Category Archives: Nepal: From desert to crest

Day 13+ Where am I now?

Las Vegas
2001 ft/609m

I’m two years overdue writing this final post. Though I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on this trip it’s taken me this long to get myself to sit down and share it. Here’s why: the experience led to great revelation but not necessarily to great change, and I find that embarrassing. Bear with me for a minute and I’ll explain.

Before this trip I didn’t know anything about Nepal and never desired to visit. But a friend of ours who’d done the trek before extended an invitation and my husband was enthralled by the idea. I was scared, as I usually am by international travel. I always imagine that a coup will break out or traffickers will slip drugs into my bag at the airport and I’ll end up in jail. (I never should have watched Brokedown Palace.) But I agreed to the trip and figured I’d turn it into an opportunity for motivation and growth. I’d been needing to get to the doctor for a checkup, which this trip required, and I wanted to address a longtime issue that’s worsened year by year: anxiety.

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Day 11-12: Namche Bazaar to Lukla

11/17-18/2015
Namche Bazaar 3446m/11270 ft.
Lukla: 2845m/9383 ft.
17km, 11.1 miles, 7-8 hours hike time

We spent a day relaxing in Namche Bazaar and trying to transition our minds to reconnecting with reality. Namche has a measurably better wifi connection than other stops along this route so we all updated friends and family, sent photos, and shared them with one another. We also kind of quietly retreated into groups of two or three, picking cafes or bars for lunch or a drink rather than congregating in the communal dining room at our teahouse. There is definitely a sense that the worst is over. Where once the team was our focus, now exploring the local experience is more prevalent on our minds.

I was still tired but felt better after a solid night’s sleep. I went out to stock up on the local cold meds, using my pantomime skills to explain to the Nepali woman that I needed relief for a cough and (now) head congestion. I wandered the streets for a bit, enjoying the warm sunshine and odd sites you only find in towns like this. I found an ATM and marveled that 400 rupees will tide me over for a long time here in Nepal and only cost me about $40USD.

Farming outside Namche

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Day 10: Pheriche to Namche Bazaar

11/16/2015
Pheriche 4371m/14340 ft.
Namche Bazaar 3446m/11270 ft.
19km, 11.8 miles, 7-8 hours hike time

Unfortunately I was awake and coughing for a lot of the night in Pheriche and I was horrified to hear that I kept our neighbors awake too. They offered me cough suppressant the next morning. I felt terrible doing this but I declined since Ryan had told me it was best to just let all these mountain maladies work through your system. It’s faster, he said, when you don’t take a lot of meds that suppress but prolong the symptoms.

We’d decided to head to Namche Bazaar in one day so we could have an extra day there to relax. The trail is mostly downhill, but there’s a lot of distance to cover. We’d done this stretch in two days on the way up to help deal with acclimatizing.

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Day 9: Kala Patthar (Gorak Shep) to Pheriche

11/16/2015
Summit of Kala Patthar 5643m/18514 ft.
Pheriche 4371m/14340 ft.
10km, 6.2 miles, 3-4 hours hike time

When our group descended Kala Patthar we found the rest of our team packed up and waiting. Even though we were headed downhill it was getting late and we wante to get to Pheriche for the night. We hurried to grab some tea, replenish our water, and get going.

The summit of Kala Patthar had been windy, cold, and dry and by the time we left I felt my chest constricting and a rattling in my lungs. Departing Gorak Shep took us up a small rise, and as I climbed I kept looking around and lifting my earmuff to listen for a repetitive, soft whistling noise that was bugging me. I thought it was coming from someone’s pack. When I finally took my earmuffs off and heard myself breathing I realized I was making the noise. I laughed. When I go to the doctor’s office with my all too regular bouts of bronchitis, they ask if I’m wheezing. I tell them I don’t think I am because I don’t know what that sounds like. Well, apparently it sounds like this, and I knew it instantly since so many people have described it to me.

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Day 9: Kala Patthar (we made it!)

11/15/2015
Gorak Shep 5164m/16942 ft.
Summit of Kala Patthar 5643m/18514 ft.

Kala Patthar is brown, snow covered Pumori behind, Gorak Shep bottom right corner Image: Nepal-dia

From Everest BaseCamp you can’t actually see Mt. Everest, it’s blocked by smaller, closer peaks. The only place for a rookie like me to get a good look at the peak – besides a distant view from Namche Bazaar – is by climbing a ridge above Gorak Shep called Kala Patthar. This is really the goal of this trek but since nobody has heard of Kala Patthar it’s just easier to say you’re going to EBC.

Kala Patthar is just a small peak, too small to qualify as a mountain, and it’s part of a ridge up to the mountain Pumori. The “summit” is 18,500 feet but we started from 16,900 feet at Gorak Shep, so it’s a steep 1,500-foot climb that takes 90-120 minutes. Many people leave pre-dawn to catch the sunrise over Everest but, after a long day yesterday we decided to sleep in. We left at 6am.

Last night was quietly joyful as we reveled in our success and also worried a bit about our friend who was on oxygen. You definitely notice the altitude here through the cold, dry air and a slight headache. It was no surprise that the bedroom here was the coldest yet. I so wished I could just curl up by the wood stove in the dining room. Even though I was in the habit getting into my sleeping bag before changing into the long johns I slept in I was still shivering. I used my clothes and jackets as a makeshift blanket on top of my bag.

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Day 8: Base Camp

After a quick stop for tea at Gorak Shep a few of us hurried on in the late afternoon. And here we are at our first goal, 17,600 feet, the site of the Base Camp for Mt. Everest expeditions! (And yet this was not the most exciting day, stay tuned for tomorrow.)

I’d forgotten that the weather window to summit Everest comes in the spring so was surprised to find the area deserted. A pile of stones strung with prayer flags marked the unofficial entrance, overlooking the Khumbu glacier and icefall, and the rocky valley floor where camp is built. After brief disappointment, the isolation and history of the area turned the moment magical.

Base Camp is set up in the flat area circled in black in the center of this photo. The Khumbu Icefall, which is the first step up to Everest, follows the red line, and the Khumbu glacier follows the green line on the right. Continue reading

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Day 8: Lobuche to Gorak Shep to Base Camp

11/14/2015
Lobuche: 4930m/16175 ft.
Gorak Shep 5164m/16942 ft.
Base Camp 5360m/17650 ft.
6-8km, 4-6 miles, 7 hours hike time

Terrain: A steady sloping up on a rocky trail that alternates between valleys and hillsides.

A fun surprise for us at Lobuche as we reconnected with two team members who’d split off at Namche wanting to move faster and skip Base Camp on their way to climb Lobuche peak. It was fun to catch up and hear that they’d made their goal and were safe and sound.

The teahouse was the most crowded yet, not unlike a Colorado ski lodge during spring break. I noted the ratio of women to men, probably in the range of 4 to 1, and most people looked like serious climbers. I suspect this must be a launch point for expeditions to many of the nearby peaks. Continue reading

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Day 7: Dingboche to Lobuche & The Valley of Ghosts

11/13/2015
Dingboche: 3867m/12687 ft.
Lobuche: 4930m/16175 ft.
8km, 5 miles, 5.5 hours hike time

Terrain: Rolling hills climbing above the treeline. Surrounded now by the big peaks.

In 1996 journalist Jon Krakauer signed on with an expedition to climb Mt. Everest. He was, and is, both a climbing fanatic and a writer, on assignment for Outside magazine to research the recent boom in climbing outfitters taking people up the mountain.

The story of the blizzard that engulfed the summit, trapping several climbing parties and killing 8 people, is well-known. Until the 2014 avalanche, it was the largest loss-of-life in a single day on the mountain. The very commercialization Krakauer was there to research is blamed for a large part in the tragedy.

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Day 6: Rest day in Dingboche

11/12/2015
Dingboche: 4410m/14468 ft.

Well, I made it one more day. That’s about all I remember after we said goodbye to four members of our team and continued up the hill. When we arrived at Dingboche I went straight to bed and stayed there for a solid day, making trips to the bathroom to dry heave. Ryan gave me permission to skip the acclimatization hike on the morning of our rest day.

The teahouse was lively and seemed full of fun, and I heard Dingboche had a coffee and pastry shop that I was sad to miss.  I didn’t feel like socializing, but our room had ice coating the inside of the window and the warmest place was the dining room, so I took short forays out to drink Sprite and nibble on bread. A group of 5-7 English men sitting at the nearby tables struck up a conversation the first night. They were drinking pretty heavily which amazed me seeing how badly that goes with altitude and exertion.  Our group stuck to tame entertainment like Yahtzee and cider. That’s Ellie the yak watching over the game.

Serious Yahtzee going on (seriously posed that is)

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Day 5: Deboche to Dingboche

11/11/2015
Deboche: 3867m/12687 ft.
Dingboche: 4410m/14468 ft.
9km, 5.5 miles, 6.5 hours hike time

Terrain: Much of the trail follows along the side of the mountains offering gorgeous views of mountains and valleys. Flat, with a gradual upward slope. The crowds thinned out a bit.

It was a quick night at Deboche and I was restless and ill. Up and down between bed and meals, cold in the room but hot in the dining area, back and forth to the bathroom, which was not a pleasant place to be sick.

The next morning four members of our team turned around to head back down the hill. The full trip was long – 21 days – and some people couldn’t take that much time away. We’d started the trip with 21 people and now we were down to 11. Both Jagat and Tricia (TFK’s Ops Director) were leaving, along with two fun-loving guys we’d enjoyed. This made the group a bit more intimidating since there were now only two others who weren’t fairly serious climbers. Continue reading

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