a gate where we paused for a photo op. By the way, it takes forever to pose 14 people and take pictures with 14 different cameras!

Lukla gateway

Gateway leaving Lukla en route to Mt Everest Base Camp

It was to be all down hill to Phakding where we would spend our first night. The travel guide lists it as about a 240 meter descent. One thing they never tell you about trekking in Nepal. The net change of elevation for a day only represents about 1/2 to 1/3 of the acual vertical distance you will have to hike. Why? Think mountains and valleys. Even if you can see your destination and it looks just sligthly lower than your current location, more than likely it is on another mountain. To get there you will have to descend to the intersection point of those two mountins. This is typically a glacial river concected by a cable bridge.

Cable bridge in Nepal

Typical cable bridge

Overall the first day wasn’t too bad. The tea house was a dry but cold place. Often they would start a stove in the dining area in the evening but never in the morning. Oddly even when the heat was going, no one ever closed the doors. As precious as fuel is in these remote areas, I couldn’t understand the open door policy. Our rooms were small but that was good because by morning they were definately warmer than the hallways and outside. Never discount the value of body heat.

Phakding teahouse

Phakding tea house

Well, that pretty much brings us to Day 2. I will pick that up later.