This a first draft of the condensed highlights (in some case low points) of our trip to Nepal with a few (about 2 per day) photos.
Narrative explains photos - CLICK ON EACH PHOTO TO GET ENLARGEMENT - THEN CLOSE NEW BROWSER WINDOW
I started devouring Himalayan climbing sagas at the age of 10 and my dreams of going there emerged shortly thereafter. Not to climb Everest – even then
I knew that was not realistic – but just to see the mountains up close. For many complex reasons this trip always got delayed to now – my 60th year. Our
core group consisted of Volker Mehlo – a work colleague with a similar dream, Ayo – my future son-in-law with available time due to a career break and
my adventurous wife Randye, who would join us for the first part of the journey. The trip was to be a trek to the Everest base camp area with a few “small”
Himalayan peaks thrown in. Our “expedition” of 40 run by Tim Rippel of “Peak Freaks” consisted of 12 climbers trying the more ambitious Mt Pumori –
some in preparation for an Everest climb, 8 of us doing the base camp trek and a climb of Island Peak, and about an equal number supporting staff made
up of Sherpa climbers and porters.
On a trip like this one knows not all will go well but for Randye it almost did not start. We found out at the airport that Travelocity had not fully booked
Randye’s ticket –and that there was no seat on an overbooked flight for her. After 90 minutes Continental finally agreed to further overbook the flight and
put Randye on to our 28 hour flight to Katmandu.
Nepal is a stunning beautiful country with wonderful people but in many ways primitive by western standards. Although, not the focus of this account it
should be noted that 70% the population lives on less then $2 a day. Children at very young ages are put to work. The hotels in the capital typically have
electricity less than a 1/3 of the day (we had head lamps). And most tragically each year some 5-10,000 young girls are still sold by their families, for just
a few dollars, into slavery as prostitutes for the red light districts in Indian cities.
Chaotic, vibrant, confusing. The roads are a streaming mesh of everything from overloaded bicycles, motor bikes, banged up cars, beat up mini buses,
jammed vans, trucks, carts, masses of people and assorted large animals. This city of over a million does not have a single working traffic light (there was
one at the main intersection but it was never on), there are no stop, yield or directional signs – all the traffic is a free for all with motorized vehicles, the
people and the animals all going in random directions on the narrow – 100’s of years old - streets and sidewalks – vying for the same space. Our Hotel – in
the center of this chaos – was charming as long as you did not expect hot water, regular electricity, or a mattress that was softer then the consistency of
Bhaktapur – Day 1
On our first day we visited the ancient capital of Bhaktapur. The 40 minute cab ride gave the sensation of being inside a demolition derby. The cab dropped
us off in slum that looked like a bombed out war zone. I was afraid that Ayo’s successfully negotiating our price down from $6 to$5 might have got us dumped
in some no man’s land, but a short walk did take us to the ancient city walls. We took a “guide” mainly to avoid being constantly harassed by other “guides”,
but the tour and city were exceptionally beautiful.
Chitwan Jungle Days 2-4
Before heading off to the mountains we thought we would spend 2 days in the jungle and in anticipation of
rugged conditions there we chose the most highly recommended Jungle lodge. Even thought we flew most of the
way we still had a bone jarring bus ride followed by river trip in a crude flat boat to get us to the lodge. Not
exactly what we expected. Our room was pad locked shut. Once inside 3 bolts secured the door from who knew
what - we were afraid to ask. The room was already filled with lizards, bugs, and giant spiders. The one light bulb
only work for a short designated time each day. Hot water was for just 2 hours, and the shower flooded the rest
of the bathroom for a few hours till it slowly drained away. At least we did not have the rats some complained of.
We came to see the animals, so on top of an elephant we stormed through the dense jungle. It was hard to see anything but the vines and trees, and
bushes smashing into us. We saw nothing. Next day we tried on foot. We were warned how to engage the 3 dangerous animals we might see, since out
guide was prohibited from carrying any weapon. If a rhinoceros charges, try to climb a tree. If you see a Bengal Tiger stare at it , as it might think you
are more powerful then it, but if you see the most dangerous animal – the sloth bear – never look at it, as they attack people’s faces. We only saw a
single one ton black horned rino and it chose not to charge us – fortunate as there were not suitable trees to be found. As for tigers and bears, we only
saw their tracks.
Katmandu tour Day 5-6
We spent the return day touring all the Katmandu sights, shopping as well as getting all our climbing gear.
Start of the trek – flying to Lukla , hiking to Monjo – Day 7
Our tiny 20 seater plane took us to an even tinier airport – with a ¼ mile up hill landing strip – use to slow the plan down. One of the most dangerous
in the word they had 2 accidents just in the 3 weeks we were there. The 25 daily flights all come in the morning - with better weather – unload and
reload in a mater of minutes and take off again. A day after our arrival the airport was completely closed for 3 days total disrupting the plans of
thousands of trekkers. Porters – or in some cases Yaks - would carry most of our gear. The porters would carry 60, 120, 180 or up to 240 pounds
depending on if that want to make $10, $20, $30 or $40 a day.
We started our trek from Lukla at 9,000 feet. The path was very rugged, but the scenery, people and animals fascinating. Important to remember to
always stay on the inside of the steeply exposed trials when passing Yaks so you do not get push off into the deep ravines. I spent 40 minutes chatting
with Dan Bass (the son of the owner of Snowbird) – at the end of our talk I realized I had lost my lenses cap a hour a go – it then turn out he had found it
and had it in his pocket – as he said – Karma. 6 hours later – after many swinging bridges, we got to our “tea house” for the first night.
Monjo to Namchee Bazaar Day 8
This day was much steeper as we climbed to Namchee Bazar at over 11,000 feet. We all felt various degrees of ill health from the food, lack of
sanitation and altitude. Ayo left a piece of camera equipment (worth $200 – the annual salary of a typical Nepalese) by the side of the road). When he
went back a hour later someone had picked it up and left it in a prominent spot in the center of town. We were told no local person would take it as all
would know they had not gotten it legitimately and they would be labeled a thief and loose their tourist employment opportunities, plus the Buddhist
philosophy says a bad deed will come back at you.
Everest view Hike Day 9
We all took an acclimatization hike to 12,500 with stunning views of the surrounding mountains - including Everest. Randye - with foot problems – opted
for this top be her last day with us. The plan was she would stay in Zambling Lodge in Namche and head down with a Sherpa in another day. That plan
did not happen.
Tegbouche Monestary Day 10
Next day hike was a long trek to Tengbouche Monetary – where we just made their 3 p.m. Buddhist ceremony. Then we continued down to Debuche for
the night. Ayo came back to our tiny room with great news – this lodge had a toilet, admittedly it did not flush and was just one for the whole lodge – but a
toilet none the less. Our expectations had changed. Our bed had sheets, but in an environment with no place to wash anything it seems they only
changed them when they wore out. The price of a liter of water was also going up – from 20 cents in Katmandu to what would be many dollars a few days
later as it all had to be carried by porters. By now I had a bad headache, Ayo cramps, and Volker a fever – but it would all get much worse.
Dingboche Pheriche – Medical Crises Day 11 -12
The scenery was stunning – but Volker started to feel really ill and was unable to absorb or maintain any food in his body which further weakened him. At
lunch time he all of a suddenly felt dizzy, stood straight up, his eyes rolled back in his head and he keeled over. I thought he was having a massive heart
attack for which he would not recover. Instead it was a seizure brought on by lack of oxygen to the brain cause by some combination of altitude,
dehydration, exhaustion and bacterial infection. The paramedic in our group saw Volker was about to faint so caught him before he hit the rock ground –
and he quickly regained consciousness. Volker, the doctor and I then split from the others and headed up 3 hours to what must be the world most remote
medical clinic (4 days hike from Lukla airport). They gave Volker an IV and we spent a night in a small lodge up there (they charged $1.25 for the room –
which might seem cheap – till you saw the room). Our doctor hiked back to the village were the rest of the group was staying in only to find out that Patrick -
the youngest (19) and fittest (ran 20k a day) member of our group was having a severe altitude reaction, so they spent the night bring him back up to our
clinic. He had only 49% oxygen level in his blood (should be 90-100%) – so they put him on oxygen and tried to send him out by helicopter (at a cost of
$6,000) – but the weather did not cooperate. So they put him on a horse – for the multi day trek back. Volker and I slowly hiked back to the group where I
found out Ayo was now sick with the bacterial problems Volker had. None of our antibiotics would worked – so I hiked back to the clinic for an antibiotic
supply for Ayo (and me –if I got sick). On returning I was now sick so I also took it. Volker was too week to continue so had to go down with a porter and
abandon the reminder of his trip. Ayo and I basically sat out a day, but perhaps by being on medication sooner, recovered enough to continue slowly. I also
now discovered Randye had the same – and very sever – health issues and could not hike down from Namche. After Patrick's horse ride he was then
going to get a helicopter from Namche so Randye could hitch a ride out – so at least that worked out. As well as the 5 of us just mentioned, 6 other
members of our group of 21 had serious enough illness or injuries to at least in some way significantly curtail their trips. All of this required our expedition
leader – Tim Rippel – to go through all sort of logistical changes to get people logging, and their supplies to different locations.
Hike to Lobuche Day 13
Now a day behind most others and in weakened condition we hiked up to Lobouche at 16, 400 feet. The exertion and altitude are now more intense. The
concept of hygiene is missing in the tea houses. Our cook carried a mouse out of the kitchen before bringing us our food and no one washes up. On one
occasion our rice tasted like kerosene and it became clear they used an empty kerosene can to carry water. There is no way to dry or clean ones clothes
- I wore one shirt for 6 straight days (24 hours a day). We did sign up for a hot shower at about $5 a person (much more than the room), but there was no
real shower - they just heat up a pail of water for you that you should dump on yourself. Most of our conversations revolve around our health (or lack
thereof). American toilet paper became a truly treasured possession (relative to the local stuff they used). A further disaster was Ayo’s water bottle leaked
in his bag – getting everything wet (or wetter) with no way to dry out his cloths.
Hike to Pumori base camp day 14
The next day we caught up to the others at their Pumori base camp (17,200). It is right near the Everest
base camp and in a spectacular setting. We are surrounded by the highest mountains in the world. We
are now housed in tents in a very picturesque spot beneath the imposing Mt. Pumori (23,000) which 12
members of our group hoped to climb, some as practice for Everest next spring (but none will get even
close to the top of Pumori due to weather and snow conditions). Being a day late we missed our
mountaineering training class to prepare us for Island Peak. Ayo has a horrific night at this altitude as he
gasps for breath every time he lies down. He finds Tim Rippel in the middle of the night who assures him
this is one of the “normal” reactions to first being at such altitude. But the secondary effect of this is that
Ayo is exhausted for our hike the next day, as we will be leaving again the next morning – to get back on
schedule. MT EVEREST
Kala Pattar and Dingboche Day 15
We climb up a “trekking peak” Kala Pattar (18,200) that would have had spectator views of Everest etc had it not socked in just as we got to the summit.
Based on our health we then take a slow but very long hike back to Dingbouche.
Island Peak Base Camp Day 16-17
We now start out for what should be our serious climb to Island Peak (20,315 feet). It was first climbed in 1953 by Tenzing Norgay just before his
successful first assent of Everest. He used it to test out the oxygen equipment they would use on Everest. We were of course doing it without
supplemental oxygen. Six (out of originally 8) now headed up for the Island Peak base camp (16,700). But when we get there it is snowing hard in the
valley and we assume harder on the peak. We fully expect the climb will be cancelled – and at this point I am so drained it does not seem like too big of a
disappointment. We wait out a day in our tents and practice a little with our crampons and ice axes.
Island Peak Climb day 18
Despite continued bad weather we are woken before midnight and asked if we want to give it a try.
Ilija (a Serbian) is all for going. He has taken a “beginners mind” approach to the trip by doing
absolutely no preparation and did not even know such a thing as altitude illness existed. He felt this
attitude sometimes brings more success then over preparation. He is also 26. Although it seem
unlikely we will succeed in this weather Ayo wants to at least give it a try, and I agree. The other
three drop out due to not felling well, concern about the weather and in one case concern about
the required 600 foot repel down an icy slope.
From 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. we hike a steep rocky trail with headlights. The problem was with the new
snow it was very icy, making many sections tricky and in our view very dangerous in the dark. It
appeared any slip would have dire consequences. Going down would have been worse – so we
went up. On a few sections Ayo and Illja crawled across some exposed icy ledges. Our Sherpa
guides stepped in front of me and offered me a hand I gladly accepted, and another pushed me
from the rear which I equally gladly tolerated.
By 6 a.m we got to the glacier section and put on our crampons and roped up to cross the crevasses. It was a long slow three hours to reach the base
of the final steep section of the mountain.
At 9 a.m. we went up what seemed like a near vertical slope by using ascenders to pull our way up on a fixed rope. But there were multiple groups, and
multiple ropes set up by Sherpas of other parties. Also some people were coming down the same ropes we were going up. It was tiring, confusing, and
appeared unsafe. Sherpas were arguing who should go up vs down, if too many people were on one rope, if it would hold etc. not very comforting. It
took over 2 hours to go up this one 600 foot section. Then we traversed a knife edge ridge to the summit which we reached at noon. Based on the
conditions, our own Sherpas had not expected us to make it. It was fogged in again when we go to the top so we missed a spectacular view.
We repelled down the same ropes, but without the proper “descenders” so used an old fashion friction method instead. Fortunately Ayo and I both had
done enough repelling in the past that we managed this process. 16 hours after leaving we were back in our tents at the Island Peak Base camp.
Trek back days 19-21
Three days later we were leaving the Lukla airport for Katmandu, and two days later on our way home.
Interesting, fascinating, stunning beautiful, majestic mountains, but the conditions were rugged and hard. There were also so many health and logistical
issues that one must be prepared for disappointments and set backs. Glad I did it, but not a trip I would recommend to many.