Nepal…. Final Thoughts

Over the course of 15 days we hiked, along with 14 other Americans, 2 western guides, 6 Nepali guides and several porters from Lukla to Everest Base Camp (EBC) and back.  We also took a two day side trip to Thame (partly for altitude acclimation).

The high point (literally and figuratively) for me was Kala Patar.  At 18,500 feet and located just outside the highest “settlement” in the Khumbu valley (Gorak Shep) it is a traditional viewing point for Mt Everest.  We had stunning weather that day and the view was amazing.

My photo from Kala Patar (18,500′) with peaks labelled.
Hiking

The hiking was not that hard. We hiked a total of about 90 miles with our longest  just over  11 miles and most days half this. But it was very steep and 3,000 foot days were not uncommon and ….. it was, by our standards, very high. We spent three nights above 16,000′ which was a new experience.

Hiking summary

The trail was very rocky and sometimes very steep but in good condition most places and we saw several crews doing major trail repairs. The suspension bridges (we crossed at least 10) were very stable and in good condition.

Crossing a bridge behind some donkeys

The trail was reasonably busy (this was the high trekking season) but not uncomfortably so. We did have to wait several times a day to let yak or donkey pack trains or porters pass by.

Health

Everyone got sick. Several people (including me) had intestinal issues. These usually lasted no more than a few days (with medication). Speaking of medication, it was easy to get Cipro and Diamox at the pharmacy in Namche.  And almost everyone developed the “Khumbu Cough”, a dry raspy cough, some worse than others.  It seems to be caused by a combination of the cold, dry air and the altitude.

At Lobuche (16,140 feet), three hikers, including Roberta, and one porter developed AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) and had to go down. The porter was unconscious and had to be carried partway down before he recovered enough to walk. Two of the trekkers were very sick, vomiting most the night, before heading down to the clinic in Pheriche.

Accomodations

See my other post about the accomodations ( Accomodations ). Think hostel with no electricity, heat or running water and you get the idea.

Guides

Our guides were amazing.  The famous  Vernon_Tejas was our lead guide. He has more experience at high altitude than just about anyone else in the world and his wife, Carole, is an expert on Nepali culture.  Our Nepali guides were friendly, knowledgeable and spoke passable english.  They made for a safe, enjoyable adventure.

Vern Tejas
Food

Rara soup. Dal bhat. Rice. But also pizza (Tuna Pizza??) and spaghetti. The food was a bit monotonous but filling. Drinks consisted of “hot lemon” (think hot lemonade of varying sweetness), hot tea or hot water. Sometimes coffee in the morning. Strangely enough we got used to drinking hot water.

Part of a pretty typical menu
Weather

We had wonderful weather- mostly sunny days. As we went higher it got colder of course.  Above 12,000′ feet it was definitely below freezing at night. We used our full size parkas to run to the toilet in the night. During the day it was usually in the 50’s, perfect for hiking.

Morning in Namche (11,500 ft)

 

Tengboche to EBC

Day 7 (Oct 29) Pheriche, 13,900

Arrived in Pheriche at 2:00 after hiking for about 5 hours. Plan is to spend two nights here getting acclimated.

Stunning view of Ama Dablam on the way to Pheriche

The inns are getting a bit rougher, no plumbed water pipes. The toilets have buckets of water for flushing and the sinks just have buckets of water with spouts for hand washing. And, of course, no heat and it is getting colder as we head up.

Team coming off one of the many suspension bridges on the trail

We both feel good – no elevation effects so far. Bert is taking 200 mg of diamox a day and I am still not taking any.

Day 8 (Oct 30) Pheriche, 13,900

Morning acclimation hike up the hill east of Pheriche to about 15,000 feet then back down for lunch. We changed inns and….. this one has bathrooms in the room! Holy heck!

Our 15,000’ acclimatization hike – it’s getting colder!

In there afternoon we walked to the Himalayan Rescue Association clinic for a presentation by doctor Andy Nyberg. HRA is a non-profit NGO that have been operating a clinic here since 1973. Then we got a brief tour of the very small (three rooms) clinic and bought some swag to support the clinic.

Doctor Andy tells us all the ways we can die up here!

I have decided to start taking some very low dosage Diamox (65 mg) before bed for the next few nights. Will increase to 125 mg if I don’t see any affect or have trouble sleeping. Tommorow we head Lobuche (16,170’).

Day 9 (Oct 31) Lobuche, 16,160

Left at the usual time (8:00) for Lobuche. Easy stroll up the valley to start.

The team heads up to Lobuche

Bert’s back is acting up – talked to Carole and she got a hot water bag that Bert used during breakfast and at lunch when we got to Lobuche.

Darlene (Doug’s wife) wanted a helicopter rescue when she arrived in Lobuche but Vern and Carole talked her out of it. Her oximeter reading looks good and her only real symptom is mild nausea. She will spend the night and decide what to do but Doug says he thinks she will head back down to Pheriche tomorrow.

A high point on the way to Lobuche.

After a late lunch a lot of us followed Vern up the Khumbu glacier latéral morain just outside of town to view the glacier.

It’s yaks, donkeys or people and the people definitely carry the heaviest loads!

Day 10 (Nov 1) Gorak Shep, 16,960

Bad news! Bert was very sick last night Vomiting all night – clear sign of AMS.

Bert on oxygen in Lobuche.

Early this morning, along with Jane (who also vomitted all night) and Darlene, headed down to the clinic in Pheriche. She was diagnosed with severe AMS .

I continued on. Had a pretty tough morning to get to Gorak Shep mainly I think because I got very little sleep last night. I am taking about 250 mg of Diamox over the course of the day in 62.5 mg increments.

On the way to Gorak Shep

After lunch we hiked up Kala Patar. Didn’t think I would make it the whole way but it went surprisingly well – maybe lunch helped. All the way to 18.500’! Gorgeous views of Everest and the Khumba glacier and ice fall. Even saw an avalanche!

18,500 feet! That’s Everest over my left shoulder.

Day 12 (Nov 2) EBC, then Lobuche, 16,160

Long day – very tired but I slept well. Shared a room with Doug (Darlene’s hubby), Took about 1.5 hours to hike to EBC and we stayed for about 30 minutes in glorious sunshine taking pictures.

Everest Base Camp, 17,500 feet!

I finally heard from Bert and she is doing well so we will hook up tomorrow in Dingbuche.

The Khumbu glacier and ice fall below Everest.

Hiked back to Gorak Shep for lunch then back to Lobuche (and that thick 16,000 foot air!) for the night.

Accomodations on the Trek

A short post about the accommodations on our EBC trek. 20 years ago accomodations on the trail were “tea houses”. These still exist. They are basically two room buildings, a kitchen and a bigger main room. Food and tea are served in the main room which is heated by a yak dung stove. Come time to sleep you would lay out your sleeping bag on benches in the same room. If the stove was not well ventilated the room would fill with smoke and was not always pleasant.

These tea houses still exist (we have stopped at several for lunch and tea) but now there are inns. They vary in quality but share some common features.

The main room is the restaurant which is still heated by a yak-dung stove (which always has a large pot of water boiling). This is the only heated room in the inn. The rooms are usually private (for one or two people) and are never heated. The toilet is usually a shared affair down the hall – sometimes squat, sometimes seated. In a few of the nicer inns there are private toilets in the rooms but this is rare.

A typical double room in an inn

The quality of the bedding and beds varies so most people use sleeping bags on the mattresses. You don’t spend a lot of time in the room when you are not sleeping because it is so cold. Everyone hangs out in the main room. At night to run to the bathroom we kept our parkas handy.

Not sure how much the inns cost (our tour price included this) but the food is pretty reasonable – 400-800 rupees for a meal.

Namche to Tengboche

Day 4 (Oct 26): Namche to Thame

Left Namche at 8:00 for a two day detour from our hike to Everest Base Camp (EBC) to more slowly acclimate. This was a relatively easy day with about 3,000’ of total climbing and about 1,000’ net over 6 miles or so. Rolled into Thame for lunch at 1:00. By 2:00 we were headed 600 feet up (without packs) to visit the Thame Monastery where we toured the “Gompa” and

Roberta receives a blessing from the Rinpoche

were blessed by the “Rinpoche” who is the current reincarnation of the monastery’s leader. He is 9 years old. We each received a “Khata” (basically a long silk scarf), a string tied around our necks and “long life” pills. And a cookie. Which was good because the pills are kind of bitter.

On the way to Thame we stopped for a break at a small tea house that is the home of Galyzin (one of our Nepalese guides). We met his mom and she served us tea and gave us each a “Khata” (you tend to collect these guys if you stay here very long).

Galyzin and his mom in the house he grew up in.

Day 5 (Oct 27): Thame to Khumjung

Walked back down the valley from Thame toward Namche in absolutely beautiful weather. Stopped in Thame at the house of the parents of famous climbing sherpas for tea. They drink a lot of tea here.

Stealing hugs from a Nepalese grandma

On the way to Namche we stopped at a monestary during a very important ceremony and listened to the chanting and music.

Buddhist temple

Then onward to Khumjung/Khunde. The group split up and several people went to a hospital and the rest of us did the “direct” route with a chance of seeing Everest – which we did! Bert broke into tears she was so moved.

First Everest sighting (just to the right of he dark peak in the middle).

Then down the hill to Khumjung where we arrived about 3:00. Then we walked into “town” and Bert bought some flip-flops for going to the bathroom at night and Claire bought a cool hat.

Our high points/terminis altitudes for the next few nights:

Day 6: Tengboche. 12,800’

Day 7: Pheriche. 13,900’

Day 8: Pheriche. 13,900’

Day 9: Labuche. 16,170’

Day 10: Gorak Shep. 16,924’

Kala Patar. 18,300’

Day 11: EBC. 17,500’

Labuche. 16,170’

Health wise we are doing pretty good. My stomach thing is completely gone and Bert seems a bit better today. Some mild headaches but nothing serious and we are both moving okay. Have not done the oximeter thing for a few days but I suspect we are both in the mid-90’s. And I had a shower! Joe and I both paid 500 Rupees to take a much appreciated hot shower.

Day 6 (Oct 28): Khumjung to Tengboche

Pretty easy day – we were in Tengboche by noon for lunch (usual 8:00 AM start). Hiked down to the river (~2500 feet) then up to Tengboche (~2500 feet). Weather was good and we had stunning views of Everest and Lohtse as we entered town.

Views of Lohtse (over my head) and Everest (left)

Walked to the bakery after lunch for a snack for tea. Plan is to have everyone meet at 3:00 to visit the monestary here in town.

Tengboche monestary

At 3:00 Vern took us on a little tour around the monestary – unfortunately there are not enough monks here for their ceremony so we just walked in and looked around before heading back to the inn for tea.

Our inn for the night.

Kathmandu to Namche Bazar

Day 1 (Lukla to Phakding)

The trek has started! We flew from Kathmandu to Lukla by helicopter.

Lukla airport from the helicopter. Kinda glad we took a helicopter!

We walked out of Lukla headed for our first tea house/lodge just north of Phakding.

Leaving Lukla via Main Street.

This was supposed to be an easy afternoon hike but I was suffering from a stomach thing so got no sleep the night before. After talking to our guides (Vern and Carole Tejas) I gave my pack to a Sherpa guide (Ang Gyalzen) who carried the rest of the day. I also started taking an antibiotic.

Getting passed by locals carrying serious loads.

Our first accommodations were basic but nice. No heat or potable water but toilets and mattresses to lay our sleeping bags on.

Our first night!

Day 2 (Phakding to Namche Bazar)

Lovely day and our first view of Everest! I woke up feeling much better and we had a great day of hiking in beautiful weather.

Crossing one of the many bridges on the trek to Namche Bazar

This was a big elevation day – Namche is at 11,300′ but we probably had a total of 5,000 feet of ascent today.

Entering the park.

We are spending two nights in Namche doing a 1000′ acclimatization hike on the second day. This is also a good spot to do a little shopping.

Downtown Namche Bacar
View of Namche from the hill above the town
View from Namche

Delhi Stopover

To help with the effects of jet lag (it’s a 13.5 hour flight from New York and a 10.5 hour time change) we elected to spend a few days in Delhi on our way to Kathmandu.

Skipping Europe entirely!

Our connecting flight from Houston to Newark was delayed an hour (thanks United) so we ended up jogging through the terminal at Newark to get to our gate just in time.

The Delhi airport was nice, we were through immigration and customs in 15 minutes and, miracle of miracles, our luggage made it.

The air here is bad – and they are having a 1/2 marathon on Sunday!

Air quality for Delhi and Houston on the same day

Delhi

We spent a day touring the city, visiting the place where Gandhi spent his last days and was assassinated; the largest Sikh temple in Delhi; and the spice market in Old Delhi.

Where Gandhi was shot.
Sikh Temple

My favorite was the Sikh Temple – I love how everyone is treated the same and they practice community service (rather than just talking about it), feeding 10,000 meals a day to the city’s poor.

Volunteers making roti for the poor.

We had to wash our feet and hands and cover our heads to enter the temple. Then we went to the markets in Old Delhi.

Bridal area in the market in Old Delhi
Stall in the spice market

Our hotel is in the Janakpuri district of Delhi, about 10 miles west of the city center. It is a fairly typical neighborhood but not a tourist area. On the plus side we are not bothered by hawkers and beggars and we see how the majority of the people live. On the minus side there are not a lot of tourist things to do nearby.

Besides seeing cows and monkeys in the streets, probably the biggest surprise is the sheer volume of garbage everywhere.

Garbage, garbage everywhere!

One of our neighbors

Besides riding in a powered rickshaw we also took the Metro which was a stark contrast to the rest of the city. It was spotless, efficient and built in only 17 years. No pictures because photos are not allowed.

Agra and the Taj Mahal

We spent one day visiting Agra. We booked a tour online and it worked out well. They picked us up at the hotel, took us to the train station, met us in Agra and provided a tour guide.

The first class train ride was about $20 person and included breakfast. Agra looked a lot like Delhi with worse roads. We spent about 3 hours at the Taj Mahal and it was amazing. Words and pictures do not do justice. It is the most beautiful building I have ever seen.

One of our first views of the Taj Mahal
Another view…

After lunch (and the requsite “shopping visit”) we visited the Agra Fort. This was also built by the Mughal Emperors and is still used as a military installation (so only about 20% is open to the public).

The Agra Fort

The fort served as a royal residence to the Mughals and was also where the 5th emperor imprisoned his father (the one who built the Taj Mahal) for 8 years.

It was originally built entirely of red sandstone but later emperors rebuilt part of it in white marble with precious inlayed stones like the Taj Mahal.

Precious stones inlaid in the marble
Fellow tourist at the Agra Fort

The Route

The trek with Alpine Ascents is billed as a 3 week trek but some of that is travel and acclimation. There are 14 actual hiking days and the route is a south-to-north out-and-back course that mostly follows river valleys. The northern terminus of the hike is Everest Base Camp (EBC) at 17,600′.  The entire distance is less than 100 miles but there is a lot of elevation gain.

We fly into Katmandu (4590′) on Oct 21 after spending a few days sightseeing in New Delhi. From Katmandu we will be taking a short flight (or possibly helicopter) to Lukla (9400′) on Oct 23.  This is also our first day of hiking and it will be an easy one  as we begin the acclimation process.  The next day we head up Namche Bazaar (11,300′) where we spend the next few days doing easy hikes to get further acclimated.

The Entire Route – Lukla to Everest Base Camp
Route from (and return to Lukla) going north.  

After a few days in Namche Bazaar we head west to the village of Thame (12,400′) where Alpine Ascents has several cultural events planned, including a visit to a Buddhist Monastery.

Route to Namche Bazaar and further north

From Thame (Oct 27) we spend the next four days heading East and North, visiting villages and getting further acclimated, reaching the village of Pheriche (13,900′) on October 30.

The route (East and North) to Pheriche

The next two days we really begin to ascend arriving at  Gorak Shep (16,900′) on November 1.  Weather permitting,  we ascend a small peak, Kala Pattar (18,500′) which is high point of the trek and is supposed to have great views of Everest. Gorak Shep is the last village on the way to EBC.

The following day (Nov 2) we trek to Everest Base Camp and the furthest point north on our trek. We do not spend the night, descending to Lobuche (16,200′) for the evening.

Final trek to/from Everest Base Camp

From Labuche we basically retrace our path, taking four days, and arriving back in Lukla on November 6.