Thanks to Rajendra from www.mountainsunvalley.com for making this grand adventure a reality! It was the toughest trek in Nepal. It went without any problems and we finished it in less time than we planned.
Participants: Derek, Juan (for the first week and a bit), Kumar (for the first week and a bit), Purba, Japanese 65 year old and his Nepalese assistant/guide, 3 Yahoos, the Taxi Driver from Darjeeling, 30 year old virgin, Dorje Sherpa (K2 summiter, interested in any other job but climbing), and the guy that kept staring at me.
October 17, 2012 – October 20, 2012
So here I am a year later: in Nepal again, in Khadabari town in a hotel. After a great experience of solo travel in 2011, I decided to do another trip alone. This was my plan until I got a call from Juan asking me if I had any treks planned. After exchanging emails, Juan decided that he wanted to experience the Himalayas. I sent him many articles and descriptions of this trip as I was apprehensive of inviting him on the most difficult trek in Nepal for his first visit to the Himalayas. I did not want any surprises or regrets in case something happened to him. Having assured me that he was ready and fit I accepted him to join me. So the plan of a solo trip did not really work out, kind of…
We are here to do the most challenging trek in Nepal. It is high, remote, and very technical with elevations over 6,000m. It is more of a mountaineering expedition than a trek really. Later, Dorje, my Sherpa guide told me that doing this trip was equivalent to climbing Cho Oyu, an 8,200m mountain. I read a lot about this trip and looked at some spectacular photos from the passes that we were planning to cross on a few websites. I trained hard for it and psyched myself up for the effort. Having experienced the ferocious weather on the Teshi Labtsa Pass in 2010, I was aware that trekking across high remote passes could be risky too.
I left Calgary on Thursday Oct 17, 2012. I had a lot of loose ends to take care of. It seemed that this time I had all the little things just piling up right until my departure. When I showed up at the airport, I was informed that I needed a visa for Dubai, as Canada and UAE were involved in some pissing match about airline business. In retaliation, UAE introduced visas for Canadians. I did not know about this change and I had to buy another airline ticket to fit into the visa free 24-hour transit rules. I had to buy the ticked on the spot, at the airport in order to be let onto the flight to London.
The flight to London was not full. In London I visited David (my usual English travel mate who would not be joining me this time, unfortunately) in his new home. His new house is located outside of London and it is very far from the LHR airport. The only way I could save money on the criminally high taxi fare back to the airport was to engage a one-armed taxi driver from David’s village. David assured me that the driver and his driving were perfectly safe.
In London, David and I had dinner with Debbie (our mutual friend who lives in London and loves Arctic travel) in some Lebanese restaurant in Soho. She invited me to join her on the sailing trip to South Georgia the following year.
The flight from London to Dubai was uneventful and uncomfortable as the seats were small and there was no legroom. Dubai airport is very large but the shopping is surprisingly poor. Everything is expensive with a 15% premium. I had a long layover there (over 8 hours) due to the visa confusion. At the airport, there were a lot of people from Africa and Pakistan returning from the Haj. The flight to Kathmandu was via Doha, where the airport was small, cramped and in total chaos. It was a long journey to get to Kathmandu. This time it felt like a true trip around the world.
At the airport in Kathmandu, I met Rajendra who presented me with a lei of marigolds and a welcoming scarf. We took a taxi to the now familiar Nirvana Garden Hotel where Juan was already waiting for me. I got to the hotel around 6pm. I did a quick repack and went to Rajendra’s office to pay him the fee for the trip. In return, he handed me a brick of 200,000 Nepalese rupees to take to Kumar, our guide, who was already waiting for Juan and me in Tumlingtar (the starting point of our trek). After the formalities, Juan and I went to the Pilgrim Bookshop cafe for my favourite dosa masala and momos. I felt very tired from the journey and the time change.
Kathmandu was not new to me. Since the festival of Dashain was taking place in Nepal, Thamel (the tourist section of Kathmandu) was very busy. Not much has changed from the year before: the same shops and wares, the same service staff working in them (some of them even recognized me). I went back to the hotel soon after as we needed to get up at dawn to catch the flight to Tumlingtar. I was looking forward to getting out of Kathmandu as soon as possible.
October 21, 2012 Khadabari
We got up early at 4 am mainly due to the jet lag. I repacked and went to the bakery with Juan for some overpriced dry muffins. Then off to the airport for the flight with Buddha Air to Biratnagar. The flight to Biratnagar was pleasant and smooth with great views of the eastern part of the Himalaya range from Ganesh to Kanchendzonga. We could see Everest, Makalu, Gaurisankar, Kanchendzonga, all of them. It was magnificent and we were excited with anticipation of going to those peaks.
In Biratnagar we had 2-3 hours of waiting for the next flight. The next flight was in a very small plane that could land on the remote grass airstrip of Tumlingtar.
In Biratnagar, to kill time, I took a walk to town. It was very hot and humid as the city is located in the lowland section of Nepal at an altitude of 100m, next to the Indian border. The town looked dirty and chaotic. I bought some apples and bananas and went back to the airport. The next flight to Tumlingtar was only 20 minutes long. We had a great view of Makalu thorough the cockpit window. The bulk of Makalu seemed right in front of the plane.
Once we landed, the bags were dispatched onto a metal trolley in the middle of the grass landing strip and everyone picked their own.
We met Kumar at the airstrip who was waiting for us with the jeep that would take us closer to the trailhead. We met our crew for the first time. Our climbing Sherpa, Dorje, is from the Makalu region. He climbed K2, Makalu, Everest, and Manaslu three times. The sherpas who climbed the main Himalayan peaks do not make a big deal out of it while for the foreigners it is an ego-boosting source of pride. Dorje seemed like a nice guy. He showed me some great photos from his recent K2 climb. For him it was an easy peak except the Bottleneck part, but he seemed very proud of his accomplishment and aware that it improved his marketability as a guide for other climbs in Nepal.
We all piled into the jeep and went to Khadabari on a dusty road. It was a short drive but better than walking. Khadabari is a regional capital and there were no tourists other than us in town. We were told that there were some other groups ahead of us so I was sure that we would run into them later. The hotel was quite nice. I had a corner room with a patio and a view of the surrounding hills. In the evening, the clouds rolled in and it cooled down nicely. It was also my birthday.
October 22, 2012 Num
Today we drove to Num. It took seven hours of shaking and jolting. On the way we saw many animals killed for the Dashain festival as is the custom here. Celebration by communal slaughter. We saw many goats with heads chopped off and blood gushing out. When we stopped for lunch we came across a group of people holding down a large pig. One guy was driving a wooden stake through the pig’s heart. The pig and the tormentors were freaking out, a total pandemonium. After the pig died, the villagers set it on fire to burn the hair off. They scraped the scorched carcass off with teacups and old rusty cans. They cleaned the pig off, gutted it and cut it into four pieces.
For lunch we had dhal baht of questionable quality (even Kumar and the porters were not impressed with the quality of the food). However it was the only available option for lunch along the way. In Num, our final destination on this road, we stopped in a guesthouse belonging to a Nepalese man who worked in Japan and saved all his earnings to open this business. The room was built from sheets of metal so there was no insulation from the noise outside or the noise from other rooms. It was a typical Nepalese shoddy hotel. The sunset was spectacular over the valley below. The sun looked magical with the long rays of light shooting in all directions from behind a dark cloud.
The hotel was located at the end of a long ridge. From the ridge, the views extended over the green foothills of the high Himalaya. To the east, the valleys led to the Kanchendzonga region. To the west, to Lukla in the Khumbu region. Directly across the valley, to the north, we could see the village that was our destination for the following day. It looked so close. A deep gorge separated us from it though. We could see the large Arun river snaking its way through the deep valley that we would have to cross in order to get to the village across from us. We went to bed by 7:30 pm excited for the start of the walk. All through the night we could hear a symphony of harking and spitting from other rooms and wailing dogs and roosters from the outside. We were up by 5:30 am with all the local roosters and dogs.
October 23, 2012 Seduwa 1,710m
We got up early and had breakfast at 6:30 am. We left at 7 am. First the trail dropped 700m straight down a slippery stone stairway overgrown with vegetation. The lower we got, the more hot and humid it became. Right out of the gate, Juan had problems with his knees and by the time we got down to the river, the guides started to worry whether Juan would be able to continue. I never considered that going down could present a problem. The slippery steps however, can be a treacherous trap for bad knees.
Once we descended to the bottom of the valley, we crossed the Arun River across a hanging bridge and immediately needed to regain all the elevation. We climbed 1,000m up in the heat and humidity eating fresh guava on the way. When we arrived at Seduwa, our destination for the day, we decided to stay put and not to continue on to Tashigaon another 3 hours away. This meant that we would need 7 days to get to the Makalu basecamp from here. In two days time, we had our first high pass to cross. The pass is called Shiphton Pass and it is 4,000m high. We arrived at a guesthouse with dorm sleeping arrangements reminiscent of a Kashgar teahouse. I was anxious to see what the next day would bring.
October 24, Tashigaon
Today was a short day, only 3-4 hours of walking with a two-hour lunch break.
While we were having lunch, the weather started to turn for the worst. The cloud cover was increasing and it looked like it was going to rain. The following day we would have a big elevation gain of 1,400m. Today on the trail we saw many orchids growing on trees – it was very beautiful. We met a German fellow that had hair like Copernicus. It was Mr. Copernicus who showed me the orchids.
The valley to Tashigaon was very beautiful with views extending far away into the Kanchendzonga region. This is a very underdeveloped region of Nepal from the tourist infrastructure perspective, it is not a “Coca-Cola” trek at all. The teahouses are very simple if they even exist, with no choice of foods available. Sleeping arrangements are dorm style on wooden platforms or on the floor, so I needed to use my sleeping mat. The food was quite bland, rice cooked without salt, local vegetables, spinach and some other greens. No spices. I should have brought more of my own snacks if I knew. I was starting to get apprehensive about the high passes ahead. The crossing from Makalu basecamp to Chukung in the Khumbu usually takes five days. I anticipated this trip much more than any other (with the exception of the trips to Pakistan in 2001 and 2005) due to the high elevations involved.
It was raining by now, heavy grey clouds descended on the surrounding peaks around us.
We ran into a large British group going to the Makalu basecamp. Their leader developed sharp pains in his lower abdomen and was supposed to be evacuated by a helicopter the following day.
October 25, 2012 Karma Kharka 3,635m
Today we started in the jungle and it was steaming hot in the morning. It was quite humid after yesterday’s large rainstorm. It rained hard until midnight and snowed higher up. In the morning the sky was clear and the rocky peaks above Shiphton pass looked great, covered with a fresh dusting of snow.
After leaving the teahouse, the trail started to climb steeply right away. It started traversing thick moss-covered forest with clouds swirling among the trees. We literally hiked through the clouds with a lunch break in the mist. The first snow appeared around 3,000m. The snow got progressively deeper as we climbed higher. The daily altitude gain was large, 1,400m or so. The Karma Kharka teahouse appeared at the end of the steep climb, at the end of a rocky staircase covered with ice and slush. We got there around 2.30pm.
Dorje told me that Sherpa children are named after the day of the week on which a child is born. I would have to ask him to write it down for me. The teahouse at Karma Kharka was quite simple, a dorm room that we shared with Mr. Copernicus and his German wife. It would be cold there but the hot bottle trick works great (a Nalgene bottle filled with hot water and put inside the sleeping bag). It was the a hot bottle night as it was getting really cold. Today we also met our Japanese companion that we would be crossing the high passes with: Mr. Marimoto. He is an older Japanese fellow, 65 years old who apparently comes to Nepal every spring and fall. He always hires Dorje’s uncle for all of his trips. We joined forces with his small group to streamline rope fixing on the high passes.
Mr. Copernicus told me today about his mountaineering exploits: 14 times in Nepal, Peru, Muztagh Atta, Gurla Mandata, Ama Dablam – quite a nice guy. Mr. Copernicus is German and according to Kumar’s idiosyncrasy scale, he is goal oriented and determined. Most Germans I meet make proud pronouncements of their mountaineering accomplishments like children showing off their school prizes. It is the summit that excites them not the experience. Without the summit, there is no valid experience.
I was looking forward to crossing the Shiphton Pass the following day!
October 26, 2012, Friday Dongla 3,855m
Today we started at 6.30 am. We had beautiful clear sky in the morning. We had a great view to the east (Kanchendzonga region) from the ridge ascending to the Shiphton Pass. Shortly after 8 am, the clouds started to roll in. After breakfast I walked up the hill fast and ahead of everyone else to Keke La (a viewpoint before the Shiphton Pass) to catch the panoramic view of Makalu, Peak 6, Peak 7 and Chamlang. All those peaks were waiting for us ahead. I had to move fast up the hill to beat the ascending clouds which by now were rolling in thick and heavy. I was surprised that I could run up to the top of the pass at the altitude approaching 4,000m. Shortly after I took some photos, we were engulfed in thick clouds.
Once everyone arrived at Keke La, we regrouped and moved across the Shiphton La. The weather was changing again. Dark clouds started to envelop us and the wind picked up. It was quite cold, cloudy and very windy. This made the walking unpleasant and required full on gortex, gloves and hat. It was definitely winter with blowing snow, ice and cold temperatures.
At one point I had to wait for Juan and Kumar for an hour and I got really cold in the wind (hot tea helped though). Juan was slower than me and I could feel that he was starting to appreciate how serious the weather could be in the high mountains. Also the terrain was becoming icy and challenging. We were not following any trail as everything was covered by wet snow.
In the mountains, and especially during bad weather, being slow is not good as it prolongs the time in the elements and makes the cold much more acute. The Shiphton pass is 4,200m high and it was snow and ice covered when we got there. It was full on winter. At an elevation of 4,200m the snow was blowing horizontally and it got quite cold fast when I stopped. The clouds were milling around in the strong wind. I could make out our guys in the distance among the sharp rocks. There were no views and we had to walk with our heads down due to blowing snow and wind. We stopped for quick lunch in the cold (some soup and tea). The Japanese fellow was sticking to himself, as he probably did not speak English. True to my Himalayan curse, the worst weather was on the pass. I was seriously hoping that this would not be the case on the passes ahead at 6,000m.
We arrived at our campsite at 3,800m on the other side of the Shiphton Pass. The campsite was snow covered and located by a small shack-like teahouse. We pitched our tent, as the teahouse did not have beds. I was expecting a cold and long night (but the time seems to go fast here). This was our night number 6 already on the trail. It was definitely a two hot bottles night.
The teahouse was very small and tight barely fitting our crew. We had some simple food and hot tea. There was no place to sit and relax so we retired to our tent soon after the supper.
October 28, 2012 Langmade Kharka 4,450m
Last night was the coldest night so far. The tent was frozen inside from the condensation. We were now in the Barun Valley, way on our way to the Makalu basecamp. Barun Valley is fairly remote and does not have any permanent villages. There are two seasonal pastures and the locals who stay there cater to the few passing trekkers and climbers.
Yesterday we descended from the Shiphton Pass camp at 3,800m. The rocky "steps" from the pass to the Barun Valley were covered in ice due to the snowstorm the day before. Juan had a really hard time coming down as he was now experiencing the effects of altitude. Along the way, we had to cross a rocky landslide area with large loose boulders piled on top of one another. Juan's altitude sickness was getting worst and we made a collective decision to get him out of the Makalu basecamp by helicopter. He would continue with us to the basecamp though as there was no other place for the helicopter to land before we would get there. I was planning to call Rajendra on the SAT phone and arrange the helicopter evacuation for the 30th of October at 9 am. We were now in a deep valley and I could only use the SAT phone when we had the open southern sky. This limiting aspect of the SAT phone made it somewhat limited in its usefulness as an emergency communication devise.
October 28, 2012 Yangle Kharka
Last night we stayed at Yangle Kharka and it was very decent. In the morning, the frost covered the meadow outside the teahouse and the streams surrounding the teahouse were frozen. The rising sun illuminated the large peaks behind the ridge at the bottom of which the teahouse was situated. We left around 8 am and walked to a higher camp at 4,450m. We had great views all around along the way. We were now in a wild and remote area of the Barun National Park. It was hard to believe that we were on the trail for only 6 days at that point. It felt much longer. I was sending the SPOT messages (locator messages via satellite) and I was hoping that they were being received back home. It looked like Kumar would cross the passes with us as he was quite determined but unsure of his ability to do so.
I was apprehensive about them as well but they were trekking passes after all. If all went well, it would take 5 days to cross the 3 of them. The following day we were going to the Makalu basecamp and it was supposed to be only 3-4 hours of walking.
October 29 and 30, 2012 Makalu BC 4,850m
Yesterday was a great trekking day. We had outstanding views all along. The Makalu basecamp is spectacular with the south face of Makalu rising for 3 km straight above the teahouse. It is a huge and bulky mountain and we were right under it. The wall of granite was too steep for the snow or ice to stick to it. The bottom of the face was surrounded by large icefalls. In the evening the setting sun turns the entire face yellow and then bright orange making the sunset a spectacular event.
On the way to the basecamp I called Rajendra on the SAT phone to confirm the helicopter for Juan. All was good to go. The flight from Makalu BC to Lukla via the nearby pass is only 20 minutes. It would cost $2,000 US.
The helicopter came at 7 am today (we were expecting it at 9am) and basically shook us out of our sleeping bags. We pitched the tent inside an animal shelter to protect us from the cold wind. The teahouse was very nice and not busy. We were still in our sleeping bags when the roaring noise of the landing helicopter shook the walls and literally came on top of us. We scrambled like mad and got Juan’s bags packed. I swapped my yellow duffle with him since I had more gear and needed the space. He also left me his first aid kit for the crossing of the high passes, as it was his contribution to the group kit.
Dorje, the Sherpa guide also insisted that Kumar go down with Juan. Kumar was asking everyone along the trail for the last few days whether he could do the passes or not. It was a local plebiscite for Kumar. People would discuss and vote while Kumar evaluated the results carefully. Everyone told him that he could not do it but in Kumar’s head, the results were inconclusive and he was willing to give it a try.
Everyone’s opinion about Kumar’s inability to do the passes was apparently due to his lowland caste. The entire caste is labeled as weak and not efficient in the high mountains. The final decision was made by Dorje and it was of course the opinion of the Sherpa who are the kings of the high Himalayas. I do respect Dorje’s opinion, as his resume is very impressive.
Consequently Kumar joined Juan on the helicopter flight to Lukla. He was of great assistance to Juan all along and it was safer for Juan to rely on Kumar's guidance until the end.
Personally I felt very good. I was not tired in any way. Once Juan left, it started to feel like my solo trip from the previous year.
We had a rest day at the Makalu basecamp. That day, we walked to 5,150m for an acclimatization walk. I felt fine and had no altitude-related issues. I was curious though about how I would feel at 6,200m which was the altitude record for me, Dorje and I walked up to a viewpoint from which we could see the northeast aspect of Everest and the south face of Lhotse. It was brilliant.
As usual at the high elevation for me, I had some sleep problems. I would wake up in the middle of the night and I had a hard time falling back to sleep. My mouth got really dry during the night and I needed to drink a lot of water (2 liters during the night). Because of all this drinking I had to go and pee 5 times during the night as well. This became very tedious as leaving a warm sleeping bag was not very comfortable and it was disturbing to Dorje, with whom I shared the tent.
The following day we were planning to move to a higher camp at 5,600m (known as the Sherpani Col basecamp). It was a large gain in altitude in one day and hopefully I would feel good. I was most concerned about the West Col camp at 6,200m. The camp is remote and high. It would be hard to go down from there fast in case of any altitude issues. A helicopter evacuation would be tricky if the weather was not good. The helicopters can fly up to 23,000 feet according to the pilot who evacuated Juan.
It was quite amazing to me that the crossing of the high passes would take only 5 days yet it took me months of training and mental preparation to get there. Also, such a short time in terms of days but I would remember it forever. Everyone was ready, the weather was clear, it was cold and we seemed to be ready to take on the three passes.
During our rest day at the Makalu basecamp, Dorje told me some interesting things over dinner. He makes between $5,000 and $6,000 for the Everest climb. It is very dangerous work especially in the Icefall. For other high peaks (but not the 8,000m high ones), he makes between $2,000 and $3,000. The work in high Himalaya is always dangerous: weather changes, avalanches, etc. He is going to climb the Gasherbrums this winter and Shishapagma or Dhaulagiri next spring. For Dorje, the coming passes are nothing, I guess it is all relative. He said that in the Baruntse West Col camp his friends should be there. Dorje climbed all these great peaks in the Himalayas. Yet, the pragmatic side of life overshadows his accomplishments. Despite his great achievements in the Himalaya, he would have difficulty adjusting to the life in the West. We do live in different worlds. He would like to come to Canada or the USA and work in a kitchen or doing yard work, basically anything to escape the work in the Himalaya. For him is it not fun at all. He dreams of a normal life for himself and his family, He dislikes his job in the mountains. It is physically and mentally draining and he is always unsure whether he will return to his family alive.
A testament to the dangers of the Himalaya was a memorial plaque to late Christopher Lafaile one of the greatest high altitude mountaineers of recent times. He disappeared on Makalu in 2010. The high peaks are literally gravesites, littered with frozen or disappeared bodies of the greatest climbers. The basecamps are full of memorials and chortens commemorating the bravery or lamenting the idiocy. It is sometimes hard to decide which it is?
October 31, 2012 Sandy Camp 5,180m
Today was a great day again. Brilliant weather, blue sky all day without the usual afternoon clouds. I had a great night's sleep without the nuisances of the dry mouth and waking up. We started late, at 9 am. For breakfast we had a really good dhal baht. After breakfast we walked to the sandy camp for 4-5 hours. What a great spot, overlooking the Barun glacier and the west face of Makalu. In the distance, to the northwest, Lhotse and Everest tower over the head of the long Barun glacier. For some time during midday, the clouds did not look promising. I am very aware that everything here is weather dependent. I always remember the Teshi Labtsa crossing and how fast the weather went from sunny to full-on blizzard. On these passes, the storm of Teshi Labtsa intensity would be very dangerous due to possibility of disorientation and avalanches. Such a storm would basically end the trip.
November 1, 2012 Sherpani Col High Camp 5,700m
Today we climbed 650m from Sandy Camp to the Sherpani Col basecamp. There was no obvious path and the going was over large loose rocks. We had to take great care not to trip on the boulders. as they were just piled on top of each other. The trail crossed a moraine of the Sherpani Glacier with a steep descent and then a steep climb back up all the way to the basecamp. The climb up was hard work at this altitude.
The camping spot is right in front of the Sherpani Glacier with its high and vertical snout 50m away from the tent. The glacier has spectacular icicles hanging off the wall of ice. I had a good time waking around and exploring the area and taking great photos with Makalu as a backdrop to this spectacular scene. We went to bed early, as we had to get up at 2.30 for the crossing of the Sherpani Col Pass. I was on a lookout for any altitude related problems but so far so good.
November 2, 2012 crossing of Sherpani Col and West Col 6,150m to Baruntse Base camp at 5450m
The wake up call was at 2.30 am. It was the middle of the night, the clear sky was full of stars and cold. We scrambled to pack and put our stuff away. The camp was a swirl of activity. The events of the day were directly related to poor planning and communication. We had no breakfast, no lunch and I did not take enough food or water. I was under the impression that today we would cross Sherpani Col only and camp at the Baruntse camp 2 at 6,200m. This was the plan per the itinerary. Instead we went all the way to the Baruntse basecamp some 12 or more kilometers away and climbing 600m in the process. It was all at an altitude of 6,000m with two high passes of 6,120m and 6,150 in between.
We started by ascending the side moraine of the Sherpani Glacier by headlamp in the full moon. The moraine was covered by loose rocks piled on top the ice. Again, we had to take great care not to slip in the dark. After one hour, we descended the moraine to the glacier proper. We started our ascent on the glacier towards the Sherpani Col that was directly in front of us. The head of the glacier was a circular wall of rock culminating in a snow peak on the right hand side. The scenery looked rather shrunken as we were very high and the top of the ridge and tops of peaks around us were not too far away.
The first pass, the Sherpani Col 6,120m, was at the top of the rock wall at the head of the glacier. On the glacier, there was very little fresh snow and the open crevasses were visible in the moonlight. It was hard work walking on the glacier above 5,700m. I had to stop from time to time to rest. I did not feel any specific muscle pain; it was just difficult to walk uphill at this altitude. After about 1.5 hour of glacier walking, we arrived at the bottom of the rock wall leading up to the Sherpani Col Pass. The altitude was now about 6,000m and the first orange rays of the sun just started to hit the very tops of mountains surrounding the glacier. The ascent to the Sherpani Col was on an ice and gravel slope of 45 to 50 degrees incline and then on solid rock. It was not the technical difficulty that made this challenging but the altitude. It made going up very hard: my lungs needed more oxygen. The pass itself was on a narrow ridge, enough for one person to stand on.
The altitude was now 6,120m. It was very exciting as I have never been above 6000m before! The ridge dropped steeply on both sides. The sky was overcast but the sunny blue was visible on the horizon in the distance in front of us. From the Col the view extended over a large icefield formed by a glacier descending from Baruntse (a 7,000m peak near us). Chamlang was on the left hand side raising steeply from the icefield. On the west end, the icefield terminated with a steep dropoff over the West Col to the Honku Valley below. Right across the large ice/snow field was the West Col, our next destination.
From Sherpani Col, we could see the tents of the camp 2 of Baruntse, our original destination for the day (or so I thought). Looking back towards the camp we came from, Makalu dominated the skyline. Its bulk filled the view with the prominent West Ridge rising to the sky directly behind us. Being at 6,120m, the surrounding mountains, although some of them were 7,000m high or even higher, did not seem so big.
The Sherpa fixed the ropes for the porters to descend to the ice plateau below us. The descent was a steep abseil over rock and ice at the bottom of the slope. It was now around 7.30 am and the wind was strong and cold. I got chilled fast waiting for the porters to descend and my hands froze. There was not much space to move on the narrow ridge. I took a lot of photos and waited for my turn to go down. Since the porters had the right of way, my wait was long and cold. Finally, my turn came (third, last person) and I descended with some difficulty due to my now half frozen hands. I could barely operate the descender and changing of the fixed ropes at the anchor point halfway down was awkward with my frozen hands at 6,100m. The nylon fixed rope does not go well through the figure 8. Finally I got down somewhat exhausted from fiddling around with ropes at this altitude.
As I waited for the crew to pull down the ropes and wrap up the descent, one of the young guns fell on the ice and cartwheeled down over rocks and ice to the glacier below. It looked quite scary from the distance but thankfully he only scraped his hand badly. Juan’s first aid kit came in handy and now I had to become a medic. I had an unfortunate conversation with the leader of the Japanese man’s group. In the heat of the moment and under the influence of adrenaline, I criticized the disregard for safety in front of everyone (no first aid kit, no helmets, running without looking where they step, etc.). In retrospect, considering the importance of “face” in this culture, I should have held back my criticism. But the situation looked serious, the other young Sherpa were laughing hard as their friend was falling. They all made it into a big joke. In my eyes, this could have been quite serious with limited access to help. They had no way of communicating with the outside world and any help was far away and weather dependent.
After the quick fix of the injuries, we went on. Nepalese crew did not rope up on the glacier but I insisted that we did. I always remember the trivial terrain on which Piotr Morawski died on Dhaulagiri, an accident that could have been easily prevented with a rope. Dorje and I roped up and we walked beside the spectacular Baruntse Glacier and the ridge leading to the summit. We could see the trail in the snow leading to the summit 800m higher, crossing very serious crevasses and snow bridges. We could see the Nepalese climbers ascending that way to fix the ropes for the others to follow.
It was hard to walk at 6,000 even on the rolling terrain. We walked right by the 2nd Baruntse camp. Had we camped there, the day would have been easy. It took some time to traverse the ice field. What does not seem far is actually quite far as the distances here are very deceiving due to the scale of the terrain.
Finally we arrived at the West Col Pass at 6,200m. The wind was quite strong and cold. The view from West Col was very spectacular and the sky was now clearing. The beautiful mountain called Ama Dablam dominated the skyline across the valley below. Many other peaks over 6,000m surrounded it. We could see all the peaks of the Khumbu group and all the way to Shishapagma and Menlungtse in Tibet some 100 km away. To the east, we were looking at the ridge of Sherpani Col we just came from and the pyramidal bulk of Makalu behind it.
The weather improved with blue sky above us and some light clouds. The Sherpa had to fix the ropes again for the descent of the 200m slope from the top of the West Col. The slope dropped off steeply at a 60-degree angle to the glacier below. The porters needed the fixed rope to descend safely.
Once the ropes were fixed, everyone went ahead of me; I had to wait until the end in the cold wind. The descent was straight down a snow slope with large sharp rock outcrops at the very bottom. It looked quite different from the photos I saw on the internet. The abseil ropes were thin nylon ropes attached to anchors of questionable quality (single aluminum snow picks). I had to change ropes a few times at the anchor points. At one point, there were porters coming up (belonging to another climbing group attempting Baruntse). They were ascending on the same thin rope that I was descending on. Not only that the rope itself was thin, the anchor was a single aluminum snow pick. It made me feel uneasy seeing many people putting weight on the same thin rope and anchor. Again, Nepal at its best.
I abseiled down more and changing ropes at anchor points was hard work at 6,000m. At one of the anchor points, I saw a Czech climber coming up from below me. He could have been easily hit by falling ice or rock but he did not want to wait. He was part of a large 17-person Baruntse climbing group. The porters which we just passed belonged to his crew. The Westeners looked different in contrast to the Nepalese: determined, focused and serious. You could smell the thirst for combat, the desire to conquer the mountain. All dressed in their top end brand new gear. I was comparing this visible display of the testosterone-driven machismo to my Sherpa guide, Dorje. Dorje climbed many 8,000m peaks including K2, Makalu and Everest. He was quiet, did not have an attitude of any kind but had a lot of humility. The contrast between us, the westerners and the porters was also quite sharp. My porters just strapped crampons to their running shoes and climbed up with a smile. Even the porters of the Czech group had nothing, not even a harness or proper boots to go above 6,000m.
Finally, we descended to the flatter ground. Below the final outcrop of rocks, there was a large splatting of blood on the snow. Dorje said that many people fall from this slope with disastrous consequences as the slide from above ends on the rocks just above the bottom. I can understand why the fall here could easily occur: no safety, poor ropes, bad anchors, no equipment and numerous people ascending and descending the same fixed line at the same time. Apparently, average porters do not want to do this route and I can understand why.
Since we did not stop at the Baruntse camp 2 above, we had to descend to the Panch Pokari campsite which was still 8 km away. We were effectively doing two days worth of travel in one long day. At this point, I could use a break and have some food and water.
We passed the West Col basecamp (an exposed spot in the middle of the glacier right below the West Col). The crew became excited about the end of objective difficulties and just took off for the final camp leaving me behind. I had no water left and no food, as I did not anticipate that we would be going all the way to the Baruntse basecamp. Since my crew left, I had no way of melting water as they had the fuel and the stove. Paradoxically, I was surrounded by water but it was all frozen.
I started walking down along the moraine of the glacier descending from the West Col. My energy level dropped to a notch above zero. I hit a personal brick wall probably from the mixture of altitude and lack of food and water. The lack of water and food just pushed me over the edge. I had to take it really slow. I had to rest every twenty paces or so. I could not move; it was almost scary and really strange for me. I had never experienced this before. Physically I could not find any reserve energy. The tank was empty and I was just propelled by the momentum of the descent.
At the end, as I approached the campsite, it got so bad that breathing was difficult. I was starting to cough which just added to the fun. Since my guide also left, I did not really know where to go as the terrain undulates making the camp invisible from behind the moraine. Thankfully one of the porters appeared beside me and we found the way down together.
I found out that, going too fast or too far in the high elevations was a bad idea. I wished that we broke up the day and took it slower. We could have enjoyed the scenery more and avoided the tiredness. On the positive side, I also found out my limit.
Finally I made it to the campsite around 4 or 5 pm. It was a 15-hour day at 6,000m. I was so tired that I could not even eat for an hour or so after arriving. I just sat on my ass, had tea and waited to for the adrenaline to subside.
The basecamp had a large communal “bunker tent” (a square wall built from glacier rocks covered by sheets of blue tarp propped by some large sticks. The blue tarp roof give the space inside a blue hue).
The people running the bunker had some basic foods for sale and provided sleeping places for the porters. The sleeping arrangements for the porters were on rocky platforms with a small area for cooking. Dorje helped to set up my tent near the kitchen. All I wanted to do was to rest. My cough eased once I took some Tylenol and used an asthma puffer I found in Juan’s first aid kit.
I really did hit the wall physically and almost mentally. I felt like shit after this long day. I have never had this experience before but then I have never walked for 15 hours without food at 6,000m before either. I did have a good night's sleep though, and in the morning the cough went away almost completely. I had some wild dreams at this altitude and during the night: I laughed hard at my own jokes and dreams.
November 3, 2012, Baruntse basecamp 5,450m
The next day was a beautiful sunny day, not a cloud in the sky. I asked Dorje to take the day off as I needed a break from the workout of the prior day. I wanted to go and explore the area that we were in but any effort beyond few hundred meters left me without breath. I was just too tired from the day before. I decided to just take it easy, stay in the tent in the horizontal position, as I really had no energy.
It was warm, sunny and the surroundings were spectacular. The plan was to advance to the Amphu Labtsa Pass basecamp the next day. It was near and the walk to it was very spectacular. I was hoping that I would feel better. For a moment, I considered getting out by walking out via the easier Mera La Pass.
I was quite determined to see the original plan through though and really wanted to cross the most difficult pass of the three: the Amphu Labtsa. It is very steep and high (although not as high as the previous two). It is very technical though and involves climbing a glacier on one side and repelling from some steep rocks on the other side. It is the most difficult pass in the entire Himalayan range in my opinion. I came here to do the crossing and I would be disappointed with myself if I did not. Once over the Amphu Labtsa Pass and in the Khumbu region, I was hoping to feel much better. The Khumbu region is lower and the food there would be better as well.
I thought that the lack of good food here was also slowing me down. I did understand the reason for our skinny rations, though. We were in a remote area and had to carry all of our supplies. We basically ate rice with a watery sauce for dinner and shitty porridge for breakfast (I hate the pasty chalk-like porridge). Sometimes, when pressed for time, we ate Chinese or powder soups only. Occasionally there was an odd can of sardines or a real treat: fried spam with hot chili sauce. Understandably, there were no vegetables or canned fruit.
By the time we would cross the Amphu Labtsa pass, we would have camped above 5,300m for a week. At that point, I really wanted to descend from this altitude.
The rest day was great. The sunset at the Baruntse basecamp was spectacular. The entire west face of Baruntse turned orange as the sun set at 6 pm. The night was cold, I had everything on and I was still freezing as usual in these high mountains. I am used to this though and it does not bother me. The hot Nalgene bottles in my sleeping bag helped, though.
November 4, 2012 Amphu Labtsa basecamp 5,700m
I got up at 6 am and went to the tea bunker. It was very cold in there as well and some porters were still sleeping while others were just sitting in the cold talking. No one made any tea until I showed up.
We left in late morning. The walk to the Amphu Labtsa Pass basecamp was short but spectacular. Once I started to walk, the cough came back. We left the Baruntse basecamp in brilliant sunshine, blue sky and no wind. We crossed a large glacier flowing from the Baruntse west flank and walked by some small lakes with great views all around among high alpine scenery.
We ascended back above 5,700m and I could feel the altitude with a small headache. Everything is much harder at this elevation. When we arrived at the camp, I was quite tired again. Dorje and his crew climbed to the top of the pass 200m above in no time just to find the easiest way for the next day. For them, the elevation and this environment is nothing. Dorje told me that he does not feel the affects of the altitude at all up to 7,000m.
Dorje did not want to share the tent with me. It was due to my cough and getting up 5 times during the night to pee. He would rather be squeezed with four other guys in a three men tent than share a tent with me. I guess I was just that gross and unbearable to the Sherpa (although they are accustomed to roughing it).
Coughing was a big problem for me at that campsite. I was suspecting some sort of lung infection or bronchitis but in retrospect it was all due to the altitude. I had to force the phlegm out by coughing it out hard on all fours so I could breathe. It felt like I was giving birth to some alien creature. The effort and the convulsions reminded me of the cafeteria scene in the movie “Alien”. After that experience, I would never take clear breathing for granted again. I could just imagine how horrible asthma would be. I felt sorry for all those people suffering from it on daily basis. Every breath that is deep and clear must be appreciated and thanked for. After this experience I now carry the asthma inhaler in case of an emergency.
At night I took some heavy dose of Advil hoping that it would ease my cough. Having the cough like that would make the crossing of the Amphu Labtsa Pass a challenge.
November 5, 2012 Amphu Labtsa pass 5,800m
We got up really early again and started walking at 4 am in the dark. The walk started on loose moraine on relatively good trail. I hate walking on loose rocks by a headlamp. By the morning my lungs cleared up nicely and I was happy that the cough eased. But again, as soon as we started walking the annoying dry cough returned.
We started ascending the icefall that rose right in front of us. The icefall consisted of series of shelves than needed to be climbed one by one.
The climbing was technically easy but the altitude made it hard again. Each of the shelves was about 20-30 feet tall and had many icicles hang off it. The continuous daytime melt and night freezing produced these wonderful ice formations. The porters required some help ascending the icefall, as they had no crampons. We arrived at the top early in the morning and the sun was up already.
Once we crested the top, the drop to the other side was quite incredible. It was literally straight down for a few hundred meters. What I did not see initially was the shelf to which we would repel to, and from which we would make a sharp turn to the left to an easier ground.
We spent little time on the top. The view was quite incredible, to the west, the massive south face of Lhotse looked like a giant wall of black rock. This is the wall on which Kukuczka died in 1989. To the south, Chamlang, Mera Peak and the entire Honku basin. We could also see the West Col and out entire route from two days before. I took some photos and it was time to descend. The repel was on a nylon rope attached to a snow picket again, this time jammed between some rocks. It was unnerving to rely on such tenuous setup given the drop under my boots. We repelled down to a rocky shelf and traversed the slope to the easier ground from where we could just walk down.
As we progressed, my cough got worse and I had to go really slow to avoid breaking into coughing fits. We walked into freezing wind that was coming straight at us. As we rounded a corner, we could see the climbing route on the Island Peak and the climbers ascending the small glacier to the summit. The climb seemed crowded and the Island Peak looked very small in front of the massive Lhotse face immediately behind it. One would wonder why is everyone going to the same mountain while all the other peaks around it are empty. I followed a yak in front of me and basically walked at his speed, which was just right under the circumstances.
The distance from Amphu Labtsa to Chukung was 8 km. Chukung is a collection of small hotels where Dorje’s relative runs Makalu lodge. There was no room at the Makalu Lodge so I was put up at the Chukung Resort. I was so tired that lying down was my top priority. I arrived in Chukung totally exhausted due to the cough. I just could not move. I went to bed, lied down with a tube of Pringles and had fits of violent cough. I felt really sorry for the people in the next room. I had to take pills again and really used Juan’s asthma inhaler. When one is so spent, the enjoyment of the mountains, the beautiful scenery just do not matter. I just lost interest in the mountains around me and could not care less.
The Khumbu area lodges are money machines. They charge for everything and usually do not rent rooms to single guests like me as groups bring more money and require more meals. I guess this is how they roll around here. According to Kumar, the Sherpa people are greedy and have a lot of money. This is all very surprising as they profess to be very religious and are stringent followers of Buddhism. I have the next few days in the Khumbu Valley so I will enjoy it. Today, one of the porters left (the Darjeeling taxi driver). Only Dorje and Phurba are left from the entire crew.
November 6, 2012 Periche 4,200m
The walk from Chukung to Periche is only 1 hour (all down). We walked by the memorial to Kukuczka overlooking the Lhotse face from where he fell. In Periche I said my goodbyes to Phurba and the Virgin. They are great guys and it is unreal that they do what they do. Without their support I could not be here. They took my climbing gear to Lukla. My initial plan was to go to the Everest BC and then return to Lukla. Given how tired I was though, I was not sure whether this will be possible as the BC is at 5,500m. This would involve climbing 1,300m and spending additional nights above 5,000m. I would rather avoid it at the moment. On the other hand, I would rather not come here again (to this particular valley full of tourists and money hungry Sherpa).
In Chukung, I met a small group of great Iranian guys who came to Nepal to climb the Island Peak. They are all members of the Iranian Mountaineering Association and gave me their contact in Tehran. They offered their assistance when I am ready to go there.
In Periche I went to the medical clinic to get my cough checked out. The medical clinic in Periche serves climbers and trekkers. It specializes in issues related to high altitude and mountaineering. It is well run and staffed by volunteer doctors from around the world. It receives good supplies of drugs and materials from the West. To my surprise, the clinic doctor was from Poland. Bartek is 31 years old and is from Opole. He is in Periche on a three-month stint. We had tea and dinner together. He gave me some antibiotics and confirmed that I had bronchitis. His advice for me was not to go higher. I therefore abandoned the plan to visit the Everest basecamp.
The lodge we were staying in was located across from Ama Dablem with a terrific view if its face. The visibility was great and I took many great photos of it in the afternoon light.
Today I also took a bucket shower and the Taxi Driver washed my clothes. I did not even ask him, he offered. He is such a great and kind man. Nepalese, in general, are such amazing people, hard working, never complain. I feel like a shmuck feeling sorry for myself with the silly cough while these guys did all the heavy lifting.
November 7, Periche 4,200m Tangboche 4,000m
From Periche it was a walk down the valley to the monastery of Tangboche. I still found the walking hard even on the flatter ground. The trail was dusty which exacerbated my coughing. In general, in contrast to where we came from, I found this trail very tedious. The trees are bare as the fall has begun. The trails were full of yaks, tourist such as me, and dust. It was not a pleasant walk. However, given what I have just seen, it was difficult to get excited about this trail. I am sure that had this been the approach, I would be in awe of the beautiful scenery around me. I was lucky as on this trip most of the time was spent in the high Himalaya.
After a long descent towards Tagnboche on the boring trail, we crossed a river and started climbing to the monastery. I was wondering why did the Nepalese build a village and a monastery on top of a hill that requires a climb? I am sure that for them, the climbing is not a problem.
The teahouse we stayed in was located across from the monastery. It was run by a very devout old fellow who was chanting Buddhist mantras under his nose as he milled around the dining hall. The room was very tiny like a cell and it had a rancid stink to it. The momos however, were fist class. The old fellow showed me a photo album of the memorabilia from his wife’s father. The father was a sidar for the 1953 British Mt. Everest expedition that resulted in the first climb of the mountain. The album contained awesome old photos of the Sherpa. It also had a Christmas card from Edmund Hillary to the Sherpa family. The hotel was very interesting and the owner was a very nice man.
The Tangboche monastery across from the hotel had a puja at 4pm. I thought of going but once I peaked inside, there were 10 monks and 200 tourists crowded in a small space. I decided to try the rhododendron tea and a stale cake from the nearby bakery appropriately priced for the mass tourist market. We were now in the Disneyland of the Himalayas as the Nepalese call the Khumbu Valley.
November 8, 2012 Namche Bazar 3480m
We set off from Tengboche towards Namche Bazar. The trail dropped 800m to the river below and immediately regained the entire 800m elevation on the other side just like Num and Seduwa at the start of this trek. With all the dust, the crowds and being tired, it was awful. I was really thinking how I am not going to do this ever again, at least on this trail. After a relatively short walk we ended up in Namche Bazar. I felt a sense of accomplishment as this connected the two sections of the Great Himalaya Trail: the Baruntse and the Rowaling. On the way to Namche it was all new for me as we approached it from a different side.
Namche is still hopping and has all the trappings of the civilized world. All for sale. Compared to 2010, Namche felt empty. This was confirmed by a bakery owner who said that there was a 30% drop in visitors that year. I had a chance to check the internet, which put me back in real world, which for me is not bad at all. We stayed at the Himalayan Sherpa Lodge. The plan was to go to Lukla the following day.
November 9 and November 10th Kathmandu 1360m
Well, it turned out that Lukla did not happen. Thank God! After last year’s disaster of 2,000 people stranded in Lukla, I did not want to take a chance.
As we were sitting in the Himalaya Sherpa Lodge last night, the owner mentioned something about the cargo helicopter that takes the local people down to Jiri where the road starts and that it is possible to catch a bus to Kathmandu from there. Peter (an Australian fellow who I met in the lodge) asked him what the deal was with the flight? The owner made some calls and said to be at the Namche airstrip at 6 am the following morning. The charge was $165 US and 3,000 Rs for the guide. I was especially concerned about the Lukla flight situation as AGNI airline just went out of business. Furthermore, we enjoyed the fabulous weather for so long that it was bound to change at the most undesirable moment. Peter called his agent in Kathmandu and arranged for a car and a driver to meet us in Jiri. It all seemed very good. The prospect of walking to Lukla with hundreds of tourists in the dust was not appealing. Compounding all the reasons for not going to Lukla, was my lingering cough and the shortness of breath when walking up.
We got up at 4.30 am had some tea and a toast and off we went to the airstrip. As we were walking up I saw the rising sun hitting the tops of mountains. There, in the distance, was Pancharmo and Teshi Labtsa pass from the year before. I can honestly say that I did not get excited even one bit. I did not care to see another mountain and I just wanted to get out of the Khumbu.
The old Russian cargo helicopter brought heaps of building materials. The beast was loaded up to the rafters with lumber and other things.
It took a large group of men 40 minutes to unload it. Once the lumber was taken off, we and the group of locals boarded the cargo bay. We sat on our bags and off we went. The beast started to shake and vibrate, once the rotor speed was reduced it slowly lifted off the ground and we went on. It was a cool experience; we flew over Namche and by the giant peaks surrounding it.
After a smooth and very stable flight the beast landed in Jiri. The sea of green was a big contrast to Namche that sits barely at the tree line. We had to carry our bags to town and ended up in some hole in the wall teashop that Peter visited on the way up to Namche. After some time we transferred to another Sherpa guesthouse where Dorje’s sister was the owner. We drank a few morning beers (if it was up to Dorje we would have drunk much more). He was quite adamant that we stay the night in Jiri but Peter and I wanted to move on.
After great dhal baht we pilled into a small DW car and hit the road. After 7 hours and 158km we ended up in Kathmandu in the Nirvana Garden Hotel where we started out on October 21 exactly 20 days before.
My progress on this trek was much faster than the itinerary. We shaved off 5 days from the original plan. We did not take advantage of the spare days higher up. This was due to the cold and good weather. If the weather is good, everyone wants to move on not to risk crossing the passes in a whiteout. Another problem was the lack of supplies. We basically did not have enough food and needed to get to Chukung to eat. After the desolate and wild Barun Valley, the Khumbu region was not pleasant. Too many tourists packed the trails and villages. Since I had spare time, I decided to visit the Chitwan National Park. I always wanted to go there but did not have the time. It is famous for rhinos and tigers. I thought that it would be like a safari in Africa! And most importantly, there was no altitude!
November 11, 2012 CHITWAN
This morning at seven am I took a bus from Kathmandu to Chitwan National Park. When I asked Rajendra to book the trip to Chitwan for me, he laughed. Apparently I am not the type. I was genuinely interested in the experience and I always wanted to visit this part of Nepal, as it is so different from the mountains. Riding the bus through Kathmandu reminded me that the city was in the total state of chaos.
We got out of Kathmandu after one hour of choking traffic and only at the edge of the city, the smog lifted a little. The road out of Kathmandu to Chitwan was the same one that we took to Arugat on the Manaslu trip.
At 1 pm we arrived in Chitwan 160 km from Kathmandu in the area called Terrai (in Nepal’s lowlands). Terrai reminds me of Uganda a little with its misty forests, rivers and exotic animals.
The village closest to the park where my hotel was located is actually quite nice. The bus stopped in the field and an old dilapidated jeep took me to the hotel. The hotel itself had a half finished feel to it. The room was clean though with a hard bed and shower that did not work. I felt like I was camping again.
After lunch I had a nap. I was so tired from getting up early. I got up at 4 pm and went for a short walk around town and to the Chitwan visitor center. A sad dilapidated exhibit. After, I had a beer on the banks of a river that flows through the national park.
November 12, 2012
Today we started early and after breakfast we took a jeep to the elephant station. Each elephant takes 4 persons into a small basket mounted on top of the animal. We were going to look for the ellusive rhino. The basket is quite small. I really enjoyed the forest: green, and full of life. It was such a great contrast to the lifeless world of snow and ice. When we were crossing the Honku Basin in front of Baruntse, I had a feeling of desolation and lifelessness. Nothing lives there and the glacier has a hollow and empty feeling about it. I think it would be quite natural to die in the forest while a death in the high mountains would be desolate and lonely. The dead organisms in the forest just decay away and rejoin the circle of life. High in the alpine, things just dry up and mummify.
The elephant moves through the forest with an ease of a ship in the ocean. Slow, steady and quiet. Sitting up high, I can see a lot, having a commanding view over the tall grasses and shrubs. The elephant driver and the animal have a deep connection.
They are lifelong friends and each elephant has only one driver. The driver controls the animal by kicking it with bare feet behind the large ears and by talking to him. Sometimes, the elephant gets a poke with a stick and a metal hook to stress a command. The elephant is a very obedient creature and follows the driver. We went on an obvious and well-used path and came across two rhinos. It was great to see such majestic creatures in the wild. The elephant riding was very special as well.
After the ride, we went back to the hotel. I went back to the village, bought some local honey and walked around. I really like the quiet and sleepy feel of this place.
After lunch, we went for river “cruise” in a dug-out canoe. We glided silently on the river in a beautiful thick jungle. We came across crocodiles in the river and on the banks. We also saw may birds. The canoe driver pushed the dug-out boat with a long sick. Eventually, we got off on a bank and had to walk back to town through very tall grass. To my surprise, the guide, who was carrying a long stick and a book, announced that we needed to be fast and quiet as the Bengal tigers live in the grasses. I was a little apprehensive but also amused by the situation. We ended up in an elephant-breeding center that was very interesting. The animals seemed well taken care of and genuinely loved by their keepers. It was a full day that I enjoyed very much.
November 13, 2012
Today I took the bus from Chitwan back to Kathmandu. I bough an extra seat for 400Rs as one seat was too tight for me. After six hours of rattling we ended up back in the chaotic Kathmandu. There was a festival of lights, Tihar going on today. It is an important festival and people are doing puja in front of their homes and businesses. They also put garlands of marigolds on their shops and homes. I met with Peter the Australian for a pizza at Fire and Ice. He was not feeling well but had a flight back to Australia at 11.30 pm. After a coffee at the Himalayan Java, we said our goodbyes and parted ways. Another full day, tiring but very eventful. Tomorrow. Sangey invited me for lunch to his home. I am ready to go back home.
November 14, 2012 Kathmandu
Today was my last day in Kathmandu. Sangey, my cook from the Mt. Kailash trip in 2007 invited me to his home for lunch. He said that he would pick me up at 9am. These affairs are long and take up the better part of the day. I could not refuse as they are very nice people and mean well. They put their heart and soul into these events. And, Sangey is a very nice man.
We went to his home at 9.20 am and he lives very far from where I was staying. The taxi to his place was 500Rs (which is a lot by Kathmandu standards). Once we arrived, Sangey had to make the lunch, which would take two hours. He parked me in a dark room and brought a large beer (at 10am) and insisted that I drink it, as there was another waiting for me. His son was keeping me company. I sat in the room for an hour listening to a really bad rock band practicing really loud music next door. They made up for the lack of musical talent with volume. The noise was really loud. At 11 am Sangey reappeared with chicken curry, which he served to me in the dark room. I later moved myself to the kitchen to join the others.
The entire affair was over by the afternoon and I quickly took the taxi back to the city. I wanted to do some last minute shopping before flying home the following day.
November 15, 2012
At the last moment the Darjeeling taxi driver dropped off my bag with all the gear. I was very happy. The poor men walked for 5 days with it and made it back just in time. What an awesome fellow. I can not say enough how absolutely amazing the Nepalis are. I departed Kathmandu loaded up like a camel.
The flight from Kathmandu to Doha was absolutely spectacular. It went along the spine of the Himalayas along the Manaslu, Annapurna and Dhaulagiri. The plane was only 33% full so I had a choice of a prime window seat. Just when I was ready to say no to any future trips to Nepal, I was exposed to this! The most spectacular scenery ever.
Nepal can be hard, chaotic, random and sometimes even dangerous. The mountains are spectacular, the people are kind and super nice, and the wilderness is awesome. Because of the chaos, Nepal is full of surprises around every corner. It is unpredictable. It is a total adventure and a communion with the most spectacular scenery on earth.
The trek was hard due to the altitude and my cough. I can handle the walking and climbing in the cold, the cough though was too hard, and I felt like I was suffocating at the Amphu Labtsa base camp.
After I got home, I looked at all the spectacular photos and wanted to go back! The photos are of course spectacular when one sits in the warm and comfortable kitchen. I seem to have forgotten the cold, altitude, the cough and exhaustion quite fast. So soon after my return I started to plan the Kangchendzonga trip for 2013. I planned to take my own food, cough medication, etc. It seemed that I would go alone again as I could not find anyone interested. When I am in Calgary I really want to go to the Himalayas, when I am in the Himalayas, I really want to be home. Go figure!
Yellowstone National Park is the first National Park established in the USA. It is a large and very diverse park divided into four major sections. Each section is distinct and unique. In one of the sections located inside the volcanic caldera, there are numerous geothermal features such as geysers and hot pools. The famous Old Faithful geyser is located there as well. Yellowstone is the most interesting location for the geothermal features in the world. It is very different in the winter time. See Yellowstone National Park in Winter here.