Monday, December 05, 2016

30 Days in Nepal

I am back from my month long adventure in Nepal. It was truly amazing and challenging.  Over the years I have lived and traveled in many "3rd World" conditions.  I have also experienced different cultures and foods and negotiating day to day activities with other languages.  I also have experience with harsh conditions, such as  living out of a tent, and hiking and staying in alpine environments for days at a time.  Yet with all of my experience, this trip challenged me in all of these areas.  The Himalayan Mountains are huge!  The Nepalese and Sherpa cultures are ancient and very different from my "western culture".  It will truly be a trip I will never forget.

I traveled with Dr. Mike Anderson.  A good friend for many years and a colleague.  We arrived in Kathmandu in good spirits and in good health.  Our luggage was delayed a day, but a return trip to the airport was successful in retrieving them without further incident.  The streets of Kathmandu are crazy with lots of motorcycles, horn honking and dodging of pedestrians! The streets are narrow and dusty and filled with people and shops.  Our first day consisted of visiting several mountaineering shops and renting some warmer gear for the mountain.  Soon we were on a small plane to Lukla.  This famous small town has an airport perched on a mountainside.  The flight into Lukla was spectacular with the Himalayas on the horizon.  The runway was short and the landing quick.  Shortly after arriving there we began "trekking" along a large river flowing out of the Khumbu region.

Our guiding company ( had three different groups departing that day.  For the first 5 days we trekked as one group.  I met several interesting people from Scotland, England, New Zealand and the USA.  We also had our first Sherpa guide, Thiley.  Each day we would hike further up the river valley and gain elevation with each day.  We stayed at "tea houses" or rustic lodges each night.  We stayed in villages with names such as Namche Bazaar, Dingboche, and Chukkung.  The nights were chilly and the days sunny and warm.  Soon I had my first glimpse of Mt. Everest and other snow covered peaks.  Wow!  Ama Dablam was particularly an impressive peak.

A week into the trip we split off with our Sherpa guide, Jangbu, and three Sherpa porters.  At this point Mike was not feeling well and was considering aborting the trip and going home.  For half a day I was preparing myself for the possibility of finishing the trip alone with my Sherpa team.  I was relieved when Mike decided he felt well enough to continue on.  The nature of our trip did change enormously at this point.  We left the well trodden paths between villages and tea houses and began trekking along a distinct, yet small path into the Himalayan wilderness.  This was especially true after we crossed the Amphulabsa Pass.  We had to put on our mountaineering boots and crampons and negotiate some technical terrain to get over the pass.  After that we saw hardly another person for the next 10 days.

We made a base camp below Baruntse.  It was at approximately 17,500 ft.  There was a frozen lake nearby and it was dusty.  Long cold nights.  The sun hit the camp around 8:30 am and then disappeared about 4:30 in the afternoon.  When the sun was up and the winds calm, life was good.  However, once the sun went down and a light breeze blew, it was cold and boring.  We spent a night at camp one at almost 20,000 ft.  Mike had a bad night up there and requested to immediately descend back to base camp.  I ventured up with Jangbu to scout out camp 2.  I was feeling fine.  We then spent a rest day at base camp.  At this point Mike decided he didn't feel well enough to attempt the summit.  So I went up the mountain with my Sherpa guide, Jangbu and one other porter.  My night at camp one went well.  We then moved on up to camp two.  Only about a 2 1/2 hour steep climb up to that camp.  It was a sunny afternoon with a mild wind.  When the sun went down it got very cold (21,000 ft). So into my tent I went.  At this point I had to put on the down suit I rented in Kathmandu.  I even had to wear it while in my sleeping bag to keep warm.  We got up at midnight and after a small breakfast began our summit bid at 1 am.  Initially I felt great.  The steep climbing was slow but going well.  Jangbu had rigged most of the upper ridges with fixed rope and ice anchors.    So, the peak was ready for us to ascend safely.  The snow condition was perfect and the winds light.  For several hours we proceeded up in the dark with our headlamps.  Because of the dark, I initially couldn't appreciated how narrow the ridge was and how much exposure we had during the climb.  Before we reached the summit the sun rose from the east.  The sky was amazing as it lit up the many peaks across the Himalayan range.  It was then I began to have a severe belly ache.  It reminded me of my episode with abdominal pain that I had several years ago while climbing at Joshua Tree National Park.  I had to stop doubled over several times while moving on up the mountain.  My Sherpa guide was puzzled as to what my trouble was.  Since I knew it wasn't really a serious pain, I just pushed through it.  Fortunately, it was episodic and I had periods of time when it abated.

Reaching the summit was very satisfying.  We spent about 15 minutes up there and took several photos.  There was just enough of a breeze to keep the wind chill very cold.  Soon we began our descent.  Although I didn't have to breath as hard and my heart rate was lower, it was still difficult to negotiate the descent.  Now I had a much better view of the extreme exposure and how precarious the ridge had been on the ascent.  Several cornices of snow overhung near vertical drops of thousands of feet onto glaciers below.  Wow!  Not far below the summit I made a phone call to Deb on the satellite  phone.  To my dismay, she didn't answer.  I did leave a brief message for her.  The weather was fantastic for us the whole day.  Eventually we made it back to camp two.  With the sun strong in the sky, the tent was warm.  I was tempted to stay there and spend the night again, but soon we broke camp and headed down the mountain.  We hoped to make it back to base camp that evening.  When I staggered into base camp after dark, I was exhausted!  I was near tears because of the long day and lack of sleep.  Needless to say, I slept soundly all that night.

I could have used a rest day following my summit bid, however, we broke camp and began trekking out of the mountains.  Our journey now took as down the Hunku Valley.  We passed many impressive mountain peaks and glacial fed lakes.  The trail was distinct yet small.  No villages or other people for a couple of days.  It was on the third day out that we arrived to a village named "Kote".  This was my favorite stop on our trip.  We stayed at a clean and quaint teahouse named Llama Lodge.  It was run by two Sherpa women who took very good care of us.  The forest around Kote was beautiful and there were waterfalls and beautiful moss covered boulders. This was the first place I obtained wifi again to contact home and send a few instagrams.  We still had two more days of lots of hiking over steep terrain

We had to cross a glaciated pass named Mera La.  It was not particularly difficult, but I slipped on bullet hard water ice a few feet from the edge of the glacier and took a nasty fall onto my right shoulder.  Initially I just thought I bruised my shoulder, but soon I realized that I had injured it substantially.  Mike told me I most likely tore my rotator cuff.  Really?! I could still hike just fine, but lifting my pack or other gear was impossible with my right arm.  Mera La Pass was beautiful and the peak above it looked inviting.  It is often climbed by beginner mountaineers although it is 20,000 ft high.

The final "trek" into Lukla was mostly down hill, but it was a long day and my legs felt the punishment of thousands of feet of descent along stone steps and a rocky trail.  The tea house in Lukla seemed very nice and it had hot water and shower which was so nice.  The next morning we arrived early at the Hillary/Tensing Airport in Lukla.  (The most dangerous airport in the world).  We waited for the planes to arrive from Kathmandu.  When they did, it was a mad dash for the tarmac and a quick transfer of passengers and gear with the props turning.  The take off from the steep and short air strip was exciting to say the least.  Soon we were landing in Kathmandu.  Then back to the Shakti Hotel in the Thamel district of the city.  We had two days before our flight back to the States.  We spent the time shopping and walking the streets.  The Monkey Temple was an interesting place to visit.  It was a very old (2,500 yrs) Buddhist & Hindu Shrine.

The plane flights home were unremarkable and long.  The flight from Guanzchou China to Los Angeles was almost 13 hours long.  It sure was nice to find our wives waiting for us at the airport in Las Vegas.  St. George is such as beautiful and nice place to live.  It was a great trip, but it sure was awesome to be home again.