Himalayas Day 9 – Dingboche to Lobouche

So I woke this morning for the second night in Dingboche at 4,370m or so, and my head was thankfully reasonably clear, despite not the best night’s sleep I have ever had. Nights at this altitude when you listen to your heart beating and you cannot properly get your breath are just not easy, and certainly not condusive to restful sleep. My terrible dreams (like really horrific grisly nightmares) seem to have abated slightly however, which I was having slightly further down the valley.

Yesterday we did an acclimatisation walk up to around 5,100m, which involved my first ever Himalayan peak, called Nangkartshang. It was stunning in every way, if very hard work at this altitiude.

The morning was again totally beautiful, without a cloud in the sky, and barely a trace of wind. We would again today get to an altitude of around 5,000m (16,500ft), with our destination being Lobuche, the final resting place before Everest Base Camp on Saturday.

Ready for the off to Lobouche, and a very cold start despite the sunshine.

The walk begins at around 7.20am with a fairly steep uphill section, the start of the same trail that yesterday took us up to Nangkartshang Peak at 5,050m for our acclimatisation walk. It then flattens out into a valley, and is a beautiful walk between the peaks of Cholatse (6,440m), Taboche (6,376m), and Pokalde (5,749m), mountains that we haven’t seen before, but are breathtaking the whole way.

Not a bad spot for a cup of tea......

After about an hour and a half the path then descends and reaches the Khumbu river and crosses it at Thokla (4,600m). We stopped here for tea before a brutal uphill section which takes us up a further 300m or so. During this stretch I thought on several occasions that my heart was going to literally burst out of my chest, and that was walking almost as slowly as I possibly could. It made me think (or should I say ‘know’) that I will struggle even more than this when more than one and a half kilometres higher and on a 50 degree ice wall.

I did make it to the top however, alongside my now very regular walking partner Mo. She and I are ‘on a par’ I would say in the struggling stakes, although I should give her the benefit of the doubt as she is feeling terrible with a bad cold and sinus pains. She christens us the ‘tail end Charlies’, which is very apt I have to say.

Reaching the top I had my biggest (in terms of emotions) ‘moment’ to date. At the top of the pass, at 4,840m (15,479ft), there are a large number of memorials. These are to the climbers who didn’t make it back down Everest, including Babu Chiri, a very famous Sherpa who summitted Everest 11 times, but died in 2001, and Scott Fischer, a legendary climber who was one of the eleven who perished on that fateful night in May 1996 (and to anyone who hasn’t read “Into Thin Air”, I would heartily recommend that you do so).

The memorial ground to Everest's fallen heroes

The Scott Fischer Memorial

The Babu Chiri Memorial

At this point my emotions come out totally, and I have to walk to the other side of the plateau so the others do not see me shed a tear. I realise that here am I, struggling to walk up a path to 15,500 feet, and here I stand, totally unworthy, in what is effectively a graveyard to the greats of mountaineering. In total, 162 people have lost their lives on Everest. At this point in time I want to be at home, with a glass of wine. I stand here, inadequate, but very humbly respectful and in tribute to the people who have succumbed to the mountain.

The views from here are breathtaking too, and composing myself I take a few shots (click to expand these, as you can actually with all the photographs in my blog).

Looking back down from the memorial ground towards Thokla

And a wider shot back down the valley again. I think this photograph is going on my wall as a picture somehow.

From hereon upwards the walk changes perspective quite considerably. We are now in the main part of the Khumbu valley itself, in what is principally miles of moraine (debris, rock etc) from the glacier as it originally was. It is again stunning, and we are now in the shadow of even more staggering peaks. In front of us looms Pumori, at 7,165m, and on our right the towering mass that is Nuptse (7,851m). In the distance now also are Lingtren (6,813m) and Changtse (7,583m). We are looking in fact now directly at Tibet (Changste is in Tibet, as in fact is half of Everest) which just makes me have yet another gasping awestruck moment.

We cannot yet see Everest or Lhotse as they are hidden behind Nuptse – they will (hopefully) be tomorrow’s reward, but today’s rewards are more than anyone could wish for in a normal lifetime. Around every corner everything gets simply better and better and better. I probably uttered the word “fuck” (excuse my French here, but if you were here you would too, believe me) in total astonishment about 30 or 40 times this afternoon.

Heading towards Lobouche, with Pumori (23,494 ft) left and Nuptse (25,790 ft) right

Further up the Khumbu Valley towards Nuptse as the clouds start to descend

We reach our destination, the Eco Lodge in Lobouche, in the early afternoon. We start early and finish early to get the views and the best of the weather, as in the afternoon the clouds always roll in up the Khumbu valley. I sadly have a crippling headache when we get here, and immediately take two painkillers. I’m just grateful it didn’t really affect me during the walk itself. Thankfully my appetite is ok, and I wolf down a rather enjoyable (and surprisingly good) Spaghetti Carbonara. The lodge here though is not terribly nice, and has outside dirty squat toilets with icy floors where you fear that you are going to slide through the hole. I have to say it didn’t bother me, but just thought I would mention it in case you expected something else!

The "Eco Lodge" at Lobouche, 16,400 feet - pretty it certainly wasn't.

The settlement of Lobouche, a desolate place indeed

After sorting our stuff out in our rooms and a quick half hour’s sleep (I am exhausted), at 3pm we walk up to the glacial moraine to the right of the lodge, so gaining another 75m or so in height to around 5,050m. Sadly the clouds have rolled in by now, but all the same the sight is totally incredible. The swathe cut into the valley by the Khumbu glacier is incredible, the blueness of the now receding glacier itself still shining through in places.

The swathe cut by the Khumbu glacier below us

Better still, there up the valley, clearly visible, is snow on the Khumbu glacier itself, alongside Kala Pattar, the iconic viewpoint for Everest herself, and in the far far distance, Everest base camp. It is not really visible from where I stand, but Tony points to me where it is. We will, I hope, stand there tomorrow morning.We are nearly there! For now, I feel like I have almost made it. I am at 16,700 feet, and I can ‘see’ Everest Base Camp. The Khumbu Icefall, about which I have read tens of books in the last six months, will be there in front of me tomorrow. I feel like I can almost touch it, that I can smell it, feel it.

Looking up towards the head of the Khumbu Valley, and the Khumbu Icefall itself.

Back at the lodge, and after dinner, we are informed that tomorrow morning we will get up at 5am for our trip to Everest Base Camp. It will be a very long day, the longest day so far in fact, but this is the reason I am here. I so want to be able to be there. I know it will be an incredibly emotional day whichever way it goes.

The feelings I have here right now stagger me, I can’t even describe them to you, but if you ever hanker to go into the Everest region, all I can say is do it, experience what I did this day, and you will get the biggest buzz of your life.

From everything that I have now seen, and knowing that tomorrow is Everest Base Camp, I know full well that if this were a world of superlatives, then tomorrow would be the day when the world simply came to an end.

Himalayas Day 8 – Dingboche to Nangkartshang Peak, and return to Dingboche

I woke up very early this morning in the Friendship Lodge in Dingboche. The temperature on my watch showed -1 C, and the water beside my bed is partly frozen. For the first time on the trek I slept with clothes on in my sleeping bag. Slightly too much information there perhaps, but normally I never ever wear clothes in a sleeping bag, no matter how cold. I even wore a hat. And this is inside, so I cannot imagine how cold it is outside. In under a week, if I make it that far, I will find out, as by then we will be camping, on a glacier, and at 1,200m above where we are now.

I said above “if I make it”, as if you have seen my previous entries you will know that for the last day or so I have suffered from mild AMS symptoms, and they aren’t pleasant. They aren’t exactly the end of the world either, being bad headache, nausea, dizziness and shortness of breath, but the point is you can’t let them get worse.

There are only two worse types of AMS, and without wishing to overdramatise the situation (although I have been called a drama queen many times in the past :)) they can both result in death within a day if not treated immediately. One is called HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema), the other HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Edema). With one you drown as your lungs fill with fluid, the other is fluid on the brain. I don’t want either, funnily enough.

Anyway, I won’t be getting any of those for two reasons. One is that we are being very well looked after on this trip by our guide Ngima and his assistants. They carry full medical equipment including a Gamow bag, which is used to pressurise the air and relieve symptoms, and also oxygen and dexamethasone. Secondly I know my body well enough, I think, to know when to cry for help. I don’t want or need to summit Island Peak that badly that I want to put my health at risk. I am reminded of the quote that Ed Viesturs (Ed has climbed all 14 of the World’s >8,000m peaks ) uses often in his excellent book “No Shortcuts to the Top”, which goes something like “getting to the top is optional, getting down is mandatory“. That’s an ethos I won’t have to try too hard to follow, believe me.

Anyway – back to today. We are now at 4,360m or so, having arrived here from around 3,800m yesterday, and so today it is very important to acclimatise. You can do this in one of two ways – either you stay put for a while (a day or so) before moving any higher, or you can do an acclimatisation walk. This means that you climb higher, and then you come back down so that you utilise the ‘climb high, sleep low’ philosophy. With this technique you are (even though you have just ascended higher than you would wish to stay), coming back down to more oxygen rich air, which your body craves. We took this latter approach.

The morning was yet again clear and crisp, and also very frosty, and offering beautiful views of the surrounding peaks. It is now cold enough to merit down jackets, gloves, and hats are essential at all times. This was the view I woke up to in fact, of Lhotse in the distance:

Sunrise on Lhotse from the Peaceful Lodge in Dingboche

We began our ascent of Nangkartshang Peak (5,050m) at around 7.30am. The walk is steep, almost unremittingly steep, and a struggle for me right from the start. Very quickly however, some spectacular views were on offer, including our first proper view of Island Peak, nestling below the gigantic Lhotse. It still looks a fairly fearsome peak in its own right, and the snowy summit ridge was clearly visible.

Lhotse (distance, left) and Island Peak (centre in the distance) over the top of Dingboche

As we got higher, the massive soaring Ama Dablam was to our right, Lhotse in front of us, and gradually we got sight of Makalu, at 27,765 feet the fifth highest mountain in the world. Around every corner in the Himalayas you see something different, and as you get higher into the upper Himalayas the views get more spectacular still, as the panorama of ridiculously tall peaks gets more and more impressive. I have in fact now seen four of the top 6 mountains on the planet (Everest, Lhotse, Makalu and Cho Oyu) today alone.

The westbound view from here alone also shows just how substantially the landscape has changed:

Looking up the Cho La Valley from the ridge above Dingboche

The climb up also showed the difference in walking abilities/fitness in our group quite markedly. For example, Tony reached the summit in 1 hr 25 minutes, Rob in 1 hr 40. I brought up the rear with Maureen at a shade under 3 hours. How telling this is for Island Peak I do not know, but I am sure that Ngima has it figured out. I asked him on the way up (at a rest point where I could breathe) as to the ‘success rate’ on this trip. He said it was a little over 50%. If I’m terribly honest with myself I will be amazed if I make it, but we will see – I’m not giving up yet by a long chalk.

The summit itself of Nangkartshang Peak is very small, and adorned by prayer flags. I did manage to take a couple of panoramic shots, shown below. If you click on these they will expand and look more impressive….

West panorama from Nangkartshang Peak, 5,080m

South/East panorama from Nangkartshang

The whole vista was simply magnificent – and very cold, but I was very glad to have made it to over 5,000m – my watch showed 5,100m or so as seen below:

Made it to over 5km vertically!

Looking down from the summit towards Dingboche in the valley below

And the northbound summit shot, just to prove I got there.

The walk back down was straightforward, and it was nice to get to more oxygen rich air. The climb up was over 700m, and actually took us higher than we will get to tomorrow, which is a place called Lobouche, at 4,940m. I got back in around an hour and a half, the same time as it took Tony to get up. I really hope, that if I do get to attempt Island Peak, that I don’t hold these guys up. I got back with nothing more than a sharp headache, which after a couple of Paracetamol abated significantly.

After a lunch back at the Friendship Lodge we were treated to a demonstration of how a Portable Altitude Chamber (PAC) bag works. It was fascinating, and Ngima showed how just by pumping air in with a foot pump, the effective altitude reduced from 4,400m to 2,600m by placing my watch inside.

The PAC bag demonstration back in Dingboche

After a quick walk through the village with Rob to kill a bit of time (where we were afforded a great view of Island Peak) it was back to base for dinner.

The best view so far of Island Peak - starting to look intimidating!

A very enterprising bakery in Dingboche offering hot and cold showers - not sure I fancy the cold ones though.

We then had our evening briefing for the walk to Lobouche tomorrow. It seems a reasonably straightforward affair (if anything can be straightforward at 5km up in the air), albeit punctuated by a pretty stiff climb in the middle.We will also apparently see a number of shrines and memorials to the many people who have lost their lives in and around Everest. That will be a very emotional experience I am very sure.

In just two days time now, I hope, I pray, I will be at Everest Base Camp, staring at the Khumbu Icefall, surrounded by Nuptse and Lhotse, and treading in the footsteps of giants, both animal and mineral, and getting no doubt even more nostalgic than I have been so far.

You have so much thinking time in the mountains, whether just when walking, or during the inevitable numerous times that you are awake in the night due to the altitude. I will share some of those deliberations another time. Bring on tomorrow.

Himalayas Day 7 – Phortse to Dingboche

Today was one of those days when you try to get your head round things, but never really manage it. The cause – altitude. AMS or Acute Mountain Sickness has several forms, and at their most extreme can kill. At its mildest, AMS means a bad headache, loss of appetite, a feeling of nausea, and dizziness. Sadly I was to get all four of those symptoms today.

I had what I think was actually a reasonable night’s sleep, and was woken by the porter bringing bed tea at about 6.15. Looking our of the window down the valley we were greeted by another cloudless sky, and this time a very sharp frost. We are at 3,800m after all. After a quickish breakfast, we were on our way for the longest walk so far, to Dingboche at 4,350m.

Leaving Phortse behind on another gloriously cloudless morning.

The walk began very steeply on frozen ground, and I struggled from the outset. Getting clothing right was hard at first too, as it was extremely cold in the shade, but already warm in the sun’s rays, and so walking uphill meant you would perspire very easily no matter what you were wearing. After about half a mile I felt very much out of breath, and hoping that this wasn’t going to be a very bad day. I thought my heart was going to burst out of my chest at one point.

Looking back down towards Mong La (on rocky outcrop middle right) as we head up the Khumbu Valley

The path however was a spectacular one, traversing a hillside with precipitous drops on the right hand side, and much easier overall than the first half hour or so. My fear of heights meant I looked to my right (where the drop was) a lot less frequently than I perhaps should have done in order to best appreciate the scenery, but this was already becoming a head-down sort of day in more ways than one. The views though were again breathtaking. Ama Dablam edged ever closer to us and I had to stop myself taking photographs every five minutes or so, but this mountain is just so tantalising and mesmerising in every way.

Ama Dablam in the distance as we traverse the mountainside

A mountain goat on the rocks behind our path

It's that Ama Dablam again - it keeps creeping up on you...

We stopped for a tea break at Pangboche (4,000m), and by this time I was feeling pretty crap. My headache had started, and I was struggling at times to place my feet in the right places, which is dangerous at best on a walk with a sheer 2,000ft drop on one side of it. We then carried on towards Shomare, at 4,120m, which would be our lunch stop. By this time I was feeling decidedly worse, and actually wondered for much of this section if this would be as far as I got in the Himalayas. I was just so frustrated at this point.

At the lodge at lunch I told Ngima, our guide, how I was feeling. He gave me some Paracetamol, and whilst they did not remove my headache, they allowed me to function enough to make me know that I could carry on at least for the shorter afternoon session. I tried to eat (and in fact did) my normal lunchtime order of Spaghetti with tomato sauce, but was not at all in the mood for it.

The quite staggering bulk of Lhotse (28,000 feet) comes into view in the distance

By this time the clouds had rolled in up the Khumbu Valley, and with them a stiff breeze, which though thankfully at our backs, made me feel cold for the first time since I have been here. We all thus layered up, with a fleece, a buff and a woolly hat now essential.

This last section of around 2 hours was pretty much all uphill, as opposed to the more undulating terrain of the morning, and was slow going for me. It was hugely rewarding though, as we were now greeted with the enormous bulk of Lhotse right in front of us. Lhotse is just gargantuan in every way, seemingly as broad as she is wide, and at 8,501m, the fourth tallest mountain on earth. Lhotse now became the mountain where there just weren’t enough superlatives to describe it. Oh and yes, peaking just above Lhotse and Nuptse’s mass was a glimpse of the summit and snow plume coming from Mount Everest herself.

The landscape began to change quite significantly now too. We were now well out of the tree line, and in the high Himalaya.

Woolly hat and fleece time now.....

I reached Dingboche walking on my own, well behind the rest of the group, but supported by both Ngima and Pasang, our guide and assistant guide respectively, so I was in good hands.

And Dingboche (4,400m, or 14,500 feet) finally comes into view.

Upon getting to the Peaceful Lodge in Dingboche, our home for the next two nights, at about 3pm, I went straight into my sleeping bag and slept for about two hours. I did not feel at all good upon waking, and I tromped to dinner wondering if I could manage to eat anything, and whether this would be the highest I get here.

So the ‘making sense of it all’ bit at the start of this post was about reflection. On life, and why we are here, and what we, or I want to do with my life. I spent some considerable time thinking about it today, I suppose because feeling ‘ill’ (I’m not ill of course, I’m just feeling sorry for myself) makes you feel a little more remorseful/contemplative, or makes you want to put things into perspective anyway.

In my fuddled attempts at conclusions on the above, my thought processes came to the following conclusions:

1. I don’t want to put my body through this again. I was walking looking at the south face of Lhotse, and realised to myself that I am at best delusional if I think I could ever aspire to get as high as that, and I simply know that feeling as I do right now, it is not going to happen ever.

2. I suddenly want to be at home, be in a nice garden, and to get settled down again, in a pretty place, and still travel when I can, but not alone.  Deep huh? Well mountains can do funny things to you (not that there is anything funny there, but you know what I mean), and this is what this one did to me today.

Tomorrow will I think be a make or break day for me. We will be heading up another 700m or so, to above 5,000m, or 16,500 feet. We will climb to a peak called Nangkartschang and then back down again on what sounds like a brutal acclimatisation walk, and it will be at the crack of dawn too, like 5.30am. I’ll be there.

I wanted most of all this day just to feel better, to be able to better appreciate all that is around me. I love my surroundings, they are utterly stupendous, and you should be able to take them in better than I was able to today. I’m not giving up though, I have to see Everest up close at the very least. That may be my revised goal on this trip, we will see….

Himalayas Day 6 – Kyangjuma to Phortse

I awoke on day five of the trek proper with a nervous feeling for two reasons. Firstly I was worried that my stomach had not settled properly after yesterday’s diarrhoea, and secondly I was concerned about altitude, as yesterday I had my first altitude headache, and had taken paracetamol to alleviate it.

To help with the first of the above I had been given two sachets of hydration salts by Ngima, our guide, and I had drunk most of this with one and a half litres of water, during the night. The effects of the water, coupled with the fact that I am taking Diamox for the altitude, made me want to pee like a Russian racehorse, and then about every fifteen minutes. Trouble is, that even in a teahouse, the temperature gets pretty cold at night (we are talking below zero), and so you really don’t want to get out of your sleeping bag if you can avoid it. I managed in the end with just one trip at about 3am and a lot of willpower.

I felt thankfully actually better on both counts by the time I had looked out of the window. We were greeted by perfectly clear skies and a view of the colossal and majestic Ama Dablam (22,500 feet), staring right at us. This view could clear the sickest and sorriest of souls I can promise you.

After a breakfast of the now ubiquitous watery porridge and toast, we were set for the off at about 7.30am. Today was to be a short day in terms of distance, and practically speaking our second acclimatisation day since reaching Namche Bazar. This was great as far as I am concerned, as there is no such thing as either walking too slowly or too much acclimatisation for my liking.

After a brief group photograph (see below) we set off first downhill, and then crossed the river to begin a steep uphill climb towards Mong La, the highest place we have been to yet at 3,975m (13,117ft).

Kjangjuma, Solokhumbu, Himalayas. Life doesn't get an awful lot better than this.

So in the above you will see, from left to right, Ngawang, Ngima (kneeling), Ram, Rob, yours truly, Ben, Stefan, Pasang, Tony, Bruce (kneeling), Dave, and Mo.

The walk is the most picturesque we have been on yet. There were simply staggering views of Ama Dablam, which has now surpassed the Matterhorn as my most photographed mountain (are you reading this Paul?). But better, there is just magnificent scenery all around us. We can see the trail that we will start to take in two days time towards Dingboche, we can see the Gokyo River far below us, we see snow capped Himalayan peaks stretching into forever. It is magical.

On the way towards Mong La

We have a tea stop at Mong La, and are afforded the best views yet. Just look at this:

Staring in wonderment at the majesty of the Himalayas

I just don't need words to describe this.

This is by far the best view I have seen yet. I stand here and get all misty eyed all over again. I could have stayed there for days on end.

After our rest we descend steeply around 300m to a break in the Gokyo River, at a tiny hamlet called Phortse Tenga. On the way down we see mountain goats, pheasant, a peacock, and a musk deer! I had not expected to see anything but Yaks on this journey, and so this is a huge bonus.

Mountains goats below our path

Following lunch we have to gain the majority of the altitude we have just lost, and walk up the other side of the Gokyo River. Again it is stunning. The trees are lichen covered, and the sun shines like a perfect summers day. As we ascend we are afforded a view of Cho Oyu behind us, the sixth highest mountain in the world at 26,900 feet. It looks even bigger than that, if that is at all possible. How good can the views around here get? I want to stop every twenty yards at times to take photographs, as it is just so ridiculously wonderful.

Lichen covered trees looking back up the Gokyo Valley

In fact let’s just pause for thought a minute here. Imagine you are walking up a gorgeous path, with a glacial river in the valley below you coming off Mount Everest. You have deer, pheasant, mountain goats around you. The sun is shining, the air is still, and for miles in any direction you see nature at its most majestic, and that is an understatement, including the tallest mountains in the world. Do you laugh or cry? I can tell you I did a pretty damn good job of doing both at the same time this day.

Eventually we reach our destination of Phortse, at 3,840m. This will be the highest we have yet slept, but I feel now comfortable at this altitude. Our guide Ngima is brilliant at a practically making us go as slowly as we wish. Seven of the eight are happy with this, but one, Stefan, wants to get ahead most of the time, and I really hope for his sake that he doesn’t pay for it as we get higher.

The settlement of Phortse, at 3,900m

The one thing that I have learned as possibly my most valuable lesson in the mountains is that you have absolutely nothing to gain, and possibly everything to lose, by going up too quickly. That is perhaps an excuse, or a justification for the fact that I am probably the slowest of the whole group and lingering at the back most of the time, but that is just how it is, and doesn’t bother me one iota. I am just happy (the understatement of all time) to be here.

Aside from that fact, by going quickly you don’t get to stop, look up, and take in the sights like we did today. There are always things above you, around you, and below you. They are to be treasured. I am reminded of what someone told me when I did Kilimanjaro, which was ‘the worst thing you can do is put your head down and end up looking at the boots of the person in front of you – stop, look around, take it all in!’.

After we arrived at our lodge, the Namaste Lodge, there was a huge treat in store – a shower! The shower consisted of standing in an outside cubicle under a bucket of hot water, but the word hot was all that mattered, and it was my first shower in four days, so it was hugely welcome. In fact to have a shower you first ask the kitchen staff at the lodge to boil some water for you. They then take a big kettle, climb the ladder outside and fill up the bucket on the roof of the hut below. You then pull a chain inside and the water comes down. It works!

It is about -5 degrees outside, but the water is in fact hot from those buckets!

The Namaste Lodge in Phortse

The yaks arrive with our bags in Phortse

You may notice that up against the wall in the above picture is some brown stuff. That is in fact yak dung. They dry out the pats in the sun, and then use it for both heating the lodge dining room, and also for cooking – all kitchens that I saw had a nice big bucket of yak dung in there for fuelling the oven. Nice!

Dining room in the Namaste Lodge - yak dung heater essential!

After a dinner which was as welcome as the earlier shower, we had the briefing for the following day. Tomorrow’s walk is a tough one, both in terms of distance covered and most particularly (combined with) the altitude. We will leave for Dingboche, at 4,400m (14,500 feet) at 7am. Hopefully we are blessed with the same clear skies as we have had for the first four days. We must be due some bad weather at some point, and I just hope it holds as long as possible.

Today’s walk was simply the best day’s walking I have ever done. I may have better to come, but even if I don’t, I will always treasure this one very dearly. I feel so very blessed indeed. In fact it can’t get any better than this – can it?

Himalayas Day 5 – Namche Bazar to Kyangjuma

It’s the 24th October, and I wake up in Namche Bazar, on the trade route to Tibet, and just six days away from Everest Base Camp! Namche is the gateway to the high Himalaya, and almost everyone coming to this region will at least pass through here. Sadly I woke after a terribly fitful night’s sleep. This is the highest that I have slept since Kilimanjaro, and I certainly felt the altitude.

I went to bed at about 9.30 last night, but was awake again shortly after midnight, tossing and turning for most of the rest of the night. I could feel that my heartbeat was quicker than normal, and that my breathing was more laboured. The annoying thing is that I am also taking Diamox, and really hoped not to have any altitude symptoms at 3,500m. I was after all above 4,000m in the Alps only in July, and didn’t even notice the altitude at all. So this is really frustrating at best. Still I have to just get on with things, and the days are much better than the nightimes, for now anyway.

Oh and to add to this I have what I believe is technically called ‘Nepali Tummy’, and I am chomping down Immodium and Kaolin and Morphine tablets like they are going out of fashion, although sadly to no avail. A cork would be more useful, in fact.

Still I had a better night than one of our group did. Tony woke to find himself and his sleeping bag soaked from a leak in the roof in his room, and was to spend his day trying to dry it out, which I am glad to say he ultimately did. He was not able to walk with us though, and went straight to Kjangjuma, where at least the sun was shining for him to get his bag hung out.

So today was more or less an acclimatisation day, taking us from Namche Bazaar at 3,440m to Kyangjuma at 3,700m. In the middle however we would ascend to about 3,900m, our highest yet, and then descend, so deploying the well favoured ‘climb high sleep low’ philosophy.

We started the day with the obligatory ‘bed tea’ at 6.30, which I think is really the porters way of ensuring that no-one sleeps in. By 7.30 we had packed, breakfasted and were on our way. Our luggage gets loaded onto djos, and we just carry whatever we might need for the day, which in my case usually consists of a fleece, waterproof jacket and trousers, gloves, two hats (sun and woolly), a buff, suntan lotion, hand gel, my camera, a few snack bars, and then at least three litres of water. The water you can either get boiled for you in the lodge and then add (or not) sterilising tablets, or you can buy mineral water in bottles at great expense. I have been using boiled, but due to my ‘tummy’ I go onto mineral water – hoping that it wasn’t filled and sealed ‘Slumdog Millionnaire style’ if you get my drift.

We set off straight up the hill out of Namche and it is steep, really steep, and gets you breathing hard very quickly. We were rewarded almost immediately however with a great view back down into the Namche ‘bowl’ as shown below:

Climbing out of Namche Bazar - I did say it was steep !

Once at the top of the hill from Namche there is a great little museum at Choi Gang, showing a lot of interesting displays on the mountains and their history. From there we walked back downhill and then steeply uphill to Syangboche, where there is a dirt strip airfield capable of talking only tiny single engine planes and helicopters.

Syangboche airstrip (by the green hut, centre)

From there we climbed again to the most aptly named hotel I have ever visited, it being called simply the Everest View. From the terrace is afforded the most unbelievable views of Ama Dablam, Nuptse, Lhotse, and of course Everest herself. The view is immediately put onto my phone as the screensaver, replacing the Matterhorn. The view is so stunning of Everest, even from about 25 miles away still. The photograph just doesn’t do it justice at all.

Everest (with plume) and Lhotse in the far distance, Ama Dablam on the right.

The hotel interestingly enough is a haven for Japanese tourists. It has prices to match, at around $250 per night (the lodges round here are normally no more than $2 to put that into context), and the rooms apparently are replete with oxygen masks. It sits at 3,880m, and has a fantastic rear terrace from which to observe the pinnacles of the world’s highest mountain range. From this terrace Bruce suggests to me that a glass of wine would be very nice. I agree and sort of snarl at the same time, as I could have sat there all day, drank a glass of overpriced wine or two, and headed back down the mountain a very happy man.

Leaving the Everest View after a stupidly priced cup of tea, which was still worth every penny just to sit there and drink it taking in the views, we trekked to a village called Khumjung. It has many beautiful well kept houses and affords fantastic views of Ama Dablam, Thamserku and Kangtaiga.

Approaching Khumjung

We visited whilst there the local school, established by Sir Edmund Hillary in 1961, which was fascinating, and then stared open mouthed at the majesty of Ama Dablam.

The Stupa in the centre of Khumjung

The Sir Edmund Hillary School

Ama Dablam (left), at 22,500 feet a totally stunning mountain

This mountain’s peak rises almost impossibly up to 6,868m, and I have to say that no photograph will ever do it justice. Hillary himself described it as ‘unclimbable’ some 8 years after climbing Everest. It is stunning from every angle.

From Khumjung we trekked to Kunde, another picturesque village at the western end of the Khumbu Valley. Here can be found the famous Kunde hospital, established again by the Hillary Trust, and still funded by it to this day. This place has two full time doctors and serves the entire Everest region, from innoculations to emergencies, from locals to trekkers suffering from AMS alike. We were given a talk by one of the doctors, which was fascinating, and I felt very happy to give a donation to them at the end in the box outside.

The entrance to Kunde Hospital

From here we came back to the northern side of Khumjung. Here stands the local gompa, or Buddhist temple. It was quite interesting to see inside, although don’t be put off by the attempt by the guy inside to make you pay money to see the yeti’s skull behind a closed door. If I believed that Yeti’s existed I have been tempted, but I don’t and that’s that.

Inside the Gompa (temple) courtyard at Khumjung

We then left and trekked downhill to Kyangjuma, at 3,550m our resting place for the night. My first stop was the bathroom (TMI there I know), and Ngima our guide has told me that if my diarrhoea doesn’t not improve by tomorrow he will give me antibiotics. I order plain rice and a chapatti for dinner, which hopefully don’t disturb my system any more than it already is.

We stay at the Ama Dablam Lodge, in the shadow of the great mountain herself. We get a majestic view of the sunset on its western flank, which I sadly failed to photograph, but the memory of it will stay with me for ever.

We were to travel altogether 11.7km in the day, ascending 600m and descending 480m. Thanks to my roommate Rob for the stats as he has a fancy GPS gizmo with him. I feel happy to be sharing with him, not that everyone on the trek isn’t great, but I just think he is a great and generous person whom I have a definite affinity with.

Tomorrow we have a not too challenging (or so Ngima says) day which takes us to Phortse, at around 4,000m. We will now be above the tree line, and everything will start to get more serious, more bleak/mountainlike, harder, and even more exciting from here.

I head to bed early (8am) and hope for a better night’s sleep. I need it.

Himalayas Day 4 – Phakding to Namche Bazar, or ‘The Day I First Got to See Mount Everest’

Having been doing this blog for about two years now, there are certain times when you are going to put up a post and you are quite excited about what you are going to write about. And then there is this one, which would be the most excited I think I have ever been about a blog post. As you can see from the title above, this was the day I got to see Everest, simple as that……

It is so cold in the room when we (Rob, my roommate and I ) wake up that even I am cold (and I am practically never cold at all), and we didn’t even open the window last night. I was very toasty in my sleepy bag though, and really didn’t want to get out of it when the porters came knocking at 6am with bed tea. I hadn’t expected the bed tea, as I thought that was a camping only ritual, but I am very happy to receive it. I start also to worry about how cold things will get later in the trip if it is this cold at only 2,600m.

This is our first night of waking up in the Himalayas themselves, and what a day it is to be. We have a big trek, and a big ascent ahead of us, and a few views to take on board along the way.

So after packing our bags we are given a nice breakfast of porridge and toast, and are almost straight on our way (after paying the bill in the lodge, which is a bit of a faff, but never mind) for our trip to Namche Bazaar. We will today ascend over 800m, and be at a place where the effects of altitude will certainly be felt, hopefully with not much more than a mild headache and increased heartbeat.

The day starts cold and clear, and thankfully is to stay clear all day, but get very warm when the sun hits us a few hours later. We start off in fleeces and hats, but after a while are down to T shirts, and the bottom half of my walking trousers are unzipped.

The path is good and actually very pretty in places, being mostly wooded and along the Dudh Khosi (Milk) River. The river is glacial melt water and bright aquamarine almost all the way. Very soon after setting off we hit our first suspension bridge of the day. I thought I was going to be a bit nervous going over these, as they sway, some are pretty high, and are both long, narrow (like three feet wide) and fairly precarious in places, but I passed all with the overriding emotion of enjoyment. I have never done anything like that before, and it is simply a thrill.

The walk begins along the Dudh Kosi River

The first of about five suspension bridges to cross on the day.

Imagine for example the experience of walking about two thirds of the way across a 200m suspension bridge, only to then have to turn back altogether because you have a yak train coming at you the other way! I thought it was absolutely brilliant.

After about three hours we stopped for a delicious lunch of fried noodles, reminding me that we are actually remarkably close already to the Tibetan border. Then it was off to our final suspension bridge, a shorter but really high one this time, which is at the confluence of the Dudh Khosi and Khumbu rivers. We are thus now at the head of the Khumbu valley, and these waters flowing below me are coming from Mount Everest, the Khumbu being the name of the massive glacier which comes down off Everest’s south face.

The last bridge to cross before the climb to Namche Bazaar.

Probably best not to look down. I didn't.

We then head up the steepest part of the walk, and it is a really tough pull. We are rewarded though with the best possible prize for our efforts – for there, after about an hour, and only for a very fleeting moment as a gap through trees and between valleys emerges, is the view I have been waiting for. Everest! It is only the summit, and it is a long way away (about 25 miles I believe from here) but this is the very reason why I am here.

The very first distant view of Everest!

I cannot even tell you what this does to me as far as an emotional experience is concerned. I can tell you though that as I write up these notes, four hours after arriving at my destination, I am actually dripping tears onto the keyboard. Best of all, I see Everest (8,848m, 29,028ft) flanked by Lhotse (8,501m, 27,890ft) the fourth tallest mountain in the world, and Nuptse, a giant herself at 7,800m. Better than even best of all, is that Everest has her magical and iconic plume on show, a trail of snow vapour blown from the very summit ridge, as if flying a massive flag to let everyone know that she, Chomolungma, the Mother Goddess of the Universe, is looking down on you.

 

Everest (left) and Lhotse, (right).

From this moment the day could only be anti-climactic, but it was all actually great. The walk from there to Namche Bazaar was still around two hours away, and a tough slog, but very rewarding when we arrived.

Namche sits in a big bowl, surrounded by giant peaks, and perched on the hillside at 3,440m. It is a market town, a place on the great trade route between Nepal and Tibet, and many Tibetan traders come here to sell goods to locals and to trekkers alike. It feels just amazing to be here – is truly is a different world.

The view coming into Namche Bazar

You can in fact buy seemingly anything in Namche, it has wall to wall shops and market stalls, Internet cafes, and bars. You could probably get fairly high just walking around the streets also, as it has a let’s say “evocative” aroma in the air.

A typical street In Namche Bazar, 3,440m

We find ourselves eventually at the ‘Hotel’ Tibet, a four story building at the top of the town. The rooms are basic but fine, although the lack of hot water is disappointing as I thought this might be a place where I was able to take a shower, but alas not. Cold water at below zero temperatures doesn’t entice me to part with my clothes, so they stay put.

Dinner at seven is followed by our briefing for the following day. It is basically an acclimatisation day, as we are now at altitude and must get acclimatised before heading higher to prevent AMS. We will have a great day still though, trekking to a place called The Everest View Hotel, and then onto a place called Kunde, where the major hospital of the Khumbu region was commissioned and part funded by Sir Edmund Hillary. We will do around 350m of ascent and then come back down to a place called Kyangjuma at 3,700m, where we will spend the night.

But today, which is the 23rd October 2011, is a day I will never forget. I got to see Mount Everest. I will get, I sincerely hope, much closer, clearer and better views of Everest as the trek goes on. They may well floor me more than today’s did, and in fact probably will. But nothing in the world can take away from me the fact that today, with my own eyes, I saw her for the first time, and she is undeniably the most magnificent thing I have ever seen.

Himalayas Day 3 – Kathmandu/Lukla to Phakding

Day three is what it is all about. The start of the trek proper! I wake at 4.45am in the hotel in Kathmandu and jump straight into a freezing cold shower and therefore straight out again. It may be my last shower for 18 days, and so it is very necessary and welcome nonetheless!

Everyone is in breakfast shortly after 5, and before we know it our bags are loaded onto the bus and we are off to the airport. The skies are clear, which is great, as if they are not, or it is windy, then the plane will simply not take off. This is a journey on a twelve seater plane, pictured below, to the world’s shortest runway, at just 250 metres. It is also christened ‘the world’s scariest airport’ as the pilots fly directly at the side of a mountain, to a runway banked at 15 degrees. They have to land the plane in exactly the right spot, and get one chance at it. If they miss, it is curtains, simple as that.

Our bags get loaded and weighed for the flight to Lukla - 12kg seems to have gone out of the window.

And our plane, A Dornier, to fly us into the Himlayas is duly loaded.

If I said I was nervous before and during this flight, it would dramatically understate the facts. Despite this, the flight was breathtaking, pure and simple. We are greeted with almost instant views of the snow-capped Himalaya, the sun glistening beautifully from the ice bound caps of every one, their names unknown to me, but their majesty unparalleled on planet earth. We are too far away still to see as far as the 8,000m peaks yet, but there will be plenty of time to see those, including the greatest of them all, over the coming days.

I don’t think I knew just how vast and amazing the Himalayas would look upon first viewing, but I was just staggered. It is one of those moments that just make you smile and be aghast at the same time. These are the moments that I am here for, and I am so overwhelming stunned by the views that I cannot wait to get closer to the mountains themselves, and I can scarcely believe at I will start walking into them literally in a matter of an hour or so’s time.

The snow-capped Himalayas come into view for the first time.

The flight takes just 30 minutes, and then the runway is fast approaching us. It looks like we are heading face first into it, so steep is the descent and so banked the runway itself towards us. Almost before we know it, or have too much time to think about it, we are somehow on the ground, and braking hard uphill to quickly bank right to the front of Lukla airport, which is no more than a stone hut. Around the runway are seemingly hundreds of Sherpas, all looking for work from each successive arrival of tourists. In peak season, which we are in, up to 100 flights a day will touch down here.

On the ground in Lukla - and yes the runway really does slope a long way!

We assemble the kit bags and after a bit of shuffling and reshuffling we are on our way. I have a moment’s panic as my new hastily bought (fake, from a backstreet shop in Kathmandu yesterday) camelbak seems to not let any water out through the mouthpiece. I am about to have a hissy fit and throw it off the edge of the mountain, but Mo takes it from me and manages to find that there is a sort of hidden valve there, and she gets it flowing. Thanks Mo 🙂

The first day’s walk is actually a net descent of 200m, to a place called Phakding. We have flown up to 2,800m, and to start going up further would be to risk feeling the effects of a too sudden ascent, so the trail (for all Trekkers heading to Everest in fact) takes them down this path on day one. It is a short walk, punctuated most memorably by several suspension bridges.

My first suspension bridge, the first of about 10 or so en route

Within minutes of being on the trail, the emotions of what I am doing, where I am, quite hit me. It is now very very real, I am here at last, on the trail, and as early as tomorrow I should get my first glimpse of Chomolungma.

The track is incredibly well laid, of mostly stone path and dirt trail. All the way we are passed in both directions by the incredible Sherpas.  They can carry considerably more than their body weight, sometimes up to about 120kg, or 290lbs, strapped to their head!

You cannot believe some of the loads these guys carry.

We are also passed in the opposite direction by seemingly endless djo trains and also mule trains. The djo is a cross between a yak and cow. Higher up we will see yaks, but they cannot survive down at this altitude, so their shorter haired relatives are deployed here instead. We learn that you must always let the djos and yaks pass you on the ‘down’ side of the mountain path, as they never stop, and you really done’t want to shoved off the mountain by one of them.

The djos carry the bulk of our luggage up the mountain.

The walk also sees us pass our first prayer flags, prayer wheels, and mani stones. The mani stones are basically prayer messages in the Tibetan/Buddhist faith, and take the form of often very intricately carved tablets, or are sometimes just carved onto bigger rocks. You must pass any of these to the left for good luck, as this is the direction of the earth’s rotation. You can also enhance your blessings and good karma, and keep away from negative influences by spinning the prayer wheels (three times is recommended).

Plenty of mani stones line the route from Lukla to Phakding

A prayer wheel, with various blessings attached.

The views all around are amazing. Towering peaks loom in the distance, although as yet only those to about 6,000m, as the valley that we are in, that of the Dudh Khosi, or milk river, obscures those further up and further away. We are probably within about 30 miles or so of Mount Everest at this point in time, our overall walk there and back being bout 70 miles or so.

Mountains only giving glimpses of themselves at this stage of the walk.

The weather is beautifully warm and sunny, and I walk with my lower pants zipped off, and just a T shirt, although when the sun hides behind the valley walls it feels a bit cooler. Everything is also very lush, the summer monsoon having only finished a few weeks ago. Other than the glimpses of faraway snowy peaks, sherpas and the yak trains, we could be hiking almost anywhere. There is green grass, lush vegetation and abundant flowers and trees.

The walk takes just around four hours, including a lunch stop, and we are here at Phakding in the early afternoon. We are to stay at the Tashi Tagey Tea Lodge. I am very pleasantly surprised when entering the lodge – the bedrooms are nice and spacious and clean, the eating area quite cozy and homely. It is far nicer than I had imagined. I was expecting a stone hut with a cold stone dormitory, and a yak dung stove. Maybe even donkeys or a manger or something too. Perhaps we will see that sort of thing higher up the mountain.

Our group at our very first lodge dinner

The bedroom in the Tashey Tagey Lodge. I was never very good at keeping my side very tidy 🙂

After a nice relaxing afternoon we have dinner from a menu that we can choose from, and it is great and plentiful. I drink ginger tea, and look wistfully at the bottles of beer on display at albeit stupidly high prices. I would love one, but decide better of it. By tomorrow we will be at 3,500m, and the onset of potential altitude headaches or worse will me upon us. We will need to drink around four litres of water a day to hopefully stave off the effects of AMS, and to drink alcohol at this altitude is foolish at best. I am now therefore on the wagon for the next 18 days, which can’t hurt me after all, even if it doesn’t sit well with me at the moment.

After dinner of our choosing (I got spaghetti with tomato sauce and it was delicious) we get our briefing for the following day. We will be walking for around 6 and a half hours from here to Namche Bazaar. That very name has excited me ever since I first heard about it on the trip notes.

We will tomorrow alone apparently cross 5 suspension bridges, the last two of which are very high, and then there is a very steep path, where at some point we should catch our first, but fleeting view of the thing I came here for – Everest! We all troop off to bed around nine and will have an early start at around 6.30.

The trek is on, and we have completed our first day in the foothills of the Himalayas. I am so excited about everything that I will see higher up, and this day is a great (and also nice and easy) taster for it all, and yet I have already seen and learned so much. I hope I can sleep…….

Himalayas Day Two

Day two in Kathmandu starts with breakfast at a fairly civilised 8am. I am tired as I had a bit of a fitful sleep due to having the window wide open all night, which in itself was entirely necessary due to the air conditioning in the room seemingly pumping hot air out instead of cold, and the dial not making any difference no matter which way it is set. Outside you can hear dogs, monkeys, endless traffic and all manner of other strange sounds. It is all so different too that it makes you want to listen to it and try to make sense of it all.

After breakfast we meet Ngima, who then does a full briefing with us. We have to get our trekking passes issued, and then he explains the route to us for Everest Base Camp and Island Peak. The journey will differ slightly it seems from the trip notes, but for the better. He gives us a map each which has been highlighted and noted where we will spend each day.

We will spend two days around Namche Bazaar it seems, which is great, as this will be the first night at altitude proper (above 3,300m). Whilst there we will also get to spend time at the Edmund Hillary hospital, which actually makes me really emotional thinking about it for some reason. We will also I think get to spend the 8th night at Everest Base Camp! This is so unexpected (whilst EBC was always part of the route it was due to be a very fleeting visit) it about floors me, and I have to look out of the window as I think I am welling up. We will also spend just two or three nights now (as opposed to what I thought was four) in tents on the glacier at Island Peak, which still seems like a long way away for some reason, probably because it is.

After breakfast we head back into Thamel, to ‘The Summit Brothers’ mountain hire shop.

A typical shopping street in Thamel.....

And the 'Summit Brothers' Hire shop.

We are duly decked out (for those of the group who don’t already have them, which is about half) with plastic boots, crampons, ice axes, helmets (mine looks like it is off a building site and it is suggested that I look like Bob the Builder) and the like. We have to pack all of our Island Peak equipment separately as it will be taken today to Everest Base Camp and we will thus not see it again on the trek until the climb itself.

After a leisurely lunch of pizza in Thamel, we go back and pack for the trip proper. Everything has to be sorted into four bags. One for Island Peak with the climbing stuff, one for the trek with all clothes, sleeping bag, toiletries etc, one day bag/rucksack with waterproofs and camelbak and the like, and then anything else is left behind at the hotel so that you have a clean set of clothes to change into when you return from the Himalayas. As I am packing I realise that I have forgotten to pack my Camelbak, and so I head back into Thamel again to buy one. After a bit of haggling I get a rather cheap and nasty looking one, which is probably because it is actually cheap (about 8 quid including an albeit flimsy insulating tube) and nasty, and I hope will last the course.

Duly packed and ready for the off, I get a message from a friend I used to very recently work with, Louise, who is trekking in Nepal with a friend of hers at the same time as me. She asks if I would like a beer and dinner, and that sounds like a perfect way to round off my stay here, and so we meet at 7pm. A thoroughly enjoyable evening is had and we have some great food and a copious supply of Everest beer. I find out during the evening that Lou had altered her trekking plans to come back to Kathmandu so she could see me whilst I am out there, which was very flattering. Thanks Lou if you ever come to read this 🙂

Lou and I at 'Old Orleans' restaurant in Thamel, much recommended if you are down that way.

I get back to the hotel rather later than I should for what will be a 5am start in the morning, but nomatter, it was so good to meet up, and I actually wish afterwards that I had stayed longer.

Tomorrow though is effectively here already. At 5.30am we will head to the airport to fly to Lukla. I have been dreading this flight for some time to the world’s shortest runway, banked at 15 degrees. Then shortly after arriving at Sir Edmund Hillary airport, (which sadly and ironically claimed the lives of his wife and son in a crash landing there) we will start walking right away, towards Everest. I will at last be on the path of giants, the same path that Edmund Hillary himself took in fact. The trip is now on, well and truly.

In just over a week’s time, I will stand directly underneath the tallest natural phenomena on the planet, Mount Everest. And if that doesn’t get you out of bed by 5am in the morning, then nothing ever will. See you in the mountains 🙂

Himalayas Day One

So day one trip to India and then Nepal is fairly uneventful to start with except for a bit of a momentary panic at Heathrow. Having packed and unpacked (and weighed and re-weighed) my main holdall fairly religiously I knew that I was at around 22kg. I also knew that my weight allowance was 20kg, but I have my rucksack with me as my carry on, and so I am braced to have to take a few things out at check in if I get a strict check in clerk.

This lot has to see me through 22 days somehow...

As my bag goes onto the scales however it is 24.4kg! Whoops – that must have been the extra few pairs of underwear and T-shirts I threw in at the last moment 🙂 Anyway I needn’t have worried, and it doesn’t even trigger the slightest flicker. Most people around me travelling to India seem to have three or four suitcases each. I don’t see too many rucksacks or walking boots in evidence, so there aren’t a whole load of people going my way it seems.

So my first time on what is almost Indian soil, except it isn’t, as I will not be leaving the airport, is a shock, in actually a great way. I had expected Delhi to be all, you know, third world. My only real thing to base that on was flying to places like Sri Lanka and The Maldives. Neither of those places would you wish to spend any longer than the bare minimum in the airport. Then there is Africa – when I went to Kililmanjaro it was definitely a case of ‘welcome to Africa’ when I first got to Nairobi Airport. The place is filthy and horrible at best. Delhi airport however was actually pristine.

Inside Delhi Airport - what a pleasant surprise it was.

My flight on Jet Airways from Heathrow was actually great – I had not heard good reviews on them, but the service was friendly, the plane was clean and modern, my food was very nice, and they didn’t charge me for three gin and tonics and a couple of glasses of wine, so they get top marks from me.

When you do land in Delhi, the very first thing you notice is the smog. I have no idea how many quadrillions of people live in Delhi, but you cannot even see from the airport terminal to the runway. It is also hot, unsurprisingly, but the airport is very nicely airconditioned.

I arrive and find my way through the International Transfer lounge, and expect a tin hut. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I find the plushest terminal I have almost ever seen. I find shops by Boss, Gucci and Tiffany. I see the most beautiful and clean architecture. The floor is polished so beautifully you could eat your dinner off it. There are almost no indications that you are not in say Copenhagen. I do see a few signs, like the odd presence of a ‘Self Medication’ room. I decide to pass that one by, and instead hook up to free Internet access and plentiful (British three pin!) plug sockets to charge my various Apple devices.

I then board another Jet Airways flight, this time to Nepal. The flight is reasonably short and uneventful, other than sitting next to a guy from Wisconsin with a very dubious looking haircut, and a diplomatic passport, whom I decide is some sort of air Marshall type, unlikely as that sounds over in these parts!

I think we're now a long way from Kansas.....

Landing in Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, I am met by Ngima, who is to be our guide for the whole trek. He is Nepalese, and a really nice guy. I also immediately meet six of the other seven people in the group. They are Stefan from Manchester, Tony from Hull, Ben and Bruce from Norwich, and Dave and Mo from Hampshire somewhere. All seem great. The remaining guest is on a different flight and will arrive later – he is Rob from Surrey, and he is to be my roommate/tentmate for the entire trip. Most people apparently have oodles more mountaineering experience than me with the exception of Ben, who like me has only done Kilimanjaro before.

Journeying through the streets of Khatmandu to our hotel, the Royal Singi, is a real eye opener. It is almost like being back in Arusha, Africa, all over again. The place is filthy, with ridiculous traffic congestion and air pollution, a thousand horns blaring a once, and the streets lined variously with beggars, street sellers, cattle and dogs. Every vehicle stops for nothing, it is a complete free for all at all times.

The Royal Singi Hotel is not bad at all, and better than I was expecting. We have a quick briefing with Ngima, and then after surrendering passports and filling in various forms, he tells us he will take us out for dinner into Thamel, the busiest part of town. We head to a place called Kilroys, a restaurant run by a British guy and the food is a very eclectic mix of British and Nepali. They have Dhal Bhat on the menu, and whilst I feel like I should be eating something local, I’m told that I may well be eating that every day on the mountain, so I opt for a Balti Chicken instead, which is great, if really spicy. It is washed down by my first Everest Beer, which is just what the doctor ordered.

My one and only beer for some time methinks......

An early night ensues, as having spent the previous night flying to India, no-one has been to bed for effectively two days. Sleep therefore comes ridiculously easily, and I look forward to seeing some of Kathmandu the following day. It is great to be here, although I am feeling a bit uneasy about the trip itself, as all of a sudden I am here, and it cannot get more real than this, and yet it is all so different and unknown all of a sudden. Tomorrow morning we will also get kitted out with our climbing equipment, and that is certainly something to sharpen the focus entirely.

Getting Scared Now

I don’t know if it is a good thing to admit if you are scared or not? As far as I am concerned, it is generally a good thing to have a healthy respect for the mountains, but to have fear, deep fear, is maybe just too much. I say this because today, I have to admit, I am now no longer just ‘looking forward’ to this trip, I am also worried, a lot.

It is now just six days (six days? – holy cow!) until I go to Island Peak. Today I wanted to remind myself of what I am I up against, to get ‘into the zone’ as it were, and so I did a little googling. As well as various YouTube videos of planes landing at Lukla Airport (and some not landing at all – I am still very haunted by the fact that none other than Sir Edmund Hilary’s wife and son were killed there in a crash landing) I came across various ones of the Island Peak climb. So I have posted one of them below.

The bits in particular at 1:46, 2:32, 2:47 and 3:16 give me the heebie jeebies. Did I tell you that I was scared of heights? Yes really! Check this out, the guy, who incidentally looks far more composed than I will ever be at sea level, let alone 21,000 feet with a cliff face each side of you whilst balanced on a tea tray width of ice, is at times on his hands and knees. I don’t think I’ll cope, seriously, with that section.

That’s all I have to say for now. I have so much to write about over the next few days, but it will have to wait. For now, I just need to absorb this, and worry a while. It is getting serious. Very very serious.