The following e-mail is dedicated to my former Ireland and NZ trekking buddies. (Sean, Mark, Ray, Ed, Joe, Michael, & Johannes)
I did it!! I am no longer an Everest virgin. No I didn't actually climb it but I trekked pretty damn close to it. The whole roundtrip journey taking only 13 days.
I guess before I get to the trek, I want to first talk about Nepal and Kathmandu. After 1.5 months in India, I was amazed to find how clean things were. Not much trash in the streets, no smell of cow dung, and very few beggars. It took almost 20 hours after I arrived that someone finally asked me for some change. In Kathmandu, one can find anything but McDonalds. I feasted on Pizza, Steaks, Spaghetti and even German chocolate (Ritter Sport). I had none of this in India.
Now to the Everest Trek. Since I was trekking alone, I thought it would be best if I hired a guide. I knew the trails were well marked but I wanted someone to watch me and ensure I didn't get altitude sickness which I had gotten once before in Peru.
The trek was scheduled to be 14 days which included a flight and helicopter ride into Lukla. Lukla's only runway was under repair. Despite the slightly higher cost of the ticket, it had one major advantage. Not many backpackers were doing the Everest Trek. Most decided instead to do the Annapurna Circuit which meant only about 40-50 hikers per day were entering the National Park. The same time last year, the park saw over 300-400 per day.
My guides name was Pasang Sherpa. All Sherpas have the last name "Sherpa". He didn't speak much English and only spoke when spoken to. For the 13 days I was with him, I don't ever recall seeing his eyes. He wore sunglasses constantly even at night in tea houses. I was beginning to wonder if he was blind.
The helicopter flight was only 15 minutes but I was the lucky one who got to sit up front with the pilot. The view of the Himalayas were incredible. That day we hiked to Phakding and the next day to Namche Bazaar. Namche is the Sherpa capital of the Everest Region. This is where most trading is done and one can find 3 German bakeries. (to come in very handy later on.)
The next couple of days took us up and down valleys but each day we climbed higher and higher. We passed through such villages of Tengbouche, Pangbouche and then made it to Dingbouche located at 4,328M (14,200 ft). Here another acclimatization day is required so Pasang and I took off for Chukung RI. A peak topping off just at 5,500M (17,800 feet). Upon reaching the top, we had the most wonderful views of Lhotse Glacier, Chukung Glacier, Amphu Gyabien and Ama Dablam (my favorite peak). Upon coming down, I had a massive headache and my body was telling me don't climb any higher.
We waited out my altitude sickness in a small town (ie 2 houses) called Dughla. Here I met Serge a French Canadian and Asad, a Pakistani American. We hiked the next day up to Lobuche which was our final stop before the big push the next day. That same evening I met up with Beccy, an Aussie girl, and Terje and Petter both Norwegians who were making the push the next day also and decided to join us.
Everyday so far on the trek, we had enjoyed sunny and clear weather. However, after we had gotten to Lobouche, it started to snow and it continued to snow as were went to bed. I was thinking just my luck, we would wake up to clouds and no view of Everest.
The following section, I will try to describe in more detail as it was the most meaningful day on my trek and I will try to capture the thoughts for you as I noted them in my journal.
At 4:30 AM we were awoken. Not really awoken as none of us slept. Our departure time was to be 5:00 AM. Lo and behold, we got up and all we saw were hundreds of bright stars. We all knew it was going to be a wonderful day. Terje, Petter, Serge, myself and our 3 Sherpas set out. We left with anticipation and flashlights.
With the new snow, the trail was not visible. Luckily our guides knew the way pretty good. We got sidetracked a couple of times but eventually always got back on it. The normally 3 hour trip to Gorak Shep only took us 2 hours.
On the way up, we were just skirting the Khumbu Glacier. Much of it is melted now but one can still see the ice and the deep gouges it cut through the rocks. The sun started to come up and lit up just the tops of many of the mountains around us. It was a beautiful view.
Our ultimate goal that day was Kalapathar.
Kalapathar means "black rock" and is the best viewing vantage point for Everest (8848m), Nuptse (7860m), Pumo Ri Ridge (7165m), Pumori Lingten (6179m), and Khumbutse (6665m). Kalapathar lies at 5,550 meters or 18,000 feet. At that altitude, the air is thin, and climbing is difficult. We would walk about 100 steps and then have to take a breather.
There was about an inch of snow on the ground & every time the wind blew, it went right into our faces. That made for difficult climbing and we slipped and slid all over the place.
Another two hours later, we all made it. 18,000 feet up!! (remember - many people skydive from 10,000 feet). The pinnacle of Kalapathar is very small and we were only just able to fit the 4 of us up there. The sun was shining, not a cloud in the sky, and the sky was dark blue. This gave great contrast to the white mountains.
We were elated & jubilant and gave each other high 5's. We had been through 9 days of grueling uphill and downhill trekking. We were no longer Everest virgins.
Up at the top, the wind was mild and the sun was shining. It was even warm enough to take off our down jackets. Then came the moment I had been waiting for. I pulled out a large 200gr Nestle Crunch bar I had been saving. Everyday I had been thinking about it. I shared it with everyone including the Sherpas and they loved it.
Now for the views - I don't know how to describe it in words other than simply incredible! We were near the top of the world and still staring up at Everest and Nuptse which still rose over 10,000 feet above us. The whole Himalayas were awe aspiring. Everywhere one looked, was just huge massive pieces of snow covered granite jutting up. I guess to get the same feeling you will simply have to come here yourself.
About an hour at the top, we had to start our decent. We had a long journey all the way down to Pheriche in front of us. Pheriche lies at 4,240m which meant a descent of over 1,300 meters in one day. Very hard on the knees. We arrived in Pheriche just at 5 PM making a very long & grueling 12 hour day. But it was worth it.
It was great to take off the boots & relax by the Yak shit fed fire. Matter of fact, all fires since we left Namche were fuelled by the dried Yak dung patties. All the tea houses had huge stacks of the stuff piled high. It was definitely a load of crap - no pun intended. Soon we began yelling out "Yak Shit!" before every picture was taken which made everyone laugh.
Reflecting on the day, it was a tough climb but the resulting views made it worth the enduring pain. So much so that some day, I will definitely make the climb again - hopefully with a few of you.
It was a long 2-day hike back to Namche and by that time, all we could think of was the salami pizza and chocolate donuts waiting for us. For the past 10 days, we had eaten nothing but garlic noodle soup and stuff fried in Soybean oil. It all tasted the same. One looses the taste at altitude.
We checked into our lodge and found ourselves in a dilemma. Would we shower first or eat pizza first?? After 11 days of having no showers, it was an easy decision... we would eat pizza first. Talk about one of the best tasting pizzas I have ever had!!
Couple of days later were back in Kathmandu. I had arranged to meet up with a Dutch friend of mine (Paul) who I had met in India. While we were doing Everest, he had completed the Annapurna. It was great to meet up.
The Norwegians soon left for Bangkok, so Paul and I decided to do some Whitewater river rafting down the Bhota Khosi river. Well known for its grade 3, 4 and 5 rapids. One of the bigger ones was called Frog in the blender. Guess who the frog was??
We managed it pretty well and I happened to be the only one in our boat to get tossed in the churning water. Luckily I popped up pretty quickly and was quickly pulled back in before the next rapid got us.
The 2-day rafting was worth doing and I still get the adrenalin flowing every time I think about it.
Well that is the end of my journey in Kathmandu. I am now in Malaysia with my British friend Martin. I had traveled for 2 weeks with Martin and his girlfriend Mandy while I was on the North Island of NZ. It is good to have a travel partner again.
I was in 4 countries in 4 days running from the law. (just kidding). I flew from Nepal via Thailand and Singapore.
Martin and I leave for the Island of Borneo tomorrow. (We are only going to the Malaysian side so no need to worry. The ethnic fighting is on the Indonesian side.) We will spend 2 weeks there with a stop also in Brunei and see the Sultan's palace. I will say HI to him for you.
Take Care and all the best!