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The Mission to Everest - Part 3

Mission Accomplished!

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Written: February 26-28, 2009
Continued from Part 1 and Part 2.
Note: This post is supported by The Cheap Route. Go check them out for more Everest Base Camp trek info and planning resources!

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I was dragging my feet with each single step. I didn’t think it was possible but each step felt heavier and heavier. I carried a light pack with water and medicine leaving the rest of my expedition bag back in the guesthouse. The light pack on my back felt like a ton of bricks. I was breathing heavily which was understandable hiking at over 5,000m. I was running out of energy and base camp seemed so close yet so far away. My lungs were burning and I could not see anyone else around me. It was just me and the trail in the remote Himalayas. I was determined to make it one way or another.

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Day 8:

The path to Everest Base Camp (EBC) was long and grueling. The first leg of the trek was from Lobuche (4,877m) to Gorak Shep (5,170m). This part crossed the elevation of 5,000m and it was composed of many ascents and descents. Since Pako the Spaniard changed his mind and decided to try to reach Gorak Shep once again, we walked together with the intent on seeing EBC and Kala Pattar the next day. After walking through a beautiful valley surrounded by snow capped peaks, we climbed steeply up to a hill before making many more descents and ascents. Two hours later, we reached the point in the trail where Pako got lost. When he attempted to reach Gorak Shep yesterday, he followed the cairns which led him past prayer flags to a western hill. My intuition when we encountered the area was that Gorak Shep was still north and we should not be crossing the flags. I believed the cairns were meant for luck and not as a marker for the trail. I was proven right after spotting a trail continuing downhill that could be easily missed. Thirty minutes after continuing on the path we arrived at Gorak Shep. The hike took a little bit more than two and a half hours and I was exhausted. However, after only an hour of rest and an omelet, we took-off for the final destination Everest Base Camp (5,475m).

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It took us about two hours to reach base camp from Gorak Shep. As we approached the camp, we were surrounded by glaciers. The Maltese couple’s guide was throwing stones at some of the ice supporting our path to ensure they were stable. Many people are surprised to hear there are actually no views of the peaks of Everest from base camp. I knew ahead of time and since it was February I expected no climbers to be there either. While EBC would normally be busy with tons of climbers, sherpas and porters buzzing around the numerous tents, it was absolutely deserted when we arrived. Only prayer flags and cairns marked the spot as base camp. There was also a big rock marking the EBC altitude. At the suggestion of my friend Jill, I brought prayer flags and hung them up with the others. After snapping a few pictures and videos, it was time to turn around and head back.

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Getting to base camp from Gorak Shep was one of the most difficult objectives in my life. I was so exhausted I didn’t know if I had enough energy to make it back to Gorak Shep. I couldn’t believe it at the time but it only took one and half hour to make it back. At that point my body was spent. I had been hiking for six hours at high altitude and it was the toughest and most physically demanding day of the whole trek. One of two primary objectives of the trek was accomplished.

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Day 9:

Pako and I set off for Kala Pattar at 6:30am the next morning. Some people recommended a 4am start but we figured that would be too early since there wouldn’t be any light out and we would still be too tired. Some guides told us it would take two and half hours to summit and one and half hours to descend. Both of us intended to descend as far down the trail as we could after Kala Pattar so it was going to be another big day.

The trail up Kala Pattar was tough. Since Pako was better acclimatized and in better shape he quickly outpaced ahead of me while I took it easier. At that altitude I struggled to take ten steps without pausing to catch my breath. After forty five minutes of climbing the path leveled off before climbing towards the summit. After one and half hours I was nearly at the summit but I noticed that Pako had already started running down. I knew why he was running down because it was very cold and my fingers were numb with frozenness. I could not feel my fingers and toes no matter how I try to warm them up. In fact, I was starting to fear getting frostbite. When Pako and I crossed path, he told me how cold he felt and how he couldn’t even get his gloves off to operate his camera. At that point I made the executive decision to grab a few pictures from where I was and descend as well. I was only 50m away from the summit but felt I was close enough to my target. I hung my camera around Pako’s hand and asked him to press the button to snap one of me with Everest. We then ran down the trail quickly clapping our hands the whole way in an attempt to warm them up. Thirty minutes later we regained our feelings in our fingers and toes back in the warmth of the lodge.

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After an hour rest in Gorak Shep, I started the descent portion of the EBC. We left Gorak Shep at 10AM and made Lobuche by noon. We didn’t stop in Lobuche and instead continued arriving in Pheriche at 2 pm. March was quickly approaching and we noticed more trekking groups led by sherpas followed by a team of porters. In fact, the manager at Phunki Tenga lodge indicated the numerous yaks were hauling up expedition gear for the coming season.

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At the Nagarkot Hotel in Pheriche, I had tea and asked the manager about Aaron, Succi and Caroline. He indicated Aaron stopped for lunch but continued on to Namche. Succi (the Irish couple’s guide) stopped in as well but also left for Namche. Caroline also started her descent two days ago. I decided to stay the night at the Khumbu Lodge since it was warmer and Pako continued on to Pangboche. We made plans to meet-up in Namche the next day.

Day 10:

I was the only guest in the Khumbu Lodge so I had an early night. Taking off at 7:45am I made Pangboche in one and half hour. It then took a rough one and half hour to reach Tengboche due to the steep uphill stone steps. After a five minute breather at Tengboche I started the 700m descent to Phunki Tenga. It took us two hours to climb this stretch on the way up but only forty-five minutes on the way down. I noticed a few lodges that were previously closed had now opened. I also encountered two groups of 8-10 trekkers on the way up with their guides and porters,
There was a 300m ascent on switchbacks and moderately slanted path before leveling off on the way to Namche. The level path to Namche contouring around the mountain hills took longer than I expected to complete. I kept expecting to see Namche around the corner but would instead see more hills and more of the path. In the afternoon, the winds picked up swirling the dust. I lost my sunglasses earlier in the day close to Orsho so I wasn’t wearing any eye protection. Instead, I took out my ski goggles and together with my neck warmer it made good sand protection. I finally arrived in Namche at 2pm after six hours and fifteen minutes.

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After meeting up, Aaron and I went to the bakery where I had a well deserved latte and apple pie. We ran into Lynds and Cath, the two English girls we met in Shomare. Caroline, Pako and the two Israelis who were on our flight to Lukla joined us as well. We wondered what happened to the two guys and it was good to catch-up with them. They both looked much skinnier and had done a tough seven hour descent from Gokyo to Namche. All of us caught up over dinner at the Buddha Lodge and it was a very festive atmosphere. Aaron told us the story of Michel and Caroline. Pako discussed the Basque identity and situation. Aaron and I talked about our country. We were excited about getting to Lukla the next day and Kathmandu the day after for a warm shower.

Day 11:
After goodbyes to Pako and Caroline, Aaron and made for Lukla. We got to Jorsale within one hour. We then ran into Lynds and Cath on the trail before getting to Phakding for lunch at noon. Aaron and I had been dreaming about the momos we had there on the way up so we decided to stop there. However, the woman that made it wasn’t there and the restaurant wasn’t open. There was a man playing chess and Aaron asked if he would be able to make us vegetable momos after the game so we waited. While the momos were being cooked, I played a few games of chess first with Aaron and then the town champion. After a second serving, we got the bill and were surprised to see it came to 800 NRs! Looking back, we should have confirmed the price before assuming it was 150NRs like last time. Nonetheless, we had some good momos and a few entertaining games of chess even though we got fleeced out of a couple hundred rupees.

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We left Phakding at 1:30pm and it took us two hours to reach Lukla. The air grew smoky due to the nearby forest fire. It felt like we were walking towards the fire and I once again used the ski goggles and neck warmer to filter out the dust and ash. We tried to find Angalou the cousin of the man we helped with supplies from Kathmandu to no avail. We spent the rest of the day watching TV and eating lots of daal bhat at the Mera Lodge.

Day 12:

Aaron and I checked-in at the airport at 6:45am. We waited anxiously for the plane but it was delayed. After a while, we went to the nearby Himalayan Lodge for tea and snacks. There we met-up with Lynds and Cath, Charlie and Julie, and the two Israelis. We had a false alarm at 10:30am when Aaron thought he the planes were approaching since a lot of workers were congregating at the airport. We rushed outside to see if we could catch the planes coming in but they never showed up. In the afternoon while we played cards and some people sulked, the news came that all flights that day was cancelled due to high wind in the valley.
We tried to make the best of the day. We played some poker, had a few celebratory beers and relaxed in each others’ company. All of us hoped this would be our last night in Lukla and the flights the next day would not be cancelled.

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Day 13:
The same check-in process was repeated. There was a delay once again and it made us antsy. However, at around 8am we heard the planes approaching. Four planes landed within the span of five minutes and quickly unloaded. Once passengers and luggage were loaded up all the planes quickly took off under the tight condition window. We were flying back to Kathmandu.

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If I thought the landing was crazy, the takeoff was quite heart pumping as well. Due to the short runway the plane did not have a lot of time to get liftoff. Additionally the runway was steeply sloped down so the taxi down the runway got your heart pumping because you weren’t quite sure if we were going to lift off the ground and fly or fall down the gorge at the end of the runway! The flight was very bumpy and it pitched and yawed uncomfortably during the ride. The man to the right of me clutched the seat of front of him tightly showing white knuckles. He also prayed and swore under his breath. He looked over at me a few times but I wasn’t really helping his situation since I was laughing maniacally enjoying the flight which resembled a roller coaster ride (without the loops). Julie later said a woman screamed during her flight and cried when the plane landed. By 10am, I arrived back at the Kathmandu Guest House and had a well needed shower, the first in thirteen days. The mission to Everest was accomplished!

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Pictures courtesy of Aaron, 2009

Roadhouse Café pizza and chocolate brownie was the perfect celebratory dinner. The fine company of the group (Aaron, Aoife and Noel, Lynds and Cath, Julie and Charlie, and the two Israelis) also enhanced the occasion. It was great to see everyone in good spirits cleaned up with fresh clothes back in Kathmandu. I even went to a barber to get a haircut and trimmed my beard down to a Conquistador-style moustache. This would be our last group get together before people started heading off different ways. It never ceases to amaze me how easy it can be to connect with people from all over the world and with different backgrounds. Doing the EBC trek in low season greatly facilitated the sense of community since there were so few hikers on the trail and you would keep running into the same people. Not long after being back in the warmth and comforts of Kathmandu, I started missing the trail. I missed the routine, the physical challenge and exhaustion, and the sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. I missed seeing the millions of stars in the clear night sky. There were so many and they felt so close as if you could reach up and touch them. Most of all, I missed the quietness and the savage beauty of the Himalayas.

Posted by NomadicOne 06:09 Archived in Nepal Tagged mountains hiking trekking himalayas nepal everest_base_camp Comments (0)

The Mission to Everest - Part 2

A most eventful day

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Note: Apologies about the premature post, here's the full entry.

Written: February 19, 2009
Continued from Part 1 of 3


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At 1:45PM, Aaron indicated he felt better and was up for making Pheriche. We took off soon after at a slow pace apprehensively. The trail was mostly flat before we crossed a small bridge and started climbing upwards. We looked for the town of Orsho but we never encountered it so we kept on climbing. I periodically looked back and check on Aaron. He said he was fine but I hoped he would not regret continuing to ascend. An hour and ten minutes later we arrived at a small village and asked a local woman if we were at Orsho. She replied to let us know we were at Dingboche (4,320m) and which was 100m higher than Pheriche! We only had another hour of sunlight left but quickly decided we could not stay in Dingboche since it wasn't on our trail and the altitude was 100m higher than where we wanted to stop. We received some vague instructions and continued to hike up the hill to the north hoping to see Pheriche on the other side.

After a short yet exhausting 20 minute hike up the nearby hill, we could only see more hills. I checked the map and confirmed the headed direction and spotted a small trail we were looking for connecting Dingboche to Pheriche. Instead of taking the minor winding trail, we decided not to take the path and but head directly north west descending the valleys and ascending the hills. Finally, on top of the fourth hill, we saw a town and hoped it was Pheriche. A quick inspection of the map against the town's landmarks confirmed we were correct and the both of us felt great relief. We shared a laugh and took a few pictures to remember and celebrate the moment. It had taken us roughly 30 minutes to get in sight of Pheriche and darkness would follow soon. As we zigzagged down the ridge line approaching the first guesthouse past the bridge, we saw Caroline come out smiling to greet us. Once inside the guesthouse, we happily caught up with the Irish couple and their guide/porter.

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Soon after we arrived at the guest house, Aaron bundled up and starting dozing in the common room. I had a few cups of comforting warm black team. The fireplace fueled by yak dung fire provided heating for the room and boiling water. In the early evening, Aaron woke up and said he was considering descending to Pangboche since he wasn't feeling better. Caroline and I discouraged him from that idea since it was getting dark. He decided to sleep on it and did in fact feel better the next morning.

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Day 5:

On our acclimatization day, we took it easy in the morning and stayed indoors. At 2PM and in the afternoon sun, we ventured out of the lodge and took a walk around town. The Himalayan Rescue Association is based in Pheriche and run a medical clinic there. Right beside the HRA clinic is the Everest memorial marking all the trekkers and Sherpas who've died climbing Everest. All around us were majestic mountains and peaks. I was able to take some time to enjoy the quiet and soak in the sights. We played a few rounds of cards, had an early dinner and called it an early night.

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Day 6:

Our party of four (Irish couple, Aaron and I) took off early on the sixth day of my trek. Caroline could not follow us since she developed a stomach issue on Day 5 and it did not get any better. All of us felt bad for her since the temperature during the cold Pheriche night made dashes to the toilet even more miserable. We offered her Cipro but none of it seemed to help.

The trek to Lobuche (alt. 4,877m) was long and rough. We started off with mostly level terrains yet the hike was still strenuous due to the altitude. The trail then broke right and started climbing steeply requiring many breaks to catch our breath. After crossing a bridge over snow, ice and water we arrived in Dughla where we stopped for lunch. On the map, Dughla looked like a town but it really consisted of one lodge with the most disgusting toilet in Nepal.

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Leaving Dughla, the path continued to climb sharply for a while before we reached a plateau. With heart pumping fast and trying to catch my breath, I was still stunned by the sight in front of me. There were many cairns of prayer stones some adorned with prayed flags in the plateau area. The Himalayan peaks in the distance felt so much closer than they've ever been. It was here we took some time to rest and enjoy our surroundings. There was a memorial to Babu Sherpa, a legendary Sherpa mountaineer and holder of two world records on Everest (fastest ascent without oxygen at 16 hours, longest time spent on summit without oxygen at 21 hours). The rest of the journey to Lobuche was at an even level hugging ridge edges. Twenty minutes from Lobuche, several people developed ills and discomforts. Aaron and Aoife had headaches while Noel had strong stomach pain reminiscent of his food poisoning in Delhi. We arrived to Lobuche tired and ill in one way or another. After talking about it so much during our final stretches, Aaron and I ordered the apple "pai" (320NRs) at the lodge to celebrate. When it came out, we realized it was essentially a large momo stuffed with mashed apples.

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Day 7:

The 7th day started off in a negative manner. None of us slept very well due to the altitude, cold and illness. Noel still had stomach pains and was vomiting and Aoife developed similar symptoms. Aaron had headaches and my stomach did not feel great. My hypothesized culprit was the lunch in Dughla. After a group discussion, Aoife and Noel decided to stay an extra day and rest in Lobuche to see if they would feel better. Aaron and I also decided it would be a good idea to wait one more day but head for Gorak Shep (alt. 5,170m) and Everest Base Camp (alt. 5,475m) the next day. We took the day easy by resting and playing cards. In the afternoon, Aaron and I took a short stroll up a small hill to get some fresh air and snap some pictures. We briefly met an English couple at our lodge but due to woman's illness they left shortly after for lower altitude and warmer temperatures. A Spaniard named Paco came in mid-day for brunch and took off for Gorak Shep. He came back around 3:30PM frustrated since he got lost and did not find the way to Gorak Shep turning back to seek shelter before darkness. Since this was his second time on the EBC trail (he first completed in '86), he intended to descend the next day rather than hit Gorak Shep/EBC.

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Day 8:

If the 7th day started off negative, the start of the 8th day was a disaster. Aaron knocked on my door at 7AM with his bags packed and told me he was descending to Namche. He didn't sleep at all and was feeling terrible. He wished me luck and stay safe. I returned the sentiments and we agreed to meet in Namche in two days. When Aoife and Noel came down, they also said their conditions did not improve and they would descend. We exchanged contacts and wished each other well. Of the group of people I'd been hiking with only I would be continuing on to Gorak Shep (5,170m), Everest Base Camp (5,475m) and Kala Patthar (alt. 5,643m). After a very lonely breakfast, I steeled myself to continue and take on the final and toughest peaks of the EBC trek alone.

Posted by NomadicOne 01:23 Archived in Nepal Tagged mountains hiking trekking himalayas nepal everest_base_camp Comments (0)

The Mission to Everest - Part 1

Surviving the most dangerous airport in the world

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Author's Note:
Hello everyone! I would like my travel blog posts to be more engaging with readers. Please comment and let me know your thoughts. I have a ton of un-posted entries detailing my remaining travels in Nepal/India as well as my time in Nicaragua and Southern Africa for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. By subscribing to this travel blog you'll be notified by email when I post new ones. Feel free to let me know how I can make this blog better.

Continue reading below for Part 1 (of 3) of my trek to Everest Base Camp!

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Written: February 17, 2009

Today is Day 4 of my trek to Everest Base Camp and the last 5 days have gone by quickly. First of all, I found a hiking companion from Calgary called Aaron. I met him at the Nepal Tourism Board office after I realized I needed to pay entrance fees and a Trekkers' Information Management System (TIMS) card before the start of my trek. Since I only realized I needed such a card the day before I was flying/starting my trek I had to hurry over and get it as quickly as possible.

I made my way from Kathmandu Guest House to the Tourism office (see this link for more details on where the office is located) on foot. Although it was a 25-30 min walk through chaotic Kathmandu, I quite enjoyed the experience of not being in touristy Thamel. At the office, Aaron noticed my Canadian passport and asked which city I was from and we started talking. Aaron quickly decided to join me on the trek and an hour later we had our permits and he also got the same flights as I did. We met-up with two of Aaron's friends, Eowyn and Marico, for dinner which was very enjoyable through pricey (800 NRs) due to celebratory drinks.

Due to my excitement and slight anxiety for the challenge ahead, I didn't sleep much that night. Fortunately I didn't have to wait long since we had to get up early and go to the airport to fly to Lukla. February 14th would be Day 1 of Wei's Everest Base Camp (EBC) Trek.

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Day 1:

Our 6:30AM flight was delayed to 8AM but even without the delay we arrived way too early (4:50AM). The sky was still dark and the air cold and crisp as we waited outside the closed terminal. We started chatting with some locals from Lukla who were transporting supplies and we agreed to take one of their bags since we were both well under the 20kg limit. The 25kg pack we got through free saved them 1250 NRs since it was 50Rs/kg.

While waiting for our delayed plane, we chatted to a Bulgarian woman who was doing a mountain flight. Finally, at around 8AM we took off on Yeti Air's de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otters planes and left for Lukla.

Our approach and landing was extreme since the runway was short and sloped up significantly. The end of the short runway was the mountain face so any mistakes and we'd be slamming in. Just a couple of months earlier in October 2008, 18 people on a Yeti Air flight died crashing into the Lukla airport. Just take a look at this landing and takeoff video and you would understand why the Lukla Airport (formally known as the Tenzing-Hillary Airport) has been declared the most dangerous airport by The History Channel's show "Most Extreme Airports". If you would like to dispute the recipient of that title please feel free to comment or let me know!

Once we picked up our bags we took a look at the hotel our local friend's brother worked at. We were offered some tea but declined politely itching to take-off on our trek.

See the itinerary of this trip, and details about each destination.

The trek from Lukla (alt. 2,860m) to Phakding was relatively easy and took only 2 hours. Although it was mostly downhill, during the EBC trek, one rarely only ascends or descends but does a combination of both. We stopped at the Evergreen Lodge for some delicious Tibetan dumplings called momos. After a short rest we pushed on to Monju (alt. 2,800m) and past the Sagarmatha National Park entrance to Jorsale. We stopped there for the night and I was spent for the day. The last leg took 2 hours and I really started to feel how heavy a 12 kg pack can be ascending at high-altitude. The first day was tiring but very rewarding. We crossed many steel footbridges, passed through small settlements and enjoyed the views of the valleys.

We ate the traditional Nepali meal, Dhal Bhat, for dinner and went to bed at 8:30PM. Day 2 would start at 7AM and we planned on ascending over 700m to Namche Bazar.

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Day 2:

We departed Jorsale at 7:30AM. Since Jorsale was the last stop before the steep ascent to Namche it did not take us long to get to the foothills of the switchbacks. Aaron was a former professional soccer player so he was ahead of me the whole stretch. He was nice enough to make many stops and wait for me as I slowly made my way up. It was very comforting to know I had a hiking companion just in case anything happened to me. His quick progress was also good motivation for me to push harder and not take as many breaks. Nevertheless, the steep ascent required me to stop for a short rest after every 10-15 minutes.

We arrived in Namche (alt. 3,440m) at 10:30AM and we checked into Hotel Namche. The cafe around the corner provided a good lunch and we ran into the Irish couple, Noel and Aoife, I had met at a trekking equipment shop back in Kathmandu. Since we started in Jorsale instead of Phakding/Monju and we were both feeling good we decided to skip the suggested acclimatization day on Day 3. We arrived so early to on Day 2 we had enough time to do a mini-acclimatization day in the area around Namche. We strolled up to the Gompa overlooking Namche and returned back to the hotel to rest during the afternoon. Dinner was composed of more Dhal Bhat with Marco and Kim from Montreal. They were headed to do some rock climbing at Island Peak so our path would be diverging soon.

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Day 3:

Skipping the suggested acclimatization day on Day 3, we made for Tengboche late in the morning. We mistakenly took the long way through Phunki Tenga instead of taking the 1.5 hour path that skirts around hills at 3,500m. Our path took us to an Everest View Point close to the Japanese Hotel (alt. 3,800m) before going down to Khumjong. We arrived at Phunki Tenga at 11:30AM after 2.5 hours of trekking and stopped for lunch. With 700m of ascent, Tengboche (alt. 3,870m) would be another 2 hours and by the time we arrived the air was chilly and clouds were rolling in.

Since mid-February was still winter and low-season for trekking, it wasn't strange to run into the same people at different stops of the trek. We stayed at the same Tengboche guesthouse as Noel and Aoife. We also met a French woman named Caroline and a Dutch man named Michelle. We all had dinner together along with the Irish couple's sherpa guide and porter. To pass some time, Aaron and I taught Aoife and Noel how to play the card game "Asshole" (also called President, Big 2). We especially found it funny that the couple couldn't remember the order of the suits and Aoife was continuously chanting, "Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts, Spades".

The sleeping bags were unpacked that night due to the cold temperature at night. My newly purchased -20C rated "North Face" sleeping bag was quite warm with two blankets on top. I hoped the sleeping bag will continue to keep me sufficiently warm at higher altitudes.

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Day 4:
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The trek to Pheriche (alt. 4,240m) was supposed to be simple: approximately 1 hour of downhill/flats before 3 hours of ascent. Not long after starting in the morning, I felt a light headache but after a Tylenol and a granola bar from Aaron I felt much better. Caroline decided to join us for this segment and we reached Shomare in no time before deciding to make a stop. Aaron developed a mild headache and we decided to take an extended break to see if he would feel better after a nap. At the suggestion of two British girls, he took 1/2 a Diamox pill to combat symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). At this elevation, altitude sickness is very real and can quickly progress into HAPE or HACE which are potentially fatal. The primary warning signs of altitude sickness include: headaches, fatigue, dizziness, insomnia, sensation of tingling, shortness of breath and diarrhea. The main form of treatment for the early symptoms of altitude sickness is to rapidly descend to a lower altitude and acclimatize. After some discussion, we decided I would stay with Aaron in Shomare until he felt better while Caroline continues on to Pheriche. Worst case scenario: If Aaron didn't feel better the next day he would descend back down to Tengboche or Namche while I continue with the trek and we would rendezvous later.

It is currently 1PM and I am seated in the sunny dining room of a tea house in Shomare while Aaron naps across the room. I have completed writing my first entry on my Mission to Everest. Aaron and I have agreed that if he feels fine by 2PM, we will continue hiking up to Pheriche (200m ascent, 2 hours) rather than stay in Shomare. At this point I'm still uncertain where we will be staying tonight but I did not want to abandon Aaron. I'm hoping he recovers and we can reach Everest Base Camp together in a few days.

What would you do if your hiking partner could not continue yet you were so close to your goal?

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Posted by NomadicOne 05:58 Archived in Nepal Tagged flying hiking trekking himalayas moutains nepal backpacking everest_base_camp Comments (0)

Staying at the KGH

Kathmandu Guest House, not Kingston General Hospital

sunny 18 °C
View Subcontinent Expedition 2009 & Consulting Life on NomadicOne's travel map.

Written: February 13, 2009

On a cool evening night, I walked out of the Kathmandu Guest House (KGH) into the narrow streets. The Kathmandu Guest House is a central landmark in Thamel and the first hostel in Kathmandu. I walked northbound exploring and soaking up Kathmandu at night. A rickshaw pulled alongside and started following me. I kept looking forward and walked purposely but I was not surprised to hear the driver start talking to me.

Rickshaw Driver: Rickshaw?
I kept walking.
Rickshaw Driver: Hash? Marijuana?
Again, I stayed silent and kept walking.
Rickshaw Driver: Ziggy Ziggy?

That caught my attention. I wondered what he meant by "Ziggy Ziggy" so I kept walking but looked at him directly as I asked, "What's Ziggy Ziggy?" The rickshaw driver was a young man of about 18-20 years of age wearing a cap over his longish dark hair. He smiled sheepishly at my question and answered, "Sex. With Nepali woman!" I laughed realizing I was being solicited for adult services again except this time it was by a service manager (pimp) rather than the front line staff (escort) like the last time in Dubai. I heard stories about the rampant prostitution in Kathmandu but did not expect to be solicited for "Ziggy Ziggy" so quickly. I told the sales representative a lie and said I had a girlfriend waiting for me back in the hotel. For some reason this did not seem like an issue to the pimp even after I explained that such services would not be necessary. His persistence, a required trait in his industry, was commendable and before he finally left me alone he also shared with me the starting rate of $50 US/hour.

===

I took the tourist bus from Pokhara to Kathmandu (KTM) for 300NRS (6.5 hours) and arrived at 2PM. I checked into Kathmandu Guest House, the first hostel in Kathmandu. The famous band "The Beatles" stayed in KGH. The room rates at KGH were much higher than other guesthouses nearby but the location and big screen TV in the main common room made it worth it.

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I spent the first two days in Kathmandu relaxing, walking around getting a feel for the city. I then checked out Kathmandu's Durbar square, an area which includes many temples and palaces. It was a festival day and many Hindus were out making their offerings and prayers. I followed the Lonely Planet's suggested walking tour to get to the Durbar from Thamel and picked out a few sights along the way.

Since my knee was healing very well and I only felt a little pain when going up/down the stairs, I decided I would definitely go on the trek to Everest Base Camp. I booked round-trip flights to Lukla (my starting point for the trek) for $197USD. I also booked tickets from Delhi to Mumbai ($62USD) for March 1 in order to catch my return flight back to Toronto via Dubai. With my return legs figured out, I shopped around the hiking gear stores and equipped myself for the start of my trek on Thursday. I cheated a bit and said I was a poor Chinese student in order to get better prices. After visiting several shops I settled on one where I grabbed a sleeping bag (-20C), 45L mountain backpack, down filled "North Face" jacket, "North Face" fleece top, "Marmot" thermal pants, gloves, neck warmer, head lamp, compass, map and gore-tex pants for $140CAD. Even though the gear was not authentic they were of very high quality and it would be so much more expensive in Canada.

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On my last day before the trek, I went to the Monkey Temple which had excellent views of Kathmandu. It wasn't far from Thamel but still required some navigation and a climb up some steep steps. The reason the temple was called the Monkey Temple was due to the fact that the place was overrun with monkeys. In fact, after my visit I rested at the gate to the temple and took out my strawberry jam danish. I saw a monkey approach me carefully eying the danish. I quickly tried to put it away but suddenly it jumped on my back and tried to take it. I dropped the danish and the monkey jumped down, grabbed it and ran away to a nearby rooftop. He took two bites of it before abandoning it. Damn monkey!

Word of advice: Do not bring/eat food at the Monkey Temple!
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Leftover danish on the left.

Posted by NomadicOne 01:50 Archived in Nepal Tagged nepal backpacking Comments (0)

The Return to Pokhara

Bandipur and the return "home".

sunny 18 °C
View Subcontinent Expedition 2009 & Consulting Life on NomadicOne's travel map.

Written: February 8th, 2009

Riding back into lakeside Pokhara and seeing Fewa Tal lake and the Annapurnas felt like returning home. While many people only spend 1-2 days in Pokhara before heading off to trek, I already spent 3 days in Pokhara before renting the motorcycle and would be staying for 3 days more before heading to Kathmandu. I decided the extra days in Pokhara would be good to give my knee some time to heal. Additionally, extra time chilling in Pokhara before heading to chaotic Kathmandu seemed like a good idea.

The ride from Gorkha to Pokhara was smooth and only interrupted by a stop to the beautiful town of Bandipur perched on a mountain saddle 200m long with a width just wide enough for the small town composed of Newari buildings (2-3 storey) on either side of the main street. The town became a prosperous trading centre during the 19th century. With the construction of the Kathmandu-Pokhara highway passing through Dumre and bypassing Bandipur, there were a lot less reasons to take the windy road (constructed in 1998) from Dumre up to Bandipur. However, the seclusion and beautiful views of the Himalayas were well worth the stop as well as looking at Newari architecture and an authentically preserved town.

Pictures from Bandipur:
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After a few hours exploring Bandipur, I rode back to Pokhara in no time and into the chaotic city traffic once again. I checked into my old room at the Hotel Peace Horizon and had a much needed hot shower. I cleaned and redressed my knee scrape with iodine and balciturn powder bought from the pharmacy. I considered waiting until dark to return the motorbike so the owner would have a harder time seeing the damages but I decided to face the music and be honest. As I rode the bike out the guesthouse, I see Doug and Kate and we had a quick chat to catch-up. I showed them the damages to the motorcycle from my crash and Kate reassured me and said it should cost no more than 2000NRs ($27.60US). In the end, the damages was assessed at 1600NRs ($20US) and I paid off the rest of the rental fees. The 5 days of motorcycling came to 1750NRs and including the damages it was nearly double. Still, $40US is pretty good for 5 days of riding around Nepal. Gas cost 2000NRs and it was another 1000NRs to repair the little girl's bike I struck. Even with everything tallied up, the motorcycle rental was totally worth it.

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Striking traffic!
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The road back to Pokhara

I celebrated my less-than-expected damage costs by having beers with Kate and Doug. They had a rough time getting from Varanasi to the Birgunj border post. According to them, the bad roads of Nepal would be considered very good on certain stretches in India. They told me crazy stories regarding the road conditions and traffic. One particular story included a road so worn it only had 3"-wide strip of asphalt with motorcyclists in both directions trying to stay on the strip and playing a game of chicken. The height from the strip of asphalt to the rest of the "road" could almost be a feet high and sometimes they felt like they were riding through construction rubble! We caught up, exchanged travel stories mostly on riding in India vs. Nepal. It was truly good to meet-up and catch-up with them as they were heading off to a 10 day trek the next day. After finding out their Jomson trek was along a finished paved road, they decided to change their plans last minute. They wanted an authentic hike so they opted for the Annapurna Sanctuary hike which I wanted to do as well but will have to leave until my next visit to Nepal.

I spent my last two days in Pokhara relaxing, feasting and backing up my photos to USB since I had to reformat my key. The computer at the Daman hotel gave me a virus so I reformatted my USB key and spent time organizing and backing up pictures from my camera onto the key. During my return to Pokhara, I also had cravings for Italian so I had lasagna for dinner at "Rainbow restaurant" on my first night back and spaghetti bolognaise on the subsequent night.

On day 4 of Knee-Watch, progress was great and the knee was healing nicely. I could take on weight no problem and the range of motion good. I was feeling a lot less pain and would estimate my total recovery status to be 60%. My planned Everest Base Camp (EBC) hike start date was Friday, February 13th, 2009 which gave me 4 more days. Hopefully the healing and plans progress smoothly and I could start at that time.

On my last day in Pokhara, I had coffee and pastry at the Himalayan cafe before talking with the owner about Nepali politics. The older gentleman was frustrated with the inefficient and corrupt government. He wanted to see real representation, real work and real progress. According to him, the Maoists (Communists) have gained 50% of the vote due to the people's frustrations but still could not govern. The current "democratic" government has been in power as a minority accomplished nothing. Corruption was rampant, politicians and public services have done nothing to improve living conditions. There were well qualified professionals in the service but they were not listened to by their superiors. He told me stories of votes being bought with hopes of getting a return favour. But after a few years, the people know they can't trust the politicians and their promise of favours anymore. The Nepali people's frustrations with the corruption are indicated with the overwhelming votes for the Maoists. The situation reminded me stories I heard in Palestine of people voting for Hamas not to support terrorism but to send a message to the Palestinian Authority that they were tired of the corruption and lack of action. I explained that though democracy wasn't perfect, in my opinion it was the best and most realistic system. It also takes a long time to mature in a new country and doesn't happen overnight. It requires the people to ask for more, to be educated and hold their representatives accountable. It seemed like all of those key steps were gradually happening and with a free press, democracy in Nepal can only move forward with time.

Well that's it from Pokhara, "Hello Kathmandu!"

Posted by NomadicOne 00:59 Archived in Nepal Tagged nepal backpacking motorcycling Comments (0)

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