Friday, February 18, 2011

Trek Day 12 - Phortse to Namche Bazaar - 11/12/10

We woke up this morning to find that it had rained over night and we were surrounded by pea soup fog.  My cough had calmed down a bit and was back to the normal dry Khumbu hacking thing.  Three cheers for antibiotics and teacher-nurses!  After breakfast, we tip toed our around puddles through the village and then went down a steep slope to cross a river.  After that it was steep up for an hour.  It was a completely different atmosphere from any of the other days.  The fog was thick, water was dripping from the trees, and we had a few minor snow flurries.  At the top, we stopped at a little restaurant for tea and chocolate and then headed back to Namche.

When we got to Namche, the fog was so thick that you couldn't see from one side of the village to the other.  We got to our lodge and I had a piping hot indoor shower.  After lunch, I walked over the the Lord Buddha pharmacy and once again got my temperature, blood pressure, etc. checked.  They made sure I had enough amoxicillin to complete the cycle and also gave me some cough syrup to help me sleep. After that it was internet and apple pie at the Everest Bakery (the place is great, by the way, so I highly recommend it next time you're in the neighborhood).  Both of my caps had gotten stinky from all the trekking, so I bought a new one to sleep in.  It's a really nice, yak wool, knitted, lined cap skull cap with "Kalapathar" (misspelled) embroidered on it.  I couldn't resist.  And besides, I earned it.

The beginnings of the bazzar
Every Saturday in Namche there's a huge bazaar with traders coming from all over Khumbu and some from over the pass in Tibet.  It's basically a giant flea market where you can buy anything from clothing, to trekking gear to solar panels to produce.  Traders had been arriving all day and had been setting up for tomorrow, so I took a quick walk through.  It was cold and my hair was still wet, so I headed back to the lodge.

Since there's no way that planes are flying, we briefly considered staying in Namche for another day -- we'd rather be stranded here.  But after a discussion with Kopil, we decided it would be better to get back to Lukla so that we can get out when planes start flying again.

Trek Day 11 - Dingboche to Phortse - 11/11/10

I woke up pretty sick today.  My common, dry Khumbu cough is no longer dry and my phlegm is a yellowish-green.  We managed to get ahold of the other group and found that Irene was sick, too.  That's why they kept heading down and didn't wait.  Krista had two cipro pills that the travel doc gave her and I was told to take that.  I felt like death warmed over, but we headed to Phortse (12,508 ft) where there's a health post.  The day was sunny and warm, but really hard for me.  I kept stopping and coughing up my lungs.  I did try to keep the coughs shallow because I didn't want to become one of those trekkers that crack ribs from coughing -- pretty common up here.

After we arrived, we had a quick lunch and then Kopil and Kumar took me to see the "nurse".  So we walked to the school and pulled her out of the classroom.  She took us into a room that had an old desk, a couple of chairs, and a cot.  There was a bookshelf with a couple of boxes of drugs and a white nurses uniform hanging on the wall.  She took my temperature (normal), blood pressure (100/70 - not bad considering the altitude) and listened to my lungs.  She told me that I most likely had a respiratory infection.  She gave me enough amoxicillin to get me to the pharmacy in Namche tomorrow and made me promise to check in with the Red Cross post there.

Back at the lodge, we found that we were the only guests.  We were given the room right next to the dining room (nice) and we given all the blankets and pillows that we wanted.  We lounged around reading and writing while the family running the place listened to the news on the radio and kept bringing me herbal tea.  After the news, there was some Nepali music playing which was really nice.  But then I heard "Kung Fu Fighting" in Nepali.  Seriously.  Someone did a cover of that old 70's tune in Nepali.  I hope I can get that tune out of my head sometime soon.

While dinner was cooking, we had a nice chat with the family.  They are Sherpa and the man of the family climbed Everest in the mid '90s.  He had been invited to the US by some of the climbers that he had met that year and so came for a visit.  He went first to Seattle and stayed with Scott Fischer, then down to Berkeley to go to the North Face outlet.  He then went down to LA to visit another climber and on to Las Vegas.  I can't imagine living your entire life here where your feet and yaks are your only form of transportation and then going to Vegas.  I get culture shock enough going there!  From Vegas, he went to the Grand Canyon and then on to Colorado where his wife joined him and they did some trekking in the Rockies.  I loved talking with them both and trading stories.  And I also loved it when he was sitting there with his prayer beads meditating right in front of us.  I don't know why, but it was very calming.

After dinner, I took another amoxicillin and went to sleep.  I seriously need to feel better tomorrow.

Trek Day 10 - Gorak Shep to Dingboche - 11/10/10

Today we started heading down.  We were pretty tired as we set out, as sleep was a bit hard to come by last night.  The lodge we've been staying in has paper thin walls and no ceiling between the rooms.  Last night, there was a snorer on the other side of the wall from Krista.  This guy doesn't just snore -- he rattles the building.  Seriously, he could knock a brick house off of its foundation.  We had our heads sandwiched between pillows with earplugs in and we could still hear him loud and clear.  Krista kept knocking on the wall hoping to get him to stop and, after about 40 minutes, he finally rolled over and stopped.  But then the guy across the hall got a phone call.  Not only was the ring loud and he waited about 8 rings to answer, but he had no concept of an "inside voice".  Honestly, there's a 3G tower in this village and yelling just wasn't necessary.   Eventually it got quiet enough to sleep.

This morning we set out for Dingboche (13,976 ft) to catch up with the rest of our group.  We walked down past Lobuche, past all the chortas, down the nasty ridge (which was a little hard on the knee) and back past Dughla.  After crossing the icy river, we headed up a gentle slope to the top of the ridge above the Pheriche valley.  It was a nice flat ridge with scattered homes and grazing yaks.  The mountain views were stunning and it was a peaceful walk.  Long, but peaceful.  At the end of the ridge there was a stupa and then switchbacks down to Dingboche.  I have to say that little ups in the trail that had my heart racing and my lungs gasping just a few short days ago are so much easier now.  There's really something to be said for acclimation.

Heading down to Dinboche
When we arrived at the lodge, we could not find the doctors nor either of their porters.  Kumar went through the village thinking that they had probably changed lodges, but the owners of our lodge said that they had gone to the next village.  We were getting ready to head out, but then Kopil managed to get the on the phone.  They had gone on to Phortse, which is 5 hours away.  We resigned ourselves to the fact that the group was probably split for the rest of the trip.

Clouds and fog rolled in this afternoon and things got cold.  But this place had a shower stall outside and I decided to go for it.  The water was propane heated and very hot, but I could only get it to come out in a trickle.  This was by far the coldest shower of my life.  When I got out, dried off and got in my clothes, I couldn't get to the dining room fast enough.  Unfortunately, they wouldn't start the fire until 5:00 sharp.  We ordered hot tea, wrote in our journals, and read our books.  Then it happened: the snorer walked in as did panic.  But luckily, he was in a different part of the lodge and we were able to sleep just fine.  We were worried for a while though.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Trek Day 9 - Everest Base Camp - 11/9/10

Gorak Shep
Irene, Bogdan and Dana got up at 5am to go up Kala Pattar.  Bogdan got another headache, so he and Irene turned around and went back to sleep.  Just before Krista and I were ready to head to base camp, they had decided to descend to Dingboche (very near Pheriche, but a slightly lower elevation).  We'll have to catch up with them tomorrow.  This is so sad -- I hate the idea of the group splitting up, even for a day.

At EBC (it says so on the rock)
After breakfast, Krista and I started toward EBC.  This is what I came on this trek for and today was by far the hardest day.  I know I say that every day, but today I really mean it.  The trail was very rough -- up and down with very large rocks/boulders.  This was so hard on the knee, I thought a few times that I may not make it.  I had it wrapped in an ace bandage and had eaten a lot of ibuprofin for breakfast, but this was hard.  I was using my poles so heavily that my arms were aching. At one point, the trail did briefly flatten out for a bit of "single track", but there was a rocky slope looming next to us and I ran to duck behind a big boulder when there was a minor rock slide.  That didn't do my knee any favors either.  Of course, after the slide was over and I stood back up, Kopil yelled at me that this was "the most dangerous part of the trail".  Nice.  Luckily, I'm pretty stubborn (not the best of traits, I know, but today it got me to my goal) and I made it all the way.

Khumbu Ice Fall
The scenery today was amazing -- glacial lakes, beautiful mountains, a few more avalanches and the Khumbu Glacier, which we followed all the way from Gorak Shep.  Once at "base camp" (the wooden sign was stolen), we were overlooking the famous Khumbu ice fall and could see up the Western Cwm.  The Nuptse face looms over and has heavy snow fall this time of year.  I had been told that EBC would be a let down -- nothing but rocks and garbage.  The Nepalese government paid Sherpas to haul out all garbage both from the mountain and base camp this year.  I saw absolutely no debris whatsoever.  They even cleaned out the helicopter wreck that I was hoping to see.  Everything was beautiful and if my knee was better, I would loved to have explored a bit.  It was the most beautiful place I've ever been.  We stayed about 30 minutes and then headed back.  It was a hard trek back for me and I was limping pretty hard when I arrived back at the lodge. I had made Kopil go on ahead, but he had Kumar waiting outside keeping an eye on me.

Tomorrow, we head down to Dingbouche to catch up with the Romanians.  It will be nice to be in warner weather.  Did you know that it steams up the bathroom when you pee up here?

Trek Day 8 - Lobuche to Gorak Shep - 11/8/10

Kala Pattar with Pumori in the background
Today was really hard.  The 2 hours to Gorak Shep (16,863ft) was a piece of cake.  We had an early lunch and had a differing of opinions of what to do next.  The trek to base camp is 3 hours each way.  The trek up Kala Pattar is 3 hours up and 45 minutes down.  I didn't think that my knee could do a total of 8 hours in a single day, so Krista and I opted to go up Kala Pattar while the others went to base camp.   The norm is to do base camp on the first day and then get up and 4 or 5 am the next day and go up Kala Pattar for the sunrise and then head down to either Pheriche or Lobuche after -- the temperatures that early in the morning are -20F, so I think we were making the right decision.  Plus, it was a cloudless day, so we were guaranteed a great view of Everest from the top.

Kala Pattar is basically a bump on the way up to Pumori.  It was definitely a long, hard, but steady slope up.  When you arrive at the "top" where most people are gathered, you have a stunning view.  But then it was pointed out to me that there's another summit, but you need to really scramble to get up.  I set aside my pack and poles and started scrambling up the last bit.  It was a lot like my climbing gym days.  A couple of guys gave me a nice boost up a good chunk of it -- I was so grateful, I didn't care that they pushed me up by my ass.  Anyway, I made it up to the true summit (18,513ft), and had the most amazing view.  I tossed my camera to the guys below and the took a few pictures of me up there.  I also took a panoramic video with my iPhone (actually two, but the first was really bad).  After skidding down on my butt, I helped the guys up (and yes, I grabbed their asses in return) and took some pictures of them.  I also sent a text message with photo to a few friends, making good use of that 3G tower that was installed this year in Gorak Shep.  Then, it was all about the trip down.  I took a little spill on the way down, but it wasn't too bad.  Just a bruised ego.

Everest from Kala Pattar
Back at the lodge, I found out that Bogdan and Irene had some bad headaches and didn't make it to base camp.  They're sleeping now.  Also, one of our porters appears to have some mild pneumonia.  I'm so grateful that we have 3 doctors with us who brought along a pretty well stocked pharmacy.  Hopefully, everyone will feel better tomorrow.

And an FYI -- I saw 10 avalanches on Nuptse today and heard another that I couldn't spot.  I also heard one on Pumori.  While no one climbs Everest this time of year (where Nuptse is a problem), I spotted tents at Pumori base camp from Kala Pattar.  Let's hope everyone's OK.

Trek Day 7 - Pheriche to Lobuche - 11/7/10

Can you spot the bridge over the river?
Today was a rough one, but more for Krista than for me.  Yesterday while we were at the hospital, someone mentioned a couple of trekkers getting sick up in Gorak Shep from tuna.  This was about an hour after Krista had a tuna sandwich.  She woke up this morning with stomach cramps and within minutes of setting out, she needed imodium.  Anyway, we started out walking through the valley along the river (which was really a trickle of glacier melt as opposed to the white water rapids we saw in previous days).  After about an hour, we veered right and went up a gentle slope.  Soon we crossed a metal bridge over a mostly frozen river and arrived in a "village" called Dughla.  Basically, there were some picnic tables, two restaurants and a few rooms to stay in.  We sat down for some tea and I looked up a nearby ridge.  After looking at it for a bit, I realized that the small white line leading across and up had little ants moving along it.  Those ants were people and that's where we needed to go next.  Crap.  Since things were relatively flat so far, I had no problems with my knee and could keep up with the group.  That was about to change.

After our tea, we started up that ridge.  It was an hour or so of a very steep up.  The view at the top was spectacular though.  First of all, there were chortas everywhere you looked.  Each was a memorial to a fallen climber in the region.  Some where westerners, but many were Sherpas.  It's so sad, considering the Sherpas are climbing to earn a living and provide for their families.  They do the bulk of the work for the westerners paying big bucks and thus take the most risk.  OK, off my soapbox.

We arrived not long after in Lobuche (16, 158 ft).  Our lodge is by far the worst we've been in.  It's not very clean and there's very few bathrooms for the number of rooms.  By the way, in the bathrooms along the trail (except Namche which had actual flush toilets), there is a large container of water and scoop.  When you are done doing whatever you need to do in the toilet, you scoop up some water and pour it in, thus flushing.  Here it seems that a lot of folks have missed with the water scoops and the floors are a sheet of ice.  This is going to be fun once the sun goes down.

Italian Research Station
Anyway, after lunch (and Dana helping out another trekker who was very sick from tuna), the Romanians and I set out on a short 20 minute walk to see a solar paneled, pyramid-shaped research station built by Italians.  The walk was short and very flat.  The research station was quite a site.  It's not nearly as pretty as the glass pyramid at the Louvre, but I do have to give the Italians style points for building this at 5,000 meters. We weren't allowed inside, but I did talk to one of the guys who came out to microwave something (after turning on a gas generator).  They are doing a lot of work on seismology, plate tectonics, measuring of the mountains, and effects of altitude.  Did you know that Everest is growing at the rate of 6 cm/year?

I was surprised that Bogdan lagged a bit on this short walk.  He had a headache by the time we got back to the lodge, so he went and took a nap.  I hope this isn't altitude sickness.  Tomorrow's the 2 hour walk to Gorak Shep.  It's a village on a dry lake bed that was base camp for the first successful Everest climb in 1953.  We're nearly there.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Trek Day 6 - Acclimation Day in Pheriche - 11/6/10

This was a much needed, and last day of rest.  Our last was at Namche, which is full of steps and not very restful.  Pheriche is in the bottom of a valley and totally flat.  Of course, there's not nearly as much to do, but I can handle that.  I slept 12 hours last night (thank you travel doc for the ambien) and feel so much better today.  While Bogdan and Irene went on a hike up a ridge, the rest of us have been reading, laying cards and meandering.  Oh, and Dana surprised us all and gave our hostess a manicure.  Seriously.  She brought nail polish and top coat with her. 

I also visited the internet cafe a couple of times, but it was slow and expensive.  In the courtyard between the cafe and the hospital, there's a beautiful monument to fallen Everest climbers.  It's 2 steel cones with flat surfaces facing each other.  On the flat surfaces is the name of every dead climber.  It's truly amazing to see the number of names.  The altitude sickness talk at the hospital was pretty informative.  Afterwards, we got to check out the facilities and the doctor showed us how to use a Gamow Bag, since many of the lodges higher up have them.  Also, I was told that the dry cough I've been having is known as the Khumbu Cough and is very common -- 60% of trekkers in the region get it.  I bought some cough drops and a buff nearby to shield my face from the cold.

Time for dinner and a good night's sleep.  Fingers crossed for the next few days.