Friday, November 2, 2012

Pheriche to Lukla

The overnight snow left a light blanket over the trail as we headed further downhill, with our final destination for the day the monastery of Tengboche, situated on a ridge at an elevation of 3880 meters with views of Mount Everest. Along the way we stopped for tea at the community of Pangboche and then lunch after crossing the river once again on a suspension bridge to the community of Deboche. As the elevation decreased we reentered pine and rhododendron forests and then climbed steeply from Deboche to Tengboche where we stayed at the Himalaya Hotel. We arrived in time to sit though part of a service at the monastery, but left after 30 minutes when we realized that we understood nothing that was going on and we were getting numb from sitting cross legged on a cold floor.
The hotel dining room was crowded, but we had a reserved table (sort of) and were all able to fit around the table. After dinner we continued a lively game of dhumble, but as usual, by 8 PM everyone was ready for sleep.
View from Pumori Hotel, Pheriche

Bridge over the Dudh Khosi River

Patrick & Sean taking a much needed break

Tenbgboche Monastery

Tengboche Monastery 3880 Meters
Leaving Tengboche by another route we headed down the ridge towards Nauche (Namche) and re-crossed the river on a suspension bridge where we stopped at Phunsi Tenga for tea. Hiking up a steep slope we arrived at Kenjoma where we stopped for lunch before heading across the ridge to Nauche Bazaar. We arrived at the Namche Hotel and were greeted with "deluxe" rooms with hot showers and electric blankets on the beds. Getting cleaned up was a real treat after so many days of cold weather and no showers.
That evening we treated ourselves to a Guinness Stout at the Irish Pub before heading to bed.
We departed Nauche at 0900 after stopping at the Illy coffee shop for take-away cups of mocha or espresso. The hike back down the hill to the Hillary Bridge gave us our last views of Mt. Everest as we hiked through the pine and rhododendron forests through the relatively thick air at 10,000 feet. Stopping at Jorsale for tea we then exited Sagarmantha National Park at Monjo and stopped at Benkar for lunch before continuing on the Phakding, our stop for the night.
The Beer Garden Hotel was just as bad, even worse, then when we were going the other way, with the toilet not working, the bathroom ceiling leaking water in big drips and black mold everywhere. The hotel management fixed the toilet but ignored the rest of the problems and sleep that night was like being in a cold clammy cave with a stream running through it.
After a lukewarm breakfast we gratefully departed the wreck of a hotel and headed towards Lukla, some 8 kilometers away and 600 meters higher. At about the 4 kilometer point we crossed our last suspension bridge of the trip and stopped for tea at Cheplung. A tired crew walked under the archway into Lukla at 1200, passing through the main part of town, around the end of the airstrip and finally stopping at the Hotel Numbur alongside the airstrip. After lunch we backtracked a few hundred yards and gathered at the Lukla Starbucks to agree on the gratuity for the porters and expedition leaders while enjoying a double grande mocha. (this may not be a real Starbucks but the coffee was good)
We covered approximately 150 Kilometers during the trek, reaching elevations of 18,192 feet and saw some of the most magnificent mountain scenery in the world, including the world's highest point, Mt. Everest, at 29,028 feet. We witnessed the Sherpa's lifestyle; simple and difficult, but seemingly satisfying. We saw evidence of the Sherpa's Buddhist faith everywhere we looked, from mani stones to monasteries filled with monks. We made new friends, our fellow trekkers and met other trekkers from every part of the world. We tested our physical abilities at altitude and found out that training does payoff, but that nothing we can do in the Northwest can prepare you for the effects of the thin, cold air above 14,000 feet.
The sun sets over our trek to Everest Base Camp

Lobuche to Gorek Shep and Everest Base Camp

The trip from Lobuche to Gorek Shep and the Yeti Lodge was very cold and we were glad for the down jackets. We arrived under sunny skies before noon, and after lunch began the hike to Everest Base Camp at an elevation of 5364 meters. It was a hard trek up and down glacial debris until we finally arrived at the stone cairns and prayer flags which mark the furthest distance that trekkers are allowed to proceed. As we hiked back down to Gorek Shep at an elevation of 5180 meters the temperature continued to drop and the snow began. By the time dinner was over, the temperature had dropped to -10 degrees Celsius and the snow had started to fall.
Patrick at 5159 meters and the way to Gorek Shep

On the way to Everest Base Camp from Gorek Shep

Victory - EBC at 17,600 feet

The group that made it
Sean was up at 0515 for his Kala Patar summit attempt, while Patrick got up at 0545 for his lesser goal of getting as high as possible before the lungs and legs gave out. The temperature at Gorek Shep was a chilly -15 degrees Celsius.
Patrick called it quits when he hit the wall at 5400 meters (17716 feet) above Gorek Shep, but the views in the predawn light of Mount Everest were still stunning. Patrick returned to the Yeti Lodge and about one hour later Sean returned, having successfully summited Kala Patar at an elevation of 5545 meters (18192 feet). Both Sean and Patrick were totally exhausted by the morning effort in the thin cold air above Gorek Shep.
Sean at the summit of Kala Patar at 18,192 feet
After breakfast and packing of the duffels, we began the long slog down the hill to Pheriche, at an elevation of 4200 meters. We had lunch along the way at Dughla.
Our lodgings in Periche were at the Pumori Lodge, where the entire team showed symptoms of the "Khumbu Cough", caused by the combined effects of dry cold air and altitude irritating the bronchi.

Dingboche to Lobuche

Another cold night in Dingboche, but nothing compared to what was to come. Departing Dingboche a little after 8AM we crested the ridge above town and hiked upwards along the side of the ridge until we headed down into the stream bed and crossed a steel bridge before entering the small community of Dughla, which is really only a couple of trekking lodges. Stepping off the bridge, Patrick slipped on the granite blocks and sprained one ankle and bruised both his pride and his gluteus maximus. Patrick hobbled the several hundred yards into Dugla and when the shoe was removed, the swelling was obvious. Sean had tape and so the ankle was taped and any decision of continuing was deferred until morning.
The lodge was crowded and the dining hall was nearly standing room only. As we played Dhumble the snow started and the temperature dropped. We broke out the down jackets and were in bed by 8PM, which is when the lights go out anyway.
Dugla at Dawn

Scott Fischer Memorial

Other stone memorials above Dugla

More stone memorials to climbers killed on Mt. everest
We were awakened with cups of hot tea at 0700. There was a little snow on the ground and it was cold. Patrick's ankle was taped once again for the trip to Lobuche and uphill travel proved to be possible on the taped ankle. The trail stretched steeply upwards from Dughla to a ridge where the stone memorials to the climbers killed on Mt. Everest stretch along several arms of the ridge. Most of the climber's bodies still remain on the mountain. We arrived at the Himalayan Eco Resort at an elevation of 4950 meters (16,272 feet) in sunny but cold weather. After lunch we took a training hike up to 5050 meters to a ridge overlooking the Khumbu Glacier. From this ridge we could now see both the summit of Kala Patar and Everest Base Camp in the distance.
View from ridge above Lobuche to Khumbu Glacier and Everest Base Camp
We spent the evening playing Dhumble before hitting the sack at 8PM.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Namche Bazaar to Dingboche

October 20, 2012

At 0730 we headed up the steps from the Namche Hotel in Namche Bazaar headed for the Everest View Hotel at an elevation of 3880 meters. There were at least 48 switchbacks along the way. We passed the Syanboche Airport, the highest in the world. After tea on the terrace, in the sun with stunning views of Mt Everest and the rest of the peaks we hiked down through the Rhododendron forests to the village of Khumjung, at an elevation of 3810 meters. After leaving our gear at the Valley View Hotel rooms we gathered for lunch. The hotel had a common toilet, but of the western variety, twin beds and blankets, but we used the sleeping bags anyway since the rooms are unheated. The afternoon weather pattern of clouds soon drove us in from the terrace into the dining room.

After lunch and a brief rest we walked into town and visited the Khumjung Gomba, where for a fee we were allowed to see, but not photo the "Yeti Scalp". We then headed for the Hillary School on the other side of the town, but since it was Saturday, everything was locked up. Hillary died in 2008, but his foundation is still active and other organizations still contribute to expanding the school. By the time we started back from the school the clouds really dropped in, and visibility dropped to a few hundred feet at times. When the sun disappears, the temperature really drops and it is cold. On the way back we watched women hoeing in the potato fields, but they declined to be photographed.

We met our porters again this am when we arrived. Most of the time they pick up the bags while we are breakfast and deliver them to our rooms at our next destination and are gone until the next morning. Not at Khumjung! They sat with us in the dining room and watched soccer on the TV with us after dinner. All three porters are from the Lantang area of Nepal and are "Tamang", not "Sherpa". They work in Lukla during the trekking season and live in a town called Sulleri, a 25 hour walk from Lukla the rest of the year.

As the cloud layer settles into the basin, everyone is putting on layers and stocking hats, even in the dining room, which is heated by a stove fueled by Yak dung. The Sherpa who owns the lodge is Pema Chosang Sherpa and has summited Everest three times, with an Italian, Swiss and Norwegian team, as well as working with Russell Brice who is featured on the Discovery Channel series "Everest – Beyond the Limit".

October 21, 2012

We had a 0630 wakeup call in our rooms with our assistant guide delivering hot cups of tea. Breakfast was at 0700 with departure from the hotel at 0730. We initially descended and then climbed up to 4000 meters to a place called Mong La where we stopped for tea. After a relaxing stop we descended steeply down to the Dudh Khosi river to Phortse Tenga to the Riverview Resort for lunch. Crossing the river we then ascended steeply back up to Phortse Village at an elevation of 3810 meters. The village is situated on a sloping plateau and is a series of houses and fields separated by stone walls. If it was not so brown, it could have been Ireland.

Our lodge this evening is the Tashi Delek Lodge. This is the most basic lodge so far. After our arrival we washed our hair in cold water from a bucket in the sunshine outside, but it was still cold. We had several hours before afternoon tea so Sean joined Paul and Emma in a photo walk around the village. After our afternoon tea we sat around the dining room and enjoyed the warm temperatures since the rooms are unheated and like ice boxes.

Our diet since leaving Kathmandu has consisted mostly of noodle, rice and potatoes, with vegetables, cheese or egg added. We have had little if any meat since refrigeration is non-existent up this high.

Sleep comes quickly since there is not much to do, the high carb meals and the tiring days trekking all put one to sleep.

October 22, 2012

We were up early under sunny but frosty skies and headed out on an initially easy trail that soon turned into the narrowest steepest trail either Sean or I had ever seen. We wrapped around steep rocks and the river bed was at least 2000 feet below us. We finally arrived at the village of Pangboche where we stopped for tea before hiking another 2 hours to Shomare where we had lunch outside in the sunshine. From Shomare we headed up 4 kilometers and 400 meters of elevation to Dingboche at an elevation of 4450 meters, our stop for the night. By the time we arrived at 1530 the wind was blowing and the temperature was cold. Dingboche sits right at the base of Ama Dablam, so the views were stunning. The lodge was full and the dining room crowded, but we had a reserved table for our group and since it was cold, we stayed in the dining room and learned to play a Nepali card game.

October 23, 2012

Dingboche is a rest stop where we spend 2 nights acclimatizing, with a training hike on the rest day to a higher elevation. We headed up the hill shortly after 0900 and reached an elevation of 4880 meters, higher than our next stop. Then it was back down the hill for rest, lunch and getting cleaned up.

There is no cell phone service in Dingboche, but there is purportedly internet service, so if this blog publishes, there is. Pictures will have to wait for better service, probably in one week in Namche Bazaar.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Namche Bazaar Rest Day

Today we took a little (4KM) hike to 3660 meters (12007 feet) and visited a monastery (Nauche), a cultural museum and the Sherpa Museum. We also got out first glimpses of Mt. Everest, Nuptse and Ama Dablam peaks. Mt Everest is 38 KM away, but 5 KM higher than where we took the pictures. Tomorrow we trek to the village of Khumjung at an elevation of 3810 meters (12,500 feet) stopping at the Everest View Hotel for tea in the morning.
Mt Everest in background 38 KM away

Khusum Khangru

Kunde Peak in background

Ama Dablam Peak
Close up of Mt Everest
Lodges get a lot more basic from here on out, with shared toilets and no showers, just sponge baths.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Phakding to Namche Bazaar

Entering Sagarmantha National Park

The morning dawned clear and cold, down in the low forties, but warmed up quickly as the sun began to penetrate the steep valleys. We had a 0630 wakeup and then our pre-ordered breakfast at 0700. By 0730 we were on the trail, crossing a small bridge across the river with Kunde peak on our left and continuing up and down along the river through small settlements and over more suspension bridges before arriving at Monjo, the entrance to Sagarmantha National Park, a World Heritage Site. Here our permits were examined and passes issued. We continued on another kilometer before stopping for lunch at a small café just after crossing the third to last suspension bridge.
After lunch we headed back up the trail, soon arriving at the Dudh Khosi riverbed where we saw the remains of one of the old suspension bridges shortly after crossing the next to last bridge. In the distance we could see the Hillary Bridge, our last bridge before the steep climb up to Namche Bazaar.
Crossing the bridge we were stalled in the middle due to a yak jam at the far end of the bridge. We could also see the work going on for a new wider higher bridge to handle the increased traffic to Namche Bazaar, the major crossroads in the Kumbu Region.
The final 3 kilometers were STEEP! We gained nearly 2000 feet, going up series of stone steps, and most of the groups going up were proceeding at the same slow pace due to the altitude. It took over 2 hours to reach the entrance to the town and the police check before another 20 minute hike to the Namche Hotel at an elevation of 11,300 feet. The hotel was a pleasant surprise, with real beds with sheets and pillows and plenty of hot water. The showers were great. After showering the group met for tea and cookies in the hotel restaurant and ordered dinner. Sean and I went for a short walk around town and Sean purchased some Yak cheese for a snack.
Dinner was simple, by choice. Sean had Sherpa Stew and Patrick Fried Rice. By 8PM we were back in the room doing laundry and by 9PM were both asleep.
Hillary suspension bridge over Dudh Khosi River

Another view of Hillary Bridge

Kathmandu to Phakding

We were picked up from the Hotel Shanker at 1000 and headed for the domestic terminal with our guide Sudar (Sid). The domestic terminal was one large room for check-in and complete chaos, with mounds of trekking equipment covering nearly the entire floor. We were several hours early for our flight and Sudar had us go upstairs and get some tea while we waited. We saw other people from the hotel in the restaurant who were scheduled to leave early in the morning. They were delayed for over three hours due to both the weather and lack of planes since two of the three carriers had stopped service. We began to have a bad feeling as we heard few flight announcements and saw Sudar frantically trying to get us on a flight. Finally, after 3 PM they cancelled the rest of the flights and we had to head back to the hotel, where we asked for a meeting with Narayan. We had an ugly meeting when we found out that we actually had standby tickets and would probably have a repeat performance. Needless to say, this was an unacceptable answer, and after everyone cooled down I gave HGT a range of options to guarantee us flying in the AM, including more expensive tickets, charter aircraft and charter helicopter. The rest of the group consented to the financial costs of the options and we went to dinner while HGT looked to see what was available.
Dinner was at the Kilroy Restaurant in Thamel, several blocks from the office. We sat outside and had mo mo's for appetizers (sort of dumplings with a hot dipping sauce), and then for the main course Sean had Mutter Paneer and Patrick had Chicken Tikka Masala. Dinner was by candlelight since there were scheduled rolling blackouts for power conservation that lasted until 8PM. While at dinner Sudar cane and told us they had charted a Pilatus 430 for the early AM for $200 additional per person by also taking one of their solo clients on the same flight. That was the good news; the bad news was we had to leave the hotel at 4:30 AM in order to be at the head of the line at the airport, which opened at 5:45 AM.
We all walked back to the Hotel Shanker and slept for a few hours before a 3:30 AM wakeup. We met the other client, from Athens, Georgia and headed to the airport where we were very close to the head of the line. This time Sudar got us checked in for our charter, we were finally issued boarding passes and at 7:00 AM were taken by bus to the plane. The duffel bags had already been loaded and we boarded, 8 people and 7 seats, so the guide for the other client sat on the floor on top of a duffel bag.
The flight was about 40 minutes long, with some excitement cresting over the tops of some ridges at 11,500 feet before the steep descent and turn into the Tenzing/Hillary Airport at Lukla, which has an elevation of 9200 feet. We went to a lodge and had breakfast, really good and purchased water for the trek to Phakding, about 8km away. The group headed out at 9:30 AM and set a steady pace of about 2 mph, stopping often for photos and we meandered up and down, more net down, crossing our first suspension bridge and several other bridges. We passed through several small settlements under partly cloudy skies, but warm enough to hike in T-shirts except the last few minutes. The partly cloudy skies obscured many of the peaks, but we got occasional glimpses of several peaks greater than 6500 meters (more than 21000 feet).
The trail was busy, with Yak trains, porters and other trekkers headed in both directions, everyone giving way to the Yaks and most respecting the tradition of always going clockwise around the Buddhist shrines and spinning the prayer wheels in a clockwise direction.
Our charter flight after landing at Lukla

The crew at breakfast in Lukla, Sean Patrick, Emma, Paul and Eduardo

Along the trail to Phakding
By 12:30 PM we were at the Beer Garden Lodge in Phakding, at an elevation of 2658 meters (8720 feet). Since it was lunch time we sat in the dining room and shared a large pot of lemon tea and ordered lunch. Everyone in the group ordered either a noodle or rice dish. We then headed to our rooms, which had ensuite bathrooms, twin beds and even electric lights. The beds have foam mattresses and pillows, but we sleep in our down bags on top of the beds. Unpacking enough from our duffels, we showered under barely lukewarm water and then wandered around the small collection of lodges and teahouses which is Phakding. Across the river we could see tents pitched for trekkers who were camping and were very glad we were in a lodge, even with unheated rooms.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Departure Day From Kathmandu

Durbar Square in front of old palace

Temples in Durbar Square

Monk in Durbar Square

Monkey Temple from Durbar Square

Butchers Cart

Looking up at Monkey Temple with rest of trekking group

Monkey Temple

Prayer Wheels at Monkey Temple

Monkey Temple

Boudhanath Stupa

Mandala Painting

Crematorium on Bagmati River
Yesterday was a guided tour of Kathmandu, which took most of the day due to incredibly heavy traffic and even worse roads. We saw Durbar Square with all the temples. While there we were able to see the child goddess "Kumari", but no photos allowed. We will have to compare notes with Miriam from her visit in 1967on the area when we return.

The next major stop was the "Monkey Temple", or Swayambhunath, high on a hill overlooking the city then on to Boudhanath, a huge stupa,, not as big as the Borobudor in Indonesia, where we also watched artists painting Mandalas. All three sites are part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Kathmandu. We had lunch there, and I actually had chicken curry. The final stop was the Pashputi Nath where the city cremations are performed alongside the Bagmati River, similar to those alongside the Ganges. Here in Nepal, all except holy men are cremated in the same place, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian or athiest, it does not matter, it happens within 24 hours of death.

While we were there, at least 10 cremations were taking place in an area of incredible filth due to the monkeys and cow dung from the sacred cows wandering around freely. The water in the river was gray-brown and filled with garbage and floating flowers from the cremation ceremonies.

Getting back to the hotel we finally met our guide and he confirmed that we leave for Lukla at 1000 local time from the hotel (a 1200 flight). Flying conditions are reputed to be good, but the pucker factor is certainly increasing.

Sean and I have our duffels and day packs filled and weighed, as well as packing the stuff we are leaving behind, which is considerable.

From here until we return to Kathmandu on October 31 we will have only sporadic internet service, so probably no photos until then.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Kathmandu Day 2 Cont'd

Last evening we were taken for a welcome dinner at a "traditional" Nepali restaurant with dancers performing both Hindu and Buddhist dances. Before the meal started we had to remove our shoes to enter the dining area, and our foreheads were marked with the red spots. Some of the dancers could have come directly from Bali. We sat on the floor on pads at low tables and were served some powerful rice wine to begin, followed by lentil soup, and an appetizer plate with dumplings, hot stuff and veggies, then a main course of rice with more hot curry type of things, both chicken (mostly bones) and pork, as well as more cooked spicy vegetables, followed by more lentil soup and then some sort of citrus dairy custard which I only tasted. Sean and I also had some Everest beer, which was pretty good. The rice was steaming hot!

Earlier in the day we were issued down bags and jackets. My jacket is bright yellow. The bags and jackets say "North Face", but could well be knockoffs. Both Sean and I have our bags down to the 15 KG weight limit, so we are good to go.

Trying Everest Beer

Nepali Appetizer Plate

Popcorn as an appetizer

Enjoying a mug of Everest Beer
Today is organized sightseeing in Kathmandu with the 3 other member of our trek.  More on that later.

Kathmandu Day 2

Vegetables at locaL market in Thamel District

More Thamel Street Scenes

More Thamel Scenery

Statue on Durbar Marq Square

Some of the horrendous traffic
After a night trying to recover from jet lag when we are nearly 11 hours ahead, we tried the breakfast provided with the room. The breakfast was pretty good, with a selection of both continental and Nepali/Indian dishes.
With a small amount of shopping left Sean and I headed back to Thamel and wandered around for several hours before trying to find Durbar Square on foot. We finally gave up and stopped for lunch at the Nanglo restaurant which offered a selection of Nepali, Indian and Continental cuisine. We then returned to the hotel to get ready for the 3 PM briefing for our group.