Life is oh so short

It has been so ridiculously long since I have put up a blog post, that it has taken me some time to find out how to log back into this site. Sad!

I thought I now needed to do two things here though, if even only for posterity. One is to update anyone who doesn’t know already (that is if anyone actually still reads this site outside of anyone who knows me :O) of what has happened re my intended trip to Aconcagua. And then secondly to tell a bit about my future mountainous plans.

Aconcagua

Firstly an update then on Aconcagua. In short, it isn’t going to happen, well not this year anyway. I won’t dwell here into too many of the reasons why, but in short, my father got diagnosed with terminal cancer this summer, with a prognosis which talked about a matter of months, as opposed to years, in terms of life expectancy. I cancelled my trip practically the day that I found out, simple as that.

I mentioned in my previous post that I’d say something about my decision about who to go with, and I thought I’d still take time here to tell a bit about what happened there too:

So basically when I chose my (also aborted, that time due to two broken heels :)) trip last year, I had booked with Jagged Globe, whom I went with on my Alpine Introductions Course, and who I have found absolutely excellent throughout. They would, and perhaps should, have been my natural choice for this time around, but something told me to search around and do a bit of due diligence here and there, and so I did.

There are actually not a lot of firms who do Aconcagua trips, and they basically are divided into three categories. There are local firms in Argentina; there are a few UK firms (e.g Jagged Globe or Exodus for example); and there are the bigger international outfits (mainly US-based) who focus on Aconcagua as it is one of the Seven Summits.

I had ruled out the Argentinian outfits straight away. Maybe they offer the best value, or even the best expeditions. I just don’t know. My thinking was that there is so much to know, and so much to go wrong, even before you get there, that I’d rather be in the hands of someone closer to home, and who speaks my native language, just in case. Then I started reading this year’s Everest coverage (and what an incredible, and also very controversial, season it was) and began seeing some names appearing to me from the operators over there. One name kept appearing and also jumping out to me, and it was International Mountain Guides (IMG).

IMG have been going since 1986, and they cover the four corners of planet earth in terms of the mountains. They lead expeditions to all of the Seven Summits, and therefore put people on Everest every year. I first heard about them from reading Alan Arnette’s wonderful blog (http://www.alanarnette.com). He has climbed with them himself (including on his own Seven Summits bid), and so if that is not an endorsement in itself then I don’t know what is.

Literally from the moment I enquired about availability, I got nothing but first class, prompt (bordering on immediate) replies from them. It was also very personal too, as in they wanted to know about me, to make sure there was a fit for both sides. I was contacted (surprisingly) by one of the founders, Phil Ershler, who was brilliant in every regard. Most importantly for me, there was no big hard sell. In fact almost the reverse was true – I had to pass and prove my worth, and they invited me to ask all sorts of questions of them to make sure that this would work. I’m glad to say that it most certainly did, or would have done anyway.

One of the other key factors about IMG for me, apart from reputation, safety record, success rates etc., was about the way they actually climb the mountain. Instead of an ‘armchair ride’ (as if this is ever likely at 23,000 feet!), IMG like their clients to do the mountains expedition style. In other words, you carry your own stuff, you do carries up and down to each camp, and you put up your own tent etc. Everyone mucks in basically, it is a team, and you need to graft, hard, along with everyone else. Good.

Anyway, basically almost as soon as I hap put down my deposit, I had to call them and tell them I wouldn’t/couldn’t go after all. The very satisfying thing was that instead of saying “sorry but you’ve lost your deposit” etc (which under their terms and conditions they would have been entitled to do). they said they’d hold it over for me for a future trip. That to me just vindicated my decision to choose them in the first place.

What next?

Having cancelled my trip, I have spent most every weekend up in the North East visiting my Dad in hospital, and now in his Nursing Home. He’s still hanging in there, and my time with him is precious, and so it should be. I haven’t been able to plan anything else meantime though, and so that, being selfish for a moment, has made me a bit stir crazy.

So a few days ago, I got, for a host of reasons, to deciding that I needed something, anything, to look forward to. And to cut a long story short, here it is:

Mount Elbrus

Mount Elbrus….

The above is the tallest mountain in Europe. Now many people think that particular honour goes to Mont Blanc, but Mount Elbrus is about 1km higher, at 5,642m (18,510ft). It is a dormant volcano, in the Caucasus Mountains, which are in southern Russia, close to Georgia. I have booked my trip for next August, and all I can say is that I dearly hope it comes off. There is lots to learn and know about Elbrus, and my education has begun with great excitement and vigour.

Mount Elbrus is of course also one of the Seven Summits, and if I can reach the summit (I have some work to do in many respects between now and then), then I would look to try to do Aconcagua next winter too. I won’t get too carried away yet though.

To go back to the title of the post, life is very definitely too short. This one will be for my Dad.

I’ll post more soon, promise.

Himalayas Day 16 – Lukla, bored now

So one good thing and one bad thing already happened to me today, and it is only 7am.

Firstly the good news – wait for it….. I slept through the night! I could not believe it when I woke up at 5.35am, and I hadn’t stirred since about 9 last night. That is literally my best sleep in the Himalayas. I will put it down to the four Everest beers that I had last evening, they obviously did the trick. Maybe today I will have six and sleep for ten hours, who knows.

Then the bad news, or should I say the boring and predictable news – yes it is still raining, yes the cloud is lower than even it was yesterday, and yes the prospect of the weather changing for the foreseeable future is not even close to slim. We are in the clouds, it is as simple as that, and Kathmandu is also cloudy, so no planes will fly here for a fifth consecutive day, and my third day of being marooned here.

The North Face Lodge is looking like some sort of refugee camp now. I am very lucky to have a bed, but have no idea if I will be able to keep it. Everything is so damp though due to the weather, that you wake up damp, your clothes are damp (and unspeakably dirty of course, there is nowhere to wash much less to dry anything), and it makes you even more miserable. There is in fact no running water here at all any more, which makes washing impossible other than (and thank goodness for them) with wet wipes, and the whole toilet situation a bit, well, smelly let’s just say.

I exhausted the shops yesterday and am running out of rupees, and so am not sure how much longer I can hold out. If yesterday was a looonnnnnnng day, then today is going to be longer still. More later……………

So it is now 7pm, and I got promised a helicopter at about noon. Apparently an army 24 seater helicopter was going to fly in, Apocalypse Now style (is that the right film I’m thinking of?), and I can pay $600 and be transported off into oblivion, or Kathmandu, whichever I get to first. I agreed to it, more readily than I thought I would, as I really just want to get out of here now. Somewhat predictably, the helicopter never comes. I am only glad that I didn’t pay my $600 first.

Trouble is, the weather is actually getting worse. You can now see about 50 to 100 yards in any direction. The bigger trouble still is, that in Kathmandu where we are trying to get to, some 5,000 feet below us, the weather is actually worse. They even cancelled the international flights there today, and so the chances of a single-engined ironing board with an outboard motor landing at the world’s most dangerous airstrip are laughable at best.

The runway, or all you can see of it, at Lukla.

I gave up even hanging around the lodge in the end. In fact even the shopkeepers here have given up trying. Normally the Nepalese are very good, they don’t actually pester you too much. They do try to help you however when you go to their store. Now however they have seen the same faces walking backwards and forwards all day long. It is like Shaun of the Dead versus Zombie Dawn at altitude.

Horse getting a bite to eat from the Organic Food Store was one of the highlights of my day

So my afternoon was a couple of hours in ‘Starbucks’ (that’ll be fake Starbucks, a bit like the ‘North Fake’ clothing that you see everywhere). I caught up on emails, caught up on what is happening at work (yes I was that bored), and caught up on Facebook etc too, putting up my Kala Pattar Everest picture up there, of which I am really proud.

Everyone else is just hanging around in the rain.

When 4pm came I went to the Irish Pub, which is becoming my local now. I walk in there now and the bartender puts a Tiger Beer in front of me before I ask for it. I am part of the furniture it seems – which is fine with me. I am stuck here for as long as I am stuck here, and that’s just how it is.

Back at the lodge in the evening I got in with a crowd from Canada and Germany playing card tricks. It whiled away at least 45 minutes of my life, which was a good thing at the time.

I am not even making any predictions for tomorrow. When I was in Fakebucks I checked the weather forecast. It is shocking through at least Monday (this is Friday). I therefore have at least three more days of looking at the rain, and then the people round at the airport have a week’s backlog of really really really pissed off people to try to process through an airfield with no controls, no gates, no nothing. It is going to be an unholy free-for-all on an epic scale.

I shall have a few more Everest beers now and sign off. If I could sleep for the next two days it would be a lot better than what I will actually face. Oh well, at least I am still in the Himalayas (well sort of, even if I cannot see them).

Instead of doing daily updates, I’ll return now to this only when I know for certain that I am heading out of here, to save anyone reading this with as much boredom as I am suffering from right now.

Here’s hoping it’s not too long before that happens………..

Himalayas Day 11 – Gorak Shep to Lobuche, via Kala Pattar

Today I would arise at the highest altitude yet on the trek – in the highest permanent settlement in the world in fact, at over 17,000 feet in Gorak Shep, and we were in the ‘Buddha Lodge’. It would therefore be the highest lodge we would stay at – the forchcoming tromp to Island Peak would be in tents, and then only one night higher than this, at about 18,500 feet in two days time. Today though, was all about getting to see Everest, and ‘properly’ this time.

If I thought that my previous night in Lobuche was my worst night’s sleep ever, then the night at Gorak Shep was sadly to surpass it. The only saving grace about the rooms in the Buddha Lodge were that they were relatively warm. The downside was that this was because they were directly above the kitchen, and the fumes and smells coming out of there turned the tiny room that we had into a noxious unbearable sweatbox, and you really really don’t need that when you are trying to sleep at 5,180m with mild altitude sickness. The smell was a combination of old cooking oil and yak shit (they burn this to fuel the stove), and it almost had me wanting to run out into the ice in the middle of the night.

I had actually gone to bed last night at the ridiculous time of 7.30pm, because a.) I was wiped out, b.) we had to climb Kala Pattar at 6am the following morning, and c.) it was so hot in the lodge room that you could have melted chocolate just by sitting it on the table in front of you. I was sat there in just a T shirt and I thought my contact lenses were going to melt in my eyes it was so warm.

Our rather too warm room in the Buddha Lodge, Gorak Shep

So after retiring and reading for a little while (finishing Bear Gryll’s excellent ‘Facing Up’ about his Everest climb) I turned my light out at about 9pm. By 11.17 precisely I was awake, and I was to never get back to sleep. I was too hot, had a raging thirst, a brutal headache, and was short of breath. If someone had said there’s a helicopter waiting for me outside I would have got into it, without even caring which direction it was heading in.

When 5.30 am came, although all I wanted to do was sleep, I realised that I couldn’t, and so I climbed into my walking boots, long johns and suitable mountain attire for the haul up to Kala Pattar. Kala Pattar, at 5,650m (18,530ft) would be the highest point of the trek so far if I made it, and I was determined to, despite feeling like a zombie.

The only saving grace about this morning at all in fact, was that for the first time on the trek, we did not have to pack all of our expedition bags up first thing before breakfast. We were being allowed to do it after we got back from Kala Pattar later in the morning.

After eating no breakfast whatsoever (I just couldn’t stomach it), I set off on the steep climb out of Gorak Shep with six of the other seven team members. Stefan had had a similar night to me it seems, and decided that he couldn’t face it, and so decided to descend to Lobuche, which at 4,940m would be the stop for the rest of later in the day.

Setting off up the frozen lower slopes of Kala Pattar, Gorak Shep in the background.

The start of the walk was incredibly cold. In fact it made yesterday’s -9 C start to Everest Base camp seem warm. I had my thick Goretex ski gloves on, which I nearly didn’t even bring on the trek with me, plus fleece inners, and my hands were so cold I was actually concerned about frostbite for a while. I kept just wigggling them around, and banging them against my legs in the hope of getting them some warmth from somewhere, and wished that I had brought hand warmers with me. By the time the sun came up some 45 minutes later all was fine, and I thankfully had no problems after that.

Problems were being had sadly by another one of our team however. Maureen has been fighting a sinus infection for the last couple of days, and I can tell you that this is no place to either have one, or to try to fight it. She is brave however, and attempted the walk, but was to give up after about 20 minutes and be helped down the valley to Lobuche by Pasang, one of our guides.

The climb to the summit took one and a half hours for Tony and Rob, who were out of our sight not long after the start, and just over two hours for the rest of us. The weather was again absolutely cloudless, and so the views (the whole point of this particular walk after all) were simply beyond compare. Pumori (7,165m) rose majestically in front of us, and the massive swathe cut by the Khumbu glacier below the west face of Nuptse (7,861m) was to our right. There were also more outstanding views of Changtse in Tibet, as well as countless other soaring 7,000m + peaks.

Panorama looking down the Khumbu Valley from Kala Pattar - breathtaking

From probably half way to the summit, the main attraction came into view. People climb Kala Pattar because it affords the best view of Everest from anywhere, including being on Everest herself. That was why I was there too, and I wasn’t going to let my dull headache get in the way of the greatest day in the mountains of my life.

Gradually the summit of Everest appears, complete with (thank you) trademark snow plume, and then you get to see the Khumbu Icefall in all of her glory, surpassing even the views from Base Camp yesterday by some considerable margin, and then Lhotse (8,501m) comes into view, with her own plume not to be outdone by her big sister.

Incidentally the plume on Everest is caused by the jet stream, which circles the earth at approximately 200mph, and at about 30,000 feet. Everest’s summit at over 29,000 feet means that the top is effectively buffeted by this the year round, and is is why she is unclimbable for all but a few days each year, when the jet stream briefly abates and rises post the winter monsoon. This weather window is what meteorologists are looking for to help climbers who anxiously sit waiting at the various camps on the mountain at the end of April each year. Anyone who tried to climb at any other time of the year would literally be blown off the face of the mountain.

So eventually we made it to the summit of Kala Pattar, a scramble at the very top, and the panorama from 18,550 feet was utterly majestic. The word majestic in fact is hopelessly inadequate here – just look instead at this panorama shot:

Lingtren, Khumbutse, Changtse, Everest (background), Lhotse, Nuptse, to name but a few

There laid out before us was the classic triangle of Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse. Everest at last revealing all of her gobsmacking 8,848m, or 29,028 feet. The picture I have (and I’ll have to choose which, I have lots) will be blown up, framed, and will take pride of place above whichever mantelpiece I ever have.

Dave, myself, Bruce and Ram our assistant guide also had a shot perched on the very precarious Kala Pattar peak with Pumori towering above us in the background:

The summit of Kala Pattar - I am very glad that Ram was holding onto me!

The reason people climb up to here is to admire the view.............

........of this.

Bruce, Ben, Dave, yours truly, and Ram our guide.

Oh and one more for luck, as it were, just me and Everest this time 🙂

We probably stayed on the summit for about 30 minutes. It was just utterly spectacular in every direction. Just looking down alone to Everest Base Camp, more than 1,000 feet below us, and the Khumbu Icefall alone was enough to hold your stare for what seemed like forever. In every direction though, words would only fail you to describe the sheer exultation of what is (as far as I am concerned) simply the best vantage point on this planet.

Eventually we made our way down again, looking back south towards the path of the Khumbu glacier. Amongst the so many different perspectives that I took away from this point in the mountains was just how almost, dare I say it, insignificant, Ama Dablam looked further down the valley. At a ‘mere’ 6,686m, she was beginning to get lost amongst these 7,000 and 8,000m behemoths.

But here was I, in the midst of all of them. The fact that I nearly didn’t get out of bed this morning as I felt so bad, is now so ridiculous to think about that it almost makes me shudder.

This is the crowning moment of my time in the mountains, in the great outdoors, and in fact of all the greatest things I have ever seen it is so far and away number one that I will never again stop to even think about the answer when anyone asks me.

The walk back down I can scarcely even remember. My brain was I think just numb from all that I had seen, and it is so emotional to take all of this in. I was drained in fact, emotionally and physically. But again words fail me as to be able to describe how incredibly happy I was to be here.

Upon getting back to Gorak Shep there was a brief time to pack, and to begin our descent back to Lobuche from where we had come yesterday.

Looking back down the valley as we begin our descent towards Lobuche.

Upon getting to Lobuche I think I just slept for about two or three hours. I practically collapsed into my sleeping bag mid afternoon.

I won’t go any higher on this trip, my body is too beaten up. I think I know that now. Tomorrow the path takes us to Chukkung, over the Kongma La pass at 5,600m, just below where we have been today on Kala Pattar, but if we choose we can circumnavigate this via Dingboche at 4,400m, where we were three days ago. At dinner we were able to choose which option we wished for, and six people are heading up, whilst Mo (still suffering from her sinus infection and now also AMS as well) and I will head down.

I am therefore not going to ascend Island Peak, and I will dwell upon whether that is a disappointing thing another time. Now I just need to descend, my body craves it. I have seen and done ‘my’ Everest. It will always, always, be etched upon my retinas, and upon my mind and my heart. No-one can take it away from me. My journey, whilst not complete, is now headed only in one direction, and that is to the safety and comfort of more oxygen rich air.

Tomorrow I will begin the rest of that journey – and what a journey it has all been.

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.

Everest Base Camp Trek Overview, plus map

So here is a brief overview of the trek which I undertook, and also a few notes on the places and the geography of the place, which I hope puts it all into context:

Under the “Map and Places Visited” section further down there is a pointer to where I went each day, referenced to a copy of the map that I took on trek with me.

Dates

I went on trek on the 19th October 2011, and returned on the 9th November 2011, a total of 22 days. This should be an ideal time for anyone wishing to visit Nepal. It is a principally very dry time of the year, being after the summer monsoon, and the weather is fairly mild for most of the trek.

Climate

Expect (daytime) temperatures of 25C or so In Kathmandu pre trek, and temperatures warm enough for shorts in the Himalayas if the sun is shining for the first few days. Nightime temperatures in the Himalayas will always be below 0C, even in the tea lodges (see below). When you are above about 4,500m, expect even daytime temperatures of below zero. I will talk about kitlist and clothing separately.

Trek Organiser

I went with Exodus Holidays. If you copy and paste this link here:  http://www.exodus.co.uk/holidays/tni/overview  into your browser you will get all the information you need to tell you if it is the sort of trip for you. There are also trek notes, prices and what have you, in case it piques your interest more to make you wish to do it yourself. I should say that this was the first time I had travelled with Exodus, that I have no affiliation with them whatsoever, and that I found them to be excellent in every regard. I compared Exodus primarily against Jagged Globe before going, and I have no reason to suggest that Jagged Globe would have done a better or worse job. I am still very happy with my choice though.

Brief Overview

My trip was to take in essentially two elements, which are highlighted on the overview map included below:

The first is a trek from Lukla, at the base of the Himalayas, up though to Everest Base Camp and Kala Pattar, which is (although technically very much a mountain in its own right at 5,545m) the iconic and much celebrated viewing platform for Mount Everest herself. The second would then be an attempt to scale Island Peak, at 6,189m on of the highest ‘trekking peaks’ in the Himalayas. It is called a trekking peak as it is capable of being climbed as part of an organised trek, even though it does involve technical equipment including ropes, jumars, ice axes etc to get to the top.

To get to Lukla where the trek, and almost all Everest treks that have ever been, starts, it is necessary to fly from Kathmandu. Once at Lukla you are in the Himalayas themselves. It is at 2,800m, or around 9,500 feet. From here there are no cars, no transport of any kind in fact other than two or four legs. The four legs bit refers to either yaks, or djos (a cross between a cow and a yak, used at lower altitudes), who carry the bulk of the loads throughout the region for trekkers and locals alike.

The region is called the Khumbu, after the glacier and river that flows from the south face of Mount Everest. As can be seen from the maps the geography is all in Nepal, but borders Tibet (in fact half of Mount Everest is in Tibet too), so many of the influences in the region are as much Tibetan and Buddhist as they are Nepalese.

Type of Trek

There are essentially just two types of trek available in the region. You can either camp in tents, or go into tea houses, or combine the two. Most trekkers opt for the tea houses, as they provide a roof over your head, and they also provide hot food, cooked and prepared for you. A typical tea house has a dining room, twin-bedded rooms, and a toilet or two. Some toilets are western style, most are ‘squat’ style. Some toilets are indoor, some are outside. Most lodges don’t have shower facilities, but some do, often just a hut outside where they will pour hot water over you for a few quid. Although there are ‘bedrooms’ you will still need a good sleeping bag to stay there. Our trip was tea house all the way except for nights 13 and 14 below, which were in tents.

The lodges by the average Nepali standards are actually pretty clean, but don’t expect western style cleanliness or warmth. I measured -5 C in my bedroom one night, and running water of almost any kind is fairly rare. They will typically have one heater in the whole lodge, which is a yak dung fuelled stove in the dining room. Be prepared otherwsie, especially higher up, to keep your hat, gloves, thermals and fleeces on inside the lodge. Most have electricity of varying quality, depending upon their solar heaters etc.

Most lodges charge around $1 or $2 a night for you to stay there, and make their money on food. The food is varied, fairly plentiful, and of a good standard.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the lodges that Exodus used. It is fair to say that some of the lodges we saw en route I am glad that we weren’t staying in. It is also very true that the higher you get up the mountain, the facilities get more basic, more expensive, and dirtier as a rule. Again that is to be expected – getting anything up to 16,500 feet will take forever by yak train, so don’t expect a lot.

Map and places visited:

Route map in yellow of the whole trek to and from Lukla

OK so am not sure how easily the above map is to read for you, but if you click it (like all other photographs on my blog) it will expand:) I will explain further below….

The days of travel are as follows:

Day One and two were travelling, and spent getting ready for the trek in Khatmandu.

The days below correspond then with the dates as planned in the trip notes, so the first entry “Himalayas Day 3” is the first day of the trek proper. You will see however from my blog (although I haven’t yet posted it all as I write this) that it didn’t all work out that way for me. This is the way that it was supposed to be therefore.My blog entries will ultimately tell you why things ended up as being different.

The places referred to are more fully described in the individual entries in my blog, and are as marked on the route in yellow on the map above. Most of these places are just settlements of perhaps 20 or 30 houses and lodges, but they vary greatly. Basically again as you get up the mountain everything is less abundant. There are probably 30 lodges and 100 buildings altogether in Lukla, the first and lowest point on the trail at 2,800m. By the time you get to Gorak Shep at the top, I think I saw three building in total. I’ve not provided links, but Google of course is your friend as always.

The distance from Lukla, our starting and finishing point, to Everest Base Camp, is approximately 35 miles, so the total distance covered including Island Peak is probably something like 80-85 miles I would say.

Himalayas Day 3 : Lukla (2,800m, 9,200ft) to Phakding (2,600m, 8,530ft)

Himalayas Day 4: Phakding to Namche Bazar (3,440m, 11,287ft))

Himalayas Day 5: Namche Bazar to Kyangjuma (3,650m, 11,976ft)

Himalayas Day 6: Kyangjuma to Phortse (3,850m, 12,632 ft)

Himalayas Day 7: Phortse to Dingboche (4,400m, 14,436ft )

Himalayas Day 8: Dingboche to Nangkartshang Peak (5,083m, 16,677ft) and back to Dingboche

Himalayas Day 9: Dingboche to Lobouche (4,940m, 16,208ft)

Himalayas Day 10: Lobouche to Gorak Shep (5,180m, 16,996ft), via Everest Base Camp (5,360m, 17,586ft)

Himalayas Day 11: Gorak Shep to Lobouche via Kala Pattar (5,643m, 18,515ft)

Himalayas Day 12: Lobuche to Chukkung (4,730m, 15,519ft) via Kongma La (5,535m, 18,160ft)

Himalayas Day 13: Chukkung to Island Peak Base camp (5,100m, 16,733ft)

Himalayas Day 14: Island Peak Base camp to Island Peak High Camp (5,600m, 18,364ft)

Himalayas Day 15: Island Peak High Camp to Chukkung via Island Peak summit (6,189m, 20,300ft)

Himalayas Day 16: Chukkung to Tengboche (3,900m, 12,796ft)

Himalayas Day 17: Tengboche to Monjo (2,835m, 9,302ft)

Himalayas Day 18: Monjo to Lukla (2,800m, 9,200ft)

After Lukla the trek ends with a flight back to Kathmandu for a day’s recuperation before returning back home to the UK.

If there are any questions or comments on the above, then please let me know – I am always very happy to have feedback or constructive criticism as to how to make it all more useful and/or easier to understand.

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.