My trek journal is actually composed from a series of emails I sent each day to Cathy Burton, my friend back in California. I tried to record (and remember) the highlights of each day, and hopefully you will gain some insight to the great time I had in Nepal. And please forgive any spelling or grammatical errors. I was sometimes cold or tired, and many times, both. I hope you enjoy reading my story.
I woke up this morning at 4:30AM (Thursday October 18th) for my flight to Lukla Airport. Check it out on YouTube - it's one of the 10 most dangerous airports in the world. The runway is approximately 2000 feet long and slopes up at a pretty substantial angle, and there is not such thing as a go-around. You either make a successful landing or say bye-bye. Anyway, I get up at 4:30 to get ready, but the weather in Lukla is not cooperating so we don't take off until about 9:30AM. It's a 25 to 30 minute flight through Himalayan mountain passes where you watch the wingtips pass by the ridges. Clouds surround you, and all you can think of is the most recent crashes which you're flying in and out of IFR conditions. Finally we break out of the clouds and here is Lukla Airport, at 9,000 feet. We land successfully, and everyone on board ( actually 16 of us) break out in applause. We safely made it.
I hook up with my guide and porter, get my luggage, and stop at a restaurant/lodge for breakfast (hash browns with a fried egg on top - it was delicious) before we start our first day's trek. After breakfast we're off. Little do I know it, but I have a about a five mile trek today. We start at around 9,000 feet and actually wind up at 8,670 at the end of the day. The first leg takes us about five hours. It's up and down, down and up. It's rocky, rutted, with rocky steps and a few clear level spots which thrill me no end. I'm trying to figure out how I ever got myself into this - an 11 day Himalayan trek - this from a guy who lives in Laguna Beach and thinks a long walk is parking his car in the corner of the Crystal Cove parking lot and walking to Trader Joe's. What's surprising is that I'm not really winded, just a bit sore in my right knee. What was I thinking?
Anyway, the scenery is beautiful, I have a great guide and a very accommodating porter, and so far I seem to holding up - but that's only after the first day. I still have nine more days to go. Right now I'm really questioning my sanity. I understand we'll be as high as 12,000 plus feet (in Bhutan I hit 13,200 feet, and managed to walk around for a while without falling flat on my face from exhaustion). To give you an idea how slow I'm walking a helicopter flight from Lukla, my starting point, to Namche, my end point, takes 10 to 15 minutes. A Nepalese sherpa can do the walk in four to five hours, and I'm taking three days - about 15 hours.
On our way out we came across a girl who looked to be in serious distress. She was being assisted by two sherpas, one on each arm. We didn't find out what was wrong, but she did look quite ill. I hope she's OK.
Continuing on, we stop at our first night's lodging, The Beer Garden Hotel - great, huh? I can't seem to get the hot water working - it's 55 degrees out, and I get into my cold weather underwear and going to sleep under two blankets. I'm so exhausted from the day and finally go to sleep around 9PM. I wake up in the morning around 7AM and it's 49 degrees out. Brrrrrr.... I get dressed - warmly - and still freeze. I'm definitely not a 49 degree guy.
So now we're off for our second day of adventure. Day two coming tomorrow.
Well, as I said in my first day's email, I woke up on my second day and it's 49 degrees out. I get up, get dressed, and head to the dining room for a nice hot cup of black tea - it seems to be my drink of choice on this trip. My guide and I discuss our day's events, and after breakfast (bad pancake - notice the singular) we set off for out our next stop - the Nirvana Lodge in Jorsalle, Nepal.
It's the same story as day one, up and down, down and up. We cross a number of suspension bridges over rapid rivers flowing down from the higher elevations of the Himalayas, and move to the side of the paths for the occasional horse, the pack mules and an animal that I'm told is a cross between a cow and a yak. I'm not sure if I got this right but I think they call it a Joke Yok, at least that's what it sounds like. And then image trying to cross a narrow suspension bridge a hundred or two hundred feet in the air with a bunch of yaks (yoks?) coming towards you at the same time from the opposite direction. And these are not light weight animals. All I can think of is whether the bridge will hold - but miraculously it does.
It is a beautiful trek, the skies are clear, the weather clear and crisp, and you meet people on the trail from all over the world. We stop for tea a couple of time, and spend a good portion of the day taking photos of everything we see. I haven't looked at any of the photos yet but I'm hoping I have a few good ones to print.
Anyway, we arrive at the Nirvana lodge, the last lodge before Namche Bazar, a village (town) approximately half way to the Everest base camp on the Nepal side of the mountain. It's a comfortable little room with two beds but no private bathroom - the bathroom is at the end of the hall. There is only one other guest, a doctor from Germany. Single rooms are 300 Nepal Rupees a night, about $4 US. I have dinner with my guide and the gentleman from Germany, head back to my room, roll out my sleeping bag, put my blanket over my bag, and try to get cozy. Since the owners had the wood burning fireplace going at dinner it didn't get too hot that night.
Today's elevation gain was only about 400 feet, and the distance was approximately 5.5 miles. Final elevation for the day was 9096 feet. I'm taking my Diamox and feeling pretty good - just moving very slowing.
Well, ready for bed. Day three coming tomorrow.
Cheers from the Khumbu region of Nepal.
Ok, here we go, starting day three. Where the first two days were up and down, down and up, day three I'm told is pretty much all up. We have breakfast, scrambled eggs on toast and my standard black tea, and head out for today's trek. We start out at 9,096 feet and begin our ascent to Namche Bazar, a village (town?) a little over half way to Everest Base Camp. Me, I'd need an extra two weeks to reach base camp at my speed whereas everyone else I chat with has made it in five to six days (sometimes less for the strong trekkers). I'm definitely slow, but do manage to put on foot in front of the other and continue my forward motion.
Anyway, I'll cut to the good stuff. On our trek to Namche we have our first good sighting of Everest, just before the clouds start to obscure the mountain. Including my flights I've now seem Everest three different times It's quite a sight to see the mountain in all it's glory.
Cutting back to the trek from Jorsalle to Namche, we cover a distance of about 4.5 miles in a little over five hours. It's up, up, and more up. There are a number of switchbacks - but I lose count somewhere around 14 to 15. I must have stopped every 50 to 100 feet just to rest for a moment. I'm not out of breath - just tired. I met a doctor on the trail from the U.K. and we chatted about my medical issues - my knee - my heart - pacemaker, etc. He took my picture and said he was going to hang it in his office and anyone who complains that they can't do anything he will tell them about me. I'm famous!
Back to the trek, we're climbing, crossing suspension bridges with yaks now (since we're over three thousand meters they use yaks instead of "yoks") and we're on our way to 3,440 meters, about 11,200 feet. Our elevation gain today is over 2,000 feet. I'm sure glad I wore my trekking shoes instead of my boots. I don't think I could have put up with the extra weight - and my walking sticks are worth their weight in gold.
We finally make it to Namche and check into our lodge - it belongs to my guide's uncle - wonderful people. His family has been here for over five generations. I settle into my room for another of my now daily naps and get woken up at 6PM for dinner. I meet some very nice people at dinner, and have some charming conversations as we all now have something very unique in common. After an early dinner it's off to bed - Four blankets - my thermal underwear, socks and gloves - and I'm still freezing. I think maybe tomorrow night, in addition to my four blankets, I'll also use my sleeping bag.
A couple of comments about the accommodations on my trek. 1. Each room I've had has two single beds - but it gives me a chance to have extra blankets. 2. Generally there are no outlets to charge anything. 3. One overhead light - that's it. I'm really glad I brought my headlamp. 4. The walls are paper thin and you hear everything in the rooms next door, and outside. 5. NO HEAT in any of the rooms, and at 11,000 feet it's not exactly warm outside - maybe in the mid to high 30's. Not exactly shower weather either. But I have to admit, I am having fun.
I think that's it for now. Getting ready for bed with my four blankets. I’m looking forward to a warm bed, my flannel sheets, and a good, hot shower when I get home :-)
It's our first of three overnights in Namche. We can do local hikes but I'm so tired that I elect to stay around town for the few days we are here to collect my strength before we head back to Lukla. For me, going back to Lukla is going to be a three day trek - for everyone else a two day trek - and for the Nepalese, four to five hours. I’m such a wimp.
I get up early to see sunrise on Everest, but we're a few minutes late. We see the mountain, along with Lhotse (the fourth highest mountain in the world) but by the time we get there the sun has already start to rise, so tomorrow morning we're going to start at five rather than 5:30AM. Still, it's a blast to see Everest in the morning sunlight.
After seeing Everest, we go to breakfast and then I'm off to another nap - I think it's the altitude. I get woken for lunch, and Nima, my guide, takes me to his parent's restaurant for lunch where I meet his mom, dad, and two sisters. They are a very friendly and charming family.
After lunch we wander around town and run into some people we met the day before. At 3PM at the Liquid Bar there is a showing of the movie "Everest" produced by a company out of Laguna Beach. A few of us meet up and watch the film - which by the way is great. I got real buzz being on the Everest Base Camp Trek watching a movie about the summitting of Everest. It really felt very special - to be in a place so close to where the movie was made.
I will tell you that this lodge is loaded with some serious A type personalities, trekkers, ice climbers, rock climbers, technical climbers, mountain climbers, and all-around macho types - and I mean this in only a good way. These guys, and girls, are serious about what they do. I think a 100 mile trek to them is like a walk at the mall to me. But I'm still proud of myself that by the end of this trip I will have trekked somewhere between 35 and 40 miles. I think that's a pretty respectable distance. I've told everyone that if I die, just tell my Mom they found me at 26,000 feet on the face of Everest after coming down from the summit. That's always good for a laugh.
Anyway, it's time for dinner, a bit of reading, and then off to bed. Tonight for sure I'll use my sleeping bag and my four blankets, and my socks, and my gloves, and my thermal underwear. I think it's going to be quite chilly tonight.
So, until tomorrow, goodnight for Namche Bazar on the Everest Base Camp Train in Nepal.
Today is the 5th day of my trek and it's an early morning start - we're leaving the lodge around 5:15AM to see the sunrise on Everest. And guess what - we make it. (It was in the high 30's when we left the lodge.) It was a beautiful sight and I'm sure I took way to many photos. I've been so busy that I haven't had the time to even look at any of the photos I've taken. Plus, the places I'm staying at don't have electrical outlets in the rooms so I'm trying to conserve battery power in my net book. After the sunrise we go to visit the Everest Museum located at the entrance to the Sagarmatha (Everest) Park. It's a treasure trove of information about the mountain, the people who have climbed it, or attempted to do so, and it also contains a history of the sherpa people from the area. Nima, my guide, told me that his mother's brother, who is a sherpa and climbing guide, has summitted Everest something like 16 times. There is a sherpa listed in the museum's pictorial record who has done this - so maybe it's true.
After all this we head back to the lodge for breakfast and another of my morning naps. I'm told the altitude has something to do with my being tired - maybe I'm not fully acclimatized yet. I feel fortunate that I've experienced none of the symptoms of acute mountain sickness that is brought on at higher altitudes. On the way up to Namche we did pass that woman I mentioned earlier being escorted off the mountain - one sherpa on each arm, and she did not look good. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
After lunch we wander around Namche, the largest town between Lukla and Everest Base Camp. It's sort of like a half way point between the two. We stop in some shops, hike up to the monastery in Namche, and go higher to get another view of the town. It's located in a natural amphitheater and it's quite remarkable, that with no transportation other than horse, yak, and a sherpa's back, this town is the size it is. Until around 2000-2002 they only had something like two phones in town, but then came the cell phone explosion, and it seems that everyone has a phone now.
I settled into dinner with a very nice couple from Seattle. She's an ex-social worker, presently unemployed, and he's on a sabbatical from Microsoft.
All in all a very pleasant day in Namche. I am getting tired of the cold and not showering, but I'll hopefully be home soon.
And another day ends in my sleeping bag under multiple covers in the Khumbu region of the Himalayas.
Today is our final morning in Namche. Since we don't have to get up early to see Everest I get to sleep in until 8AM. It's 39 degrees - and I really do not want to get out of my bag (remember - no heat in the rooms) but this is the start of my trek back down the mountain to Lukla and the beginning of my journey home. :-)
After breakfast and goodbyes to my new friends, we collect my gear and start the trek down. Our destination for today is Josalle, where we stopped on the way up. This part of the trip going up was the hardest, but I was told that going down was easier. They lied:-) It was tough. It took us (me) over 6 hours to make it down to Josalle, I slipped on some loose gravel and fell, but fortunately nothing was broken and no cuts or bruises. The whole way down my legs felt like rubber - I couldn't figure out what was wrong with me. Maybe not eating all day (except breakfast) had something to do with it. If I didn't know better I'd say I had a few symptoms of acute mountain sickness. I just felt like s*** and could hardly walk - it was a tough day.
We finally made it to Jorsalle and went to the inn we stayed at on the way up. While there the first time I met the doctor from Germany and we struck up a nice conversation over dinner. Lo and behold, not five minutes after arriving at the inn he comes in through the front door - it was like seeing an old friend.
The weather has moderated a little, with the lows in the low to mid 40's. I was told that higher up the mountain on the way to base camp the water in the river was already freezing. We're talking about elevations of 15,000 feet plus. I was also told by a few people that it was starting to get bitterly cold at night higher up on the mountain.
Dinner was pleasant and the inn had the cast iron stove going full blast - just what my tired old body needed. After dinner it was back to bed to finish the book I was reading and then off to sleep for the next day's trek to Phakding.
Goodnight from the Khumbu Trail in Nepal. Until tomorrow...
Today started out bright and sunny, although a bit chilly and windy for part of the trek. I used my gloves for a good part of the day, and kept my REI vest on almost all day too. (Boy, is North Face stuff big up here. It seems as if everyone has something with the North Face logo on it - myself included.)
A high point for today - I felt great. We made it to Phakding quite a bit faster than expected. I went up and down, around rocks and boulders, and almost never lost my footing. It really felt quite good to be in such high spirits and feel so strong. We stopped for lunch and then continued on our trek to Phakding. We went through pine covered forests, along rapidly running rivers strewn with boulders the size of Buicks, and beautiful waterfalls, all in addition to crossing a number of dramatic suspension bridges. I'm hoping that some of my photos turn out as well as I think they will - I'm almost afraid to look at them on this tiny screen. About 30 minutes before we arrived at our lodge (the Beer Garden Lodge) it started drizzling and guess what - my rain gear is in Kathmandu. It was just a very light drizzle and we were able to continue our trek without any delay.
We arrived at the "Beer Garden Lodge", I check into my sumptuous suite (yeah - right), and climbed into my sleeping bag under some wonderful yak hair blankets. It's a Hindu festival today so there is all kinds of singing and music that's keeping me awake. It was OK as it was interesting to listen to the songs and chants. Unfortunately I don't know what festival they are celebrating. I did finally manage to get about an hour's much needed rest before dinner.
After our arrival it started to rain, with some reasonably heavy periods. All I could think of was how the airport at Lukla is strictly VFR and no IFR flights are allowed. It finally stopped raining a bit after dinner and I heard from someone that the weather report was favorable for tomorrow, with blue skies in the morning, but clouding up in the afternoon. I cut my trek short by one day just to give myself a bit of breathing room in case of any weather problems. This isn't exactly LAX.
Anyway, I'm finished with dinner, in my sleeping bag with extra covers, and will do a bit of reading before calling it a night. It's been a long but very enjoyable day.
Before saying goodnight I have to tell you that this trek is one of the most challenging things I have ever done in my life. At times it's been physically exhausting, but in a strange way I have loved every minute of it. I think I feel a bit more confident now that I've almost completed the trek. As much as I would have loved going to Tibet, this trek has been very emotionally satisfying. Does that make sense?
I woke to a beautiful and sunny morning with the sun shining on a 7000 meter peak that I could see from my room. It was still pretty chilly and really didn't want to get out of my sleeping bag - it was just too warm and cozy. Anyway, I finally managed to get my butt out of the bag and get ready for the final leg of our trek.
Nima, my guide, shows up right on time at 7:00AM to make sure that I'm awake, and we plan to meet for breakfast at 7:30. At breakfast, the girl sitting next to me (I'll explain Nepal/Tibet seating when I see you) is complaining of some, shall we say, intestinal discomfort, and all of a sudden she flies out of the restaurant looking like she's running for her life. I felt so bad for her as she was just starting her trek.
After breakfast we start out, Nima, Neshant, my porter (I hate calling him that - he's such an in credibly pleasant young man) and I start out for Lukla. We photograph some beautiful mountains, the sun is shining, and wispy clouds fill the skies. We also run across people who we have met earlier, and has a thoroughly enjoyable day. As is our new custom, we stop for morning tea an hour or so into our trek, and then plan for a later lunch. We cross the last, and longest, of the suspension bridges on our Himalayan trek, and finally stop for lunch at Nima's (my guide) mother-in-law's restaurant and lodge, where I proceed to have the best noodle soup of my entire trek. It was delicious, with egg, carrots, LOTS of noodles (just how I love noodle soup), and some vegetables I couldn't quite make out.
We have a short trek of about an hour until we reach Lukla, and just before we round the curve that leads into Lukla my guide tells me we'll be there in about half an hour. Ever feel like you just wanted to stab someone with your walking stick. As we begin walking Nima starts laughing and points out the gate to Lukla not fifty feet in front of us. I think he's picked up my sense of humor. We arrive and take photos at the gate (arch?) and I breath a deep sigh of relief that we have finally completed our trek. What a feeling of accomplishment. I didn't do the full trek to Everest Base Camp, or get the kinds of photos of Everest I was expecting, but I'm still very happy to have made this journey.
We check into our lodge and guess what, no heat in the room - but it's my first hot water in over a week - to cold to shower though.. Another night in the old sleeping bag, but at least it's a bit warmer, maybe in the low 50's if we are lucky. Tonight I'm treating Nima and Neshant to dinner to celebrate our trip, and tomorrow will give each of them their respective gratuities. Unfortunately, I just don't have enough cash left over to give them what I think they deserve - they have been wonderful - but I hope to give them more that what is considered normal. It's a very difficult life they lead up here in the mountains. I'm also thinking of giving Nima my headlamp, but only if I can do it in private - I don't want to hurt Neshant's feelings.
There is one major thing I don't think I've touched on yet - personal hygiene. Or should I say lack of... There is a definite lack of any personal hygiene up here - showers coupled with cold weather does not make a great combination, but since everyone seems to be in the same boat, I think we may all smell equally bad, so no one notices. At least I brush my teeth every day. And since the first day it started getting cold (remember - no heat) I've been living, and sleeping, in my thermal underwear. I have one set and have been pretty much wearing it (between washings) 24/7 for the last week. But you do what you gotta do :-). I'll take a nice long hot shower and wash my hair when I get to Kathmandu in the next day or two.
I've also been letting Nima and Neshant use my extra cameras to take photos as we trek - I think they really appreciate that. I've tried to make sure that they always feel included in everything we've done, and have treated them with respect, which they have told me they appreciated very much. I've been calling us the Three Trekking Musketeers.
Well, it's time for dinner and them off to bed, and I actually have something approaching the size of a double bed - not that it makes any difference when you're sleeping in a low temperature bag, feeling like a mummy.. I asked Nima if he can arrange a flight tomorrow instead of my pre-arranged the flight the day after. I'd like to get back to Kathmandu and get cleaned up and repack for my trip home. I'm telling you, first class on AA has never sounded so good - clean and warm with good food. I can't wait.
Until tomorrow, or when I return home, cheers from the gateway of the Everest Base Camp Trail.
I get a knock on the door at around 6:45AM, thinking Nima has shown up early, but it's an employee of the lodge informing me that I have a flight departing in 45 minutes. Jump out of my sleeping bag in my thermal underwear and proceed to get dressed in record time. Throw all my gear into my backpacks and my North Face bag (A great little piece of equipment) and go flying out the door. I didn't even have time to brush my teeth. It's the end of my trek. I'm actually sad to be leaving.
I rush to pay the bill from last night's dinner but the bill sounded expensive for dinner for two. My dinner was suppose to be included, as was my room, so I should only be paying for two dinners. We're not talking about a lot of money - the whole tab came to $29.00, and I thought it should be around $12 to $15.00. I didn't have time to deal with it, so I paid the bill, paid for my ticket to Kathmandu, said my goodbyes, gave Nima and Neshant their gratuities, and headed out the door for the airport. Another walk and another set of stairs - boy, do I hate stairs now.
I fly to Kathmandu in a single engine plane, and I swear this thing is loaded to the rafters. They use these planes more like pick up trucks than real live airplanes. It's a beautiful flight until we reach Kathmandu Valley, which in enveloped in smog and haze - a HUGE change from being up in the clean air of the Himalayas. We land, I collect my gear, my driver is there, and we head for my just OK hotel where I spend the entire day starting to get organized for my trip home, and getting my personal hygiene back on track. I wash my hair, shave, brush my teeth, and take a nice long (hot) shower.
I'm picked up for dinner at 5PM. Dinner is at the home of the woman and her son who own the trekking company that was used to organize my trip. It was a great evening with meat mo-mo's (very similar to our dumplings), goat, chicken, rice, dal (lentil soup), veggies, and a few other things I can't quite remember. Plus we had some pre-dinner treats - pistachios, chips, almonds, some kind of quite spicy crispy noodle type treat, and apple juice and soda. Dessert were apples grown at what I was told were relatively high altitudes in the Himalayas. Very, very nice people. (The son went to school in Indiana and lived in the states for a number of years.) It seemed so strange that I was in Lukla in the morning, and then having dinner in Kathmandu that evening. The trek seems like a dream yet it ended less than 12 hours earlier. Maybe once I've had the chance to review my photos I'll start to recollect many of the memories of what turned out to be a fabulous and unique trip. My hosts estimated that 40,000 to 60,000 people a year do some sort of trek in he Himalayas.
I came back after dinner, relaxed with a bit of English language TV, and then off to bed. Although I'm staying in the very touristy area of Kathmandu, an area called Thamel, I've already seen most of it, and will probably hang out in my room taking care of any final preparations and packing for my trip home. I figure that including the time I need to get to the airport in Kathmandu, get checked in and wait for boarding, a five hour layover in Bangkok and a nine hour layover in Tokyo, that by the time I get to my front door in Laguna, total travel time should be about 40 hours. I'll leave my hotel in Kathmandu at about 10:30PM California time, and get home about 40 hours later. I'll be curious as to how close I'll be in my estimate.
Anyway, off to TV land and then bed. Going out for lunch tomorrow to what is suppose to be the best mo-mo restaurant in Nepal. Should be a treat.