20 April 2008 Day 75

Approximately 15 hours in the airport in Calcutta, India. Good times. Caught a decent nights sleep in a nig chair. Airline gave me breakfast. Regardless, worst layover ever. Finally caught the flight to Kathmandu and the REI guide was waiting at the airport to drive me to Hotel Marshyangdi. Sweet- I had never showed up to an airport with pre-arranged personal transport waiting, other than friends and relatives, and they did not bring a fresh made flower lei. Marshyangdi is in the Thamel District, which apparently is the tourist area of Kathmandu. That means it is cleaned up a little over rest of the town. It is still probably the dirtiest place I have been, but I like it much better than Manilla, even better than Bangkok. Kathmandu is much smaller, so you don’t get the super crowded metro feel. Had some sort of Nepal spiced bbq chicken for dinner, and then hit the Fire & Ice Tavern for a few beverages. It was band night, so they were covering American classics such as Sweet Child o’ Mine. Talked to a chick, Ms. M (for our purposes), that had just spent 5 months in India. Ms. M liked hash. Apparently hash is very easy to buy here, as I have turned it down several times on the street. In theory, I think it would be easier to obtain from hot chicks at bars.

21 April 2008 Day 76

Mission: Procure trekking equipment.

Side notes; There are over 1 million tiles on the exterior of the Sydney Opera House. Triple Glazed and self-cleaning.

22 April 2008 Day 77

Mission: Finalize procurement of trekking equipment. Mission Completed.

Gortex Parka: $0.70/day
-10 Sleeping Bag: $0.65/day
Day Pack: $22 / each
Duffel Bag: $16
Fleece tops: $10
Fleece Jacket: $30
Goretex Pants: $25
Poly-prop underwear: $ 8

Bottom line is, triple or quadruple the prices above to get to equipment costs back home. It actually makes financial sense to buy a bunch of stuff and pay the $75 per 10 lbs to ship stuff home. It is all great ‘quality’ knockoff, mostly North Face. They love to copy that stuff here. My day pack is North Face knock off, if it makes it to the top and back I will be amazed. In case you are wondering, my regular travel backpack is not suitable for 2 weeks in the Himilayas. There are 11 people in our group. We will apparently have a staff of 17 to carry our crap, cook for us, set up tents, etc. All we have to carry is rain gear, water, and camera…. Basically anything you might need between breaking camp and setting up camp for the evening.

Met up with some of my fellow trekkers this morning also. Kurt from British Columbia, Hans Peter from Seattle, and Rick from Vancouver. They were enjoying a late breakfast around 8:30 when I wondered down to the patio to check email. Internet was down, so I ended up hanging with these guys for most of the day. Good people. They are all retired or pushing retirement. It is going to be a good trip.

23 April 2008 Day 78

Tour around Kathmandu as a group. A couple of temples, a couple of shopping opportunities. Most tours in SE Asia seem to include stops at shops where the owner is probably related to the tour guide. Got two of my favorite pictures on this day. There was some sort of dance going on at a temple area. One picture is two little girls, smiling, with the dancers in the back. As my brother pointed out, there is also a dude in the background, laying down, holding his head, as if saying “Damn these drums, can’t they see I’m sleeping here?” Also there is a girl with a huge Mountain Dew bottle- east meets west.

Trail Day 1….24 April 2008 Day 79

4:30am wakeup call came at 5am to a hotel room without power. With a eminent 5:30 departure, breakfast became more important than the planned shower. So begins day 1 without a shower…. there will be many more. Flight to Lukla (pop approx 700) to start hike was delayed slightly due to clouds at the landing strip. Said strip is about ¼ mile long and you use all of it upon landing. The flight is visual guidance through the mountains. Could not see anything through the clouds on this flight… just the occasional hillside that looked way too close for comfort.

After tea, we hit the trail for Phakding for our first campsite. First impressions were that the trail was more like a highway. Lodges, restaurants all along this stretch. Nothing is gasoline powered up here. All goods move by Sherpa, yak, or the occasional helicopter. For normal loads, a porter will make about 20 rupee/kg for transport from Lukla to Namche Bazar, the primary trading area. 20 rupee is about $0.50. A typical load will push 150 pounds. The heavy haulers will load over 200 pounds and get a slightly higher wage. They will typically make our 2 day one way trip a round trip in 2 days or less…. and they do it in sandals.

At this elevation, the pack animals are ‘Zopkyos.’ –rhymes with Tokyo- A zopkyo is the offspring from a male yak and a female cow. The cows make better mothers. Zopkyos can mate, but their offspring are worthless and usually die in 2 or 3 years. The female zopkyos are for milking, the males for hauling.

Today was ‘training day’. What to expect along the trail. How camp works. Etc. We were introduced to the concept of “Sherpa Flat”. Sherpa Flat describes a trail that consists of minor changes in elevation… no major ascents or descents. Anyhow, this trail was sherpa flat.

Facts of the day:
(a) Amazingly, Zopkyos will cross suspension bridges that most people would hesitate to cross.
(b) Canadians hate France also.
(c) We actually have a support staff of 24 Sherpa.
(d) “Ramro” means good.
(e) “Dan Ne Baht” means Thank you

Trail Day 2….25 April 2008 Day 80

Initiation Day. A taste of things to come. Heartbreak hill is a 2,000’ climb up the side of a mountain to Namche Bazar (pop 900) at 11,400’. For lack of a better description, it was a bitch. Definitely felt the lack of oxygen; relative rate is about 64% of sea level.

Our food is surprisingly good. Lunch was bok choy, french fries, sliced hot dogs, and French toast of sorts. Dinner last night was curry potatoes, bok choy, green beans, lentil with rice, and starters of popcorn and soup. The food would be great throughout the trip. Meals have been at lodges, no dining tent yet.

We met a local celebrity. Apa Sherpa. He has scaled Mt. Everest 17 times. Some people consider him a ‘sell out’ because he moved to Utah.

Dude means milk
Chia means tea.
Nah Meh Stae means hello, goodbye, have a nice day, etc. The universal greeting.

Weather has been cloudy and foggy thus far. Only the occasional glimpse of a mountain top. Kongde peaked at us during dinner, but no more than just seeing snow through the clouds, a mere glimpse at something really big. We were quietly worried about the weather.

Trail Day 3….26 April 2008 Day 81

After rolling out of the tents, we were greeted by views of our first mountain- Kongde was cloud free at sunrise! After two days of clouds, this was a VERY welcome sight.

Technically today is a ‘rest day.’ The accepted practice is to camp two nights at a constant elevation for every 3,000’ in elevation gain. We also apply the concept of ‘hike high, sleep low.’ We took a day hike to the Everest View Hotel (12,400’) for probably the best panoramic I had ever seen. Along the way, the view got better around every turn and over every ridge. Eventually we rounded a bend and the hike leader pointed and said “That is Mt. Everest.” We all stopped and the cameras clicked away. It made yesterday’s assault on heartbreak hill worth every step. It was ‘Mission Accomplished,’ a sort of milestone for many of us.

We had beverages and some light snacks at the hotel while sitting on the balcony to enjoy the sunshine and the views. Maybe the weather would cooperate after all.

Back in Namche we visited Thupten’s house. Typical of a Sherpa house, it consisted of kitchen, main room, and prayer room. The main room is all purpose- dining, sleeping, relaxing, etc. Thupten’s father was an Everest Guide. He saved a famous American dude on the glacier up there and in return, visited both the King of Nepal and JFK.

Wood is scarce, so the primary source of fuel for heat and cooking is dried yak crap. It doesn’t smell bad when burned. Anyway, it is scooped up (by hand) when fresh and applied to a stone wall in a thick pancake shape for drying….which leads to the day’s classic moment. Kurt, Amy, and I were discussing the parameters for determining when a dried yak patty was ‘done.’ At that moment a dried patty fell off the wall…… Question answered.

Trail Day 4….27 April 2008 Day 82

After a few hours on the Himalayan Freeway, we veered off to take the scenic route to Phortse Tenga for our next camp. The scenic route definitely had less traffic and provided great views…. a teaser for the days to come. We had lunch at Mong La, elevation 12,900’. Then camped around 12,400.’ That 500’ downhill was all at once, felt good, but you know you have to go back up that distance the next day….. so you curse every step downhill.

The lead group- Amy, Shelly, and Tom- got charged by some Zopkyos. They had just let a group of Z’s pass when the lead one fell on some steps and rolled down a few steps. This ‘concerned’ the trailing Z’s, which pulled 180’s and charged back down the stairs. The lead guide’s excited advice was “RUN !” Which was repeated loudly by the folks mentioned above. The guide stood his ground and shouted some Sherpa stuff at the charging Z’s, did some yak whisperer stuff, and stopped the charge. From the back of the line, it was comedy. For those up front, it took a few days to be funny.

It was nice easy hike – Sherpa Flat- we were in camp for 2:30. We had some tea and played around on the river bank for a while. The river comes off the Choyo Glacier, so it is kinda cold. They had a combination cantilever / single span bridge. I was checking it out when my predictability was demonstrated. Off in the distance, Amy told Shelli, “watch this, he’s gonna jump on it”… and I did. I like to cause deflections in bridges. Good way to estimate capacities. Pasang did not like me jumping on this particular bridge. I’d give it a “One Yak Limit”

So, we were chatting with this Canadian girl, a solo hiker before tea time…..
Her: So ya’ll are on one of those luxury hikes.
Us: Not really, we have those tents, eat in a dining tent, etc.
Guide shows up: “tea time” Girl smiles and raises an eyebrow.
Us: Ok, maybe it is luxury…….

It was Jeans birthday. She got a birthday cake after dinner. Cooked over hot rocks. And decorated with icing. Amazing & tasty.

Trail Day 5….28 April 2008 Day 83

Four mile hike. We were told it was Sherpa Flat. 2,500’ cumulative vertical to net 1,100’ gain to Pangboche. The words “Sherpa Flat, my ass” were repeated by several people. However, the views along the trail and at the camp again made every step worth it. Balkumar led today. From camp we identified several mountain features that did not show up on our maps. Specifically “Buttoche” and “Booboche” were visible from camp.

Families choose children’s names by lottery. The relatives all put in names and the draw one from a hat. Avoids conlflict this way. Sherpa means “East People.” There are not many Sherpa. People can never marry into their father’s family and only into your mothers after 3 generations. The Sherpa people have no written language… only verbal. Writing is in Nepalese or Tibetan; these both are missing letters needed for the Sherpa dialect. If I remember correctly, a monk is working on creating written Sherpa language. Most kids now learn American in schools. {Side note: Per a wise dive instructor in Koa Tao, our language is no longer called English. It is now “American”}

Pan seared spam never tasted so good.

Quote of the day, from Tom: “I’m pissed, I look around and all I see is mountains.”

Trail Day 6….29 April 2008 Day 84

31 degrees at wakeup call. Kongde and Lhotse provided great views at sunrise. Day consisted of 3.5 hour hike, 5 miles, to Dingboche. Dingboche is at 14,550’. This is higher than any peak in Colorado. I like this fact. I also like that even at this elevation, mountains tower above you in every direction. From camp, we could see Chopura, which is a peak in China. Another milestone. Even if I can’t get a visa, I have seen it.

Campsite at a lodge, nice dining room, if you can stand the kerosene smell from the cooking below. At 1pm, it was 60 degrees, but the wind chill feels more like 40.

Trail Day 7….30 April 2008 Day 85

Another rest day for acclimatization. Day hike of 2.1 miles to elevation of 15,500’ Views of the 4th and 5th tallest peaks in the world, Lhotse and Makalu. We hung out on this ridge for a while to enjoy the view. It was dry and dusty.

The afternoon was filled with various activities. The internet café had a gravel floor, and the first generator we had seen. Satellite uplink. Unofficially dubbed as the world’s highest, most expensive, and slowest internet café. Sent a single email, it took 12 minutes and cost $6……

The pool hall had a sod floor. The pool table invoked a game crossed between billiards and golf. Mostly billiards, but if you did not ‘play the slope’ of the green, you were screwed. A masse shot became easy…. just use the slope.

The poker chips were rocks from the river bank. Small whites were worth 5 and bigger grays worth 10. Hours of poker and blackjack ensued. I played the dealer for blackjack. Using the best casino rules we could collectively piece together, the house won, but not by much.

A bottle of Tabasco sauce appeared at dinner time. It was a welcome upgrade from the green chilli sauce we had been working on up ‘till this point. We had some chicken kabobs that qualified as the best chicken I ever tasted.

Every turn and every ridge has yielded a new view. The views keep getting better and better. Truly this is the most amazing place I have visited. Close seconds are (a) a shipwreck 100’ down, (b) the Grand Canyon, and (c) the Fox to Wanaka drive in NZ. I think two days from now, the view from Kala Patar may win the grand prize.

Trail Day 8….1 May 2008 Day 86 “Where’s my Johnny Freakin Ho?”

After a mere 6 miles and 2,100’ of vertical, we reached Lobuche. Lobuche is a desolate collection of 5 lodges. Everyone leaves in the summer when there are no trekkers and only grazing yaks. There is no vegetation now, but the rainy summer will produce grass around 8” tall for the critter to graze. At this elevation, this was the hardest hike yet. I had to take a cat nap after this one. It is also getting colder. It was 38 degrees at 5pm.

Tomorrow is D-Day. 5 am wakeup call instead of the usually 6:30am. The summit of Kala Patar is the first prize for this trek. For mere mortals, Kala Patar provides the best views of Mt. Everest. Due to the weather patterns this time of year, we need to be there in the am, before it clouds over. 18,300’ does you no good if it is cloudy. If it’s cloudy, we will push through to Everest Base Camp and hope for KP the next day. From Lobuche, Kala Patar is about a 5 mile push, through the camp at Gorak Shep and then 1500’ up the mountain.

Needless to say, you could feel the emotions around the dinner table.

Trail Day 9….2 May 2008 Day 87 D-Day

Weather at sunrise is clear. It’s go time.

20 degrees at wakeup call. Quick breakfast and we’re off. I manage to stay with the lead group to Gorak Shep. The 4.25 miles from Lobuche are not exactly easy, but they pass quickly. At this elevation, the group spreads out significantly due to different walking abilities. Upon arrival in Gorak Shep, we could see the clouds gathering down below- the clouds will be up here in a few hours. The guides said we had to wait until Thupten made it here with the trailing guys. After Hans Peter made them an “offer they couldn’t refuse”, we skipped the soup the cooks were making and headed up the hill.

Trying to speed 1500’ up a mountain over about ¾ of a mile at 18,000 feet can only be described as “difficult” At this elevation, it is hard to breathe, stand, or do anything other than lay motionless on a rock. I would qualify sitting as a challenge. Anyway we made it up and were rewarded with only slightly hazy views of Mt. Everest. At this point we were 6 horizontal miles and 2 vertical miles from the top of the world. Apply a little Pythagorean theory and we’re about 6.5 miles from the summit. Mission Accomplished.

Unfortunately, we had to share the summit with a large group of Bulgarians. They were loud and rude. It was not our first encounter with these bastards. I will now rank Bulgaria as only slightly above France. I found a spot out of the wind, and reclined for about 45 minutes. The Bulgarians eventually left and all was good. I went down with the last of our group. I would have took more pictures, but it was hazy and movement hurt too much. I actually carried some Chivas Regal up here, but due to lack of oxygen, forgot all about it.

It snowed at tea time (3:30). By the time dinner was over, I found myself in the dining tent, wearing sandals, with an inch of snow on the ground and a sleeping tent 20 yards away. ((By now, at least one of my engineer friends has checked my math and/or a map concerning the 6.5 mile statement above, and is contemplating whether to email me a better number)) My money is on the electrical guys, specifically Adam or Beaquel. For 3 beers, you can learn the origin of the name Beaquel.

Trail Day 10….3 May 2008 Day 88

Other than having water, the area between Gorak Shep and Everest Base Camp (EBC) is the most desolate place I’ve seen, maybe ever. It snowed…. Thus, hell froze over today. The last 3 miles back down were just short of a death march. Between Gorak Shep and Lobuche, it started to really snow and the wind was blowing like a mad. We were 7 hours on the trail.

John, Amy, Tom, Shelly, and I were determined to go to base camp. For the others, Kala Patar was the prize. And EBC was visible from Kala Patar, so they can say they saw it. They headed back to Lobuche for an easy day. We five set out for a 7 hour hike. The snow started about 1/3 of the way from Gorak to EBC. By the time we rolled into EBC, the only people outside were the Sherpa- Delivering supplies, building toilet tents ,etc. The climbers were all hunkered down in their tents. So no interviews with famous climbers. At first glance, EBC is best described as a seemingly chaotic array of tents. Various colors and sizes abound. On closer inspection, a slight order arises. Living tents are clustered around central dining tents. There are signs scribbled pointing the way to various locations. Story is that there is a hierarchy of what teams get what camping spots. We ate our bag lunches and began the descent. We knew it was bad when asked about getting any good pictures, John responded with a strained voice, “I’m over it.”

The first high point on the downhill was that one of the kitchen boys went about halfway to EBC to bring us hot Tang. Tang never tasted so good, especially warm. The second high point was soup at Gorak Shep, accompanied by a slight slowing of snowfall. Other than that, it was as described- a downhill, wind in your face, death march at 17,000’

I broke down and got a hot water bottle at bedtime. After about 6 hours of being cold, it felt real good to be warm. It was the only way I could get warm, even with dry clothes and a sleeping bag.

Trail Day 11….4 May 2008 Day 89 Downhill Dash

It was a beautiful day around breakfast time. So nice that they took down the dining tent and we ate breakfast open air. It was quite a sight; other trekkers were stopping to snap our picture. Good start to the day.

We dropped 3,700’ in elevation today. It was a downhill dash. Had lunch in a lodge in Pheriche. Pheriche is home to the Himalaya Rescue Association and a stainless steel monument to deceased climbers. It was nice to be in a lodge again. Up until this point the weather was good. Windy, but good.

About 30 minutes after lunch, it was time to bust out the gore-tex. It rained for the rest of the afternoon. Luckily, our camp at Deboche was at a lodge. We shared the common area with 5 ladies from New Zealand. That lodge saved our butts, it would have been cold, wet, and miserable climbing into a tent after the rain we endured. We had to wonder what was going thru the minds of the trekkers headed up the mountain. We had great weather all the way up. Consensus was that uphill in the rain would be mentally challenging.

Trail Day 12….5 May 2008 Day 90

3 months on the road. 

First stop along the trail is the monastery at Tengboche. Thupten spent 10 years here. He was pardoned from his life as a monk when his father passed away. As the youngest child, it was his duty to care for his mother. That was something like 20 years ago, many of his friends are still here. Thupten is a name given by the Lama, and it means “follow the religion”

We pulled a 1,200’ uphill climb today like a stroll in the park. It is great to have oxygen, and we’re still at 12,000’.

Camped in Namche Bazar again. Determined that 13 days without a shower was enough. I could smell myself and did not like it. The shower was a tin building with corrugated fiberglass roof. When you can see your breath and steam comes off your body, no amount of hot water will keep your naked body warm. Before the shower, I got a haircut and clean shave with a straight razor. Not a knick, the dude did excellent. No more Grizzly Adams look, at least for a while.

We had a discussion about porters. Indentured servants or just happy to have a job?

We each tipped a minimum of $300. This was divided up by our accounting committee between the different classes of staff: Porters and Yak drivers, kitchen staff, assistant guides, Sidar, and Group Leader. Sidar is the boss of the Sherpa staff. Group Leader is the overall boss, he takes care of us.

Trail Day 13….6 May 2008 Day 91

Namche to Phakding. Another downhill sprint. Estimated the ultimate load capacity of a suspension bridge to be 25,000 lbs. Based on the following assumptions:
- Two- 1.5” galvanized wire rope along bridge deck carry the entire load.
- Ignore upper 1” cables
- 300’ bridge length
- 20’ sag from ends to middle
- 100 kip tensile strength per rope.
- Assume point load at center
- Assume anchor points are sufficient for calculated load.
If anyone has time to run a model of this, I’d love to know the correct answer. Maybe its on google somewhere. Rumor has it that the Swiss built many of these bridges.

We had songs and dance in Phakding with the Sherpa. They sang. The white folk could not come up with a song we all knew. We should have went with Jingle Bells or Rudolph. We gave our group tip money to the staff. Every one was happy. We had Chang, local beverage fermented from Buckwheat or barley or something. It was white, like milk, and actually quite good.

Trail Day 14 … 7 May 2008 Day 92

Easy morning hike to Lukla. After lunch, we hit the Irish Pub. It was Irish because it had a neon shamrock on the wall. It was cool because the pool table was level. It rocked because the bartender had a decent ipod. It was unique in that Sting was there 6 weeks before us. Apparently he is a Buddhist and he helicoptered in and took his family to the Tengboche monastery. He autographed a t-shirt for the bar wall. Anyway, of the group, 8 of 11 ended up here. We skipped the 3:30 tea, but decided it would be best to make the 6:30 dinner. We ended up partying till around 10pm, with the Swiss contingent singing songs well into the evening. Apparently there was not enough Chang in Phakding for the musketeers to bust out with song…… but 4 hours at the pub did the trick. The other lodge guests thanked us for singing them to sleep, comparing the Swiss songs to a religious experience.

Day 15 ….. 8 May 2008 Day 93

5 am wakeup call for the flight to KTM. Once again, Thupten’s mystical powers were displayed. There were literally hundreds of people in Lukla, waiting for their flights. Each plane carries about 14 people. Ours was first.

The weather cleared and we were treated to great views on the flight. It was nothing to look out the left window and see trees above the plane; simultaneously, out the right window, the ground would be 2,000’ feet below. At one point we buzzed a ridge by about 150’, seconds later we were 3,000’ above a river. To put the flight in perspective, you take off at 9,000’ and land around 1,500’. So the plane never really climbs, we just go down.

At this point, Hotel Marshyangdi was five star. Other than the power outage and lack of hot water. As it was Amy’s birthday, we celebrated with Italian food, but were too beat down from the previous day to continue the festivities into the evening.

We made up for it the next day, decorating our own ‘foot’ at the Rumdoodle.

For adventure and scenery, Nepal is the best destination thus far.



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June 14, 2008 2:47 AM  

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